Thicker Than Water, Too
Disclaimer - What we are, what become is the compilation of the times and places from which we came. Children learn what they live, teach what they know and become more than we hope they can be…the cycle continues for all time. Here I've borrowed characters' names in an effort to create a past from which greatness evolved. I put forth neither violence nor underlying meanings, nothing more than a story…a memory from a life so long ago.
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"Whatcha doin?" the little girl asked, her brown eyes wide with wonder. She held the rough post of the handmade bed frame with both hands, swaying back and forth waiting for an answer.
A second girl scowled in answer as she slammed another article onto the cloth she had spread across the mattress. She turned and stomped across the room, dropped to her knees in front of a large chest and pushed her long blonde hair behind both ears. She threw open the top of the trunk and began rummaging through its contents.
The taller girl stood watching from behind. She clasped her arms at the base of her spine and rocked on her heels before continuing. "Whatcha lookin' for?"
Again the blonde child scowled, dropped the trunk's lid shut and pushed herself to her feet. She turned and faced her inquisitor, with her hands on her hips.
"Why don't you go outside and play or something? I'm busy." She explained in frustration.
"Are you gonna run away?" The cinnamon brown haired child's eyebrows went high in anticipation. "It's because of yesterday isn't it?" She shook her head sadly, "You shouldna thrown that rock at Stefano, Gabby."
"Stefano shouldn't have pushed me. Stefano shouldn't have pulled my hair and Stefano shouldn't have called me skinny!" the smaller girl explained as if she had just been insulted.
The other child laughed then quickly covered her mouth with both hands. "It sure was funny when he sat right on the baker's pastry table, though."
The little blonde rubbed both hands up and down against her backside, "Mother didn't think it was so funny," she huffed.
The darker girl stopped for a moment, biting her bottom lip. Quickly, her smile returned along with her laughter. "I bet Stefano is still picking crumbs out of his…"
"LILA!" Gabrielle stopped her sister mid-sentence.
"Sorry…" Lila twittered and shrugged her shoulders. She watched as her sister tossed a few more items into the cloth then pulled the opposite corners together and tied them securely. Lila sat down on the bed next to where her sister stood. "Momma's making nutbread for Solstice," she stated hoping it would entice her sister to give up her ideas of flight.
Gabrielle stopped for a moment and took a deep breath, allowing the aroma of the sweet delicacy to fill her nostrils. She coughed loudly to hide the growl that started deep in her belly. "I have one dinar that Uncle Merops gave me for helping him muck the stalls. I can buy nutbread." She wondered if anyone could make her favorite treat as good as her mother could.
Lila slid off the bed and followed her sister to the window, staring up at the steel gray clouds. "It's awful cold Gabby," the younger girl announced with a slight shiver, "Papa says it might snow." A bit of excitement entered her tone. "Do you think it will? Do you think it will be lots of snow?" Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders, refusing to meet her sister's gaze. Lila frowned. "Are you mad at Papa too? Did Papa…"
"No," Gabrielle answered before she could finish. "He yelled a lot then told me to go to my room and stay here all day. ALL DAY! He didn’t even let me explain. He didn't even listen when I tried to tell him what Stefano did, and that I didn't hit him anyway. I wasn't going to hit him. I just wanted to make him think I would."
Lila listened as her sister rattled on with her story. "But…"
"Stefano was crying and carrying on like I knocked his head off. What a baby!" Gabrielle went on ignoring the fact that her sister was trying to make a point as well.
"But, Gabby, Papa told you not to throw rocks. He told you lots of times." Lila nodded as she reminded her sister why their parents had been so angry.
Gabrielle sighed again, "I didn't hit him, Lila. You know that. I wouldn't really hit him. He just made me soooooo MAD!" She clenched her fists at her sides as the memory of yesterday's incident burned vividly in her mind.
Lila nodded vigorously, "but you did hit the tinsmith's wagon. Wow! All those pots and pans clanking and banging and that donkey, making all that noise. What a crash!" Lila giggled remembering the chaos in the market place the previous day. Gabrielle rolled her eyes and shook her head. The younger girl stopped, realizing she wasn't helping much. She stood next to her sister and stared at the horizon. "Where ya gonna go, Gabby?"
The older child shrugged her shoulders again. "Probably to the mountains," she sighed dramatically. "I'll just find myself a nice cave to live in for a while, then who knows, maybe I'll go on to Crete or Athens or even Troy."
Lila's eyes were wide. She blinked a few times then crinkled her face into a pixie smile. "You can't live in a cave," she laughed.
"Why not?" Gabrielle was indignant.
"There might be monsters!" her sister reminded her as her eyebrows disappeared beneath her bangs.
