Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Fifty Nine

Written offline on 6 October 2006

Gilly had had just about enough.

As soon as her parents and brother were out the door, and the children were busy with chores and schoolwork, and Paul and Nan had disappeared into Nan's "study," and the stew was scraped out of the over-brown pot and into a fresh one with a few extra bits of vegetables, she sat down at the table.

Her head resting on one hand, the other hand toying with a cup of lukewarm tea, she thought about the last many weeks since Paul had returned.

Things were strange. Things were interesting. Things were busy. Things were out of control.

She listened for the sound of the stew on the stove, and the crackle of the fire.

She heard the girls laughing in the front room, and heavy feet going upstairs. That would be one of the twins, she thought.

The dog was scratching in the corner thump thump thump, and heavy feet tumbled down the stairs again. Owain. He always came downstairs with that rhythm.

Gilly sighed and stood up, setting the teacup on the sink.

"Girls!" she called, " Boys! Supper!"

The family crowded into the kitchen, and filled it with warmth and laughter. Paul came out of the back room, his face creamed, salved and bandaged. Gilly stifled a giggle, and told Nan to wash up.

Andy's eyes were wide with astonishment. "Father! where did your head go!" he laughed.

Paul shrugged and took his place at the table.

It took Paul longer to eat dinner, as the stew pieces had to be cut very small so he could chew them. Gilly went to sit in the front room with her needlework for a bit, as soon as she had eaten, leaving the children to clean up. He was still sitting there as the children washed and put away the dinner dishes and pots.

And he had just finished washing his own plate when Cathy came in with a warm pie.

"Oh Paul! You look interesting. Nan's work, I assume?"

She set the pie on the table and inspected the bandages carefully. "Well, it looks like she's taken good care of you. How are the teeth? Should we send for Esmeralda in the morning?"

Paul shook his head. "No, I think by morning it'll be better. Nan's special ointment really took the pain away, and the swelling is already going down."

Ava and Adam came through the door, followed by Tor, looking as if he would never be comfortable again.

Paul couldn't help a small chuckle.

"Well brother, looks like you've been out to the woodshed this evening!"

Adam shot his sons a withering look and turned to helping Ava off with her coat.

"Boys," he warned, "Don't either of you make your mother or sisters unhappy this evening. If you can't keep civil tongues in your heads, or your hands to yourselves (he looked at Tor pointedly), I'll have the sheriff in to put you both in public accomodations for the evening."

Tor and Paul looked at the floor. Paul held out a hand and Tor grasped it roughly but firmly.

Soon, the family was gathered in front of a warm fire in the front room, pie and hot cider in hand.

The wind whistled down the chimney and the fireplace smoked a bit until Andy adjusted the damper.

Gilly sat next to Paul on the settee, his arm resting lightly over her shoulder, and Tor began his explanation.
Well, I came into the village this morning, with the wagon train from the port city. I heard some pretty strange tales as I unloaded at the market, bits and pieces, you understand.

There was something about a bird person, but I paid it no mind because those nonsensical legends have been around forever.

And then they said the most preposterous things, like Nan watching the play at the school as if she could actually see it; or Sebastian running away and taking passage on a ship. I heard Paul's name a few times, and something about a harvest an a cart knocking down Nan and Father.

Then I saw the twins at the market, and they told me that much of what I had heard was true.

I got angry -- for years this family struggled to make it, and little Nan and Doris needing so much care, and then out of the blue Paul comes home and all sorts of commotion starts.

Not that I've been much around, but at least you always knew what I was up to!

The boys tried to tell me that everyone was happy Paul was home, but in my rage I didn't hear it. All I heard was my own voice, saying that Paul had abandoned his family and then come home to cause trouble.
Tor stopped, and the room was silent.

Nan walked up to him a little awkwardly, and placed her hand on his knee.

"Uncle, none of the difficult times since Father came home have been caused by him. He helps and takes care of us. And it's because of him that Doris is well and I can see. I hope you know it is okay for him to be home."

Tor smiled and gently set Nan on his lap, taking care not to jar her back. She leaned against his broad chest and smiled back.

"I know it now, little one," he answered. "And I hope your mother will forgive me for my bad behavior." He looked over at Gilly who nodded gently.

Ava stood up and collected the plates, "We'll fetch more cider, and then we can have some music," she declared. "Nothing makes family time better than music."