NOTE: Here follows a little story I wrote as part of another, slightly larger work. All characters (including Sophia), situations, bad grammar, et cetera, are MINE. If you like this and share, please include a link back. Should you feel moved to express appreciation in other friendly ways, feel free to contact me, Maria Tsonis.
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Anjelika who lived in a pretty garden cottage with her mother and father. They lived a pleasant distance from anyone else, happy and safe, protected by a special stream that looped around their land. One might call it a lake or moat they lived on but for its breadth and depth. Three feet wide, the stream, or burn as Grandmama called it before she went to be with the angels, was only knee-deep on the girl, ordinarily. When the little family needed protection, the water would rise in the sky like a shimmering waterfall all the way round and up to the clouds keeping out any one or thing, unfriendly or uninvited.
One day, her birthday, Anjelika was playing in the treehouse a greatfather times two or three had built overlooking the burn, watching one of her dolls argue with the baby bear, the only of her friends who’d woken from their naps. Now that Anjelika was sixteen, the doll, one made to look just like her when she was five, believed it was time to take a well-deserved rest as their little girl was all grown up now. The bear cub insisted it was time to have tea. She listened patiently to the two as they’d argued many times over the years, never really coming to any lasting decision. Seated in one of the sturdy, tiny chairs, it was hard not to agree with Kassie, especially since Anjelika had to sit on the little arms. However, she decided to agree with Chester because it really was teatime and her parents hadn’t returned from town yet.
That morning they’d left to trade some of their delicious cloudberries, assuring her they’d be back in time for supper with a special treat. She reminded Kassie and Chester both of this, explaining further, “I’ve read in books and my parents’ letters many people play with toys or coins when they’re grownup. They just call it ‘collecting’.” Anjelika poured for her friends and herself, smiling contentedly as the little doll obviously thought about what she’d said. Kassie, alike to herself, had one of the springy tendrils of hair spill across her pale brow as she tilted her head in distraction. That the little doll’s hair was her own saddened the girl, who thought to herself, I like birthdays but wish I was five again. Kassie still wore a copy of one of Anjelika’s favorite old dresses to wear, a simple blue sheath with muslin pinafore, one of the first she’d learned to make from her mother. Her father had carved and painted Kassie himself, using for the eyes dark brown river rocks he’d asked his jeweler friend to cut and polish.
Chester coughed politely into a well-loved paw. Anjelika poured him another cup, “I’m terribly sorry. I was thinking just as hard as Kassie. Would you two like some biscuits?” In his grumbly way the bear laughed, “No, but thank you. I meant to say there’s someone across the burn looking up at the tree. It’s hard for me to tell who since I’m just a little bear and all I can see is his or her long hood.” Of course, Anjelika had to see so stood quickly, covering herself with a dark blanket to peek out the window. Through the leaves she saw patches of light gray across from the clear stream, not close enough to seem like they knew someone was hiding in the tree.
“Oh, my. What will we do? Father can take care of him or her if they’re just a regular person but what if they’re magical or evil?”
Kassie huffed impatiently.
“I know, Mother can, too. Father can be a little traditional. If this person is hurt, though, it’d be wrong to let them suffer alone.”
Smiling to show his fangs, Chester waved both paws, “Let me deal with this or that! If I jump from here they’ll never know what hit them!” Anjelic shook her finger at him, “You’re a naughty bear. Remember the last time you tried that?” The cub pouted into his tea, “Mother put me in the time-out cupboard.”
“Yes. I’ll go down to talk to them, her or him. If you see anything suspicious, then you may jump.” The cub clapped his paws, Kassie clapping, too.
Waving farewell to her friends, Anjelika held the blanket like a hood and cape despite the warm, July breezes. Descending the ladderstairs, she peered around the sturdy wood of it and tree cautiously. The person had doffed the hood, revealing a thick head of wavy hair almost as dark as hers. The girl was still too far away to tell if it was a tall woman or beardless man, the last not common in their village; Father himself had a rare, well-trimmed growth. The veil of water had protected against arrows and swords in the past. Anjelika hoped the stranger wasn’t going to test it otherwise as she walked watchfully. He was looking towards the cottage and small barn with an inquiring set to his features, plainly uninjured as he stood straight and calm. She stopped several yards away, taking in his finespun cloak and small bindle over a broad shoulder, thinking, He’s not a boy. I wonder why he wants to look like one. He is handsome, despite.
Anjelika was debating whether to wait or clear her throat politely when he looked her way. His eyes reminded her of Kassie’s in their high polish but were of a sorrel green, kindly in expression. His voice was deep as midnight, “Good day to you, my lady. I’ve come a long road and hoped to have a drink from your fine stream. Sadly, it resists my attempts on its bounty.”
