The Realms of Thrice (Lesbian Fiction)

Chapter II - Family

Fifteen years past, in the year of 1e99 on the 23rd day of The Eclipse of Dawn.

It had been many, many weeks since Nora had last seen the eccentric yet adoring girl. She had to be very mindful in plotting her escapes. The last thing she wanted or needed was to be discovered by her mother. She would be confined to her chambers for days. A thought she’d just assume not have.

They met at the old tree. The same place they had first met all those days ago. Emri greeted her with a bright smile and a ‘hello’ before climbing up on her horse and heading to her home.

The trip seemed shorter than before; of course they weren’t under the duress as they were last time. Emri didn’t have a gaping wound to attend to. But it was a pleasant ride nonetheless.

When they arrived at the home, Nora followed the young girl up to the rickety house. This would be the first time she met the rest of Emri’s family. The house stood small, well kept but showing its age due to the warped and swelled planks of wood. The house seemed to be leaning slightly making Nora question its stability. A small stone chimney rose from the roof and wisps of gray smoke floated out.

The garden and firewood stash outside appeared well maintained, and the windows and stoops looked freshly cleaned and swept. It was really quite quaint.

Emri ushered her in through the side door right into the kitchen.

Nora swallowed nervously as she looked around, surveying her surroundings. An undersized hearth and kettle were to her left and she could tell the main living quarters flowed from the kitchen to the den not but a few yards away. The house seemed to only have two rooms: the one she stood in, and another tiny room she guessed for beds. Her stomach knotted as she realized her private washroom chamber equaled the house as a whole in size. What little furniture lay scattered about looked mismatched, broken, or in such disrepair it held little use. Her mother would be furious if she knew she had set eyes on such a place let alone visited, dined, and acquainted herself with the inhabitants. To her mother, these kindhearted people were not people at all, merely urchins that of whom she took money and services from.

“Ma! Me and Nora are gonna walk the stream!” Emri called out into the house. Emri glanced at her with a shy grin and mirth in her eyes. She returned the smile but startled when a loud thud came from the backroom. A young boy, probably around Emri’s age rounded the corner in excitement.

“Oh!” he exclaimed. “Can I go too?”

“No!” Emri said with a look of annoyance. Her tone said it too.

Nora watched the boy’s disappointment as it fell to his shoulders. He looked to Nora with a sad smile and went to walk back to his room, obviously knowing an argument with his older sister would not turn to his benefit.

She squeezed Emri’s hand that she had yet to release, before she spoke. “Let him come with us,” she implored, eager just to spend time with others.

Emri just shook her head animatedly with a childish pout. “He’ll get in the way,” she said and it came out whinny. Nora looked at her disapprovingly and Emri conceded, mumbling a ‘fine’ under her breath. Danny heard her loud and clear as he ran off to slip on his shoes. Emri shook her head in mild annoyance as she yelled after him, “Grab your rod! You can catch us supper!”

“He loves you so. You’re lucky to have a brother.”

Emri huffed. “You want ‘em? I’ll be happy to trade him for silence.”

Nora diverted her gaze as she settled on her hands, wringing them nervously as she spoke, “Silence becomes deafening after so long.”

Emri was about to respond when her mother walked in from outside. “Oh, girls!” she greeted. “I was beginning to worry.” She thought nothing of it to pull Nora down into a friendly hug. “Pleasure to meet you, Nora. Emri has spoken of little else than her new friend these past weeks. She tells us you’re a skilled bow woman. She loves hunting. Stays out most of the day … I’d imagine she would love your company. Perhaps she could even take a few lessons from you.”

Nora caught the slight scowl on Emri’s face. She found it amusing. “I would be honored,” she said with a smile.

“You seem like a good girl. Hard to come by people like you in this realm. It’s refreshing to know hope is not lost.”

“Well, thank you for inviting me into your home for the day.”

Helen waved her off with a look of nonsense. “Any day. Any day you are most welcomed. No invitation, no excuse, you just come right over. It’s always nice to have company.”

After a beat, Danny came running through with his fishing rod in hand. He ran out the door and Nora and Emri followed close behind.

Nora held the crook of Emri’s arm the entire walk. They both laughed as Danny darted ahead to chase insects or wildlife that caught his eye. It seemed so natural. Nora might have been five years older, but Emri stood straight and strong as she escorted royalty just the way royal guards would have. She felt important—protective, even if she was several inches shorter than the pretty girl next to her. She couldn’t help but be shy and reserved around the young regal adolescent. Despite her gentle disposition, she still seemed imperious in her stance.

Soon, they came upon the river and walked a few ways upstream. Nora and Emri sat down at the bank on a few large rocks and removed their shoes so that the almost uncomfortably cool water could race over their feet. Nora laughed as she wiggled her toes in the water. It was refreshing.

