Chapters

Chapter 4 – Help from the Chandra

Father coughed. He was stoking the embers in the fire place as Abigail kept a trained eye on her needles. One stitch, two stitch. Back stitch. Purl stitch. Mother watched her carefully.

It had been raining in Oledanick for more than a week. The calm drip drop on the tin roof had become muted behind one’s inward thoughts. Adrik scarcely heard them anymore. His sword glistened in the back light of the fire glow.

He stood, restless. Most of the villagers rarely ventured out when the skies opened. Adrik climbed the crude stairs to his loft, a retreat from the mundane activities of his family who paid barely a mind to his recent behaviour. Father and Mother accepted in stride that he planned to represent the Eastern Village in the duel. Whether they trusted he to be successful was another matter entirely.

Adrik brushed the straw from his window sill. Under Oledanick’s Eastern moon, the castle shone like a star amid the storm. A beacon, he decided. A beacon calling him home. Once King Frances witnessed his champion swordsmanship, he would defeat not only his opponent for Princess Isabella’s hand in marriage, but the fate of becoming a blacksmith like his father and grandfather before him. Adrik had studied fencing since he was old enough to walk, his Uncle regaling tales from the Kingdom that would finally bring an end to the life of poverty his ancestors had been banished to from years of living under tin roofs in the Village.

At nearly seventeen, Adrik stood well above his father’s height. Although, one could surmise that the senior had become frail and weather worn over the years of being bent at the waist, hammering heated metal into horse shoes and the occasional Royal steel to be used by the soldiers of King Frances’ army. Father’s ragged hands disturbed Adrik. Those callouses represented centuries of a life beneath him. And while he was once brought up to take his rightful place in the sweat-soaked shop that barely kept bread on the table, he was determined that he’d break the vicious cycle of mediocrity by ascending King Frances’ throne.

Adrik turned to his bunk. Between his pillow of duck feathers and quilted afghan his mother scrapped together from pieces of discarded lamb wool lay the leather bound book of Oledanick’s chronic history and legend.

He folded his lean legs together on the floor and carefully placed the book to his lap. He had stolen it from the Chandra deep inside the Swathan Woods. Stolen? He smirked to himself. Borrowed, perhaps.

Entrenched among the pages, a long lineage of Oledanick’s Kings and Queens. As he tenderly unbound the bindings, the book seemed to sigh as her pages opened like an old friend longing to be touched. Adrik found himself engrossed in her secrets; secrets he’d read over and over by lantern light, scouring and dissecting each word until he could recite them by memory.

A damp lock of raven hair fell limply across his forehead. The humidity of the tin shack was taking its toll. Adrik pushed it away and pressed on.

Under Oledanick Law, the heir to the throne shall be a son, rich with Royal blood. Should a son not befall the Queen, the Eastern and Western Villages shall summon forward their finest and bravest men to partake of a feat of strength. The final two noblest of champions will engage in a duel of the sword. He whom becomes victorious shall wed the Royal Princess, and ascend the throne.

Adrik read the words again. They became engrained in his mind. Not for centuries had the Queen only birthed a daughter. The Oledanick throne had become a long line of rightful male heirs. A feat of strength had since become fables, legends. But the time had come. Isabella had surpassed her sixteenth birthday, and King Frances was forced to declare a feat of strength over the Eastern and Western villages.

“Adrik!” his father called from below.

He snapped the book shut, replacing it to its place on his bunk. He worried little. The Chandra had all but assured his victory. Adrik peered out again to the castle, then suddenly shifting his eyes westward. Who would they send? The Eastern and Western Villages notoriously stayed in their own direction. They were separated save for the Yuwlah Bridge that only few ever crossed, given the Yuwlahish people collected tolls from passerbys. Less, of course, you braved the Swathan Woods to cross into either territory. And, unless, you were prepared to meet the Chandra, a villager would never purposely tread into the forest; you were best to pay the toll than risk your fate. I am not like the others, Adrik mused.

“Adrik, your Father has called you!” Mother’s voice rang out.

He descended the steps. The rain had all but ceased into a drizzle on their tiny shack. Abigail looked up from her patchwork. “Your turn to set the table!” her ten-year-old voice squawked at him. He tugged on her matching dark hair, “Is that so, Abigail, dear?” he teased her.

