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Farming is what Katarina's best at

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The field is a mess.  There are trees and stones absolutely everywhere, and there’s only a small patch of land in front of her that is tillable.

Still, Katarina can’t help the small burst of happiness at the sight of it.

When she first got exiled, she thought her life was over.  She had been preparing for it because she wasn’t sure if the game could be changed, but for some reason, the destruction flag had seemed so far away.  She had her friends with her, and she thought herself untouchable.  But then that scene in the cafeteria had happened anyway, even without the capture targets, and well, here Katarina is, ushered away and exiled from everything.

She misses her friends more than anything.  She misses Gerald.  She misses Mary and Sophia and Maria.  She misses her little brother and even Nikol, despite not being able to see him much in school.

She hadn’t been able to say good-bye to them before she had been exiled.  But she figures it's better this way, when the other destruction flags are much worse.

At least now, she has her farm to work on.

And work she will. 

She moves her sleeves up to abate the searing heat of the sun from up above and starts to work the ground with her favorite hoe.

She’s just finished planting the last of her potatoes when she hears footsteps behind her.

She sets her watering can – complete with a painted happy face – down on the ground and is enveloped immediately by a tight hug. 

When she looks up, Anne is smiling down at her, her fondness clear to see in her expression.

“Anne!?” she exclaims in surprise and gets a little laugh in return.

“Did you really think you can survive without me?” is all she says, and she wrinkles her nose as she stares down at the clothes Katarina’s in. 

Her heart’s full, even as she registers Anne’s words, and then guilt sets in.  She’s already kept Anne from marrying. “I can’t – you shouldn’t be here.  I’m not a noble anymore.”

“Nonsense,” says Anne, “this is only going to be temporary.”

“I can’t pay you,” she tries, and Anne shakes her head. 

“Your mother sent me,” she says, “And besides, this is temporary.  I don’t think your fiancé will let you stay here for long.”

“The engagement’s broken,” she says, quietly, and doesn’t even mind the pity that she sees in Anne’s eyes.  It’s not as if Gerald wanted her for anything more than a barrier between girls, and besides, it’s better this way.  Katarina doesn’t understand love anyway; otome games didn't do much to teach her that emotion.

“Well,” says Anne, brightly, “I’m here, and that’s all you need.  I’ll go get a bath drawn up and dinner on the table, shall I?”

She doesn’t wait for a response, and Katarina watches her disappear in the tiny house in front of the field. 

Staying here and tending to her farm doesn’t sound so bad, not with Anne here with her every step of the way.

It gets easier.  At first, she thought she would never get the unsightly stumps and trees off of her field.  But even though her earth magic wasn’t anything to admire, the earth thud is still enough to unsettle the roots for the trees to fall down.  With that, she’s able to get firewood and make fences, and even get sap to make fertilizer.  Her crops thrive with the fertilizer she creates, and her bounty is absolutely plentiful when the potatoes are finally ready to harvest.

She brings it into town, and gets gold in return, and although it’s a paltry amount compared to what she’s used to, it’s still money she made on her own and that’s enough to make her ecstatic.   On a whim, she buys a scarf for Anne because it’s cold and Anne’s here, and they’re equals now. 

Anne’s teary-eyed but thankfully doesn’t cry, and the next day, the scarf is wound around her neck.

Anne keeps the loneliness at bay; she knows her friends are busy, but she still wonders every day why they haven’t come to visit her.  She understands Gerald and Alfred, their actions are always watched, and to come to the outside of the kingdom to visit a disgraced noble, even if a former fiancé was not going to be allowed.  But still.  She misses them all.

It’s nearing sunset when there’s a knock on the door.  Anne’s prepared tea, and Katarina’s sipping it when Anne greets the people at the door.  She’s sure it’s townspeople, so she doesn’t move until there’s suddenly an armful of Sophia in her personal space. 

She can’t help the bubble of laughter that escapes her, and she hugs tighter, tears already gathering at the corners of her eyes.  Nikol’s there, too, when she glances up, and it’s the two of them, with a stack of new romance novels that she’s missed thanks to her exile.

The romance novels are what do it; she’s suddenly crying and clutching tight onto Sophia, and she doesn’t know how long it is until she’s dry-eyed again. 

Sophia and Nikol stay for as long as they can.  They have responsibilities, being the children of the Prime Minister, and it’s a miracle they were able to stay for a week.  Sophia gushes over her potatoes, and Nikol helps her out with her finances, and Katarina wishes they’ll never leave. 