Gabrielle huffed and waved a hand at her younger sister, "I'm not afraid of monsters."
Lila laughed harder. "Gabby, you don't even like bugs and there's lots of bugs in caves and the ground is all rocky and bumpy and you don't even like bumps in our bed. Where will you sleep?"
The blonde child stared at her sister for a beat then scratched her temple as she thought. "Well, maybe I'll just go right on to Thrace and find a nice place to settle down or maybe I'll just keep going till I find a place where people don't yell at you all the time and not listen when you need to tell them what really happened."
Lila scrunched up one side of her face. "Maybe you could wait a little while," she almost pleaded. "It's Solstice in just three days. Remember? You won't get any presents if you're in a cave or on a road someplace," the girl explained.
Gabrielle stared at her sister, who although a bit more than a year younger already stood an inch and a half taller than she did. It was hard being older and smaller at the same time. Most people thought Lila was the big sister; that infuriated the little blonde. Lila favored their father with darker hair but had her mother's deep brown eyes. She had a sprinkle of freckles across her nose. Her frame was sturdy. Mother said it was because Lila was 'big boned'. Gabrielle often wondered if that meant she was 'little boned'. She favored her mother with sun streaked flaxen hair, and her father with wide green eyes. Gabrielle was petite and sure she was the smallest girl in all of Poteidia. She thought about the coming Solstice and the many nights she and Lila had laid in bed (long after Mother's last warning to go to sleep) anticipating the longest night of the year. She'd peeked out the door a few times and caught mother working on secret surprises. In her heart, Gabrielle couldn't wait until that day. In her mind, her very stubborn mind, she would not give up her wounded ego so easily. She handed the parcel she was holding to Lila, then reached around her sister and pulled her shawl from a hook on the wall. She draped it around her shoulders and pulled it tight around her neck. She put her hand on Lila's shoulder.
"I'll write to you as soon as I get settled." With that she flipped up her hood and boosted herself up onto the windowsill. She reached for her pack, spun herself around and slid onto the ground.
Lila leaned over the sill and watched until her sister was out of sight. She sighed then pulled the large shutters closed before leaving the room.
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Lila stood in the doorway of the room she shared with her sister, watching as their mother added a pinch of something to the large bowl on the table. She watched as her mother grasped the spoon that stuck out of it and stirred vigorously. The little girl crossed the room slowly, stopping at the opposite side of the table. She laced her fingers together, placed them on the edge and then rested her chin on them. She looked up at her mother, who smiled back at her younger daughter. Reaching out with a powdery finger, she tapped the little girl's nose, leaving a white dot on its tip. For a few moments, mother and daughter simply enjoyed each other's company wordlessly.
"Momma?" Lila's squeaky voice broke the silence as she lifted her head. Her mother's look told her she should continue. "Can I have some bread and some cheese…please?" She quickly remembered her manners.
"Lila!" Mother scolded with a smile, "you just had breakfast."
"Oh it's not for me," Lila explained as she traced the edge of the table with her finger. "It's for Gabby."
Hecuba stifled a small laugh as she watched the little girl avoid her gaze. "Gabrielle had breakfast as well, she can't possibly be hungry again. Gods! I don't know where that little one puts all she eats." Inwardly she thanked the gods for her older daughter's healthy appetite. Having come into the world much too early, Gabrielle battled for a strong hold on life. Once she had it, she had became a stubborn handful refusing to let go of anything (including any idea) she managed to wrap her tiny hands and heart around. Gabrielle was all heart. Even after yesterday's little misdeed and the reprimand that followed, the child had asked several times if the young boy was indeed unharmed and if she could help repair anything in the market place. But, Hecuba knew her little one's pride was wounded and she would do some serious pouting until it was healed. Luckily, Gabrielle got over her little misadventures quite quickly. She was surprised it was Lila who had come to the kitchen, enticed by the smell of fresh nutbread, and not the child that never seemed to get enough of it.
"Oh, she doesn't want it for now, momma," Lila was explaining. "I can catch up to her by lunchtime and we can have it together." Her brown-eyed pixie smiled at her plan.
Hecuba shook her head as she stood back, wiping her hands on the apron she wore. "Run away again, hmm?" Lila nodded heavily, bringing her chin to her chest several times. Her mother walked across the kitchen and pulled open the larder. She took out a loaf of dark bread and a large round of cheese. After cutting two portions from each she wrapped them in cloth and placed them in a small sack. She turned and held out the parcel to the child who had been watching her actions. "Take two cups from the shelf," she nodded toward the large cupboard against the wall, "you can get water from the spring." Lila nodded as she did as she was told then pulled the door to the small house open. "Take your shawl, young lady," Hecuba instructed her daughter, "it is much too cold today." Lila smiled and reached for her wrap from the hook next to the doorway but her mother was faster. She pulled it around the child, making sure the hood covered most of her head. "Now, you be careful," she smiled as she tucked the light brown curls inside the girl's hood. She kissed her once on the tip of the nose and again on the forehead before turning her toward the door. "And make sure you and your sister are back by supper."
