The day he came

“Can I come too?”

He had wanted to ask the first time, or the second, but Tumelo always appeared to have something for him to do and his mother, while usually patient, sometimes would not wait for anyone.

She squatted down in front of him, glancing about conspiratorially. “Let’s see if we can get out of here before anyone notices.” She took his hand and they quickly made their way out. He loved it when they did things like this. When they would leave the castle and head out into town. This time though, this time it was to one specific place. These were the children that had come without parents.

He couldn’t imagine.

“Ready, my flower?” She stroked his hair back in the braids they were contained in.

He nodded and they entered the orphanage.

Setting it free

The Baroness looked out the window, standing still as a statue. At least, until he approached. She looked down as he lifted the spider up for her to see. “How interesting. You catch that all on your own?”

He nodded with a smile.

She returned it with a smile of her own and pressed a hand on the top his head. “Now put that down, my flower. See? It’s scared.”

He didn’t know how to determine it was scared, but he put it down nonetheless. The both of them watched it skitter away. He climbed up on the windowsill to watch it as it escaped, his mother’s hand on his back to balance him. Once again, his eyes trailed away from the spider to the people down below. “Who are they, Ma’mer?”

“People who need help.”

It would be a long time before he understood what that meant.

Child be Child

Even at his young age, the next Baron of Castlehaven knew his mother was a tall, strong, proud woman. If he hadn’t understood such concepts, he would have had to make an educated guess from what other people around him said. If they were obligated to say so, because she was the Baroness, he couldn’t tell.

He caught a spider in the library. It was as big as the palm of his hand and couldn’t possibly be native. It had crawled over the shelving and landed on a book that had been close to where he had been playing. After staring at it for some time, he reached over and plucked it off of the spine and stared at it.

“What do you have there, young lord?”

He showed Tumelo his catch. As usual, the chamberlain wasn’t frightened, merely quietly annoyed.

“Put that down.”

“I want to show Ma’mer.”

“She will tell you the same.” Tumelo didn’t stop him from going to find her. He looked out the window as he walked by one that opened out low enough to the ground for him to see through it and downward in passing. Even more people coming from elsewhere. He ran to the Baroness.

In his pocket

He waited for Fletcher as he always did, with rapt anticipation. There was something about the undead man which resonated with him. His mother often teased that he enjoyed Fletcher’s company more than hers. It always flustered him.

Fletcher entered the room with a question. “Left or right pocket?”

He hesitated, but tried to forge on ahead, as Fletcher obviously wanted him to do. “L-left?”

Fletcher smiled. “Good. I was hoping you’d say left, young master. Shall we work on your mother’s birthday present?”

A wide grin broke out across his face. If only his mother knew how much of his and Fletcher’s time was spent figuring out ways to give her something.

The world away

Apparently, Fletcher hadn’t always lived in Castlehaven. He couldn’t imagine that, because he felt as though Fletcher had been here forever. Perhaps there were moments he remembered of his infancy where Fletcher was not, but the Baron’s heir had assumed that was because it was hard to remember being that young.

“Where did you live?” he asked the undead man one day. They were looking over maps, Fletcher teaching him about different places. Sometimes his mother sat in when they talked about this. Apparently she used to live somewhere else too.

Fletcher smiled. “Many different places. I can’t say settling down ever occurred to me until arriving here.” His finger trailed across the map. It might have seemed random, but he could tell Fletcher was being deliberate. The path he had taken to Castlehaven.

He stopped Fletcher’s finger on a particular spot. His finger was cool, not cold, but not warm, not like his mother. He didn’t mind. That was simply how Fletcher was. “Tell me about here!”

Fletcher began to speak. With the colours of his magic, the heir of Castlehaven could see a place half a world away.

The color of magic

She had thought a member of the undead might be more dour than this.

Fletcher laughed. “You don’t keep anything back, do you?”

Nemissa paused for a moment. “What do you mean?” Some understanding dawned on her. “I am quite tactful.”

“One can be forward without being blunt.” Fletcher showed her son his magic again, taking up drops of paint in a rainbow between his fingers, mixing the colors together and pulling them apart. She was as fascinated by this as the child was. However, Nemissa could still keep up conversation, while her son was content to keep silent and watch the show.

“Am I overstepping a boundary?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Not at all. I simply wasn’t expecting a question like that. I’ve found that many are. They start out that way and if they haven’t, they grow into it. I’ll admit at first I was in the former camp. But dourness truly is a choice in this manner. I much prefer a positive outlook.”

“Then we have a shared perspective. Even when things go badly, continuing to look at further ill can’t make it better.”

