Guess who missed Fina! It’s me. Some mentions of alcohol and drunkenness in this one friends. Please take care of yourselves.
“Tell me a story?”
Ioan Butterbuns looked up from mending his shirt to meet his little girl’s eyes. “A story, eh?”
Fina’s eyes were huger than normal. Ioan had once heard some human say there was nothing cuter than a halfling child, and although Ioan was of the opinion that said human had no children and knew few halflings, where his own daughter was concerned, he thought they might be right. She blinked those big old eyes at him winningly. “Pretty please?”
“Hm.” He faked solemnity and continued sewing. “How about a story about a monster?”
“What kind of monster?” Fina scooted up close to his chair from her seat on the floor.
“Oh, a fearsome one. A terrible one, that eats people alive.”
She grabbed his leg. “What did it look like?”
“It had a long, horrible horn,” Ioan intoned, sticking the needle into the seam so he could gesture safely and tracing the horn in the air in front of his forehead. “Imagine if a unicorn went horribly wrong.”
“Oh no!” Fina cried, and Ioan was unsure if she was playing along or genuinely scared.
“Oh yes!” he went on. “And only one horrible eye as well! And that’s not even talking about the wings.”
“It can fly?” Fina demanded in childlike disbelief.
“A truly fearsome creature.” Ioan nodded gravely. “In fact, the great bards of the past wrote a song about the beast, as a warning to all of us.”
“How does it go?” Fina asked.
“Oh, no, I couldn’t,” Ioan said, placing a demure hand on his chest.
“Sing!” Fina shouted, throwing her hands up in the air.
Ioan laughed. “All right, all right, I give in.” He reached for his old guitar, took a few seconds to tune it, and started to play. “It…was…a…one-eyed one-horned flying purple people eater…”
And Fina dissolved into giggles.
“I know you don’t like Aaron, I’m just asking you to not prank the wedding,” Ioan said, taking the shears to another sheep.
“Why are you asking me to be something I’m not?” Fina said blithely. She shook the worst of the dust out of the last fleece and threw it out over the pile on the cart.
Ioan sighed. “Fina…”
“And it would be so easy, too!” Fina opened the gate and took a handful of another sheep’s fleece, steering it out of the pen toward her father. “Aaron is so sensitive. Hair trigger for pranks.”
Ioan snipped the last shreds of fleece and patted the sheep’s flank. She bleated and wriggled out into the field. “I’m being serious,” he said, trading Fina the new sheep for the fleece.
Fina again shook it out and spread it on the cart. “In fact, if Tim wasn’t so boring, I would recruit him to help me. That’s what you do with brothers, right?”
Ioan didn’t answer, just focused on shearing this sheep.
“Dad, I’m joking.”
“Oh, I’m aware,” he said mildly, finishing up and giving the sheep a pat of dismissal.
Fina brought him another. “Gods, Aaron is such a bad influence on you. You’re getting so stiff.”
“I’m ready to have a serious conversation when you are,” Ioan said, meeting her eyes. “This is important to me.”
She pulled a face. “I know.”
“So I’m not going to prank your wedding.” She traded him sheep for fleece. “I’m not heartless.”
“Thank you,” Ioan said simply.
“Beehhhh,” said the sheep.
They worked in silence for a moment.
“It’s not that I don’t like Aaron, okay?” Fina said finally. “He just doesn’t get me. Or us, for that matter. What he has with Tim is different than what we have.”
“You’re feeling misunderstood?” Ioan asked gently,
“A little,” Fina admitted, as if Ioan were dragging it out of her. “Look, I know you love him. I know things are going to be different now. I know you’ll be paying attention to him and Tim as well as me and you only have so much attention. I know that.”
“But?” Ioan prompted.
“I don’t want you to change,” she said, shrugging.
Ioan hummed in understanding and started on another sheep. “We all change, Fina. We have to. That’s life.”
Again, they worked in silence for a while, the sheep in the pen dwindling while the sheep in the field rolled around and pranced with newfound freedom.
“Tell me a story,” Fina said presently.
Ioan looked up in surprise. It was the first time she’d asked in a while. She usually, he realized, didn’t have to ask, but he’d been so occupied with the wedding plans and the merging of his and Aaron’s households…
“Once there was a father and a daughter, who were very happy together,” Ioan began, methodically snipping the shears. “The daughter was smart and beautiful and well-liked by everyone.”
“Ah, a true story,” Fina commented.
Ioan chuckled. “Not quite. For you see, the father remarried when the daughter was only just old enough to start thinking of herself as grown, and the man he married was a horrible, wicked man.”
“Real vote of confidence, dad,” laughed Fina, and Ioan laughed with her.
