A little girl held a book in her arms, carefully making her way down a flight of stairs.
She had silky dark red hair that came down to her shoulders, and on her face were two determined beady brown eyes and two puffy cheeks. As she passed the little window by the stairs, rays of the morning sun ignited her hair, giving it a fierce fiery color wherever the light touches.
The book was large and heavy and though she could barely carry it with her small frame, she persisted down the stairs, clutching the book tightly to not let it drop or drag. She puffed out her cheeks, as if such actions would give her strength for the ordeal.
The book was taken from her older brother’s room and she was bringing it to her mother.
‘Anish is a big girl! Big girl don’t cry!’ She reminded herself, fighting back the loneliness without her older brother.
She was three years old, and will be turning four this year.
She had cried and refused to let her brother go back when school started again, but she thought herself grown up now. She didn’t even cry when her brother returned to school that morning, and was quite proud of it.
She loved her mother and father, but she especially loved her older brother. He was her most important person.
Ever since she could remember, he had always been there with her. He consoled her when their parents scolded her, watched over her as she played, played with her, showed her amazing displays of ‘magic’, read to her, taught her various things, and made her pain disappear whenever she hurt herself.
He loved her, and she adored him.
“What do you have there?” Her mother asked as she made it downstairs.
“Kaidush book.” She grinned back.
“Again? Let me see… Winged Aleiths and Birds: An ornithological Study. By Hevil Gil. Anstross, and scholars of the Graedusc Academia…” Taking the book, Adalina read the title and affiliation. “This book is too hard. Why don’t you go and get one of your story books?”
“But Kai wash weading it!” Anise protested.
In an attempt to be closer to her brother, she was going through his books and getting her mother to read them to her. This was the 2nd book.
It did not matter that she doesn’t know the letters on the pages, nor did it matter that she couldn’t comprehend the information within them. All that mattered was that her brother had read it. She wanted to imitate him. To be like him.
“What am I going to do with you?” Adalina smiled at the objection. Picking Anise up, they went to the living room and began reading.
*Knock* *Knock* after an early morning of countless questions about the words and their meanings, without Anise understanding very much, there was a knock on the door.
“Ah, they’re here. We’ll continue tomorrow.” Her mom told her.
“Here?” She asked curiously.
“You’ll see.” Her mother replied with a smile.
Marking their spot in the book and closing it, her mother picked her up and they went to answer the door.
Her face brightened up and became overjoyed at the sight of the guests. “Good afternoon Reanne. Hello there, Sylvia.” Her mother cheerfully greeted the guests.
“Hi Mrs. Paltos.”
“Shylvia!!” Anise cried out happily. Adalina placed her on the ground, and Anise ran to give the older girl a hug.
They’ve only known each other since the beginning of Alivai last year, but Sylvia was already like a sister to her. Sylvia’s mother usually brought her over to play two to three times every time her brother went back to school, but she hadn’t seen Sylvia ever since her brother came back for his long break. Even after he returned to school again, Sylvia had not come back to play. She had missed the older girl.
“Hi Anise.” Sylvia replied, returning the hug.
“I mish you!” Anise happily confessed.
“I miss you too.”
“Anise, let Sylvia in first. Please come in you two.”
They were still in the doorway. Grabbing Sylvia’s hand, she led the older girl inside.
“Guessh what. Guessh what!” She excitedly asked as she led Sylvia to the living room.
“What is it?” The older girl answered with a warm smile.
“Hehe!” A wide grin.
Anise ran to her box of toys, returning with a tiny handful of wooden miniatures. Putting them on the table, she grabbed one to show. “Look! Ish Me!” She merrily presented a little wooden girl—small enough to fit in the palm of her hands—to Sylvia.
The wooden figure had a dress, long hair to her shoulder, and two large cheeks—reminiscent of her own cheeks. “Look!” Three more miniatures: a woman, a man, and a boy. “Thish ish Kaidush. Thish ish mommy. And thish ish daddy!” She laid out the wooden figures on the table, extremely proud of them.
“Wow. Did Kaidus make these for you?”
“Uhn!” Anise nodded happily.
“These are quite detailed. Did he make them using magic?” Reanne asked Adalina, taking a closer look at one of the toys on the table.
“Anise was crying and wouldn’t let go of him, so he made them to for her.” Adalina answered with a hearty smile.
“That boy never ceases to amaze, does he?” Reanne inquired with a grin. “Adalina, there’s something I thought you should know. Although the nobles usually show little interest in these sort of things outside of their own wards, the rumors about a certain trial has started circulating within the 11th ward. Soon, all 3 wards will know about it. And once the nobles start talking, you can be sure the royal palace will hear of it.” Reanne notified Adalina with a solemn face.