Splendid. “Good day to you, sir. I am no lady but thank you. I can give you some from our well. I’ll bring it to you, if you’ll excuse me?”
The stranger made a half-bow, empty hand sweeping wide as he took a step to bend knee, “You are too kind.” Curtseying gently in kind, Anjelika hurried to the cottage, One does not judge by looks if ugly so one can’t by beauty, either. Dropping her blanket on the setee, she hurried to the pump cleverly built by her father into the basin. Bringing down from the wall a tall can fixed with a wire hanger for this very purpose, she filled it with the cool, sweet water. After taking a small drink from the spout, the girl lifted one of the long poles with a hooked end and hurried back outside.
His smile broadened with her approach, “Forgive me for being forward but, I must say, the dress you wear is quite lovely. It reminds me of the leaves of the tree you were standing before just now.” Anjelika stared at the stranger until politeness recalled her, “You are most kind, sir. I was inspired by leaves when dyeing the cloths for it.” The blood rose to heat her cheeks and scalp as she attached the can to the pole, offering it across, “Where do you travel to, if I may ask?” His hand, stout without being fleshy, took care in unhooking the water can, “I seek a man who lives near this village, perhaps you know him?” Anjelika set the pole down to rest on it, leaning her head to smile at him as he drank.
“Ah, yes, it might help to know his name, my pardon. Mine is Fitzwilliam, or Fitz if you’d like. The man’s name is Stephen.”
She couldn’t stop a slight slip from the pole, her father’s name being Stephen. Not uncommon but also not likely to hear from a stranger who just happened to appear when he was away. To be civil she bowed her head, “My name is Kassie. There are two, no, three by that name hereabouts. I don’t mean to be impertinent but if you tell me of your Stephen, I may be able to help.”
Another, smaller bow followed, “He whom I seek is a skilled carpenter, one referenced to me by a fellow who used to live in these parts. His lady has a fine hand at growing herbs and other delectables, as well.” Fitz’ smile reminded her of Father’s longbow with a touch of the sprite about it, as if he might know this wasn’t her true first name. He drank the rest of the water, offering the can to be taken back. Anjelika put the hook across for him again, and he set the wire gently so it swung on its way over the burn. She leant the pole over her shoulder to mirror his bindle, “I know this man. Why do you seek him?” He set his bundle down, offering a full bow with both hands extended, “To be honest, the fellow I mentioned passed along that Stephen wished to see me. Unfortunately he, George, was not as clear in his directions as one could hope.”
Uncouth girl. “My apologies for being so inquisitive. The other Stephens are miller and apothecary. The second goes by the name of Esteban for reasons none but he knows. The last lives here but is in the village. He’ll be returning within a couple of hours, at the longest. Would you like some more water, or anything to eat?”
In answer he lowered to the ground, throwing back his cloak to sit cross-legged as a tailor would, “I’m grateful but no, thank you. If I could ask anything, it would be to take your likeness while we wait.” Startled that anyone would ask, her expression must have amused him as he laughed heartily. Anjelika curtseyed, “I’ll go for my blanket, maybe some berries. Excuse me again.”
The girl ran without waiting for him to finish laughing, Goodness, whatever can Father want with this man? If he truly did send for him. He’s too old to apprentice. And Father hasn’t taken any on in years. Anjelika put the blanket around her shoulders, hurrying to pump out more water for the can. She took a small covered bucket with washed cloudberries she’d readied for supper if her parents were late and stood still to think of anything else to bring. “I hope Chester doesn’t jump him while he waits.” With that worry released, she ran back praying not to trip. The sun shone bright on the unassailed dark head as he flipped through pages in a soft leather wallet. Fitz did not look up until she set the metal down with quiet clanks, his smile reappearing as she spread her blanket to kneel demurely.
“Forgive me, those wouldn’t happen to be cloudberries? I’ve heard much of the ones grown here.”
Smiling happily herself, Anjelika hooked the bucket to offer it to him, “They are. These were riper than the ones taken to trade today. Eat your fill, for I have more.”
Fitz set the berries beside his knee, eating two while moving a thin stick of charcoal or such on the paper, “These are remarkably tasty, my thanks.” He smiled again, eating another couple as he grew more intent on his work. Unsure what to do while being glanced at so frequently, the girl watched the sunlight shine in his hair and on the beautiful blue green blades of grass his fine cloak lay on. The burn bubbled gently as if a fish breathed but she didn’t see one there. As the sun’s light moved the shadows she drank some of the water when he stopped to frown over a section she thought looked perfectly fine. Turning her eyes away to not disturb him, Anjelika watched a tiny white ladybug skipping through the grass. The burn kept the dangerous bugs away so the little ones had to venture outside if they wanted a thrilling meal; the beetles of our Lady had a permanent invitation from all gardeners of sense.
