DAY 11: The Elori – Part XI

Kilgalan was restless, notwithstanding the fact that the bed whereupon he now lay was the softest and most pleasant thing he had ever felt in his life. He turned over, nestling his head into one of the feather pillows, trying desperately to improve his orientation with every slight alteration; for some reason, however, comfort eluded him at every turn. Inevitably, he sat up, rubbed his eyes, and sighed despondently. His first evening in a bed ended with insomnia.

It wasn’t the bed, though, that caused this restlessness; rather, it was the thought of Vestra, sitting, quiet and alone, in that dark rotunda, tears streaming down her face as she brooded over her own worth and muttered dark imprecations to herself under her inaudible breath. He felt a strong pang of guilt every time the image entered his mind, and could not expunge it from his memory by mere will alone. He stood, stepped into his trousers, and exited his room, skirting the corridor that led to the rotunda.

The walk seemed longer than usual, and the atmosphere more dismal and depressing than it had been before. How much of this could be attributed to actual physical change and to his own mood, he could not guess, although the selection of the latter would have been his initial choice if the question was put to him.

Then he came to the rotunda. He saw Vestra lying upon the flagstone floor, her little bosom rising and falling with the pattern of her breath. Her eyes were closed tightly, her hands folded about her abdomen, and her right leg positioned with the knee pointed up, the left with the knee flat. Though she appeared to be asleep, she was, in reality, quite awake, and was cognizant of Kilgalan’s presence. The boy stepped closer, but before he could get within a few feet, Vestra said, “Is there something you want?” Her tone, though sweet, had become interrogative and refractory, and Kilgalan expected that she would not yield to him easily.

“I… I…”

“Speak, please, and do not waste my time. Sleep is as important to me as it is to you. Out with it, and do yourself and myself a favor.”

“I’m sorry,” Kilgalan said, casting off his pride with these two simple words. “I’m sorry for thinking you less than a human being. I’m sorry for being condescending. I’m sorry for even existing, really; I behaved detestably earlier, and I just wanted to apologize.”

Vestra seemed to ruminate on the matter for a moment before saying, “Have you come to solicit my forgiveness, clear your conscience, or prove your penitence to me?”

“All three,” Kilgalan replied. “And to show you that I am not derisive by nature.”

“You have certainly proved that by coming to me at such a late hour.”

“I couldn’t sleep. My thoughts were invariably riveted upon you. I could not unfasten them.”

“You pity me,” Vestra said simply. “I have enough pity to give some to everyone in the world, Kilgalan. I don’t need yours to augment it.”

Kilgalan coughed and looked around the rotunda, ostensibly surveying the room, but, in truth, searching for another conversational topic. He came upon it suddenly, and said as pleasantly as possible, “So, do you have a family, Vestra?”

Vestra stood slowly, stretched for a moment, smoothed out her silk nightgown, and said, “I do. But they are not my family. We are only related by blood, but are not bound by mutual affection. It is the latter which constitutes a family; the former constitutes the illusion of it.”

“I take it you do not like your relations, then?”

Vestra sighed. “You are rather inquisitive, Kilgalan. I’d prefer if you put your nose elsewhere, where you will not harm anyone with your curiosity.”

“Oh,” Kilgalan said shortly, and there was another silence.

Vestra sniffed, turned her face away in shame to hide a few tears and said, “My family… My family – well, particularly my mother – wants me dead. I’m holding all their power… All of it, and my mother wants it back. The moment I become useless, they’d… Kill me…”

“But the power is yours. She can’t take it back!”

“On death of the heir, the forebear reclaims the power until another heir is produced. That is the tradition,” Vestra replied. She gasped and choked a little, her gaunt little face growing red with tears. “I always wanted to love them – wanted them to love me, but their affections lie in power and not in their own daughter.” She closed her eyes and shook her head, the sobs now clearly audible and pitiful. “I tried… Oh, how I tried! But they said that, if the Retriever did not come within ten years, they’d kill me. Kill me! You’ve come just in time, Kilgalan!”

“Retriever…” Kilgalan repeated. “What does my arrival have to do with anything?”

“If one did not come to enlist my aid within the allotted time, I would be dispatched,” Vestra replied simply, still combatting her tears. “Oh, the dreadfulness of it all! Why don’t they love me? I’ve always been faithful to them, always muttered many endearments in their presence, always trying to show my affection in new ways to them. Why have they forsaken me?” She fell to her knees and buried her face in her hands, weeping in full swing now. Kilgalan watched her with compassion and sympathy, but did not approach her. He was unpracticed in handling these sorts of situations, and thought it best to avoid taking action that he knew would fail.

But the feelings of pity and love for Vestra were so strong that he could not hold himself back. He approached her, laid a hand on her shoulder, and said, “I am here, Vestra.”

Vestra soughed a pathetic little sigh and said, “You are too kind, Kilgalan.”

“It is my duty,” he replied. “I pray that you will forgive me for the vices that I demonstrated earlier today. I have never acted so wicked in my whole life, and crave your forgiveness. Will you grant me forgiveness, Vestra?”

“Of course. Of course. I was silly not to say so immediately.”

“I was silly to apologize so late.”

“You are too modest and self-deprecating, Kilgalan. I thank you for your penitence and the sincerity of your apology. You may retire to bed now.”

Kilgalan bowed, said, “Good night,” and then left without another word. As he departed, though, he hear Vestra say under her breath, “I did not think men could change so quickly.”

When Kilgalan had distanced himself out of earshot, Bartholomew appeared before Vestra, his face grim and his eyes stern. He gazed firmly at the girl and said, with a hint of urgency to his voice, “Do not listen that boy. He’s playing you, Vestra. He’s acting like this only so that he can use you to suit his own desires. Do you really think that Kilgalan would assume such a noble and dignified comportment in the span of a few hours? It’s nonsense, and I will not have it! He must leave at once. He is no benefit to you.”

“Without him, I will die, Mew; and I for one think that he is being sincere.”

“Then he has succeeded in deluding you, Vestra,” Bartholomew replied breathlessly.

“Good night, Mew. I must get some rest. We can discuss this in the morning, when our minds are clear and we are not so inclined to argue.”

Bartholomew bowed and said, “Very well, Vestra. ‘Till the morning, then.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

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