Finally her father spoke. “What were you doing at the Golden Rudder?”
“My Rider-in-training, Fergal, almost drowned in the river during our crossing.” That was definitely the short version of the story. “Cetchum brought me to the Golden Rudder after. I didn’t know what kind of place it was. Not at first.”
“Cetchum,” her father murmured. The ferry master would, of course, be well known to him. Cetchum’s wife was a maid at the brothel, so he’d seen it only as natural to take Karigan there.
“I was surprised to learn from Silva,” Karigan continued, her voice trembling, “that my father was a favored patron.” Incensed and betrayed was more like it.
He placed his hands on his hips and turned away, gazing into the dark. When he faced her again, he replied, “I said there were things I’d never explain, and certainly not to my daughter.”
“What about Mother?” Karigan demanded. “Did she know?”
“This has nothing to do with her.”
It has everything to do with her!
Karigan wanted to scream.
But her father simply walked away. Walked away and out of the stable, and out into the snow.
What had she expected?
She expected a lot, actually, especially of her father. Expected him to honor her mother, to be truthful and upright. Not a ... a
of brothels. Not a pirate. It felt like he’d lived a whole secret life without her. If he kept those secrets, what else might he be hiding?
Her father had become a stranger to her.
With a sigh, she tossed off the horse blanket and shivered in the cold. With one last pat on Condor’s neck, she grabbed both lanterns and left the stable. To her surprise, the pitch black of night was lightening to dusky gray, and the wind had died almost to a whisper. Fat flurries descended in lazy swirls from the sky, nothing like the earlier squalls.
She used the trail her father had broken between the stable and house, thinking they needed to talk things out, not avoid one another. So when she entered the house, she lit a lamp and looked for him in the kitchen and his office; went from room to room, finding only darkness and silence. Upstairs, she heard snoring from behind the doors of her aunts. She halted at her father’s door, which stood ajar. No light shone from within, and she heard nothing.
Hesitantly she pushed the door open and peered inside, thrusting the lamp before her. The blankets on his bed were rumpled, but he was not in it. Where could he be?
She stepped inside, letting the lamplight fill the room. Her father’s bedchamber was spare and neat, just as she always remembered. There were a couple paintings of maritime scenes hanging on the wall, and a ship model was displayed on the mantel. It was
but the river cog
the first vessel he’d built as the primary investor.
A few faint embers glowed on the hearth, and Karigan threw some kindling on them and fanned the fire back to life. Once she had a satisfactory blaze going, she glanced around the room again.
Had it always been this spare? Was it like this when her mother was alive? She found she could not remember.
Her gaze fell upon the chest pushed against the far wall, beneath the window. Her mother’s dowry chest. There had been, in fact, no dowry, for Kariny’s father had not approved of Stevic G’ladheon as a husband, and so the couple ran off sometime after his voyages on the
Her father commissioned the chest so her mother would at least have a sense of coming into the marriage with the goods a bride needed to begin housekeeping. Karigan remembered the chest as filled with fine linens. She had not looked in it since she was a child.
Now she took tentative steps toward it, setting her lamp on a bedside table. She knelt beside the chest and passed her hand over the mahogany, running her fingers over carvings of seashells and ships. To either side of the latch stood a man and woman with hands joined, seabirds circling overhead, and clouds billowing in the sky, a sunburst rayed behind them.
The latch was not locked and Karigan lifted the lid, inhaling the strong scent of cedar.
She found inside not only the expected linens, but other unexpected items, as well. There was a large conch shell as one would find on the beaches in the Cloud Islands. Karigan had some, too, that her father brought back from his voyages, and they were displayed on the mantel in her bedchamber. This one, however, was enormous. She took it out and carefully set it aside.
Beneath it was an infant’s gown, crisp and white, with a blue and yellow needlework design around the hem. Begun, but not finished.
“Oh, gods,” Karigan murmured. This had not been one of hers, but one her mother made for her forthcoming child, the babe that had never been born.
As she continued to explore the contents of her mother’s chest, she found dresses, some let out to accommodate pregnancy. Beneath them, she found an elegant gown of ivory silk. She could almost feel her mother’s presence there with her, and she crushed the dress to her as though hugging her mother. They’d had so little time together.
Karigan sat on her father’s bed, trying to imagine her mother wearing the dress, meeting her father at the altar of Aeryc, reciting their devotions before the moon priest and witnesses.
She sighed and pressed her face into the silk, perhaps trying to feel some essence of her mother in it, but only inhaling the scent of cedar clinging to a garment left long in storage.
She curled upon the bed with the gown, and finally, exhausted, she dropped into sleep.
Karigan awoke to daylight filling the room. For a moment she forgot where she was and sat up shaking her head. She pushed aside her blanket. No, it was her mother’s gown. Then it came back to her—she was in her father’s room. She rubbed sleep from her eyes.
“Well,” Aunt Stace said in an acerbic tone from beside the fireplace, startling Karigan. She held a poker, and was hale and quite wide awake. “Good morning to you. It is the tenth hour of the day.”
“Doesn’t feel like it,” Karigan mumbled.
“I imagine not. It seems both you and your father kept late hours.”
“Where is he?” Karigan asked, wondering why he’d not evicted her from his room.
“Out and about on his snowshoes. He came in briefly at eight hour for tea and a muffin, then headed straight back out.” Aunt Stace shook her head in bemusement. “Said he was out checking the grounds and roads.”
Karigan raised her eyebrows in incredulity.
Aunt Stace rolled her eyes. “If I knew that one, Kari girl, I’d tell you. You know how he gets when he’s some notion in his head—whatever it is.”
