I was the first to awaken on Einsday. I had dressed and readied myself before mother and father so much as stirred. I supposed yesterday had been stressful for them too. Mother rarely worked in the shop; only when father or I was ill. I determined to remedy that by making the morning meal.
I was a lousy cook and we all knew it, but both mother and father appreciated the effort. I’d set the rolls aside to rise when mother entered the kitchen.
She greeted me saying, “Well, this is a delightful surprise.”
I was as pleased with myself and let her know with a returned smile.
She poked around the kitchen, seeing how much I had accomplished. She retrieved the kettle and filled it, setting it on the stove. I told her not to worry about the rest; she could have the morning off.
“Are you sure, honey?”
She seated herself at the table and propped her chin on her arm, observing me. “I could become accustomed to this,” she teased.
“You have not tasted it yet,” I disagreed.
She chuckled, but did not retract her statement. “I brought your dress in and laid it out.”
“I figured you would,” I replied.
There was an awkward pause. I could tell she wanted to know what was happening in my life. How much she surmised I didn’t know. Nor did I want to have that conversation now. I hoped she would let it rest until I was in better control.
Luckily, my father made his entrance then. “Did you tend to Catharine?” he inquired.
I snapped my fingers in disappointment. “I knew I was forgetting something.”
“Peace,” my father chuckled. He kissed me on the cheek before exiting the house. Unlike most of our neighbours, we were able to sleep past dawn. We had no livestock to tend, except Catharine, of course. And she had grown accustomed to our hours.
I knew mother was on the verge of saying something dreadful, so I started my own conversation. “Did you know faeries can erase a person’s need to sleep?” I asked.
“Where did you learn that?” Mother inquired.
“It was in a book I was reading,” I returned. “Apparently, if you are tired or injured, they can restore you until you feel as if you’d slept a whole night.”
“Are you planning on living without sleep?”
“No,” I chuckled. “I just thought it was interesting.”
“You know most of what they say about faeries is nonsense,” my mother warned.
“Yeah, I know.”
The kettle whistled and mother removed it from the stove. She added some leaves to the pot and poured the boiling water over them. She fetched three cups from the cabinet and set them on the table. She added honey to mine, though she and father drank their tea without additives.
Father returned as I finished with the eggs. Our breakfast conversation was shallow in an endeavour to keep the peace. Einsday was a special one, where we all strived to leave the anguish of the week behind.
In an hour, we’d venture to the teacher’s home along with the rest of the town for a morning of education. It was the one day a week where everyone gathered together and attempted to be friendly and forgiving. We dressed our best, spoke with utter respect, and generally had a good time. Some of the farmers had to arise an hour earlier than usual to finish their chores before the teaching began, but everyone did their best to come anyways.
Everyone, that is, except Cade. He’d missed a few services the past couple years. He said it was a trite custom nobody practiced in the city anymore. The community assumed it was a phase he was going through, but I knew it was because too often he had a headache the morning after Siebenday. It didn’t bother me that he only joined us at noon, when everyone divided into groups to share a meal at one of the residences in town. It was generally assumed that each town house should have at least two farming families over for dinner as a sort of concession for them travelling so far every week.
I think it was originally intended that the families meeting together alternate week by week, but we had had the Yates and the Jacobsons over every Einsday since I can remember. Ladd’s family came often too. They were not as well off as other town families, even with Ladd’s income at our shop, so they could not always afford to prepare dinner for others.
Our family sat three rows from the front in the teacher’s giant meeting room. Across the aisle sat the Raffertys. I glanced in the direction of their seats, not surprised to find Cade missing from his chair. What was surprising, however, was Ladd’s presence in Cade’s seat.
I tried not to let it bother me.
The lesson was half over before I heard any word of it. What I did hear though, seemed to be a message straight to me. The teacher was talking about kindness to neighbours or something. He said it was especially important to be kind to those who everyone else disliked and avoided. I could have sworn he heard us mocking Tunic earlier that week and decided to correct our behaviour publically. I grew indignant that he should rebuke us that way. It was downright shameful.
