Lisle awoke early to see the dim light of morning making the loft where she slept just visible. She turned over, pulling her woven coverlet close, enjoying the warmth of its thick fibers. She could see her sister, Mina’s sleeping form. Four changes older than Lisle, she lay curled on her side, tousled, brown curls just visible above the heavy, rumpled folds of coverlet. Then she remembered happily, I'm hunting this morning!
Moving silently, Lisle lifted the lid of her much loved and battered wooden chest, given to her by her Ma-Marn, which stood against the wall next to her pallet. Lisle dressed quietly, pulling on soft leggings and a woven over-dress.
I miss Ma-Marn, she thought.
Lisle missed the clack-clacking of Ma-Marn's big loom as she sat by the window every day weaving thick, warm fabric for the family and for sale in Greystone. She missed sitting on the stool next to her and winding her shuttles with colorful yarns. She missed the long talks about Guardians and the One. She missed seeing Ma-Marn’s age-gnarled hands working the shuttle to and fro, and beating the fibers into place.
With a sigh she shrugged the memories aside. Lisle reached in and pulled her pouch and stone-shot from the chest, a small knife in a skin sheath, and a larger bag, looping all over her belt. She intended to get out early before anyone else woke.
Quietly, Lisle closed the cover of the chest. She pulled the coverlet up over her sleeping pallet and tucked it back under the eave so Mina wouldn’t trip over it when she arose. It wouldn’t do to annoy Mina this early in the morning. Lisle had eaten many a burned dinner as a clumsy footed younger.
Pocketing a tie to keep her shoulder-length brown hair out of her eyes, Lisle stepped to the ladder and turned around to climb down.
She thought again of her Ma-Marn, and how she and Mina used to spend the long evenings during winter dark listening to Ma-Marn read from the Book of One in her creaking, aged voice. Then they would beg her for stories of when Ma-Marn had met the tiny Flier Folk, and once even a Guardian.
Imagine what that would be like! She thought.
Lisle reached the bottom rung, lost in her thoughts, and startled as it resounded with a loud screech of wood on wood.
No! She jerked her foot away as if burned, and jumped to the floor, racing on tip-toe toward the door.
A deep woman’s voice sounded from behind a curtain on the other side of the cottage.
“Lisle! Your heavy feet have woken me! You might as well bring me my tea. Make sure it is hot. And remember my silver tray. Why you can’t seem to remember such a little thing is beyond me. Start the porridge while you’re at it.”
As bad as it could be to annoy Mina in the morning it was disaster to wake their step-mother.
I’m in for it now, thought Lisle.
“Y…yes Juh…Juh…Jessamin,” She forced out, her tongue tangling like Ma-Marn’s yarns. Lisle tried to remember if her tongue tripped over her words when Ma-Marn was alive.
No, my tongue didn’t get stupid until after Jessamin came to live with us. Ma-Marn was gone by then, she remembered sadly.
Lisle turned and trudged to the enormous fireplace that composed one whole wall of the cottage. She found wood piled next to the hearth and blessed Mina for her foresightedness, as she built up the fire. She knew it wouldn’t have been Farn. He would not have been so thoughtful.
Turning she saw Mina climbing carefully down from the loft, jumping nimbly over the last rung to the floor. She grimaced at Lisle, shrugging her shoulders.
“I’ll feed the egg-layers,” she whispered, as she slipped out the door. They both knew that was Lisle’s job. She silently mouthed thanks to Mina.
Lisle swung the kettle, now full of water, over the fire and started the rest of the preparations for breakfast. She made very sure to set out Jessamin’s silver tray with the delicate tea set she had brought with her from her family home.
Tea steeping, Lisle lifted the tray and parted the curtains that separated her father and Jessamin’s sleeping area from the rest of the cottage. There Jessamin sat, arranging herself against her pillows. Even so early in the morning Jessamin had a regal look to her, a grand lady awaiting service. She wore a short, shiny, black, bed jacket. The lace from the neck of her bed gown frothing up around her neck.
Lisle placed the tray upon the small table beside her, and stood, hoping for a quick dismissal, blue-gray eyes downcast. She risked a quick glance upward and Jessamin was staring at her, deep brown eyes shadowed in olive complected skin, mahogany waves of thick hair draped over her black-clad shoulders.
Jessamin’s mouth turned down at the corners.
Lisle cringed inside, knowing what was coming next and feeling helpless to avoid it. She shuddered slightly, remembering the times when Jessamin’s raging temper had filled the house, roaring around them like a spring hungry cave-dweller.
“You will never amount to anything, you know,” stated Jessamin in an almost reasonable tone of voice.
“There is not a one of you who has done anything that matters with your life.”
Jessamin reached to pour herself a cup of tea, picked up the cup, took a sip and then set it down again on the tray with an air of finality.
“None of you could hold your heads up if my family were still here,” she said, gesturing grandly at the tiny portrait on the wall in which a man was seated in an elegant chair and a beautifully dressed woman stood with her hand upon his shoulder.
“If they were alive, I wouldn’t be here; you can believe that. I’d be planning parties and visiting with your betters. Instead, I have to live way out here!” She threw her arms out angrily and glared at Lisle as if it were all her fault.
Dark eyes narrowing, mouth sneering, she battered at Lisle with her words.
“I married your farn thinking that of course, marrying someone of my quality, he would naturally be ready to follow his farn into the mercantile. We’d live in a beautiful home in Greystone. We’d move in all the best circles.”
Voice rising, rage filling her, she was yelling now.
“But no, he has to bring me here in the middle of this One-forgotten forest so he can be off somewhere tromping through the woods!”
Jessamin’s intense eyes bored into Lisle.
“And I’m stuck here looking after the likes of you!”
Lisle stood, afraid to leave, afraid to even move as Jessamin's anger impaled her like the weapon it was.
It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s never enough, Lisle thought helplessly, as Jessamin’s words continued to rage around her. She’s letting loose on me again, drowning me in her poison.
Finally, Jessamin’s rage subsided. She picked up her tea cup, took a sip and sighed deeply.
“Get along outside now, Lisle.”
Lisle groped her way to the door, opened it and stepped out, closing it carefully behind her. Jessamin had forgotten about the porridge but Lisle wasn’t about to remind her. With the door now between herself and her terror, Lisle ran.
©Holly Hildreth 2019