Lila nodded, "Yes, momma, I will." She slipped out the door and skipped across the yard to the gate at the far end of a long low wall. As she passed the open door of the barn, she waved a small wave at her father, who waved back. Hecuba rubbed her arms against the chill and watched until Lila had passed through the gate and beyond the wall. She shook her head as she pushed the heavy door closed and returned to her chore. How could the gods have sent her two such beautiful girls who were so very different? Gabrielle wouldn't go far, she rarely did. This was the fourth, no the fifth time this month her little one had traipsed off on a quest to find a 'place to blossom' as she had told her on more than one occasion. 'Where does that child come up with these things? Such wild notions! Must be Herodotus' side of the family, yes…his Uncle Tolamus was bit daft, always off traveling somewhere, nothing but a nomad…' She pushed the thought out of her head. Her little girl was not about to lead a life on the road, roaming from place to place like some outlaw, without a home, without a family….
Gabrielle walked for quite a while, heading for the mountains that bordered theeastern edge of her world. She had sat on the wall that bordered her father's farm on many days staring at that range, wondering just what lay beyond their majesty. Traveling merchants and the occasional bard that happened through town told stories of magical places and wondrous visions. She had hidden in the shadows of the local tavern many times just to listen to the tales they shared. Many times, she had told herself she would someday see what lay beyond the boundaries of Potidaea, but not today. It was cold and those mountains were a lot farther away than her nine-year-old perception had imagined. She slowed her footsteps to a casual stroll.
"Good morning, Gabrielle!" a voice called from the yard of a hut she was passing. She lifted a hand to wave to the elderly gentleman to whom it belonged. The man was struggling with a rather uncooperative goat as he attempted to milk the animal. Gabrielle pushed open the gate and walked closer to the man.
"Daisy's giving you a hard time again this morning, Trophonius?" She smiled at the old man as she dropped her pack and wrapped an arm around the nanny goat's neck. The girl scratched behind one of its ears and bent close to whisper to it. The animal stopped struggling and closed its large black eyes. Its breath, that before had seemed panicked, slowed as it allowed the man to continue his chore. Softly she sang the little song her grandmother had sung over and over, as she milked the goats on her on farm. Grandma told her music made the animals calm and Gabrielle loved the sound of the old woman's voice. It made sense that soft sounds would help the skittish creature relax.
Trophonius smiled a toothless smile at the little girl. "Lucky you came along, little one. Daisy's not so fond of my cold hands these days, but the milk is good for my Zoya."
Gabrielle nodded as she reached to help the man carry the bucket of milk to his home. The goat trotted across the muddy yard and treated itself to the feed in a small trough. It gave a disgusted bleat as it left, shaking its head so hard its long ears slapped the sides of its head loudly. "How is Zoya, Trophonius? Is the medicine the healer sent doing her well? Perhaps I can share a story with her. I know a new one, it's about a king named Midas and this terrible curse the gods put on him. I heard it in the market place just last week. I'm sure Zoya hasn't heard it yet." She smiled at the man. "She might like it."
The old man pushed the door of his house open and peered into the darkness inside. "I'm sure she would enjoy the company, little one and the story as well." He laughed as he stepped aside to allowed the girl to enter.
"Nipia, m'nipia!" The elderly woman exclaimed as the child entered. She pulled her shawl tightly around her shoulders and lifted her wizened body from her chair near the hearth. She reached out wrinkled hands and smiled a beautiful smile at the little girl who stood in the doorway. "M'kali nipia!" Gabrielle allowed the woman to fold her into a giant, but gentle hug. The little girl hugged back, being mindful of the old woman's brittle bones.
Zoya and Trophonius weren't like the rest of the folk in Potidaea. They hadn't been born and raised in the small town. Trophonius had been a member of the Athens Senate and Zoya a fine lady with a large house in the city. They had lived there many years and raised a large family. Gabrielle could never understand why they had come to her tiny, boring, little village, but Zoya had told her they needed to rest after a long busy career and this was just the right place. As long as she could remember, she had shared stories with the old woman. Zoya had told the little girl many wondrous tales of her life in Athens and of the Great Academy there, that taught both young boys and young girls such things as geometry and literature. Gabrielle told no one of her dreams to see such a place someday. Maybe, if she studied very hard, she might even be accepted into that great school. This was her one deep secret. She kept it close to her heart.
