1613: Varanis and Mellia are approximately 9 years old. Varanis has only recently moved to Nochet.
Varanis has managed to escape her grandmother for a while and is hanging about the courtyard. She’s a gangly child with long red hair worn in two braids hanging down her back. Her light eyes are red-rimmed and puffy. She’s sitting near to a small garden, stacking stones and talking to herself.
A girl about the same age emerges from the garden. She’s of average size, with typical Esrolian features. Her rich brown hair is worn in fairly elaborate braids for a child so young. The girl’s white dress is tidy, but her fingers have green stains on them.
The red-head looks up quickly at the sound of footsteps. She looks warily at the other child and doesn’t say anything.
The brunette doesn’t seem to have a wary bone in her body. “Hello, I’m Mellia. Are you one of my cousins?”
“Hello,” comes the reply. “I don’t know. Are you one of mine? I’m Varanis. My mother is Serzeen.” The wariness carries through into her words.
Mellia looks confused. “I’m sorry, I have a lot of aunts. I don’t remember an Aunt Serzeen.” She thinks a moment, then says, “You’re probably my cousin. Is your hair really red?”
Varanis blinks at her. “Yes, is yours really brown?” There’s a hint of challenge now.
“Yes,” Mellia replies. “I just asked because everyone else here with red hair has to dye it.
Varanis shrugs, “I don’t. Mine has always been this way. Do you in this big house too? Have you always lived here? I just got here. Grandmother Mirava made us move here. We used to live by a river, and there were lots of trees and stuff.” The shift in mood is rapid.
“I’ve always lived here,” Mellia replies. “Your old home sounds really nice. Were there lots of plants?”
“Everywhere. We had gardens and grew crops and there were always flowers too. It was pretty. And it was the best place to play, because there were monsters everywhere.” She is smiling now.
“Eww, monsters. I wish I could have seen the flowers and gardens. I want to be a White Lady when I grow up, although Mother says I might not like it.” Mellia looks around nervously, as if her mother might materialize.
“They were imaginary monsters, silly,” Varanis says. “You want to be a White Lady? Like Chalama… Cahlana… “ She bites her lip, takes a deep breath. “Chalana Arroy,” comes out at last in a little rush.
Mellia nods rapidly, beaming. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I’m going to be a Daughter of Vinga when I’m bigger. I’m almost big enough already, see?” She leaps to her feet and indeed, she does seem to have a few inches in height on her cousin. She’s dressed simply, in a linen skirt and blouse, in shades of light blue.
Mellia smiles. “You are big,” she agrees. “We’re working on the Lay of the Lightbringers right now. We’re a ways from my favorite part.”
“Which part is your favourite? And who is we? How are you working on it? Why are you working on it?” The questions come rapid fire with little pause of breath.
“It’s part of my lessons. My favorite part is when Orlanth says he’s sorry, Yelm forgives him and Chalana Arroy heals the whole world. Don’t you have lessons?”
“Grandmother Mirava says I will have more lessons soon. I used to have lessons, back home. And she says The Grandmother wants me to do more lessons, but we haven’t started yet.” As she mentions the matriarch, her voice is a little hushed. “Do you know any stories about Vinga? Have you heard about her fight with the troll? She beat him because she was fast and clever. I’m fast. And Grandpa Kesten says I’m clever too.”
Mellia has to think. “I think I remember the one about Vinga and the cloak of snakes. My tutors usually don’t mention Vinga. Mother may have something to do with that. I feel sort of sorry for my big sisters.”
“I know lots of stories about Vinga. My grandfather tells them to me. The troll one is my favourite though. Did you say you have sisters? I have a sister. And some brothers too. But they are all grown-ups and they’re boring. Except Desdel, he’s a grown-up and sometimes he’s fun, but other times he plays tricks on me or is mean to me.” Varanis jumps about from topic to topic at a startling rate.
“I have two sisters and a brother. They aren’t much bigger than I am. I feel sorry for my sisters because I think they have no choice in their lives. They’re the Heir and the Spare.”
“What does that mean?” Varanis asks curiously.
“Mother says that it’s never too soon to take care of the succession. Aveuth, my biggest sister, is Mother’s heir. Breda, just a little younger, is getting the same training as Aveuth, just in case.”
“I don’t know what a succession is, but the way you say it makes it sound like it might be boring. Is that why you don’t havta to do it? Because it’s boring?”
Mellia looks guilty. “Mother wishes I would study more, but with Aveuth and Breda to take over if Mother dies, there doesn’t seem to be any need for me to learn how to rule.”
“I don’t have a mother. Well, I do, but she left when my papa was killed and I haven’t seen her since.” The blue-green eyes look sad suddenly. “She is a brave warrior, like my papa, and my other grandparents were.”
“I’m so sorry,” Mellia says. She fishes out a handkerchief.
Varanis sniffs and then shrugs. “She left me with Grandmother Mirava and hasn’t come home again. And I don’t think she will.” There’s a kind of fatalism in the child’s voice. The sort that appears when people are a little too used to death.
“That’s sad.” Mellia keeps the handkerchief handy.
“People die,” Varanis says solemnly. “But, I’m going to save people when I’m a Vingan. I’m going to fight the Tusk Riders, and the Lunars, and trolls, and all the baddies.” Her eyes shine with sincerity and enthusiasm.
Mellia says, “I wish you luck, Varanis.”
“If you live here, maybe that means we can play together sometimes,” Varanis suggests.
Mellia nods. “I’d like that. I can show you the gardens. There are a couple of good hiding places out there. Maybe we can watch my brother Dangai learn how to fight.”
“Is he big? Maybe he can teach me. I want to learn, but Grandmother Mirava says no. Grandfather says maybe.”
Just then a female voice half-calls, half states, “Mellia.” Its owner rounds a corner on the path and comes into view, the very model of a modern Esrolian noble. Her black hair is worn in elaborate braids. Her fine garments are in shades of green. Mellia whispers, “I’m in trouble,” then says, “Yes, Mother?”
Varanis stares open-mouthed at the woman who approaches them. “She’s beautiful!” she whispers loudly to Mellia.
Mellia nods. She doesn’t seem reassured.
The vision in green, meanwhile, comes within grasping distance. “Ah, you must be Varanis. Welcome home. In courtesy I am your Aunt Kirse. Please excuse me and my daughter; we have things to discuss.”
“Yes, Aunt… Krise. Nice to meet you, cousin Mellia. Um… Thank you for being nice. I look forward to seeing you soon.” Varanis’ words are a bit stilted, like she is trying very hard to apply lessons learned but not practiced often. She smiles hopefully.
“Kirse,” the vision corrects softly. “Come, Mellia.”
Mellia takes her mother’s hand with a sigh and waves in farewell. Varanis waves in reply.