Part 1: Evette
A wisp of a girl stood by the window, looking out into the storm. Night had yet to come, but the weather had aged the sky prematurely, turning the world an ominous grey.
Wind ripped at the trees, sending whorls of leaves over the garden. Lightning tore the sky. Thunder rumbled and cracked. Outside looked like an awful place to be.
Inside, firelight filled the room with a cozy glow. The girl, barely in her teens, was known to the world as Evette, Maiden of Oak Glen. She was hiding from her brothers—they were always teasing her. They never stepped foot in the book room though. It was the only part of the house considered safe territory.
It was where Evette had taken cover, only to be distracted by the storm outside.
Father should be breaking through the forest anytime now. He couldn’t possibly be working out in this. The girl kept her eyes glued on the space of forest the room overlooked, convinced the familiar swagger of her father would appear in a moment.
It never did.
“Evey?” The lilt was that of her eldest brother, Crispin. A dark mop of hair popped into the doorway and shining blue eyes peered in, “It’s dinnertime.”
“Is Father back yet?” Evette replied, not tearing her eyes from the window in case she missed his arrival.
“No,” Crispin responded. “He’s not foolish enough to be out in this. He’s probably taking cover in some hovel for the night.”
Father did not return come morning.
Evette watched as her mother, Lady Aletha called Father’s friend into the study. He was a giant of a man whose name was Akar Farago. He had a shock of red hair and the bushiest of beards. Evette had been convinced in her younger years that he wore a foxtail from his chin. No man could have such a richly colored and thick set of whiskers.
Akar nodded many times, his face solemn. So was Mother’s. Evette could not hear the words they exchanged, but she knew it had to do with Father.
A feeling of dread settled in the pit of her stomach.
Evette resolved to sit by the big window until her father came home.
No one bothered her.
She expected one of her brothers to pull a prank or her mother to inform her rather primly that she was shirking some womanly duty. Evette watched as, some hours later, Akar Farago returned leading Father’s horse. Attached to the animal was a cart.
Why had Akar returned without her father?
Evette rushed out to give Akar a piece of her mind in that entitled way only young children can.
That was when she realized Akar had returned with Father. He was laying prone in the wagon. Before the girl had time to process what she was seeing, Mother let out a long keening wail. Evette hadn’t even noticed her mother enter the courtyard, and the more disturbing part, for the girl who was touted for noticing everything, she had never seen her mother cry before.
Mother was loud. She was sobbing, letting tears fall unabashedly, things nobility should never do in front of commonfolk. Evette was never any good at remembering the etiquette lessons her mother tried to give her. Maybe she had simply remembered wrong…
No, Evette distinctly remembered the day her mother told her that true nobility don’t show their emotions:
“Many women of high social standing,” Mother said, “make games of trying to crack the cool exteriors other women present. It is crucial to remain composed. That is how the game is won.”
“That doesn’t sound very fun,” Evette remarked, reflecting on her own affinity for playing games and how this one sounded much like playing with her brothers: she would not like losing.
Mother shook her head, indicating that it was no fun at all, “I’m sorry to say that you’ll have it rougher than most. Folk will think they’re better than you because of your father.”
“What’s he done wrong?” Evette was ready in an instant to defend her father’s good name.
Lady Aletha smiled, “Absolutely nothing. Some people view him with—disdain. He was not born a noble. My own father knighted him and gave him this house to live in, and he only did that because I love your father very much.
“In society you will have to learn to control your temper, and to hold your tongue. The remarks you make must be smart and witty.” She noticed her daughter making a face, “It takes time and practice. And it won’t be easy. If it was, everyone would do it.”
Evette was determined to do better than her mother. She did not cry as the servants removed her father’s body from the cart. She watched, paralyzed.
The servants shed many a tear for Father. “There has never been a better master,” one whispered to another as they filed out to watch the procession.
The bad news spread like wildfire and soon, the whole household spilled onto the courtyard. Servants followed the body through the house to prepare it for burial.
That was what happened to dead folk, the thought creeped into Evette’s numbed consciousness.
Father was dead.
She’d known this whole time. The thought failed to be processed until now.
The girl waited until the people had gone inside before sprinting out to the forest. The forest had been a place of refuge for her father...until it killed him.
She went, unknowingly, to find some trace of him in those woods. The place where he spent so much of his time.
Her feet carried her to a place she knew well. The ground was carpeted by the greenest moss. The trees bore the puzzle bark of the red pine. Evette was always keen to discern the vividness of colors brought by the time after the rain. Today, her heart distracted her from the beauty. The girl slowed to an amble as she caught her breath, her hands ghosting over the familiar things. The axe her father had given her for her birthday last year when he taught her how to chop wood. This year he’d taken her out to show her how to fell her first tree.
Afterward he’d proclaimed it a first in Arkendrian history: a noblegirl chopping down a tree. She figured it had just been the proud boast of a father, but Mother assured her that no woman of nobility had ever accomplished such a feat.
The girl pushed into the little building where Father kept his tools and sat on the floor. The tears that she’d managed to keep at bay until the run forced them from her flowed silently from her cheeks. Evette gave up the battle of trying to stop them and rocked quietly until she had no more tears left to give.
Evette didn’t know how much time had passed. She did know that she didn’t want to go back to the house.
She heard the sound of pine needles crunching underfoot and wiped her nose in the most un-ladylike fashion.
Ainsley Farago stood in the doorway, as tall as a weed, his russet-colored hair mussed and his face solemn as he announced, “Da sent me to fetch you.”
Evette nodded. While she wasn’t crucial to the affairs of laying a person to rest, she was kin and she ought to be there, even if she didn’t want to be.
She didn’t want to see her father, his face normally alight with a smile and mischievous eyes, so pale and lifeless. She wanted to remember him as she knew him, not her last vision of him.
Evette followed Ainsley at a distance. He kept looking back to make sure she was there, as if he expected her to run off. Evette knew her duty and she would do it, even if she didn’t want to. It was what was right. Father had taught her that much.
Ainsley Farago was a few years older than her and lanky as a beanpole. Father and Akar worked the forests together since they were young. Ainsley and his brothers and Evette’s own brothers went out to work the woods under the watchful eyes of their fathers.
Evette’s brothers didn’t much approve of Father teaching Evette how to use an axe. Their reactions ranged from “it’s not lady-like” to “she’ll hurt herself.”
“Girls, I’ve noticed,” Akar remarked once, overhearing this discussion, “exhibit more caution than boys.”
Evette’s brothers had argued the point, as they often did.
“How many of you boys wounded yourself in your first year? Doing something you weren’t supposed to, or showing off, or trying to one-up your brothers?”
None of the boys responded because they all sported a variety of scars that validated the point Akar was trying to make.
“That girl hasn’t once drawn blood except for blisters and the occasional splinter.”
The boys grumbled and dispersed.
Evette continued to chop wood, and her brothers ignored her for the most part. The Farago boys did too. She didn’t mind. For her, chopping wood wasn’t a social activity, or a race, like they seemed to think it was. It was allowance into an elite club that her father and brothers were part of. That was enough for her. As a result, the Faragos grudgingly accepted her as the little sister they never had, which meant that they put up with her when they had to and didn’t approve of her being around, much like her own brothers.