Chapter 9 – All in one day

Raymond awoke from a dreamless sleep to the silence of morning. The rain had stopped, yet he also did not hear any morning birds. He lay in his bed for a moment recollecting his memories from the night before. Suddenly he heard a distant cough and the sound of a door shutting from a neighboring house.

The young man rolled off his bed and clumsily shuffled toward his front door. He tried to look through the glass ball window on it, but the curved glass greatly distorted the view beyond it. He carefully creaked the door open and peeked out at the neighbors. The nearest house had a circle of chairs set up in the yard in front of it and five people sat laughing and telling stories. Raymond turned his attention toward the sky, but he could not find the sun until he looked straight up. He had slept until noon.

“I was hoping we’d see Rose by now,” he thought to himself. “Where does she even live anyway?”

He quietly closed the door and went back and sat on his bed.

“Who is outside?” Blaire’s voice sounded from the other bed.

The noisy neighbors must have interrupted her sleep as well.

“Neighbors.” Raymond answered, “You can’t leave the house yet or they’ll see you and get the wrong idea.”

“The wrong idea?” she asked.

“Yes, the wrong idea,” he answered.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” iterated Blaire.

“Well generally when people find out a man and a woman stayed somewhere together overnight, they start to talk.” He elaborated.

“Talk about what?” she responded.

“You know, like gossip.” Raymond hinted.

“Gossip?” Blaire seemed absolutely clueless, “Did we do something wrong?”

Initially Raymond wanted to dodge the potentially awkward conversation, but he remembered how Nicodemus had asked him to teach Blaire to “fight mentally” and make good decisions. Whatever her past had done to her, she seemed to have no idea what Raymond was suggesting.

“No, but they don’t know that.” He explained, “and, I don’t think they’ll buy the boar story.
“Listen, I have a question for you.”

Blaire sat up and turned toward Raymond, “What is it?”

“Do you feel that you have a good understanding of right and wrong?” Asked the young man.

“I only know what I read or what people tell me,” she answered. “What does this have to do with the neighbors gossiping?”

“I felt we were sort of on the subject of right and wrong,” Raymond explained. “Also there was something that Nicodemus said to me.
“I was just curious.
“I tend to like it when people actually try to avoid doing the wrong thing.
“It’s a pretty rare trait.”

“I don’t always know what to do.” Blaire remarked.

Raymond began to reply, “I can help you with that, and I’m sure you can talk to Red Feath…”

A knocking at the door interrupted Raymond’s response. He and Blaire looked at each other then he got up and answered the door. A mail courier stood outside and delivered a letter to him. The courier explained that the letter was a day late because Raymond did not acquire residence until after yesterday’s mail rounds. He thanked the courier then closed the door.

“For a job, I could deliver mail for a little bit,” he thought, “it would be a good way to meet a lot of people around here.”

Raymond looked down at the letter and opened it. It read:

Dear son,

I tried to catch you just after you left yesterday, but your boat was nowhere in sight. I hope this letter makes it to you before I arrive. I am sorry to intrude on you just after left to make your own life, but I have a wonderful opportunity ahead of me in Caerise Corner. So I will be in your area tomorrow night and will remain for a couple of weeks. I have finally met someone who could grant me the title of “Doctor,” but I first need to prove my abilities. So I will be spending some time running between the College of Trades and the local farmers of Ascalon.

Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow or tonight, depending on when you get this message. I am going to visit Rose first because she will already be at the college meeting with an old friend. Hopefully you already let her know where you were staying.

Sincerely,
Your father, James

Raymond never cared much for symbolism or other mental allusions, so his father coming to visit him in his first week of independence was not of much negative significance to him. Others may have seen it as a symbol of dependence. However, Raymond’s mind filled with pride as he realized how impressive it would seem to James that he managed to procure a house within one day. However, Raymond could not think of any way to explain the horrendous exterior that the mysterious Nicodemus left it with.

“Looks like my father is coming here tonight.” Raymond mumbled, standing in the middle of the room looking down at the letter.

Blaire looked up at him but said nothing.

