Liliath frowned down at her book but otherwise revealed no indication she heard the disruptive voice. Her back was pressed against the tree which she had hoped would conceal her figure from across the field. With a sigh of annoyance she carefully marked her place on the well-worn page. She twisted slightly to spy Valery stumbling through the tall grass and saw the woman was clearly heading directly for her. Liliath watched with mild interest as Third Mother huffed up the small incline and sighed heavily; it was a clear indication she would have to find a new hiding place to read.
“Liliath. There ye are,” Third Mother said crossly, a frown tightening her otherwise youthful face. Her plump cheeks were flushed from the exertion which made her wonder how long Valery had been hunting her down. Clearly too long. “Slacking on your duties again. Why do you try me so?”
Liliath sighed deeply which made Third Mother’s frown deepen. “I was only taking a rest, Mother Valery.” Mother Valery was not much older than Liliath herself and so she was the one member of her foster father’s household Liliath received the most support from. Usually Liliath needed support behind her when she confronted First Mother.
Valery’s face softened slightly. “Ye know what First Mother would say ta that.”
Liliath stood up slowly. “Oh, yes. Take no rest when there is work to be done.”
“And there always be work ta do,” Valery said with a robust laugh.
“Reading such books opens the heart to temptation,” Liliath added, pretending to be stern.
“And laziness be the luxury of lords and not of honest workin’ folk. You best learn ye place, lass!” Valery said, imitating First Mother better that Liliath could and as she did all her anger melted from her face.
“I think she is only jealous that I can read and she cannot. She barely tolerates Brother Gerald, and I don’t think she has ever forgiven him for ‘putting ideas into my head’,” Liliath grumbled. “She resents the fact that Father has encouraged me in my pursuits and let Brother Gerald teach me. She thinks it’s not a woman’s place to learn such things because it will only make her think and thinking leads to questions and disobedience. And we all know that women are to follows our Father’s or Husband’s without question.”
“Liliath, ye know I have always thought ye should follow yer own path. But even I, a simple woman, know the teachings of the Church. First Mother only says what she be taught to say. Come now, let’s return to the holding. First Mother wants a word with ye and she will not be pleased that it took me this long to find ye.”
“Is she terribly mad?” Liliath asked hesitantly.
“Right furious, she be.”
“I can say that I was visiting with the Brother, she knows I have been taking care of him since he fell ill.”
“That’s not likely to ease her. She’s mistrustful of the Brother. He be foreign, and it don’t matter ought he has been here so long. He borders on ungodly in her eyes.”
Liliath snorted. “No more foreign than I.” There was no denying that she was adopted and clearly not native to the area. Most of the Holderkin were of a light skin, brown hair and brown eyed mold. Sometimes beautiful brown eyes so dark they looked to be as dark as the core. Although occasionally, like Valery such things a red hair sprouted up to add flavor to the mix. Liliath was different in all respects. She had golden blond hair as straight as could be, with bright sparkling green eyes. Her skin was darker as well, not bronze like the tribes to the south across the waterway or burnt black like some said there was further south, but a golden shade- as if she tanned ever so lightly without the dirty tanned look the Holder Kin received.
Because of her unique features some people thought she were a changeling and not quite human. Most of the more reasonable folk noted her mother had been Anathalsian and such folk had her features, light hair and eyes; they reasoned the skin was a product of a mix between the north and the south continent. Since her mother had been a refugee it was entirely possible Liliath’s blood was mixed. There had been speculation about her origins since she was born. It was simply one of those conversations that never died in a small community. Liliath’s mother had died with the secret of her daughter’s father hidden safely. Liliath herself did not even learn the truth until the truth had found her. Being raised by God-fearing people she was hardly going to admit she had dream visions of a father that was not even human but rather of the exiled faerie race. She was exotic enough to seem strange, she hardly needed speculation as to whether she possessed a soul.