“Sometimes nothing can make something better.” Fletcher smiled up at her. “Yet trying to, regardless, can create something else good where there might not have been any.”

With conversations like this, Nemissa couldn’t determine for the life of her, if the rest of the humanoid undead were in anyway similar to Fletcher, why people might fear the undead.

Twenty one

The Baroness of Castlehaven’s birthday was a grand event, whether she wanted it to be or not. Not that she minded too much, giving the people another excuse to celebrate was always welcome.

Their conversation was interrupted every other minute, from those who wished Nemissa well on her birthday, to those who wished to say hello to her son, or to Fletcher. Those who beckoned them to their stalls, for food, games, trinkets. There was barely a moment to speak, but when there was Fletcher tended to get to the point.

“You are twenty one?”

Fletcher sounded surprised, for a reason Nemissa could only attempt to guess at. “Yes. Do I seem younger?”

He laughed. “What a trap of a question!”

Schooling her face, Nemissa made sure not to smile as she continued. “Then I seem older.”

“You look like a young woman, where time stands still as to make one immortal. I guessed at a different age because of a different culture, not because of your appearances, my lady.”

“I accept that explanation,” Nemissa said. “What part of your culture does mine differ from?”

Fletcher stopped to look at the glass fish, colors reflecting off his eyes in a way which fascinated her. “Your son was born when you were seventeen. You seem older by way of mental maturity which isn’t apparent in the youth of other cultures.”

Nemissa reached out, plucking a blue fish from the selection as her son gestured at it. “That is the case here as well. My own youth was something I brought with me when I came here, I suppose.” A thought struck her and she gave a sidelong glance at the undead before beginning to pay for a large assortment of fish for her son’s friends who would be around somewhere. “How old are you?”

Fletcher laughed again. “Another trap? I should be embarrassed to answer.”

He didn’t seem embarrassed, but he also didn’t answer. She had the feeling it wasn’t something dramatic, but that would seem odd in comparison to the age of the living. Nemissa didn’t ask again.

When she first heard of him

Nemissa first heard of him from her trusted chamberlain. He spoke of the newcomer in a rather absent manner during his morning report, occupied as she was with brushing her son’s hair.

“It appears as though a member of the undead has arrived in town.”

Nemissa settled her son in his chair, smoothing his black curls back. “Undead?” she asked Tumelo. “In what way? I thought revival was impossible.”

“That is simply the umbrella term for the creatures who should be, by all rights, dead, but are alive. Other societies shun them for this difference. Your people have also had little experience with such things, but haven’t found themselves worried about him. He has been in town for a week and has been warmly welcomed.”

Nemissa thought about that for a few moments. “That’s interesting. I would like to meet a member of the undead.”

“That would be wise, my lady. While he has not come to introduce himself as a representative, he most certainly is to your people, no matter his true status. It would be quite strategic to learn who he is, why he is here, and make certain that terms remain positive for both he and Castlehaven.”

Nemissa smiled, pressing her lips against her son’s head for a moment before letting him toddle off the chair and try to make his way around the room. “Those are all important, Tumelo, but I also have another reason: pure curiosity. As you must have guessed from my question, there are no such concepts where I came from.”

“Where come from, Ma’mer?”

“A place far away from here, my flower.” She watched as he interested himself in a cabinet. “Is he staying at the Eternal Drink, Tumelo?”

“Yes, my lady.”

Nemissa tore her eyes away from her son long enough to look out the window. “Then I might go and see him there.” She ignored the very mild protests of her chamberlain, who suggested that he be invited up here to meet her. He was used to her doing this.

Everyone was.

The months after

Honestly, Nemissa changed nothing when the refugees began filtering in. Her city did it for her and she allowed it. Truly she could have asked for no better people than those she could claim to be Baroness of.

“Ma’mer, what?”

It was her son’s favorite thing to do: ask questions. She lifted him up in her arms so he could better see the construction going on around the harbor. “Construction. A new dock, for the new workers. New knowledge of the water, combined with our old knowledge. They’re building a shipyard there. See?” She pointed toward it, watching his eyes light up. Nemissa didn’t know how much of it he understood, but if he kept asking she would keep answering.

He looked to take after her much more than her late husband. In some ways she regretted that. In others… she hoped he was more her than the Baron. She pushed the thought away. Gods, she missed him. All what he had done while ill… not so much.

“Ma’mer?”

She snapped out of it. “That’s where they are going to build a trawler,” she continued. “A big ship that will catch a lot of fish with a net. Shall we go see where the trawler will be?”

He smiled and laughed. Whatever he understood, it cheered him more than anything else could cheer others.

“Then let us descend, my son.”

With her son in arms, Nemissa would walk out of her castle and see the changes of her lands.