Has It Been So Long

Feet kicked back and forth as Min sat on the graveyard fence gazing down at Shadow’s grave. The Aconitum house seal dangled down from a chain tangled in her fingers, forgotten for the moment.

Five years had passed since she’d arrived, sent here on errands by people that seemed worlds away now. Had it really been so long? She tried to add up the time in a new way that made it concrete, but it just kept slipping away into a jumble of memories. She’d always tracked time by people, but now those steady threads had all been pulled free.

Vanna had left. The last one who had known her before Stragosa.

It had been the right call. Vanna wasn’t a fighter. She was just another person who needed to be looked after. One less risk to track. Even so, no matter how Min tried to bend her thoughts, the flippant pragmatism she’d always fallen back on was nowhere to be found. She couldn’t swallow the lump in her throat or blink the burning from her eyes. This sting was new. Something she’d only started feeling here, and she wished it had never taken root just as much as she clung to it.

Jo had left years ago.

Back to her and Vanna’s family. The softer of the twins, she’d taken something Min couldn’t quite pin down with her. She’d taken it from Vanna too. A kind of laughter and gentleness she’d only seen in a few others. It had been a fascinating novelty and a notable absence.

And then there was Oliver.

If he hadn’t… If he’d just not for once in his life… Her thoughts pushed tentatively in that direction, but bounced back each time seeking safer spaces. Borso had found her adoption papers Sunday morning. Stupid, worthless, fucking papers with Karston’s fucking signature.
The Aconitum seal hit the grave mound and bounced with the force of the throw.
If she ever saw that bastard of a bishop again she’d make sure he knew exactly what he’d taken when he stole Oliver.
Revenge was easier than reverie. It resolved.

Now it was just Leonce. He hadn’t known her, but he also had. In the way all the street children knew one another by sight. In the unspoken rules and familiar wisdom. Don’t get attached. But they always did. The lie they all told themselves and one another right up until they had to choose whether or not to make it true. She’d picked. She couldn’t pretend she hadn’t. It was a lot to ask one person to make up for all the others, but they all did it when no one else was left.

Min exhaled in a long, drawn out sigh. Ruminating was a problem. Another bad habit she’d picked up here. Probably came of staying in one place for so long. Her eyes flicked towards the Casa in accusation and reproach, but as she did their faces began drifting through her thoughts. Each saying it didn’t always have to hinge on only one or two people. Perhaps it was alright if they came and went. Another annoying, new thought from here that she tolerated with a loud “Ugh” of frustration.

Hopping down, she strolled over to where the seal had fallen and picked it up. Wiping the dirt away, she rolled her eyes and stuffed it back into her bag. Pulling a knife from her belt Min stabbed it down into the freshly turned earth.

“Trade ya, Vaska.” She piped, running a thumb over the hilt of the new knife resting in the old one’s place.

And yet, a quiet part of her mind mused as she walked away…it is a nice thought.

The Struggle of Writing Vows

“Two years ago when your father offered me your hand in marriage to solidify the alliance between our clans I thought that I could be content with. At first glance you were a right fit lass and when you demanded I take you to Saragossa with me I was impressed with your spirit. You took the journey in stride, the trials and tribulations of the city, my admittedly limited capacity for coping with stress—all of that you took in stride. You kept our home warm and inviting, food ready for me even when I was returning home from the taverns at ungodly hours in the morning. You’ve been a rock since we came to this cursed valley, and even then I couldn’t say to myself that I loved you. I was a bloody idiot.

As I held you in those woods and watched the light fade from your eyes I knew at that moment a world without you waiting for me when I got home was not a world I could not accept. As I chased the people that had done this to you through the woods I was hardly concerned with my sword…I just wanted to hurt them for what they did to you. That was the moment I realized that there was nothing in the world that meant more to me than you. Every kind word, small gesture of affection, every moment spent with you drove me forwards and I truly believe brought me out of that alive.

