Cass opened her eyes wearily, rolled over, and shut them once more.
“Come back at midmorning!”
“It IS midmorning, Cass!”
The voice was closer than she expected and from beneath the pillow, Cass opened one eye and tilted her head in the direction the voice had come from. The window. They were standing at the window.
Cass could see little more than light and shadow, but the thin slit of light that indicated the sun’s rays between the shutters was obstructed somehow.
There was only one person Cass trusted to enter her yard. She had done as much as she could to prevent entry to anyone but her sister, who in Cass’s mind, was the only one who actually respected the rarity of the plants Cass had fought for years to cultivate. Several of the townspeople, specifically unknowing children who merely thought they’d found a lovely new flower, had learned the hard way not to enter without permission. Cass’s wrath was bad enough to earn her the title “The Wyrmwillow Witch”, after a particularly odious tree in her yard. And then, there were the “organic traps” Cass had placed near her stone fence. It only took one nosy neighbor stepping in a Moorin vine patch and getting caught to get the message across.
“Caena?” Cass called wearily.
The voice sighed. “Yes, dear sister, it is I.”
“Cute,” Cass said flatly, lamenting that no one respected the fine art of sleeping in anymore. Still, she rose from her bed and approached the window. Her hands slid down the shutters to the locks, which she disengaged simultaneously and pulled them open.
“Why don’t you use the door like normal people?”
“You mean the door I pounded on for who knows how long? The visiting merchants just stared at me like I was a madwoman.”
“You are a madwoman, dear sister.”
“And you are so comical. You asked me to wake you up so you could attend the Ceremony.”
“Oh…I did? Yeah, I guess I did. Thanks, Caena.”
Caena sighed and the rustling outside the window told Cass she was starting away.
“Seriously. Thank you. For everything.”
Another sigh. “Why do you feel the need to be so sentimental all of a sudden. We are family, Cass. Now, hurry and get your clothes on. We have plenty of food left over from breakfast, so there is no need to make your own.”
At this, Cass’s face lit up. She didn’t even make any plays at, “you don’t have to”s this time. Caena was one of the best cooks in the village, and on a day like today, Cass decided that she would take her sister up on the offer.
“All right, thanks Caena! I’ll be right over!”
Cass cheerfully bounded away from the window and around the corner to her washroom, the shutters still wide open.
“Cass!” Caena shouted and pushed the shutters closed, a muffled, “sorry” coming from within.
“Did you tell her?” Roan asked, adjusting the leather vest over his tunic.
“No,” Caena replied, ladling some soup into a wooden bowl. “I couldn’t. I’m sorry.”
Roan approached her gently.
“My seleniadew, you’ve got to tell her.”
“I know. I know.”
“I don’t mind if she comes with us, though she won’t be able to haul the entire laboratory with her when she goes.”
Caena chuckled. “That may be the problem.”
A rapping on the door silenced their conversation. Roan went back to checking his appearance in the mirror while Caena answered the door. To her surprise, it wasn’t Cass, but a tall man with a thick cloak covering his mostly leather attire. His skin was wind-worn, and his long brown hair was streaked with gray.
“Good morning, ma’am,” he gave a slight bow. Unaccustomed to such pleasantries, Caena froze for a moment before giving an embarrassed bow in return.
“Ah, Mr. Glynn, a pleasure to see you again,” Roan called from the hallway.
“And you as well, Roan. I trust you are well.”
“Quite. And yourself?”
“Yes, I am indeed. Have you given any further thought to my proposal?”
Roan hesitated, then glanced at Caena as he spoke. “I have, though my wife and I are still discussing the matter.”
“Ah, I see. Well, while I do not intend to rush you, I must remind you that the caravans have already begun arriving. While it is my desire to take you on as my apprentice, if someone else were to approach me with the same request, I cannot promise I wouldn’t—“
“He’ll do it!” Caena’s voice was shrill and strained, but loud and clear.
Roan rushed over to her side. Caena was shaking, shocked at her own words.
A coy smile creased Glynn’s lips.
“Darling, are you sure?”
“I am right now,” Caena whispered back, then said louder, “I mean, yes. Yes, I am.”
“Well, if that’s the case, then I suppose I’ll be back later to—“
“Hi Caena, sorry it took me so long!”
Cass shouted as she bounded into the house, causing Glynn to go rigid for a moment, then turn his large frame around and glare down at Cass, who was at least two heads shorter than he. He observed her carefully. Cass, for her part, had become completely still. It was only after stepping inside the door that she seemed to have become aware of his presence.
“Hello,” Glynn said curtly, then turned back to Caena and Roan. “I’ll return after the Ceremony.”
He started toward the door, then gave a curt, “if you’ll excuse me.” Hearing his gruff words, Cass stepped aside and Glynn swept out the door.
“Who was that guy?” Cass asked, slamming the wooden door behind him once his footsteps had trailed toward the gate.
“Cass!” Caena cried out and ran to her sister. She threw her arms around Cass.
“What? What? What’s going on?”
“Come to the table! We have much to discuss!”
“You’re moving?!” Cass sputtered, spewing soup everywhere.
“Shh, don’t shout it for the world to hear.”
“Well someone’s gotta know something is going on here, with that giant stomping around your property.”
“He’s not a giant.”
“Yeah, he’s the world’s foremost airsmith,” Roan interjected gently.
“And he’s offered Roan a chance to apprentice under him.”
Cass lifted her head, thinking for a moment.
“Roan, he’s gonna let you be his apprentice?”
“Even…” Cass hesitated for a moment, “even at your age?”
