The House of the Seventh Minuet LXIX

This chapter reverts back to Leila’s point-of-view.

Shona: Imba yeMinuet Yechinomwe

My backyard was only partially fenced in, and I think the fences were more for safety around steep areas than anything else. According to the property maps and planning documents I’d found, the land that I’d inherited along with the house extended into the tree-line; it could have been worked, but it hadn’t been. There were plenty of trees of varying ages, and it looked as though new ones had been allowed to grow to replace ones that were cut down. There had once been a substantial garden, but it had been left fallow as Great-Uncle Morrigan had aged. I Told my friends that I was thinking of adding a greenhouse in addition to a compost heap. Not that I expected their help with any of that; I was just making conversation.

The back of the house had a covered deck, and the wood smelled incredible with the sun shining down on it. It was smooth with age and worn by years of varying weather. My favorite part of the deck– and Stefan was quick to call it out as soon as he was out the door– was the porch swing. My parents’ house had one, too, and that was always my favorite place to relax or daydream. Not having one had been one of the many downsides to apartment living. There was a driftwood table next to it with plenty of room for a plate, a drink, and a book.

Further down was the storage bench I’d already cleaned out so that I could store pillows and blankets in it. The far end of the deck led into the dining room. It jutted out further and had thin netting to reduce the number of bugs that got in. That was because there was a table with bench-style seating out there, which was great for outdoor meals or messy crafts. It was partially hidden by the trees, but the garden could still be seen from there.

The opposite end of the deck, which Larsa was already running along so that he could marvel at everything, was an extension of the sun room. I hadn’t spent much time on there yet, but it was a cozy room with tall windows that let in more light than any other room in the house. Its inner wall was lined with low bookshelves that double as cushioned benches for reading on, and there was a Victorian-era love-seat facing one of the windows. There was also an old standing easel with a cache of worn-out painting supplies tucked away nearby.

As soon as he found the door locked, Larsa turned around and took the wooden stairs two at a time down to the grassy area that took up most of the backyard. Killian laughed as he watched him go.

“He’s like a little puppy, checking everything out,” I said.

“Uhh… Your shed is locked, too, right?” Killian asked as he watched where Larsa was going.

“Of course,” I told him. “I haven’t really had a chance to do anything in there, so I locked it up.”

“I’m glad you’re taking security seriously,” Stefan noted. He sounded a little… I don’t know, distant, like his mind was elsewhere despite him trying to be in the moment. He placed a hand on my shoulder, and I looked up at him.

“Yeah, I’ve seen my share of horror movies,” I replied in as teasing of a tone as I could muster.

Stefan crossed the deck back towards the dining area. There was space set aside for a wood pile, but it hadn’t been added to for a long time, and definitely not by me.

“I realize your home has central heating these days,” Stefan began– and he was right about that being one of the many ways in which the house had been modernized– “but there’s nothing like a good fire to really keep you warm.”

“And hugs,” I added with a friendly smile.

He grinned back at me. “That’s true. Still, I could see a couple downed trees over there. How about you open up the shed and see if you have a saw and an axe?”

“Stefan–” I shook my head. “Stefan, you don’t have to cut wood for me.” Well, really I wouldn’t have minded watching him put those muscles to good use. I just couldn’t tell him that. Especially not if I couldn’t help with the task.

“I wouldn’t be doing it alone,” he assured me, sounding determined to get to work. “Are the shed keys inside?”

I followed him back into the narrow hallway that led from the deck; it was a long way near the stairs that led to the foyer at its other end. “I don’t know if Killian is going to be able to help that much…”

“He can do enough,” Stefan replied. “Besides, it’s Larsa who’ll really be helping me get a lot done.”

I glanced back outside. “Larsa?! He can help with–“

“Chopping wood, yeah,” Stefan told me. He was grinning like a cat. “Don’t forget where he’s from, Leila. He helps out with a lot of chores back home. He may be one of his mother’s youngest, and he’s one of the most studious, but that didn’t get him off the hook when it came to getting wood or helping with the reindeer or– or any other chores.”

“Wow, I guess I should have realized…”

Stefan had a though that made him chuckle. “He’s going to want to impress Killian for sure!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll open the shed so you and Larsa–“

“And Killian,” he added.

“Sure, and Killian– so you guys can all burn off some energy and show off. Do you need a coat?” I asked, pointing out the short-sleeved t-shirt he had on.

