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Story Time: Home

Hello everyone! A shorter story for you all today about baby Tessa. Enjoy!

*

There were a lot of things to be said about the Harvest Festival, Tessa thought. It was one of two parties that the orphans got in a year, for one. There was food in abundance, and it was the good kind of food too, not their usual thin vegetable porridges and bread that was somehow stale even when it was fresh. People got adopted during the Harvest Festival—not many, but a few. They got new clothes during the Harvest Festival. People seemed to give half a damn about them, which was a nice change.

The best part about the Harvest Festival, though, was getting out of Split River.

Split River was a drab, awful little mining town. They mined for silver, and though the veins of silver were drying up, people still went into the caves to work every day. Tessa had heard adults joke that Split River’s main export these days was orphans.

Gods, how dearly she’d like to be exported.

But now it was time for the Harvest Festival, and like every year she had memory of, she was loaded up into a wagon with all the other orphans and taken out of the horrible gray streets of Split River, to the village of Larkdale.

Maybe it was because it was smaller and not so dirty. Maybe it was because the castle Whitetower was up on the hill, watching over the town, that made them keep things shipshape. Maybe it was just that it wasn’t Split River? But Tessa wished she lived in Larkdale instead.

“Hey, look.” Thin little Reevis, who was probably Tessa’s best friend if she believed in things like getting attached to people who could vanish out of her life at any moment, pointed a thin little finger out over the side of the cart.

Tessa had to twist around in her seat to see where he was pointing: a building. A moldering old inn, looked like. There were roof tiles hanging off, and windows broken. The sign, which hung from a single chain, said, “The Giggling Crane.”

“What about it?” Tessa asked.

“That wasn’t there last year,” Reevis said authoritatively.

“Look at it,” Tessa scoffed. “It’s clearly been there forever.”

“No it wasn’t,” Reevis returned, squirming in his seat. “I remember cuz last year it was a field. It had a big lumpy rock in it that looked like a walrus.”

Tessa opened her mouth to argue, but she remembered Walrus Rock too. Instead, she took a second look.

The orphanage was a squat, horrible little building made of stone. Cold in the winter, cold in the summer—just cold, generally. This building, this Giggling Crane, looked like it had been designed to fit in between buildings, though, and reached up and around rather than sitting like a frog in a mud puddle. It was shaped…friendly.

“I heard Lord Samuel might come and play with us,” Reevis said, evidently no longer impressed by ruined buildings appearing out of nowhere. “He’s our age, you know.”

Tessa rolled her eyes. “I know. I’ve seen him more times than you.”

“Do you think he’ll play with us?” Reevis said. Gods, she could see the stars in his eyes.

“Why would he play with us?”

“Because he’s our age,” Reevis repeated, as if that explained anything.

“He’s a little princeling noble boy,” Tessa griped. “He doesn’t want to play with a bunch of orphans. He’s our better.”

“What makes him better?” Reevis said, scowling.

Tessa felt like spitting, but the matron was looking this direction and would give her a lecture and probably a cuff for good measure. Instead she just said, “Born lucky.”

Reevis kicked his toe into the floor of the cart. “Now I don’t want to go. You ruined it.”

This didn’t bother Tessa very much. She’d been ruined for these kinds of festivities for the last few years. It was hard, seeing all the wealth and privilege little Lord Samuel had, and knowing that for one day’s taste of it, she was supposed to be grateful.

Then again, Reevis looked so crestfallen.

“Cheer up,” Tessa said, nudging him a little. “If he played with us, we’d have to do whatever he wanted to do anyway. We’re about to eat the best meal of our lives.”

“I guess so,” Reevis said, but he looked a little less dispirited. “I wish I was born lucky. I could live in a castle.”

“I don’t think I’d want to live in a castle,” Tessa said thoughtfully. “It’s so big. It’d take so long to clean.”

“Where do you want to live, then?” Reevis asked.

“Here, maybe,” Tessa said thoughtfully, and then threw a hand out at the Giggling Crane, which was getting smaller and smaller in the distance. “There. I want to live there.”

“It’s so old, and abandoned, though,” Reevis said, squinting at the disappearing structure.

“I could fix it up,” Tessa declared. “It could be home.”

“Home,” Reevis repeated. “Sounds nice.”

“Yeah.” Tessa watched the inn until the cart turned a corner, and it was gone.

Story Time: Tell Me A Story

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?”

“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?”

“Yeah?”

And she leapt forward and threw her arms around him.

Story Time: Friends Everywhere

Here’s a little story about real friendship, from everyone’s second favorite bard (after Fina of course). Enjoy!

*

Max has friends everywhere.

That was the first thing Killiker learned about Maximillian Allerus. It was a mutual friend who introduced them, a windblown storm cleric named Sunny.

“You’re gonna like this guy,” she’d told Killiker. “They’re seriously the best.”

“How do you know this Max fellow?” Killiker asked.