“So, where do you go in the day?” He asked her.

She answered, “I go work at the archery academy.”

“Oh yeah?” said Raymond. “How much do they pay you there?”

“They don’t pay me.” The young woman stated.

“What? Really?” Raymond was surprised, “Why do you work there then?’

“Because I have friends there,” answered Blaire.

“Do they get payed?” Raymond inquired.

“No.”

“So it’s not really a job?”
“Maybe it’s just a group that College of Trades supports because it boosts morale?”

“I don’t know.” She responded.

“Anyway,” Raymond changed the subject, “I hear Rose is going to be at the college today so you should look for her.
“I’m going to go see if I can get a job.
“If you don’t find Rose, you should be able to find me later either here or at the market.”

Raymond peaked out the door again and noticed that the neighbors had left and nobody remained outside to notice both him and a young woman leaving the same home. So he and Blaire left simultaneously and he locked the door behind them. They departed in separate directions, Raymond toward Ascalon and Blaire toward the college leaving behind the house with the ugly exterior.

Raymond began his path back the same way he had come when he first arrived after the wagon ride the day before. He headed toward the gate that separated Caerise Corner and the heart of Ascalon City. The walk there was uneventful, but when he passed through that gate the whole world seemed to brighten around him. It was as if a cloud had been looming over Caerise Corner and he had just walked out of its shadow. However, there were no clouds in sight behind him, nor was the sky truly any brighter. It just felt brighter.

Tall white brick walls bordered the city and blacksmith stalls and weapon racks littered the inner side near the gates. Guards marched all over the cobblestone streets and greatly outnumbered the civilian population in the area. Perhaps the conflict with the charr was more serious than Raymond had heard. Nevertheless, the guards and merchants still seemed to be in high spirits. They shouted and waved at one another across the streets and many of their conversations were filled with laughter. Raymond felt safe and energetic in this area.

He looked around for any signs of an office for couriers but could not find anything. He eventually spotted a courier strolling the streets, it was the same courier who came to him earlier. Raymond confronted him. He caught the mail carrier while he was just on his way back to the office. With permission, Raymond followed him.

When Raymond entered the office, the mail manager was presently at the front desk. He was a short happy old man with curly gray hair and a broad dimpled chin. He cheerfully answered every question the young man brought him. Unfortunately the Ascalon Courier Service was a little over staffed at the time and was not hiring. Raymond left the office disappointed, but he knew that he had to keep trying. However, that would have to wait until the next day because he needed to get to the market before evening. Waking up at noon cut his day down way shorter than he expected and the sun had already begun its descent.

The young man made his way back toward Caerise Corner with haste. He traced his path back down the cobble stone streets and left the heart of the city behind. When he passed through the gate to Caerise Corner the mood became darker again, and due to the quick fall of evening, so did the sky. Caerise did not necessarily seem depressing though, it just could not live up to the standard set by the inner city. On his way to the market, Raymond passed his neighborhood and took a quick peak at the exterior of his house to make sure Father Nicodemus had not changed it while he was away. Unfortunately it remained ugly as ever.

Disappointed, Raymond turned around and continued north east for a few minutes until he arrived at the marketplace. The sky grew darker and he knew that if he did not act quickly the stalls would start to close before he could finish shopping. When he arrived he saw a light crowd moving around the market. Much of the food had already been taken. Most of the food stands appeared half-empty or worse, but one of the stalls caught his attention because he spotted Blaire standing in front of it. She stared back at him but did not motion to him or shout anything. He approached her.

“Any luck finding Rose?” Raymond inquired.

“No, I did not find her.” She responded with a neutral facial expression.

“How was work?” He asked.

“Nobody was there today, so I went to the village instead,” explained Blaire.

Raymond noticed that she had new clothes on and a large sack lay beside her feet. However, she appeared to have missed the opportunity to get a bath. She had dust on her face and her left wrist had a smudge of dirt on it. Still uncertain about the poverty level of this woman, Raymond thought of a discreet way to inquire about her hygiene.

