“I love you so much my angels. Another birthday, another riddle. I have much to say but I will never speak, I can open wide but you can’t walk through me, I do have a spine but bones are what I lack, what am I?” He grinned mischievously. Watching his twin girls’ excitement as they jumped up and down reminded him of their mother. He saw so much of her in them.
“Papa, Laurie thinks it’s a book,” Sandriel said, breaking him from his thoughts.
Smiling, he turned to Lauriel. “Very good my little genius. That mind of yours is very sharp.” Bending over, he kissed her on the forehead before waving his arms in a sweeping motion around the room saying, “Now find it.”
Lauriel felt a dampness on her face, the tears were sudden but common. She had this dream before. She wiped her face and carefully walked from the rocking chair where she slept over to the bed where her sister lay sleeping. There was no change in Sandriel since yesterday when they had found this empty cottage and her sister had collapsed on the bed. Cristianos had been adamant that they needed to get away. Now, she had lost her father as well as a friend. She walked over to the open hearth, the fire had died and a chill was creeping in. She checked the kindling and with a gesture and a snap of her fingers a spark appeared beneath the tinder, starting a small rolling blaze. She didn’t know how long Sandriel would be asleep, but she knew they would run out of food soon. She looked around the home and found a piece of parchment. She quickly scribbled a note that said, Sandy, everything is ok. Don’t worry. I know you won't be scared because you’re the bravest person I know. I have to get us more food. I’ll be back quick like a rabbit.
Leaving the cottage, Lauriel looked around and saw the sun breaking through the trees. She walked around close to the cottage looking for edible berries and nuts. Lauriel knew to only touch the ones she recognized from the times she had foraged with her father. She never thought she would be doing this alone. She gathered twigs and kindling and carried them back to inside the cottage. Through the surrounding brush, she found a path that led to a cliff. She looked out over the edge and saw a sprawling city below. Staring at the distant city, Lauriel became lost in thought. What could be down there. I wonder if I can find Sandy food. I’ve never been to the city alone. It can’t be safe. What am I thinking? Sandy has protected us this whole time, I have to be brave. It is my turn to watch out for her. I just need to get food for us quickly and get back to Sandy. Tomorrow, if she still isn’t awake, I’ll go then.
She woke once again in the rocking chair, looking over to her sister. There seemed to be no change. She remained still, lying in the bed, breathing but not conscious. She will wake up today, she thought. Walking over to their satchel, Lauriel recovered a worn, brown waterskin. She removed a cloth she had placed on her sister’s forehead and went to dampen it with water, but nothing came out. I need to find fresh water. When Sandy wakes up, she will be thirsty. It was the early morning and quietly she paced the floor, contemplating leaving her sister’s side. I have to go. I have to take charge now. Checking on her sister one last time, she tucked the blankets around her until she was swaddled tightly. Grabbing the satchel, she was almost ready to leave, but looking down at her blood and dirt stained, tattered dress and well worn shoes she thought, No one will help me looking like this. She glanced back at her sister, making sure she was still asleep. As Lauriel’s eyes began to shimmer, she tugged on the ripped hem of her dress. Looking down, she saw her tattered dress being replaced with a simple brown dress and boots. Proud that the illusion was sufficient, she walked out the door. Once outside, Sandriel extended both arms to the door, outlining it in the air and mimicking a locking motion before she heard a small ringing, like a bell, in her ear and headed towards the town.
Soon after leaving the path from the cottage, Lauriel was overwhelmed by the sounds of the busy city morning. The bustle of the day was distracting, it was early but already she saw shop keepers readying their stores for business. She walked hurriedly through the streets, mindful of all the people around her. Timidly, she took in the sights of the blacksmith. She was captivated by the sounds of his hammer as he banged out a sword against an anvil. Walking along, she inhaled deeply. Cinnamon, papa loved cinnamon in his tea, she thought. A tear began to form in the corner of her eye, but she immediately brushed it away. The spice vendor was a young animated woman with vibrant red hair and eager green eyes. She stood in front of an open air tent with barrels of spices and shelves of dried herbs. Lauriel walked by quickly to avoid a conversation. Every so often, she would see children her age running the streets. I wonder what game they are playing, she thought. Distracted by a little girl playing with a doll near a fountain she frowned, upset with herself. What do I need here, she thought. I must get back to Sandy quick. Walking over to the fountain, she placed a hand in to feel the cool water. Quickly, she filled her waterskin. She was drawn from her thoughts by the delicious smell of baking bread. Her stomach grumbled. Following the scent she found a bakery with its door open and a large window that showed a small elderly woman rolling out dough. Tentatively, she walked in and a chime rang that startled her.