“Mom said!” she stuck her tongue out at him. Adrik kissed her forehead. “You just keep to your sewing, little one,” he smiled. Then he turned and collected the wooden bowls from the shelves next to her. “I think I can handle it.”

Mother brushed the flour from her hands on her skirt apron. “I fear that we have not much more than bread and stew,” she looked at him with sad eyes. “Your father hopes you’ll join him tonight in the shop. See if you can help him earn some extra quelles, could you Adrik, please?”

“Mother,” Adrik reached out and embraced her. “One day, we will have more than quelles. One day I will ensure this family has far more riches than you could dream.” Mother adjusted her hair pins, looking at him with faint hope and prayer.

“Tonight we feast on lamb stew,” he proclaimed, “But soon, we will feast like Royalty,” he promised.

The Chandra guarantees it, he thought.

———–

“Does it rain in the Eastern Village, too?” asked little Sadie with her blue eyes shining up to see Easton.

“Of course it does,” Easton smiled.

“Then where are you going?”

Ten year olds, thought Easton. He fumbled with his satchel, shoving a scroll into his pack. Sadie’s blonde hair matched it exactly, and he tousled it. “Stop that!” she squealed.

“Let me look at you,” Mother cupped his chin. She was more than a foot shorter, and yet, she still made Easton feel like a child and not a young man of seventeen.

“Mother,” he pleaded. His father laughed at the table, gingerly dipping his bread into his broth.

Mother framed his face, his rugged jawline, and gently floated her fingers down his face, just as she did when he was a boy. “I don’t like this,” she said at last.

“Mother,” he repeated. “It’s my duty to report to the Kingdom that I plan to participate in the Feat of Strength.”

She dabbed her eyes with her apron. “Your Father has a good job here in the Western Village. We ask for so little. You could the same.”

Easton adjusted his tunic, and laced his boots. He snuck a quick look in the makeshift mirror fastened to the wall of their shack. “Mother, for centuries our family has lived with barely scraps. Sadie is forced to work in the market. Father is barely able to bring home the meat for the broth. While a blacksmith is honourable, and difficult, it is not enough. And now I have a chance to sit on the throne. You know my fencing is beyond all those of the Western Village.”

Mother clasped her hands and only nodded. “You are right, Son,” Father said, leaving his dishes on the table. “Mother,” he smiled, assuredly, “tonight we have lamb broth. But tomorrow could be more cabbage. Lettuces from your garden. We have a growing boy, here! Let him fight for the honour of our family and our Village.” Turning, he snuck a grin to Easton, “Marick be damned if one of those Easterners think they’ll win it!”

“Jeremiah!” Mother exclaimed, and Father winked at Easton. “Sorry for my tongue, Mother. Easton, you have all you need for this journey to the Castle?”

“The toll! What about the Yuwlahish?” Sadie cried. “They’ll eat you, if you don’t pay the toll, you know!”

Easton lifted her into his arms. “They won’t eat me, Sadie. I’ve brought two quelles with me and a loaf of Mother’s finest bread.” He tickled her, “They don’t eat people, anyway.”

“Yes they do! That’s what the girls said at school!” Sadie implored, then cupping her hands whispered to Easton, “I think my teacher is from Yuwlah.”

Children and their storytelling, thought Easton lowering Sadie to the ground. Her tattered, olive-coloured dress swirled around her. “Just be careful!”

Easton took a look from his mother and father. He had his map, his quelles, a few bits of nuts and water in his sack to satisfy him. The Kingdom was a three day journey, not to mention the rain that may have washed out much of the path.

But that’s all they needed to know. Three days to the Kingdom, three days home. Should they had known his map guided him to Mount Tempest, they’d have barricaded the door. This gave him a six day head start. He kissed his mother, and shook Father’s hand. He knelt to Sadie’s level, and squeezed her.

“I love you all so much,” he said to them, and left under a sky lit with the Western Moon. The rain greeted him. He looked back once, just to lock it into memory before he allowed him to forget he was ever there at all.

