Liavan was unaware of these events and took herself, together with the two remaining jars of cough mixture from the previous day, to visit the inn on the other side of the Kingsbridge. She suspected that the innkeeper already knew that someone had taken up residence on her hill - the smoke from her chimney must be visible to anyone who chose to look, and she much preferred to be the one to make the first approach. It was past the time that she expected overnighting guests to have left to continue their journeys by the time Liavan arrived at the entrance to the inn's common room. There was an entrance to a paved courtyard as well, but the young withemistress thought that the building entrance would serve her better. The innkeeper might see to the cleaning and preparation of the stables for the next night's travellers, but the person in charge of the housekeeping was more likely to be inside.
There was a handbell on a table just inside the doorway so Liavan picked it up and rang it. The sound was penetrating, and she had no doubt that anyone in the building had heard it. From upstairs Liavan heard a woman call out, "Coming! Shan't be but a moment!"
The person coming down the stairs sounded heavy, but they were moving smoothly. When they came around the corner from the hallway, they were revealed to be a large woman with black hair done up in knotted braids and with skin in the dark sepia tones common near the coast. She was wearing a white apron over a red dress and held a dusting cloth in her right hand. "Good morning," she said brightly. "Are you after a drink and something to eat, or would you like a room?"
"Neither," admitted Liavan, clutching the handles of her carpet bag and hoping that the woman wouldn't notice how white her knuckles must be. "I'm your new neighbour from over the river and up the hill. I thought I should drop in and introduce myself." She managed to let go of the bag with her right hand and held it out. "Good morning, I'm Withemistress Liavan Haucmel."
The other woman swapped her dusting cloth into her other hand, brushed the palm of her right hand across the back half of her apron, and then took Liavan's right hand in it. "I'm Mistress Bahari Ganalt. My husband, Master Jothan Keeld, is the innkeeper," she added with a smile, "and I keep him."
"It's a pleasure to meet you," replied Liavan as they shook hands. "The King's Head seems to be a fine establishment." She meant it. Whatever might go on about the carts in the yard, the common room was immaculate at this hour and the air in the building smelt fresh.
"It will be nice to be having a neighbour," replied Mistress Ganalt. "We do a reasonable trade here, with the traffic between Market Cranebourne and Ledbury or Castle Rennard, but there's not enough need to support a blacksmith or a wheelwright. If you'd like to take a seat, I'll just go and get my husband so the two of you can say hello." With that she gestured at the nearest table and turned towards the courtyard. Liavan sat at one of the seats facing the way Mistress Ganalt had gone, and because it was her first visit, she did not remove her hat. She heard the innkeeper before she saw him, a deep male voice assuring his wife that he had washed his hands well enough to meet the visitor.
She stood again when Mistress Ganalt ushered her husband into the room saying, "Withemistress Haucmel, this is my husband, Master Jothan Keeld. Jothan, this is Withemistress Liavan Haucmel whose smoke we've been seeing rising from behind the ridge."
Liavan stepped forward with her right hand extended. "Master Keeld, it's a pleasure."
The tall man with pale sepia skin and the high bridged nose of the southern islands took her hand in his larger one and replied, "The pleasure and honour are ours, withemistress." He finished sizing her up and his lips twitched a little as he let go of her hand. "May I ask why you've chosen to set yourself up out here? We're a long way from either town and I would have thought you'd need a town to provide you with a clientele."
"I’m from Market Cranebourne and when I went to get my license to practice from the duke," answered Liavan carefully, "his clerk suggested that I might like to set myself up on the ducal holdings because it would both save me the extra costs of a baronial license, and respect Withemistress Penden's personal professional space. He pointed out to me that if the duke approved of me then the annual license to occupy a ducal plot would be a crown. That is a much better bargain than renting anything in Market Cranebourne, so I applied for that too." Master Keeld nodded and Liavan wasn't sure if he was indicating approval or understanding. "When I went to pay my crown for the occupancy, I was given a choice of three plots, and I picked the one nearest here because I thought it would suit me best." She smiled deprecatingly and added, "The other two were at Wimbreath Hill and Fosserlien."
"The duke's a clever man," noted Master Keeld. "I pay my crown to him every year too. When we were looking to set up in business, he gave us the choice between here and Revnford. We chose here, but The Limping Goose was built over there only a year after we opened. He's got plans, has His Grace, and we're pieces on his board."
Mistress Ganalt interjected, "Both of you sit down and I'll bring us some root beer from the cellar, and perhaps a small snack."
"If we're having a snack, then we'll get the boys in from the stable," replied Master Keeld, "and the two maids down from whatever they're doing. It will do no harm for everyone to know everyone by sight, particularly if anyone needs help in the middle of the night sometime."
