Arthes Ksael stood in the kitchen, looking and dressed exactly as she had the night before. Their cook had fallen ill a month back and instead of hiring another, Arthes had taken it upon herself to run the castle kitchens. Including herself, Conall and Taka, there were two other permanent residents at the Cèilidh Castle; her other brother Jasper and the youngest sibling of the clan, Senga. The rest of the castle inhabitants were made up of staff who helped with the day to day running’s of the castle. All of which lived in a small village just outside the castle grounds. No staff lived on the grounds, except for Emon and at night there were a maid or two, but they were called night staff and they were always sent home once their jobs were done. Not that any one of them ever wanted to stay in the castle at night. During the day there were always people about and the castle was lively and sunny. However at night, it was a different story and there were many rumors and whispers of people disappearing into rooms at night and never being seen again.
Arthes and her siblings always brushed these stories aside as nonsense, even though they knew the truth. Moreover, they always discouraged visitors at night and were strict about their policy of the staff never living or spending the night on castle grounds. Adding more mystery and fuel to the stories.
It wasn’t just the stories though, Arthes always put the castle staff on edge and it had gotten worse since she had taken over the kitchens. It was nothing against her personally, it was her hard, harsh and cold eyes that unnerved them. As well as her stiff manner and the way in which she never raised her voice, instead was terse and short when she was unhappy. Often, though they never said this allowed, the staff wished she would yell at them. Her cool crisp manner they found was worse than being told off or disciplined. Moreover, she was not an easy woman to please.
It had not always been this way. When Arthes was younger, she was joyful and wild, but then it all changed, though no one outside of the family knew why. The castle staff had never asked but had often speculated and gossiped among themselves. They gathered it was or must have been the scorn of a lover, being as beautiful as she was, it was the only answer they could come up with to her sudden change in nature all those years ago. Moreover, she had never married, in fact they had never seen Arthes with any male companions, except her siblings and none of the current staff at the castle remembered Emerick. Conell had made sure of that. Which just fueled their wild theories and gossip, none of which, of course they ever let Arthes hear.
Arthes placed a hand on her waist and watched the maids flutter about the kitchen. She wondered why her and her siblings went to such fuss. Every Sunday, they, the family, lunched together, in a room of Conall’s choosing. This Sunday he had decided that they were all commune in the parlour. Arthes, being that she was in charge of the kitchen, had decided that for lunch they would have, rabbit and cucumber sandwiches, mini tomato quiches, lemon honey tarts, lavender cakes and apple cider. The apple cider had come from and was made from the castle’s own orchard. She would have much preferred it if she had been left to do everything herself, however with staff around, it was not an option. Sometimes she did mention to Conall that they could and should let some of them go, to which he always laughed and told her no. It was not that she resented anyone, she just did not understand them perhaps. Being different and not all entirely human, it was understandable.
No one but her siblings knew of course, of the family’s true nature. There was as always gossip, it was part and parcel of being part of Ceilidih Castle. However, no one, except direct family and Emon knew about the family’s unique heritage and Clan Ksael had always been respected and much loved by the people. Though in the past, that had been greatly tested, all and all, people liked the inhabitants of Ceilidih Castle, even if at times they seemed strange or unnerving; as was the case with Arthes.
Taka casually strolled into the kitchen and picked a bright red, glossy apple, off of the table. He hadn’t cleaned up as Conall requested and Arthes when she noticed pursed her lips at him, expressing her annoyance. Taka looked her straight in the eye and took a large bite of the apple which he was holding.
She said nothing but gestured with her arms, the dishes, silver trays and glasses that all needed to be taken out to the parlour. Taka then shrugged at her, put the apple in his mouth, placed a tray of food on each arm and walked out of the kitchen. There were two ways in and or out of the kitchen. On the far left side a large archway led out of the kitchen and up aged, stone steps, which led directly into the castle and to what was known as the servant’s corridor. The corridor was long and wound around the entirety of the castle. Many doors lined both sides of the corridor, a small iron, bell hung beside several of them, so the staff could ring said bell and announce themselves, before entering and they never entered doors without a bell.
The parlour was close to the kitchen and the fourth door down the corridor. So Taka did not have far to go and Arthes followed, behind him carrying the other trays. A maid, a different one to the night before and a lot more at ease at that, carried glasses and a large tankard of cider. Taka pushed the dark wooden door open with his foot, much to the chagrin of Arthes. Inside the parlour, the rest of the clan sat about the room waiting.
The parlour was a modest room, decorated with tapestries and paintings of former, family, clan members, landscapes and historical figures. There were two large, golden, antique armchairs, next to the fire, an even older, large and wide red colored lounge suite and a worn, rather medieval wooden coffee table. The floor was covered with a large, dark colored, fur lined rug, which just emphasized the fact that nothing in the room actually matched. Sitting in front of the fireplace in one of the arm chairs was Conall, now dressed more formally than he had been earlier and looked much like he had the night before. On the lounge suite sat Arthes’s two other siblings. Jasper Ksael and her, their youngest sibling, Senga Ksael. Taka, having put the trays down upon the coffee table, now sat on the floor in front of them, his legs crossed, his head resting on his right arm, still chewing on the apple he’d brought with him.
