“I’m FINE Atani!” I groaned for the hundredth time as she continued to lecture me about my weight and health.
“You’re a healer, what would you say to someone if they had your kind of weight loss?” She snapped unimpressed.
She laughed warmly as I stuck my tongue out at her and nodded my head, sighing softly.
“Then it’s agreed. You’ll at least have dinner with us” She stated proudly.
“What day?” I sighed softly, knowing better than to try and argue with her.
“Everyday” She stated smugly, grinning as I groaned frustrated.
I was busy setting the table when Axel and Darrow came walking in, talking animatedly about the day’s work. Axel raced over and hugged me tightly, pouting as his mother ushered him off to wash his hands. Darrow laughed warmly as he encouraged him to follow as he wandered towards the bathroom.
“It is so good to see you Pru” Atani murmured softly, clasping my hand tightly.
“Sorry I haven’t been around patrino” I smiled sadly.
“You know you will always have a home with us child” She sighed pained, pulling me into a gentle hug.
Despite myself, I found myself wrapping my arms around her as the tears flooded down my cheeks. It was as if someone had just opened the flood gates as I sobbed and sobbed into her shoulder, clinging to her like a life line.
“Sorry, I’m sorry” I sniffed embarrassed as I finally regained my composure.
“Don’t be child. It’s not good to bottle it all up. You can trust us” She smiled warmly, relief sparkling in her eyes as she wiped at my eyes tenderly.
I smiled falteringly before hurrying to help her in the kitchen as Darrow and Axel finally returned. I blushed embarrassed as I realized they had witnessed my breakdown. To my relief, it wasn’t mentioned again. The talk turning to the day’s trade and Axel’s remarkable improvement in the shop. I was surprised to find myself saddened at the prospect of returning back to the shop as time flew by. Sighing softly I hugged Axel goodbye and followed Darrow down the stairs, Atani following close behind as Axel set about washing the dishes.
“Now if there’s anything you need” Atani began.
“I’ll let you know” I smiled falteringly.
“I’ll walk ya home.” Darrow smiled warmly, nodding to his wife as she shot him a look as if to remind him of something.
“I’m a big girl patro” I laughed warmly as the shadows danced around the few torches that lit the street.
We walked in amicable silence all the way to the bookstore door. Traders had set up camp, scattered all around the square with their tables up ready for the festival.
“There’s something I need to tell you” He began shuffling nervously.
“Would you like to come in?” I offered as he trailed off, glancing around warily.
He nodded, blushing shyly. I smiled wanly, quickly opening the door and ushered him inside. A ghostly figure shimmered against the shop opposite the bookstore. Watching us intently as we stepped inside. It quickly vanished as I stared at it surprised. What was it? Had it been human or something worse? My stomach did a flip as I realized Darrow hadn’t noticed it at all. I closed the door and locked it blushing embarrassed as he stared at me concerned. He followed me up to the flat, staring at the various piles of books stacked high all around the room as I quickly made us both a hot cocoa.
“Atani’s pregnant” He blurted out suddenly after several moments of silence as he played with the mug in his hand.
“That’s fantastic!” I grinned broadly.
“Means we’ll be going back to the mountains” He sighed sadly, wincing as my smile slowly faded.
They were leaving. I was going to be alone again.
“It’s what’s best for Atani and the baby. What’s going to happen to the shop?” I asked concerned.
They were the best butchers shop in the entire town. Despite the seemingly high prices it was the best quality and you did get meat for your money. And he so loved the shop.
“My brother Otho will take it over while we’re away don’t worry” He laughed warmly
“Will you return?” I asked softly as the silence hung heavy in the air.
“We don’t know.” He admitted sadly
“I’ll miss you” I murmured sadly as I laid the mug down on the table.
“We were hoping you’d consider coming with us” He stated, his voice begging.
I stared at him shocked. Me? In the legendary mountains of Taro Orthain? Would I even be welcome?
“Is that even a good idea? And the shop” I babbled frightened as he placed his cup next to mine and grasped my hands tightly.
“Ya a part of our family. Axel won’t leave without ya and in truth me and Atani don’t want to leave without you. We need you” He begged softly
“Why?” I murmured confused.
No one needed me. I was nothing. Just a background decoration.
“You are an integral part of our family Pru. Godmother to my son, every part a daughter to me and Atani.” He smiled tenderly, brushing the tear that slowly rolled down my cheek.
What would father do? Would Kiimi be ok? I never saw her but it always helped being in the same town as her.
“I don’t want Kiimi thinking I abandoned her” I murmured softly as I thought of the letter that had been bound for our aunts house.
“Didn’t they tell ya?” Darrow frowned confused.
“She’s at our aunt’s house” I smiled wanly.
“She’s at the boarding school for girls lass, saw her crying there a couple weeks ago on my usual delivery” He frowned even more confused.
I froze to the spot horrified. Sure they had spoken about sending her to finishing school when she was older but boarding school? She was such a fragile girl, craving affection and attention from the ones she loved so dearly. To be dealt such a blow.
“She was so excited to go to our aunt’s house” I murmured pained, was this why they were so worried about me writing?
“Two weeks ago?” He asked solemnly.
“How do you know she’s there patro?” I asked softly, wishing he was mistaken.
“My last delivery, she was crying her heart out begging to be allowed home. Recognized her from the photo you showed me” He replied sadly.
I closed my eyes pained, nodding half-heartedly as I imagined the way she must be feeling. Alone and abandoned in such a cold and hostile place.
“Seemed like you weren’t the only one they lied to lass” He sighed softly, hugging me awkwardly.
“How could they do that to her patro? She’s so fragile” I murmured brokenly, wiping absently at the tears.
“Why don’t you come see she’s ok? I have a delivery tomorrow if you want to help?” He hushed softly.
I stared at him surprised for several seconds before flinging my arms around him and hugging him tightly. He sat there stunned for several seconds before hugging me back, chuckling relieved. Once drinks were drunk and a time arranged, it was time for him to leave and I was once more alone. But it didn’t feel the same. For the first time in a very long time, I went to bed with a warm lightness in my chest as I drifted into a light sleep.