When the lesson was over and it was time to mingle with the community I wanted to express my disgust at the teacher’s methods, but everyone was acting so pleasant that I decided my judgement could fall another time. I caught sight of Tunic near the back of the building. He stood out in a crowd, even amidst the farmers, whose fashion was plainer than we town folk wore.
It wasn’t just his tunic either. He had long hair, something that was unheard of in these regions. Not as long as a woman’s, mind you. But men kept their hair groomed short, except the hair on the face, that is. Tunic’s face was always hairless. They say his grandfather was the same. While I could understand the allure of the tunic, I’d never understand the hair. But, I supposed it could not be helped. Most men had a woman to keep their hair trimmed short for them. Tunic had no one. I supposed that if a woman were in his life, he’d have normal hair.
The men, of course, were not the only ones who had to follow grooming trends. Everyone knew the longer a woman’s hair, the more beautiful she was. At least, that is what we understood from the city. However, amidst the married women, there came an agreement that hair just past the shoulders was sufficient vanity. Unlike most city women, we had to work and hair had a tendency to be bothersome. Unmarried women were allowed, however, to grow their hair as best as they could. But once they wed, it was straight to the sheers. No other woman in town wanted to compete with a wife who kept herself so prettily. I’d had to cut my hair since I started working, but Addie’s had never been cut in her life. Though I often complained about the diminishment of my beauty, I was actually quite glad of it. Long hair in the summer could be unbearably hot.
Of course, we could never tie our hair back. The back of the neck was considered too sensual to expose in public. I’d never understood what could be so private about the neck until Ladd, instead of kissing me on the cheek (as he often did) pressed his lips to that curve. Though I had not the will then, the next time I saw him I’d scolded him for his behaviour. That was, of course, before Cade had allowed us to start associating with him.
Remembering how close Ladd and I used to be made me awfully lonely. I considered inviting him to join our family for dinner, but saw him escaping out the side door with Addie. I supposed he was already engaged. Thoroughly miserable, I wandered to the back door. With a blank stare, I considered my neighbours, hoping to find a suitable replacement for Ladd.
Then I remembered Tunic and the words of the teacher. I grew more purposeful in my scanning of the crowd. Which town family did he belong to? Perhaps it was our turn to be neighbourly to him. After all, he’d had me over for a meal already.
Search as I might, I couldn’t find him. I decided to climb the hill just behind the teacher’s house. Perhaps I’d see better into the crowd from there.
Indeed, at the top of the hill I spotted Tunic. He was a solitary figure, almost to the edge of town already. It had never occurred to me that no one would invite the mute boy to dinner. He could hardly seek an invitation for himself and I supposed no one would wish to have him as a conversation partner. Not everyone was singularly blessed to enjoy hearing themself speak as I was.
Not wanting to be seen chasing after Tunic, I descended the other side of the hill and ran to the perimeter road. As people made their way back to the town residence, they would primarily be using the main road.
“Tunic!” I called as I drew within shouting distance. I called thrice before he heard me. Or perhaps, he just did not believe I’d be chasing after him.
I waved to him and smiled, glad to be able to slow my pace. I was sorely out of breath. He moved to meet me and I concentrated on correcting my breathing before we were face to face.
Now that I had him in front of me, I didn’t know what to say. “I was wondering,” I began, “if maybe you’d like to come to my home for dinner. After all, I owe you a meal.” It sounded cheap put that way, but it saved face. I wasn’t seeking his attention; I was paying a debt. A simple merchant transaction.
If he noticed my scheme, he chose not to be offended by it. He spread his arm back towards town gesturing for me to lead us. I wondered if he knew the teacher had been talking about him in the lesson today. Maybe that was why he had tried to disappear after the lesson.
“What family do you normally spend Einsday dinner with?” I asked. I should have been used to asking only questions with an affirmative or negative answer; it was not as if he could tell me.
He shook his head.