“Since I’ve been here a whole day, where do people go for baths around here?” He asked.

“I don’t know,” she answered, “I always use the bath room at the college.
“I can not get in without Deborah, and she was not there today.”

“I guess I’ll ask around then.” Now that Raymond had gotten his answer about her hygiene he became genuinely concerned about his own. “Maybe I’ll look around too.”

“No need!” The familiar voice of Father Nicodemus sounded from behind him.

Raymond turned around to greet his mysterious friend. Nicodemus stood leaning with his arm resting on a bed frame propped up tall on its side.

“You actually have an indoor rain room in your house.” Nicodemus began to explain, “It’s an invention of mine.”

Raymond thought of the room that caused the gurgle noises the night before.

“Yes, we noticed that,” Raymond remarked, somewhat sarcastically. “But what do I do if it isn’t raining?”

“It doesn’t matter,” explained the inventive man, “the water comes from underground, not from the roof.”

“Oh!” Raymond exclaimed. “Now that is really smart!
“It’s a shame I didn’t know about that last night though.
“The house kept us up for hours.
“Next time you ‘upgrade’ somebody’s house you should put in more windows and explain everything that they might not have ever heard of or thought of before.”

“Hah!” Nicodemus chuckled. “Sorry about that.
“Here, lets go back and I can show you what everything does and also deliver this third bed.”

They began to walk away from the marketplace leaving Blaire behind. Nicodemus turned around and motioned for her and she picked up her bag and followed.

“Why do I need three beds?” asked Raymond.

Nicodemus winked, “I saw your father at the college, I figured he would be staying at your house.”

“So who is the second bed for?”

“Blaire of course.”

“She’s supposed to live with Rose isn’t she?” Raymond grew concerned.

Nicodemus stopped, planted the bed frame into the ground, then slung it over his back, “Actually no she can’t.”

“She can’t just live with me,” stated Raymond.

“Actually she can.” The inventive man heaved the bed frame further over his back. “Your father is going to be around anyway.”

“Yeah for a week or two.” Raymond argued,
“Rose adopted her though, doesn’t that usually mean…”

“Listen I’ll explain it to you when the time is right.” Nicodemus snapped at Raymond.

The mysterious man realized the extent of what he was asking Raymond to do so he leaned over and whispered in his ear, “I shouldn’t tell you until she explains her past to you.
“However, I will tell you that because of something in her past she is much safer living with you and near the village.”

They arrived at Raymond’s house and Nicodemus put the bed down. Raymond courteously opened the door, but before he could offer to help Nicodemus get it through the door, the mysterious inventive man heaved the bed over his back, bent over and charged through the door way. The bed frame barely fit through, but Nicodemus seemed to clear it through doorway without so much as bumping either side. He placed the bed down in the middle of the room on its side then snapped his focus toward Raymond.

“Alright!” the energetic inventive mysterious man exclaimed. “Go ahead, ask me anything about this house.”

“Ok so for starters, what is this divide-counter-bed thing?” Raymond pointed toward the area where he and Blaire had slept the night before.

“It’s both a counter and a storage unit,” Nicodemus explained. “The beds are only there temporarily.”

“So there is a way to move them?” Raymond asked.

“No,” Nicodemus responded, “but I will seperate them from the counter tomorrow when I work on this house again.”

Raymond looked behind the counter-storage-unit and spotted the room with no door.

“So why is there no door on the indoor rain room?” he asked.

“I ran out of wooden doors and a metal one would rust from the water,” the mysterious man replied. “I’ll work on that too.”

Raymond motioned for Nicodemus and went down the hall to the room with the mirrors. Blaire also followed.

“This thing spreads candle light around the room doesn’t it?” Raymond thought surely he had figured this room out.

“It can, but that’s not what it’s for.” The inventive man grinned.

Nicodemus tilted the mirrors up and the room illuminated with a brilliance of red from the evening sky. “Also at night these mirrors can pick up the light from the moon unless clouds are covering it.”

“So instead of spreading candle light, this room removes the need to light a candle in the first place?” Raymond asked.

