Chapter II: The Riders and the Raid (5)Mature

Andrel still hadn't returned by lunchtime, and tensions were high in the Wilthric household, everybody waiting worriedly for him. Their meal was silent excepting the scrapes of forks and the wind wheezing through the chimney system, and as the children ate, Mrs Wilthric's plate was untouched, her gaze cemented on the front door. The blizzard hadn't at all settled, even in the middle of the day, candelabras at the table were lit, the light reflected from silver cutlery and crystal glass pitchers. Will worried for his best friend, hoping that he had managed to find shelter before the next barrage of ice and snow had rolled in.

'Where do you think he's gone?' Will asked eventually, the first to say anything since they'd sat down at the table, apart from "pass the peas".

'He usually needs a place to cool off,' said Arlamus, taking the silver gravy boat and delicately smothering his food.

He can certainly cool off out there.

Will cleared his throat and said nervously, 'am I allowed to ask...why does Andrel hate his father so much?'

Mrs Wilthric's knife froze in between sawing a potato. She glanced at Arlamus, who made no reaction, then looked at Will and said, 'Andrel and his father don't get on, and never really have. After the...separation -,' Will couldn't notice Arlamus seize up as he listened, '- Andrel disowned him from the family, rather firmly. He's tried to get in contact recently, but Andrel will have none of it.'

Will wanted to hear more, he felt a desperation like an ache in his bones, but Mrs Wilthric's clear reservation was enough to stop him from probing her for answers.

Not long after the clock on the mantelpiece chimed four, the family in the living room heard the front door open and close with the strong wind's assistance. Mrs Wilthric shot from the sofa like she'd been stung up the back, and hurried into the hallway, the children following behind. Andrel stood before them, looking like a snow sculpture, covered all over, his face blotchy and burnt from the cold. He said nothing to them, removing his boots and his coat, depositing it on the hook appearing from the wall.

Mrs Wilthric almost scorned him, but in the end all she did was smile, elated that he was home.

'We were so worried about you,' she said softly.

'Sorry,' Andrel mumbled. Even his voice was cold. 'I went for a walk in town, but the warden shoved me into the nearest house to wait out the snowstorm.'

'Well, are you hungry at all? I could fix you something -,'

'No thanks,' he said, ambling up the staircase with his hands in his pockets. 'I think I'll just go to bed.'

Nobody moved downstairs, they all listened as he pulled down the stairs leading to the attic, his heavy footsteps fading away. Mrs Wilthric sighed hopelessly, pulling her hair back from her head and raking her fingers through.

'Don't worry, Mother,' consoled Arlamus. 'He'll be fine by the morning.' She ignored him, going into the living room and spotting the brown package on the bureau desk. She held it by the strings and moved towards the piping fireplace. The children tensed, wondering if she would really do it. At the last moment, she pulled her hand back, opening the desk drawer and tightly fitting the package inside.

'Why couldn't you have stayed away?' she mumbled, before slamming the drawer shut with a rattle and a bang.

The End

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