'The boys' turned out to be three men, of whom only the son of the house was actually a boy, and Daihid Keeld was Liavan's age. The other two were more likely to be local than their employers with both having fawn-toned skin, one being a lanky man with unruly brown hair, and the other an older man with black hair going grey. The maids were more likely from the coast, with sepia skins and ringlets in their hair. Liavan was introduced to all of them and they all seemed impressed to be meeting her.
The lanky man asked, "Was it you we saw down by the river the other afternoon?"
"It probably was," admitted Liavan. "I was looking for common periwinkle and along the river seemed a likely spot."
"That stuff is a menace for the grazing," replied Master Keeld. "We've managed to keep it off our piece of paddock, but there's no-one who has the interest or duty for your side of the river."
"I found an enormous patch of it," said Liavan, "more than enough for what I wanted, and then I thought I could cut across the grass to get back to the road. It may have been a mistake, something obviously lives in there."
"Pigs," replied Master Keeld. "There'd some big beasts over there in that grass. It might be best if you don't cut through it again unless you must. If you'd run into a big boar, or a sow with piglets, it might not have gone well for you."
"I'll keep that in mind," Liavan assured him. "I was wondering, do you know if the track my plot is on goes anywhere? It's just that the track is yellow clay and everything else is black dirt."
"I didn't know there was any yellow clay in the district," replied the older stable hand. "But a track could be something to do with the royal preserve. That's been up there since before Castle Rennard was built, or so they say in the upriver towns. There's not a lot that shares the hills with the preserve, you know. The old kings didn't want people wandering through it."
"If you are a king you have a bit more say in where the neighbours can build than most people," observed Liavan.
"That's so," agreed Master Keeld. "I'd not expect anyone to care about that these days, but not even the timber getters go up there looking for logs to cut. They come through sometimes, complaining that the big, old straight growing trees are getting hard to find but they never talk about trying their luck up in those hills."
"I've never heard that any of the kings since the Urmaghs fell had lifted the bans on the Preserve," said the older stable hand. "They've still got gamekeepers up there, at least on the eastern edges, and they'll still pull a body in front of the royal magistrate for poaching."
"Timber getters probably don't want to get arrested for poaching game," said one of the maids. "It would get in the way of them poaching trees."
"That's true," conceded Master Keeld. Then he turned to Liavan and asked, "I hope it's not rude of me to enquire, Withemistress Haucmel, but what sort of withemistress are you?"
"At the moment I'm one who makes cough mixtures," replied Liavan. "In fact, I brought a couple of jars with me as a gift." She reached into her carpet bag, pulled the bottles out one at a time, and put them on the table. "These will suppress a cough, so you shouldn't use them if you're coughing up or spitting out gunk. I know it's not the time of year for coughs and colds, but I thought it was a good example of what I can do. It doesn't have any honey in it, so it is safe to give to babies."
"It's kind of you to think of us," replied Madam Ganalt. "I shall put it away carefully when you leave. You'd be surprised how many people pick up out of season coughs and things when they travel."
When the pot of tea was finished, Liavan took her leave and let the inn staff get on with their work. Now she knew what she was looking for, she could see the signs of animal activity in the long grass and was glad not to be doing that risky thing again.
Liavan continued to settle into her new home. She nursed along her garden. She refined her insect repelling spells and made her cough mixtures for sale in the market. She gathered dead fallen sticks and branches from the forest edges around her plot to build up her kindling and firewood supply, and then visited The King's Head again to find out from Mistress Ganalt who the inn got their firewood or coal from. She began storing more magic in her thimbral for the spell to fence in her outer boundaries with something too tall for giant deer to graze over the top of. She got to market on time the next market day, sold all of her mixtures, and found that the coal men would not deliver as far out as she lived from Market Cranebourne, even if she paid in advance and was a withemistress. The firewood supplier Mistress Ganalt recommended was much more co-operative.
The firewood came three days after market day, arriving late mid-afternoon on a day that had started with rain before dawn and then fined up early. Liavan had put her willow and blacken berry cuttings in the ground and hoped that she wasn't being too quick to do so. When the knock came at her front door, she was at the desk in her barely used sitting room working out a series of sums that involved how long it would take her to store the magic she needed for the next stage of her house and garden walls in her thimbral and the cost of pullets approaching the point of lay. She glanced out the window, saw the load of firewood in the cart standing on the track in front of her gate, and stood so she could go to answer the door. As she was smoothing her apron, something made her wards tremble. They weren't particularly strong wards or complicated ones. Wild animals that would eat her or her plants couldn't cross them. A burglar or someone planning to do her physical harm would have a great deal of trouble. Someone invited and with legitimate business like the firewood deliverer wouldn't affect them at all, but that tremble meant that someone else had passed through the gate and was within her domain. Someone who didn't have what Liavan thought were her best interests at heart.
Liavan paused in the hallway that ran front to back through the middle of the four-room house and gestured at the back door. It slammed shut and the key turned in the lock. Great Aunt Anglou had been very pleased with that spell and now Liavan could see why. Liavan turned back to the front door, fixed a smile on her face, and opened it.
