Family Secrets: Part Two
I was still in the parlor when Aunt Calydia’s brother arrived. I sniffled and wiped away the tears. That particular story would have to wait. For now, Swin was in the limelight, and I had a feeling he would remain there for quite a while. I meandered into the dining room, where Swin was already seated. He looked surprised to see me.
“Who are you?”
“Fallan,” I replied. “I’m Calliope’s son.”
He stared at me a bit longer and smiled. “I see you have inherited her nose.”
I felt my nose consciously. What did he mean by that?
Calydia came into the room escorting Grandfather. When he noticed Swin, he burst into a shout. “Swin! My son!”
Calydia beamed. “He’s missed you so much, Swin.”
I found it odd that Swin didn’t get up to greet his father. If I were in that position, I’d be hugging him as tightly as I could.
“Hello, Father,” the Kyrii said with a grin. “It’s been a long time.”
“Swin!” the Eyrie said happily. “Swin, Swin, Swin.”
I frowned. I thought Calydia had said Grandfather had deteriorated in health with Swin gone. But he didn’t seem to be any more coherent with his son sitting just a few feet away from him. Granted, I had never known Grandfather very well, but perhaps something worse was wrong with him.
Calydia clapped. “Soup, please!”
Three Xweetok maids and a Kiko came out of the kitchen and served us the soup, a cold mixture of pumpkin and squash with what looked like snails thrown in. We all took our first taste, Calydia helping her father as patiently as she could. Avoiding the blobs of what I thought were snails I took a slurp of soup. I nearly spit it back into the bowl once it hit my tongue. It was disgusting, to say the least. Why must rich people eat the most revolting foods?
“So, Swin,” Calydia said to break the monotony of spoons clinking against the bowls. “Tell us all about your adventures!”
Here we go. I was not in the mood to hear some “thrilling” story from this guy, even if he was my uncle. Something about him was fishy. Maybe I just didn’t like him, but he did seem rather self-absorbed. Plus, I thought I had been invited here to talk about me; at least, that’s what Aunt Calydia had written in the invitation. I felt like I had been forgotten. Again.
“But of course, Calydia,” Swin said between slurps. I found it odd that he had not even asked to change his outfit; he still sat in his filthy traveling clothes. His appearance was quite a stark contrast to the formality of the dining room, yet he still seemed to fit in more than I did, which irritated me.
“I’m sure you remember when I left, about eighteen months ago? We left from the Neopia Central port and had to sail around Meridell Peninsula, which took us about three and a half days. Then, some of the crew needed to stop in Brightvale, but it was all for the best. I sent my letters home there, did you receive them?”
Calydia, who was listening intently, nearly dropped her spoon. “You sent letters? Oh, Swin, they never arrived! It must have been those fool messengers; they can never deliver any of my guild mailings properly.”
Swin chuckled. “Still wrapped up in that group of ladies too old for you, I see.”
Calydia smiled faintly. “Well, Mother was a longtime member, of course. I didn’t want our good standing with the guild to just drift away, and Calliope was certainly not interested.”
My curiosity was piqued. “Why wasn’t she interested?”
Calydia glanced at me with a hint of surprise. “Oh... well, I’m sure it has something to do with your mother’s refusal to partake in anything representing the family,” she said tartly. “You would probably know better than I would, dear.”
I frowned, about to retort when I was cut off by Grandfather. “Calydia!”
My aunt glanced at her father with alarm. “What is it?”
“You must not speak about your sister that way!” the wizened Eyrie screeched, banging his spoon onto the polished table and sending droplets of soup into the air.
Calydia was speechless. It seemed from her reaction that this was the most coherent Grandfather had been in quite a while. My fondness for the old man surged. If he was able to defend my mother and shock Aunt Calydia, he was all right in my book.
“I... I’m sorry, Father,” she murmured. “I didn’t mean it. I do love Calliope, you know that.”
