Doneen took another deep breath before starting. When she did, she didn't look at Niamh at all, instead staring at the carpet under her feet.
¨The story goes like this: Lady Ailish was pregnant, only by a few weeks. You know that she would often go down into the nearby villages- of course you do- and would spend time with friends she had made there. There was on woman, elderly and like a mother to her, who she spent most of her time with, especially during her pregnancy.
¨One day, a young woman, younger than your mother was, came to the village. Lady Ailish and the other woman took her in, as she was heavily ill and had no where to go. They soon learned that she… she was pregnant as well, but she was not bound by vows. SHe had been turned out by her family, and was seeking shelter. Lady Ailish and the old woman cared for her in secret, for her protection.¨
Niamh stood up. ¨You are not suggesting that this woman was…. That I am….¨ SHe sat down again, her hands covering her face.
¨Im sorry, if I've said too much, I will leave-.¨
¨No, continue.¨ Niamh said.
Doneen nodded. ¨Eventually, as both women were coming to term, Lord Cillian wanted Lady Ailish to stay here, in the mansion, until the child was born. However, the Lady didn't want to leave the young woman, as she was still deathly ill. So, Lady Ailish arranged for herself and the young woman to go on a 'vacation' of sorts. She didn't tell Lord Cillian about the other woman, only that she wished to go to her mother's home. He consented, though he did not like being apart from her during this time, though he understood the need for her mother. He could not leave, as he had too much to do here.
¨And so, the Lady Ailish left, taking the young woman with her, to where there were the best of doctors for the ailing woman. However,¨ Doneen bit her lip and briefly glanced at Niamh. Her jaw was locked, and her knuckles were stark white as she gripped the edge of her bed. SHe stared at the floor, and nodded for Doneen to keep going.
¨The young woman died in childbirth, and Lady Ailish's child died within a few hours of his birth. So… Lady AIlish...¨
¨She took me in. SHe told LOrd CIllian that his child was a daughter, rather than a son.¨ Niamh finished for her.
¨Is this true?¨ she asked after a long pause.
Doneen remained silent.
¨Is this true?" NIamh asked again, louder.
¨As far as I know. I… I have no reason to believe it isn't, but… I have only heard the story, myself.¨
Niamh nodded again. ¨You may leave, now.¨ She said. Doneen slowly stood and left the room, closing the door behind her.
Niamh sat in silence with her thoughts. ALl around her, her heritage, her lineage, came crashing down. SHe could feel her chest tightening, as though an iron hand was squeezing her.
The door slowly opened. Niamh stood up, ready to tell whoever it was to leave. Krys poked her head in. Her ears perked up, and some crumbs still clung to her whiskers. She slowly plodded in and closed the door, then sat down.
¨I can feel you.¨ SHe said. ¨Your emotions.¨
NIamh nodded and sat back down.
¨It's all a weird jumble…. what happened?¨ Krys asked, coming over and putting her chin on Niamhs lap.
¨Something, several years ago.¨ Niamh answered, stroking Krys' head. SHe could feel the iron band leaving her, slowly. Soon, she could breathe freely again, and she found herself telling all that she had learned to Krys, who listened carefully and asked few questions.
¨Well, I don't see what the fuss is about, but I can tell it's bugging you.¨ Krys said after Niamh had finished. SHe pushed her head into Niamhs hand and purred. ¨So, what does it all mean? ARe you not allowed to live here anymore? Will you come live with me?¨
¨I… I don't know. It's truly up to my father now. I'm sure that's what Doneen was about to say, that Aunt Aislinn was going to tell him first.¨ SHe was suddenly seized with new fear. ¨Artiar. What will he do?¨ She sighed. ¨No, I shouldn't need to worry about him, he's reasonable, and kind.¨
¨Even so,¨ Krys said, ¨WIth how much this upset you, and with how long it's been kept secret, perhaps you should wait before telling anyone.¨
¨Of course, let things, let me, calm down first.¨ Niamh agreed, nodding.
¨What do you mean, coming here and telling me this?¨ Cillian asked darkly, glaring up at his sister-in-law.