Danny, in the mean time, dug at the bank in search for worms to bait his line. After he gathered a few, he decided it would be hilarious to surprise Nora with a handful. She squealed right in Emri’s ear and Emri decided right then and there that when her ear stopped ringing she would fling herself on him and lock him in a chokehold. She held her left ear, cringing as the obnoxious ringing continued, but when she looked over at her friend, she saw a beautiful, natural smile. She would deal with Danny later.

It felt like hours had passed. Danny had managed to catch several small chubs and trout, enough for a decent supper and broth. The girls, on the other hand, sat at the side and talked about anything and everything. Nora talked of her studies and how the library had become her place of refuge. She told stories of the kitchen maids and how some of them taught her basic lessons in cooking—educating her on the different spices, wines, and vinegars. But her mother never came up. Not one utterance. Emri thought better than to ask. Every discussion stayed clear of the Empress.

Emri spoke of her favorite tall tales, and how she spent her days hunting and running errands to the market. Most of her kills feed them but occasionally, on a good day, she would take her leftover kills to the market to sell for a few coins. It never was much, but it bought a loaf of delicious wheat bread.

They gathered up what few items they brought and headed back home for supper. Emri noticed a slight ease in Nora’s step that was not there before. She seemed lighter if that was possible—freer maybe. Perhaps it was the brilliant grin plastered across her young face. It hadn’t faded since they left home, but the closer they drew near, apprehension weighed her down as if she knew the day drew to a close. In a mere couple of hours, she would have to make the dreaded trip back home. Nora’s stomach ached at the thought, almost making her physically sick.

But that worry ebbed away as she, along with the two other Dyer’s entered the quaint home. Helen had already begun cooking, anticipating her children’s arrival.

Danny took his catches outside and began to clean them while Emri took Nora back to her room to show her her beloved straw dolls.

Nora looked at the dolls with a hint of sadness as she straightened their dirty and tattered clothing. No doubt they were old. The stains and grime told that much. The construction seemed simple and archaic, yet she held on to them like they were the most precious things in the realms. This basic childhood toy symbolized yet another thing her mother stole from her. She had often been told by her mother that she was too old for dolls.

Sitting there on that bed with Emri, looking at children’s dolls and speaking about the most nonsensical things made Nora feel like a young girl for the first time in her life, and it felt wonderful.

Helen sat the table for four for the first time. Their extra chair had long since met its demise, so Danny, being the youngest, had to retrieve an old watering bucket from outside to sit on. The food, while vastly different from her dining in the palace, looked scrumptious, nevertheless. A large kettle sat in the middle filled to the brim with various vegetables, herbs, and the fish Danny caught. A sliced loaf of dark bread also sat in the middle.

Nora watched with amusement as the family of three dug right in. As usual, Emri and Danny fought over the ladle, until Helen swatted at them with an extra one she handed to Nora.

Nora only dipped a small amount into her bowl and looked at it as if awaiting approval. Helen noticed and placed a comforting hand on her arm. “Nora, honey, eat all you like. There’s plenty.”

She nodded and filled her bowl as Emri passed her a portion of bread. “The dark bread’s not that fresh,” Emri said with her mouth full of food. “But it’s all right once you dip it in the soup.”

Her mother looked absolutely horrified. “Emri!” her mother scolded with a blush to her cheeks.

Nora cupped a hand to her mouth as she held back a quiet laugh. “It is delicious, Miss Dyer.”

“That’s very kind of you, honey. It’s never much, but it’s enough for us, I suppose.”

The rest of dinner went on with a jovial atmosphere. Helen asked Nora all kinds of questions. Questions only a mother would typically ask. Nora answered many without hesitation, loving the opportunity to engage in such common luxuries. But some questions centered on her home life and parents were met with unease and silence. Helen noticed and quickly changed topics.

All remained well for the many weeks that passed. Nora visited as frequently as she dared, hopeful that her mother continued to be oblivious of her secretive outings. Gods help her should her mother ever find out.

The days of her visits were the happiest she’d ever been. For the first time, she finally understood what it felt like to be part of a loving family. The feeling felt like nothing she had ever encountered before, filling her up from the inside out. Making her whole once again.

But all that came crashing down early one morning in the late spring. Nora traveled off the grounds, unaware of her mother’s guards following her. Before she made it too far, they cornered her and took her back to the palace. She endured her mother’s wrath for the better part of the morning and afternoon. After her mother’s orders to spend the remainder of the day secluded to her chambers, she took another daring chance and fled into the forest.

“Nora!” Emri greeted; her tone full of concern and worry. She had sat waiting for hours for her friend’s arrival. She had never been late before. But when she saw Nora’s swollen and red cheeks still damp from tears, she ran to her. She looked her over with keen eyes and they immediately landed on her wrists. “Gods! Wha’ happened?”