“You don’t go to anyone’s house?” I was flabbergasted. I thought everyone who came to the Einsday service was invited to a town house for dinner. Now that my assumption had been proven false, I watched for evidence of further deficiency. Sure enough, a dozen or so farm families headed to the fields before partaking of the community meal. I even saw a town family sneak home without inviting anyone to their dwellings. Perhaps Cade was not the only one who missed the weekly service. I wondered whose fault it was that so many were being overlooked. Did the farmers want to return home without fellowship or did the townspeople not desire the company of the farmers.
Whatever the case, it was an injustice and when I recovered from whatever was making me so weak I would make sure everyone knew how shameful it was to let such behaviour continue.
Nevertheless, I hoped no one saw me escorting Tunic to my home. Even if I was being obedient to the teacher, I didn’t want anyone important to know about my secret friendship with Tunic yet. I couldn’t tell if Tunic knew we were taking the long way home.
My parents and our usual guests had not arrived yet when Tunic and I reached our home. I suppose I ought to have told my parents I was returning already, but they would figure it out eventually. I hoped they didn’t mind the addition to our party.
I made Tunic wait in the central hallway while I returned to my room. We always wore our finest clothes to the Einsday service, even if it was a sweltering day like today. But once we were home, father allowed us to remove the jacket, gloves, and a few petticoats. I returned to my guest looking considerably less bulky and, I suppose, less handsome without my finest garments. I didn’t care though; it was relieving to be rid of the additional bulk.
I couldn’t decide if Tunic was uncomfortable in my house or not. He didn’t look overly alarmed, but there was something to his expression. Perhaps he was not accustomed to this finery, though I doubted that was the issue. He did not seem the type to care about wealth. I doubted it was my presence alone that set him at odds; we had spent an entire afternoon together without any trouble after all. He watched me as I observed his behaviour, so opposite to Ladd. Ladd always found his way into the sitting room or kitchen when I banished him from my room. Perhaps it was the lack of occupation that made Tunic seem uneasy. At his house, he had always been doing something.
Deciding I should not tire my guest longer with my mental speculations, I grandly thrust my arms out towards our home. “Since this is your first visit, I should give you a grand tour.” I chuckled at my act.
The central hallway where we stood branched into three doors. I opened the left door first and invited him to see. “The master bedroom,” I gestured grandly with my hands again. We did not step in to my parent’s room. I suppose all grown children know there is something dangerous about entering a parent’s room with a guest. The next stop on our tour was the only door to the right of the central hall. This one I permitted my guest to enter.
“The sitting room,” I announced as I pirouetted in the middle of the room. He seemed amused by my act. Our sitting room had a bench and three chairs that were moved into the kitchen during winter Einsday meals. In the summer, we dined outside. The sitting room was attached to the kitchen, so I led my guest there next.
“The center of every family and every home,” I announced. “Our luxurious kitchen!” Luxurious was, of course, a stretch. It was the same as any other kitchen I’d ever seen.
Tunic flashed me a questioning look and spun his finger in a circle, as if to say, “What? No pirouette?”
I chuckled at his presumptuous manner, but graced him with another fine twirl. This I ended with a curtsey. He pretended to applaud my performance. I rolled my eyes.
“Feel free to look around,” I offered. “I need to set some things out for dinner.” Somehow, I had convinced myself that the meals were my responsibility today. I hoped mother did not take that to be a permanent change.
Tunic’s eyes wandered around the room, but he did not move as I had when exploring his home.
“How was your week?” I asked. I looked over to him for a response. He turned his palms upwards as if to say, “Alright.”
“That’s it?” I remarked. “I suppose there were no more wolves for you to hunt or some other adventures.” I didn’t bother to glance over at him this time; my head was buried in the larder searching for a canned spread.
“Hey,” I called, hearing my voice echoing off the wall, “Would it bother you if I came to visit some other time? You wouldn’t have to entertain me or anything. I found the respite from town to be invigorating and I feel as though Kennbridge is becoming foreign to me. And it’s only going to get worse this summer.” I probably could have asked him to visit without the lengthy explanation, but I supposed I felt the need to justify myself again.
As I pulled the hidden spread from the larder, I turned for confirmation. “Well?” I pressed for a response. It had never occurred to me that he might reject me.