Chapter 3 – Truth In Fables

Easton lingered at the door. His breath left a faint ‘oh’ of condensation as he stared down the driveway. Nothing made any sense, he decided. It wasn’t like his mother to offer to drive home a friend, any friend.

“Come away from the door,” his father called from the kitchen. “Your Mom will be back soon.”

Easton grudgingly pulled himself away from the slit of glass between the door and the wall. He kicked off his shoes, and hung his jacket in the closet. Hadn’t everything gone okay at dinner? He had thought so. He was polite, Emileigh was interesting, and seemed to impress his parents. She was charming, and sweet and ordered politely.

But his mother. What was with her tonight? He asked himself over and over. She barely touched her food, twirling her pasta mindlessly on her fork, eyes trained on the new girl. When Easton would make a joke, Lillian would change the subject, pressing questions to Emileigh that riled Easton’s insides into knots that made him feel uneasy.

A few times, Easton’s father would touch his mother’s hand gently. With a light squeeze he’d say, “Now Lillian, she’s only been in town a few months, let’s not make her feel like this is an inquisition!” Later, he’d remark, “don’t make the child uncomfortable!” and later still, “Why don’t you check out the dessert bar, Lil? We haven’t tried their new devil’s food cake …”

Cliff Jacobs knew his wife wasn’t simply pressing the girl for her interest in their son. Cliff, pensive and well-versed in the fables of Lillian’s ancestry, was concerned that the stories were about to topple over themselves and spill out onto this child.

Perched on his kitchen bar stool, a spoon in one hand, a tub of Rocky Road in the other, Cliff replayed the evening’s events. His eyes felt heavy, his mind racing with the conversations. He loosened his tie, and set his glasses next to him on the counter top. They were stories, weren’t they? The Elders, the Juniper, the King and the Queen, and the coalition. Fables. Legends passed down from generations. Elaborate tales retold over and over, around Christmas trees and campfires. A leather-bound book, heavier than a family Bible or a tree of heritage. Oledanick was nothing more than a fairy story contrived from years of babbling nonsense told by aging grandparents to wide-eyed children too tired to sleep. Right? That’s what Cliff had told himself from courting Lillian, to marrying her, to watching her deliver a son; a son that reignited her fears of a universe far from their own.

Easton sauntered wearily into the kitchen and sat next to his father. Cliff laid out a spoon and took a deep look at his son. For a few minutes, the boy and his father sat in silence. But as Cliff noted, he was no longer staring down a growing boy. He was looking at the young man he was raising.

Cliff wiped a stain of chocolate from his white collared shirt. He hadn’t even come home to change. He’d received a frantic text from Lillian just as he was leaving work. The day of mediocrity was seared by the words he’d always said were in Lil’s mind … they’ve arrived.

He’d told his secretary to cancel his next day meetings. Suddenly, the potential mortgage brokers, and stagnant chequing account appointments, the borrowers, the investors, they could wait. The bank could wait. Cliff, brief case in hand, cell phone in the other, felt very small in his very large corporate world. Meet us at Gino’s, Lillian’s text had read, they’ve arrived.

Cliff went over his day repeatedly. In his mind, as he took the elevator to the mezzanine. As he beeped open the door of his Rover. His custom was to lay his overcoat safely on the passenger seat, careful of the leather. His briefcase placed on the floor next to him. He would typically take a deep breath, check the rear view and pull out to the road that would lead him home. To their home. The home he’d protected, built, enshrined on logic and far from the yesteryears of Lil’s consistent fears that one day a coalition of mystical creatures would come to reclaim his son. Tonight, he haphazardly threw his belongings in the car and sped off.

For fifteen years, Lillian’s notions had been subdued. They’d cry out in nightmares and terrors, and she’d awake him in a cold sweat, then have to check the baby until he’d finally installed a camera in Easton’s room where Lil could keep a mother’s eye on him. No. Not a mother’s eye. An Oledanick eye. And from the time they’d swaddled that child and brought him home to his own bed, his own crib, Lillian – Cliff swore – slept with that careful eye open, ears perched.

Now, Lillian was somewhere with the child she’d feared the most.

“Dad?”

Easton interrupted Cliff’s thoughts. The silence broken, Cliff smiled at his handsome boy. “That was quite a dinner party,” he laughed.

