Chapter 5: The Key
As time will, it moved forward.
My visits to Gran’s cairn grew more random, and shorter.
Atheron went about his life, and cooked dinner for us while he taught me how, and in the evening we’d read, or sit contemplating on our stargazing, or sipping tea and watching the hearth fire shrink in on itself, closing our own eyelids as it dwindled.
Then the day came we opened the door to Gran’s room. I could have searched it while Atheron was on his forays and errands, but while he’d made this part of the house Gran’s bedroom, it was still his home; I had his trust, and I didn’t want to do anything that would make me lose it, so I kept myself occupied tending his garden, cleaning the hearth, reading, and preparing the vegetables and seasoning meats for our meal.
It was late in the day, and the way sun’s rays fell took me back to her dying day and the passing of power. There’d still been nothing that indicated she had; it was as if it never happened.
Not a dream, nightmare, whispering voice, or vision had manifested itself to me.
I’d become aware, too, of Atheron’s own cautious gaze as he watched for something to happen to me. Out of that fear he disguised as not wanting to overtax me, he still refused to let me cook. With a pang of sorrow I realized I couldn’t stay much longer. I was young, strong, and able to look out for myself now.
Gran had said the day would come, and it was getting to the point where he wanted his place back, and I no longer wanted to be confined.
But for now, there was Gran’s room.
“Are you sure you can do this, Tina?”
“I’m fine, Atheron. Thank you. I’ll be fine.”
But he insisted. “Would you like my assistance, or privacy?” He was shifting on his feet, not really comfortable about it, and I knew it was out of a sense of obligation more than anything else.
I turned and smiled at him. “Are you asking sincerely, or out of politeness?”
He returned my smile. “I’ll leave you to it, then, but I’ll leave the door open.”
“All right.” That was fair. He’d been kind to fugitives, not a friend of the family. He never got familiar with Gran; he’d likely only used her name at her insistence. Then, as now, he walked a middle ground, deferring to her age as she deferred to his hospitality, but they never became friends.
She’d called him such, but it was more of general term of affection than a fact.
I sensed too, living the life he did, there was a mistrust of magic; he watched me sometimes when he didn’t think I knew he was there.
There was nothing in her room I hadn’t seen countless times; before being bedridden, Gran kept the room tidy.
As far as I knew, and she’d ever said, there was no secret stash of letters, a locked diary, books, maps, jewels, or anything else that I needed to find after she died, so when I found a small teak chest bound with gleaming brass under the bed, I called Atheron, and he soon filled the doorway.
“What is it?”
I held it up for him to see. “There’s a lock on it.”
“I didn’t find one.”
“What do you want to do?”
“It’s small enough. Can you break it? Perhaps a twist…”
“Maybe you should search a little more. Set it by and keep looking.”
“You won’t help me?”
“I’ll help you after you’ve searched everywhere.” He looked around. “Hannah was a fastidious woman. I’m sure she’d have a key somewhere. And you don’t have to open that now, or even tomorrow.”
“What’s ‘fas…fastidous’ mean?”
“That word you said.”
“Oh,” he said, chuckling. “Fastidious. I meant she was very neat and clean.” His eyes went distant for a moment, “Like my own Gran…”
“Was she magic, too?”
He thought about it a moment. “Not that I remember. Dinner’s almost ready. I’ll call you when it’s done. Try to find the key first.”
He left, and I began to think: Where would she have put the key?
Chapter 6: Discoveries
Fastidious: extremely clean and neat.
Gran had always been that way, but at the same time, finding something under her bed she hadn’t told me about wasn’t like her at all.
I was the only family she had, and she never told me about the small teak chest that was gathering dust beneath her mattress.
Why not? Then it hit me; this was it, I’d have to call on the spirits to open it. It was my first test.
Oh, Gran…I don’t know…
I felt a stirring inside, a spot of warmth in my belly like I’d swallowed something that was still alive. Along with it, a rising panic as my knees went weak and I stumbled against Gran’s dresser.
“Atheron!” I thought I’d shouted, but I heard no sound.
Gran, you told me nothing of this!
I ran from the house, not wanting to unleash whatever horror was filling me into it. Steam rose from my skin.
A distant voice named me; they knew who I was, and to be named was the first step toward control. I was flung onto my hands and knees, my thoughts scattered like leaves, and I forced myself to concentrate through the fear.
Think. Fight. Control.
I felt the panic continue as the voice named me again.
“I didn’t call you! Leave me!” I could hear myself, but my relief was short-lived.
But the key–
“The key be damned! I… I did not call you. Any of you. Leave me.”
The warmth left me, along with the panic and voices, but it had affected me so that when Atheron finally called that dinner was ready, I took a long moment to pull myself together to answer him.
I saw his worried frown when I entered through the back door, as he’d been looking for me in the room. Feeling the weight of his gaze, I kept my eyes on the floor.
Sitting across from me after he’d served us both, he looked at me another long moment. “I thought you were searching for the key.”
“There’s a key, but not a real one.”
“What does that mean?”
“Let’s eat. I’ll tell you as we go.”
We stuffed ourselves as I talked, but whether we ate a lot out of relief or anxiety was hard to say.
Now that I’d done the first calling, I really didn’t have much longer here.
Atheron finished his meal, and asked the one question that I’d wanted to ask Gran, but never did. “Hannah told me some of the story, but I never asked why those with magic didn’t simply enchant the king’s soldiers, or set demons loose on them?
“Maybe if they’d been united, he wouldn’t have won.”
I gave it some thought, but being new to it all, couldn’t come up with an answer that would satisfy us.
It was a good question. So good, in fact, that I decided to find out the answer myself.
“Maybe it wasn’t that simple at all.”
He grunted agreement and went back to eating.