“Just a simple enchantment, dear, in case I’m not looking up. Wouldn’t want to miss any patrons, now would I?” said the kindly woman. “What can I do for you?”
Walking to the counter, Lauriel was surprised to see that the woman was shorter than herself with light brown skin and gray hair pulled into a bun. She had a small wide nose and large rounded ears. The woman was hard at work with a large mound of dough and appeared to be standing on a stool. The counter was long, covering the length of the shop and behind her was an open wood oven that currently held three loaves of baking bread. On the left of the woman was a decent sized display case that held all types of baked goods. Lauriel inhaled the delectable scents and smiled. A sticky bun caught her attention, they were Sandriel’s favorite and it would be a great treat for her when she woke up. Pointing to the bun and holding up two fingers she hoped the woman wouldn’t ask any further questions.
“Ah, sticky buns. Those just came out the oven. Such a good choice, love. Although I can’t take credit for the recipe. Nana Addison would be so happy such an adorable little girl was buying her treats. That’ll be one copper for the both of them. How about a cup of milk to wash them down?”
Lauriel shook her head no, but gave the woman a smile and handed her the coin.
The old woman wrapped the sticky buns and handed them over saying, “Not much for conversation, hmm? I don’t believe I’ve seen you around here. I know most of the children here in Norris-Hill. Who’s you mum?”
Nervous, Lauriel quickly took the treats and bowed her head, thanking the woman before hurrying out of the bakery. Over her shoulder, she heard the woman say, “No need to rush, love. It’s nice to meet a new face. Come back soon, won’t you.”
I shouldn’t have come here. We still have rations to eat, she thought. Distracted, she walked with a hurry before bumping into someone.
“Watch where you are going!” huffed a woman in a black cloak.
Lauriel looked up, alarmed that she had drawn attention to herself. She saw a tall woman with jet black hair that was pulled tightly away from her face. The woman had hazel eyes and a scar just below her lip on the left side of her face. Even with the scar, she would have been stunning except for the intense look of disdain on her face. Lauriel looked down in embarrassment and began to notice more that told her she should get away from this woman quickly. She had a keen eye from always being quiet in the background. Lauriel noticed everything. She was usually standing behind her papa or her sister while they had conversations. No one ever paid attention to the silent girl. This woman had much to hide. Lauriel glanced at her waist and noticed an ornate belt, but there was an unnatural bulge and she could just make out the hilt of two daggers. Mindful not to stare, she looked to her feet and saw a holster with another dagger at the woman’s boot.
“Move child!” she said raising her hand to push Lauriel out of the way, not even bothering to look at her.
Lauriel looked up briefly, avoiding the shove she was about to receive. A brown ring on the woman’s left hand caught her attention as she was backing away out of the woman’s reach. It looked to be made from some sort of reed or twin wood and entwined together. Catching a look of venom and feeling the danger radiating from the woman, Lauriel instinctively flinched, her eyes shimmering briefly before she ran past the woman, hurrying off.
The change was quick, but the woman noticed and gasped. Out of curiosity, she turned towards the girl saying, “Wait, what was that with your eyes?” She looked around, frantically scanning the area, but Lauriel was already gone.
She rushed out of the town as quickly as possible and back to the cottage. Stupid, stupid girl. Why did you do that Lauriel? What if someone else saw!
Back at the cottage, she stowed her treats and checked on her sister before taking out the spell book that had belonged to their mother and began reading through it again. She had long ago committed it to memory, but reading through her mother’s handwriting calmed her. Sandriel had saved them multiple times, but her sister was unconscious now and it was her turn to protect them. Fitfully, she slept through the night, waking at every sound.
Waking the next day, she checked on Sandriel. What am I going to do? You’ve been asleep for days Sandy. Papa would know what to do, she thought as she began to cry. As Lauriel was beginning to lose hope, her sister woke with a start. She placed a hand on Sandriel’s shoulder, glad to have her back and brought her into a warm embrace. As Lauriel started to explain the last days events, the door to the cottage slammed open.