“I’d say,” Easton returned. “Where do you think they are?”

“I’m sure your Mom will be back soon. Emileigh seems a nice enough girl. It was kind of your Mom to give her a lift.”

Easton snorted. “Come on, Dad. When has Mom ever offered to drive someone home?”

Cliff laughed again, “Well, maybe she likes her,” and gave Easton a wink.

Easton licked away the ice cream from the spoon and stared at it thoughtfully. “Dad?”

Cliff stood up, carrying the bowls to the dishwasher, “Yeah?”

“Mom was acting weird tonight.”

“This is the first girl you’ve brought home to meet her,” Cliff replied, carefully stacking the dishes. He opened the freezer and returned the ice cream. He was desperate to give Easton an explanation. Give him a sense of normalcy. “Do you have homework tonight?”

“Dad,” Easton said standing upright. “Something’s off.”

Cliff’s hair seemed whiter. His posture seemed straighter. His face seemed older. Easton approached him at the counter. “Dad. Just tell me what’s going on.”

Cliff turned and gave his son a hard look. They were nearly at eye-level. Easton looked more like his Mother than he’d ever given him credit before. He had his grandmother’s eyes. Green. Wise. Lillian’s eyes. And by all accounts, his namesake’s eyes. Were the stories true, after all?

And suddenly, they were. All of them. Cliff grimaced. Caught off guard, he placed a once-sturdy hand on Easton’s shoulder. “Do you have homework tonight?”

Chapter 2: The Birth of A Legend

Only the crash of the ocean hurricane could deafen Isabella’s cries of agony.

She and the wind whipped in unison – Isabella side to side on the narrow, wooden cabin bed; the ship by each rocking wave. The rain pelted atop the deck. Lightning illuminated the state room. Penelope – the assigned nurse maid tasked with keeping Isabella alive – lit and re-lit the rapidly diminishing candles. Would the Princess survive?

Marick and the Elders awaited the Juniper along the banks of Mount Tempest. King Frances had sent word the Princess would be due to arrive on the fortnight. Marick – proud, strong – stood against the reeling storm; his face and beard weathering the brunt of the rain. The Elders behind him cowered behind their robes and hoods, sheltered below the low-hanging rocks along the reef.

In the distance, the Juniper broke the horizon amid the storm. Marick turned his face toward the Northern Moon, clouded behind a dangerous sky. He nodded. The hurricane sighed and began to retreat.

“I can see Mount Tempest,” Penelope whispered into the Princess’ ear, “We’re almost there.” She rose from the bedside, her staunch uniform now stained with the Royal’s rich blood. Penelope, a woman of only twenty, attempted unsuccessfully to resign her fear to confidence. She reached to the table, drew the cloth from the basin and pressed it gently to Isabella’s forehead. The Princess was deathly pale. Her brunette locks damp with sweat.

“Penelope!” bellowed from above, “We’re near Mount Tempest. The storm looks to be breaking. That girl had better be alive when we git there!”

Penelope, ghastly terrified of the Captain and his motley crew of would-be pirates, stroked back the Princess’ hair. It had been a full ten minutes since her last wailing cry for help. The bump of her womb frightened Penelope further. She’d never witnessed a birth before. Why had the Queen entrusted her tonight?

She laid a hand across Isabella’s swollen belly. She knew she had to check if the baby was going to deliver before they anchored. Slowly, she eased her hand inside the Princess. Isabella didn’t stir.

Penelope had once been invited to watch her father assist their cow deliver. She remembered the smell. Her father’s arm – up and up and up – until she couldn’t see it any longer. Then the calf, dropping to the ground. And the sound of that cow – the sound she could still hear in her ears.

But Princess Isabella no longer made sound.

Marick withdrew his staff from his cloak to aid his descent down Mount Tempest’s narrow corridor. The rock had been chiseled away by the Elders of his past; a pathway to the temple of Oledanick’s wise and elite. A crudely carved building of stone ascended the peak of Mount Tempest – a glowing beacon to all who sought refuge through the channels of Oledanick’s Loughten Sea.

His fellow Elders followed in close pursuit.

