Master Hewurn shook his head sadly. "You tried to tell her," he told Liavan's father sadly. "It's one of those things where if people don't listen, then there's not a lot you can do to help them."
"You cursed me!" Liavan's mother shrieked and small porcelain discs fell from her mouth. "What are these things? Make them stop!"
"I've told you how to lift the curse," replied Liavan calmly. "Now you just have to do it."
Her mother stopped and stared at her. "I have to?" The single slime this time was as clear as morning dew.
"You have to," repeated Liavan firmly. "Get it right, and this stops. Don't bother or deny that it's your problem to...heal, and matters continue as they are right now." Standing in her doorway she was tall enough to look down on her mother as that lady came to realise that Liavan meant everything she said.
"I should get to unloading this wood," said Master Hewurn uncomfortably. "I thought we'd spend the night at The King's Head on the other side of the Kingsbridge before heading back to Market Cranebourne tomorrow."
"Mistress Ganalt keeps a clean and tidy house," replied Liavan. "I'm sure you'll not regret it."
"I never have," replied Master Hewurn in a friendly tone. "Might I trouble you to use your outhouse before I start?"
"Of course," said Liavan politely. "You'll probably all feel more comfortable in yourselves if you do. If you go around the western end of the house, it will be right in front of you." She waited until the man had gone and added, "Frankly, Mother," as she turned to look at the older woman, "if you'd charged through my garden gate like a madman looking for the privy after travelling all the way from Market Cranebourne on a cart, I would have been far more understanding. Have you ever considered that if you took care of these things before you go into difficult conversations, you might not get yourself so upset?"
Her mother snapped, "I do not get myself 'all upset', it's other people who upset me!" Her speech resulted in a mix of black and clear slimes and a few black discs.
Her husband bent and picked up a white disc and a black one, carefully avoiding the slimes. "These are proper game or tally tokens," he said, speaking very precisely.
"That would tie in with making amends to those who are owed for damage done," replied Liavan equally carefully.
"Very good quality ones," added her father. "Completely blank and without a maker's mark. Do you have any idea what the jelly things are?"
"None at all," replied Liavan. "I suspect they may taste bitter, or sting. The black ones, at least."
"What are you two talking about?" Mistress Branthwaite swung her attention from her husband to her daughter and back again. Clear slimes and black tokens fell from her lips. "What about this?" She gestured at the ground in front of her as a black slime and a handful of clear slimes joined the collection already on the ground in front of her.
"Good quality tokens like these sell for a crown per dozen," her husband told her and put the white one in her hand. "If making amends to anyone requires money, then you have a source of it in these."
Her mother turned to look at Liavan who said honestly, "I have no idea. I've never cursed someone before."
"I would hope not," replied her father gravely. "Cursing seems to be a most serious business."
"Given what you're supposed to be able to do with one, yes, it is a serious matter," agreed Liavan. "I may be required to report myself to the Bishop's staff. Well, at least it's not frogs."
Liavan did not invite any of them into her house. The outhouse contained perfectly good handwashing arrangements that Master Hewurn was very appreciative of. Her parents also used the little building at the end of one of the three paths that led away from the kitchen door, her mother waiting until Master Hewurn was around the front of the house before she went in.
Liavan did bring four chairs, all the chairs she owned for now, outside so the four of them could sit and drink tea together when the wood had been moved into a stack at the back of the house. She also took out two buckets of fresh water to the draft animals, a pair of buffalo oxen, standing patiently out the front of her house with straw hats on the heads to keep the sun off their heads.
Her mother sat firmly on the first chair when Liavan brought it outside and spent the time being, for her, unnaturally quiet. Making a few of her customary disapproving snorts and sniffs had quickly convinced the older woman that this was not something she wanted to do, and she managed to hold her peace for most of the time it took Master Hewurn to move his load. She was visibly surprised when a complimentary remark to her daughter on the state of her outhouse resulted in white tokens and rose petals.
