Fellyans (part seven)
“Your husband seems not a bad sort,” Alma remarked. No answer came.
She unhooked the pot, backed from the fire, elbow-length in heavy gloves, and decided the floor was the place. Jorinda’s stew bubbled on. “Watch you don’t get too near with your pretty skirt, love.”
“Is there a lid?” Coral asked.
“Ah, is there? Look, and see if you spot one.”
Finch eased in from the garden. “He’s on the backend of the shed, and I told him to wait for you.”
“Will he?” said Alma.
“With a face like sour milk, but he swore his oath.”
Coral moved to crouch, and gingerly placed a disk of cold metal. It sank, and the pot erupted in a cloud of steam.
She rose. “Has my hair gone springy? Oh, well! Let him see I’m not changed. I think I’ve ruined lunch, by the way.”
“Then I’d say carry on with your plan,” said Alma. “Accidents are never accidents.”
“I can hardly endorse that.” Coral licked a fingertip and tried the pot’s handle. “If only I had something like that article of Bede’s. The broth bowl.”
She was no longer in the kitchen, but behind the shed with Vincent. A table and two chairs had come into being between them, the chairs banging both in the knees. Both fell sitting. Plates were provided, flagons, spoons, and a wide, shallow bowl of broth; a loaf of bread centered, soaking.
“Have some,” said Coral. “Eat before you leave.”
“No. Not conjured food. There’s bound to be wickedness woven in.”
“Oh, never from Finch! I will eat some.”
Leaning to scoop at the soft, brothy bread, she kicked Vincent in the shin.
“Here then, give me first go. Coral…” He pressed her fingers, taking the plate. “I can’t say you’ve gone fancy, for setting up in the Pocketlands. That dress, though…”
She waited, telling herself, take it as a compliment.
“It’s becoming,” Vincent finished. “The color’s strong. I suppose Langham’s got you help in the house?”
“I have never asked him to. And the dress isn’t mine. No… In fact, Jorinda told me it was.”
The lips pursed. “We do not take charity.”
“Hutterers? In our pride, do you mean? It happens I’ve taken scads of charity from Bede and Jorinda.”
Vincent looked at her, and she inched her defiant chin until she’d met his eyes. He was sorry, she read. You let me make my bed, so now you have to let me lie on it, crossed her mind, per retort…and she judged her position too weak for bothering.
“When did you last hear from your parents?” he asked.
“Not since I came away. We wanted that, you know it.”
“Langham wouldn’t have thought of giving them a little cottage, on one of his hills?”
Coral returned Vincent a long silence. And a measuring gaze. “They were loyal to their king in those days. And their king tended to ruffle his feathers over ‘taking charity’.”
He thrust a hand in his hair. The fat ring denoting his sovereignty snagged in the tangle, and Coral watched the infatuation of her girlhood getting the worst of it, at battle with himself.
She left her chair to perform the extraction. “Quiet. Be still. There!”
He sighed, toying with a twig fallen to his shoulder. “Coral. I don’t think you can have heard the news…if you haven’t been in touch… We’re gone, all of us.”
“Gone. What does that even mean?”
“The Queen’s soldiers. They razed the huts. They marched us to the border. They put us over, and told us to fend for ourselves. Your parents, your cousin Callow and your cousin Gilp…and all the Scrubbs, the Mudders, the Twiggins, Half-nosed Eldo, Rusty the Rough Sleeper, Widow Shingles, Old Nanny Stodd… Who would have died from the trudge, but we happened on that sprite, Nightfeather…”
“Who found a spell to turn her into a holly.”
“Do you call that a good thing?”
The hand made for the hair. Coral in haste stayed the elbow, and Vincent, deprived of expression, flailed a moment, distrait. “Why not? A holly, a fern, a toadstood… All of us, Coral! The ones we care about and the ones we don’t! Hutterers are only a people now, not a nation.”
“But you didn’t stay! To look after your people.”
“She says your,” Vincent muttered.
“Our. My parents. My cousins.” She paused, conceding: “I don’t that much like Gilp…”
“The people gave me the boot. Does it please you? The third day, we’d got down to chewing odd bits of leather…those that had them… It was Breen Mudder, stood up before the others and said, vote him out! We’ll have a government of our own! And I said, you can’t vote me out when you didn’t vote me in, in the first place!
“Which ended up not quite the point I’d hoped to make. They had me sit and stay, and were off trudging. Those stragglers we’d picked up, the laundrywoman and the sprite, were the only two to stick by me.”
“You’d endeared yourself, no doubt.”
She dropped to her seat, and for a space they ate; the broth an odd, honeyed-savory concoction, the bread seasoned with bergamot. They drank Finch’s elixir, feeling soporific, when Coral hauled herself straight.
“And so my poor parents are Fellyans now, wandering out there alone! Vincent, what will we do to find them?”
“You and Langham, do you mean?”
Coral felt both cut and properly rebuked. Had she been thinking of running away with Vincent? But more than shame, she felt ire. She dug a cloth from the band of her dress, and banged it next to the serving bowl he was now eating out of directly. “This is not charity. I swindled that money from Bede, and I did it for you!”
(2022, Stephanie Foster)