“Exactly!” Nicodemus exclaimed. “Well I have work to do, and I’m sure you need to get back to the market quickly so I’ll leave you until tomorrow.
“I should be able to finish this house for you then if nothing else comes up.”

He started on his way out the door, but then he turned around and pulled two keys out of his pocket and handed one to Blaire and the other to Raymond.

“That’s for your father,” he mentioned.

Without saying another word he quickly left the house and locked the door on the way out. Raymond felt like asking Blaire about her past, but he really needed to get back to the market.

“I’m going back to the market,” he explained. “You should probably get washed up in that indoor rain thing while I’m away.
“I mean seeing as how it doesn’t have a door or anything.”

“I will do that.” She responded.

Raymond headed out the front door, unlocking it to open it then re-locking it before shutting it. Now a little concerned that he might one day meet whomever or whatever it was from Blaire’s past that put her in danger. Feeling a bit uneasy by himself, he walked quickly toward the market. The sky had dimmed from its previous red brilliance to a darker purple. The nervous young man continued quickly through his neighborhood and past a fork in the road until he set foot into the market area. The area repopulated with last minute shoppers since Raymond left it earlier and their presence helped him feel more at ease.

Raymond bought a bag full of fruit, two loaves of bread and a small box containing four eggs. He was tempted by a few of the stalls selling cakes, sweet rolls and sugar cream, but he knew that he needed to conserve his money until he got a job. He noticed a few stall owners gathering their items and money into a cart and leaving for the night. A few guards began lighting torches in the area as the sky grew darker. Raymond shoved the box of eggs in the bag with the fruit and placed both loaves of bread under his arm, then he started on his trek back home. For a short while his mind became preoccupied with finances.

On his way back he tried to estimate how long the money he had left would last him if all he bought was food. He figured he had one to two weeks. Of course he could always go to Rose or borrow more from his father during his stay, but Raymond did not want to bother either of them just yet. Then again, it would be difficult to distract his father, who would be hasty with his generosity in lending money, as he would notice the food supply during his stay at the house. Despite the fact that money was a dilemma, it was a much more pleasant thought than the mysterious danger that he may have been in.

Unfortunately attempting to open his locked door when he arrived at the house reminded him of just that. He began to reach for his keys, but Blaire opened the door from the inside. She wore the same outfit as before, but her hair was soaked in water. She had already lit the candle on the table in the middle of the room and she stood there at the doorway and stared at him.

“I have a  question for you.” She stated.

“Oh yeah?” Raymond squeezed through the door and shut it behind him. “What’s that?”

“You don’t know what a question is?” Blaire tilted her head.

“No that was just a way of saying, ‘what’s your question?'” Raymond chuckled.

“You mentioned that the indoor rain room lacks a door,” she started, “why do I feel like it was significant for you?”

“Well with a door there is no way for anyone to peak in.” He answered.

“Who would peak in?” she asked.

“I don’t know, anyone.” Raymond explained, “It could be guests, neighbors or someone who lives here.
“Even if it were only an accident.”

Blaire stared at him as to wait for further explanation.

“OK, you’re wet but your clothes are not so I’m assuming you used the room right.” Raymond explained, somewhat unwillingly. “Given that you put your clothes back on I really think you understand the concept of privacy.”

“I do,” said Blaire. “However, I don’t understand what that has to do with lack of door on that room,”

“A door prevents someone from deliberately looking in.” Raymond added, “and it would also make things less awkward for people without malicious intent who are just walking by.”

“They would have to get pretty close to the doorway to see in the area the water rains down on.” She mentioned. “There is no area for ‘walking by’ that allows anyone to see far enough in.
“But you are telling me that someone might deliberately look in?
“I did not know anybody would do that.”

“Really?”

Raymond felt relieved that the subject of the conversation had changed from privacy to the righteousness of people in general. A subject he thought he excelled in analyzing, or at least ranting about. Unfortunately, before he could utter a word, Blaire interrupted him.

“You must think that I am very strange.” Blaire’s eyes shifted in many directions as she subconsciously refused to make eye contact with Raymond.

