A throb of lightning lit up the countryside, revealing the arrival of a roaring wall of rain. The crash of thunder and the deluge arrived together in the next instant, like a douse from a colossal bucket, dashed at once into every crack on the porch. Rose and Lukus stumbled through the front door, only to find that the parlour wouldn't do at all. They groped from room to room between flickers and flashes until they found some cover against the inside wall of the kitchen where most of the thatched roof remained.
They sat on the floor with their backs to the wall, combing their bedraggled hair from their faces with their fingers. Rose nudged him with the striker from her knapsack. Without a word between them, he spent the next several minutes struggling to light the lantern. At last it came to, a wee sputtering yellow seed atop the dirty stub of candle. Pale shadows leaped and waved, dancing above rivulets of water finding their way out through holes in the floor. He started to speak, but his voice vanished in the din. He studied the room, listening to the storm. “Oh, Rose?” he said, speaking out louder this time. “Wouldn’t you say we’ve lived something of a sheltered life in the castle, all these years?”
“Yes, yes. Quite.”
“So you decided that to cultivate your new maturity, you should go out into the world for some exposure, aye what?”
“If we just bed down along the wall here, I think it'll stay dry enough to sleep. And boy, am I ever hungry.”
“Sounds fine to me, Lukus,” she said, “except...”
“Except you seem to have left your pack in the barn,” she said, kneeling to open her own bag.
“Oh, great!” he said. “Couldn’t you just...? I mean I’ll just run out after the rain and pay you back, all right?”
“Be neat for once, would you?” she said, handing him things out of her bag.
They ate ravenously, listening to the steady downpour. "Dried apricots and cheese make one strange meal,” he said between thoughtful chews, “but you know? I think it’s pretty near the best supper I ever ate.”
He finished eating to discover that no pack also meant no bed roll for him, but Rose was willing to let him use one end of her bedding as a pillow. “So Rose," he said, settling himself onto his back, stirring the empty space over his head as though it were an orchestra. "You were telling me...”
“Telling you what?”
“You know. As you were saying back in the woods before we got off the road and came here. I mean you weren’t done were you? Isn’t there some sort of reason for our going to the Chokewood Forest?”
For a long spell, the rain was the only sound he heard. “Lukus,” she said at last, “I may not be your sister at all. If there be any truth to what I was told at my awful birthday party, you and I are only cousins.”
“Oh go on,” he said with a laugh. “Surely you don’t mean first cousins? That would make one of us Ugleeuh’s child.”
“Ugleeuh? My word. You made that up.”
“No I didn't.”
“But no one would ever name a... So who on earth is Ugleeuh?”
“Mother’s sister, Rose. Didn't you know her name?”
“Something else I wasn’t to find out until I was sixteen, no doubt. How come they told you, anyway?”
“No one made a point of telling me. I don’t even remember how I found out, but you weren’t singled out. Good grief. It’s not as though anyone in the family was exactly proud of her.”
“But Lukus, I can’t believe Grandfather Razzmorten would name one of his daughters such a thing.”
“Well he didn’t. Mother said that Grandfather was away when the baby was born, and she said that the baby’s mother, Mother’s stepmother, named it before he returned. I guess she wasn’t very happy to have a child and took it out on the baby."
“How awful. No wonder she grew up with such a chip on her shoulder.”
“Yeap. Probably had a lot to do with it, all right,” he said, rolling onto his haunches to stare into her face. “But good grief. She surely can't be your mother. No way.”
“Yea? Well maybe Lukus, but somehow nobody, absolutely nobody back at the castle would be completely straight with me when I asked them, so I intend to find out for certain, one way or the other. So please don’t ask me any more questions right now. We need to get some rest. We have a long way to travel, yet.”
“But I want to know more about this, once we’re...”
“Fine. On the road. Please, let’s go to sleep.”
(Ch. 2, The Collector Witch)
Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps