Born of Habit

The lamps left burning in the hallway filled the wide corridors with a dull dusky glow. Below the gleaming third floor balustrades the rest of the landings were dark.

This house was an old and distinguished edifice. It cracked and shifted with her passing, as if the great thing noted her presence and made efforts to acknowledge it. At this hour the staff was fast asleep downstairs, and even the earliest rising kitchen boy would not be up for a long while.

With a quiet born of long habit, Selina stepped to the first bedroom door and curled her fingers around the handle. Within the room, a tall boy of twelve slept soundly on the bed. Selina moved around a pair of discarded riding boots, her skirts whispering against the rug, to adjust the coverlet  and pluck the slim novella from his fingers. Her youngest son didn’t stir when she closed the windows with a snap. Finally she drew the curtains closed, cutting off the silver illumination from the sky. Selina suspected he’d been reading by moonlight again, and she left the room smiling at the thought.

At the next bedroom the door protested, opening only far enough for her to snake her arm through and remove the jam that had been placed there. Selina shook her head with a sigh, at fourteen her second son had become a cunning, if reclusive, scholar. He did not like interruptions, especially during late night studies. The room was still bright with lantern light, the bed made and covered with neat little stacks of books. Her son was asleep on the coverlet, half curled around a volume. Selina sighed again and went about collecting the other research materials, taking some care to keep their order. Once the bed was clear she settled a blanket over her son’s shoulders and turned out the lights.

Selina paused at the third door. The carved cherry wood was familiar under her fingers, this had been Selina’s room as a girl. Now her eldest and only daughter slept within. The impulse to open the door came and went, Selina drew her hand away from the knob. A mother would naturally look after her sons until they were married, until others could be relied upon to protect them in her stead. But a daughter, especially an heir, had to be trusted to manage herself.

The hallway stretched before her, almost smokey in the low lamps. Selina breathed in the chill that had crept into her house, content that her children slept and that she could retire with an easy mind. She almost did, but there was another room to check.

It wasn’t every night, but Selina found herself at the end of the hall often enough. There was no need to quiet her footsteps, no one slept under the smooth blankets and no possessions littered the floor. She knew where to look though, to see the hints of the room’s old use. A herd of carved horses set on a shelf, their manes and coats different grains and colors. Leaned into the corner, a small wooden sword fit for a child’s hand waited. A small collection of pale stones and shells, plunder from some trip to the seaside long ago, lay about the surfaces of the desk and drawers.

Selina swept her eyes over the empty room once more before stepping back and shutting the door. One by one, Selina extinguished the lamps as she moved down the hallway towards her own bed.

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