As it turned out, after about fifteen minutes during which Elaine did little more than stand with Katherine’s hands on her shoulders, Katherine did an even better job of removing the excess magic than Elaine’s house did.
“I feel so… clean!” Elaine exclaimed, flexing her fingers and toes once again as the two of them walked down the street towards the Watts Manor. “It’s like I’ve spent my whole life covered in something sticky, collecting dirt, and for the first time I’ve gotten to wash it off.”
Katherine grinned. “I feel like I have magic buzzing at my fingertips, like if I’m not careful it’ll just go everywhere. It’s like the opposite of when you had me trapped in your house.”
“So we’re both happy,” Elaine said, revelling in the feeling. It was already fading, as the magic all around was pulled into her, but even so she felt lighter than she could ever remember feeling before. “I feel like I might even be able to enjoy the rest of this evening.”
“The Watts aren’t all so bad,” Katherine said. “Lord Watts’ parents are pretty nice, and… he has a sister. We used to be friends.”
Elaine sensed that there was some history there, but before she could decide whether or not to ask, they had arrived at the doorstep of the manor. The door opened for them before Katherine could ring the bell.
Lord Watts himself was the one who had opened it, and though Elaine immediately felt nervous of being recognized, he barely spared her a glance. “Lady Katherine, thank you for coming. We haven’t been waiting long.”
He didn’t wait for a response, simply turning away as if he expected them to follow him.
Elaine looked at Katherine, who simply rolled her eyes and followed.
As they made their way through the manor— which really wasn’t too different from Enchanter Stephan’s, though it had a lot more decoration and magic— Elaine began to feel more and more as if she should have just gone home. Sure, Katherine was accepting of her as a sliver, but a lot of people weren’t, especially rich magical people. Not only that, but if Lord Watts had any idea that she was the person who had been with Katherine earlier… And he must know that. Unless the magic has changed my appearance enough to make him unsure… But that just takes me back to the initial problem of being a sliver…
They made it to the dining room, which was rather more like a dining hall, in a matter of minutes. Seated at the many-seated table were only eight people, none of whom Elaine recognized, though she guessed they were probably well-known to people who didn’t live in the middle of nowhere.
Lord Watts gestured for the two of them to be seated, which left over a dozen empty seats which Elaine hoped wouldn’t be filled. Eight strangers was more than enough already.
As soon as Elaine and Katherine were settled, Lord Watts said simply, “The Spirits bless us with a bounty which we feast upon this evening. Let us thank Them and enjoy our evening together.”
The others around the table murmured, “Spirits be thanked,” though Elaine hadn’t heard of the custom before and was a little slow to join in. Fortunately, no one seemed to notice, or else they didn’t care.
Once silence fell again, food appeared on the table with a burst of magic, and everyone began to serve themselves. Elaine awkwardly joined in after Katherine did, unsure of herself. There don’t seem to be any rules, but I still feel certain I’m going to make a fool of myself somehow tonight.
Even as she thought that, Lord Watts said, “I’m afraid I have neglected to introduce to everyone Lady Katherine’s guest; but I thought it might be reasonable to have the Lady herself introduce her… companion.”
Katherine gave Lord Watts a measured look and said, “Her name is Elaine. She is not from this city.”
Elaine wondered if Katherine intended to make it sound as if she was from some other city. I suppose it sounds better than saying “This is Elaine. She lives in the middle of nowhere, so don’t be surprised when she doesn’t know who any of you people are.”
Katherine continued, “Elaine, you have met Lord Aidan Watts already. Beside him is his sister, Caitlyn—” Caitlyn looked away as Katherine spoke, her face unreadable— “then the elder Lord Watts and Lady Watts, my uncle Enchanter Stephan…”
Elaine remembered that many people, but after that it was just a list of names and titles she didn’t honestly care to remember. She hoped it wouldn’t come up later.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, dear,” Lady Watts said, seeming to be genuine. “We’re always glad to see new faces in our city.”