Raymond waited for her to continue.

“I am strange.” She stated.

Raymond waited a moment again, but this time she did not continue.

“Yes, I won’t disagree with that,” uttered Raymond.

The strange young woman did not respond.

“I would still like to get to,” Raymond cleared his throat, “errm, excuse me.
“To get to know you though…
“I would like to get to know you.”

If her life had not been at risk, Raymond would not have said that. Instead he would try really hard to find ways to push her out of his life. To him, strange women could become nothing but trouble. Unfortunately this one had already become just that with the ‘danger’ she was supposedly in.

“I.. I uh…” The young woman attempted to respond.

In the short time that he had known her, Raymond never noticed Blaire stutter over a single word until now. It was like all of her sentences had been completely prepared up until this point.

“I don’t know where to start.” She said.

“You’re in danger from something or someone in your past,” Raymond boldly mentioned. “Because of that, you’re safer staying with me than with your new adopted family.
“If you are in danger, I am in danger as well.
“I don’t like to pry, but I have to know what this danger is.”

“I will tell you my life story.” Her sentence preparedness seemed to have come back. “That should explain everything.”

Raymond said nothing. He did not want anything to get in the way of this information.

“My first memory starts in some ruins far east of here.” Her voice shaking a little bit, “I don’t remember anything before that.
“The only thing I remembered was that I was seven years of age.”

“That’s odd,” commented Raymond.

“I just woke up in the ruins one day and looked out on the fields and saw that I was alone,” she continued.

“So you don’t remember who your parents were?” Raymond asked.

“No, I don’t.” She explained, “but, there were a few basic principals I held on to that seemed to be the sort of things parents teach their children.”

“Like what?”

“Like ‘stealing is bad,’ and ‘do not hurt people,'” She seemed a little out of character. Generally she expressed concepts in a more elaborate way.

“What about ‘don’t take your clothes off in front of people?'” Raymond just wanted to double check that she knew that one.

“I knew about that too.”

“Are you sure?” Raymond asked, “I JUST had to explain to you why a door to the indoor-rain room would be important.”

“I did not think people would look, and I never knew why not to do these things.” She explained, “just not to do them.”

“Ah! That’s what that crazy old mind-reader wanted me to help you with!” Raymond grinned.

“How do you mean?” Blaire asked.

“Nevermind, please continue the story.” Raymond remembered that he did not want to interrupt.

“Somehow I knew I should try to find people so I just chose a direction and walked forward.” Blaire continued, “not far from the ruins there was a forest.
“When I got to the tree line I saw a large cat, but something was strange about it.
“It was larger than a person and stood upright on two legs.
“It was a charr.”

“I have never seen a charr.” Raymond commented.

“Even if you do, you probably will not see a charr like this,” she explained. “This charr was female, and most humans aren’t even sure they exist.
“I thought about running away but she noticed me.
“Instead of attacking me she approached and tried to comfort me.
“She talked as if she were my mother, and she kept calling both herself and me the name ‘Burke.’
“She lead me back to a camp near the ruins to meet rest of her family.
“There were no men in the camp, just women.
“Except for her, they were all human women.
“Every woman in the camp was named ‘Burke’ except for one, an old woman who was the leader of the ‘family.’
“Have you heard of her?
“Annabelle Burke?”

“No, is she known?” The young man responded.

“The villagers knew about her.” Blaire continued. “She was the only member of the family who was allowed a first name.
“She got angry if anyone called her just ‘Burke’ like the rest of the family, but saying only ‘Annabelle’ was acceptable.
“For four years they were my only family.”

“What did they do?” Raymond urged her to continue.

“I don’t know much, the charr kept me away from the camp whenever anything interesting was about to happen.” The volume of Blaire’s voice dropped a bit.
“Annabelle kept the women busy often, so I spent a lot of time out of sight.
“I did learn that they all hated men, except for the charr.
“Annabelle gave speeches about how men became as powerful as they were by accident, and their bodies were really built for slave labor.
“The charr felt that charr men were oppressing their women, but she did not feel they needed to become slaves.
“The rest of the women eventually killed her for her difference in opinion.”