Marick’s task was simple by nature. Deliver the Princess of the bastard child that had befallen her. A consequence, King Frances had written. A consequence of her decision to break Royal law and besiege a commoner from the Village without consent.

“But I request of you, Elder Marick,” wrote Frances, “I request you preserve her life at all costs. Her punishment will be this birth.” He added, “Do away with the bastard. Its life threatens this very Kingdom and all the virtues of Oledanick. Send word to me when its light has been extinguished.”

Marick heard the words in his mind, like a chant. When its light has been extinguished.

The Elders arrived at the moat.

The Juniper sail bore the crest of King Frances. A broad falcon, wings stretched outward. A crown adorning its head. Eyes set still, angry.

The mast of the ship exposed weathered cracks from its battle with the Oledanick storm. Marick made note of its poor condition. He silently asked the ancestor Elders to ensure the Juniper returned its voyage back to the Kingdom before daylight. His plan depended on it.

The Juniper anchored and tethered her place at sea, the crew rapidly descending boats to the water below. One carried a ghost. Not a ghost, thought Marick, the Princess.

Even from his perch on the dock, Marick could see there was scarcely life in the Princess’ frail body. Wrapped in shrouds of cloth, Isabella was barely visible. A frightened nurse maid sat poised beside her. Her trembling eyes gave it away – even at a distance. The Princess was grasping to stay alive.

The crew tossed Marick the rope, the Elders behind him fastening it in place. He outstretched his arms and in them placed was Princess Isabella. Her tiny form crumpling to his touch, Marick wrapped her under his robe and began the challenging climb to the temple.

The Elders hoisted Penelope from the boat, an audible gasp caused by her blood-soaked dress. She had never seen the Elders in person before. Their worn and ugly faces, speckled with warts and crooked noses startled her. She pushed passed them to follow Marick through the moonlight. Tonight, she wasn’t permitted to be frightened. Tonight, she had to fight. For her and the Princess.

“How close is she to birth?” Marick called over his shoulder.

“My Lord, I could feel nothing but the smallest part of the child’s head,” Penelope returned between gasps of breath. How he was carrying Isabella and quickening his pace befuddled her. She scurried to keep up.

“How long has she been bleeding?”

“For more than the time we were on the ship, my Lord. Elders before me, I am unsure how she is still with child.”

“She may not be.”

The temple loomed in front of them moments later. A heavy, iron-gate gleaned under the Northern moonlight. “Penelope,” Marick instructed, “Unfasten the key from my belt.”

Quickly, she located the master gate key and unhinged the lock from the gate. Together, the pair pushed back the temple doors where they were greeted by several Elders waiting in circle around the High Framed Table. Penelope gasped.

The candlelight cast dancing shadows along the stone walls of the temple. Carvings and engraved markings lined the hallways. A vast, great ceiling, roughly painted and inscribed stared down at them. Cloaks of reds and greens ascended from pillars. Paintings of Oledanick Elders were fastened to the stone. Each pair of eyes following, following until they caught you looking back. Then you swore they turned away.

Marick placed the Princess on the table.

A group of Elders formed around Isabella. Penelope was pushed away, a glimpse here; a look there. Incense crept inside her nose and drew tears from her eyes. Still, there was no sound from Isabella.

Along the candle shadows, Penelope watched with clenched fists and teeth, listening to the Elders puncture Isabella’s delicate flesh with their sacred knives. She drowned the sound by concentrating on her own breaths. In, out. In. Out.

Marick said not a word, but glanced back only once to see the nurse trembling in fear; eyes wide, jaw clenched. Her knuckles as pale as the Northern Moon this eve.

When he returned his attention to the Elders, they had incised a wound large enough for him. With his blistered and worn hands, Marick pulled the baby from Isabella’s womb. No cry came from her lips. The Elders severed her from her mother.

Marick looked deeply at the child. Caked in her blood, with eyes as bold as the Loughten Sea, Marick breathed a low, silent breath into the child’s gaping mouth. A loud shriek filled the temple corridors.

With the sound of her daughter’s first cries, Princess Isabella shuddered. She slowly, delicately, opened her eyes long enough to see her cherub face. And now that she knew she had lived, it was though she was permitted to exhale her last breath. Drawing her head to the Northern Moon, she blinked a solitary tear. Isabella was dead.

