(I’m still fiddling around with Chapter 23. Can’t get the tone quite right. But thought I’d go ahead and post 24 since it’s the last chapter I have written at the moment…)
Despite the long, stressful night, the breaking of fast was lively around the table. The gloom of the evening’s events was dispelled by the warmth of the sun. There was much to discuss and much to be seen to before the company could leave for Colwyn Bay. Several small packages wrapped with brown paper and string sat on the cupboard — potions and teas Maree had hurriedly made for her regular customers for while she was away. Will and Fergus would soon be off to make arrangements for a wagon and two and arrange for the supplies they would need. The young women were set to tidying the house while Maree prepared to collect rare herbs and flowers from her garden to take to Avram.
In the midst of these preparations, the rattling of straining boards and jangling of metal reins could be heard pulling up in front of the house. Immediately alert, Will fetched his short sword from where he’d propped it against the door frame and waited. Fergus moved to stand in front of Anya and Khalen, his dirk at the ready in his hand. There was a timid knock on the door. Once, then again. Holding the sword behind him, Will opened the heavy door to the visitor. A quick glance at the wagon and the half dozen children sitting on bundles of bedding and supplies, and he recognized the family who had driven by the house in the night on the way into town.
“Good morning,” said a somewhat harried looking mother holding a coughing, wiggling youngster. She hurried quickly on without waiting for a reply. “I’m sorry to bother Miss Maree so early, but we’re on our way to Colwyn Bay and I’ve need of some medicament for our youngest. His cough is raspy and his chest congested.”
Before Will could answer, Maree pushed past him and opened the door wide, her hand on his arm to let him know all was well. He replace the sword behind the door and poured himself another cup of strong coffee all the while keeping an eye on the visitor.
“Ellen, please come in.” Maree motioned for the woman to enter. “This is the third time in as many months. Poor little Caleb,” she said stroking the child’s arm. Maree held her hand to his forehead for a moment. “He’s a fever again as well.”
Ellen nodded and looked as if she couldn’t decided whether to stand there and cry or lay down and sleep. “We’re leaving, Miss Maree. Going to the coast to see if the sea air will help rid him of this cough. But I’ve run out of the honeyed syrup you made. I wondered if you might have a bit more for our journey.”
“I’ll be most happy to mix some. You look as if you could use a little tonic yourself to help you stay awake, my dear. It’s not easy having a sick child to care for with all the other young ones, is it?”
Ellen’s chin quivered against her baby’s head as her composure began to slip. Reminded of Fergus’s little Andrew back home, Khalen’s heart stirred. “May I hold him?” she asked Ellen.
As Khalen reached for the child, Will moved to stop her for fear the fever might be catching, but Fergus shook his head and restrained him. He’d seen his share of sick babes with his own four and doubted very much that was the case. He knew what diphtheria looked and sounded like. He’d seen it often enough among sailors. This, he suspected, was plain croup. And no doubt the woman was right. The sea air might do the babe good.
Ellen nodded gratefully and passed him to Khalen’s outstretched arms. Caleb reached for her and wrapped one one tiny hand in her tangled hair, his head resting on her shoulder, the thumb of the other hand in his mouth between racking spasms. She began to pace the floor, swinging him gently in her arms as she’d done so often with the younger Frasier children. And as she walked she sang him a shanty of the sea, something her father had often sung to her. Her voice was so pure and clear that all in the room were arrested by her song. The child most of all, for he closed his eyes, his breathing eased, and he slept peacefully for the first time in days
Hush-a-bye, my little child,
Hush-a-bye, though winds blow wild;
While the storms rage o’er the sea,
You shall sleep in serenity.
Sea winds whistle a lullaby;
Sea winds whistle a lullaby.
Maree was struck by the otherworldly melody and the attentiveness of the listeners. Will stood with his cup half way to his mouth, head cocked to one side, eyes unfocused and far away. Fergus’s eyes were closed, his thoughts, no doubt, with his own son on the other side of the mountain. Ellen stood quiet and relaxed, leaning against the table for support.
But Anya… Anya walked over to the pair and laid her hand on the sleeping child. Then in a voice as clear and ethereal as Khalen’s, she began to sing along. It was almost as if a spell had been cast upon the room as the young women sang in perfect harmony. And Maree wondered where her daughter had learned the song.