Karigan nodded. She did know. Nothing would stop him no matter what obstacles lay in his path—not even a snowstorm. She glanced at the window as if to catch a glimpse of him tramping around on his snowshoes, but saw only frost coating the glass.
Probably checking if the roads are passable so he can be rid of me
Aunt Stace set the poker aside and came to Karigan, smoothing her skirts as she sat on the bed. “What brought this on?” she asked quietly, touching the gown. “Something your father said?”
“No. I ... I don’t know. But Mother—I miss her. I hardly remember her.” Then, out of nowhere, tears came and Aunt Stace wrapped her arms around her, holding her close. She smelled of soap and cinnamon.
“I know, dear, I know.” Aunt Stace rubbed her back. “You do realize she loved you very much, don’t you?”
Karigan sniffed and nodded.
“Good. That’s the most important thing.”
“I remember she liked to sing to me.”
“Yes, she did, and she sang sweetly.”
“One thing I didn’t inherit from her,” Karigan said, and she laughed.
“But you’ve her eyes, her hair, and many of her lovely attributes,” Aunt Stace said. “Never forget she lives on in you.”
Karigan almost started sobbing again, but swallowed it back, and wiped her nose with her sleeve.
“I think,” Aunt Stace said, “a hearty breakfast would make you feel much better.”
Karigan nodded. She
“Good. Then let me help you fold this.” Aunt Stace smoothed a sleeve of the gown. “Your mother was so beautiful in this. Absolutely radiant. Your father on the other hand ...” Aunt Stace chuckled, and it grew into a hearty laugh.
Karigan’s aunts had told the story of her father’s wedding enough times that all one of them had to do was say the word
and they’d all break out in helpless laughter. Except her father who would usually groan and leave the room.
“He—he turned white as the belly of a rayfish when he saw Kariny.” All of Aunt Stace jiggled. “He was so nervous!”
amusing, Karigan thought, to imagine her father sprawled in the moon priest’s arms while the lord-mayor of Corsa and all the elite of the merchants guild looked on. She couldn’t help but join in with Aunt Stace’s laughter.
When they’d mostly recovered, they lifted the gown to fold it, and something solid tumbled from it and plopped onto the bed.
“What in the heavens ... ?” Aunt Stace scooped up the object.
“What is it?” Karigan asked as she finished folding the gown and placed it carefully in the chest.
“A crystal of some sort.” Aunt Stace opened her hand to reveal a clear, rounded crystal that glinted brightly as the light hit it. She rolled it atop her palm and it seemed to collect all the daylight and firelight in the room and recast it in rainbow hues that shimmered on the walls and ceiling. “Pretty thing.”
Karigan murmured, shocked to stillness.
“Say again?” Something odd lit in Aunt Stace’s eyes.
“Muna’riel.” Karigan knew exactly what it was for she had once possessed one, but what in the name of all the gods was an Eletian moonstone doing here among the folds of her mother’s wedding gown?
“Moona-ree-all,” Aunt Stace muttered, scratching her head. “Now that jogs something from a ways back ...”
“What?” Karigan asked.
“I’m thinking.” Aunt Stace glanced down as if searching her memory. “Moona-ree-all. It was something your mother said ...”
“Mother?” Karigan trembled, resisting the urge to shake her aunt to jog her memory.
“Aaah, that’s it,” Aunt Stace said, as if to herself. “We’d wondered what she was talking about, but put it down to the fever.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“It was near the end,” Aunt Stace said, and she sat on the bed again, patting the mattress to indicate Karigan should do likewise.
Karigan thought as she sat.
My mother had a moonstone
“Your mother was so very ill,” Aunt Stace continued. “In and out of delirium. She sang in words we did not know, pointed out dead relatives in the room no one else could see.
She sings to me,
she kept saying.
we’d ask, but she’d only answer,
Like when I was pregnant with Kari. She sings to me.”
Aunt Stace shrugged. “We didn’t know who she meant, but then she pointed out her grandmama and grandpapa, long dead of course. Maybe it was her grandmama that did the singing?”
Karigan shuddered, wondering if she weren’t the only one in her bloodline with a talent for seeing the dead.
“Then quite suddenly,” Aunt Stace said, “she grabbed Stevic’s wrist—made us all jump. Makes me shiver to remember. Stevic leaned down close to her to hear what she said.”
“And what did she say?” Karigan asked, almost whispering.
Aunt Stace’s eyebrows drew together. “
Give Kari the moona-ree-all.
That’s just what she said.
Give Kari the moona-ree-all.
She kept saying it till she dropped Stevic’s wrist in exhaustion. She went peacefully after that, simply faded in her sleep, almost ... almost smiling.”
Karigan had heard a little about her mother’s final moments, how she died peacefully surrounded by those she loved. Never did she hear about her mother seeing dead family members, or about her request that Karigan receive the moonstone.
“I guess this is yours,” Aunt Stace said, holding the crystal to the light, entranced by its beauty. “It is yours, come to you after all these years. At the time, we had no notion of what your mother was talking about, nor were we aware of the crystal’s existence, so we could not give it to you as she requested, and we thought ... We thought it best not to tell you about her last words, because we could only guess it was the fever that made her speak so, and we did not want an account of her confused state to sadden you.”
Karigan thought, but she was not angry. Just stunned. Stunned and perplexed.
“Here you go, dear.” With some reluctance, Aunt Stace rolled the moonstone onto Karigan’s outstretched hand.
The moment it hit her palm it illuminated with such brilliance they both had to shield their eyes.