"Sit, sit, nipia…" Zoya smiled, patting the small space next to her as she returned to her seat. Gabrielle quickly snuggled close to the old woman and rested her head against Zoya's soft shoulder. "Mmm, trouble again, nipia?" Zoya laughed and patted the child's cheek gently, then placed a soft kiss atop her head. "Such a little one and always in so much trouble, tsk, tsk."
Gabrielle smiled at the twinkle in the pale blue eyes just a few inches above her own. Somehow, it didn't sound so bad when the old woman said it, but yes it did seem she got into more than her share of mischief. She smiled back and squeezed the woman's hand a little squeeze. "I have a new story!" she chirped, wide eyed.
"And you come here just to share it with Zoya!" The woman matched the child's enthusiasm. She glanced at her husband who had placed a large jug on the small table. He looked back and winked at his wife with a small smile. It was good to see her so animated, but Gabrielle always seemed to bring out the best in the old couple. He pulled a chair from the table and turned it toward the pair in front of the fire. It was a cold and dreary day. His chores could wait while he listened to this little one's tale. Zoya turned back to the girl who was patiently waiting. "And so…begin," she encouraged the girl.
Gabrielle stood and dropped her own shawl onto the chair then moved to the small area in front of the fireplace. She pushed the stray strands of her hair behind her ears, took a deep breath, threw her arms wide and began, "I sing the song of Midas…" then stopped and looked from wrinkled face to wrinkled face. "I saw a bard in the tav…town square start a story just like that. I think it makes it sound better, don't you?" The girl's light eyebrows went high as her eyes opened wide in anticipation. Zoya put a hand to her mouth to hide a small laugh, then nodded. Trophonius coughed a little and cleared his throat, but he nodded too. Gabrielle smiled wide and started again, "I sing the song of Midas, a rich but greedy king…"
An hour later the little girl had finished not one or two but three stories. She had also brewed a fine pot of tea, gathered enough firewood to last the night and helped the old woman to her bed when she had become too sleepy to remain in her chair. She pulled a blanket up to Zoya's chin and leaned over to kiss her forehead. Gently she brushed the fine gray hair across the woman's temple. Trophonius gave her a large portion of baklava wrapped in cheesecloth and told her to 'go straight home' since the skies were promising bad weather before sunset. She nodded in agreement, just so the old man wouldn't worry. The girl walked to the end of the couple's small yard and waved back at the man in the doorway then began walking on the path toward home. As soon as she was sure he could no longer see her, she reversed her course and once again headed for the mountain. Her wounded pride was still smarting from mother's chastisement and she was not about to go back to a family that just didn't understand or even listen to her reasoning. Of course by now she was also considering the fact that it wouldn't be just her pride that was sore after Papa realized she had, once again, taken flight. He'd given her a very stern and steadfast warning the last time she had stormed off to settle her ruffled feathers.
The child stood on her tiptoes and peered over a large hedgerow then chewed her lip as she cast one final look over her shoulder toward home. She was supposed to be in her room considering the dangers of tossing small solid objects that were better left on the ground. She was supposed to be thinking about the consequences of disobeying her parents' wishes and of losing her temper to silly nonsensical taunting. It wouldn't matter now anyway, even if she turned back. The girl squinted up at the sun, judging that by its height it was probably time her father would be leaving his grinding wheel to have his midday meal. He'd surely notice she was gone. She was already in a lot of trouble and sure to catch a large dose of Papa's strong hand anyway. Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders, crouched low and scooted under the hedge to the opposite side. The mountains didn't seem any closer, but for now home seemed farther away and she was free.
Lila walked slowly past the farm that her sister always found so fascinating. Those ancient people there spoke in a strange accent and scared the younger girl silly. She couldn't imagine why her sister spent so much time there. Gabrielle was goofy. She was always goofy. Gabrielle talked about things Lila never could understand. How on earth was her sister going to travel all over the world? Only warlords and warriors did that much traveling. Lila laughed out loud at her thoughts. 'Gabrielle. A warlord, huh! She's afraid to go to the outhouse by herself after sunset. She can't climb a tree or even use that silly little slingshot Perdicus is always playing with. She can't fight either! I always win and she's such a crybaby too.' Lila stayed as far to the opposite side of the road as she could, hoping the couple would not notice her passing and invite her to have a cup of tea or some other strange bit of food they were always trying. 'Swan's tongue!' The little girl scrunched up her nose and stuck out her tongue in disgust. "Yuck!" she whispered. "I bet Gabby'd eat it, she'd eat anything." She shivered with the thought and hurried as she moved toward the back of the small house and out of the inhabitant's sight.
