On the morning of our third day in Talecrof, I found a small card had been slid under the door to our room.
Meet me behind the stands of the arena after nightfall tonight.
Feel free to bring the Fenrir.
“I’m pretty sure I know who Myr is,” I said showing the card to Cairah. “The question is whether or not it is safe to meet her.”
“If she is fine with you bringing me along, I would imagine it isn’t anything nefarious. She has to know she stands no chance of harming you with me by your side.”
“True.” I chewed my lower lip. “She kept looking at me like she knew me though. She could intend to betray us to the Guides.”
“If that is the case, it would be better to deal with her now rather than give her time to muster more forces. Your brother may have not yet arrived in the city, but if she’s working with our enemies it is only a matter of time.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “If we go we might be walking into a trap. If we don’t go we’ll be left in the dark.”
“I’ll protect you Welsie.” Cairah petted the top of my head, kissing my forehead. “Not to mention you’ve grown stronger than you were before. The Guides won’t expect you to defend yourself. If they’ve come for you, I say we teach them a lesson.”
I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. “Alright. I guess we’ll waste the day away and then go see what Myrilla has planned for us.”
“I know a good way to waste the day,” Cairah smirked before lifting me into her arms and carrying me back to bed.
Cairah and I cuddled the day away until the sun began to set. Once the dark ambers and reds of the setting sun overtook the sky we dressed and prepared to meet Myrilla.
At night Talecrof’s streets remained brighter than any others I’d seen due to liberally placed glowing crystals. Thanks to them many people still meandered about even though the sun had set.
My heart raced the closer we got to the arena. The glowing crystals becoming sparser once we got near. It made sense, there was little reason for people to be hanging around the arena after dark. Also explained why Myrilla had chosen this place to meet. Less light meant our meeting was more likely to be overlooked.
“She’s gotta be around here somewhere,” I whispered as Cairah and I drew close.
Sniffing the air Cairah squeezed my shoulder before taking off around a dark corner. Following her, I nearly ran into her back after she stopped abruptly. Leaning against a wall in the shadows was Myrilla, along with two masked men with swords at their waists.
“You both came.” Myrilla smiled. “Good, I didn’t want to come to get you and make a scene.”
“I thought we weren’t planning to meet until after the tournament,” I replied trying to keep my tone even so she wouldn’t realize how nervous I was.
“That was the plan, but I couldn’t get you out of my head.” Myrilla waved a hand towards an adjacent street. “Now I know how it looks, but I do promise you that I mean no harm. Once we're done you’ll return to your inn a few hours from now without a scratch on you. So if you don’t mind please follow my companions here, I have a more comfortable place for our conversation.”
I shared a glance with Cairah who eventually shrugged her shoulders. Even with the additional muscle, it didn’t seem like Cairah believed they’d be much of a threat. With a sigh, I gave up and took off after Myrilla’s men, with Cairah and Myrilla following behind me.
The men took us to a rather cozy looking little two-story wooden home. We were ushered inside the main common room where a fire had already been lit, and a pair of maids waited. The moment we were in view they stepped forward and began fussing over Cairah and I. Asking how we liked our tea, if we wanted a snack, and informing us they’d ‘notify the mistress of our arrival’.
“Who is their mistress?” I asked gazing at Myrilla who’d taken a seat on an adjacent sofa.
“My mother,” Myrilla replied lifting a cup to her lips. “I need her to confirm something for me.”
“What is it that you need confirmed?”
“Whether or not you’re Berwynn’s daughter.”
If it were possible I’m certain my jaw would’ve hit the floor. I had begun to assume it might be possible for my body to belong to a member of the Duke’s family. I didn’t expect that she might’ve been the Duke’s granddaughter.
“… I don’t have memories of being related to you.” I said doing my best to play ignorant. The last thing I needed was for Myrilla to get aggressive after learning that I’d possibly stolen her niece’s body.
“I don’t expect you to remember,” Myrilla said somberly, her eyes vacantly gazing at the cup in her hands. After a moment she took a deep breath and then the sadness I’d seen vanished from her face, replaced with a cocksure smile. “I have your best interests in mind Welsie. Just remember that.”
We chatted idly for a bit, Cairah only allowing me to drink the tea I was provided after she’d taken a sip herself. Then a woman who appeared nearly identical to Myrilla stepped into the room.
If I’d been told the newcomer was Myrilla’s older sister, or even perhaps her twin I would’ve believed it. It was only when Myrilla addressed her as ‘Mama’ that I realized this was her mother.
The woman gave Myrilla a gentle pat on the shoulder before she made her way over to me. Gazing at me as if she were in a trance. Crouching down in front of me the woman reached a hand out her lips quivering as she gently brushed my cheek. “A-Asteria.”
“So I was right, she really is Ria?” Myrilla asked her gaze becoming unfocused.
“She looks nearly identical to the day she vanished.” Myrilla’s mother clenched her eyes shut for a moment. Then without warning, she pulled me against her chest, hugging me painfully tight.
“Release her,” Cairah commanded standing up from her seat. “Welsie isn’t the woman you’re looking for.”
“Maybe not anymore,” Myrilla replied. “If not for Mama I would’ve doubted my own eyes. She’s renowned for her infallible memory. If she says Welsie is Asteria, then it is true.”
“Couldn’t… this Asteria and I just look identical? It can’t be impossible.” I asked once I’d been freed from the hug.
Myrilla’s mother smiled gently and grabbed my wrist, motioning to one of the bracelets I always wore. “I gave you that for your twelfth birthday. It is not possible for you to have both the same appearance and the same jewelry is it?”