“Well you’re wearing it, so…”

I looked down at the flannel jacket I had on and felt my cheeks go red. “Oh– oh yeah, this is one of yours from a long time ago!” I started sliding the jacket off. “Here, it’s about time I gave it back to you.”

“No, no, you keep it,” he said.

I froze and looked up at him. “What? It’s not damaged or anything. If it smells too much like my perfume, I can wash it for you… But– look, at least let me help you find something. It can get cold pretty fast out there and–“

“Leila, it’s okay,” he said, his voice softer now, almost deeper somehow. “That one won’t fit me anymore, and it looks nice on you.”

My cheeks felt hot, and I looked away. “Ummm… Okay… thank you. I really didn’t mean to keep it until you outgrew it.”

“We’re friends, Leila. If I’d need it ba– Woah what is that?!” Stefan grabbed my arm where the jacket had slipped off, and I yelped a little. He doesn’t usually grab things– or people– so suddenly.

“Stefan, wh–” I looked down at my arm and realized what he’d seen. I grimaced.

“What happened to your arm?” he asked me as he pushed the sleeve of my t-shirt up.

I really should have worn long sleeves; I knew he’d be worried when he saw the scars, and here he was just short of demanding that I tell him exactly what had hurt me. There was no way that I could tell him that it had been a werewolf, though. And not a regular wolf. Nor a dog. Not anything sentient.

“Oh, that?” I glanced down at the four jagged lines on my arm. They were mostly healed, but it was no less obvious that something had hurt me. “Just some jagged branches that I wasn’t paying attention to on a hike.”

My mind was racing. I wasn’t sure whether he’d believe me. How well did he know one injury from another? And why was my brain reminding me of that discussion we’d had years ago about whether or not trees are sentient. I needed it to help me say something that didn’t sound as insane as going to a magical world and getting scratched by a werewolf.

“Branches?” he asked me, his tone flat.

Dang it. He wasn’t completely on board with that explanation. Now what? “Yeah, well… You were right about wearing long sleeves and a thick coat if I went on a hike.” If I conceded to failing to follow a little of his advice, maybe he wouldn’t find out that I’d ignored his advice about locking the owl out. The owl that I’d followed to Tierney Ríocht. He would have been like Evander and the others, wanting me to stay inside so the big, mean werewolves didn’t hurt little ol’ me. Well, I didn’t want to be coddled or admonished! So the lesser of two evils it was. “I should have been watching the sides of the trail better.”

He looked over the scars worriedly. “I hope nothing scented the blood and followed you back.”

I shook my head right away. “No, I managed to cover it right away.” I hoped I didn’t sound too nervous. I hated telling him stuff that I was making up as I went along, and I really wanted him to stop asking about it. “I have a basic first-aid kit in my backpack.”

Stefan sighed and ran his fingers along the scars, but he ultimately let my arm go. “I… I know you’re not a newbie when it comes to nature,” he said as I pulled the jacket back on. There was something about the way he said it that made me think he was trying to convince himself of that fact. “I was just… I saw those scars, and I was worried.”

I think he wanted to say more, but was stopping himself. It was probably better that way. It might have been something that would have come off as condescending, and that wasn’t how he wanted to act. He preferred to give people a chance to show themselves rather than assume they could or couldn’t do something. He’d done plenty of hiking in his lifetime, whether it was in Oregon, Washington, or even Sweden. He went there most summers to visit family, and only some of his time there was spent in the city. He’d even visited Larsa’s hometown a few times and helped out with chores there. Sometimes her family went camping with his and Killian’s, and there was also that road trip they’d made to Yellowstone a few years back.

“Well, I’ll make sure I don’t let it happen again,” I assured him. Don’t go anywhere near werewolves, I told myself. That shouldn’t be too hard. “Okay, let me get the keys so I can open the shed for you.”

And I hurried off to the foyer to do just that.

About Legends of Lorata

Eleanor Willow is the author of the high fantasy series Legends of Lorata, which takes place on a medieval-style world filled with elves, dragons, and faeries. There is also a fourth race, one that is rare and magical: the angelic Starr. Lorata is a distant planet watched over by four deities: good, evil, elemental, and celestial-- and there are plenty of legends about them all! One of the most important ones is the prophecy of Jenh's champion, Loracaz, who is promised to return to the realm whenever evil threatens to take hold. There are currently three books completed, and the first one can be read online. Book four is currently being written, and a fifth will most likely be in the future.
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