It wasn't hard to catch up to Gabrielle. She always ended up in the same place anyway. By the time the sun was past its zenith and the gray clouds had consumed most of the sky, Lila spied her sister atop a large boulder. It rested just above where the pond spilled over into a small stream that led to a much large creek as it crept closer to town. The girl let out an exasperated sigh, tugged up the hem of her skirt and began her climb to the same position.
Gabrielle sat hugging her knees to her chest, her chin rested atop them. She stared at the water that, in this season, seemed black with the chill of winter. It didn't sparkle like it did in summer when the sun seemed to dance on its surface. Occasionally she reached for a small pebble and tossed it into the dark water, listening to the hollow plunk it created. Even that sound was different now. She sighed a long sigh and rested her cheek on her knee, gazing at the mountains. They were no closer now than they had been earlier. It was like some bizarre enchantment. No matter how far she walked, they moved farther away. She wondered if perhaps they were cursed.
"GABBY!" Lila scolded as she stepped behind her sister.
Gabrielle let out a short breath, but did not acknowledge the other girl's presence. She didn't have to. The picture of Lila standing there with her hands on her hips, glaring at her with that silly 'you're in big trouble, young lady' look on her face was more than enough.
"Did you bring food?" Gabrielle sighed as Lila plopped down next to her.
"Uh huh!" Lila smiled as she set the bag on her lap and opened it to reveal its contents to her sister. "Momma say's be home by supper, though." She handed her sister her portion of the bread and cheese.
"I'm not going home," Gabrielle stated as she bit into the dark bread and continued staring toward the mountain.
Lila shrugged her shoulders and nibbled at her cheese. "You always say that, Gabby." She rocked toward her sister, bumping her gently with her shoulder.
Gabrielle wobbled a bit, but managed to keep from tipping to the side. She looked at her sister for the first time since her arrival. "I mean it this time, Lila. I'm really going!"
Lila giggled a bit before noticing the determined look in her sister's eyes. "Really?" she almost whispered, as she swallowed the food she had been chewing.
"I'm going over that mountain and then over the next one and down the road and down every road. I'm going to try everything and talk to everyone and become so famous that no one will ever forget my name!" The blonde child announced as she stood and pointed toward the mountains on the western horizon.
The younger sister scrunched up her face and looked in the same direction wondering what Gabrielle saw out there that was so appealing. It looked dark and frightening to her, lonely and cold too. "You'll get lost." She let the thought that was forming in her mind come through her lips.
Gabrielle let a flutter of breath out over her lips and looked down at her sister. "You can't get lost when you aren't coming back. You just keep going to new places all the time. Anyway, lost is where you want to be."
Although she hadn't said it, the tone was there. Gabrielle was telling her she had said something dumb. Lila rose to the challenge. "Papa will look for you. He won't stop. He's smarter than you and he'll find you. You're little and you can't walk as fast as he can and he'll catch up and when he does you'll be in really big trouble."
Gabrielle dropped back down to the large flat surface. For as much as she wanted to argue that point, Lila was right. Papa was big and he would keep looking and he always found her. She picked up another pebble and tossed it into the water below then picked up her portion of cheese and took a small bite. The girl was careful not to look at her sister, not wanting to see that smug look of 'you know I'm right, don't you?' looking back.
Lila picked up a pebble as well and repeated her sister's action. The small flat rock skipped across the clear cold water four times before it slid beneath the surface. Gabrielle rolled her eyes, secretly jealous of her younger sibling's ability. Everything the little blond wanted to be or to do came so easily to her darker sister. 'It isn't fair!' She told herself over and over on too many occasions. Lila didn't even care if she could climb a tree or run faster than Perdicus or throw a rock farther than any three boys in any part of their small village. Dopey Lila didn't even seem to know she could do all those things! Not to mention the fact that more than once the younger girl had bested her in some physical disagreement. Luckily, Gabrielle was just as gifted in weaving a tale to explain her black eye and save her little sister a harsh punishment. Lila sometimes drove her mad, but she did love her sister and did her best to protect the 'kid'. The smaller girl let out a sigh and turned back to the dark haired child who was still waiting for a response.
"I won't be little forever, ya know. I'll grow up and…" Gabrielle began, ready to recite her defense.
Lila giggled a bit, placing her hand quickly over her mouth to suppress it. A sidelong glance from her big sister sent the girl into a fit of laughing. "Gabrielle," she managed between breaths, "you always say the same thing! You'll grow up and show everyone!" Lila fell back on the boulder, rolling back and forth with the rhythm of her laughter.