Nora shook her head as new tears began to fall. “She found out!” she said in a panic. “She found out I was leaving my guard. He told her.”

Young Emri looked at her wrists and carefully ran her thumb over the marred skin. “Your wrists …” she said in horror as she looked at blood blisters that had formed around and beneath Nora’s bracelets. Because she was royalty, she didn’t have to wear the standard receptors that went through the hand. She had always worn gloves outside the palace. “Who did this?”

Nora’s silence told her everything.

“Come on, Ma knows how to take that burn right out.”

“She can’t see them!” she said. “She’ll know who I am once she sees them.”

“All right. But at least let her tend to your lip.”

Nora nodded and was led to her second home.

“I need to head back before mother realizes I’m gone again,” she said after awhile. Emri and she had moved to the bedroom. They sat on Emri’s bed as Nora fumbled with her wrists. Emri knew they must have been painful. She snuck back into the kitchen, wrung out the cloth, grabbed a small container of salve and washed Nora’s wrists herself.

Nora couldn’t stay for supper; instead, she went to leave.

Emri slipped on her shoes, and snatched her dagger before saying, “I’ll walk with you—”

“No!” Nora interjected. “The last thing I want is to give my mother someone else to go after. I hold enough of her attention for now.” She paused as she collapsed back on the straw mattress. She began to cry again. “I cannot come here anymore, Emri. Every day that I venture out here—every hour I spend here with you and your family, I am putting all of you more and more at risk. My mother is capable of horrific things … and I cannot … I will not allow harm to come to any of you because of me.”

Realization dawned on Emri. This could be the final time she ever saw her dear friend again. “But … but you can’t leave! You’re my best friend—the only one I have.”

“I do not have a choice, Emri. I could not live with myself if harm came upon you or your family … for something I did. Something I could have prevented.”

“Then we’ll leave—run away! You know that tree we always sit in, I’ve seen beyond it, mountains far off in the distance. We can leave and go there.”

The older girl regarded her with pain and sadness. Her lip quivered with her despair. “You are still so naïve, Emri. What I would not give to see through your eyes. To see hope when there is none; to see light in this dark place,” she stopped and lowered her head. She cleared her throat, and for the first time, Emri heard darkness in her tone. “The boundary is impassable, and the Black is too small to hide in. My mother would find us within hours. There are only so many places to hide for a girl of noble birth and a peasant girl of no more than ten,” she looked at Emri and her eyes looked cold for a fleeting moment before Nora understood the hurt her words had just caused her dear friend. She cupped her cheek lovingly as she continued, much gentler this time. “I may have five years on you, but you have taught me so much these past months, Emri. I wish all were as optimistic, loving, and accepting as you. And you are my best and only friend as well.”

“Here,” Emri said as she stood. “I want to give you something.”

Emri went over to the side of her bed, knelt down, and reached under. She brought out an old rusted and dented metal box. She popped it open and picked up something from within.

Without a second glance to the opened box, Emri walked over to her and showed her the gift.

Nora smiled as she took the long necklace within her hands; tracing her forefinger and thumb over the single pendant and smooth cream colored bone accents.”

“Tis beautiful, Emri. But I could not possibly take this from you.”

“I made it for you. I was in the market one morning and this man had several pressed pendants and smooth stones. I had an extra kill that day and traded it for that pendant and stone. Ma helped me with the wire, but …” she trailed off, feeling awkward and unknowing about what to say next. She didn’t have to fret too long because Nora threw her arms around the young girl and locked her in an appreciative hug.

“Thank you,” she said as her words were muffled by Emri’s shoulder.

She pulled back and brought the necklace around her neck and clasped it. Her long fingers traced it across her clavicle as she studied it; a huge grin on her face.

But Emri didn’t seem too pleased. “It’s ugly,” she said after a bit. Feeling self-conscious toward her gift. “You’re too pretty and beautiful and you have much nicer things to wear than an old handmade necklace made of bones and silly rocks. I feel stupid givin’ that to you.”

Nora smiled sadly as she cupped Emri’s chin and brought tear-filled eyes up to meet her own. “Emri,” she began. “I think it is beautiful. You made it for me and that is something no one else has ever done. Not out of good will. I will always treasure this because you gave it to me.”

She placed a goodbye kiss to her crown and stood. “I must go.”

“Please come back,” the young girl begged. “She won’t find out.”

Nora neither confirmed nor denied Emri’s request. It was too early to make promises. She didn’t even know what awaited her at home. But as she looked into soft crimson eyes, something spoke to her. A slight tug of her heart. A force almost binding her to this equally young girl that sat in front of her. No one could deny the special bond both girls had formed over the past seasons. It was strong and fierce; unique in many ways. They had forged an unlikely friendship—a friendship that would ultimately shape their destinies, their futures. But would it be for better … or for worse?

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