When they’re at the door, Sophia stops and looks at her with earnest eyes.  “You’re going to come back soon,” she promises, “Gerald and the others are doing everything to overturn your exile.”

She nods, not trusting herself to speak, and hugs her friends one last time before they leave in a grand carriage.

Anne catches her expression as she waves them off, and it’s not long before she’s serving tea and asking about it. 

“It’s not – “ she says, immediately protesting, before stopping.  She’s not a noble anymore, she doesn’t have to lie.  “I’m not sure if I want to go back,” she explains.  “I didn’t belong there.”

Anne looks like she doesn’t really understand, but she nods anyway, sitting down and taking Katarina’s hand into hers.  “We’ll cross that road when we get there,” and there’s enough conviction in her voice that Katarina believes her.


Blueberries are the next crop she decides on.  They don’t wither and their benefit to cost ratio is insane, and well, blueberries are tasty.  She uses all her experience to make sure they’re safe from the crows, even going so far as to build a scarecrow out of grass and sticks.  To reward herself, she ventures into town to buy some flour and then cooks a blueberry pie for Anne and her.  It’s delicious, and she doesn’t even mind the loss of blueberries she can sell.

She’s just about to pack up the rest of the blueberry pie when Anne announces visitors. 

Just like last time, she gets another tight hug, and she loses her voice as she stares the top of Maria’s head. 

“I thought – “ she says quietly, and Maria shakes her head vehemently.

“I never thought you bullied me,” she explains, “and I definitely don’t agree with your exile either.  You belong back there with us.”

That’s enough to release the tight hold on her heart, and she smiles when Maria turns away to exclaim at the blueberry pie she baked.  It’s not as good as Maria’s but, well, Katarina still thinks she did pretty good. 

Keith shocks her as she turns away from Maria; she hadn’t heard him come in, but there he is, arms around her and all.  She’s only in shock for a second, and then she’s wrapping her arms around him just as tightly.

Keith had been planning the visit for weeks, and on a last second whim, invited Maria.  Maria had been grateful, since there was no way she would’ve been able to come otherwise, and the two of them had set off in a carriage as grand as Sophia and Nikol’s.

They stay for as long as they can.  The two of them even end up skipping a few classes until Katarina kicks them out.  She loves the two of them, and is grateful to see them, but she won’t let them compromise their education for her.

When they leave, Katarina finds she doesn’t miss school at all.  She’s never been good at studying, and well, with her crops here, and Anne for company, she thinks she rather stay here.

She tries the mines next.  She’ll never be good with a sword, but the monsters in there aren’t particularly scary, and she only really needs to stay in the top levels for stone.  She’s grateful every day for her earth magic because she’s sure she would’ve never been able to collect the stones she needs for the chicken coop she’s planning to build.

When she gets home, sword swinging on her hip, Gerald is there.  He’s not dressed as a prince, and he looks alarmed when he catches sight of her.

“Katarina,” he starts, and then stops as he catches sight of the cut on her cheek.  “Are you okay?”

“Gerald!” she exclaims in surprise, and she steps forward without thinking, wrapping her arms around her former fiancé.   He stiffens at first, before relaxing in her hold and hugging her back just as tight.

He looks like he wants to ask where she’s been, but thinks better of it when Anne emerges, first-aid-kit in hand and a warm cup of tea in the other. 

Alfred is already sitting inside, and when they enter, Katarina pulls him into a hug, tight enough that when they pull away, his cheeks are flushed.

When they’re sitting down, Gerald says, “Your exile’s been overturned.  I’ve come to take the both of you back.”

And Katarina’s ready for this – has been thinking about this ever since Keith and Maria’s visit.  Had even talked to Anne about this late in the night, and had been overjoyed when Anne had agreed.

“No,” she says, almost immediately, “I want to stay here.”  She has her chicken coop to think about, after all, and her strawberries are already beginning to sprout flowers.  This isn’t the time to leave, not when Katarina’s already found something she’s good at. 

Gerald looks as if he’s been expecting it.  He takes her hand into his and strokes the back of it.  “Okay,” he says, and he doesn’t bring it up again.  Alfred looks as if he isn’t so sure, but when his brother doesn’t protest, he stays quiet.

They stay for only a few days, and when they leave, Gerald kisses the top of her head. 

“I’ll visit,” he promises, and Katarina hugs him once more before he leaves.