Gabrielle stood and stomped one foot as she clenched her fists at her sides. "Quit it, Lila!" She shouted over her sister's mirth. Lila stopped for a second, meeting her sister's eye. She took a deep breath and exploded into a new round of merriment. "It isn't funny!" Gabrielle insisted, stomping the opposite foot and kicking the loose gravel toward her overly amused sibling.
"OW! HEY!" Lila's laughter stopped as if it had been cut through with a cleaver. She sat up quickly; one had covering her right eye. The girl's left eye stared accusingly at Gabrielle for less than a beat before an ear-piercing wail emanated from the child's lungs.
Gabrielle's anger dissipated faster than Lila's amusement. She was on her knees at her sister's side before the sound of Lila's protest found her ears. Her small gentle hands covered her sister's, attempting to pry it away.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," the smaller child repeated over and over, tears already streaming across her own cheeks. "I didn't mean it Lila. I'm sorry. Let me see."
Lila's wails were enough to scatter a flock of birds from a nearby bush and three skinny rabbits leapt from the hedge across the stream to seek safety in some much more silent sanctuary. Quickly, Gabrielle embraced the girl in an odd sort of childish hug meant to comfort as well as silence the victim of her anger. "Shh, shh," she rocked her sister back and forth, just like mother did when either of them was hurt or scared.
Lila squirmed beneath the embrace Gabrielle had on her head, easily pushing her much more petite sister away. "YOU HURT ME! I’M TELLIN!" she blurted out through her tears, still refusing to uncover whatever injury Gabrielle had inflicted.
"It was an accident. I didn't mean it," Gabrielle stated softly as she sat back on her legs.
"YOU DID! YOU DID CUZ I WAS LAUGIN AT YOUR SILLY SPEECH. YOU DID MEAN IT AND I'M TELLIN POPPA YOU WERE THROWING ROCKS AGAIN AND THIS TIME YOU'RE REALLY GONNA GET IT!!" Lila drew a deep breath and sobbed heavily.
Gabrielle sighed softly and looked down at the palms of her hands. She shrugged her shoulders and looked toward the western horizon. "I guess I really have to go then." It was more of a spoken thought than a response to her sister's accusation.
"GOOD!" Lila sobbed in a blubbery growl.
Gabrielle scooted across the rock face on her knees and carefully placed the items the girls had used for their lunch back into the small bag Lila had brought. Slowly she stood and shuffled back toward her sister, dropping the bag at her side. The younger girl had now covered both eyes with her hands and was crying bitterly into them. Gabrielle shook her head as a small smile crossed her lips. Lila did tend to be overly dramatic.
"Couldn't go home now, even if I wanted to…." She allowed her voice to trail off (as if she were talking to herself) as she turned and stepped away from her sister. Shaking her head slowly, she continued. "Poppa sure would be way too mad and yep I'd be in big trouble for sure." She stopped and exhaled loudly, already convinced that Lila had stopped wailing and was staring at her back. "I was gonna go back, not really gonna go anywhere but here…." The girl paused and sniffed back false tears, never turning to allow her sister to see the little grin that tickled the corners of her mouth. "Now, I can't go home," she shook her head slowly, "You'll tell about the rocks and then Poppa will see what I did and he'll get the strap and I…I…." Gabrielle allowed herself to dissolve into tears, her words jumbling into a mumble of unrecognizable syllables.
Lila had stopped her caterwauling the second her older sister's tone had changed. She peeked between her fingers; almost holding her breath as she clung to Gabrielle's every word. "No, Gabby, don't! I was kidding!" the little girl squeaked as she jumped to her feet and hurried after the child that had already slid from the large rock and was heading toward a row of hedge that separated the stream from the road that led toward the distant mountain range. Gabrielle did not respond, except to wail a bit louder and swipe at both eyes with the sleeves of her heavy garment. Lila jumped from the boulder and hurried to catch up to her retreating sibling. "Come on, Gabby. Look!" She pointed at the spot she had moments earlier refused to uncover. "See? See? It's nothing. Poppa won't be mad. He won't even see. I won't tell, either." She snatched Gabrielle's arm and tugged until her sister turned to face her.
Deep green eyes met dark brown as the sisters stared into each other's faces. Lila's face distorted into an almost snarl as Gabrielle broke into a spluttering laugh. "GOTCHA!" the little blond exclaimed, pointing into her sister's face. She wrapped her arms around her middle and bent over with laughter.
"Ooooo, you!" Lila growled as she stomped her foot, then pushed against her sister's shoulders with both hands.
Gabrielle landed on her bottom with a 'oof!', her laughter broken for only a beat. She looked up at Lila's expression and started in even harder.
