Niamh set to writing the letter. There was no harm in letting her aunt come, and it was customary for a female-usually the mother- to help with the wedding dress.
Of course, it was also customary for both sides of the family to stay and help raise the motherless child, but who was keeping track?
Niamh waxed and sealed the letter, then handed it to Jenni, who left the room with it. Niamh sat back in her chair, rubbing her neck. Krys, who had joined her prior to her writing, rolled over on the bed, exposing her belly, and yawned loudly. "What was all that scratching for?" she asked.
"Just sending a message." Niamh answered, standing up. She took a seat beside the big cat and scratched at the lynx's belly.
The cat kicked and snorted. "Stop that. That tickles." she said flatly.
"Sorry," Niamh said, shrugging. the lynx rolled over again and shook herself and, consequently, the bed. She smoothed down fur in her shoulder, then rested her head on Niamh's lap with a sigh.
"So, what's the issue?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" Niamh asked, absently stroking the cat's head.
"You seem unsettled at having two potential mates."
"Well, I just… never expected to see Oisin again." Niamh said.
"Oh. Having second thoughts?"
"No!" Niamh grabbed a handful of the cat's fur. Krys hissed, and Niamh quickly let go, smoothing it down. "Sorry," she muttered.
"Why don't you just let them fight it out? Winner gets the mate."
"That's barbaric!" Niamh gasped, horrified.
"That's how us animals do it." Krys shrugged.
"How many mates have you had?" Niamh asked, grasping at anything to turn the conversation around.
"None." Was Krys' curt reply.
"You have had none, and you're going to tell me how to…" Niamh shook her head.
"It's not like you've had any before this." Krys responded.
"I, at least, have taken the time to learn our customs." Niamh muttered.
Krys snorted, "We have none to learn!"
Suddenly, Jenni opened the door. "A letter." she said, confused.
"What is it?" Niamh asked, sitting up quickly, pushing Krys' head off unceremoniously.
"It's from your aunt Aislinn," Jenni said, "in response to the letter you just sent."
"What?" Niamh asked, taking the letter. An odd, yellow, misty haze wafted from it. Krys sat up and stretched her neck out, sniffing at the paper. "What is that?" Niamh asked.
"A letter." Jenni replied.
"No the… you can't see it?" Niamh said, waving the letter, which left tendrils of yellow in it's wake.
"I… think so?"
"It's magic traces," Krys said, "only you and I can see it. You are a heart friend, who has been exposed to the heart of a magic animal, giving you the ability to see it."
"If it's magic, then that means…" Niamh looked excitedly at the letter. Of course! Where else would she have gotten this ability? It was from her mother's side! Of course her aunt would have it!
"My aunt must have a magic friend, as well!" Niamh said. Suddenly, she couldn't wait for the woman to be here. She opened the letter quickly and read.
I can not begin to express my gratitude and joy upon hearing that I am to be there for your wedding preparations! I must say, your mother must be very proud.
I realize that I can not begin to replace your mother's role in this, but I am sure that she would not have it any other way, given the circumstances. I will be arriving very shortly, perhaps in five days hence. However, far be it from me to come empty handed- with me I am bringing the wedding dress that your mother and I wore on our own special days. I will also be bringing the proper materials for you to make your own veil, as is customary.
I have a friend whom I am bringing along. She is several years older than you, only slightly younger than your mother would be. If a separate room could be prepared for her, you would have our greatest thanks. I have a feeling that she and your father may get along fairly well.
When I arrive, I expect you will have many questions, all of which I will obligingly answer. I suggest we set aside a day just for the two of us, if that is agreeable with you and your plans.
I hope to see you and your father in good health!
Niamh set the letter down, then read it again. No mention was there of any animals. No explanation to the speedy arrival of the letter. "Perhaps she feels I need none." she muttered.
"Well, is there anything your father needs to be informed of?" Jenni asked.
"Yes, she will be arriving in about five days. And she is bringing someone extra with her, who will need quarters in the ladies wing." Niamh said, scanning the letter futiley again.
Jenni curtsied. "I shall have him informed." She left the room, closing the door behind her.
Niamh suddenly held the letter out in front of Krys, holding it towards her nose. "Can you tell what animal it is?"
Krys sniffed at the letter. "Bird." she sniffed again. "A… finch, I think."
Niamh folded the letter, which was already losing the magic fog around it.
"Well, we'll know for sure in a few days. I hope." Niamh said. If her aunt was a 'heart friend', then she wouldn't let herself be separated from her animal friend. Not for long, anyways.
The next five days passed quickly, and yet, all too slowly. Niamh spent most of her time avoiding contact with Oisin, and when the two did have conversation, it was quick and awkward. two rooms were prepared for the arriving guests, and the servants bustled about everywhere, cleaning and polishing every little thing. Artiar had to take his leave, as he still had other business to attend to on behalf of his father.
Soon, the day had arrived.
A gilded carriage emerged from the forest, drawn by two, large, bay horses. The servants were lined up in front of the mansion, with Cillian, Niamh, Artiar, and Oisin in front. The carriage came to a halt, the sun sliding on it's sleek body. The footmen promptly opened the door and helped a tall, pale skinned, dark haired lady from the carriage. The woman carried herself proudly, her head held high and her back straight. From within the carriage emerged a second woman, younger than the first.
