“Supper’s ready, Father.”
Justus smiled as his Seren ghosted up behind him on her bare feet.
“Book off the table,” she said.
He turned to see her using both hands to hold ceramic dishes of soup and obligingly stood to remove the book himself. He replaced it on one of the shelves beside their mantelpiece. Smiling her thanks, Seren placed a bowl before his vacated seat and another before her own, but she swept off to retrieve too the fresh loaf of cattail and acorn bread that had been filling the small cottage that they shared with a warm aroma all afternoon. The honey jar followed the bread to the table.
The soup was boiled fish with herbs and cress leaves and cattail roots gathered from the hammock. Seren has also managed to find some young asparagus stalks. The freshly baked bread was a luxury.
As Seren cut the loaf into thick slices, Justus asked, “What is it that you want, my Seren?”
She feigned surprise.
“This is quite a meal,” Justus explained. “You want something.”
Seren bit her lip, sat, and looked down at her knotted hands. “I heard you talking to George Tvorec yesterday.”
Justus frowned. “I hoped that you had not. That boy is no good for you.”
“Why not? He’s the only one who’s asked. And his family—”
“Has been Anvatrin for two generations now. Is that what you want for your children? A life where they’re forced to live on the margins of our society? There was a time when Anvatrin children were killed when they were discovered and the parents thought of none the worse for it.”
“They say that Razadd slept with an Anvatrin woman.”
“And look what became of it,” Justus snarled. “A broken line with no power among them and a broken race of freed slaves that still live in squalor and poverty and hiding.”
“Father,” Seren sighed. She had of course heard this complaint before. The truth of it gnawed at him, and it gnawed at him that no one else seemed to remember the greatness of their race. Seren’s tone said that she tired of his anger.
“You know my mind, Seren,” he agreed, “and know that I won’t let him have you. And that’s that. You’ll wait for a more suitable man, a Vatrin man.”
“What if no other comes? Father, George is a good man. I’ve seen him on the hammock and—”
“And maybe you should not anymore.”
“You can’t keep me in here, and you can’t keep him from going out either.”
“Can’t I?” Justus asked, and there was a knife’s edge to his voice from which Seren flinched.
“Father, I don’t want to stay indoors all day. You know I cannot. And if I don’t leave the house then who will do the chores so that you can continue your studies?”
He inclined his head, picked up the spoon. “I could start collecting the firewood and the food that you do.”
“You won’t,” Seren was sure. “I’m not sure for all your knowledge you’d know horsetail from asparagus.”
She was right about that, but Justus didn’t confirm it.
“If that boy pursues you despite my edict, he will regret it. He knows the rules.” He added, pinning her with sharp eyes, “So do you.”
Seren frowned. She looked down into the soup and spooned some into her mouth to wisely silence any more protests.