It was pleasant outside in garden, with the choice of sitting in the sun or the shade and Liavan was able to enjoy much of her parents' visit, when she could put aside the knowledge that she'd cursed her mother.
The visitors left after Master Hewurn had rested from his exertions. Liavan waved them off from her front gate, put everything away and did the washing up, swapped her apron for her tunic, locked up the house, and took a magical step to Market Cranebourne. From her arrival point she made her way straight to Mistress Penden's house and knocked on her door. This time the door was opened by a different girl wearing an apron over a purple dress.
"Good afternoon, can I help you?" This girl was a few years older than Mirran, and her expression suggested that Liavan's appearance didn't impress her.
"I hope so," Liavan smiled. "I'm Withemistress Haucmel come to call on Withemistress Penden, if she is at home."
The girl didn't smile. "My mother has mentioned you. Please come in and take a seat while I find out if she can see you."
"Thank you." Liavan came inside and the girl closed the front door.
Liavan was still lifting her arms to take off her hat when the girl said, "Please, take a seat here," and indicated an open backed chair with a padded seat that sat between the entrance and the doorway to the sitting room Liavan had been shown into on her last visit. The girl made no offer to take Liavan's hat and said, "I should only be a few minutes while I speak to my mother." She turned with a swish of her purple skirts and disappeared further into the house.
It was only a few minutes before Withemistress Penden came hurrying into sight, a cream apron over her own purple dress, followed by the girl who'd let Liavan in. The girl's face had gone from disdainful to grumpy. Elvie Penden said, "Withemistress Haucmel, I'm so sorry. Please, come into the parlor and have a cup of tea. Anirar, please take Withemistress Haucmel's hat for her and hang it up, then bring us a tea tray from the kitchen, thank you."
The girl, who Liavan now surmised to be Anirar Blackshift, went to say something but her mother gave her a look and the girl said a touch overbrightly, "May I take you hat for you, Mistress Haucmel?"
"Thank you, yes." Liavan unpinned her plain straw hat from her hair and handed the hat to Anirar. The hatpin, a straight piece of fine steel with a small piece of tumbled quartz on each end once it was capped, went back through her hair. She allowed her hostess to usher her into the sitting room they'd used last time she'd visited and close the door behind them.
"I'm sorry about Anirar," said Withemistress Penden. "She can be a little...judgmental. But you look like you've come here because of a problem. What is it?"
Liavan turned to her and answered, "I've put a curse on my mother. It wasn't planned, but it was intentional at the time I did it. How much trouble am I going to be in?"
Withemistress Penden blinked. "That would depend on the curse and why you did it. Perhaps we should sit down before you begin?" The older woman gestured at the chairs and Liavan took her previous seat. Mistress Penden too resumed the seat she had occupied on their last meeting. "Before you begin, I should mention that your parents came to visit me the day after we last had tea. Your mother made a particular impression on me."
"My parents came out from Market Cranebourne with Master Hewurn, the wood cutter, when he came to deliver my firewood order today," began Liavan. "I understand that my mother told he and my father that she wanted to apologise to me, persuading my father to pay Master Hewurn for his trouble and Master Hewurn to bring them with him. I don't know how she found out I had arranged for Master Hewurn to supply me with wood."
Withemistress Penden nodded to indicate that she followed matters so far, and there was a knock on the door. "Excuse me for a moment," she said to Liavan as she stood and went to open the door. Anirar was there with a tea tray, "Ah, excellent. Come in and put it down on the low table, dear, and take a seat with us." Liavan thought that Anirar looked surprised, but the girl did what she was told, setting the tray down and choosing a chair that made her the third point of a triangle of women around the table. Withemistress Penden put the two tall, handleless cups together so they touched, picked up the teapot, poured tea into each cup, and then she poured a third time as she muttered something, and the pouring tea formed a shape as if it were in a cup just like the others. Liavan almost missed when the cup began forming around it from the bottom up, a fine porcelain vessel glazed with a traditional design of red and brown leaves on a white ground.