I pursed my lips. “What does that mean? If you don’t want me to come, just say so.” I felt badly about my wording. I hope he knew it was unintentional.
He rolled his eyes.
“What?” I exasperated. Of course, I couldn’t just leave it at that. I had to keep talking to get his meaning. “Are you fine with me visiting?” I repeated.
He nodded, with that “Isn’t it obvious,” expression on his face again.
“Then what was with the hesitancy?” I continued.
He blinked several times, giving me no hints. I supposed he figured I’d guess eventually. “Is there a certain reason I can’t come?” I asked.
His expression was undecided.
“Is it that you are unable to have me or that I am unable to come?”
He pointed at me. “What’s wrong with me?” Then it hit me. “Oh,” I should have realised it immediately. “I don’t know how to get there.”
It would be too much to ask him to fetch me and later to deliver me. “Perhaps father can take me,” I suggested. We both knew it wouldn’t happen. Father worked every day. I’d not be able to get there at a decent hour. “I am sure I’ll figure something out. I have no occupation Siebendays and Dreidays.” I didn’t count drinking in a tavern with Cade as an occupation.
I finished dressing the table, but left the food on the counter. I’d finish the rest when mother and father returned.
“Now, on to the tour finale,” I informed my guest. I gestured for him to exit back into the main hall. “The loveliness of this next room is perfectly suited to its primary occupant,” I informed him.
He chuckled at my boast and I felt a small flash of anger. Ladd had always responded with a compliment saying the room was not nearly as lovely as I or something. I was beginning to miss Ladd.
My room was no small affair. The bed was covered in a purple spread filled with soft goose down. The wardrobe was an elegant piece of furniture as were the shelves. I’d filled them with tokens from my father’s trading travels and a dozen or so books. I had always fancied my book collection to be impressive. I wanted Tunic to come in and browse the titles to see what an accomplished reader I was but he remained in the doorway nodding his approval.
“You can come in,” I reminded him. I wondered if he thought he’d besmirch my honour to do so. He made a hesitant step forward, glancing around and then retreating to the hall. “What’s with you?” I commented in a rude tone. I felt offended for some reason.
He shrugged his shoulders. I supposed it was a question too difficult to answer without words. I considered suggesting he write it out, but wondered if that might be insulting. I didn’t want to ask questions in case I had been wrong about his intentions though. It would be awkward if I’d gone straight to besmirching my honour when he’d merely disliked the colour or something.
The front door opened and my father welcomed the Yates and Jacobson families to our home, as he did every week. There was a hitch in his voice at the end though. I supposed he noticed Tunic in my doorway. My guest had the nerve to blush at being caught standing there. He wasn’t even in the room and he felt compromised. If his honour was tarnished, then what was mine?
I pushed past him, frustrated at him for being so concerned about me in a matter I didn’t care about. “Hullo,” I greeted the newcomers. I opened the door to the sitting room and left it for the others. I navigated to the kitchen to finish dinner preparations.
The Yates family was comprised of Mr. and Mrs. Yates and their three children, all seven years and younger. The children were silent and respectful when the adults were present, but hell raisers when left to their own devices. I’d almost considered never marrying for fear of having children like the Yates’. The Jacobsons were four in number. Mr. Jacobson’s mother lived with them and their infant daughter. While Mr. and Mrs. Yates were only a few years younger than my parents, the Jacobsons were only a half dozen years older than I. We made a fair spread of age groups, the largest gap being between the children and me.
There was a door from the kitchen leading to our back porch. I opened that too, allowing for a steady stream of guests. They were all accustomed to the routine by now.
Still in the hall, I heard father greet Tunic. “Good to see you Bramwell.” I imagined Tunic nodding in kind.
“Yes, good to see you,” Mother’s sweet shopkeepers voice added. I heard their bedroom door close. She would have just removed her jacket and gloves. “And I wanted to express my thankfulness for helping our daughter the other day. I can’t imagine what could have happened without you protecting her.”
I rolled my eyes. They talked about me as if I were an infant, incapable of taking care of myself. I didn’t need his protection.
