This follows ‘Rafe-Welcomed Home’.
Rafe turned toward the house. “You’ve put in a new window. Bigger.”
“Yes. Well. Supper is waiting.” Jenna held the door open. “Welcome. Although I suppose welcoming you to your own house is a bit funny.”
Boyl linked arms with Rafe and ascended the front steps. “What your sister means is, that after your last trip home, and with your mother dead and all, there didn’t seem to be much reason to maintain the memorial to your destructive powers. Hence the new window. One we can see through, instead of the boarded up frame your mother insisted on.” He moved to lay his arm across Jenna’s broad shoulders. “She also means, ‘Welcome. It’s been a long time.’ You may notice a few other small changes.”
Rafe stepped across the threshold, brushing the latch and tracing the scroll-work handle. She had been six when Da had replaced the leather pull and hinges with iron. Now those were gone. The leather dust flap at the bottom of the door was still there, and no one had yet installed a sill.
“Boyl’s work.” Jenna’s voice was soft and filled with pride.
Rafe looked at her sister, trying to remember if she had ever heard this tone. Certainly not when they were growing up, even playing with her doll, or speaking to Ducky. And certainly not the last time she had been home when Jenna had been pregnant and plagued with the twins and a granddaughter. Not to mention the unwanted appearance of a damaged sister.
The hall was much as she remembered it. The bench sat just back from the door where it wouldn’t block traffic. The rack was double tiered, bottom for boots and top for house shoes. A grated wooden tray caught the dried dirt and chaff. Where a mirror might have hung, there was a frame for keys, horse picks, and other tools that might have hidden themselves in pockets or small hands.
Rafe unclasped the front of her harness. “Where would you like this?”
“Da put these up for you, just after Wilf told us you were on your way.” Maud pointed at a pair of hooks next to the hinge side of the door frame. “Easy to grab on your way out, but hard to get at if a marauder were trying to break in and wreak mayhem.” She tapped her head and winked at Rafe.
“I’m sure I don’t know when we last saw marauders in Riverside,” said Jenna.
“Well, now that Auntie Rafe is here, perhaps we’ll be a more attractive target.”
“I daresay, tucked in an obscure branch of the River, and days from the nearest town. Marauders don’t know what they’ve been missing.”
Penelope stood in the doorway to the kitchen. “But you all are missing supper.”
The table was loaded with roasted potatoes and carrots, ginger relish, pickles, bread, and cheese. A chicken sat at each end. Jenna and Boyl separated and moved to their ends of the table. “Take my seat.” Boyl pulled out a chair. “Don’t worry, I’ll still carve up the chicken, but we all want to get a look at you, and an end seat is the best for that.
Rafe stood in front of the chair and looked down the table where her sister was sharpening a carving knife on a steel and looking back at Rafe. The door opened behind Jenna. A tall man, with grey side-wings in his hair, ushered in a stout woman and a lad. “Gods, you look like Da!” Rafe shoved the chair out of the way and met her brother in a back thumping hug. “And Joanie!”
Jenna tapped the table corner with her knife. “You sit here, Ducky, with Joan. Jole, you can take the seat next to your aunt and get to know her.”
Ducky bowed toward Jenna. “Why thank you, Sister. Order in your iron fist, as ever. Jole, you all right down there with your Auntie Rafe?” He smiled and clapped Rafe on the shoulder. “He may have heard a story or two about you, over the years.”
Maud took her place at the bench.“We thought he was better off practicing with family stories. You know that Wilf is planning to become a bard, don’t you Auntie? He told us how he met you at the Memory Oak and that you knew.”
“I wouldn’t have thought many stories about me would have found their way back to Riverside.”
Jenna continued sharpening her knife, eyes on her sister. “Oh, you would be surprised at what turns up in Riverside. Just not marauders.”
“A family dinner. Who would have thought? Chicken?” Boyl passed the cut up chicken to Rafe and looked toward Jenna. “You might be seeing to your own bird, dear. I’m sure your end of the table is hungry as well.”
Dinner was a chatty affair, nothing like what Rafe had grown up with. Jenna’s bossing reminded her more of a commander on the lines than the judgment cast down by their mother.
Eventually Ducky leaned over his plate and locked eyes with Rafe. “You are not keeping up your end of the conversation, old girl. Nor answering what everyone is dying to know. What brings you back to Riverside?”
Silence was instant. Wood cracked in the stove. Eyes snapped to Rafe.
“Ah. That.” Rafe had been waiting for the question, but had expected it to come from Jenna.
“Yes. That,” said Ducky. He patted Joan’s hand on his arm rather than shaking it off.
“I woke up one morning, feeling my mortality. I thought to see if there might be a place for me here. And if not, I could consider my options just as easily here as anywhere else. Maybe better.”
Ducky turned sharply to Jenna, and Rafe noticed that their sister’s hand was under the table. “Jenna,” Ducky said, “I’ve asked your question for you. I did not promise to grill our sister after. I’m willing to let it go at mortality. We are all of an age to know what that feels like.”
Boyl nodded at Wilf, sitting on the other side of his cousin. “Unless we want to be immortalized in song. I suggest we leave this off for after dinner and privacy. “Remember, lad, family business stays in the family.”
Rafe held her cup out toward Penelope who filled it from a pitcher of ale. “Don’t worry, Jenna. There was no one incident. Nothing in particular happened. But the recruits were seeming younger, and I was creaking more when I got up and went to bed. Training became just another chore in my day. I woke up one morning and decided it was time to explore a place that seemed new and foreign. You know I’ve never thought of this as ‘Home’ but more as the place I was born. I wonder if I have a home, or if that even matters.”
Her gaze was fixed on Jenna, but she watched Boyl from the corner of her eye. He did not look like he was going to interfere. “I’m here to find a place, not to take one. If you have something for me to do, I will happily do it. But as far as I’m concerned, you and Wilf are still the head of the family. This house is your house. I’m sure it is what Ma would have wished and I’m fine with that.” Rafe knew this wasn’t enough to convince Jenna, but it was a good place to start. “The only request I have is that I do something useful. I’d rather not be relegated to the Old Timers Bench quite yet.”