“Everyone knows Max!” she’d said. “He’s got friends everywhere.”

And then Max burst into the tavern, demanding a drink and slapping the other patrons on the back. They did know everyone, or so it seemed, and everyone was glad to see them.

“So, Killiker, you’re a bard!” Max said, once he had taken a perch on a stool with a companionable arm around Sunny. “What’s your medium of choice?”

“My voice,” said Killiker, projecting his most personable self, as he always did when he was trying to make a good first impression. And under normal circumstances, Killiker would watch in relish as his golden words settled on his audience like a dove, immediately endearing him to the listener.

But Max accepted the words with a smile that looked almost…hungry. “Incredible.”

And suddenly Killiker had an idea of what it was like to be drawn in by a handsome, charming stranger.

*

Max has friends everywhere.

It seemed that every stop meant a restructure of the party—a member bidding them farewell or joining up. Killiker had never met so many astounding adventurers in his life, and he’d been adventuring for a couple of centuries. Max drew them all in to himself, attracting them like planets to one of the suns, in the sort of social dance that would make a politician dizzy. Max was universally beloved, universally respected, and almost no one could say no to them. Killiker included.

“What is the point,” Max had demanded one day, waxing poetic, “of being out in the country with no city lights if you don’t take the time to look at the stars?”

Which was how, against Killiker’s better judgment, he and Max found themselves lying in an open field with no fire looking at the night sky, along with a wizard called Cybilene and a dragonborn fighter called Yak, who had been friends with Max for years.

“Look for shooting stars,” Max trilled. “I’m sure we could all use a little luck.”

“Except you, maybe,” Cybilene teased. “I swear, there’s no one as lucky as you.”

“Max has had their woes,” Yak scoffed.

“Is that so?” Killiker asked, ensuring that his tone was light even though he wanted the information very badly.

“It’s true,” Max said, with mock solemnity. “What a hard life I’ve had.”

Cybilene chuckled. “Yes, I’m sure it’s very difficult being friends with everyone you meet.”

“A curse!” Max declared, and the gathered party laughed along with him. “No, but Yak isn’t entirely wrong. There was a time when my life could have looked very different. So much more…boring.”

“It’s hard to imagine you being boring,” Killiker said, watching the stars twinkle in the heavens.

“Why would you choose that?” Cybilene asked.

“Ah, that’s the thing, isn’t it?” Max said, almost merrily. “It wouldn’t have been my choice. A family that claims to love you can build you a gilded cage.”

Despite the characteristic glibness, a silence fell on the four stargazers.

“How did you get out of that cage?” Killiker asked gently.

Max readjusted in the grass next to Killiker, sighing, but not discontentedly. “My dear Killiker, I realized the truth of things.”

“What’s the truth?” Cybilene asked.

Killiker could hear the glee in Max’s voice when he responded: “I can do whatever I want.”

*

“Max, please, listen to me,” Killiker said, and he didn’t bother trying to hide the magic in his voice when he put forth this request, despite the fact that he knew Max would hate him for it.

Max said nothing, only kept walking out into the dark of the night.

“Please don’t leave,” Killiker insisted to no avail. “Not like this.”

Max did stop now, abruptly, staring up at the stars. They were sharp and cold up here in the glacial mountains, like pinpricks. They seemed somehow farther away.

“I expected Cybilene to turn on me, you know that?” Max said.

The statement left Killiker baffled. “Turn on you?”

“Family is a gilded cage,” they went on, still looking only at the stars. “One Cybilene locked herself into weeks ago.”

Killiker stepped forward, in front of Max, to look him in the eye. “You think asking you to let this go means she’s betrayed you?”

“You don’t see it, do you?” snapped Max, finally meeting Killiker’s eye. “She’ll never be on our side again. She belongs to them now.”

Killiker was stunned. “She doesn’t—she never belonged to you.”

Max glared. Technically speaking, they were shorter than Killiker, but when they got like this, things like actual physical facts didn’t tend to matter. Killiker found himself afraid.

Finally, Max said, “Don’t make me lose you too.”

*

Rosie had put a drink in Killiker’s hand. Killiker had threatened her with a sword yesterday, and today she’d bought him a drink. And she wasn’t even flirting. It was a drink of camaraderie.

He watched the crew of adventurers that Cybilene had coaxed him into, for once at a loss for words. Cybilene and Tode didn’t so much converse as vibe—they weren’t making up for lost time, it was as if they’d never been apart. And the rest of them laughed, chatted, passed attention from one to another easily. No politics, no headgames, no cult of personality.

Killiker had forgotten what that was like.

The guilt from his last conversation with Max still hung heavy over his shoulders, but it was beginning to ebb. Maybe he had spent too long in the company of someone who really wasn’t a good person. Not that Killiker considered himself a good person, but he was beginning to wonder if he shouldn’t change tack.

As for Max…well. They’d be fine. They didn’t need Killiker.

Max had friends everywhere.