“Reanne… don’t tell me you…” Adalina spoke, an accusative voice towards the gossip loving woman. She had learned that the Varath family came to watch Kaidus’ Trial from Troyle a couple days ago.
“I would do no such thing!” Reanne replied, cutting off the accusation. “That does not serve my plans at all. I myself am dissatisfied that the information even got out of the 3rd ward.” She added.
“Is that why you haven’t been visiting?” Adalina teased, seeing Reanne all riled up.
The last time she saw Reanne and Sylvia was at the end of the year, before Kaidus came back for his long break. It was only yesterday that Troyle told her they would be visiting again.
When these home visits first started, she had been nervous because of the difference in social status, but Reanne quickly remedied that. Lady Varath was a genial person who spoke her mind, loved her family, and someone who she easily got along with. Of course there is the woman’s hunger for information and ambitions, but those were minor demerits to her friendship.
Adalina had known about how the Varath family wanted to wed their daughter to her son for almost a year now, and she herself was all for it. There was nothing to dislike about a promise between their two households.
Sylvia was a cute and well behaved child from a wealthy noble family, her son was an amazing child—in her opinion—and arranged marriages were also common in the world. Their two families got along very well, and the marriage would elevate her son—broadening his future with the influences of Lord Varath.
They were still kids, but wishing to see her son married to a nice girl like Sylvia was a mother’s dream.
Yet, her son had refused the proposal. Surprisingly it did nothing to discourage Lord and Lady Varath, only fueling them to push forward. That was why the visits started.
Troyle also told her of another refusal two turns ago, and after not seeing Lady Reanne and Sylvia for a whole turn—even after Kaidus returned to school—she was beginning to think they had given up, but that did not seem to be the case.
“Well that, and Sylvia’s been quite busy with her lessons lately.” A sly grin returned to Reanne’s face.
“Oh? How is that coming along?” Adalina returned a broad knowing smile. Reanne has already told her that she was teaching Sylvia how to become a proper lady: all to ensnare Kaidus. Adalina was in on the plans, feeding them information about Kaidus.
“She’s been quite serious about it. Kaidus will have his hands full.” Reanne replied. The two women chuckled heartily.
The two women started talking about events that transpired over the past two turns, while Anise and Sylvia played together.
The four of them were currently in the 3rd ward market. It was a beautiful sunny day, and they were leisurely strolling through the streets, browsing the different wares and products on display.
Their goal was to look for ingredients for lunch and dinner, but they had gotten sidetracked and it was now past lunch already.
“How about dronnon stew?” Adalina threw out an idea for lunch.
“Shtew?” Anise inquired from her arms.
“What are you thinking of adding to the stew?” Reanne asked.
“Heart of plamuses—cores of the plamus plant—are abundant right now so we can get them for a bargain. Also, what do you think about ciscut leaves? Sliced into thin strips, they’ll give the stew a nice aroma and texture. Along with herbs and spices, it’ll be delicious.” Adalina answered.
“That sounds perfect.” Reanne easily agreed.
“Hi!!!” Anise greeted a woman who was selling meat as they approached the shop.
“Why hello there Anise. Shopping with your mom?” The woman greeted back warmly.
“UHN! Big shister Shylvia too!”
“Sylvia’s here too?” The woman giggled. “Hello everyone. What would you all like today?” She smiled, turning to Adalina and Reanne.
“Hello Mrs. Filtoir.”
“Good afternoon Jannis. Three cuts of dronnon hind meat please.” Adalina answered.
“Of course. I’ll get you the best.”
The woman proceeded to weigh large chunks of meat on a balance scale.
“Dajele said you guys got a new litter of around forty baby dronnits. How is the work coming along?”
“Dreadful. Those buggers eat endlessly, and constantly fight when they’re not eating. Thankfully most of them will be here soon enough.” The woman grinned.
Tightly wrapping three slabs of meat into two separate bundles of paper, she handed them to Adalina.
“Sounds like you two have your hands full.” Adalina smiled, handing six double bits to the woman.
“I am done with that. The kids and Dajele are the ones who will have to deal with them now.” Jannis grinned wickedly. “Thank you for your patronage.”
“I can see the look on his face already.” She laughed, picturing the trouble of taking care of 40 baby dronnits. “Well then, I’ll see you in a couple of days.” Adalina added as they left.
“BAI!!!!” Anise yelled, waving goodbye.
The group rounded a few more stores, procuring their ingredients, and making friendly conversations with vendors.