Jingles and creaks woke Anjelika from her pleasant reverie to stand, watching her parents’ small cart round the small bend leading their way. Fitzwilliam stood, too, limber despite sitting so without respite. Anjelika waved at them crossing at a cautious distance from the stranger; the horses, and her family, safe as long as they drank from the stream, unlike the cart. Father handed the reins over to Mother, hopping off as she slowed. He strode over to give Fitz a critical eye, “Good day, young sir. From the looks of you, I believe my friend George is also your friend?” The younger man bowed formally, “Indeed sir. I am Fitzwilliam. As you’ve called so have I come.” Father gave her a similar, stern look, “How are you, Kassie?” A wink belied his amusement.
“I’m well. Fitzwilliam came perhaps two hours ago.”
“Did he pass Chester’s test?”
She put fingertips to her lips in dismay, “Of course. He’s learned his lessons well.”
“I’m pleased. Go on now.”
Bowing her head as she bent to gather the things she hurried off at a decent pace for a girl observed by a father. Mother was inside, already at work on supper, “Your father was able to make an excellent bargain today. Is that boy Fitzwilliam?” Anjelika tugged a curl at a nervous chill, “Yes, ma’am. Who is he?”
“He is going to going to work for your father. Did you not speak with him?”
The curl slipped through her fingers to bounce gently, “Not more than to be polite. I gave him some water and berries. He asked if he could take my likeness to pass the time until you came home.” A delighted smile lit her mother from within, “The boy studied his art abroad for several years. Time may come that likeness will be priceless.” A thought occurred to her, the brown eyes she’d inherited quick to notice a change, “What troubles you, Anjelika?”
“Where will he stay? I, my room is nicer than the treehouse or the barn. I don’t mind the tree.” Mother laughed softly, touching her hair, “Such a selfless child. Worry not for your aerie. One of his first tasks will be to fit the second loft for his quarters. Anjelika’s nose crinkled, “I hope he likes horses. Trellis is beautiful but none too delicate in many ways.” Mother gave her a look full of reproach, handling a plain, worked goblet, “Mind your comments and welcome the boy properly.” She bowed her head, “Yes, Mother.”
Cup held gently, Anjelika hurried back to where her father and the man awaited, “My apologies for the delay, sir. Mother had words for me.” This is not what I wished to say. Father smiled indulgently of all surprising things, “Heed her words. I do and see how well I fare?” She smiled back much like a sheep just before it bleated, holding the cup out to his calloused hand. Her father looked from the cup to her to the man, “Heed her words.” Staring much like the black-faced sheep had the girl shook her own wooly head in confusion, “Oh, of course. Forgive me.” Fitz smiled patiently. Sure that every eye had come from the village and area to watch, Anjelika stooped to fill the cup from the burn. When arisen, she took a small drink, offering it with her hand across the water, “I invite you to our home, friend Fitzwilliam. While you hold our friendship dear you are welcome to come and go as you will. Drink from my hand and enter.” The few people allowed in let her father lift their cup. Fitz’ hand covered hers to drink before he stepped across the burn. Her father’s back was already halfway to the cottage when she looked for him in consternation.
As happens in tales, time fleeted ahead. Meals were consumed, a loft attended to, a horse fed sweet clover and parsley, tea parties peeked out from. Fitz did not speak of the likeness nor have sufficient time to do more than smile or accept refreshments when working, alone or with either parent. He hadn’t appeared to be put out of humor by finding her name was Anjelika Kassandra, nor that an invitation hadn’t been extended to partake of tea. As she explained to Kassie over a cup of the local Earl’s blend, “He’s a man and they tend to not enjoy little cucumber sandwiches or the company of bears.” Chester, fangs freshly honed, nodded his agreement, “We intimidate them. See how well behaved he’s been since taking liberties I shall refrain from mentioning once more?” Trellis’ small relation, Rosebud, whinnied, earning herself a ferocious growl. Kassie shook her finger at Baby Bear before Anjelika could, turning to her especial friend, Rua, “I’m glad you persuaded me away from going to the closet. She may be grownup but this could be a threat to our way of life.” Rua only pursed her tiny lips with a quick nod of the head at Anjelika.
“Whatever are you two talking about?”
“Don’t listen to them, Anj. They’re gossipy old kindling.” She stared in disbelief at Jax, he who had stopped speaking when she’d turned eleven.
“Anjelika Kassandra of Dunbridge Glen, what are you doing up there?!” Everyone spilled their tea, “Nothing Mother.”
“Well, come down here right now.”