Withemistress Penden put down the teapot, handed the two original cups to Liavan and Anirar, and said, "I'd better take this one, just to be on the safe side. Now, you'd just told me, Withemistress Haucmel, that your mother had prevailed upon your father and Master Hewurn to take her to your house, without any indication from you that a visit would be welcome. Have I understood matters correctly so far?"
"Yes, ma'am," replied Liavan, while noting to herself that she hadn't actually said all of that. "I was alerted to their presence by a knock on my door, then I felt an alert from my wards. As I understand matters, Master Hewurn and my father didn't trigger them because Master Hewurn was invited and neither he nor my father had any ill intent towards me. My mother seems to have followed them through the front gate and then decided to dash around to my back door and enter the house that way - triggering my wards in the process. I didn't know who was causing the alarm at the time, but I locked my back door at once."
Anirar asked, "Did you manage it in time? I mean, she was already moving, and you needed to get to the door...." Her voice trailed off at something in Liavan's expression and she went on in an enlightened tone, "Oh, of course, you didn't have to be at the door to lock it."
"That's right," acknowledged Liavan, "and I don't think my mother expected that. She seemed quite put out when she came back around the front of the house. She asked how I got my house, then that moved into my selfishness in not helping my married sisters set up in the world, and Mother spat on the ground in a demonstration of her opinion of me. I remonstrated mildly. I was accused of insolence and smut before being told that I was still a candidate for switching, then my father suggested that Mother stop and calm down, which led to Mother describing me as a fraud and trotting out her old line that I should never have been born."
Anirar gave a quickly muffled gasp.
Liavan and her mother looked at her for a moment before the other withemistress said gravely, "I pray you, please continue, Mistress Haucmel."
"Then Master Hewurn offered to make us all campfire tea to help calm everyone down, and my mother replied by calling him stupid." Just thinking of those words directed at the man who hadn't deserved it still made Liavan angry. "That's when I cursed her."
"I find your forbearance astonishing," commented Withemistress Penden. "I would have put my foot down at the spitting. Really."
Anirar observed, "By custom, you were entitled to your due from the moment she left the direct path from your gate to your front door. It's not necessarily enforced when no harm is done, but it seems likely to me that harm was intended, and she merely lacked the opportunity. What does she have to do to lift the curse?"
"Make good the ill she has done to others with her words in the last thirteen full moon risings," replied Liavan quickly before adding, "I may have gotten carried away. I’m also not sure how I did it. No," she corrected herself, “I know how I did it, but I don’t know how I knew to do what I did.”
"Perhaps you did get carried away," said Withemistress Penden judiciously. "It happens. On the other hand, it does address a pattern of behaviour, and it doesn't limit the requirement for restitution to yourself. As for the how, there are several possibilities. I think we should finish our tea, and then go and pay some calls. Without our advantages, your mother can't make it back here before the small hours of the night if she sets out straight away. You, wisely, came to see me for advice as soon as you were able, and my advice is to report yourself to the relevant episcopal and ducal staff this afternoon. If they've dealt with the matter by the time your mother makes a complaint, then things are less likely to become difficult and complicated. By the way, what happened after you cursed your mother?"
"She was angry. I offered three of them the use of my outhouse, and they accepted. Master Hewurn unloaded my firewood, and then I gave all of them tea in my back garden while Master Hewurn recovered from the exertions of unloading the firewood. I gave his oxen water too, and they left to spend the night at The King's Head." Liavan said apologetically, "I know it sounds strange that I cursed my mother and then gave her tea, but I saw no reason that I shouldn't offer hospitality to my father and Master Hewurn, or his oxen, and I didn't invite anyone into the house."
