(Continuation of story that started on June 28th.)
The vibrant autumn sunsets were numbered. The harvest season was coming to a close and the markets were slowing down. It was early evening and unusually calm. The days were dark. The nights were colder.
She sat at the couch by the window at a perfect distance from the fireplace and turned the envelope over. It was the finest paper she had touched in months,and yet, a little over a year ago, it had been only natural that paper would feel so exquisite, like cream with a beautifully contrasting dark maroon seal of a certain nobility stamped onto it.
She ran her fingers over the seal again with a melancholy dismay. It had arrived. Against all her far-fetched fantasies that they would forget, they hadn’t.
“…why won’t you come home, dear? We miss you. They’re calling you a coward. You must stand up for your name and your pride! It’s only natural that you should want to avenge your parents. And the child…
…haven’t told anyone. If you are in danger, I shall send help as discreetly as I can. It will be no embarrassment to the name…
…matter of great humiliation to the name of…
…must return, child. The pride of…
…the royalty scorns…
…back at once…
How they managed to be so ridiculously naive, she did not know. She folded the letter carefully along the creases and stared at the envelope for a second, wondering when her hands had toughened and her touch had grown delicate. The person she remembered would never have thought twice before tearing the envelope and stuffing in into the fire. And there she was, holding on to it like it was precious treasure.
She walked quietly into her bedroom and pulled open a drawer by her nightstand. Here, she had kept her only belonging. A crumpled piece of paper with a hastily scribbled note.
“Second winter after the Announcement. Floating island. Find Lumina. She’s your little sister. We will come to you as soon as safe. Don’t go home whatever happens. Run away. Stay safe. Love, Mum and Dad”
She lay on her back on the bed and read it over and over. A hooded figure, she guessed a girl, about eleven, she had guessed from her hand and her stature, had stuffed this into her hand during the Second Announcement. She had not heard from them since. Winter would begin any day now. Time was running out.
He sat by the fireplace with two large mugs of hot chocolate and gazed intently at the flames. Gentle footsteps announced her into the room.
“Chocolate?” he asked, still staring at the fireplace. He did not know why, but it felt like it was what he should be doing.
“Hm.” she said, distracted. He tore his gaze away from the fire. She looked worried…no, haunted.
He had never seen her as disturbed as she looked now. Of course, he had noticed how she almost told him something about her parents, her aunt, the delightful chocolate cake back home only to stop mid-sentence and try to laugh it off with a queer look in her eyes.
She looked at him, momentarily with surprise, then, with a look of warm admiration that he had never seen on her before; and he remembered how her delicate brown hair had felt between his fingers and – snapped back to the present. He gently grazed her hand as she sat down beside him. “What’s wrong?”
She handed him the letter, and then the note, and watched with distant mix of tenderness, awe, fondness and adoration as his long, dark curls fell over his brilliant eyes while his head tiled slightly to his right in concentration and the firelight lit his face.
This was what she had to lose.
The first snowflakes drifted elegantly across the window
T. E. Pyrus
[P. S. Winter is come.]