Chapter Five: "Explanations at Night"
Their uncle speaks softly, mindful of the two sleeping just to the right of the living room. All three look to the bedroom, the door opened wide, a candle flickering inside. Hale can make out Rett’s form, too still but moving all the same, his chest lifting up and down as he lies on what used to be Louk’s bed but is now being given over to their injured guest. Just to the left of the bed is a chair, worn, average in size, but swamping around the small girl that is curled up atop it. Kaethe looks to be sleeping just like her brother, a sleeping draught that Doctor Ensen had ordered being the likely cause, but Hale isn’t so sure. The two Eives – Eivish, Eivish – that he and Louk had stumbled across only days ago seem much slyer and more resourceful than the average person. He wouldn’t put it past her to feign swallowing it all; wouldn’t be surprised if she’d found a way to dump the draught when Ensen’s back had been turned.
As it is, though, both Kaethe and Rett seem to be sleeping, peacefully at the very least, finally silent after hours of screaming and yelling that had shredded through Hale’s ears and practically to his very soul. He couldn’t imagine how he would be if it was his brother fighting for his life. When put into that perspective . . . he thinks that Kaethe handled things remarkably well. He knows he would have been far worse; even more unmanageable.
“Hale?” Uncle Den presses from his place beside the fire, elbows on his knees and hands clasped limply between. He is looking patiently between the two of them, waiting for them to speak and give him the answers he needs to understand and figure things out. “Who are they?”
He lets out a sigh, scratching the back of his neck, wincing at the pull on overtaxed muscles – Kaethe wasn’t lying when she said that her brother wasn’t light. “Eivish.” He is proud of himself for remembering to not use the slur that is so common among the Barrens that it is normal talk, less of an insult and more of a description. “They’re Eivish, Uncle Den.”
To his credit, their uncle takes the news in stride, barely even reacting aside from a twitch in the crease of his eye.
“And what were you doing, associating with Eivish?”
“Like I told you, Louk and I were out hunting when we heard screaming. We went to investigate and we saw Rett about to be killed. Murdered. They were going to cut off his head because he wouldn’t let them take his sister.”
“What were we supposed to do?” Louk puts in, his voice pleading with their uncle to understand – his brother had never taken well to disappointing the older man, practically hero-worshipping him since he was old enough to understand just what that meant. “It didn’t seem right.”
“They could have been criminals,” Uncle Den points out.
“Then why run to our mountains?” Hale wonders.
“. . . I do not know.”
“We couldn’t just let it happen. It was two against sixteen.”
He probably should have kept that number to himself.
“SIXTEEN?” Uncle Den roars, forgetting about the two resting just feet away. Furniture creaks in the dark. They turn to see Kaethe rising from the chair, crossing the room on silent feet and appearing in the doorway.
With the dirt and grime of life on the run washed clean she is actually a very beautiful girl. Wide eyes, dark lashes and thick lips, it’s easy to see why the chase could all have been the result of a refused wedding proposal. It has made Louk a little tongue-tied around her – Hale smirks as he remembers his younger brother stuttering over his words when she’d first come out of the washroom wearing a borrowed pair of pants and a shirt, both pieces of clothing practically drowning her they are so large on her small body.
“We’re sorry to have woken you, Miss,” their uncle apologizes gently.
Kaethe chews her bottom lip, appearing nervous, before saying, “I wasn’t sleeping.”
“I see . . .”
She doesn’t move further into the living room, hanging back towards the shadows, looking like she is trying to hide.
“Since you’re awake,” Uncle Den begins, nodding to the couch where Hale and Louk are sitting, a small space available between them. “Would you be willing to share your side of the story?”
Hale can tell that she doesn’t want to; wants to do anything but that.
“Please?” their uncle presses gently, understanding just how delicate the situation is.
She nods at last, walking slowly and stiffly over, sinking into the space offered – she doesn’t even take it all up, Hale thinks, realizing just how small she really is; how fragile. No wonder Rett was so adamant about her not going with them. Kaethe is practically begging to be protected, with her size and her fear that can almost be tasted on the air. It seems so wrong, so unnatural for her to be this way even though this is the only way Hale has ever really seen her.