Standing together, Senga and Arthes could not look more different as sisters. Both were lean, but where Arthes was tall, Senga was short. While Arthes hair was a dark, Senga’s was more like her older brother Conall, it shone like fire and hung around her head like a halo. Senga had thin features, but none of the delicacy such as Arthes and her yellow green, eyes were sharp and piercing, but warm and kind. A stark contrast to her sister’s harsh glare. Senga also prefered to wear mens’ clothing and attire, which Arthes found, unsuitable and unladylike like. Senga however did not care.
Jasper was the second oldest. He had hair black as pitch and thoughtful grey green eyes. He was tall and lanky, his every movement, fluid like that of a cat. His face was long, lean, chiselled, as thoughtful as his eyes and he spoke softly, not often at that. He often doted on Taka and had ruffled the boy’s hair as Taka had sat down in front of him.
Arthes took the other chair, next to Conall and took a deep breath. She did not like the fuss of Sunday lunch, she so often wondered why her and her siblings went to such fuss. However, she had, had another dream of Emrick last night. After she had spoken to Conall, she had retired to her bedchamber to sleep, only to dream, yet another dream of her enemy.
There was no doubt now that he would be returning and soon at that. As she thought these things, her eyes rested on Taka and not for the first time was there a great feeling of worry in her stomach. There was so much the boy did not want to know she felt and there was so much more he needed to know. He was not prepared for what was coming and these concerns gnawed at her, though she did not and would not voice any of them, to anyone except Conall.
The maid went around, handed everyone glasses and filled everyone’s with cider, then placed the pitcher onto the table, next to the trays and scurried out of the room, shutting the door behind her.
As soon as she was gone, Senga slid down, off of her seat and onto the floor next to Taka. She then, placed her glass beside herself, reached forward took a sandwich, nibbled at it in her hands. Once she had finished she took what was left of the apple from Taka and helped herself to it. Taka objected but did not really mind. He was used to it from Senga, who thought his protests were amusing. Jasper sipped slowly and quietly on his cider. Conall himself was ravenous, but held off his hunger and glanced quickly at Arthes, who nodded and then waited for him to proceed.
“Emrick is returning.” Conall stated in a gruff voice.
The air in the room suddenly became tense and strained. Taka looked at everyone with sheer confusion. He had never heard the name Emrick before, nor had he ever seen everyone around him suddenly go so pale. He wanted to speak up, but said nothing and it was then he noticed that Arthes was staring at him with concern. Her harsh eyes piercing through him. A look she had never given him before, or if she had he had never noticed until now. He then looked down at his glass of cider, gulped and refilled his glass.
“Are we sure?” Senga asked as she reached for another sandwich.
“Certain.” replied Arthes solemnly.
“But is that such bad news, at least for you?” Senga then asked Arthes, but then after taking another bite of her sandwich said, “Perhaps not. I’m sorry sister.”
To this, Arthes said nothing but instead just nodded.
“Are we prepared?” Jasper asked, his voice cold and flat.
“Should the boy even be here for this?” Senga then asked.
“That is all up to Conall” Replied Arthes, her gaze now elsewhere, her attention no longer on Taka but her siblings.
“Are we even sure Emrick is returning?” Jasper then asked
“Do you doubt dear brother?” Conall then asked, to which Jasper shook his head and then said rather softly, “Foolishly hopeful perhaps.”
“You have to tell the boy.” Senga then said fiercely.
“There is the other matter also, we must think of that too.” Said Conall and as he did so, he reached over and placed a hand gently on Arthes.
“We need a plan for that especially.” Said Senga, her tone this time, filled with venom and contempt.
“But the boy. You must tell him.” Said Jasper.
Taka once more looked at them confused. They had always included him, he had always felt as if he were family. Even though he had rebuffed their offerings of help with what he was going through, they still always had made him feel like one of them. That was until now, now he felt he wasn’t even there and he dared not look in Arthes direction again, even though now she too was acting like he was not even in the room. He wanted to stand and leave, but he couldn’t bring himself too.
It was then, he realized suddenly the room had gone quiet and everyone was looking at him. He had never seen any of them act like this and it worried him greatly. He wanted nothing more than to leave and return to the dock, throw stones and see Selna. However, he surprised himself and looked once more at Arthes, her eyes once more fixed upon him.
“Who is Emrick?” Taka stammered. A dark pit of a feeling growing fast in his stomach that he was not going to like the answer to the question he just dared asked.
Arthes, for a moment said nothing, just stared at Taka, unmoving and unblinking. She knew there was so much to tell him and so she took yet another deep breath. The rest of the clan said nothing, they too waited with baited breath, then Arthes spoke and broke the silence.
“Emrick, my dear child is an enemy of this family, moreover a enemy of mine and I’m ever so sorry. But Emrick is also your father.” She told him flatly and plainly.
And in that moment, Taka felt the dark pit in his stomach overwhelm and consume him.
To Be continued……