She was late. Her work done for the day, Feira politely declined the other’s offers to go out with them. She felt sick with nervousness. Maybe Auntie won’t notice. Maybe she won’t mind. Scampering out the back door of the kitchens, Feira nearly collided with a guard on patrol. Bobbing a quick courtesy, and calling back an apology she raced for her father and aunt’s flat.
Not slowing her pace, the girl tied her hair back into a tight bun. She fixed the buttons of her blouse, straightened her collar, and tied her apron a little too tight. Auntie always huffed about her not keeping herself stiff and trim. But Auntie huffed about a lot of things.
Taking a breath to summon her courage, Feira slowed to a stop on the small porch. Turning the door handle as quietly as she could, she slipped inside.
“Feira? Is that you?” barked Raewiel’s harsh voice from the kitchen.
Feira winced. “Yes, Auntie.” Smoothing out her apron, she nodded to Lirion who sat on an old sofa, reading.
The girl’s father glanced up to her, then back to his book. “You better get in there. She’s not happy.”
She never is, Feira thought, though she knew better than to say it out loud. Tucking a stray hair behind her ear, she glided into the kitchen. “‘Evening, Auntie. I’m sorry, I –” She didn’t have time to duck as the fat woman smacked her over her head.”
“Worthless thing! Where have you been?” Raewiel then shoved a bowl of boiled potatoes into Feira’s hands. “You were supposed to be here an hour ago!”
Feira teetered for a moment as the room came back into focus, and she clung to the bowl so as not to drop it. It’s going to be a long night. “I was about to say that –” Feira stopped, swallowed, and started again as she caught a glare from the older woman. “Forgive me, Auntie. There were more chores tonight since a few of the girls were out sick. It won’t happen again.”
Raewiel chuffed out a sharp laugh. “That’s what you said last time, you empty-headed twit.” The woman returned, and wagged a potato masher inches from Feira’s nose. “You made us late tonight. You’re so inconsiderate of your own family. I’ve had it up to here with you, missy.”
Taking the masher from the woman’s fat fingers, Feira began to work on the potatoes. “Not much of a family,” she mumbled under her breath.
“What did you say?”
Feira looked up with fearful eyes and blinked innocently at Raewiel who pulled biscuits out from the side of the cookfire. “I said that the bread smells wonderful.”
Raewiel huffed. “Good. Gotta get you well fed. You’re so skinny, it’s not right. Need to put some meat on your bones.”
Feira worked in milk and melted butter to the mix. “I have plenty of meat on my bones, thank you.”
She could feel the woman’s gaze on her. “What would you know? Boys like girls with a little substance. No one will like you if you’re always a scrawny bird. It’s a shame, really, that you look so much like her. Seems you got her bird brains, too.”
Feira’s stirring slowed. “Don’t speak of her like that. I’m rather proud that I look like her,” she says quietly. “And you have plenty of “substance”. Where are your suitors?”
“You’ll hold you’re tongue.”
Raewiel turned to face her. “No? Smart-mouthed little ass. You’re stupid, and worthless, and ungrateful. Who clothes you and feeds you, eh? Who got you your job? Though, I’m not sure why the Lord and Lady are fool enough to still keep you.”
Feira stood a little straighter even as she retreated a step as the woman drew near. “I haven’t taken a penny from you or father for the past year. I feed and clothe myself. If you remember, you still owe me for last month’s groceries. As for my job, Torrin got it for me.” She then sucked in a sharp breath and lifted her chin to look the woman in the eyes for the first time. “I’m smart, and I work hard, and when I am around you will never speak of the Lord and Lady and my mother with such disrespect.”
The girl’s world spun as Raewiel backhanded her across the face. “I don’t know where you’ve gotten the notion that you can speak to me like that, but I will not tolerate it, you little rat. Finish cooking supper. You’re grounded for the summer. Also, your father needs to speak with you about your mother’s trust.”
Hot tears springing to her eyes, Feira put a cold, delicate hand to her cheek. Reaching past the woman, she stabbed the masher into the pan. “You finish cooking supper. And you cannot ground me,” she said firmly.
“Oh? I can’t, can I?” Raewiel turned back around, hands balled into fists on her hips.
“And why is that?”
Feira narrowed her amber eyes at the woman. She dared not pause lest her sudden courage abandon her. “Because you’re not family. You’re just a bitter old woman who hates me for something that wasn’t my fault. Family helps each other and loves each other, and you’re just cruel. I will be eighteen this summer. I am plenty old to live on my own. And as for mother’s trust? You and fa — You and Lirion won’t see a penny of it.”
Raewiel stared at her for a moment, blinking in surprise at the young woman before her. Then her forehead wrinkled, and her lips curled, and her hand shot forward. “Why you little –”
A shadow suddenly towered over the both of them. A strong hand grasped Raewiel’s wrist, keeping her from breaking off Feira’s necklace.
“Let go, Raewiel,” said a firm voice.
More tears sprung to her eyes. She couldn’t see through the veil of salty water, but she new the voice to be Torrin’s.
The older woman consented, and for once in her life she was speechless.
Torrin released his hold on the woman’s arm, and turned his back to her. Gently moving Feira’s hand, he inspected her cheek. Letting out an angered breath through his nose, the young man untied her apron, took down her hair, and, leaving a kiss on her forehead, directed her to the door. “Wait outside for me Faerie. I need only to speak to this woman for a minute.”
She felt numb, and her cheek throbbed as she made her way through the small flat. Lirion had not moved from where he sat, and this time Feira did not acknowledge him. Stepping outside, she did not keep the door from banging shut. Feira sat down on the bottom step, and all the energy that had built up in her escaped like air from a ball. She could hear the angry, rumbling voice of Torrin inside. Just his voice.
Taking a deep breath, she pulled a clean handkerchief from her pocket to wipe away the tears. The past few minutes felt like a blurr, and she had no idea what had possessed her. Hugging her arms to herself, Feira looked down the shadowy, lamp-lit street. Whatever it was, she hoped it stayed.