It’s Spring, and Allegra is 5. She chases Luciano around their father’s vineyard, pretending at the serious work of trimming and twining the vines in preparation for the growing season. Fausto, only a year younger, is much too much of a baby to do such important work. When Allegra is made to sit too long in one place, she shreds things – wide brown grass and veiny green grape leaves if she can get them, unattended burlap sacks and bright ragged skirt hems if she can’t. Her life is a peaceful cycle of chores and learning practicalities, and there are always other children around for her to play with.
It’s Summer, and Allegra is 9. Every morning when she wakes up, more of the sour green rocks hanging in clumps from the vines have transformed into precious grapes. Luciano is learning how to tell when a crop is ready by taste and feel. Fausto joins her at their mother’s feet whenever possible, but more and more often lately Nerina is nowhere to be found. Allegra has noticed that the people in the village whisper behind their hands when they think she won’t notice, but it doesn’t concern her. She makes up songs about them as she does her chores, imaging she sings to a bustling tavern instead of a dusty storage barn.
It’s Fall, and Allegra thinks she might be 12. She is fast, and small, and clever. She imagines what her brothers must be like now. She understands Aquila better – where it’s safe to sleep, who it’s safe to talk to, who will take your money and give you protection and who will just take your money. The basements and alleys are full of rats, but no one bothers her as she works. And so she works, and scratches by, and dreams of barrels of wine and hot fires.
It’s Winter, and Allegra is 15, though she couldn’t have told you that herself. She no longer sits by the canals, or banters with the whores in the taverns, or scuffles with the other urchins. She keeps her head down. Sometimes while she works she reaches for something too quickly, not thinking, and the raw flesh where her fingers used to be scrapes unbearably against the bandages.
It’s Spring, and Allegra is 18… or near enough. The kitchens in the palace are already too hot, and each night she curls up on the floor wet with sweat and smelling of acrid soap and cooking food. Even still, it is safe, consistent work. She has no time for anything that isn’t food- chopping, cooking, cleaning, running things from place to place. But the palace, for all its size, keeps as much in as it keeps out. So she watches, and listens. She learns.
It’s Summer, and Allegra is 20 – or as the young Princess puts it – “as ancient as the sea.” She wears fancy dresses and tries to keep the middle Dilacorvo child from doing anything too terribly wild. She knows which guards will take a bribe, and how much, and what their limits are. She knows the vices of those who cling to the royal family like leeches, and she knows the virtues of the beggars that crowd the alleys at night looking for noble charity. She does not dream.
It’s Fall, and Allegra is 32. The harvest is an apprehensive time with the grapes still fighting to make sense of the Stragosan soil and strange weather, but they have not failed her yet. Every market brings a new horror, and she leans on her people. Quietly relies on them. She wonders sometimes- often- if her little princess will succeed, and tries to make sure that there will be something in Gotha worth returning to. But winters are not kind in Stragosa as they are in Hestralia, and she can feel the cold creeping back into her bones…