Ioan paced in the living room, in front of his daughter and stepson. Aaron had been so angry that he’d had to step out before he lost his temper properly, leaving Ioan alone to parent.
“You two are nearly adults,” Ioan said, taking care to keep his tone level. “You should know better. You should know far better. What were you thinking?”
“It wasssn’t—” Tim cleared his throat, clearly still drunk. “It wasn’t my idea.”
“Oh sure, blame it all on me!” said Fina, who evidently was much better at holding her liquor than her stepbrother. “Who’s the one who said we should take Aaron’s whiskey from the still?”
“Only after you sh-s-said we should sssteal it from someone else!” Tim attempted to snap back. He turned a penitent eye to Ioan. “I thought it’d be better if we borrowed s-some from dad.”
“So you planned to steal liquor,” Ioan said sternly. “And then what?”
“The fireworksss weren’t my idea either,” slurred Tim. “I didn’t—didn’t know the piggies were down there.”
“I didn’t either!” cried Fina.
“Enough,” sighed Ioan. “Tim, go…sleep it off. Your father will have words for you in the morning. Not to mention the village elders, after you caused that stampede.”
“Oh my gods,” Tim groaned, standing unsteadily. “I knew I shhouldn’t have listened to you.”
“When are you going to learn to have some actual fun, Tim?” Fina demanded.
Tim didn’t answer, just stumbled off to his room.
Ioan sat down across from his daughter. “I just…I just don’t understand.”
Fina crossed her arms. “I know you don’t.”
This was far from the first time they’d had this conversation. Things had been fine! For a few years! True, Fina seemed restless, but she always had before too, and that wasn’t new. And then all of a sudden, in the last few months…this. This and worse, but before today she hadn’t got Tim involved.
Ioan leaned back in his chair, massaging his forehead. He was out of tactics. He didn’t know any new parenting tricks. Maybe he could try an old one.
“Tell me a story,” he said.
Fina looked up, surprised and for a moment disarmed. Ioan tried to keep still, lest he give away his gambit.
Slowly, his daughter resituated in her chair. She thought for a bit before beginning. “Once upon a time there were two kings. They had a son and a daughter who they loved. Their kingdom was well taken care of and had plenty of everything they needed. Every subject was happy. Far away, there was a dragon, hiding in a cave in one corner of the kingdom, but the dragon hadn’t bothered anyone yet.”
Ioan nodded. “I’ve never heard this story.”
“Of course you have, it’s as old as the hills,” Fina scoffed.
Ioan smiled, just a little. “Oh, silly me.”
“Yeah,” Fina said, and paused. “One day, the daughter asked her fathers for permission to go speak to the dragon. They asked her why, and she didn’t have an answer, just that she wanted to. They told her no. And the daughter shrank, just a little, and lost a little of her color.”
Fina paused and swallowed. Ioan listened intently.
“Another day, she asked them again. Again, they told her no, for she didn’t have a reason, and she shrank a little more, and lost more of her color. Once more, another day, she asked them permission, and they said, ‘Are you not content here in the kingdom? Are you not happy helping us shepherd our people? Are you not our daughter, and should you not be like us?’ And they told her no.
It was many weeks before they realized how small and gray their daughter had become. ‘What is the matter with you? Why won’t you sing and laugh like your brother? What happened?’”
“What did she say?” Ioan asked quietly.
Fina looked like she might cry. “Nothing. She couldn’t give an answer.”
“You feel trapped here, Fina?” Ioan suggested.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Fina said, looking away. “This is just a story.”
Ioan took it as a good sign that she was still being glib. He swallowed, trying to choose his words carefully. “I never meant to make it seem like you couldn’t leave, if that’s what you want—”
“You didn’t have to,” she interrupted. “Aaron did.”
Ioan frowned. “He did?”
“He said you depend on me,” Fina said, as if it was an accusation. “He said this was all going to be mine one day, so I should get used to being responsible for it all.”
Oh. Ioan winced. He remembered that conversation with Aaron—Ioan had expressed some worries about how their children should inherit their land and herd. Aaron must have taken what action he thought he could on Ioan’s behalf.
“Do you want to leave?” Ioan asked, as gently as he could.
Fina’s eyes suddenly sparkled with tears. “Don’t you want me to stay?”
“Of course I do!” Ioan was starting to choke up too. “But I want you to be you more than anything. That’s what matters.”
Fina looked away, sniffing. Ioan did some of that himself.
“Look,” Ioan said finally, rubbing the back of his head, “whatever the village elders decide, you do what they say. Make up for what happened tonight. And then, if you want…go make your way.”
“What about the sheep?” Fina muttered.
“Tim can take care of them.” Ioan waved a hand. “He wants to anyway.”
Fina cleared her throat. “Dad?”
And she leapt forward and threw her arms around him.