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Loving the Lost: Chapters 1-2
I walked through the door of my small cottage just as the sun went down. A day in the woods is always calming for me, whether it’s illegal, or not. I had many herbs and greens in my burlap sack. Dinner.
“Where have you been, Zahili?” My father asked. His dark, untidy hair stuck up in all directions, his skin just as tan as usual, his muscles bulging from … anger? Everything about him read: forest.
Let me tell you about our kingdom. There is a castle. That castle is on a hill. Surrounding the castle is a small, but very busy village. The people there are very proper, because they think of themselves as the best people out there, after the castle folk, of course. But, anyways, surrounding the village is a big, tall, stone, wall. In the middle of the wall is a drawbridge. On the other side of the wall, was – well, everyone just called it, ‘the town’. It was a small town where people would live if they could not afford to live in the village. And on the other side of the town, is a forest, made up of big, tall evergreens, that grow to be huge! Like, over 100 meters tall. It is against the law for anyone outside of the forest to enter it, unless you have permission from the castle. Or unless you are Forest Folk, coming back from Holliday. The Villagers treat Forest Folk like rats, and it makes me sick - but, yes, so it goes, castle, village, town, forest.
My father came from the forest. He has the usual traits: dark hair, tan skin, blue eyes. My mother was from the village, daughter of the famous physician. She had the usual village looks: blonde hair, green eyes, pale skin, and many freckles. My parents met on Holliday, the only day every year when Forest Folk, Villagers, and Town Folk have off at the same time, the only day when the Forest Folk are allowed inside the village walls. But, three years ago, when I was ten, my mother disappeared. We don’t know if she ran away, was kidnapped, or if she was murdered. But she is gone now, and nothing could make me sadder.
I shook my head, ridding myself of horrible memories and thoughts, and got back to the conversation.
“I – I was …” I paused. I knew the Forest was off-limits, but so did Father. But I was pretty sure he knew I had been there, so why would he be asking where I was –
“I went to get our dinner!” I held up the bag of freshly picked herbs for Father to see. “At the market!”
My father smiled at me. Well, sorry, his eyes did. But his face was still stern and angry, his muscles still flexed. He was acting for someone.
“It’s a long walk to the market, Zahili.” Said a castle attendant who walked out of the door from the back room. She must have been here the whole time, listening in on my conversation. She wore and expensive red dress trimmed with gold lace. The colors of our kingdom, Azubiel. Her hair was put up in a high bun. Her whole out fit was definite castle attire. She was accompanied by a short, fat man, who wore a deep red tunic with gold lace as well.
“You come into my home, you force my father to interrogate me about my whereabouts, and you question my DINNER?!” As I said the words, I got closer still, and at the last word, I poked her, hard, on the breastbone. I was positive she saw the anger on my face, but she did not show it. She looked almost … smug. Which made me angrier.
“I would not come if I had no purpose.” She whispered, her voice cool, and steady. All of a sudden, Nye came in.
He was huge, built just like Father. Actually, he was a mini Father, but his straight hair wasn’t short, like Father’s, but it was long, and hung in his eyes. The only difference in look between Father and Nye was, Nye had Mum’s eyes. Mum’s green eyes.
“Wait – what’s happening – what’s going on –“ His face grew red in anger, his muscles bulged. Nye is a logger, so he works in the woods, until nightfall. Of course, he had permission from the castle, so he didn’t break the law every day. He was 17, Mum’s eldest child, 4 years older than me.
“GET OUT!” He yelled.
He grabbed the little man by the back of his expensive tunic and flung him out the door. He flew like a bird, and landed in a pile of cow dung. Nye bowed to the woman, took her hand, like he was about to kiss it, and twirled her. She spun out the door, like a top in the dirt streets of the town, and bumped into the chicken coop. Little hairs were coming loose from her bun, and her face was pale-green.
“You will hear about this!” She shook her fist at Nye, and stormed out the front yard, slamming the little white gate as she left. Her little friend, pulled himself out of the muck and scampered after her, seeming more like her assistant than her colleague. Nye slammed the door and glared at me.
“I could have handled it.” I said. I threw the burlap sack on the rough, oak table, and sat down in on of the wicker chairs.
“No you couldn’t have-“
“Stop it! Both of you! All we should be worrying about is what to do now!” Father said, tightly closing the shutters on the windows as he did so.
“What do you mean?” I asked, confused.
“You never, ever, harm a castle attendant.” Father said, pointing his gaze at Nye. “So, I suspect, there will be soldiers coming soon, to take you away, Nye. Maybe just to the village jail for a few days.”
“Jail?” Tulia walked into the room, clueless as always. She was my little sister, who was five when mom left. She is eight now, five years younger than me.
“It’s nothing to worry yourself about now, Tules.” Father said. He always calls Tulia, Tules; it’s her nickname. “Zahili, why don’t you get the pot, fill it with water, and boil those roots. Tules, can you make her a fire, please?”
