There was not much to do that Thursday.
Kana was roughhousing in the yard outside, getting a good deal of mud all over his face, as well as on the dog. The dog didn’t seem to mind.
To be fair, that dog never seemed to mind much of anything. Even the ridiculous name it had been saddled with. The young boy had named the stray Velour, after the fancy store bought stuff that Arete sometimes brought from the city.
It was a ridiculously fancy name for such an ugly dog, who nonetheless still answered to it with inexplicable glee. The juxtaposition of such a name and the grimy visage of the skin-and-bones dog was almost comical. Corrin couldn’t help but feel that even the scraps they feed it were a waste. It was still incredibly bony and anemic looking, if slightly cleaner than when it had first appeared on their doorstep. It was nigh inexplicable to her as to why Mikoto had bothered to take it in.
It was a true testament to how boring the text she was reading was, if her attention was more drawn to their unsightly stray than it was to the page. With a sigh, she forced her eyes down to study the words again.
It had been her mother’s book ages ago. Slender lines of ink swept around in a stately dance in the margin. However the language was not the common tongue, and thus her mother’s notes of over a decade ago were indecipherable to her. Corrin didn’t suppose they were important. Her mother could barely have been her own age at the time of the writing, and as this was a book of fairytales, one wouldn’t think they were important to begin with.
As if Corrin’s thoughts had summoned her, Mikoto came in at that moment, drying her hands with a dishcloth. Glad for a new distraction from the page, Corrin surreptitiously eyed her mother.
It would be unjust to call the Lady Mikoto anything other than beautiful. Even as she stood in the dirt flooring of a peasant home five hundred miles from a city with a name on a map, she radiated elegance. Black hair fell to her waist, and kind brown eyes looked out onto the world with joy. There were laugh-lines carved onto her face, and they only added to the sight of her. Clad in a faded blue cotton dress with an off-white apron tied round it, she still appeared as an angel wreathed in dust and smiles.
Her mother was humming a tune, one that Corrin recognized as a lullaby from her earlier years. Mikoto’s voice was light and airy, and melodic enough that a bird in the tree outside began trilling along.
“Is An coming over for dinner again?” Corrin almost hated to interrupt her mother from the song, but the said question had more practical and immediate import.
The peaceful expression her mother had previously donned faded slightly. With a shake of her head, her smile fell even more. “I don’t believe so.”
There was silence for a moment. Mikoto busied herself with the oven, and Corrin attempted to look back at her book. It was a fruitless cause, and the words began to blur into one long streak of nothingness again.
“Corrin...” her mother sighed. “I do wish you’d tell me why you dislike An so much.”
“I never said I disliked him.” Corrin could feel her foot began to tap the ground restlessly. It wasn’t as though she hated the man or anything. It was just...the sight of him, with his oddly pristine hair, baggy, torn clothing, and self-assured smile was a juxtaposition that did not sit well with her. Nothing about the man was natural.
“He hasn’t wronged you, has he?” Mikoto was turned away from her, but her worried facial expression was audible.
“No. Not once.” The truthful words were heavy with lies, or perhaps insincerity.
It had been going on for as long as she could remember. As a child she could remember a singular traveler, with long sky-blue hair like her Auntie Arete. He had been kind and quick to laugh and had always been willing to carry her around on his shoulders, so that she might look out over her world as it’s queen. He was likeable, and he made Mother laugh. Nothing about him was bad.
His name was An, and that was all she knew about him.
And it remained so. Even after her baby brother had been born, not once had she felt ignored or forsaken in the light of this brand-new addition to the family. He was exactly as benevolent as ever and paid no less attention to her than he had before. He was everything you could possibly want in a father.
Except he wasn’t. Her father, that is. Or even Kana’s for that matter. He was just a wanderer, with a short, odd name, and no apparent tale to tell. He came in every other month or so and stayed for dinner.
He was always gone by morning.
Corrin was sixteen, seventeen in a year, and the closest thing that she had to a father was a man who she only barely knew the name of. Her mother was the only thing she could remember. Flashes and bits, a lullaby, her mother’s face, smiling, and then weeping. This house was new as well. They’d only lived here since she was about six, and Kana not even born yet. Before that, her memories blanked out. Nothing. Just her mother.
At this point in life, it wouldn’t be amiss to say she was somewhat bitter about it. It wasn’t as though Corrin had much else to focus on. She lived in a three-room shack with her mother, little brother and a stray dog. Their closest neighbors were a good three miles away, and the closest city a whole five hundred more.
There comes a time when you have read every book in the house so many times you begin to give up on life.
Take this book for example. Her mother’s old schoolbook. She’d read it as a child and been fascinated. Now, it was simply strokes of ink on a page. Ineffective and worthless to her. The tales contained were fanciful, nothing that would entertain anyone but a child. It was a semi-religious text, a collection of tales of the old gods. Mikoto had taught both her children that the tales contained within that book were true, but it was obviously the same fluff that comprised tales such as Father Yule. Nothing but a child’s whimsical fancy.
The chapter she had attempted to distract herself with was a shining example of the fact. It was a legend of the goddess of Life. According to the text, the goddess lived in a palace made entirely of diamonds, built at the base of a waterfall which flowed with the water that could supposedly raise the dead. Her gardens were filled with white scentless flowers, and it was said she dwelt there out of love for humanity, situated in a place to control their coming and going from the world of the living.
