Back in the day, when Gilbert and I would get into some squabble or other, usually about something trivial such as the use of a particular toy, Mother would take charge; she would sit us down in the parlour and would not let us out until we had started speaking civilly to one another again. Last night felt very much like that, except that it seemed mostly that Aoibheann was on the end of the tongue-lashing – from her adopted mother, Paash.
I had wandered over to the tavern in search of a change of scenery. I had my nose deep in a book, as usual, so barely registered that Aoibheann and Paash were having a discussion in the corner. I caught the tail end of a conversation, with Aoibheann saying something about not fighting any more, but didn’t give it much attention until she appeared in front of me, asking what I wanted to drink. I got the distinct impression that she had been told to serve me, and glancing quickly over my shoulder, was aware that Paash was watching. She had, however been polite, with little of the aggression that had characterised our recent conversations. I asked for a rum, as normal, and enquired after her cabbage stew. She told me that it had been fine, but without the usual implication of “no it isn’t” that goes along with that word. She stood there fidgeting for a few moments, clearly uncomfortable about something. Given that Paash was still staring at her, I guessed that she had been told to speak with me. Eventually she addressed me as Ballard and said that she had been told that she owed me her life and wanted to know how and why.
I was a little irritated by being addressed by my surname, but since she was obviously making the effort, no matter how unwillingly, I suppressed my irritation. I decided to cut her some slack and told her that she owed me nothing. Sure, I may have intervened to help save her life on occasions, but, I explained, I did not keep any tally of favours owed. I did that because of who I am, I told her, and would have done the same for anybody I cared about, and there was no obligation on her part because of that. Paash was still watching sternly, and muttering in her own language. Aoibheann did not look entirely convinced and asked what it was I had done. To be honest, without looking at my diary, I could not name specifics, aside from the time I stood between her and the Huntsman and a few times I had defended her honour when others had spoken ill of her. I told her this and explained that it really didn’t matter; I did those things out of friendship, and reminded her that she had taken me in when I first arrived in Jasper Cove. I told her that I did not keep a balance sheet of such things, while hoping the gods of accountancy would not strike me down.
Aoibheann sighed and apologised, saying that after what she had been through, she found it hard to trust people. I told her I could understand that, knowing what I did of her life before Jasper Cove. I told her I didn’t blame her for it and apologised again if it had seemed otherwise during our argument the previous evening; explaining that friendship and loyalty were very important to me, so I tended to react badly when they were questioned. I asked her to trust that I had never meant her any harm, and tried to explain the reasons why kindred tried to hide their nature from others. I told her that I did not know how vampires were regarded in Jasper Cove, so kept my own counsel until I knew more, but the longer it went on, the harder it got. I told her that I would not keep that secret any longer and that she was welcome to ask any questions if she wanted.
Paash chimed in, saying that she had also run a big risk in telling Aoibheann of her nature. She added, not entirely helpfully, that she at least had known she could have destroyed her, if it had gone wrong.
Aoibheann didn’t have any questions, at least none she was prepared to admit to. Instead, she tried to change the subject, saying “talking of things trying to destroy her.” Pash continued that she would not do so now, since Aoibheann was like a daughter to her, as though she had squeezed her out herself, and that I was like a brother. That was a mental image I didn’t need. Aoibheann looked a bit confused by the image too and then told me she wasn’t going to start calling me brathair-mathar. I had no real idea what that meant, other than it sounded like brother-mother, which I thought might be a construction that held the same meaning as uncle. I told her I didn’t want to be called uncle either, as it sounded too old (even though, I suppose, I have been an uncle for nine years now), but did ask if she could go back to calling me Nathaniel.
She changed the subject yet again, and it seemed that part of the conversation before I came in was about magic, possibly protective magic. Aoibheann spoke of walls, which, in context, I thought might refer to some kind of defence. I remarked that I knew how to do a mental wall, to stop somebody reading my mind. She quite liked that idea, but didn’t want to try to do too many things at once. Paash reminded us that we were both working at very low levels – conjuring, she called it, when we needed to be working on casting. I never knew that there were such fine distinctions. Then she asked for a demonstration of my abilities so far. I wasn’t about to admit I had done no practice since the last time we had spoken, so cried off, saying I did not have the crystal with me. I took that as a convenient excuse to make an exit, claiming I needed to go look for it. Coward that I am on occasions, I took my time searching, and by the time I dared return to the tavern, they were gone. I did do some practice though. It doesn’t seem to be getting any easier, but then, I am not used to practising in this environment. Perhaps I should go to the stone and try.