A Forest Cat, Chapter three: The Trials of a Tutor, part 2
arkness covered the land as they finally made it to the small village of Barlow. It boasted one surprisingly busy inn and Gaell followed Shane wide-eyed as he walked up to the bar. Taking care to stay close to her protector, she glanced around with innocent wonder at the variety of people that populated the common room.
Don’t stare like a country bumpkin, girl. And don’t attract too much attention.
Shane sent the thoughts to the girl as he walked over to the inn keeper to order their meals and a room for the night.
I ám a country bumpkin!
Gaell’s loud volume was intentional this time as she looked with unfeigned curiosity at three women who wore dresses that would have her mother red with indignation had she seen them. She nearly cried out in protest when Shane took her by her arm and almost dragged her over to a table in a quiet corner of the inn.
“Don’t stare!” Shane repeated softly as he set her down on one of the chairs.
“But those dresses don’t even hide their …eh…” Gaell began but fell quiet under his flat stare.
Shane sighed in exasperation. “It is none of our concern, Gaell. Nor is it polite to stare at them.” He knew his voice missed the conviction that it needed to keep Gaell from asking more questions. With some relief, he welcomed the steaming plates of stew that one of the serving girls brought them and for some time, the food prevented Gaell from more comments.
“That was the best meal I’ve had in a long time,” she finally sighed with satisfaction. Shane merely threw her an accusing look but she chose to ignore it. “So where are we going, Shane?”
Her casual question stopped the fork halfway between Shane’s plate and his mouth. He had been prepared for this question for days but when it hadn’t come, he had relaxed until now, when it caught him totally unprepared. He recovered quickly however and smiled. “I’m taking you home, Gaell.”
Gaell’s eyes widened and she began to answer his smile but then it disappeared as she realised the implications of the word ‘home’. “You mean, you are taking me to your home.” She whispered dejectedly and bit her lip to stop the tears from reaching her eyes.
Taking another mouthful of the stew, Shane shook his head. “No,” he said after swallowing, “I’m taking you to your home.”
Gaell watched him in confusion. “Don’t mock me Shane. I no longer have a home.”
Shane felt a pang of compassion as he heard the anguish in her voice. But he was surprised by the control she had mastered over her emotions. It seemed that in the few days they had spent together, she had grown from the small frightened and helpless child, into a determined girl who no longer seemed so helpless. Even though she had showed no eagerness to learn, she had picked up a lot of what he told her. She walked softly as he had showed her, had found a rabbit for lunch on their third day in the forest and helped without needing his incentive to clear the obvious tracks of their campsite once he had told her of its need. Torn between admiration and irritation for the girl, he was not equal to her infrequent displays of grief.
“It will be a home for you, girl, because you will find your true family there.” Fearing he had said too much, he tore his gaze away from her face and drained the last of his tankard. “But now we need a good night’s sleep because there’s still a long way to go. Drink up and we’ll go to bed.”
But Gaell was not so easily distracted. “What do you mean, true family? My mother and father are dead! Shane?”
The plead in her voice made Shane close his eyes in painful indecision. He had made his promises but the girl had a right to know. For one long moment Shane struggled with his conscience until he finally made a decision. “Gaell?” he began gently, “How do you think that you have acquired those eyes?”
She looked at him dumbfounded. “My eyes?” she repeated with incomprehension.
“Did your mother or father have the same colour of eyes?”
Gaell frowned in an effort to remember. Uncertainly she shook her head.
Reluctantly Shane continued, “it’s because, girl, they were not your real mother and father.” He braced himself for her outburst but it did not come. Gaell merely looked at him with sudden sad comprehension and he wondered at her composure until he realised that his revelation had not been so new to her as he had expected.
He had no comfort to offer her, no more words to say. Next time, he promised himself, she can ask as many questions as she likes and I will not loose my patience. The sound of her voice recalled him to the present.
“So you will bring me to my real parents?” Gaell looked at him expectantly but without apparent eagerness.
“Yes, I will,” Shane promised but corrected himself softly, ‘at least to your father.”
To Gaell, his promise seemed enough and she nodded once. “Let’s go to bed then”, she said and added in an accusing tone, “You said we needed a good night’s sleep.”
Shane rolled his eyes towards the ceiling and suppressed a smile. “Let’s go then.” He yielded and pushed his chair back.