“What!?” Raymond exclaimed.

The danger in Blaire’s past became evident. Instinctively Raymond tried to look out the window, but it had gotten too dark outside to see anything past the flickering candle inside. He turned his attention back toward the young woman who at this point refused to make eye contact with him. She stared at a corner of the wall beside him and seemed somewhat embarrassed as she continued explaining.

“I did not know what to do.” She said, “I hid from the family in the day when they were busy, but I came back at night so they would not think I ran away.
“I wanted to run away, but Annabelle said anyone who did would be chased and killed.
“Every day she became more crazy.”

Raymond found it baffling that Blaire would use the word “crazy.” He kind of figured she would be the type to use a more elegant word like “erratic.” He knew that he himself often chose to throw simple words into more advanced sounding phrases the same way, but he did so consciously. He could not tell if Blaire acted similarly to him in this manner, or if she may have just forgotten other words to use.

“One day she stopped wearing clothes and painted strange designs on her body.” She mentioned.

Raymond cringed. Up until this point he had been trying to visualize an image of her story in his head.

“One day a new woman came into the camp,” Blaire’s voice returned to her normal volume and she resumed eye contact with Raymond. “It was Rose.
“I did not know who she was at the time, but Annabelle looked tense when she showed up.
“I still don’t know why Rose came, but I know she had a reason.
“She did not stay long.
“On her way out she found me.
“She explained that I needed to keep returning to the camp at night, but invited me to spend my days with her.
“For three years after that I would visit her home and she became more like my mother than the charr did.
“She taught me how to read, and she taught me how the Burke family was evil.
“She told me as long as they did not try to ‘corrupt’ me not to run away.
“If Annabelle ever took notice of me or asked me to do anything out of the ordinary I should run to Rose and prepare run farther after warning her.”

“One thing I’m not very clear on, did Annabelle even know about you?” Raymond asked.

“She did, but she cared more about numbers than she cared about raising a child,” Blaire explained. “All of her attention was on the women and sending them out on errands.
“She still saw me as part of the family, but I think I was not old enough to be useful.
“For a long time I stayed with Rose every day until night and Annabelle did not notice.”

“So how did you get where you are now?” Asked Raymond.

“The family started to fall apart.” Blaire’s voice raised a little. This must have been a liberating moment in her life.
“Often the family would recruit new women and just as many would die on the ‘errands.’
“Near the end of the three years I spent sneaking out to Rose, the family fell into internal conflict.
“Annabelle turned against her favorite family members, revoking their rights for no known reason.
“She stopped roaming the camp undressed and claimed it was because the other women refused to acknowledge the importance of the ‘female form.’

“You said she was an old woman right?” Raymond questioned.

“Yes.”

Raymond shook his head in disgust.

“Instead of worshiping her, her once favorite family members began to despise her.” Blaire continued. “She turned back on some of her own views and even began to practice sorcery.
“The newer women still loved her, so they began to fight against the originals who then hated her.
“I was about to leave for Rose’s house one day when I heard swords clashing.
“I hid behind a tent and saw that the whole family fought against one another.
“In frustration, Annabelle let out a shriek and all of the fighting women caught on fire and burned to death.”

“Again, What!?” exclaimed Raymond.

Dealing with a crazy woman already promised to be a difficult task, but dealing with one who could light people on fire with her voice just made things so much worse. Raymond hoped soldiers might deal with Annabelle before his path ever crossed hers.

“At that moment she and I were the last of the Burke family in existence.” Blaire’s voice raised even more with excitement.
“From behind the flames she turned her eyes toward me, and I turned around to run away.
“Before I could move I found Rose and a strange man standing behind me.”

“Nicodemus?” Raymond thought out loud.

“No it was not Father Nicodemus.” Blaire answered.

“Did you ever meet Nicodemus before last night?” He asked.