Fiona MacLaren I love you with all of my heart and soul, and until I draw my last breath I will continue to work to be a man worthy of your love. I will live my life as the sword and shield that protects you from all the bad things in the world and nothing and no one will keep us apart.”

With a heavy sigh Niall crumpled the parchment he was writing on and tossed it to the side. This was the seventh time he’d attempted to scribe his weeding vows to Fiona, and the seventh time he’d found himself increasingly disappointed at the lack of words he could muster to describe his feelings. He looked over at the bed they shared and smiled softly watching the heavy wool blankets rise and fall as she slept. As much as he wanted to send her to Porto Fino, there was a great comfort in having her here. Seeing that she was alive and well, reminding him that he didn’t lose her. Occasionally he’d find himself in a moment of panic unable to calm down until he saw her or heard her.

The last few days he’d been so focused on tending to her recovery that he’d still been putting off the emotional labor of working through his own truama. As far as Niall was concerned that could come later, keeping Fiona safe and seeing them and the rest of his circle of friends through this crisis was top priority. Though he could hear Saorise and Arineh chastising him now about taking care of himself, in fact he was overdue for one of those conversations sometime soon.

As he set his writing supplies away Niall found himself thinking to the conversation he had with Sinnoch last forum. At the time when he was asked if he was happy Niall couldn’t respond. He didn’t know what happiness was, all he knew was his duty. But for now as he crawled beside the woman he’d given up his moorsword to protect he could imagine that one day he could very well answer yes to that question—and that was all he could ask for at the moment.

All those little details

Alexandra watched her mother bustle about, instructing various servants in what tasks must be completed before the April forum and Alexandra’s wedding to Herulf von Corvinus. After all these years spent learning at her mother’s side, she was still in awe of just how confident her mother could be. She knew she would do well to emulate that confidence, even if, at the moment, Alexandra was as uncertain as she had been in a long time.

It wasn’t as though she was unhappy with the marriage match that had been made-far from it, in fact. She had long since accepted that a love match like her parents’ was almost certainly out of the question, and had prepared herself for quite some time that her future husband may well be a stranger on their wedding day. That the match had been made to someone that she actually knew and conversed with, a man that had escorted her on the road between Stromberg and Stragosa, that was a pleasant surprise. It was a happy bonus that she had, thus far and within the boundaries of the sort of arms-length interactions that were appropriate for unmarried people of their standing, found his company pleasant enough, even if, at times, she worried that she came off as far too frivolous for an experienced Gothic military commander. The idea that her soul and his would soon be as one hadn’t fully set in-she knew it was true, and the time was drawing near, but the concept that Lord von Corvinus would soon be her husband, that at some point she ought to become comfortable with using his given name in conversation hadn’t quite solidified in her mind. She supposed she ought to come to terms with the idea before she embarrassed herself by acting like a timid, silly child.

No, it was the prospect of the change in her role in life, no longer an inexperienced maiden, still learning the ropes of rulership in this strange and wild place, but truly an adult, a wife, and, God willing, before long a mother. She suspected, based on comments from both her mother and her betrothed, that her time in Stragosa was likely going to be coming to an end sooner rather than later-but wasn’t entirely sure what her new role would be, what exactly she would be doing or even where she would be doing it, other than continuing to prepare to one day inherit her father’s countship and working to continue to raise her house’s reputation in the Throne.

