Last part, still inspired by the amazing prompt by the ever-lovely amimain. This one is REALLY FREAKIN’ LONG. Also characters most of you aren’t familiar with! I tried to throw their relations in without making it too obvious. So yeah, apologies (but not really) on the length. If I’m up for it tomorrow, you may read this mysterious letter!
Gaelwen glided into the study, a cordial but warm smile on her face and an ink-stained envelope in her hand. She curtseyed as was proper in the presence of an elder and waited to be spoken to. She didn’t have to wait long, the plump and gray-haired woman standing on no ceremony and rushing to embrace the girl.
“Gaelwen! How are you, darling? To what do I owe th – ah! That ink-stained note. I would recognize it anywhere. Is it…?”
She gracefully curtseyed once more and held it out to the woman. “Aye, milady Hannien. I was asked to bring you the note myself, instead of let it linger with the rest of them.”
Despite her age, she had retained much of her beauty, like an aged piece of poetry. A bright, beautiful smile blossomed; it reminded Gaelwen of the author of the note she held aloft. Dínendir often gave her those smiles as a young boy…usually when he and Nídhil were about to get in trouble. “You darling girl, please sit. I am sure he has some most wonderful news or prose to share with us all.”
Gaelwen couldn’t help a slight roll of her eyes at the matriarch’s – and that’s really what she was, what with eight grandchildren thus far – enthusiasm. They all knew her younger sister, Nídhil, set off after Dín – ah, pardon her, Tegil. Everyone else was just waiting for a note from one of them, announcing their return. She wasn’t as sure, but she humored everyone else’s notions; at a minimum, it helped to ease the worry for her sister. “As you wish, milady. I would be more than glad to accompany you.”
Hannien held the note up and poked Gaelwen’s nose with it. “Despite your demeanor, you are a bright young woman, Gaelwen: not a child. When will you cease treating me as if I’m the Steward himself? You are only fourteen and act as if you were forty! We are practically family. Please, sit.” She motioned to a downy cushion, rich linen in a jeweled tone. The study itself was decorated in similar colors, making the pale grey gown Gaelwen wore seem out of place.
She settled gracefully onto the pillow and folded her hands on her lap, waiting patiently. It wouldn’t do to try to read over her shoulder, regardless of how close they were. Hannien was like a second mother to her, just as her own mother was a second mother to Dínendir and his siblings. That aside, it was a letter from a son to his mother. Not appropriate to read before or even while she did so. She watched for a reaction, though; did Nídhil arrive yet? The letter wouldn’t have arrived so soon, surely.
The elder woman pushed a wisp of grey from her equally grey eyes and settled into her cushioned chair. Nimble fingers deftly opened the envelope and pulled a few pages of parchment. Dínendir always did write lengthy letters, so neither woman seemed too surprised. Hannien’s eyes crinkled as she read, that bright smile reappearing. These were no doubt the flourishing greetings he sent her: they were always close. The smile was a bit infectious, Gaelwen smiling as well…for a moment. As soon as the smile dropped into a confused line and her head tilted, Gaelwen followed suit. She remained quiet, however.
The next parchment was brought forward, the first quickly flipping to lay face-down on the desk. She read faster – already the third parchment – seeming to want to reach some sort of conclusion. As the final piece was scanned, the woman leaned back and let all four rest on the table unseen. The nimble fingers from both her hands reached up to massage her temples…now that was a look Gaelwen knew all too well. What did he do now?
“Dearest Gaelwen, I apologize. This is a private message for myself, and I have been asked to keep its contents for my eyes only. I am afraid I will be unable to let you read it.” Her eyes didn’t open and she didn’t stop massaging her temples. Not a good sign.
Gaelwen bowed her head and rose fluidly. “Then I shall leave you to better read it again, if milady would wish it?”
Hannien nodded quietly. “Thank you again for bringing it to me. It is always good to see your face, child.” Her eyes opened and she gave a warm, if a bit strained, smile to the young girl.
“You are more than welcome, milady Hannien. If it would not be a bother, may I beg a favor?”
One hand lowered from a temple, resting on the letter again. “Aye, what is it?”
A wry smile found its way to her face. “Please call upon my mother soon, she has been fretting over Nídhil once again and could use your cheer.”
“I will call later this afternoon, perhaps for tea, if it is not too sudden; I believe we both could use cheer.”
Gaelwen curtseyed fully and floated away on a cloud of grey skirts.
What did he do?