“Ah.” I looked down at my lap completely lost for words. I couldn’t deny any further what they’d already uncovered. I simply chewed my lip and waited for them to question me further.
“My name is Kanika,” Myrilla’s mother stated taking a seat beside me. “Though you are not related by blood to me I’d still like for you to see me as family. I’ll do my best to protect and care for you while you’re here.”
“You can count on me too!” Myrilla said placing a hand against her chest. “Berwynn and I don’t get along in the least, I’d never turn you over to him.”
“Why wouldn’t I want you to tell him I’m here? If he’s my father wouldn’t he be desperate to know his daughter has turned up? Even if she doesn’t have any memories of him?” I knew I was digging my own grave by not continuing to deny I was who they believed I was, but curiosity got the better of me.
Myrilla and Kanika shared a look both sighing before Kanika turned to look at me. “When you were young Lord Berwynn began to invite unsavory individuals into his manor. Even the Duke took notice of it and began to investigate these men and women. Unfortunately before we could get any meaningful information on them you had vanished, and they stopped appearing at Lord Berwynn’s estate.”
“Berwynn lied and said you’d run off in the middle of the night,” Myrilla stated, picking up where Kanika left off. “Of course nobody in the family with half a brain believed him. We all knew those men had to have done something to you, but without knowing anything about them we were powerless to do anything.”
“Ah.” After Efrem said that Asteria’s family had sold her to the Guides, I’d assumed they’d all been in on the deal. I didn’t really consider that there would be those who were desperate for her to come home.
“It’s ok dear.” Kanika gingerly rubbed my back. A display of motherly affection I’d never previously received and didn’t know how to deal with. “We realize this is all a bit much. You have created a new identity for yourself, hearing about who you used to be is probably uncomfortable. All I ask is that you don’t push us away. You’ll remember everything someday. Now, why don’t we get the maids to bring us some sweets and you tell us what you do remember? I’m sure the story about how you and your lovely Fenrir met is quite riveting.”
I exchanged a glance with Cairah before telling a heavily edited version of my story up until now. Explaining Efrem was… difficult, they couldn’t believe a dragon would randomly claim to be my sibling. Likewise, I refused to admit I was some kind of soul hijacker and simply decided to feign ignorance whenever they questioned part of my story that I didn’t have a good excuse for.
“Wow.” Myrilla chucked after I finished my story. “So you’ve come all this way to learn primal magic from the Duke without ever knowing the two of you are related? I guess in a small way fate can be kind even when it is doing its worst. At least this way you were reunited with us.”
“Yeah,” I replied somberly. Feeling increasingly terrible that they believed Asteria had returned to them when I knew for a fact she hadn’t.
“If only your mother was still with us,” Kanika said dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.
“Did something happen to her?”
“She was banished from Talecrof years ago,” Myrilla answered. “She was one of Father’s wives, yet she cheated on him with his son. You were probably five when it was discovered you weren’t the Duke’s daughter, but rather his granddaughter. Berwynn’s been in hot water ever since, I seriously don’t understand why Father hasn’t thrown him in jail. Or better yet, removed his head from his shoulders.”
“You mustn’t talk like that. If you said something that got misconstrued as a threat…”
“We can’t protect Welsie and not make threats against Berwynn. Who cares if he’s the only human heir. I have a dozen more qualified siblings who’d do far better at governing our lands. Our King would be truly foolish to side with Berwynn after all he’s done.”
“I’m sure your father has done all he can. I have spoken with him about Lord Berwynn before, he agrees that his son needs to be punished.”
“He agrees, yet he’s done nothing. Actually he has locked himself away and refused to meet with any of us! Which is less than nothing.”
“If he won’t meet with anyone…” My shoulders shook. How can I get him to teach me primal magic?!
Myrilla scratched at her cheek, quickly inferring the words I’d left unspoken. “We’ll help you figure something out Ri-Welsie… Sorry, I’m trying to get used to the new name.”
I’d made sure during my tale to inform them that Cairah had given me my name and that it meant a lot to me because of that. I was thankful Myrilla was trying to use it, even if it was strange to be calling her niece by a name unfamiliar to her.
“Rorik inherited primal affinity.” Kanika cut in. “Once he returns from the capital he would be able to teach her.”
“True! Rorik would be an amazing teacher!” Myrilla shouted clapping her hands together. “He should be back in time for the birthday ball, once Welsie and Cairah win the tournament it’ll be easy to introduce them.”
“If the tournament is held by Lord Berwynn, shouldn’t I drop out? If the two of you recognized me he will too won’t he?”
“We’ll give you a disguise.” Myrilla winked. “Actually that was the whole point of bringing you here tonight. Other than confirming you were who I believed you to be. I wanted to warn you to come here the day of the tournament, so we can disguise you.”
“It’ll be fun. You used to love dressing up.”
Myrilla laughed. “She’d always dress up as one of the squires and go running around with her little wooden sword. It was adorable.”
They weren’t even talking about me, yet I still felt my cheeks and the tips of my ears grow hot. Somewhere in my chest, a deep feeling of embarrassment boiled forward, unable to handle it I turned and buried my face in Cairah’s shoulder.
Cairah softly petted my head while Kanika gently placed a hand on my back. “It’s getting late, the two of you should return to your inn. We have spare bedrooms here if you’d like to stay, but I won’t force you.”
“We’ll return to the inn for tonight,” Cairah answered before standing.
Nodding in agreement I stood and turned to hug Kanika. She was still a stranger to me, but it felt rude not to return some of the affection she’d shown me. Waving to Myrilla I followed Cairah out of the house and the two of us returned to our inn.