Even though her mother had been a refugee, she had been a person of rank when she fled her homeland. So that meant Liliath as well had some rank, such as it was. Although it was not so much rank as quality of breeding and blood that counted, since clearly she had no land. Although her mother had brought family jewelry with her and that paid for Lilith’s care and future marriage. When her mother had died the chieftain had taken her in as a fosterling, as was befitting. Regardless, First Mother never failed to point out that it was generous of her foster father to take her in and see that she was properly raised and taken care of, which apparently she should be eternally grateful for and thank the All God above for her good fortune. First Mother saw Liliath as an obligation and a tiresome one at that.
It did not help that Brother Gerald insisted she learn knowledge which quickly made her separation from others more than merely physical. Brother Gerald remained her mother’s faithful servant and raised Liliath in the Anathalsian ways, even though such ways were heretical in Parth. Liliath brushed the cover of her treasured book; a book she had practically memorized. Her thirst for knowledge made her even more different from her peers. Liliath did not mind, as uniqueness did not seem a curse but rather represented a spirit with a strong will to resist conformity. At least it was something she prided in herself, but was not something someone sought in a wife. Brother Gerald opened her eyes to fascinating abstractions and complex theories. Losing herself in deep thought was what made her mundane existence pleasurable. When she was young it made her feel a connection to the mother she never knew. That was not something many sturdy Holderkin folk understood. First Wife seemed to believe hard work and a harsh husband would beat these traits out of her.
“Wipe that defiant look of ye face, Liliath. If ye be respectful ta her, she’ll be less likely to punish ye. Then ye be free to care for the brother’s supper.”
Liliath hugged the book to her chest and smiled slightly. “I bow to your wisdom, Third Mother. Scrubbing the floors all night will not help Brother Gerald.” Liliath tried to work her face into a more compliant expression as she followed Valery down the hill. If she had learned anything from her stoic foster kin, it was to keep her expression aloof.
Valery laughed. “Wisdom! Ha.” Valery paused a moment and then said carefully, “So on the morrow is yer birthing day.”
“Yes,” Liliath replied, suddenly wary at the abrupt shift in topic. It was abnormal to comment on a birthing day of a child unless it meant something significant.
“Ye be seventeen seasons then.”
“It be time ye consider yer options.”
“Is that what this is about?” Liliath asked. She had been so certain First Mother just wanted to lecture her about chores again. Being trained as a Wife in a holding required learning many Duties. Since one never knew if one was to become a First wife and simply manage a household, or a Third Wife of a poor household and actually do the work oneself.
“Aye, it is I fear.”
Valery let her contemplate this as they crossed the field. Liliath tried to contain her anxiety as they neared the wooden stockade that surrounded the fort.
As they entered the hold Liliath got progressively more nervous. A little agitated she smoothed the rough material of her drab brown dress. Color was not something the Holderkin believed in. When she was sent for more formal schooling for a year and fostered out to a Parth minor lord for two summers she had indulged in current fashions. Of course, she had been the exception. It was well known that only a Chieftains son went to formal schools and only those that could afford it. Certainly a child was never sent to stay with Parthian lords, for they were lax and not as devout as the reclusive Holderkin in the Forts were. It was well speculated upon that her upraising was due to a pact between her foster father and her mother on her death bed, and Liliath was being groomed to be married off to a Parthian Lord rather than a Holderkin Chief. A well accepted fact, since no one truly could look upon her and believe she was worthy material for a Holderkin man.
Liliath wondered what it was that First Mother was considering. Liliath had not had her first moon cycle yet and at her age it was not likely going to come she feared. So it did not seem marriage was not an option. Her Foster Father would be hard pressed to make a good Holderkin match for her considering she was obviously not good breeding material and her ’good Anathalsian blood’ and education would not be a selling factor. Liliath did not think a Parthian lord would be tempted to take on the daughter of an exiled noblewomen with little dowry either when the likelihood of her bearing him children was in doubt.
Liliath had seen women shunned when they were demonstrated infertile by not conceiving in the first year of wedlock. The marriage was severed and they were sent back to their family in shame. She had no calling to the church, so surely they were not considering sending her to the nunnery. Maybe they did not care that she had no calling for the All God’s work if they had no other place for her.