93 – Bark

“Feeble?!”  You say indignantly.  “Is it so hard to believe that an orphan would want to know where they came from?  All my life I have always wondered, but no one told me anything.”   Your fist clenches as you remember the thousands of unanswered questions you have asked Nanny and Akachi.   “I had to find out for myself.  Yu Shan keeps records of everything.”

“You don’t need to take me away.  Someone is going to be coming for me sooner or later and take me back to Yu-Shan.”   Mei Mei licks the tears you hadn’t noticed off of your face.  “This is my only chance to get to know my family.   Please.   I don’t mean them any harm.   Your charms tell you that I’m not lying.  “

Gudleifr looks away and says “I have to bring you back to the Garrison.  I’m just following orders.”

“Gudleifr,” you hear your mother’s footsteps behind you.  “I know you mean well, but why the boy can’t at least stay the night.”   You feel your mother’s warm hand on your shoulder.  “We got the room for him and it wouldn’t be any trouble at all.”  Mei Mei barks and wags her tail.

Gudleifr shakes her head.  “You don’t understand what you are offering.  I can’t let you do this.   It’s not safe.   Kaja, you don’t even know who the boy is!”

“He’s a lost child, Gudleifr.”  Your mother says as if it explains everything.  “You checked the boy out and he isn’t lying.”

“Fine.”  Gudleifr rubs the bridge of her nose.  “I’ll be back for the boy in the morning.”   Thanking your mother for the tea, the Dragonblooded Medic leaves the cabin.

“Mother,”  Linnea approaches.  “Are you sure you should be ignoring Gudleifr?”

“Gudleifr can be overprotective at times.”   Your mother seasons her stewpot and smiles.  “A city of Gods.  I never really thought about gods needing a city, but I guess they need a place to live just like us little folk.”

Linnea glares at her mother.  “Why aren’t you taking this seriously?!”

Kaja slams her spice jar down on the counter and faces her daughter.  “I am taking this seriously.  Svante says he was kidnapped and we may be the only relatives he has.   Have you ever known me to turn away a child?”

“This kid isn’t like the other kids.   We don’t know who is coming to get him!”

“Gudleifr says he means us no harm and I trust her judgement.”

Linnea makes a disgusted sound.  “First you ignore Gudleifr’s advice and now you trust her judgement?  Do you know how stupid that sounds?”

“Linnea,  don’t sass…”  Your mother begins.

“Whatever.”   Your sister grabs her coat and leaves the cabin, slamming the door.

You sit there awkwardly at the kitchen table.  You didn’t mean to cause your family problems.  “Should I leave?”

“No,”  Your mother begins to strip the bed that the man with the broken leg was lying on.   He must have gone home.    “Linnea doesn’t like strangers.   She hasn’t since she was about Elise’s age.”

Which was the age she would have been when you were taken away.   Sudden hope blossoms inside you.  “Did anything happen?”  Perhaps your sister remembered something about you!

“What do you mean did anything happen?”  Your mother pauses in her work, forehead creased in concentration.  “I don’t think so.  If anything happened, Linnea hasn’t told me.”

You’ll have to ask your sister later, if she would talk to you.  “The medic left when you said that I was a lost child.  Why do you help lost children?”

“I’m a healer.  I help everyone.”   There is a knock on the door.  Mei Mei wiggles out of your arms and races your mother to meet whoever it is at the door.   You hold your breath and grab the edge of your chair.   Has Akachi finally come to take you away?

Your mother answers it and one of the other villagers says her grandmother is sick.

“Let me go wake up Elise and we’ll head over.   She’s going to be so grouchy not having a full nap.  Unless….Would you watch her, Svante?”

“Mei Mei and I can watch her,”  You didn’t really want to visit a sick old woman.

“That would be wonderful.”  Your mother pauses in collecting her supplies, looking confused.

“What is it?”  you ask.

“I shouldn’t be ordering you around like one of my children.”

