I hadn’t expected the entire town to greet us when we’d arrived. I also hadn’t expected the cottage we had moved into to be so large.
It sat beside the lake, its wood damp from the spray. There seemed to be no shortage of wind, a solemn cry echoing through the walls. I was pleased to find that my bedroom wasn’t the size of a closet. For some reason, the idea of no longer being in a city came with a picture of smaller everything. I was wrong.
The dining room was about the size of the living room of our former home. Each section seemed to be twice as big as it could have been given the view from the outside. When we’d walked, bags in hand, to our new home, I’d been worried I wouldn’t even have my own bedroom, but everything was so. . . Massive. I didn’t even have enough clothes to fill my closet.
It was evident that my parents hadn’t known it would be this grand either. My mother had actually gasped when she’d walked through the doors. But, the place didn’t feel ornamental, as though it had been made just for show. In fact, it was homey. I felt relaxed and calm for the first move ever. Each cabinet, each painting, made me more comfortable. You’d have thought I’d lived there forever.
If I didn’t have to unpack and assist my father in getting us settled in, I probably would have passed out on the bed. Instead, I put away my garments and decorated with a few of my prized possessions. A flute from the coastal town of Llyne, autographs of a famous entertainer from Norbury. Every item was a testament to the travel I’d endured and each one had become a reminder of some of my fondest memories.
“David!” My father called from the staircase. “Can you help your mother with dinner?”
I glanced out the window to see the sun falling towards the horizon. Was it really that late already?
“Of course! Just give me a minute, and I’ll be right there.”
Wanting to make sure that my prized family photo got hung up, I grabbed the delicate frame from my bag. There were other pictures and paintings already placed upon the walls, so I found the one I disliked the most, a reference map of the kingdom, and replaced it with my own.
It was a photo of the three of us back when we lived in the palace, the night of the Winter Ball. I was only four, but my father had managed to get me a suit identical to his own. The silver fabric of the top shimmered in the ballroom’s glow as we stood on the steps while the onyx bottoms absorbed all the light. Golden epaulets sat upon my shoulders. My mother was in the most beautiful gown, flowing down to her ankles in a pale blue hue. She still had it, even now, she’d never forgotten to pack it, willing to get rid of other clothes in order to save her dress. It was one of the only things she had left to remind her of our other life, our better life.
I then headed downstairs. There weren’t many options for dinner, as we hadn’t brought a whole lot of food with us. No doubt they would send me off to the market tomorrow to stock us up on everything we required.
My mother was placing wood in the bottom of the stove as I entered the kitchen. I made my way over to her.
“What are we making tonight?”
She looked up, shutting the metal door and grabbing a pot. “Pelmenis.” She hefted it onto the larger of the two burners. “I went out to the market just to get them. The nice gentlemen had them frozen in an icebox. They’re his own family recipe. All we have to do is boil them in some broth.”
“Sounds good to me.” I went over to the counter and picked up the large jug she pointed out to me, before bringing it back.
I removed the cork and poured the broth into the pot. Now we had to wait.
She dragged over one chair, and then another, motioning for me to sit down. “What do you think?”
“The cottage, or house. Whatever you want to call it.”
I gazed out the window, watching waves ripple across Lake Sopris. “It’s huge, and it's got a fantastic view. I don’t think there’s anything not to like. Unless the townsfolk are mean, but then again, I think they all came to welcome us to Wimborne, so. . .”
“I agree. This is much nicer than any of the places we’ve been so far.” She peered over her shoulder and turned back. “Just don’t tell your father.”
I debated with myself before asking, “Could you see us staying here?”
“You mean forever.” Her eyebrows furrowed. “I don’t know. Your father wouldn’t want to stay—”
“But would you? I mean, if you could make the decision yourself?”
“I suppose. Believe me, I don’t want to move again any more than you do.”
“So, you think you could get him to stay?”
“I think it’ll depend, but I’ll see what I can do.”
I grinned. “Thank you. Really, thank you.”
“I didn’t promise you anything,” she said, wagging a finger. “Don’t think it’s going to be easy convincing him.”
“I know, but at least. . . It’s something.”
As expected, the next day, my parents sent me out to the market to buy food. They gave me over a hundred chronos and my mother’s satchel before wishing me good luck. My mother didn’t even remember to tell me where I was supposed to go. So, I was stuck trying to find the marketplace myself.
It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. A little way around the lake was a large space filled with colorful caravans and stands. It was bustling with activity. People weaved their way from person to person, bargaining, chatting, buying, selling. Everyone was doing something. I felt as though the whole town was squished into one space. As I made my way into the crowds, I was surprised I wasn’t sweating.
It was summer. Heat was supposed to be rendering people immobile. At least, that’s how it worked in the cities. Here, the breeze from the lake managed to make it feel like spring. I could only imagine how cold winter must be.