But before that, the wedding. The wedding itself was hardly a minor detail. “Never forget, the feast is as much a battlefield as any other.” The words her father had written to her over a year ago now weighed heavily on Alexandra’s mind as she began to consider the details of her upcoming wedding. So many people were all too dismissive of the idea of the power of events and the symbols that made up most of them, but the lessons she had been learning for her entire life told her an entirely different story. This wedding, for example. Every little detail would mean something, whether or not it was intentional. It was unavoidable in the world of noble politics. Alexandra knew, on the one hand, that it would be wise to plan for her Stragosa wedding to be on the austere side-to do anything else would be callous in the face of all who had suffered so greatly in the time since the necromancer made its play for Stragosa and the dead began terrorizing the people. She accepted this, and couldn’t even bring herself to feel saddened at the idea, knowing that her house was planning a grand formal wedding for later in the year in North Pass to celebrate the new alliance. But she also knew just as keenly that to fail to honor the marriage and the alliance it signaled in a way that wasn’t worthy of the standing of both houses would be to undermine it. Perhaps, then, the wise course would be to find some way to make the occasion one that may also bring joy to others, some sort of representation of the joy of two people uniting in the eyes of God. A solemn celebration of duty to God and Empire.
Even the details of her dress would matter, she thought. No, not just the dress on the day of her wedding, whether the small celebration in Stragosa or the grand one in North Pass. How she chose to dress, to wear her hair, to carry herself could signal so much from this day forward. She must show the maturity and strength she had gained in her time in Stragosa, for any show of weakness would be a tool to be used against her and her house. But she had also worked so hard to find a way to relate to the common people that she had found herself surrounded by, and knew that this, too, would be valuable for her future. She must show appropriate sobriety and seriousness for the sensibilities of her betrothed’s Gothic house, to demonstrate a commitment to being as one soul with him, but she must absolutely not allow anyone to think that she considered herself something other than Rogalian. The politics around the match and the Pactum Domini were far too volatile for anything else.

Such uncertainty would not do, she knew. It was not fitting for a highborn woman. So she watched her mother, hoping to learn all those little details she must master in the coming weeks. There was much work to be done.

The Voice of the Voiceless: Fleeing

The following is found scrawled in one of Olivier’s journals:

“How are you doing, mon amour? I’m shaking as it is, and he wasn’t my Uncle. I can only imagine what it’s like for you”

“I can’t believe he’s gone either. I didn’t want to kill him. It just happened. I hope you can forgive me.”

“It’ll take some time. You know me, I’m not a killer and don’t want to start anytime soon. I just want to create, not kill.”

“Thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“I hope this new place is alright.”

“I’m scared, too. I’m going to miss mother and father. I’m sure Anastasie, will as well. I also hope I can protect the two of you in this new place”

“It all sounds really scary, but also somewhat safe from your father’s reach.”

“I know that sounds harsh, but remember what he did to my mother, to you, and what he said as we were running”

“It was really weird how violent he’s become. He’s always been such a nice man.”

“Remember when he’d get us pastries when we’d watch mother perform in the square?”

“He’d stand up for us too when Gregory and his family would harass us”

“I can’t imagine what would have changed him so much”

“And now we’re running from him. The man who raised you and helped raise me”

“I hope mother and father are alright. At least we’re together, I can’t imagine taking on this journey alone.”

“I know it’s only been a few days, but I already want to go back home”

“I know it would be a death sentence, but at least we would have some kind of happiness until then”

“But what if this new place is as horrible as the stories we’ve heard?”

“You’re right, as long as we’re together, we can do whatever we set our minds to”

“Have you thought about things you want to make? It’ll be around early winter when we arrive, and the Mari Lwyd should be taking place. I’ve been trying to write poetry for the others there”

“A scarf? That sounds great! I would love to wear it. You’re such a thoughtful person, Alexander”

“I love you, too, mon amour”

A half written letter sitting in the monastery

Mother,

I am sorry it has been so long since I last sent a letter. Between building and farming, my time in Stragosa has been more busy than I’d thought. The last letter I sent, I believe, was a little over a year and a half ago, shortly before I left Lethia, and much had happened. I learned to read, for one! In fact, I am writing this very letter myself!

I’ve learned much in my time here. I feel that I’ve grown into a stronger person, both within and without. I’ve met wonderful people from all corners of the Throne, some even from Sha’ra! I’ve met Mages and Princes, repelled Ghouls and Malefic, and heard the most wonderful songs and stories. In truth, as much as I miss home, I am beginning to feel happy here. My feet finally feel as though they’ve settled on solid ground, and I’m finding myself planning for the future.