Kana had always been fascinated by the tell of this goddess. It was said that she captivated all who laid eyes on her, and her beauty even outshined the goddess of Beauty herself. This was understandable, given that the only girls her brother had seen in his short nine years were his older sister, and Farmer Kilma’s twin girls down the road.
As for herself, Corrin had favored the parts of the story that dwelt with the goddess’s divine weapons. The Blade of Determining, and The Shield of the Favored. According to the legend, both her blade and shield were beautiful spirits in their own right, but took on the forms of weapons for their beloved mistress. It was an impractical thought, but the idea of taking on different forms had always intrigued her. It would be nice to dwell within something stronger than this human body.
A glance at her brother confirmed that he was still very much engrossed in his mud adventure. Mikoto was patiently attending to a pot bubbling over the fire, and the birdsong was beginning to shift now that evening was settling in.
Corrin closed the book unceremoniously and left it on the windowsill. It wasn’t as though there was anything better to do, but there was no need to extoll the boredom with fairytales.
There was the option to practice her forms. Mikoto was an archer by training, but she had instructed both her children in basic swordplay. They had a few wooden swords they had practiced with, but nothing lethal. Metal weapons were almost impossible to get nowadays, with the rapidly worsening state of the land. There was a reason why the best their family could do was a small hovel at the side of an old highway.
An had helped teach them to handle swords as well. His style was different than their mothers. Instead of straightforward attacks and blocking, he advised them to focus on their footwork. In the few times that Corrin had sparred with him, he moved like a dancer, flowing up and around like a ribbon. Though his style never held any obvious weight or force in his blows, she had always found herself easily overpowered, after being thoroughly toyed with.
It was rage inducing, to put it simply.
Somewhat perturbed now, Corrin stood and fetched one of the longer wasters from behind the door and strode out to the front yard. Kana didn’t acknowledge her beyond a pointedly thrown glob of mud and went on chasing Velour in monotonous circles.
It was a grounding force to feel the weight of the mock weapon in her hands. Her bare feet swept out a curve in the dirt, and she took her first stance.
With an exhale, her eyes slipped close.
Half an hour later, Corrin found herself, a good deal sweatier and dirtier, but also somewhat more satisfied with her own existence.
It was good timing. Mikoto leaned out the front window slightly. “Rin! Kana! Dinner!”
Kana, who at this point had almost fallen asleep in the grass, was up and stepping through the door like a shot. “Coming!” The sound of Mikoto chastising him for not washing up was a familiar one.
The sun was beginning to glow crimson and umber from its place down the road. Walking the four yards to the side of the highway, Corrin squinted at it. Even the sun seemed dim today.
It seemed almost as though everything was declining in its own way.
For dinner that night it was vegetable soup. Again. Farmer Kilma was their main food source, and it would appear he was on a cabbage stint that year. Aunt Arete brought fancy city provisions on her monthly visit, but they rarely lasted a full seven days after she left. For the other three weeks they were mostly relegated to whatever vegetable Kilma was favoring that season.
Even the most avid consumer of vegetable soup might have had enough at this point. And neither Corrin or Kana had been a big fan of vegetable soup to begin with.
It had been a principle that Mikoto had taken care to instill in her children to be grateful for what they had, and not greedy for the things that they did not. It was an assured thing that no one at the table was particular enjoying their meal that night, but the talk did not stray to it.
Instead, it mainly focused on upcoming events. Mikoto refilled Kana’s mug with water. “Are you going to see Felicia and Flora tomorrow?”
Kana nodded enthusiastically and spoke around a large mouthful of daikon. “Them guhrra ‘iv miya nold dor!”
Corrin cut in before Mikoto could reprimand him. “They’re going to give him some of their old toys.”
“Well, that’s very kind of them.” Mikoto sipped at her vegetable broth serenely. “Remember to thank them Kana.”
Apparently knowing he would be testing his luck by speaking again while his mouth was otherwise engaged, Kana only nodded vigorously in response.
“And you Corrin? Kilma says he doesn’t need anymore help for the season. The harvest is almost all in.”
“I thought I’d take Felicia the book she wanted.” The book was indeed the one she’d been failing to peruse earlier, but knowing her clumsy friend, the romantic and illogical tales would probably delight her immensely, even if she was only a year younger than Corrin.
“The history book? Splendid. Those girls should read more of those that protect us.” Mikoto leaned over to dab at Kana’s cheek. “Manners.”
Corrin’s mouth drew itself into a firm line. Her mother was something of a radical when it came to the legends of the gods. It made no sense to her. Mikoto was a perceptive and logical woman, with no lack of intellect. It didn’t add up that her mother would be so dead set on recognizing a bunch of made up fables as ultimate truth.
“Well, get some rest. I want both of you home before sunset. There’s been word of all sorts of raiders and mercenaries on the road.” Her mother fidgeted with the sleeve of her dress. “Corrin, maybe you should…no.” Mikoto sighed heavily. “You’ll both be fine, I’m sure of it.”
Kana’s eyebrows turned upwards. “…Mama?”
Their mother only smiled widely. “Everything’s alright sweetheart. You don’t need to worry.” She stood and began to gather up the bowls. “Now, both of you, wash up and get to bed. I’ll wake you both up with the sun.”
Silence washed over the house in waves, as the weeping moon slowly rose above the world.