You shrug.  “I don’t mind.” Secretly, you are pleased by this.  Perhaps your mother unconsciously realizes who you are.

Your mother closes the flap of her bag.  “Linnea should be back soon.  She shouldn’t give you any trouble.  Her bark is worse than her bite.”

After your mother leaves, you don’t really know what to do with yourself.   You stir the stew, revealing browned chucks of venison, bright orange carrots, and red potatoes.   You recover the pot and realize that maybe you should check on your little sister.  You head upstairs and look around the attic.  The room was divided into three sections.   One area has a spinning wheel and loom.  Clothes are scattered around Bendt’s section.   The walls of Elise’s section are covered in shelves of dolls.   Elise herself is nested in a bed of rag dolls and is deeply asleep.  Mei Mei leaps onto the bed and curls up into a puppy sized hollow near Elise’s head.

You pull over a stool and sit by your sister’s bed.   How long did little sisters sleep?   You rub your face and tap your fingers on your knee.   You look at all the various dolls displayed around the room until two catch your eye.    You get up and pick one up for a closer look.

The porcelain doll wears an embroidered silk komodo and its blonde hair has been elaborated braided around its face.  The dolls share your sister’s coloring – one has grey blue eyes, the other amber.  These dolls were familiar to you. It takes you a moment to remember where you have seen them before.

Yu Shan.  You’ve seen dolls like this in the shops of Yu Shan.

How did your sisters get Yu Shan dolls?   You mother knew nothing about the City of Gods, yet someone from Yu Shan must have given the dolls to them.   Suddenly everything falls into place.   The serene picture perfect village.   The Dragoblooded Medic watching over your family.   Gudleifr said powerful people were protecting your family.

Akachi has been watching over them.

You wipe the tears from your eyes.   Akachi took you from your family and yet he also took care of them for you.   For what?  Out of a misplaced sense of guilt?   To pay them for the child he stole?

The door squeals open downstairs.   “Hello?” you hear your older sister call out tentatively.

Your emotions in a jumble, you put the doll back on itself and head downstairs.  “Someone came by needing a healer.  Elise is…”

Linnea reaches out to grab you.  Years of Martial Arts training kicks in and you take a step back, easily dodging her.  Using her own momentum against her, you push your sister against the wall.

“What the fuck?” you yell.   Why was your sister attacking you?

“What did you do with my brother?”  She struggles under you grip, but you have leverage against her.  “You left with Bendt after breakfast and he didn’t come back with you.  I looked all over town and didn’t find him.”

What do you do?

  • Tell your sister Bendt left with the traders to join his Father’s crew
  • Tell your sister nothing. Find your mother and tell her what happened.
  • Go after your brother yourself.
  • Other

 

((When I was nine, I was considered mature enough to watch my little sister.  When my little sister was nine, she still needed watching.  ))

((So, I confused which coast Wallport was on.   Thankfully, Neighborhood Relocation Scheme exists to fix my continuity error later.   Hey, didn’t Svante favor Dodge?))

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92 – Caretaker

The last thing you wanted was to go anywhere with this Dragonblooded Medic.  “Ma’am, can we stay inside?  It’s wet out there.”  You snuggle closer to Mei Mei.

Gudleifr considers your request.  “Kaja, you don’t mind if I commandeer your kitchen for while?”

Your mother’s eyes bounces between you and the Dragonblooded.  She stands up from the table and smooths her dress with trembling hands.  “I should check on Elise.”

After your mother leaves, you sit in her chair.   Gudleifr calmly picks up her white tea cup and takes a sip.  You study the Dragonblooded, trying to figure out her purpose here.  Did Akachi send her?  You assumed your guardian would come get you himself, not send some unfamiliar Dragonblooded.   You scratch Mei Mei behind her ears and wait for Gudleifr to speak first.

Gudleifr frowns and asks,   “Is your name really Svante?”

“Yes.”

“What Gent are you from?”