I dodged people from every angle, trying to find a stall that was selling something my family would eat. There were families selling clothing, some pottery, and a few physicians had elixirs and medications placed in rows according to malady. It was incredible but increasingly overwhelming. All I needed was some ingredients, I didn’t need to create my own household from scratch. I continued searching until I rounded a corner and saw. . .
A girl. Just a girl, I’d seen many, but something about her drew attention even though it was evident that she didn’t want any. Her caramel hair hung limp, falling past her shoulders to her mid-back. She chatted with a shopkeeper, laughing, and I watched the hazel in her eyes shift from green to brown and back to hazel in a matter of seconds. It was due to the sun’s glow, but it was incredible. Even her ivory skin shone.
“Got your eyes on May, eh?” The woman behind me asked, startling me.
“Is that her name?” I was doing my best to seem uninterested. I didn’t need rumors flying around the second I got here. No doubt my parents would ask me a ton of questions, and anyway, I was just interested. “She seems nice.”
“Ha! She’s more than that. The whole town cares for her. She’s bright, brighter than some of our smartest men, but we all worry about her.”
“How come? There’s nothing wrong with her is there?”
The lady sighed, though the traces of her grin remained. “No, but it’s not like she’d let anyone know if there was. She had an accident when she was young, the poor girl. Fell right through the ice into Lake Sopris. Took her father almost five minutes to get her out. Could’ve died.” She leaned over her wooden table, a hand beside her mouth. “Though most of the people ‘round here think that’s what he wanted. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the reason that she fell. Lost all her memory. Couldn’t remember a thing. He had to teach her how she lived.”
“That’s. . . horrible.” I glanced over at the girl, not able to imagine someone so frail inside someone so bubbly. “Is her father really that mean?”
“See for yourself. She can’t hide everything.”
I tried to observe her as though she were a painting. Searching for little details most people would miss. The things that made a masterpiece what they were. Sure enough, as her tan dress swayed in the wind, I spotted a few bruises on her legs. I had a feeling her hair wasn’t down because she was too lazy to put it up.
“We all want to say something to him, put ‘im in his place, but he supplies our physicians with all of their tonics and medicines. If we even tried correcting him, he’d stop making them, and no one would stay healthy for long. We don’t like to admit it, but Ryder has Wimborne in the palm of his hand, and no one can do a thing about it.”
I watched as May turned from the caravan she’d been at, and walk towards us. Suddenly, I was very interested in the silver bracelets in front of me.
“Good morning, Tamara,” She greeted before whispering. “I heard this week’s charm is the best so far. Can I see it?”
The woman I now knew to be Tamara pulled out a miniature deer mid-jump. It was intricately designed, each feature as detailed as the next. Everyone here appeared to be so talented.
May took the charm, surveying it in her palm. “It’s. . . Bewitching.” She clasped her hands together. “Oh, Tamara! Thank you so much. These mean so much to me.”
Reaching into the breast pocket of her dress, she retrieved a bracelet. It was already almost full, but it sounded like she got one every week, meaning it would be overflowing by the end of the year. Delicately, she added the deer to her collection. There was no theme to the charms, no correlation, but each one was expertly designed. I was a little jealous of the fact Tamara could just give them away. May was ready to leave when Tamara extended her arm, then motioned to me.
“Have you met David Ayers yet?” She winked at me. “He’s part of the family who moved in yesterday. Correct?”
The last part was addressed to me. “That’s right. News travels fast around here, doesn’t it?”
“It does, but I doubt it will perturb you after a couple of days. I’m May, by the way. May Baxter.” She shook my hand.
I bowed slightly, the usual custom in inner cities. “David Ayers, but I suppose everyone already knows.”
“True. We don’t have many people come to Wimborne. When someone moves in, it’s even more exciting. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if rumors circle about for a couple of days. At least, until you and your family engage more with the rest of the townsfolk.”
Rumors. I didn’t know how I’d do with rumors. It was bad enough that our father had brought shame upon our name. Whatever people were saying, I didn’t want to know.
“I doubt it’s all severe if that’s what you’re thinking about.”
She knew a lot more than she was leading on. “Like what?”
“Well, I’ve heard that the Ayers are quite respectable and that their son is the best-looking of them all.” A smile danced across her lips as I tried not to blush. Tamara even laughed a little.
“I can’t deny the statement, but I suppose it would be best if I left that up to you.”
Her eyes crinkled in amusement. “I suppose it would be.” She glanced up at the sun in the sky. “Darn it. I’m sorry to cut the conversation short, but I must be gone. My father will kill me if I don’t get back for lunch.”
Before I could say another word, she fled into the crowds, gone within a blink of an eye.
Tamara spoke up from behind me, softly. “The sad thing is, he probably would.”