Lila's face turned a strange color somewhere between red and purple as she let out an exasperated shriek. She looked rapidly from side to side then quickly snatched a handful of pebbles from the dirt and raised her hand, poised to hurl the hasty ammunition in Gabrielle's direction.
Gabrielle rolled backward and laughed even harder. She blinked against the small white flakes that lit on her eyelashes. Holding one hand in front of her and the other pointed in accusation at her little sister she warned through her sniggering. "OooOOooh! Now, who's gonna be in bbbbbig trouble?"
Lila looked from her raised hand to her sister and then back again. She narrowed her eyes and pulled her hand back a few inches farther. Gabrielle shook her head in warning. Lila let a fluttery breath escape her lips as the pebbles slid to the ground behind her. She swiped the large white slivers from her own eyelashes and reached to pull her sister to her feet.
"I HATE when you do that Gabrielle!" the girl exclaimed in a frustrated whine. "You lied!"
"Oh, like you didn't?" the older sister replied as she brushed the dry brown grass from her backside and scanned her sister's face for any sign of real injury.
"I DID NOT!!" Lila's hand shot back to cover her left eye.
Gabrielle pursed her lips and placed both hands on her hips. She nodded a few times, narrowing her gaze. "Hmm, wasn't it the other eye?" she giggled.
Quickly the other girl switched hands and for a few seconds the sisters stood in the small grove staring at each other. The large white flakes that fell from the gray sky swirled around them landing in dusty twists against the dry ground. They seemed almost alive as they almost floated across the dirt in stretched out smoky patterns.
"It's snowing," Lila blinked her uncovered eye at Gabrielle.
"I'm hungry," Gabrielle sighed back.
"Momma said be home by supper," Lila remembered as she dropped her hand and turned back toward the boulder they had used as a picnic spot. She climbed to the top and retrieved her sack then stopped and tilted her head toward the sky, blinking away the snow that fell against her cheeks.
Gabrielle did the same, tilting her head back and sticking out her tongue to catch a few errant flakes. They seemed so light, so sprinkly that she expected the taste of the white powder mother sprinkled over warm cakes. She crinkled her nose and pouted in disappointment.
"Looks like the time we got the feather thick stuck on that nail in the barn." Lila's voice sounded deeper and a bit nasal as she spoke to the sky. Gabrielle looked up again and agreed with her sister's description of the sudden squall.
"I'm cold." Lila shivered as she looked down at her sister. "Can we go home?"
Gabrielle nodded and walked around the large stone as Lila bounced to the ground on the opposite side. The small snow swirls on the dirt had quickly blanketed the ground in white, frosting as well the branches and foliage that lined the path the girls had taken to their secret haven. What had started as a few lightly falling feathers had quickly turned into a downy wall that cut off the children's view less than a stone's throw down that trail.
Undaunted by their sudden predicament, Gabrielle and Lila began their trek toward home eager to reach it before their evening meal. They laughed at the footprints they left in the snow, walking backward in an effort to fool some soul that might pass by and follow their steps. They walked in each other's prints and hugged each other tightly as each hopped on one foot leaving only left footprints. The taunts and teasing of the earlier day was lost to the excitement of this rare Potidaean event. Neither child had ever experienced a real snowfall, it was only the stuff of stories grandmother told on cold winter nights.
The white-stuff accumulated on the ground building rapidly into a covering that reached to the girl's ankles. Gabrielle scooped a handful of the tiny frozen crystals into her bare hand and squeezed it into a tight ball. She tossed it gently at her sister's back, stuck between a laugh and a gasp as it smashed into semi-liquid slush as it ran down Lila's cloak. The younger girl wasted no time in reciprocating and soon the children were involved in a full-fledged-take-no-prisoners-kill-or-be-killed-snowball-fight.
Small bare hands tire quickly of the stinging cold and hand woven cloaks only provide so much protection from the weather. Gabrielle pushed a strand of wet hair behind her ear and rubbed her frozen wet hands together before pulling them inside her cloak. Lila had pulled her own wrap tightly around her frame, exposing little more than her nose. Both girls involuntarily bounced from foot to cold wet foot in an effort to keep some warmth in their extremities.
Lila moved closer to her sister who seemed to be searching for something in the distance. They'd been walking (or at least moving in a forward direction) for quite some time and Gabrielle estimated they should have passed Trophonius' farm by now. She shielded her eyes with both hands forming an almost telescopic effect as she glanced from left to right looking for some familiar bit of landscape.
"Whadya lookin for?" Lila's muffled voice came from beneath her cloak.