"I think a visit to the ducal town offices and then the episcopal offices," commented Withemistress Penden. "It may not have been your intention, but I believe that if your mother does lodge a complaint, then her position will be weaker because she accepted your hospitality after the event. Anirar and I will just put on our tunics and hats, and then we will go and pay our visits. Please, stay here and have another cup of tea while we take a few minutes to get ready." Withemistress Penden topped up Liavan's cup and then led her daughter out of the room, promising that they would only be a few minutes.
The withemistress and her daughter were as good as the mother's word. Withemistress Penden was wearing her black tunic over her dress with the enormous black hat on her head, while Anirar was wearing an unusually dark green tunic with a dark green and purple hat that was trimmed with an arrangement of leaves and purple flowers. As Liavan put her own plain straw hat back on before the three of them left the house, she resolved to get herself a new hat in the near future, or at least get trimmings for the one she had.
The ducal town offices were next to the baronial offices. Market Cranebourne came under the hand of Erphed, Baron Cranehold who in turn was under the authority of Farreth Ternwen, Duke of the Azides. Colocation probably made the work of the baronial and ducal authorities easier and it meant that anyone who chose the wrong office for their business didn't have far to go to find the right office. Consequently, it was not unusual or surprising to find the duke's clerk in friendly discussion with the town reeve. Both men stood when the two withemistresses and Anirar were shown into the room by the counter clerk.
"Withemistress Penden, Withemistress Haucmel and Mistress Blackshift, how may I help you?" The duke's clerk was both confident and gracious.
Liavan cast quick glances at her companions and then replied with as much poise as she could manage, "After seeking the advice of Withemistress Penden I've come to let you know that I put a curse on my mother this afternoon, to her face and in front of witnesses. She had been...unkind in her speech to another who was present."
"Perhaps you might care to explain the nature of this event more fully? Please take a seat, ladies." The duke's clerk sat again when the all three of them were ensconced on his visitors' chairs and, after a glance from him, the town reeve also resumed his seat. Master Winvell, the duke's clerk, was a middle-aged man with greying brown hair plaited along the sides of his head to the nape of his neck where it became one braid, and he asked careful and polite questions to steer Liavan through the repeat of her tale. It was clear to her that he was asking her to clarify particular points about the events of the afternoon and her actions, but she was not sure exactly what he was checking or its importance. She did notice that he had a fidget: when he was thinking he twiddled the top button of his brown tunic with his left hand. It happened often enough during her story that Liavan thought that the bronze button stamped with the ducal crest would have to be replaced on a regular basis.
When Liavan had finished her report of event, the town reeve, Master Goude, cleared his throat and said, "If I may speak on this matter, I can confirm that Withemistress Haucmel's mother has called her competence and the efficacy of her cough mixtures into doubt in public and in my presence before today. At that time, Mistress Haucmel chose to take no action."
"I'm afraid that I too have something to add, " said Withemistress Penden. "Withemistress Haucmel’s parents visited me several weeks ago and her mother urged me to, how did she put it? Oh, yes, 'return her daughter to their household instead of punishing her’ when I shut Withemistress Haucmel down." She looked apologetically at Liavan and added, "I didn't mention the visit to anyone, and I have never had any intention of stopping or preventing you from being a public, practicing withemistress. The episode does show a pattern of behaviour by your mother however."
Master Winvell sighed. "I will make a record of this matter for the duke's records," he said, "but you were much provoked, and I don't believe that you can be said to be extorting anything from the subject of the curse. Consequently, I do not believe that you have any legal case to answer at this time. You should call on Father Manrel, the Episcopal Principal Arcanist, this afternoon before you return home. He does supervise your license from the Bishop, and I am sure that he would rather hear about this from you than from an aggrieved woman with pieces of slime falling from her lips."
'Thank you, Master Winvell," said Liavan humbly. "I've never done anything like this before, and I did it without thinking of what the consequences might be."
"Be assured, Withemistress Haucmel," he replied, "If you had acted without provocation, I would have taken steps to contain you. Now, if you will all excuse me, I have a report to write."
This is Part 6.
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