“No, never.” She continued her story, “Rose stepped out in front of me and the strange man yelled Annabelle’s name.
“Rose whispered in my ear that I should run away and never return to her house or the camp.”

“I never knew this about her, and I’ve practically lived with her for half of my entire life.” Raymond commented about Rose’s presence in the story.

“Annabelle screamed at them, but did not kill them.” The young woman continued. “I still don’t know why, but I am glad.
“I ran and I kept running for several days.
“Eventually I ended up in a forest on the far west side of Ascalon.
“I was fourteen and I had no idea what to do.”

Blaire maintained her more excited tone, but Raymond felt bad for her regardless.

“Do you feel you have an idea what to do now?” He asked.

“No.” She stated. “But I found help back then.
“The first day after I stopped running, a squirrel approached me with a written note in its mouth.
“It dropped the note at my feet and I opened it.
“It read, ‘Will you be my friend?'”

Raymond felt the night air had gotten a bit cold so he interrupted Blaire. He heard the part about the squirrel but had yet to properly run it through his mind.

“Whoa, this is starting to get even more interesting, but I’m starting to get cold here.” He said, “How about you?”

“I will be alright.” She responded

“Well I am just going to move over here and get under the covers on my bed, but I’m still listening.” He explained, “Oh and feel free to do the same if it would make you more comfortable.”

Raymond quickly slipped under the covers, but Blaire began to walk over to his bed. She stopped less than a meter away from him.

“‘Same thing,’ not ‘same bed!'” He snapped.

“I was not going to get on your bed.” She stated.

“Then what were you going to do?” asked Raymond.

“Talk to you.” She explained.

“You don’t have to stand there to talk to me.” Raymond affirmed, “It’s really quite awkward.”

“The squirrel taught me that it is polite to look at people when I talk to them.” Blaire mentioned.

“Your politeness has been noted but…” Raymond started, “Wait what?
“The SQUIRREL taught you?
“Oh wait you mean Red Feather’s wife, Black Squirrel?”

“No, the squirrel that brought me the note.” Reminded Blaire.

“You mean like a cute little gray furry thing that falls out of trees and runs back up them to hide in embarrassment?” He needed confirmation for this.

“Yes.”

“Please tell me more about this squirrel, and lie down over there.” Raymond pointed over his head at the bed Blaire used the night before. “Just get comfortable, both you and I will be alright if you don’t stand over me and stare at me while you tell me about the squirrel.”

Blaire sat down on the other bed and continued her story.

“I tried talking to the squirrel, but it ran off.
“I chased after it until it stopped and burrowed beneath some leaves.
“I dug beneath the leaves and found a pile of books and another note.
“For years this squirrel brought me notes every day, and the ink they were written in would always disappear before the day was over.
“The squirrel brought me food and clothes and answered a lot of my questions by bringing written notes.
“I did talk to the squirrel, but most of the time it brought the answer to my questions before I even asked them.
“For four years I lived like this.
“I read hundreds of books that it buried under leaves from time to time.
“Eventually its notes insisted that I practice speaking.
“It stayed to listen to me when I spoke and brought notes the next day with suggestions to improve my speech.”

Nothing even remotely close to this interesting ever happened back in Navaden, Raymond thought.

“I’m surprised,” Raymond interrupted. “For the most part you do very well.
“How did you manage to learn that from a creature that could not demonstrate by talking?”

“I don’t know.” Blaire answered.
“One day the squirrel brought me a note saying that I was ready to go into the city and it left and never came back.
“When I got into the city I was afraid to draw attention to myself, so I tried to look like I had somewhere to go.
“I kept walking until I ended up in the village.
“Red Feather jumped in front of me and welcomed me.
“I tried to talk, but I could not.
“He was so kind and understanding even though I did not speak to him.

“Yeah he is a great guy,” Raymond commented. “Did you stay in the village after that?”

“I never felt comfortable sleeping in the village, so I always went back out to the forest.
“Since the squirrel never returned I later decided to stay in the woods close to the village near this abandoned house which you eventually bought.”

“And here we are now?” asked Raymond.

“Here we are now.” She confirmed.