After an afternoon of purchases, they were walking through the Shorza district with armloads of grocery, approaching the Paltos house.
Adalina held the wrapped dronnon meat in one hand as she carried a small cloth bag filled with heart of plamuses. Reanne carried the other wrapped meat, and also held a bag of plants, herbs, and condiments in her other hand. Sylvia held onto Anise’s hands, trailing behind their mothers.
The four walked slowly so that Anise could keep pace with them.
“Your mother says your lessons are coming along very well, Sylvia.” Adalina spoke to the girl walking behind them.
“No… I-I still have a lot to learn.” An embarrassed reply.
“Don’t be shy. Aren’t you doing your best for Kaidus?” Adalina replied, teasing the girl.
“Uhn…” Sylvia acknowledged, but quickly lowered her gaze to hide her embarrassment.
“That is so cute.” Adalina replied to the embarrassed girl.
“She’s right about it. She still has a lot to learn if she wants to catch that son of yours.” Reanne interjected, giggling at her daughter’s cute reaction. “Still, I’m amazed you do this almost every day.” Reanne changed the topic as they reached the house.
“I only buy this much when you are here to help me carry them.” Adalina joked. She knew Reanne meant going out shopping every day. Not the amount of groceries they had procured.
“Hmmm? That so? I really should hire you that maid then.” Reanne countered, playing along.
After the first couple times buying groceries together, she had offered to hire Adalina a maid or two to help out around the house and shopping. Adalina had refused, saying it was unnecessary.
“Reanne you… Kuhuheheh.” She laughed. “Thanks for always helping. And please, no on the maid.” Adalina graciously thanked her friend. She would rather do things for her family herself, than leave it to others.
“Look Anise!” Sylvia pointed to a small flock of birds in the sky.
“Birdy!” Anise shouted happily as she saw the birds. “Mommy! Birdy!”
“That’s right. Now come on in.” Adalina replied, opening the door for them all.
“OH!!” Anise suddenly remembered something and dashed inside. Darting over to her toy box, she brought back something. “Look! Birdy!” She exclaimed, showing a little wooden bird to Sylvia as Sylvia sat down on one of the chairs.
“Wow. It looks just like a lippar!” Sylvia complimented cheerfully.
“Uh huh! Ish my birdy!” Anise asserted, gently petting the little wooden bird before giving it over to Sylvia.
“Did Kaidus make this too?”
“UHN! Kai make for Anish!” Anise confirmed with an over exaggerated nod. Her face was beaming at the mention of her brother’s name.
“You love your brother, don’t you?” Sylvia replied with a smile, seeing Anise’s jubilant face.
The two resumed their playing as Adalina and Reanne made lunch.
She was tired. The sky was turning dark, and her big sister Sylvia and Sylvia’s mother had already gone home.
In the house was just her mother and herself.
Having played and talked the whole day with Sylvia, she sat on the floor in front of her wooden figurines, exhausted. They had played tag, knight and monster, the little village girl, hide and seek, and made up stories with the toys. Sylvia even taught her a song and showed her a few dances.
“Did you have fun?” Her mother asked, picking her up and carrying her upstairs.
“Do you like Sylvia?”
“Uhn! Anish like Shylvia lots…” She responded tiredly. She had no concept of what a friend is, but she knew she liked the older girl.
Sylvia was nice to her like her big brother.
“Mommy does too. How about Kaidus? Do you like her as much as Kaidus?” Her mother questioned, gently placing her into her own bed before lighting a candle on the nightstand.
“Anish love Kai… lot.” She verbalized as sleep overtook her. Her fingers grabbing for the gift he had given her this morning—hidden under her dress.
Adalina gently stroke her daughter’s hair as the girl fell asleep. She watched fondly as the little girl slept, thinking about the child’s actions over the past turn. Her little girl was growing up and selfishly following in her big brother’s footsteps. Adalina giggled at what Anise was trying to do, and at how much she revered her older brother.
Even though they were very different from each other, she loved both her children dearly.
Watching the girl for a span of time, the sleeping girl stirred, turning in the bed.
Looking at the child’s cute sleeping posture—sideways, hands together under the blanket—Adalina noticed a gleam around her daughter’s neck, reflecting the flickering candle light. She had not been paying attention and had not noticed it all day.
It was a transparent string.
Gently pulling at the string, there was some resistance. With a stronger tug, the resistance gave way, and something came loose.
The string was made of an unknown material to her, and as she pulled it free, she saw that it was a necklace around her daughter’s neck.
On the necklace was a small plain black ring.