“It’s— yes, thank you,” Elaine stumbled gracelessly. No one seemed to mind her awkwardness, so she silently ate a dinner roll while everyone else talked amiably about new people in the city and other things that were a little beyond Elaine, though she guessed they were relevant to the same subject.
It seemed like they were on a course for the rest of the night to go smoothly enough when Caitlyn suddenly said, “Forgive me, Lady Katherine, but I seem to have missed something in your introductions. You said her name,” she gestured to Elaine vaguely, “is Elaine…?”
“Just Elaine,” Katherine said coolly.
Now everyone suddenly seemed to be paying attention, and Elaine shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“Elaine,” Caitlyn turned her blue eyes to Elaine. “I’m sorry, but the custom in our city is that everyone has at least two names, one of which they share with their family. Watts, for example, or Whittaker, or Strickland. Is this the custom where you’re from?”
“Yes…?” Elaine glanced at Katherine, who looked a little like she’d eaten something sour.
“Then might it also be that you share the custom that those without a family name are people of great importance, who are distinguished only by titles that they may or may not earn throughout the course of their lives?”
Elaine blinked. What?
Caitlyn tilted her head slightly to one side and continued, “Lady Katherine, for example, is titled Enchantress for her power with the Spirits, and Lady of Light and Dark for the role she plays in the rule and law of the city. She may or may not earn more titles in her lifetime, but the one sure thing is that everyone knows who is meant by the name Katherine alone.
“Is the custom different where you are from?”
Oh, Spirits. Elaine had no idea about anything Caitlyn was saying; if it wasn’t for the fact that everyone at the table was now looking at Elaine very curiously, she might even have wondered if Caitlyn was making this up.
The silence seemed to be stretching on as Elaine’s mind raced. She had never given any thought to the fact that she didn’t have a last name; it never came up, even in the various commission work she had done for people in the city. No one had seemed to question the fact that she didn’t have a last name, though now that she thought about it they often did seem a little confused when she didn’t give them a last name. Surely not unduly so, she’d thought. The world seemed to bend around her as she realized that either her parents did come from a place where customs were different, or they must have been very important people.
Katherine’s voice brought Elaine back to the moment at hand. “Elaine has no parents. I didn’t think it appropriate for me to divulge that information by calling her Verlorn, but I apologize for your confusion, Caitlyn.”
Elaine could only assume that “Verlorn” was a name given to those whose families were somehow unidentified. Judging by the discomfort on some of the others’ faces, it was probably a name given to people whose parents weren’t married or something. Elaine wasn’t sure whether to be grateful for being saved from Caitlyn’s interrogation, or upset that now they thought she was some kind of bastard child or something— and a sliver on top of it, if they paid enough attention to notice that.
The meal continued peacefully enough after that, with only a few questions about Elaine that Katherine mainly answered; Elaine got away with saying little, hiding under the pretense of being embarrassed about her heritage— or alleged lack thereof.
Desserts were being finished off, and Elaine was almost relaxed, when one of the Lords whose name Elaine didn’t remember said, “I’m curious, Lady Katherine, if you intend to continue with your game of— well, cat-and-man, if you will— or if you have managed to come up with a more definite solution to the issue of your marriage.”
The man glanced at Lord Watts, and Elaine remembered that Katherine had said the two were good friends. It seemed a little obvious that Lord Watts had probably put him up to asking the question, although Elaine noticed that most of the people at the table seemed to be of a similar mindset.
“I’m not sure if that is entirely your business, Lord Wilkins,” Katherine replied stiffly.
“Isn’t it?” Lord Watts said before Lord Wilkins could respond. “We all live in this city; a city which depends on magic like yours; which magic is, as we all know, only maintained through the maintenance of magical bloodlines.”
“And I suppose you think that the only solution is for me to marry the next-most magical person in the city?” Katherine arched an eyebrow.
It was actually Lady Watts who interjected here. “Reservation towards marrying is understandable, dear, but you must realize that my son is not the only one who worries about the future of the city when magic is crumbling away as it is.”