Master Hewurn, the woodcutter, stood there beside her father. Both men looked apologetic.
"Good afternoon, Master Hewurn. Thank you for bringing my wood so promptly. Good afternoon, Dadda, it's a surprise to see you here. Might I be right in thinking that my mother thought she could surprise me even more by coming in through my back door?" Liavan raised an eyebrow as she asked her question. Well, she hoped she raised an eyebrow, but she might just have made a peculiar face.
At that point the back door rattled behind her.
"She told me that she'd reconsidered her behaviour and wanted to apologise," said her father.
"And she told me the same story," added Master Hewurn. "I mean, she paid me as much to bring her and your father out here as you're paying me for the wood and delivery, but if I'd known that she was going to hare off through your garden like that as soon as she got in through the gate, I would never have agreed to do it. I'm very sorry, Withemistress Haucmel."
"If I'd known she was going to do that I would never have agreed to pay for the trip," added Liavan's father. "I don't think we can believe that she had any business back there."
At that point Liavan's mother stalked around the eastern side of the house from the back. She was wearing a russet tunic over her green dress, and a red and green hat.
"Good afternoon, Mother." LIavan smiled politely with weapons grade good manners.
"How did you get a house like this?" Mogar Branthwaite looked seriously put out.
"Judicious use of magic and sample materials," replied Liavan calmly. "With considerable advance planning, I might add."
"So, you can do this, and you've made no move to help your sisters get themselves established. Selfish, selfish, selfish. Always selfish since before you took breath." Her mother spat on the ground. "That's what I think of you!"
Master Hewurn looked shocked and Liavan's father looked embarrassed.
Liavan said clearly, "I have not heard that any of my sisters or their husbands had acquired the right to build on any piece of land in the kingdom. Perhaps I am behind with the family news? Of course, I hadn't considered that any of them might want to spend their married lives wrapped in my magic."
"And now you have the hide to talk smut at me!" Her mother was beginning to flush with fury. "You're not too old for me to take a switch to you for insolence, young woman!"
"Why do you think I'd let you?" Liavan straightened her back and looked her mother in the eye as she asked, "You may be my mother, but I no longer live under your roof. I simply asked you to consider whether any of my sisters would want to live under a roof of my power."
Liavan's mother began to speak again, her flush increasing incrementally, but Liavan's father got in faster, "Mogar, stop! Listen to what Liavan is saying. This isn't about defiance and disobedience. This is about boundaries. You might not like it, but she is within her rights to draw them and to defend them if you try to overset them." He added, "She clearly said 'a roof of my power' and 'wrapped in my magic'. If she can respect her sisters' rights not to be under her control, you can respect hers not to be under yours. Besides," he added with feeling, "you've just charged uninvited and unexpected into a withemistress' garden. There are precedents."
"Nonsense!" Mistress Branthwaite tossed her head, shaking the coloured feathers on her hat. "This isn't a withemistress working small wonders, this is our youngest get who should never have been born. It's all a fraud of some sort because she wants to be important, and she'll slip soon enough, and all those licenses and new friends will disappear. She'll beg to come back under my roof then, and you know what? I won't have her."
"Mother, that's the second time you've called me a fraud to my face." Liavan felt unnaturally calm over years of swallowed anger, hurt and tears. "It might be wise if you tried to calm your sense of...outrage."
The woodcutter nodded his head vigorously and said, "I can make us all a nice mug of tea if Withemistress Haucmel doesn't mind me lighting a fire on the other side of the track. I've got all the makings in the cart. Tea can be very soothing of hurt feelings."
"I do not need soothing, you stupid man," Mistress Branthwaite snapped at him. "Just take me back to town so I can wait for her to come crawling back, begging for forgiveness."
"That is enough," said Liavan firmly. "You might have cause by your reckoning to be angry with me, but Master Hewurn was genuinely trying to be helpful. He has been helpful. As you seem to be incapable of realising the effect your words have on others, from now until you make good the ill you have done to others with your words in the last thirteen risings of the full moon, the intent and sentiment of your speech will fall from your lips in physical form." Liavan accompanied her words with a series of gestures she hadn't known that she knew and felt the power move into the spell like a rumble in the earth rather than the usual ring of a small bell.
Her mother sneered, "Why should I be impressed by your fancy words and play acting?" Caltrops made of thorns and black, oily gobs of slime fell from her lips and tumbled down the front of her tunic. Two of the caltrops caught in the fabric and the slimes left a faintly damp trail. Mistress Branthwaite shrieked in surprise and dismay.
Liavan thought that, perhaps, the slimes on the ground were moving a very little on their own.
This is Part 5.
This entry was originally posted at https://rix-scaedu.dreamwidth.org/117473.html. There have been comments there.