“I . . . I want you to know how . . . how grateful I am for your helping us. Me and my brother. We . . . we were just running, trying to get away. We weren’t looking for you or . . . or anything. We just wanted to get away,” she says hoarsely.
“Get away from what?” Uncle Den asks.
“From the Eivish.”
That throws their uncle for a loop.
“What do you mean? You are Eivish. Why would you need to run from your own?”
“Because nothing . . . nothing’s like it used to be. Not since the Nobles took over and . . . They invaded my home a few years ago, started using us for labor and personal errands. We had no choice. They . . . they usurped our lively hood and . . . I was stupid. That’s why my brother and I were running; why we were on your mountain. We didn’t think they’d follow, but they did and we had nowhere else to go.”
She bites her lip again, debating, fighting with herself over what she should say, if she should say. Hale can see the war she is waging. He can see that she is considering running.
“We just want to be able to help,” he tells her in a hushed whisper, trying not to startle her, trying to get her to understand that she is safe.
Kaethe looks at him, searching, and then makes her decision. “I told Hale and Louk that, um, that the man chasing my brother and me was upset that I refused to marry him. That’s true. But it’s not everything. It’s not . . . I was stupid. I . . . I know I’m pretty, and I let that get to my head. I thought I was invincible, that I could do anything because my looks always let me do it before. But I was wrong. I was really, really wrong.” Her voice quivers and breaks, and she stops, blinking harshly in the dim firelight. “Georgie, that’s his name. He liked me. I . . . I encouraged it even though I didn’t like him back; even though I was already with someone. I liked the attention, the gifts, the doting, so I . . . I didn’t see the harm, and then he asked me to marry him. I said no and . . . and he didn’t take it well.”
They wait for her to keep going, but she doesn’t. Instead she curls in on herself, arms pulled tight to her chest as her spine shakes with tremors that have nothing to do with any chill in the air – the house is pleasantly warm.
“Kaethe?” Hale calls, debating whether or not he should try to touch her. “Kaethe, what happened?”
She draws in a shaky breath. “You can’t tell Rett,” she says fiercely, glancing at each of them in turn. “If I tell you then you can’t tell Rett. Ever. He can’t ever know. I . . . I won’t let him be hurt for me again. Please.”
“Okay,” they all agree.
With another inhale she stands, turning so that her back is faced to them all. And then she pulls the borrowed shirt over her head to reveal her back, once obviously blemish free, but now marred by a wide, fading-pink letter that spans three inches on either side of her spine.
A giant ‘T’ has been etched into her skin, the fancy wisps of calligraphy used to make the mark.
“I was walking home from a job. It was late, but . . . I’d made the walk hundreds of times before so I didn’t think anything of it. I . . . I got jumped this time, taken to an abandoned house on the outskirts of the city. Georgie . . . he was so mad that I turned him down, he . . . he said that everyone would know what I was even though—So he . . . he . . .”
“He branded you,” Uncle Den finishes on a whisper.
Kaethe pulls her shirt back down, hugging herself as she spins to them once more. She nods.
“He branded you a thief,” their uncle continues.
Her nod this time is slightly more delayed.
“You are from Thress.”
“. . . Yes.”
Hale looks to his brother who is just as lost as he is.
“What did we miss?” Louk asks.
“Thress is a well known harbor city in Eiveyn,” their uncle explains when it becomes apparent that Kaethe will not. “It is the home of many involved in the Thieves’ Guild. It would seem, Nephews, that you came to the rescue of two running thieves.” There is accusation in Uncle Den’s voice as he looks over to the girl that is trying to fade into the shadows that dance along the walls.
“We haven’t been thieves for years. Not . . . not since the Nobles took over. We’ve . . . we’ve mostly just been trying to survive, keep out of their way,” she explains, begging them to understand. “We’re not what we used to be. Just . . . just like you’re not the assassins for hire that you once were.”
Her point is a good one.