“I don’t have a Gent.”  Gudleifr’s pine green eyebrow raises in surprise to your response.  “I’m descended from Gent Cinead.” You add to flesh out your story more.

“Of course you are.”  Gudleifr mutters under her breath.   In a normal tone, she continues, “You aren’t from the North.  Skytongue isn’t your native language.  Your accent is familiar to me, but I can’t place it.”

This Dragonblooded must have had contact with Sidereals, but not enough to break though Arcane Fate.    You decide to test the medic to be sure.  “I’m from Yu-Shan.”

“The City of Gods?”  Gudleifr bursts out laughing.   “Why don’t you start again and this time tell me something I’d actually believe.  Where are you from?”

“I’m from Yu-Shan.”  You repeat.   The Dragonblooded medic’s eyes widen in shock.   “You are using truth charms on me!”  Neither Akachi nor the teachers at school ever used charms on you.  Only the most dangerous of problem students get that treatment.

“This mortal family is under my protection.  If you have business with them, you have business with me.”  Gudleifr holds your gaze.   “Why are you here, little boy?”

Undaunted you reply, “You were already told why I am here.  I’m looking for relatives.”  Even if your family was under her protection, why would a Dragonblooded drop everything and check up on a mortal family based on a garbled note?  You need to find out more information about this Dragonblooded’s interest in your family.   “Why is this family under you protection?”

“Kaja’s children carries the blood of the Dragons.  We keep an eye out in case any of them exalt.”  Gudleifr’s answer sounds too rehearsed to be true.

“No,” you press.  “It’s more than that.   What are your orders pertaining this family?” Mei Mei growls at the medic.  Akachi must have prepared for this situation.  Make sure if you did find out about your family, there would be someone waiting here to drag you back to Yu-Shan!

 

Gudleifr sets down her tea cups and folds her hands in lap.  “This family has been placed under my protection by some powerful people.  I’ve been teaching Kaja about healing and Thamaturgy.  I’ve arranged Linnea to apprentice with a weaver.  When Bendt and Elise decide what they want to do with their lives, I’ll make arrangements for them too.  ”

“What?”  These weren’t the orders you were expecting.

“Now,” Gudleifr takes advantage of your confusion.  “Do you mean this family any harm?”

You hear a noise come from upstairs.   Having no idea how much could be heard from upstairs, you wish you had left the cabin with Gudleifr.   “No.”

Gudleifr relaxes.  “Why are you here?”

“I’m looking for relatives.”

“So you’ve said.  But what lead you to this particular family?”

Your mind races for an honest explanation which doesn’t involve the Loom of Fate.   Then you grow suspicious.   People visit healers unannounced all the time.   There has to be more to Gudleifr’s questions.  “You were given more orders.   About me.”

“About you?  My, someone thinks they are important. ”  The Dragonblooded Medic leans forward in her chair and refills her tea cup.  “You show up on Kaja’s doorstep with a feeble story about why you are here.  And you demand I answer your questions.   Svante, the only question you should be asking is what I plan to do with you?”

What do you do?

  • Let Gudleifr decide what to do with you herself
  • Force Gudleifr to leave you alone with Force Decision
  • Talk Gudleifr into leaving you alone without charms
  • Other

 

((Feeling much better.  Thank you for all the well wishes.  Of course, just after I finish writing, the vote turns the other way.    ))

91 – Brothers

You look down, disturbed by your brother’s assertion, and notice your boot is untied.  You bend down to fix it, giving yourself time to think.  Part of you wants to help Bendt, yet you hesitate.   Why?  Brothers help each other, right?  Masaru would complain about his older brothers harassing him, yet you knew that your friend would do anything for them.   And Masaru was certain his brothers would do likewise.   From the Loom of Fate, you know your father’s boat was Wallport dock.  You could tell him that the Fire Dragon was in dock.

Yet your brother didn’t realize what he was giving up if he Exalted.   That there was always a price for power.   He didn’t know about the heavy responsibility laid on every Exalt – to care for Creation and protect it from all of its enemies.