Having spoken her gratitude, mother resumed her highly efficient hostess mode. I’d often observed that when we had guests, she became another person. She seemed to dance around the kitchen, injecting compliments into the table conversation whenever a lull began to threaten the harmony of the meal. She grabbed a plate and began moving our fare to the porch table, commencing conversation the minute her foot left the threshold.
Father came next. In a hushed tone, he mentioned that Ladd had spoken to him. “He’ll be back to work on Zweiday.” Ladd’s mother insisted that our store being open on Einsday was an evil and never let him work it. “And I gave him a raise,” Father continued. “I don’t want to hear a word of complaint from you about it.”
I shook my head, solemnly swearing not to make my relationship with Ladd any worse.
“The boy deserves it, and you know that,” Father continued.
“I know,” I snapped. I hated that he thought he needed to explain further.
Father realised Tunic had not emerged from the hall yet, and sought after him. I wonder if he had intended to disappear after my rudeness in the hall. If that was his intent, Father caught him before he could leave. “Come in, son,” Father invited him to join our party.
Tunic followed him into the sitting room and his eyes met mine. I spent a moment deciding if I was still angry with him or not. I elected the latter. “Would one of you fine strong men mind slicing this melon for me?” I flattered them.
My father scowled at me. “Bramwell is a guest.”
“I am sure Bramwell would not object,” I argued. Didn’t father see I was trying to be nice?
“I’ll do it,” Father said in a huff.
Tunic grasped father’s arm to halt him. He then proceeded to shake his head and gestured for father to join the other guests.
“See father,” I smirked triumphantly. “Don’t worry about us. Bramwell and I understand each other quite well.”
Tunic rolled his eyes at my comment. But when father looked to him for confirmation, he smiled and nodded as though he permitted me to speak for him.
“Hurry to your other guests,” I urged father. “They may have need of you.”
Mother reappeared from the porch to grab another platter. She scolded father for coming outside empty handed. He returned to the kitchen to grab a stack of plates.
I handed Tunic the knife and gestured to the melon. He set about the task with ease.
Because Einsday mornings were spent at the service, we never had a warm dinner. Most of the food was prepared the morning before, except the rolls which mother was so accustomed to making every morning she made anyways on Einsday. Of course, I’d made them today. They didn’t look nearly as appetizing as when she made them. I hoped they at least appreciate the effort.
When all the dishes were brought outside, our guests served themselves to whatever fare they desired and then seated themselves on the porch or on blankets laid on the grass. Tunic and I seated ourselves by Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson. It was customary to begin our conversations asking what everyone thought of the day’s lesson. Sometimes we had long discussion and others, like today, the topic receded quickly. I could have explained my discovery about the retreating farmer and townspeople, but decided the topic might be uncomfortable with Tunic being there.
Instead, I opted to lead with the latest sensation. “Did news reach you about the monster of Keegan Heights’ awakening?” I inquired of our pastoral neighbours.
“Oh, heavens, yes,” Mrs. Jacobson gasped. “Simply terrible.”
“I hope something can be done before long,” Mrs. Yates added. “I hate to think of all those people displaced from their homes.”
“Indeed, something needs to be done. That creature cannot be free to roam the country,” I agreed heartily. I’d hoped someone would offer a suggestion, but to my horror, the topic withered almost as quickly as the query about the week’s lecture.
I frowned and looked over to Tunic. He was watching the conversation with a fascination that could only be attributed to someone unaccustomed to socialization. His eyes soaked in the expressions of each speaker, head moving with each change in voice. Eventually he noticed my attention and fixed a questioning expression.
I realised I was still scowling. I shook my head to say, “Forget it.” I looked away then, careful not to look in his direction for a while.
Not once, in the entire afternoon, did anyone speak about the monster again. It was a threat that could potentially destroy everything we knew and loved and no one bothered to mention it!
Not even Tunic seemed to care. I thought him my ally. But, then again, I might have been picturing him too much as a replacement for Ladd. I’m sure Ladd would be my ally in this situation.