Sanguine says we’re to begin working on the Fortress Monastery this coming season, which I’m quite looking forward to. I’ve been preparing for the upcoming Hearthwise ceremonies (they’re celebrated here as well) and I’m quite looking forward to the Ice Doll next season. I’ve begun planning a large Springtime feast as well! I’ve met quite a few herbalists in the city, and I believe that with their help I could feed the entire market! I feel as though I’m finally finding my place, that I’m finally doing good in the world on my own terms.

I hope you’re doing well, also. I know that the Gothic winters have never agreed with you. I assume Clypeus is reading this to you, have him get my blanket from the loft, should you need it. I hope the horses arent giving you too much trouble, did you ever find a new farmha

Lysander looks up from his desk as a cry comes from the courtyard. He stands and crosses his small, sparsley furnished monastery room, a look of worry on his face. He sees the city of Stragosa, his new home, under siege, the vision cutting through him like a cold knife. He hastily dons his leather armor and weapon, slinging in his satchel over his shoulder, and then rushes from his room.

Letter from Dana Isabella Scordato to Counte Scordato

Dead Brother,

I pray event back home are going well for matters in Stragosa have taken a turn for the worse. I apologize for the delay from my last letter but much has happened that has prevented me from writing.

Four months ago, I lost two hundred marines saving our distant cousin, Sir Reinhardt Sonnenhiem, from certain death. Acting in his roll as Lord Marshall of Stragosa, he was leading his men against the heretics. Myself and my own force provided support on both of his flanks. We had just routed a force of dark riders when Reinhardt’s own men turned on us, falling to heresy. I personally led a charge to rescue him from a duel with his own traitor turned captain. We were successful in saving him however we lost the aforementioned 200 marines to do so.

Afterwards, I took to investigate one of the main sites we have found in the valley, and came to an ancient elven site. It had twelve statues, with two oddly enough human. I must tell you I felt I was being watched the entire time though. I heard rumors that the same elf that killed father was also seen in Stragosa shortly after my scouting expedition. I am not sure if the two events are tied or not.

Once I had cleaned up from the trip, I set out to coordinate the defense of the Princepessa’s city of Portofino and the House Drake city of Silbran. While I was with Captain Maria di Segrati in Silbran, we were attacked by forces of Kuarlites. The small team of Spotters I was with were vastly outnumbered by the horde and one after one fell in combat. I only survived due to being knocked unconscious and my warhorse somehow escaping. I have since returned to Portofino.

I write you this letter on the eve of my trip to Stragosa to see if this war is salvageable. I am sorry brother but I must also apologize. For I intend to seek out the elf. Both honor and duty require me to do so. I must also get answers to the elven site I visited for one of the statues confused me greatly. I know this puts my marriage at risk should I perish but it must be done. I will however make sure contingencies are in place to ensure our interests are protected should anything happen.

I close with this. If the valley is held, the land surrounding the ancient dwarves fortress is legally our now. My guess was right on the land being valuable since dwarves once held it. For the very first mine Sergio, you remember our old tutor and papi’s friend, opened was a gem mine. The fortress is in good condition and I have multiple forces of Spotters moving to man the battlements when the mountains open in spring. As they do not require large amount of rations, once we erect additional defenses, it will be well secured outside of a large army assault.

That is all for now. I hope to write to you in a few days hence, with my success in Stragosa but if not, know I love you brother.

Harvesting the past, we flourish.

Love,
Isabella

Do You Like Honey Tarts?

“Miss Clodagh, what is for dessert at the dinner party?” Rosomon asked in excitement as she watched the woman’s gnarled hands knead dough. She and the other staff had been preparing all week. A guest would be visiting, and the entire estate was in a tizzy.