“Of course, Daddy.” Tules always called Father, Daddy. Usually he hated anyone calling him that, but Tules was an exception.
Nye sat down in a chair, put his feet up on the table, and started whittling a big chunk of wood with his knife.
“I am going to make you a wooden doll, Tules, and you can play with it forever.” The chunk of wood started taking a humanoid shape.
Tulia giggled, and went back to starting the fire. I scowled. Why was everyone so fond of Tulia? I looked so much like her, but yet … no one makes me wooden dolls. I had the same blonde hair, the same green eyes. We were both spitting images of my mother. Why did people treat us differently? Then, figured, it was my sour attitude. I hate people. Everyone. Except Nye, and sometimes Tules.
I walked out the door of the house, and came into the front yard. It was small, and surround by a tiny picket fence that came up to my waist. There was a water pump to the left of the door, and a chicken coop over in the front right hand corner, near the road. There was a post in the front left corner of the yard, where our cow, Bessie, was tied. Our yard was shaded, because there were two huge oak trees that towered over everything. Dead leaves littered the neatly cut grass that made up our ‘lawn’.
Anyway, I filled the pot with water and ran back inside the cottage. Father was sitting by the small fire, smoking his pipe. Tulia was at his feet, rubbing the belly of Ginger, our tabby kitten.
I got my burlap sack, and stuck my hand in. I reached way down to the bottom, and felt something small, and round. I smiled, and pulled out a handful of the fruit.
“Hey Tules, I have a present for you.” Tules ran over, clapping her hands and squealing. She always loved my presents. I took her hand, and poured the wild strawberries into it.
Her eyes grew wide when she saw the fruit. “Oh, Zahili! We haven’t had wild strawberries since – since-“
“Since the forest was off-limits.” I finished. I looked up and noticed Father was staring at me. It wasn’t a glare, more like a ‘I’m glad you’re here to make her happy’ kind of look. I looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to say something, but he just blew out on his pipe. I finally broke the gaze.
“Hey Zilly,” Nye called to me, using my nickname. “Get me some of those strawberries, will you?”
He was so handsome. If I wasn’t his sister, I might have even been attracted to him myself. There have been many girls for him, oh yes, why, even the princess in the castle loved him, who is nineteen, by the way. I have been the messenger and mailman for may girls, delivering love notes and such, but Nye doesn’t notice any of those girls. There is only one girl he truly loves.
Her name is Rocelyn. Her hair is a dark brown, and her eyes a stormy grey. Freckles are plastered across her face, but she is the simplest beauty I have ever seen. She is sixteen, and is always by herself. Really. She has no parents, and lives by herself in a house down the road.
All she does is paint. And they are the most beautiful paintings I have ever seen. She paints rolling green hills, and blood red sunsets. She paints tropical oceans of the deepest turquoise, and mountain tops of the snowiest white. One day I asked her why she doesn’t paint herself, with her being so beautiful and all, she merely replied: “It would give me nightmares.” Maybe that is why Nye loves her. Because she needs him.
I got up and snuck a few berries from Tulia’s hand. She squirmed and giggled as I tried to take some, but guess who’s stronger? That’s right, I am. So I managed to get a small handful to get to Nye. I handed them over and Nye ruffled my hair in thanks.
I looked over at my father. His eyes were lost in the coals. Those, deep, electric blue eyes. He was probably thinking of his dear wife.
She was such a pleasure to have around the house. She would always sing, in her high, clear voice. She had taught me about the herbs and plants in the woods. She loved me like no one else had. But she never taught me to sing, she taught Tulia.
That is why father likes her so much. Tulia looks more like Mother than I do, and then, when she sings, her voice identical to Mother’s, Father’s eyes tear up. So he tears up quite a lot, because Tulia sings non-stop. She sings while she milks Bessie, she sings while she collects eggs, she sings while she churns butter, she sings while she sweeps, she sings while she cooks, and she sings while she makes the fires.
“Alright. I should go make sure Rocelyn is alright, before she goes to bed.” He always wants to make sure she’s safe, since she lives alone.
“You should go to bed Tules, it’s getting late.” Father said, setting down his bowl of delicious roots.
“No! What about Zahili?” She whined.
“She’s right, you to Zahili.”
I rolled my eyes. Tules could not go to bed unless I went with her. She was scared of the dark. Ever since Mum disappeared, she’s been afraid of everything. I set down my dinner bowl.
“Whatever.” I said, and took Tulia’s hand. Together, we walked through the door and into the back room.
It was a small room and there was one big window across from the door. There was a double bed with its head right underneath the window. That’s where Tulia and I sleep. Then, there were two single beds, one against one of the side walls, and the other against the other side wall.
Together, we climbed into bed. Tulia curled up against my side, and I sucked in her warmth, trying to stop the shivers. I didn’t want to go to bed. Because then, sleep, would bring the nightmares; the nightmares about Mum.
“Zahili?” Tulia whispered.
“Will – will we ever have a new mum?” She asked innocently.
“I don’t know Tules, I don’t know.”