Gabriella rose early that morning, the events of the previous night becoming fresh in her mind as she stepped into the common room where the zary’andu lay sleeping protectively next to the girl. It was certainly obvious who in the prophecy had “befriended the beast.”
She was no fool. Gabriella knew the big cat was wide-awake and listening to her tiptoeing across the wooden planks of the floor. Never would Elise linger in danger nor harm come to her as long as the zary’andu stood by her side.
How incredible – she certainly was one of only a selected few in all the Land to have beheld a zary’andu!
So Elise had attracted the zary’andu. Gabriella had to admit to envy - she had always wanted a companion of that nature. There were, of course, the quel’rian, the furred birds that many of the kyor-gifted sported on their shoulders, but she had never come into the contact of one unattached. Well, Gabriella knew if Elise did not, just how telling of her future Fiaz’ presence was. In recent human history - the last five hundred Eras - only great mages and one or two rulers had experienced the extreme providence to claim (or be claimed by) a zary’andu as a mindmate. Certainly Elise had no concept of the honor the zary’andu beside the hearth had bestowed upon her.
Eventually, Gabriella’s Outworlders began straggling into the warm, sunlit kitchen one by one, though Derrick and Elise were last to rise.
“Where’s Fiaz?” asked Fiona after Elise had cut herself some bread.
“He is at the creek.”
Gabriella had decided to build on to her cabin a separate room in which they could sleep and keep their belongings but with the recent arrival of a sixth body to house, the project could not abide delay. Winter approached with haste and warm quarters were requisite, for the Illyth snows were ruthlessly cold and without prejudice.
After the boys had finished their morning meal, Gabriella led them to the clearing where they chopped wood for the fire. She explained their task, which was to chop down the eight trees of her personal selection. Andrew gazed slowly upward to the tops of the trees and Rick’s eyes bulged while Dar himself raised a skeptical eyebrow.
Patiently Gabriella explained why they were going to do this and that just how much they liked an ice-cold room would determine how well they completed their carpentry.
After Gabriella ascertained that her boys survived the fall of the trees they’d hacked at girlishly, she showed them how to chop them lengthwise for lumber. She sighed, though, as she sadly eyed the fallen trees. She disliked having to cut trees down and even though the trees she had selected so carefully had been competing for sunlight from larger neighboring trees, Gabriella still felt a pang of remorse.
She left them in the process of their customary grumbling – she dared not turn these three young men out of the Illyth - not with the feminine airs they assumed. Not many men in the Land knew how to chop a tree but those same men would not be loathe to learn, nor reluctant, as were these boys. What was their world like that it tolerated such behavior?
When the boys tromped in, shirtless, for the midday meal and a minor hiatus, they collapsed on the floor with aching backs and shoulders. Gabriella suppressed a smile; this project would give them the muscles that would at least make them appear to be men, if their behavior didn’t belie them. She had, of course, neglected to mention that she had built the rest of the cabin, as well as the workshop and stable, with kyor’rashni. Hard, laborious work would do them good, along with the acquired carpentry skills.
Dar quaffed down a generous mug of cool water and glanced about.
“Where’s Elise?” he asked, swiping a dirty forearm across his mouth.
“She is gone with Fiaz for the day,” Gabriella replied calmly, foreseeing another source of contention between the two: Fiaz.
“For the day? Why does she get a holiday?” Dar demanded petulantly.
“She needs to strengthen her bond with Fiaz: they are mindmates,” Gabriella answered coolly.
“Great. We work our butts off and she runs around the countryside.”
Gabriella didn’t understand his language, but she heard the tone behind them and sensed the emotions so thick in the air, what with the Outworlders broadcasting out of ignorance to their own minds.
“She is also gathering the vegetables you will put in your mouth tonight. Had I but known you were so kindly concerned about her welfare, I would have allowed you to accompany her. Tomorrow you may help her gather vegetables, of course. I am pleased you and she like each other so well now,” Gabriella’s sarcastically sweet tone of voice was accompanied with a piercing gaze. This ridiculous vengeance was intolerable. She would not have it said that she neglected to teach these children manners and above all, respect. Arching a meaningful eyebrow, she spun on one heel and stalked into the kitchen.
DarRic was not stupid – he picked up on her meaning and acquiesced to silence with a nod. The feelings the handsome youngster was emoting had turned to those of amused shame, she noted with relief as she replaced her mental barriers.
“After you three have finished the tree you are working on, put your axes away. We will continue weapons practice from where we left off yesterday following your break.”