“‘Tis a secret, little Rose.”

Rosomon’s eyes lit up at the nickname, “Mother said not to call me that…”

“Hah!” The woman laughed, “And do you always do what the Lady says?”

The girl’s lips broke into a full smile, knowing full well that she did not.

“Ach, I won’t be telling ye,” she insisted. Looking at the girl a moment she said, “But I will give ye a hint on somethin’ else.” Clodagh set the dough aside to rise again then turned to pull a quill and parchment from a drawer. Rosomon watched her curiously, wondering what sort of hint it would be.

Clodagh returned and handed her a paper, “Here ye are.”

Rosomon looked at the paper:

Hares & Boars
Nuts & Berries
Ye’ll Not Know
What We’re Makin
Til You Figure
Out The Writin

Her eyebrows furrowed, “This is not a hint!”

“Ah, everythin in this life is a hint – ye just need t’ solve the puzzle.” With that, the woman turned back to her craft.

Rosomon hopped off the counter and moved to a stool in the corner as another cook came in to assist Clodagh. She stared at the poem, rereading it over and over. Eventually she went through the side door into the garden. As she paced she noticed the misplaced punctuation makes. At first he had thought them ink droplets, but now they began to seem intentional. Dots, letters, dots, letters – her mind worked to make the connection. How could dots give her a hint?

“Ah ha!” Rosomon ran back into the kitchens to find Clodagh alone again. “Honey Tart!”

She turned to look at the girl, excited eyes and breathing heavily as if she had just run across an entire field. “Aye.” With that, she moved to an oven to pull out a tray. Dishing out the fresh pastries onto a plate before moving back to the girl still standing in the doorway, she bent to kiss the child’s head, “Happy Birthday, little Rose.”

The girl hugged her again for a minute.

“Now, get goin – I’ve got a lot to do and not a lot of time,” Clodagh shoos her out.

Rosomon takes the plate runs back out of the door. She ran across the bailey, hoping to find a cozy place to enjoy the tarts. Not looking where she was going, Rosomon ran into a pair of legs. She followed them up to see a tall man covered by a dark fur mantle. Everything he wore was dark, except for the grey peppered at his temples. His hair was pulled back, and she could not tell how long it was.

“Pardon me,” she said with a smile, still excited about her treat and solving the puzzle.

The man looked down at her curiously but did not look away. She was small, but he thought she may be older than he had initially thought. Flying through the bailey without a care as she had, the man figured she was probably not as demur as her father would have liked.

“Do you like honey tarts?” she queried.

“Pardon?” he replied in a deep voice.

“Honey tarts – do you like them?”

“Indeed – who would not?”

The girl held up her plate to him and said very seriously, “As an apology, sir, I would split them with you. I can assure you, they will be the best you have had.”

His lip tweaked. Sir? What an interesting child. “Apology accepted,” he said as he reached to grab his tart.

She watched him expectantly as he took the first bite, “Well?”

He simply nodded to her.

“Are you visiting? I can show you around.”

“I am, but exploring will have to wait. Can you direct me to the Baron?”

He watched the girl deflate a little, “Of course.” She grabbed his hand and started pulling him along. “Mr. Hayworth, will you please stable this man’s horse?” She did not notice to look in the man’s eyes as he froze watching them pass. “I am Rosomon, by the way.”

They ascended the steps. He opened the door for her, “It is a pleasure, Rosomon. I’m – “

The Baron’s hurried footsteps sounded through the entry. “Count!”

Ribbons & Dresses

Port Melandir
~
“Nana!” Rosomon exclaimed as she ran into Lady Faulkner’s arms.

“Ah, my little Rosomon,” she said, holding the girl tightly. “What have you been up to of late?”

The girl’s nose scrunched as she looked at her grandmother, “Studying, mostly.”

The older woman laughed, “Ah, well best not show your father this, then.” She pulled a wrapped gift from a nearby shelf.

