OHIEL RETURNED HOME IN a rush, nearly tripping over himself as he opened the door. Aedai was waiting in the kitchen for the onions which he handed over promptly. His mother had already retired to her room and he found his father sitting in a chair next to the bed reading to her in his soft and melodic voice.
He opened his mouth to talk to them but his mother beat him to it, "Ohiel, go get changed into something dry and warm then you can tell me whatever you so desperately seem to be trying to say."
Ohiel went to protest this change of development but his father raised his head and spoke in his tone of authority, "Go and do as your mother says. I highly doubt it is that important."
But it was! He protested silently. The boy frowned but obeyed his father's command and went into the room that he shared with his two brothers. Yeniat was laying down in his bed flipping through a book he had no apparent interest in, but he did look up when Ohiel came in.
"I heard you were forced to go out into this unsightly weather – was the water deep?"
"Pretty deep, yes. Ah, give me a second. I need to change out of the clothes. I have to talk to Mother and Father about something."
"About something?" Yeniat inquired. "Important or trivial? Father's grouchy and unhappy about not being able to go out today so he's been in a bad mood since this morning."
"I already knew that..." Ohiel replied to his brother's reply without really paying any attention as he stripped out of his wet clothes and pulled on some clean ones. He wrinkled his nose as he hung his wet pants and shirt over a drying rack one of the girls had put in their room.
Yeniat shrugged. "I was just trying to be helpful." He flopped backwards onto his pillows and looked at the ceiling.
"I know," Ohiel told him. "I appreciate it very much."
From the corner of his eye, Ohiel saw Yeniat smile. He turned and smiled at his younger brother. "Hopefully this storm will pass soon and you can get back out and onto the water again."
"I hope so!" Yeniat responded enthusiastically before subsiding into flipping through the book again.
Ohiel couldn't help but wonder why Yeniat was reading a book he didn't even like but he figured if he asked he wouldn't get what he considered a satisfactory answer. Yeniat liked to act mysterious at times.
Ohiel left his room and headed back into his parents' room where he found that his father was still reading to his mother. Seeing that his father had no intent to stop anytime soon he sat down in the other chair in the room and waited as patiently as he could.
A little while later his father stopped reading and his mother motioned for him to come stand by her.
"Now darling, what is it? You were so excited earlier."
Ohiel looked over at his father for permission to speak. His father nodded and he took a deep breath and began to explain what had happened to him that afternoon, "I went to the Inn like Aedai asked me to. To get onions as you know, Mother, for dinner tonight. I was trying to rush there because the water was high and it kept slowing me down. When I got there Mrs. Johvannsen was surprised and made me warm up before she allowed me to ask her anything. Then when I was warm I asked her for the onions. Aedai said we'd repay them from our herb and spice garden later. She went down to the pantry to get me the onions. Well, while she was down there this man came down the stairs and he was looking at my paintings all intensely. Mrs. Johvannsen was coming back up when he turned to me and started to ask questions about the master painter who lived here in this town. He wanted to meet with him. He thought that my paintings were very good. So Mrs. Johvannsen tells him that I'm the painter and he is surprised for a moment before he shrugs it off. He then asks who my teacher was. He also asked my age. I tell him that I'm fifteen and self-taught. He's very surprised now and I was a little bit embarrassed because I liked painting but I never knew they were that good. Anyways, after a few minutes he tells me his name is Diar. You know that master painter from the inland city of Dabrcis? After that he asks me to come study under him in his studio. Which I was excited about. At the same time he also told me that he's going to Helvonum to study their artistic styles there and that if I wanted to study under him I'd have to go with him. He gave me three days to decide what I want to do." Ohiel finished quickly as he ran out of breath. Ohiel panted, trying to regain his breath.
He looked back and forth from his mother and back to his father waiting for their response. He figured that they were unhappy with this idea because they were not responding in any way, good or bad. Hesitantly he said, "I won't go if you don't want me to..."
Finally his mother spoke up, "It's not that we don't want you to go, it's just surprising. This has happened all so suddenly." She took a breath and placed a hand over her heart. "Ohiel, you are a tremendous painter and I'd love nothing more than to see you succeed in that as a profession. So if you think that this is something you should do, something that will help you in the future, take this chance. You may never come across something like this again."
She took Ohiel's hand in hers. "I want you to choose your path. You are stagnating here, even I can see it. There is so much to life and you are still so young, I'd like to see you live a little more." Ohiel's mother turned to his father, "Darling, what do you think?"
His father was quiet for a bit, rubbing his salt and pepper bearded jaw. He sighed a bit and tapped his fingers on the back of the book as thought. After what felt like an eternity to Ohiel he began to talk methodically.
"Truthfully I'd like you to stay here and manage the fish store."
Ohiel's mother glared at him and he cleared his throat and continued. "But I too see you stagnating here and know that this isn't where you belong, that you belong out in the world doing much greater things than simply being a fisherman's son." He took a breath. "Which is why I'm going to encourage you to go with this painter. He will be able to teach you how to paint even better, or if not better, in different styles. He'll also let you see the world. You'll learn finances and make your own money. I think this is a good opportunity for you."
Ohiel let his tightly clenched fists fall open at the end of his father's speech. He wiped a little desperately at his eyes as he tried to stop the tears from flowing down his cheeks. He sniffled for a moment before uttering, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much."
His mother smiled and leaned over, embracing him in her arms. "We will always support you in this. From the time you were little you always had a creativity people around you lacked. You are a genius."
Ohiel did not know if this was true, or just a mother's love for her child's work speaking.
His father nodded stiffly and stood. "You should tell Diar that you'll go with him tomorrow. No need to keep him waiting longer than need be."
His father left the room in what seemed to be a rush with the excuse that he was hungry and wondered when they were going to have dinner.
Before Ohiel left his mother said to him, "I'm so very proud of you. When you go, please remember to write at least occasionally to us. We want to hear how your studies are progressing." She smiled kindly and let her long brown hair fall over her shoulders as she reclined back on the pillows. "Now, why don't you come read to me for a bit as I have a feeling your father won't be back for a bit yet?"
"Of course, Mother. You know how I enjoy reading with you."
She patted the bed and said, "Come sit next to me."
Ohiel picked the book up off the chair where his father had left it and handed it to his mother. Next he climbed up onto the bed and settled next to his mother. Once he was comfortably leaning back against the pillows he took the book from her and began to read.
He must have drifted off to sleep because he woke to Aedai's voice calling, "Dinner! Scrub yourselves while I finish setting the table!"
He stirred and touched his mother's shoulder gently to wake her up.
She didn't stir and he sighed and laughed slightly. He thought to himself, I'm sure this is where all my sisters get their sleeping ability from. Very gently he shook her shoulder again and whispered, "It's time to get up Mother."
When she didn't stir he wondered if she was tired from being up earlier today. Not to mention he had added quite a bit of stress to her life today.
After a moment he called out to the room, "Give us a second, Mother is really tired, I need to get her up."
Aedai called back, "Fine, just hurry up everyone else is ready to eat."
He went to the wash basin and cleaned his hands before picking up the cloth that was beside the bed and bringing it to his mother's bedside.
He leaned over and wiped her face. She didn't move. Frowning he placed a hand on her cheek and found it cold as ice. Very carefully and a bit warily he moved his hand to his mother's throat.
He closed his eyes and let out a silent breath.
His mother had no pulse.
She was dead.