Penelope, now resigned to a deep puddle on the floor, was shaken to her feet by the Elders. “You must feed the babe! You must feed the babe!” they urged her. Their words echoed in unison.

Bewildered, Penelope looked for meaning at Marick. “What do I do? What do they mean?” she shrieked through her tears.

Marick, having wiped clean the child, thrust her into her arms. “Place her at your breast,” he ordered, “She will need to eat before her journey.”

The Elders scurried to the High Frame Table, busily cleaning the blood, sweat and stain left behind by the Princess. Marick shut her lids, re-wrapped the shrouds and disappeared with her body.

Penelope, unfamiliar, unsure and unaware, put the child to her chest. Sobbing, she waited as she clawed her fists around her and found her milk she didn’t realize had been waiting for her. It hurt. But here she was – Princess Isabella’s child, nestled at her. They had lived. But she had died. Penelope had failed. She pushed back her infant hair and listened to her suckle. “How do we save you?” she whispered.

The Elders, too concerned about the desecration of the High Frame Table, did not stir when a figure stepped out from the shadows. Penelope recognized him immediately. “Easton!” she exclaimed.

The baby fussed, pulling away. “Penelope,” Easton said, “You are holding my daughter.”

She fumbled for her words. Easton reached for the baby, but she held firm. “Penelope,” he commanded, “Give me the child.”

Shaking her head relentlessly, she finally surrendered. How could this village boy be responsible for this? How had it come to be? Did the King know? What of the duel?

“It is time, Easton,” Marick boomed from behind them, “Isabella is at peace in the Loughten Sea. But you – you must go. There is no other time.”

“What do you mean, my Lord?” Penelope asked.

“Penelope, it was by King Frances’ order that this child be destroyed. Princess Isabella was to return home on the Juniper with you at sunrise. I will see to your safe arrival in the Kingdom, but I will not allow this child to perish. I will not extinguish her light,” Marick stated.

“Where will you go?” Penelope asked Easton, “Where can you be that the King will not find you? He has slaughtered a thousand men who have crossed his path. He will find you.”

“No,” Marick replied gently. “He is going elsewhere to raise this child far from the walls of Oledanick.”

“Penelope,” Easton pleaded, “You must not speak a word of this to King, or to our village.”

“Then I’m going with you.”

“No!” Easton shouted, causing the baby to fuss, “It’s far too dangerous.”

“You cannot care, feed or raise this child on your own!” Penelope cried. “Isabella was like a sister to me.”

“There is no time left,” Marick said. “We must go. Now.”

Having no other choice, Easton resigned. Marick, he, Penelope and the baby descended through the back chambers of the temple to Mount Tempest’s most southern valley.

There, at the ravine of the bank, was their crude, makeshift raft, ready to sail.

“You remember where I showed you?” Marick asked Easton.

“I do, my Lord.”

“Then, you must go.”

Easton placed the baby in Penelope’s arms, as he loaded up the baskets set out for him by Marick and the Elders.

“Do not get lost,” Marick said firmly, “The channel only opens when the Northern Moon is at its highest rise. When you arrive at the beach, you will know when you can pass through.” He kissed Penelope’s cheek and shook Easton’s hand. “Our ancient Elders will keep you safe.”

Marick used the brunt of his heavy foot to push the raft into the sea. As they floated out of sight, it was time to return to the temple. The war was nearly here.

Chapter 1: Easton Meets Emileigh

“Would you please stand for the singing of O Canada,” cackled Vice Principal Jenkins’ voice.

Easton Jacobs lamented. Pushing back from his chair, he and the thirty-some students in his class sighed nearly in unison, falling into formation. “Daily routines are not my thing,” Easton muttered silently. Mrs. Ocre snapped him a glance from the perch of her bifocals. Behind him, Emileigh Nuart – the new girl – chuckled audibly enough for him to hear it.

The anthem played on; each boy and girl murmuring the tune, some humming, some mouthing the words. Save for Charles, of course. Good ol’ Charles, thought Easton. Singing like no one is listening. Easton smiled inwardly.