Katherine looked to her uncle as if for support, but as had been his pattern most of the night, he didn’t say anything. Elaine wondered for the first time if their relationship wasn’t quite as good as she had assumed.
Rather than respond to Lady Watts, Katherine stood up. “I’m sorry, but I don’t believe I have any obligation to explain my actions to any of you. I am the Lady of Light and Dark, and I know exactly what the city needs. Believe me when I say I will not let the city fall.”
Katherine turned to Elaine then, and Elaine stood and followed Katherine out of the room.
They walked in cold silence, and it was only when they had made it out of the city that Katherine sighed deeply, her icy quiet dissolving into more of a deflated defeat. “That was a disaster. I’m sorry, Elaine.”
“It was, a bit.”
Katherine smiled wryly but didn’t say anything. Tentatively, Elaine added, “The food was good though.”
Now Katherine laughed, a little more herself. “That’s the only real reason to tolerate dinners with Lord Watts.”
They walked on a little longer, then Elaine said softly, “I really don’t have a last name, unless my parents never told it to me. I’m not… Verlorn, whatever that means.”
“Strictly speaking, it means ‘lost’,” Katherine said. “Though I will admit it has a bit of an unsavory, or at least unfortunate, connotation. I’m sorry, I couldn’t think of any other way to—”
“It’s fine,” Elaine assured her. “At any rate, I suppose it kept them from focusing on the fact that I’m a sliver.
“What I’m really bothered by is… I never knew about that custom. I don’t understand what it means, except that my parents— and I… are not exactly what I always thought. As far as I know, they were born and raised in the city…”
Katherine stopped walking suddenly, and Elaine looked back at her. It was dark, so she couldn’t tell what Katherine might be thinking. “What is it?”
Katherine shook her head. “I’m not sure, I just had a thought. I’ll let you know if it ends up being important.”
Elaine frowned. “Okay.”
They continued in silence until they reached Elaine’s front yard. Elaine was still feeling a little detached from reality; not only had the day been very different from anything she could have even imagined based on the rest of her life, but she didn’t even know who she was anymore. I don’t even know if I’ve ever known who I am.
So when Katherine hesitated instead of just turning and leaving, Elaine asked softly, “Could you stay? Just… for a little while?”
Katherine smiled a bit. “If you want me to.”
Elaine nodded, and the two of them sat on the grass to gaze up at the stars. Their silence was deep and companionable, but Elaine’s head was spinning with uncertainty and fear. All the things that had happened that day had been too much. She didn’t know if her feelings for Katherine were something she could pursue, especially not if the city was depending on Katherine to keep it alive with her magic. She didn’t know if her parents were the people she remembered them being. I don’t even know who I am. Elaine didn’t realize she was crying until Katherine was wrapping her arms around her and whispering, “It’s going to be alright, Elaine.”
Elaine shook her head helplessly, simultaneously wanting to lean into Katherine and believe things could be okay, and wanting to pull away and hide from everything in her life that had suddenly become too much to handle. “How?” she wept.
Katherine laid back, gently pulling Elaine with her so that they were inches apart, face to face in the grass. With her thumb, she wiped a tear from Elaine’s cheek. “I… don’t know,” she admitted. The other woman touched her forehead to Elaine’s. “But what I do know… I love you. And I will do anything to make things turn out alright for you.”
Elaine’s heart beat faster and she couldn’t help a small smile, even as her tears continued to fall into the grass. “You love me?”
Katherine nodded. “I love you, Elaine.”
In a way, Elaine wanted to protest that Katherine barely knew her, that it wasn’t possible for them to be together… but even as her mind protested feebly, Elaine knew the truth of what she felt in the hopeful aching of her heart and the racing of her pulse. “I love you too, Katherine,” she whispered. “I don’t understand it, but I love you too.”
Author Notes: Part 8: https://www.shortstories101.com/story/cat-part-8/
This may be my favorite part of this story. There are only two parts left, so I hope you've enjoyed it so far! Let me know what you think!
Part 10: https://www.shortstories101.com/story/cat-part-10/