Waunn’s Mother, Tuetha Carah stood in the doorway of the house, hands on her hips, as they approached. Her face still held the trace of youthful beauty, sharp, high cheekbones and the shape of her eyes betraying a heritage from the High Steppes. Waunn’s father had brought her back to Wahleiss, already pregnant with their first child. Folk in town whispered she was descended from the Witch of Arean, though they never would voice such an opinion to her face. All Waunn knew was that his Mother never spoke of a time before Wahleiss, of the girl she’d been. Sometimes she’d told them stories, tales of old times and magic in the ice fields; stories of the great bears and seals, the whales that moved slowly through the freezing waters and sang long, sad-seeming songs; tales of the Tel-Lan, the fair-folk who stole babies, leaving a changeling in the crib, and who lived alongside ordinary people but were never seen unless they wished it. None of the stories touched upon herself or upon her own life. His Mother was a mystery. Even after thirty years an outsider in Wahleiss. Perhaps why she was willing to offer Modesty a temporary home at times and a place at mealtimes – that and the fact that he’d begged until his throat was sore.
Her expression was unreadable, as always. “I’ve begun your packing,” she told him. “You’ll need to check it.”
“Oh,” he said. Was he going so soon? “But I’ve...” Modesty moved slightly beside him and for a moment he thought she was going to take his hand in hers. Tuetha’s gaze slid to the girl and she frowned.
“What’s this? Waunn?” she asked sharply. Modesty blinked and shrank into herself under that hard stare, then bridled, coming back fighting.
“What? What do you mean?”
“Your lips,” Waunn’s mother said. “Your lips girl. Silver-painted. Why?”
“My lips? But...,” she raised her hand to her mouth, stared at Waunn, the question clear in her eyes. He could only nod; why hadn’t he told her? Why had he waited? Modesty’s expression became as hard and closed as his mother’s, accusing him. Tears of anger and betrayal gleamed in her eyes and she turned away. She ran into the house, Tuetha moving aside to allow her to pass. He opened his mouth to call after her but Ma shook her head at him.
“Nothing! Nothing, Ma. Only she dreamed. She dreamed and it...it kind of moved. Ma, I don’t want to go. I can’t. I can’t leave!”
“Tud, run off and help Han set the table,” she said. The little boy, who’d been watching the exchange with growing trepidation went into the house and Tuetha came up to Waunn and stood opposite him with her arms folded. “I know you, my son. I know you don’t want to leave Modesty. But she will not stay. Don’t you know that? She’ll not stay.”
“But where will she go? She has no one, Ma. She has nothing! Why do I have to go? I’ll go if you tell me. If you tell me why.”
“It can’t be told, I’m sorry. It’s not for me...” she stopped, laid a hand gently on his arm. “Waunn my love, what’s done can’t be undone. You’ll go along with the man who’s come for you. There’ll be no welcome here for you if you don’t.”
He knew this. Seemed like he’d always known. But it now it had come, now it wasn’t next year, or next week; not some unimaginable tomorrow but here and right now and today, sorrow pierced him like an arrow and fear dried his mouth. He shrugged off his mother’s hand and turned his back on her. Went and sat beside Modesty, though she was hardly there, and ate without tasting a thing. Whoever this man was who’d come to be his Master, he was resolved to hate him. He’d be the worst apprentice anyone ever saw, do things badly if he did them at all, make that man wish he’d never laid eyes on Waunn. Make that man send him back.
Though no one else mentioned Modesty’s silver lips, the little ones warned against it, everyone else by common agreement, it seemed some couldn’t help but stare. Eventually little Fina, forgetting she’d promised not to, stared to wail.
“I want some too. I want my lips shiny! Mama, please! No fair!”
“Fina!” Waunn’s brother said angrily. “You stop that or you’ll be sent from the table.”
“Everyone finish up or we’ll be late,” Ma said. “Now Fina, eat up your dinner like a good girl or you’ll stay behind.” The little girl couldn’t stop crying, and Modesty hid her own face, her shoulders trembling. Before anyone could say anything she was up and gone.
“See what you did!” Tud told Fina and the wails increased in volume until Waunn felt he couldn’t stand it any longer.
He left the table. No one said a thing or tried to stop him. He grabbed his thick cloak and hurried out. Modesty was far ahead, running toward the town, where lights were glowing bright in the square. He went back for her cloak too and followed after. Closer he could hear the sound of music, and he thought of the bard. Spat into the dirt, stamped his hatred in and ran faster. The bard, who’d begun everything but had not cared.