It was a shout from the wagon outside that broke the spell. “Get yourself out here, woman. We’ve got to be on the road or it’ll be dark afore we get there.”
Maree smiled at Ellen’s distressed look and led her along to the workroom assuring her the child was in good hands. Will set his cup in the sink and urged Fergus out the door. They, too, had best be on their way. Khalen and Anya smiled shyly at each other. Something had passed between them, though neither could have said what.
“Here you are then, love,” Maree said, handing Ellen two bottles of the cough syrup mix of honey and lemon. “And here is a rub for his little chest. It’s camphor and olive oil. Rub it on when the coughing is very bad, and cover it with a warm piece of flannel. It will help to relieve the congestion.”
Anya had cleared away the breakfast clutter, washed and stored all the dishes in the cupboard. It was with some regret and more than a little homesickness that Khalen returned the child to his mother’s care. Running her hand through his duck-down, wheat-colored hair, she kissed him gently on the cheek. She and Anya stood with Maree watching as Ellen climbed nimbly into the wagon. The sleeping Caleb didn’t stir. As they pulled away, Ellen looked back at Khalen and smiled. Khalen raised her hand in farewell and shouted over the jingling harnesses, “May the winds be with you!”
Maree stared wide-eyed at the young half-Elven woman. She KNEW that blessing, but where had she heard it? Puzzled, she turned, leaving the two gazing after the departing family, seated herself in her rocker, and sat very still. Then she remembered. In her mind’s eye she could once again see the young Elvish captain standing on their stoop, hat in hand. He’d come, he said, for a tonic for his irritable stomach. The bar keep at the tavern had been most helpful in pointing him along to her, the town’s apothecary. Maree had remarked that she was most surprised his stomach was irritable on land rather than at sea. To which he had replied his innards didn’t know what to do when they weren’t being sloshed around. She had never thought to question his words nor why he’d be so far inland.
Instead, she had laid her sleeping infant in her cradle and gone into the workroom to fetch an herbal tea of spearmint for him. When she returned he was standing by the cradle rocking it and singing to the baby a lullaby of the sea. The same lullaby, she realized, that Khalen had sung to little Caleb — and that Anya had known as well. He had smiled and said he had a young daughter of his own at home in Belfalas.
That had been the first time she had met the captain, but his business had often brought him to this part of the country. He became a regular visitor to the Durran home over the next few years. How many? Three perhaps? He and Nathaniel got on well and enjoyed each other’s company. He was attentive to Maree, bringing her coffee and herbs from far away lands. And always he sang and played with Anya. Then suddenly he stopped coming. The last thing she remembered of him was his wave and farewell of “May the winds be with you!” They never heard from him again, and after a time Maree stopped wondering what had happened to him. It had to have been 13 years ago now.
She turned to look at the face of the girl standing with her daughter and wondered that she had not seen it before. The same strong jaw, same small, button nose. She looked just like him. Just like . . . Finn! Was it possible? Was Captain Findarian Ehvronn, Khalen’s father? The room spun as the threads of destiny began to weave their web.
“Are you alright, mama?”
Maree was startled to find Anya kneeling in front of her.
“You look white as a sheet.” Anya touched her mother’s cheek that quickly flushed a deep pink.
“I am fine, my dear. Just a bit overwhelmed thinking of all that must be done before we leave.” She patted her daughter’s hand and got up, setting the rocker to roll back and forth. “I had best be gathering those herbs.” She walked absently past the kneeling girl, picked up a wicker basket in the workroom, and went out to the garden where she stood for long moments pondering what Findarian Ehvronn had to do with her daughter. Was his appearance in their life just at the time they found Anya intentional? Was it merely a coincidence that his daughter was here during this unexpected and dangerous time? Or was it providence? If so, how was the girl related to Anya? Or was she?
With so many questions swirling in her mind, Maree set about choosing the plants to take to Avram. At least one question had been answered for her. She now knew what had happened to the young Elvish captain with the beautiful voice.
(Maree had heard Khalen’s story in a previous chapter and knew the girl’s father had been murdered.)