O Canada’s climax drew closer. Mr. Jenkins, with a penchant for the theatrics, and precisely on cue, increased the volume until “O Canada! We stand on guard for thee!” practically shouted through the loudspeaker. Slowly, it drew to a dramatic close, barely a whisper as it faded away.

“Let’s make Trudeau Junior High even greater today!” the Vice Principal concluded.

Class was about to start.

Desks and chairs shuffled and squeaked as they took their seats. Easton flumped down, and reached for his computer. Mrs. Ocre waited patiently as each student switched on their tablets. “We’ll resume Chapter 14 this morning,” she smiled.

Behind him, Easton could hear Emileigh struggling with her tablet. She is so, so weird, he thought, looking back at her. Here’s my chance. Then heaving a deep sigh, he rose to help her.

“You okay?” Easton asked quietly.

“I’ve never used one of these before,” Emileigh returned.

Mrs. Ocre pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and gave them a knowing look. Easton returned her gaze with a wave, and she returned to her lecture.

Emileigh pushed the on button again. Easton stared at her. “It’s a tablet, not a rocket,” he remarked. “Just turn it on and wait for the password screen.”

He jotted down a combination of letters and numbers for her, instructing her to use them when the screen prompted her. “Thank you,” Emileigh whispered. “We don’t even have a television at home.”

Startled, Easton nodded and retreated to his desk. Mrs. Ocre was challenging them on the next phase of algebra equations. No time to think about how strange the new girl was, despite how fascinating he found it.

At the end of the day, Easton found her waiting outside at his bus stop. Emileigh was looking particularly cute, he decided, with her very short brunette cut and long swooping bangs. She could even make the Trudeau uniform look good; a task undeniably difficult, he mused. “Emileigh!” he called out.

She smiled, “I think we take the same route home.”

He pretended he didn’t already know. “Down Sixth to Main?” She nodded. “Great – the next bus should be here soon.”

Easton stared at his shoes. A few of his pals in class had already bragged about kissing girls. A few had even gotten closer than that. And while he found himself not a bad-looking guy, Easton hadn’t much “luck with the ladies” as his Dad referred to it. He kicked a pebble and looked over at her. “What are you doing after school?”

She looked the other way. “Oh, nothing, I don’t think,” she said, adding, “I’m sure our landlady will have something for us to do …”

“You have a landlady?”

“Yeah, me and the other girls. She’s like an aunt to us,” Emileigh explained. “There’s a bunch of us, so we pitch in to help after school.”

“Do you have to?” Easton asked. “My Mom only makes me really help out on weekends.”

“I guess so,” Emileigh returned. “What were you thinking?”

The bus sputtered to a stop in front of them. Easton grabbed her hand. “Why don’t you come back to my place after school? I can show you some cool stuff on our tablets so you’ll know how to use it. Maybe watch some TV? I’m sure my Mom won’t care. Where’s your cell? You can call your aunt.”

After the driver scanned their shuttle passes, they found seats together near the back of the bus. “That could be fun,” Emileigh said thoughtfully. “But I don’t have a phone.”

Easton fished around in his pack and pulled out his own. “Use mine,” he said, unlocking the home screen.

Emileigh dialed, pushing the index finger of her other hand to her ear so she could hear over the noise. Easton reached for a half-eaten granola bar from his bag while he waited. She’s coming to my house, he thought excitedly.

She handed him the phone and smiled. “Is staying for dinner okay?”

Easton squeezed her hand, his heart pounding. She’s coming to my house.

The bus sped along Sixth, passing businesses and shoppers in downtown Findley. At just after three on a Friday afternoon, the core was unsurprisingly busy. Spring had arrived weeks earlier, and a fresh sense of wonder had accompanied it after an uncomfortable, cold and gloomy winter. Now it seemed like every person who travelled up and down Findley’s historical cobblestone roads and side streets had an extra lightness in their step; their grins and happy eyes greeting one another as if for the first time. Easton gazed happily out the bus window, his fingers now interlocked with Emileigh’s.

As they rode up to Main Street, Easton depressed the stop signal to the driver. They were less than thirty paces from his door, and Emileigh couldn’t help but gasp at the row of neat little homes that lined his road.

“What is it?” Easton asked her.