Giving your laces a final tug, you decide what to do.   You need to make Bendt understand what was at stake.  “If you Exalt, you’ll have to leave Ramshorn and go to military school. “

Bendt nonchalantly leans against a pine tree.  “Is that supposed to be a bad thing?”

You rub the back of your neck.  Your brother wasn’t getting it.  “You’d have to leave everything and everyone you know behind. Your village, your friends, your family.“

“And that’s supposed to be a bad thing.”  Bendt repeats, peeling pine bark from the tree.  The paper thin pieces litter the snow by his feet.

Bendt has no clue what how lucky he is to have his family.  What it would mean to lose them.  “Your mother loves you.”   Bendt looks away troubled.  “She’d worry about you.   You might never see her again.”  Your eyes tear up as you remember not the mother you shared with Bendt, but the one who raised you.  Arcane fate erased you from Nanny’s memory, so the goddess was spared the grief that you felt every day.  “You don’t know how much you miss someone until they are gone.”

Bendt stops shredding pine bark and meets your eyes.  “If I have a chance to Exalt, I have to take it.   I’d regret it the rest of my life if I didn’t.”

You grab your brother’s arm.  “Think about what you’d regret if you did Exalt.  What you will lose!  Don’t be in such a rush to give up your childhood, Bendt.”  Your heart skips a beat when you hear Akachi’s words come out of your mouth.  You let Bendt go, as if he burned you.

Bendt looks down on the ground.  “I’ll think about it.”  Your brother puts his hands in his pockets and leaves you by the pine tree.  Watching him leave, you know that he will continue to badger the traders about whether his father’s boat was in dock.   And one day Bendt will leave the village and never return.

After your useless talk with your brother, you wander the village alone.   Ramshorn was a peaceful, prosperous village.  A rarity in the harsh North.   A baker pulls fresh bread out of the oven.   A blacksmith inspects a horse’s foot before nailing a shoe on.  A group of girls around Linnea’s age gossip and giggle in front of the general store.  You were glad your family lives here.  Bendt was an idiot if he didn’t realize how lucky he was.

After a while you head back to your mother’s cabin.  You knock on the door and anxiously wait.  While you weren’t away for that long, you still feared your mother wouldn’t remember your earlier visit.  Mei Mei whines on the other side of the front door and you smile.  Your sister answers and recognizes you.   Mei Mei dances around you, ecstatic you are back.   With a smirk, Linnea motions you into the cabin.  You pick up the puppy and wipe your feet before entering the cabin.

You pause before entering the kitchen.  Your mother is talking with another woman whom you can’t see from the angle of the door.  Suspicious, you listen for a moment.   You are relieved when you don’t recognize the voice.   Akachi hasn’t sent someone to drag you back to Yu-Shan.   You walk to the kitchen and stop short when you see a wood aspect in a Shogunate uniform serenely sitting at the table, drinking tea.   The Dragonblooded pine green hair is braided and longer than the regulations allow.   Her taupe eyes light up when she see you enter the room.   Setting her tea aside, the wood aspect leans forward in her chair.  “Ah, it was you Linnea’s mangled message was about. “

“Oh!”  Your mother says, as if just remember you.  “That’s Svante.   He’s staying with us while he looks for his relatives.  Svante, this is Hayashi Gudleifr.  She is the Shogunate Medic assigned to the Garrison.  She drops by every so often to check up on my patients.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Svante.”  You knit your brows when you hear the medic’s patronizing tone.   You hate it when adults treat you as if you are an idiot.   “Why don’t we go for a walk?   We have a lot to talk about.”

What do you do?

  • Yes, you do have a lot to talk about with Gudleifr.
  • No, you aren’t going for a walk. Whatever this Dragonblooded has to say, she can say it here.
  • No, you aren’t going anywhere with this Dragonblooded. Leave the cabin.
  • No, you aren’t going anywhere with this Dragonblooded. Tell the Dragonblooded to leave.
  • Other