The girl waved at the others in hopes they’d clean up. Chester unhelpfully bared his teeth towards the ladder. Anjelika hurried over to block his path, “Yes, Mother. Coming.” Once upon the ground, she smoothed her plain muslin dress, straightening the long black velvet ribbon tied in a bow at waist she’d thought gave it a dash of elegance. Her mother loomed despite being a hand shorter, “It is not enough to finish one’s chores before scampering off. One must also remain within one’s home on occasion. As it is apparent you’ve forgotten your father and I are visiting the Cloister to-day, I tarry solely to remind you. Fitz is too much the young gentleman to approach your aerie so I shall speak on his behalf. He has asked us if he might take a new likeness of you.” Chester growled low from on high. Anjelika worried her hands together, “But he said nothing at breakfast. I remained.”
“Yes, for the spare moments of time to filch a handful of rose candies. Now, go. I need to pray for my continued peace of mind.”
Picking up her skirts like a child she ran from the wrath of all Mothers. Too late she spied Fitzwilliam through the window; fortunately he gave no appearance of having noticed her. Dropping them right before her father brought the cart around left her fainting, no matter the jingles warning of his approach. Anjelika hid her face as she waved him past, on the way to meeting with her mother stalking closer.
Flying through the door she smoothed her skirts and bow again, recalling she was, indeed, a grownup now. Anjelika’s hand twitched to grasp the bannister to run upstairs. Last second bravery took her into the small parlor. Fitz stood from the writing table with a bright smile, “Good morning, once more. I pray you weren’t in the middle of anything?” The will to grab the bow tails distracted her, “Oh, yes. No, I mean. Forgive me. And good morning.” His smile took on the touch of sprightliness it had the first day, “Your parents have graciously offered me the use of the sitting room to work, rather than the loft. Trellis keeps a beautiful house yet the day is warm.”
“Of course. However you feel most comfortable, sir.”
He came to her, offering his arm, “Am I to call you Mistress Kassie now?”
“No, please. I beg your pardon. I only wished to be respectful.”
“What on Earth for?” His arm moved several inches closer.
Anjelika chose to take the arm so it wouldn’t take offense, “You’re a learned man.” Fitz harrumphed, much like Father when he’d last found her sneaking Trellis candy. He remained otherwise quiet, piloting her like a canoe to the nicer setee she’d rarely sat in, “Lazing about copying the masters’ works and drinking wine in cheap taverns does not a scholar make. If I may, I’d like to arrange your bow’s tail ends.”
“Please do.” Further uncertainty for a nervous girl, she let her hands flutter to the cushions while looking away to his paints and easel awaiting. Anjelika couldn’t tell when he began and finished.
One does not move when one is pronounced perfect, alas. Fitz came around his easel to face her with a laugh, “So long as you don’t jump about you have my permission to breathe.” Anjelika wished mightily for Chester to jump on her, “Thank you, you’re most kind.” Removing his well-made coat displayed equally puffy white sleeves he proceeded to roll up with no concern. Attacking the wooden pallette with a curious knife took his whole attention for many minutes. Able to spy in apparent safety she smiled at his tied back hair falling over a shoulder to crush the sleeve. Fitz looked up to grin. Anjelika’s lips puckered as if she’d just ate a sour cloudberry.
“And thus a few things are more than explained.” The man began painting with no explanation of his cryptic remark.
Is this more or less maddening than an itch on the bottom of one’s foot? “What sorts of things, if you don’t mind my asking. Fitzwilliam?”
“Thank you.” He laid down his brush to sit near her hand, “To begin in a learned, scholarly way. The knotty question of why I’ve not be given the pleasure of an invitation to your teatime. I suspect my grandiosity interfered.” The girl’s fingers traced the swirled gold thread of the setee’s cloth. His traced another after moments, “The same reason I’ve heard your mother and father both lamenting your absences. My first impression upon you appears to have been disconcerting rather than what was meant.” Fitz obviously had been born with the same power to discombobulate as adverbs.
Anjelika moved her eyes alone, “You say you’re not truly learned. You’re still bounds beyond me, hardly ever going abroad off my island. I can’t presume to know what you’re thinking so please have pity and speak it for me of lesser wit.”
“I will, if you say I may come to tea later.” The girl looked to the windows and doorways first, “You’ve always been welcome. Please, do come to tea? I should warn you, Chester will at times jump upon those he deems unsavory.” The hand chasing hers about the gold caught up, “Noted. Recall how you told me your parents were bringing you a special treat?” Anjelika hoped Kassie was arguing with Chester, “Yes, they tell me to say a time when they’ll be back regardless of how long it may be.” Fitz nodded, capturing her fingers, “You liked the sherry trifle, it seemed.” She smiled in happy memory, “It was very tasty.”
“It is my great favorite. Difficult as it can be to remain humble at such times, I must while troubling you to hear my confession. Anjelika, the special treat for your birthday was me.”