The story drew to an end and Raymond wondered about the validity of it, but he knew he would be able to check with Rose on most of the details. Perhaps not the squirrel.

“You would have stayed with Rose if you could right?” He asked.

“Definitely.” Blaire answered.

“So you think Annabelle is still out there?” Raymond’s focus returned to the danger at hand.

“Last night Rose told me that Annabelle is still a threat.” She explained.

“So you have to stay here instead of Rose’s home.” Raymond stated. “Because Annabelle knows about Rose.”

“I don’t have to stay here.” She said.

“It would be much safer than the forest.” Raymond offered.

“I don’t want to be a burden.” She seemed genuinely concerned.

“I don’t want you in trouble,” Raymond said. “Besides, my dad will be here for a little while so that makes things much easier.”

“How does your father’s presence make things easier?” Blaire unknowingly revived a previous awkward conversation.

Raymond hoped she would take a hint, “remember earlier when I said people would talk?”

Just as Raymond said that, the door opened. James Varis swiftly entered the room with a smile on his face until he saw Blaire. The wall near the front door obstructed the view to Raymond’s bed, but Blaire, who sat on the side of her bed, was clearly visible. Raymond flinched under his covers when he heard the door open.

“Wrong house?” James asked. His son was relieved to hear his voice.

“No dad, I’m right here.” Raymond called out from his bed.

“Oh, then who is this?” James asked, staring at Blaire.

“This is Blaire Everest, she was literally just adopted by Rose last night.” His son explained.

“What are you talking about?” James seemed surprised, “Never in my entire life has she mentioned anyone named Blaire.”

“I know, I was just as surprised as you.” Raymond said, “and neither of you ever mentioned Father Nicodemus.”

“Who is Father Nicodemus?” James seemed stumped.

“I thought you would know,” mentioned Raymond.

“Who else has that woman never told me about?!” James exclaimed.

Blaire, feeling uneasy about James’ temper, stood up and looked for something that would make her appear busy. She noticed the third bed that Nicodemus left in the middle of the room had not been placed in a room yet so she rushed over to it. The wind of her movement extinguished the candle on the table behind her. The room became dark and very silent. A few awkward seconds passed before the young women broke the silence.

“I will get that lit back up.”

As Blaire felt around the boxes under the beds for the spark board, James realized how impolite he had been and apologized to her.

“I’m sorry Blaire, it’s good to meet you.
“It’s been a long day and I just don’t feel myself at the moment.
“I’m very tired.”

“Then maybe we should try again tomorrow” Raymond interjected knowing Blaire may have been too shy to respond.

Blaire lit the candle and the room illuminated again. James looked at her and smiled then turned his attention back toward Raymond.

“Alright, I think you’re right.” James agreed, “I have dozens of questions, but they can wait till morning.”

“Oh but… where do I sleep?” He asked.

“Well you can have one of these beds next to me,” Raymond motioned behind him toward the two beds in the counter-storage unit “I have not been able to figure a way to get them out of here.
“We still need to set up the third bed for Blaire though.”

James cocked his head to the side, “Wait, she’s sleeping here?”

“Yes.” His son replied, “That’s a long story too.”

“Oh I’ll bet it is.” James remarked sarcastically.

“Not that sort of long story!”

Raymond corrected his father then turned his attention toward Blaire.

“See what I mean?” He commented based on their previous conversation about gossip and morality.

“What?” She asked.

The young man became frustrated. “Well because the.. what I was trying… I mean…”Forget it!”
“Both of you…
“Your questions…
“In the morning.”

“Hah, alright.” James chuckled.

The two men flipped the third bed off its side and set it down upright. Blaire slid under the covers while Raymond checked the front door to make sure it was locked.

“Wait, we’re leaving this bed in here?” James inquired.

“I think we should probably leave everything in this room until Nicodemus finishes the house.” Raymond responded.

“There’s that name again, what does…” James stopped himself. “Right, in the morning.
“Goodnight then!”

Raymond returned to the center of the room, blew out the candle and slid under the covers of his bed.

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