It gets the attention of their uncle at the very least.
“So he branded you, and then you fled.”
Kaethe shakes her head. “No. I . . . I told and . . . I ended up starting an uprising. It failed. People were killed. I killed them. I . . . I brought the wrath of the Nobles down on Thress and Rett dragged me away. We ran, but Georgie followed and he caught us and he was going to kill my brother and take me back with him, make me marry him or . . . or . . . but then Hale and Louk came and . . . you know the rest.”
The silence that follows is tense. Uncle Den stares into the fireplace, scrubbing a palm over his jaw, thinking long and hard about what to do next. Louk, unable to stand the quiet and seriousness of the moment, gets up and goes into the kitchen where he can be heard rummaging around, probably just looking for something to occupy himself for the time being. And Hale, he sits there staring at Kaethe, wondering if he should go to her or if he should leave her alone, give her some space. Her admission was a difficult one, and he can understand her worry. He wouldn’t want to tell what happened to anyone, but especially to strangers.
“I will leave. If that helps,” Kaethe offers, breaking the quiet.
“What?” Hale and his uncle ask together.
From in the kitchen Louk pokes his head out. “What?” he echoes. “What happened? What’d I miss?”
The girl sighs, lowering her arms from where they had been wound around her ribs, now playing with the rolled sleeves of the sweater. “I will leave,” she repeats. “If my being a thief is a problem then I will leave. But my brother isn’t one. He left the life three years ago. He just got caught up in everything because . . . because of me. So I’ll go, but please, can he stay? At least until he’s better? He isn’t a thief. He’s just a sailor; a fisherman. He can’t do any harm . . . much harm,” she amends as an afterthought. “Just . . . just let him get better?”
“Why . . . ? What . . . ?” Uncle Den is stuttering over himself, making to stand but thinking better of it when Kaethe flinches back. Still sitting by the fire, Uncle Den heaves a breath. “We’re not sending you away. Not you or your brother. It doesn’t matter where you came from, what or who you are. Well, not entirely. It gives us an idea. But your brother saved my nephew. That has earned you respect; it has earned you a place to stay for as long as you require.”
This time it is Kaethe who is startled. “I don’t understand.”
“We will not turn our backs on those who need help,” their uncle clarifies. “Especially ones who return the favor. You may stay, Miss, for as long as you need; for as long as you want.”
“How . . . how can you just decide something like that? Aren’t there committees to go through? Don’t you have a hierarchy to follow?” she wonders, distractedly running her fingers through her smooth – no longer a bird’s nest of tangles and twigs – pale blonde hair.
Uncle Den actually laughs. “Miss, did my nephews ever mention just who I am?”
She shakes her head, glancing over to Hale, asking silently for help, for clarification. He smiles widely back, which only makes her more confused.
“I am the Lord Chief of Barrow, Miss,” Uncle Den explains. “My word is law around here. And if I give you permission to stay, then you have permission to stay.”
Their uncle nods. “We will need to sit with the Elder Council. Possibly tomorrow. They will wish to iron out details for your staying. Just preliminaries, such as where you will stay and what contributions you make to the city.”
“Okay,” she agrees.
“Okay,” Uncle Den reaffirms. “Get some sleep, Miss—”
“Kaethe,” she corrects quickly. “Just Kaethe. Or Kae.”
Uncle Den smiles warmly, putting her to ease as he stands up, easily towering over the girl who comes up to his elbow. “Get some sleep, Kaethe. We’ll figure everything else out in the morning.”
She nods, turning back to the room where her brother still sleeps, curling back up in the arm chair.
“Same for you two,” Uncle Den continues, turning to Hale and Louk, who has since returned from the kitchen with a glass of water. “Tomorrow will be a long day.”
Their uncle bids them goodnight, hugging both while telling them that they did a good thing, bringing Kaethe and Rett to Knoll even if not everyone will agree. And then he goes down the hall to his own room while Hale and Louk set up blankets on the couch and flooring, bedding down for the night since their own bedroom is currently occupied by the Eivish siblings.