Another shout, another crash. Merileth couldn’t take much more of this. Ever her mother’s daughter, two fingers from each hand found their way to her temples, rubbing some of the stress away. At least they weren’t fighting – it was only play…and they were outside. There was nothing to be done about it except for escape while she still could. Why did she want four children again? She swayed into the courtyard and let loose a sharp whistle. All seven children froze in place and turned to look at her, somewhat afraid.
“I am going to visit with Gaeril. Please behave while I am gone. If I return to someone with an injury, there will be no cookies after dinner.” She paused, then adding on, “And I will tell the parents of children who are not mine.” That did the trick, with all them properly warned. They settled down and she walked away in peace, the only sounds being the click of her shoes and swish of fabric against the stone.
They didn’t live far apart, the walk no more than a leisurely few minutes on foot. She knocked on the door and was promptly let in by a servant. A polite nod – servants were people, too! – before she asked to call upon the lady of the house, if she were not indisposed. They ushered her into the sitting room and assured her that the lady would be most available for a visit. Merileth sat and waited politely.
It wasn’t long before the short woman came through the door in a wave of scented oil and flowing garment. Gaeril always looked as the sea itself: shifting, fragrant and boisterous…her name was only too fitting. The thought brought a wide smile to Merileth’s face as she rose and hugged her friend. “How are you, my dear?”
Gaeril immediately ushered the younger mother onto the sunning balcony. “I have been the same as the last you called: torn between joy at life’s bounty and being sick with worry over my wayward daughter. Sit, sit; do you want a drink? Those children must be driving you up a wall.”
“They bring that saying to life, climbing the walls in truth.” Merileth groaned good-naturedly and gladly accepted the refreshing glass of water. “Thank you. Have you word yet from Nídhil?”
Long black hair shook and green-grey eyes shifted to the north. “No, I have not. I know Laechon has gone with her, but I cannot help but worry. It is folly to chase after someone after you have parted paths. I have an ill feeling about it.”
“You had an ill feeling about that fabric, yet it turned out to be your favorite dress, did it not?”
A wry look shot across the table for her friend’s jest. “There is a rather drastic difference between my daughter’s well-being and some fabric.”
The glass clinked down as a small chuckle followed its sound. “I know, I know. I apologize, it is not the same. Yet I would point out that my little brother’s heart also lies in the path of your wayward daughter.”
“I should hope so! That is her goal, after all.” She paused, quieting to let a frustrated sigh loose. “Ah, I am torn, dearest Merileth. We all assumed they would end up married, it was such a good match…but now that she goes after him in such a reckless manner, I do not know. I just do not know.”
Her hand snaked across the table to pat Gaeril’s hand. “It is difficult, I know. She ran off after already rejecting him. My dear Dínen – hah, Tegil. That still is foreign to my mind! My dear little brother is a forgiving and gentle boy, but if I told you he could easily forgive and then take her back…well, they would be comforting words for the sake of comfort – not truth. He can be stubborn.”
Something in her tone must have alerted Gaeril, as her friend shifted the chair to face her directly. Gaeril’s eyes – her namesake – fixed to her own. “Do you know something?”
“I did not want to be the one to tell you this, but Mother is utterly convinced you should learn on your own. Folly, I say. Whenever Nídhil finally writes you…steel your heart. She will likely be angry, if I know her as well as I believe I do.”
Eyes shuttered shut and reopened. “Why?”
Merileth bit her lower lip, brow furrowing and free hand going to her lap. “I cannot tell you. It is not my story or news to give. None save D- Tegil himself can shed light on it. Needless to say – and I am truly sorry to have to tell you this – she will most likely be rejected in turn. Not cruelly…not cruelly. He is the heart of my heart, and I know he has no cruelty in him. But your daughter is only a friend to his eyes now.”
Silence reigned supreme for some time, only broken by a deep, slow sigh. “Oh, Nídhil. Darling, what have you done? …I hope she returns home as soon as she finds out, then. She should not be in a foreign land when going through something like this. First she lights out of here as fast as an arrow, only to miss her target completely…”
“Only Mother and I know. You are the only other person either of us has told, and we had quite the discussion when that was decided last night. I am sorry.”
“Sorry? What for?” A weary but quiet enough expression finally emerged. “It is not as if you had a hand in it! My beautiful, precious daughter will have to learn the hard way, just as I did: you cannot fly across the land to chase a man who does not love you. Take the opportunity while it rests in your lap, not after it has flown away. Thank you for telling me, it eases my heart to know what will come. You may tell your mother you were right. I know how you love that.”
Merileth grinned. “Aye, I do enjoy it.”
“But enough of this! How are you?”
“Ah, my youngest has managed to find a new way to annoy his older sisters…”