“Oh, I live in apartment, is all,” she laughed. “I’ve never been into a real home before.”

They walked together up the pathway to his house. His father’s spring tulips greeted them from the tidy gardens; the interlocking stones strewn in strategy towards the front door. A glazed knocker with the word “welcome” caught the afternoon sun. Emileigh breathed, “Your home is beautiful.”

Easton smiled broadly, and opened the door.

If the front of his home could cause a reaction, Easton was confident that his mother’s smart design of its interior was sure to impress Emileigh. As they stepped inside, she was immediately taken aback by the overwhelming sense of family the house provided. Along the muted green walls hung photos of Easton as a child, framed memories of their holidays, and rows of pictures showcasing Jacobs ancestors with their kind eyes and warm expressions.

But more to that, Emileigh could smell the aroma of a home that was cloaked in love and inclusiveness. Here was a family who took pride in long impressive line of lineage. She was struck by the antiques displayed in the front room; the carefully emblazoned “Jacobs” carved into the gold of a grandfather clock standing handsomely in the foyer. “My Grandpa says that thing has been in our family for centuries,” Easton said to her, noticing her stare. “One day, I hope it’s mine.”

“Easton? Is that you?”

Easton and Emileigh left their shoes and coats in the closet by the door and headed the direction of his mother’s voice. Lillian Patterson-Jacobs was in her study, finalizing the details for a new building ready for construction downtown. The room was less a study and more an elaborate library. Hundreds of books were stacked neatly upon dozens of shelves adorning each wall. In the centre was a rich mahogany desk, crafted with fine designs and imprints. A bronze lamp shone over endless paperwork, exposing detailed plans and blueprints. Lillian was sitting comfortably in her auburn leather chair, eyes trained on the specifics of her latest design.

“Mom? This Emileigh Nuart.”

Lillian sat back in her chair to see a short, skinny, little thing with mousey brown hair and long bangs. Her plaid kilt needed to be hemmed, and her socks were not pulled up to the same height. Someone should iron her shirt, too, she thought, studying the girl’s face. Easton would be fourteen in a month, and it was no surprise that he’d finally brought home the person who’d infiltrated his concentration the last few weeks. She knew he’d been distracted. And that distraction is standing in my study, she bemused.

Regaining her composure, Lillian greeted Emileigh with a firm handshake. “It’s nice to meet you. Easton’s father should be home in an hour or so. Should the three of us figure out dinner plans for the night?”

Easton didn’t flinch. He knew that his mother was taken aback by him bringing home a girl unannounced. “Should we barbeque?”

Lillian pulled her eyes away from Emileigh. There was something about this child she had seen before. Something that reminded her of a memory, she decided. A memory that was filed away, long ago. “Why don’t we go out to eat?” she surprised Easton. “Somewhere fancy.”

Emileigh had felt the tension in the room. “Oh, Mrs. Jacobs, that sounds really great. But I told my, my Aunt that I wouldn’t be long.”

“Ah, please come,” Easton returned. “Here, I’ll go get my phone and you can tell your aunt you’re staying longer.”

Emileigh nodded, and Easton left to get his pack.

“Emileigh,” Lillian began.

“Mrs. Jacobs,” Emileigh stopped her. “I know. We both know. And when it’s right, Easton will know, too.”

“Then you’ve been sent here,” Lillian put her hands to her face. “I knew it would be Easton. I just knew it.” Lillian turned. “Let me see your elbow.”

“It’s not necess-“ Emileigh began, as Lillian grabbed her left arm and pulled back her sleeve.

There, beneath the cotton cloth of Emileigh’s uniform, was a distinct ‘O’. Made to look like a birth mark and written in cursive, the tattoo was discreetly placed in the location Lillian had only ever read in her Mother’s journals. It was the mark of Oledanick.

“We’ve waited a long time for him,” Emileigh said, pushing down her sleeve. “Too long.”

“I know!” Exasperated, Lillian sat in her chair. “I know. When will you tell him?”

“Tell me what?” Easton asked returning to the study.

Emileigh and Lillian exchanged a glance.

“That we’d both like Italian for dinner tonight,” Lillian replied. “I’ll just have your Father meet us at the restaurant.”