“Thank you,” the girl said before running off to the other side of the sitting room to show Maegi her gift.

“Mother,” Isamina chastised.

“Oh hush now, girl, neither you nor that husband of yours is going to prevent me from spoiling my grandchild.” Sitting down primly on the settee she continued, “I still cannot believe, after all these years, that you were able to convince your father marry you off to that man.”

“Love, mother. Love is how I convinced him.”

She harrumphed, “Money is more like it.”

“Have you heard of this day’s Parliament yet?” Isamina attempted to change the topic.

“Nay,” she said. “But I suspect we will at the Gale’s party tonight. Hah! We are not even in North Pass and they were able to put together an event!”

She looked over at her granddaughter who was in the middle of sorting the gifts and heard her say softly, “Look at this ribbon, Maegi! Here, it matched your eyes!”

~

Rosomon looked around the room crowded with imposing, well-dressed figures.

She felt a hand at her back. “Don’t wander off tonight,” came her father’s voice. They made their way to Viscount Gerald and his family. “Gerald, I was pleased to see you did not yield to Lord Bradford’s demands this time.”

“The man simply does not know when enough is enough,” he replied.

As the men talked, their wives caught up on the day’s ventures. Lady Peronell had found a lovely shop by the harbor with all of the latest imports from Hestralia.

Rosomon’s mind drifted off her gaze wandered. She spotted several other children around, most her age or older. She saw one girl with long brown hair and a pretty red dress. She looked down at hers – her family’s colors – and wondered why none of her dresses were red.

“There you are,” she turned at the familiar voice. “Kirk, you remember Rosomon,” Gunter told him.

“Of course, how could I forget your little thing.”

Gunter chuckled. “How have your lessons been going?”

“Very well. I have been studying the history of Rogalia.” She did not mention that she was mostly learning about where everything was located and other basics.

“Oh? Seems a heavy topic for a girl, especially one so young. What are you now, five?”

“Nearly seven,” Rosomon straightened. “Pardon me.” She turned around and walked a table with an assortment of treats on it with Maegi in toe.

“Those boys do not seem very nice.”

Rosomon looked up to see the girl in the red dress. “You are not entirely wrong,” she said, glancing behind her.

“I am Lady Alexandra Gale,” the other girl said.

“A pleasure to meet you, I am Lady Rosomon,” she replied. She paused for a moment, but could not hold back, “I love your dress!”

The End is Red

Rosomon, all of six years old, started her day as she had for nearly three years, sitting in the solar, focusing intently on the paper before her.

A A A a a a B B B…

At least, she tried to focus. The window kept drawing her attention. It was a beautiful, sunny day. She wanted to go outside and run around – maybe find someone to play with.

Sighing, she turned back to the letters and numbers before her. No fun was to be had here. Still, she wrote and wrote, methodically dipping her quill in the ink before returning it to the parchment.

“Morning!” A hand that was suddenly on her shoulder startled her, and the quill scratched across the paper leaving a large line. She knew she would have to start over, as her father would never accept such a thing.

She straightened address the older boy before her, “Good morning, Gunter. You startled me.” She looked pointedly at the mark on her paper.

“No matter – you can write just fine, so do it again.”

“Indeed, I certainly shall.” She pulled a blank sheet before her and picked up the quill.

A A A a a a B B B…

“You will never believe what I did today,” he said prodingly.

H H H h h h…

“Oh?” she replied without looking up.

M M M m m m…

“Yes…” Gunter went on to tell his story.

Z Z…

“Rosomon!” He grabbed her wrist to jerk her to face him, causing a mark to mar this paper as well. “Were you listening to a word I said?”

“You bested Marcus Olson at swordplay. Then the two of you went to the lake and found a boy catching frogs… and you threw stones at him,” she finished disapprovingly.

He pulled back to look at her a moment. “That’s right. ‘Bested’ is stating it lightly, though. I doubt he will even have the courage to challenge me again.”