“Will you be okay?” Anne asks when Gerald and Alfred’s horses have made their way down the path to the farm, and Katarina can’t help the smile that crosses her face.

“Yeah,” she says, and turns to go water her strawberries.

She wishes Mary was here.

She can’t help it; she’s seen everyone else but her very first female friend, and well, she’s trying to grow flowers to cultivate honeybees, and she has the beehouse, but the flowers just won’t grow.  She’s tried everything, even tips Mary’s given her in the past, but it’s still not working.

She falls flat on her bottom, and lets out a groan, staring up at the sun with a grimace. 

A face blocks her vision, casting shade on her and causing her to sit up in shock.  Luckily, Mary’s faster than her and moves out of the way, and then Katarina’s scrambling up onto her feet and throwing herself at Mary.

Mary laughs as they both tumble onto the floor, dirt getting into their clothes and hair.  Katarina still doesn’t let go, and they stay like that until the sun makes them move into the shade.

“I heard that you turned down coming back,” says Mary, and Katarina nods.

“Sorry,” she says, “I wanted to see you, I did, but well, I belong here.”  She knows it now, as sure of it as she is of the world she’s ended up in.  She braces herself for Mary’s disappointment, but Mary just laughs and shakes her head.

“Oh no,” she says, a secretive smile on her face, “I was hoping you would say no.  It makes everything easier, after all.”

“What do you mean?” she asks, and Mary shakes her head once more. 

“First, let’s get your flowers planted.  You’re doing it all wrong,” she pulls Katarina to her feet and then reaches into her pockets to pull out some seeds.  “It’s the wrong season for those; let’s try these.”

Katarina’s sufficiently distracted, even more so when it turns out the seeds Mary has are way higher quality than anything else she can get, and is content to spend the rest of the evening tilling the ground and feeding the flowers all the nutrients Mary’s brought.  Mary has even better fertilizer than the one she’s been making, and she happily shares the rest for Katarina’s strawberries.

Mary stays a week.  Then another week.  Enough so, that Katarina’s dreading the day Mary has to leave.  Surely, she couldn’t miss every class, and Katarina knows she shouldn’t be selfish.  She sent Maria and Keith back, after all.

But every day, when Mary is watering the flowers and helping her with the strawberries and the chickens, she holds her tongue.  Because she doesn’t want Mary to leave.  Everyone else has left her, besides Anne, and she knows she should be used to it.

But still, it’s Mary.  She’s always loved Mary a little more, and she doesn’t want Mary to leave, but she’s just as aware she can’t ask Mary to stay. 

It’s nighttime when they’re preparing for bed.  They have to share since Anne has the only other bed in the house, but it just reminds Katarina of their sleepovers from back then, so she doesn’t really mind.  Besides, it’s nice to share a bed with someone else, especially since it’s almost winter.

Mary’s smiling at her as they talk, her hair framing her face on the pillow, and Katarina blurts it out without any preamble. 

“I don’t want you to leave,” she confesses, and Mary’s staring at her in shock.

“I’m not leaving,” she says, and her smile turns fond as Katarina’s eyes widen.  “Didn’t you see my luggage?  I’m here to stay.”

“Forever?” she asks, quietly, and she can feel the tears coming as the shock finally starts to settle. 

“Yes,” says Mary, and she moves forward to press a kiss to Katarina’s check.  Her lips are soft, and cause Katarina’s heart to quicken, and suddenly she’s sure.  She gives Mary her own kiss, but to her lips, and it feels right that Mary’s here to stay.

Mary’s flowers are sold to the townspeople to great fanfare.  Her flowers have always been beautiful, and they sell like crazy. 

Mary doesn’t just plant her flowers, however.  She goes out with Katarina to the mines, and they even make it further down, far enough to get rarer types of ore.  They fish, on the weekends after watering the crops and feeding the animals, and in the winter, Katarina’s cow gives birth. 

It’s not a life Katarina would have envisioned for herself.  She thought she would be married to Gerald by now and living a life full of cautious fear. 

But luckily, here she is.

She reaches her hand over the table, her other hand curled around the mug of tea she brewed just this morning.  Mary’s reading something, one of the novels Sophia’s left behind the other week, but she looks up when she catches movement, a beautiful smile crossing her face as she realizes what Katarina wants.

She entangles her hand with Katarina, and they spend the rest of the afternoon in comfortable silence.

The crops are watered, the chickens are fed, and tomorrow’s the day they go to sell their harvest.

It’s a quiet afternoon, and Katarina is right where she belongs.