But Grandfather didn’t reply. He lifted the spoon in his shaking hands and resumed slurping soup sloppily. Disappointed, I stared at my bowl. I was hoping for some more confrontation. Instead I got—
“Now, as I was saying,” Swin began, confidently sliding into his story once more, “as we traveled directly under Faerieland, we met up with a Fire Faerie who we had secured as a guide. While we descended further south, she was able to create something of a force field around the ship that kept us warm without burning the ship. It seemed like quite a bit of magic, too; she was working on her incantations for close to an hour.”
“Fascinating,” Calydia said, also comfortably slipping into her role once more, though she still glanced at her father uneasily every so often. I had to admit the idea of a fire “force field” did sound intriguing.
The maids returned to the dining room to remove the soup bowls and replace them with salad plates. Calydia told us this was Grandfather’s favorite salad, and she ordered it particularly for tonight. The salad looked as unappetizing as the soup—it seemed to be a combination of the most disgusting looking vegetables in Neopia. But, I was hungry, and so I pulled the plate forward and dug in. Surprisingly, it was quite appetizing. As we ate, Swin continued the accounts of his trek.
“So after about two weeks of sailing, we finally managed to make it to the continent. Our guide’s spell had done us well, we were eating healthy meals every day, life was treating us pretty well. But... then we ran into some trouble.”
Calydia gasped. “What happened?
“Well... the Faerie fell ill, for one. The incantations required her to recast them every day, and her energy was severely drained by the time we had arrived. So we left one of the crew to remain with her at the ship so she could regain her strength, while the rest of us pressed inland. Because of this, the group that left the ship behind was rather cold, as we had counted on that spell to keep us warm on our expedition.”
“Oh, how awful!” the Aisha exclaimed. The absurdity of her exclamation suddenly hit me, and I wondered how awful she truly felt. I doubted she had ever really felt awful in her sheltered life. It made me a little angry to think that she really had never had to endure any lasting hardships, like my mother. And part of me... I’m embarrassed to even say it, but part of me envied her. If she never really did have to feel awful, well. It sounded appealing, to say the least. A sheltered lifestyle would be nice, I decided.
And as I sat there, considering this strange familial situation, I wondered about why my mother had abandoned her family. I had heard stories over the years from my mother, about how Calydia had been unkind, or how she had been concerned over petty things. And now I come here, on an invitation out of the blue, to find that Calydia was thinking the same things about my mother. What had happened? It especially bothered me now, with my mother’s condition. So I decided to ask.
“Aunt Calydia?” I said tentatively, cutting off Swin, who looked rather annoyed at the sound of a voice other than his own.
“Yes?” she replied, with a bit of impatience as well.
“Do you think you can tell me why my mother left?”
“Why do you want to know now?” she asked curiously, eyes narrowing.
“I just... I need to know,” I replied quietly. It was painful to think of my mother, lying in her bed, alone, back home.
She hesitated for a moment. “She was... not comfortable here.” I could tell she was choosing her words carefully, as if she were trying to conceal something with formal phrasing. “She did not agree with... well, me. So she left. ”
Tears had reformed in my eyes now. “Do you know what has happened to her?”
Calydia frowned. Swin was quiet, staring uninterestedly at the wall behind me. I ignored him as he did me. Grandfather was staring at me with an oddly concentrated look, though he shifted his gaze when we locked eyes. I refocused on my aunt.
“She’s sick, Aunt Calydia. She’s been in bed for months now.”
Calydia was stiff. I could feel Grandfather’s gaze return to me, but I paid no attention to him.
“What does she have?” my aunt asked.
“The doctors don’t know,” I replied, shaking now. It hurt me to see Calydia so unresponsive. Did she have no compassion for her sister? “But she is getting worse each day.”
“That is... unfortunate,” she said. Her closed-off expression never once left her face. She too began staring, looking down at her salad plate as if it were a distant planet. The room was silent except for my quiet heaves. We were all jolted out of our thoughts when the door to the kitchen burst open, and Eleanor, the maid, carried forth the serving platter.
“Oh,” Calydia said, quickly resuming her hostess demeanor. “It seems our dinner is served.”
To be continued...