Silence grew for a moment. “Ah! I nearly forgot! I have a gift for you,” he said proudly.

Her head canted to the side. “Truly?”

“I do.” Gunter took a step back to stand tall before her. He reached behind him, then bowed with a dramatic flourish. “My Lady,” he said holding a large rose in full bloom before her.

Her eyes lit up. “It is beautiful!”

“Of course – it is the first of the season.” He straightened and said kindly, “And it is for you.”

She smiled at him as he held it up to her. It was fragrant, and the petals looked soft to the touch. Gunter looked at her expectantly, so she reached her small hand to take the rose.

“Ouch!” She exclaimed as her hand closed around the stem.

A laugh cut through the air.

When she made to let go of the flower, his hands came up to caress hers. The move looked kind, but it exerted pressure to keep her hand closed around the stem and thorns. “Now, Rosomon, you do not want to drop your present.”

Her chin trembled and she felt tears behind her eyes, but Rosomon refused to cry. “Let go,” she said.

Gunter looked at her curiously, “Why would I do that?” The pressure increased slightly.

Knowing it would cut her hand more, Rosomon tore herself free of his grip. With one last glare she moved to leave the room.

“What? You don’t like it? Is it not enough? I can get you more!” He laughed behind her. “Come back.” When she did not follow his bidding, he stormed after her. “Rosomon. Come back. Agh! It was a joke!”

Finally reaching the door, she rounded on him, “There is nothing funny about using thorns or stones to hurt people!”

He froze, aghast, but before he could speak she was out the door. “You are no fun,” echoed after her.

Rosomon’s steps grew more hurried. She did not bother going to her parents – she would find no comfort there. So, instead of the rooms, she headed to the door leading to the garden. It was there she found her solace.

Bent over pulling carrots from the soft soil was Clodagh. The old Dunnick woman was always there for her.

Clodagh turned when she heard footsteps racing toward her; she barely had time to catch the child that flew into her arms.

“Miss Clodagh,” came a tearful voice, slightly muffled from her skirts.

“What ‘tis it then, little lady?” Clodagh stroked the girl’s soft curls.

She held up her hand, realizing that the rose was still clutched in it and little streams of blood trickled down her wrist.

“Ach! Whatever happened?” she asked, pulling Rosomon to a bucket of clean water nearby. She took the flower and set it aside, then began cleaning the cuts that looked too big on the girl’s little hand.

“Gunter played a trick,” she sniffed. Clodagh could see the girl was near tears but trying to keep them at bay.

“Hold fast, Rosomon,” she said encouragingly. “Life is uncertain. One day you get a rose, the next you feel the thorns – but the end result is red.”

Herding Sheep

“Rosomon,” Baron Renauld said sternly, “I have had enough of you running off to Banalis knows where! How many times must I tell you not to go off on your own?”

The young girl before him stood biting her lip and looking up with innocent eyes. She appeared sincere enough when she said, “I am sorry, Father,” but the effect was a bit dampened as she was covered head to toe in mud.

The man rubbed his hand across his face in exasperation and sighed, “Yes, I know you are – you always are. Run along and get cleaned up now, Rosomon.” The girl wasted no time in leaving. He opened his eyes and met his wife’s gaze across the room, “Fine.”

Isamina smiled, “The servant girl has herded sheep her whole life – she can easily herd a girl half her age.”

The Baroness had been trying to convince her husband for months to let her bring in someone to watch over their wayward daughter, who had a penchant for mischief. Isamina had spoken with her mother on the matter; the Faulkner Lady had laughed at her expense saying she ought to find a shepherd.

After thinking more on it, she knew her mother was right. She had heard mention of a girl – Maegi – who was nearing thirteen. The girl was an orphan with no family to speak of, meaning there would be no interference. Isamina had heard the girl was maybe not the brightest, but was humble and biddable. ‘Twould be perfect.