¨I mean to uncover a truth that has been too long in hiding.¨ Aislinn replied smoothly. ¨Nothing more.¨
¨Nothing more?¨ Cillian repeated, ¨You come in here, telling me that my daughter not only isn't mine, but is also an illegitimate child, after twenty years- twenty years-, and you have nothing to gain from it.¨
¨Why, dear brother, why must you suspect me so? I only have your best interests at heart. I only kept it from you for so long because my sister- your wife- bid me do so.¨ Aislinn crossed her arms.
Cillian thought in silence, then nodded. He leaned back in his chair and let out a long breath, wiping his forward. He felt very dizzy all of a sudden. ¨I suppose that you were only just… I'm sorry, I didn't mean to… This all so…"He covered his face in his hands, rubbing his temples with his thumbs.
¨I understand, it is not an easy tale to process.¨ Aislinn then went to the bell pull and rung up a maid. ¨Some coffee should help you.¨ A maid entered, and AIslinn ordered the prescribed drink. The maid left, and Aislinn followed, leaving Cillian to himself.
CIllian sat, his hands steepled, and his lips pressed tightly together. His head pounded, and he kept running over the story that AIslinn had told him. He didn't want to believe it, but so many things made so much since. He tried to find discrepancies, but even his own memories supported at Aislinn had said. The coffee arrived and was left on his desk. He stared into the steaming cup, looking at his own reflection. Didn't Niamh take after him? And after Ailish? The eyes, the cheek bones… Although, even those features were common even among the villagers.
He soon found that he had made a fist, and his fingers of his other hand were digging into the back of it. He laxed his grip and set the coffee aside.
Niamh's father- her true father- had left her and her mother as stained. Such things happened. Often, the child never lived, but Ailish took mercy, and took pity on the woman, as was her wont.
Cillian turned his thoughts to Niamh. Again, he thought, she not only wasn't his child, but she was illegitimate.
The only relief was that she wasn't Ailish's child, either.
No, that's not the way to think! He berated himself. She's just as much your child as an flesh-and-blood child can be.
… But only almost.
The thought had been unbidden, and Cillian tried to squash it down. Niamh's true heritage didn't matter. WHat mattered was that she had a home, family, and a long, well-structured life ahead of her.
ANd he loved her, no matter her blood line.
DO you? Do you really? DOesn's this secret cast shadows on you? On Niamh? on Ailish? If the other nobles found out, they would slowly tear you down until you were nothing, starting with her.
"No one else needs to know." CIllian murmured to himself. "Not even she needs to know."
He leaned back in his chair, staring at the ceiling. He imagined the mansion crumbling, falling all about him, and nothing was around to hold it up, not even people.
A knock came at the door, and permitted entrance.
Jenni quietly entered, looking worried. Cillian raised a brow at her, and she looked about as though expecting listeners to be hiding in the wallpaper.
"I just overheard Niamh say something…. Extremely distressful." SHe started.
Cillain's mind began roiling. Perhaps she simply wanted to call off the engagment? He would be fine with Niamh marrying Oisin instead, or even the lowest of stable boys if she wanted, so long as she didn't already know….
"SHe is not yours, or Ailish's, child." Jenni said, then bit her lip.
Cillian covered his face with his hands. He knew he had been hoping for too much. But if she already knew, despite Aishlinn claiming she didn't… What else did AIshlinn tell her?
"Was that it?" Cillian asked.
Jenni's face exploded into surprise at his unexpected acceptance, but she controlled her features quickly, reverting back to concern. "That is all I heard. There may have been more, there may not have been." She took a step forward, "You need to talk to her about this. ANd maybe the cat, too."
"WHy Krys?" Cillian asked.
"That's who she told it to." Jenni replied.
"How is it that you know?"
Jenni shrugged off-handedly. "I'm her maid. I'm supposed to know these things."
Cillian simply nodded. "I will speak to her, just… Let me gather my thoughts."
Jenni started again, a question on her face. Before she said anything, she turned and left, obviously feeling the answer was none of her business.
And right now, it really wasn't.