“Cass!” Caena hissed.
“Yeah,” Roan gave a laugh, “even at my age.”
“Sorry, I didn’t really mean it like that.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Cass hadn’t meant any offense by it. She was genuinely shocked.
Age was a determining factor in apprenticeship. All were expected to have their trades lined up by the time they attended their coming-of-age ceremony at the age of 22. Both Roan and Caena had their own trades – Caena had been a midwife until she had given birth to children of her own, and Roan had been an ore refiner until the primary mine in the nearby mountains had collapsed, inhibiting the use of Roan’s right leg.
Getting a second chance like this was exceedingly rare and, some might say, too good to be true.
“You have to go,” Cass muttered, matter-of-factly.
“Yes…” Caena breathed, then added, “but you can come with us. I told him there are five of us from the start. I’ve included you in our numbers all along. You can come with us…if you want to.”
All the color had left Cass’s face. She set the wooden spoon back in the bowl and sat quietly for a few moments.
“Cass, I’m really sorry…”
“I’m not mad,” she said gruffly, then, in a smoother tone, “I’m really not.”
She lifted the spoon, took another sip, and continued.
“Caena, I don’t know how to say it. You’ve taken care of me all these years. You’ve helped me so much, way past the normal obligations of a sister—“
Cass held out her spoon.
“—and now you’re inviting me to come along with you. It means a lot. And I feel frustrated with myself for feeling conflicted over it.”
“Cass, you have every right to feel conflicted. You’ve built a life here.”
Cass chuckled. “I don’t know if I’d call it a life. Well, if nothing else, I’ve finally gotten the soil around my house to accept my exotic plants, even if it was by non-natural means.”
Tears played at the corners of Cass’s eyes and Caena’s expression softened once more. She grabbed a cloth and reached out to dab the corners of her sister’s eyes.
“No, I’m okay, really. Thank you, Caena, thank you so much for thinking of me and caring for me.”
Cass rubbed at her eyes and gently pushed the cloth away.
“I know there’s not really a lot of time to think about this…but can I do this? I’ll go home and pack up as much of my stuff as I can reasonably carry before the Ceremony. I’ll make my final decision by Ceremony’s end, how’s that?”
“Okay…” Caena replied hesitantly, but before she could think of what to say next—
Two sets of footsteps came thudding in through the backdoor into the kitchen area. Cass tried to prepare herself as she was seized on both sides.
“Hello, children,” she said flatly, then suddenly softened at the realization that this might be the last time she saw them. She squeezed them both with each arm.
“Aunt Cass, you’re squeezing too hard!”
“Haha, sorry, guys.”
“Go get cleaned up, you two. I’m going to walk Aunt Cass home.”
“Aww, I wanna go too!”
“Me too! Take me too!”
“GO GET CLEANED UP!”
The children thundered off without another word. Cass stood up and turned for the door. Caena was quickly at her side.
“I can walk home fine.”
“Can I, please Cass?”
Cass nodded and they headed outside.
“Not ready to tell them yet?”
“I understand,” Cass said. “They’ve grown up here. Made a lot of friends in this village.”
In spite of me, Cass added in her head.
Cass stood at the gate to her home, waving and grinning as hard as she could until Caena’s footsteps finally faded away. She remained, lifting her head so the wind swept the hair from her face.
Talk about lighting a fire.
She fidgeted with the rusty gate latch for a moment then reluctantly passed through. Rather than going inside right away, Cass stepped off the stone path and found her way to the side of her house. It was rounded, like many of the common homes in Moorin. They had been built out of hollow rolstones that had merely been placed vertically and had a roof added to them. There was no long and involved building process like there was with the more expensive homes that used multiple stone or brick placed together.
Cass took in the cool feel of the east side of her home, which had yet to be warmed by the sun’s rays. She felt the outer sill and shutters of her window that told her she was in the right place and broke from the building, counting out three, four, five paces. She turned and felt with the toe of her boot for the smooth patch of grass, then flopped down in it.
The smell of selenias and halprom grass filled her nostrils. Lostas and purple dewdragons wafted their scents her way. She had come to love this odd mixture of smells, from plants from around the world. She had worked hard to amass this collection, and now it was all going to be gone. She was going to be gone.
It wasn’t as if she hadn’t prepared for this day, but her preparation had been quiet, and she had hoped that failure had meant things would go back to being as they had been for the last ten years.
For better, or for worse.
But now, hearing of Caena and Roan’s anticipated move, that option was gone. Things would never be the same after this day, one way or another.
Within seconds, a medium-sized canine-like creature popped into existence next to her. It was fluffy, and though it was actually a keen-minded familiar, its scruffy appearance led most who saw it to label it a mutt.
Cass relished using this misjudgement against people.
As Bruno nuzzled up to her side, she rubbed his ears.
“You might wanna get a good sniff session in here, buddy. This could very well be the last time you have the chance.”
Though he didn’t seem to undertsnad her words, per se, Bruno did move on to sniffing the various flowers, leaving Cass to her thoughts.
After lying there for several minutes, the sounds of people gathering in the square began to fill Cass’s ears. Reluctantly, she sat up and whistled for Bruno. She extended her hand and a strange band extended from the bangle on her wrist, making a loop around Bruno’s neck. Together, the two headed inside the round home, a ring of longing surrounding them amidst the excitement in the square.
I guess I wasn’t kidding when I said, one way or another, I would be leaving this town by sundown tomorrow.
Thank you for reading Chapter One! If you missed the prologue, you can find it below the post. Thanks as always to my amazing editor, Catherine! Have a great week, everyone! ~Amber