The servants and the rest of the household bowed or curtsied to the newcomers. Aislinn strode over to her brother-in-law and held out her hand. "Brother Cillian." she said, smiling.
Cillian took her hand and kissed it lightly. "Sister Aislinn, it is a pleasure to have you visit us." he looked to the young woman. "Would you introduce your friend to us?"
Aislinn turned to her companion. "This is Doneen." she said, gesturing for the young woman to step forward. Doneen meekly moved next to the woman and curtsied.
"It is an honour to be invited here, especially for such a momentous occasion." She said, her voice like chiming bells.
"She had been visiting me when I heard of the wedding, and she was so elated to hear such joyful news, I just had to see if she could come." Aislinn said as the group began walking back into the house.
"Of course, entirely understandable. It's not every day that a noble is married, and certainly not to a High Lord's son!" Cillian said, puffing himself out proudly.
Niamh rolled her eyes and shared a look with Oisin. She cracked a slight smile, and couldn't help but giggle. Despite her outward appearance, however, Niamh felt an ever growing pit in her stomach that only became worse with each step. She had expected herself to be somewhat honoured to have her aunt, her mother's only living relative, come see her wedding. But it only felt like a reminder as to who was no longer there.
She jumped when she suddenly felt something touch her elbow. Oisin stepped away slightly, then began walking closer again. "You all right? You're looking a little dark there."
"I'll be fine." Niamh said firmly. Apparently, her short display of happiness had given away to deeper emotions.
"If you need to talk-." Oisin began.
"I'll be fine, Oisin. I promise." And with that, Niamh smiled as brightly as she could.
The procession soon came to the main sitting room. Aislinn and Doneen sat at the sofa near the window. Aislinn looked about the room, study certain details, passing over others.
"There are a few things in this room that I don't recognize." She laughed, still looking about. "What all have you changed since I was last here?"
"Well, a few of… Of her fixtures, her in progress needle-works and other projects, have been moved to our old room." Cillian said, sitting down on the chair next Aislinn.
"Ah, of course. I must say, it feels so… dry without her touch in here." She turned to Niamh, who was sitting at a different chair near the sofa. "However do you manage to live without her?" She asked, "I can only imagine how difficult it must be to lose your mother at so young an age."
Niamh smiled, though it was a slight struggle to do so. "I fill my time with other things." she responded as politely as she could. Who was this woman to come here and start dragging out the ghosts of the past? She had already made her peace with her mother's death, why this?
"I'm sure you do." Aislinn smiled. "Since my husband died, I found that, well, filling my time with productive activities was rather a healing process. It is good for the body, mind and soul."
Doneen nodded her agreement as Aislinn turned her eyes on her.
"Aunt Aislinn, I must ask," She began.
"Then do so, child! Although, I suppose you're nt a child any more, are you? Getting married is hardly child's play. nay, Ma'am, grown woman, mature of heart, ask away!" Aislinn stated, including slightly exaggerated gestures.
"Your letter came awfully qucikly, and-" Aislinn cut Niamh off again.
"Ah, yes! i forgot about that! You see, as you have your abilities, I have mine." She waved her hand, and one of her own servants came running with a blanket draped over a tall object. The drape was taken off to reveal a bird cage, in which was sleeping a slightly larger than natural golden finch.
Niamh gasped in horror. "How could you put him in a cage?" She exclaimed, jumping to her feet. Oisin was by her side, suddenly, those his hands looked more ready to grab her than to help her grab the cage.
"Oh, don't worry. He needed somewhere to sleep during the carriage ride. This was simply the best we have for him." Aislinn opened the cage and prodded the bird awake. The finch yawned, then looked around himself. He flew from the cage and rested on top of Aislinn's shoulder, quietly observing those around him.
Suddenly, Aislinn drew back slightly. Krys appeared by Niamh's side, brushing against her leg. "I knew it was a finch! My nose exceeds even my expectations!" the cat trotted over to Aislinn and peered at the finch, her brow furrowing.
"My, this must be the lynx I've heard everyone talking about." Aislinn commented, slowly reaching a hand over to pet the cat.
Krys growled suddenly, yet quietly. Aislinn drew back again, and Doneen scooted to the other side of the sofa. Krys let the growl drop, then let the women pet her, still staring at the finch. "What's his name?" she asked.
"Singer." Aislinn said, stroking the bird in preference over the cat now.
Krys snorted, then lumbered back to Niamh, where she plopped down to her stomach, her eyes still locked on the bird.
"She's not thinking of eating the dear bird, is she?" Doneen asked apprehensively.
"Don't be ridiculous!" Krys said, "I wouldn't eat another magic animal."
"Why do you keep staring at him, then?" Doneen pressed.
This time, Niamh answered. "Magic animals are rarely this close to each other. It probably feels odd to them both."
Indeed, Singer was watching Krys just as carefully as the cat watched the bird. However, Krys shifted at Niamh's words, and growled slightly again, though kept to herself otherwise.
"So," Cillian said, clapping his hands loudly to catch everyone's attention. "Dinner?"