Gabrielle swallowed the panic raising in her heart and strained to see through the wall of snow before her. She had no idea where they were or what direction was home. Everything was white. Trophonius' small gray house and little crooked barn could not be seen. The smoke that perpetually rose from the chimney in Momma's kitchen was invisible in this blinding weather. Trees and bushes, rocks and fences blended together in one bumpy unfamiliar scene that terrified as well as hypnotized the small girl. They were lost and the darkness of nightfall was growing closer. Night would bring animals…predators…wolves…. Gabrielle quickly shook the thought away as she snatched her sister's hand from beneath the warmth of her shawl.
"Hey!" Lila protested.
"Come on, Lila," Gabrielle insisted, ignoring her sister's squawk.
"RAN AWAY!?" Herodotus bellowed as he threw his arms up.
"Well, you know how sensitive she is, dear and after that incident yesterday she just needed to get it out of her system." Hecuba tried to calm her fuming husband. "I thought they'd be back by now."
An older man pulled a hat over his head and wrapped an arm around the woman who was trying desperately to hide her fears. "Now, you just stop worrying, sweetie. We'll have them both here before you've got supper on the table." He kissed the top of her head and squeezed her into a lopsided hug. "They can't be far. Probably out by the creek bed, where she always goes." He smiled a wide toothy smile.
"WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME EARLIER?" Herodotus continued ranting as he pushed his arms into a heavy garment and reached for a lantern on the mantle.
"Probably because you'd react much the way you are reacting right now," a gray-haired rather portly woman scolded as she pulled his coat closed. He shoed her away and moved toward the door.
"Let's go Merops, we'll lose what little light we have." The man's voice lost its power and volume as he looked into the tear-brimmed eyes of his wife. He moved closer pulling her into an embrace, kissing her softly as he did. "I'll find them, Hecuba. I will." His voice shook with his own hidden fears as he attempted to comfort the mother of his children.
"Go! Go then," the older woman encouraged them, knowing that anymore of this would have all of them in tears.
Herodotus smiled at his wife as they stood nose to nose. She kissed him gently, knowing he would not return without their little girls. He stepped away quickly, joining his brother at the door. They nodded toward the women and bowed out of the small house pulling the door closed with a soft thump.
Myrtia wrapped an arm around Hecuba's shoulders and pulled her close. "Now, why don't you and I get started on a nice warm meal for my granddaughters?"
Hecuba nodded through the tears that the closing of the door had released. Keeping busy would make the time pass quickly until her husband and her brother-in-law returned with her babies.
Gabrielle tugged at her protesting sister as the snow deepened, now reaching mid-calf. She never realized snow was so quiet. Grandmother had not mentioned that in any of her stories. It fell from the gray sky and muffled every sound familiar to the girl. It was eerie. If it weren't for Lila's constant whining and complaining there would be total silence, complete utter and total silence.
"Gabriiiiiii-ellllllle," Lila moaned for the hundredth time, "I'm tiiiired, why can't we rrrrrest?"
"Come on, Lila, we're almost there." Gabrielle tried to sound as confident as possible.
"That's whaaaat you saaaaaid beforrrrrrrre." Lila's whine moved closer to an out and out wail.
A small soft sound managed to reach Gabrielle's ears despite her sister's complaining. She strained to hear it again, stopping and turning her head toward its source.
"Nowwwwwwwwwwww whaaaaat?" Lila whined louder.
"SHH!" Gabrielle commanded, clapping a hand over her sister's open mouth. Again the strange soft sound pierced the frosty air. It was more crisp and urgent than usual, but Gabrielle smiled with recognition. 'Daisy!' She almost leapt with the joy of the sound of Trophonius' ornery goat's plaintive bleat.
Lila raised her hand to pull her sister's hand away but stopped short with a glare from Gabrielle. She stared wide-eyed at her sister wondering what could be so urgent.
"Do you hear that?" Gabrielle whispered.
"What?" Lila whispered from behind the hand over her lips.
Daisy protested in the distance, somewhere off to their left.
"It's Daisy! I know that's her bleat, she has kind of a whiney voice, too." Gabrielle remarked without thinking.
"A GOAT?!" Lila was appalled. "You won't let me rest, but you stop to listen to a dumb goat?!"
"Not just any goat, Trophonius' goat!" Gabrielle exclaimed as she began pulling her sister toward the sound.
"NO!" Lila snarled. "I'm cold and I'm tired and I'm not moving one more step."
Gabrielle was yanked to a stop as her sister refused to move. She stared back at the girl. "Stop being such a baby, Lila, you can't rest here, you'll get all covered up with snow."
"I don't care!" Lila huffed. "I'm tired!"
"You won't get warm here, Lila and it will be dark soon. Come on," Gabrielle coaxed, knowing her sister would not budge if she forced her.
"I can't, Gabby," Lila sobbed suddenly. "I just can't walk anymore."
Gabrielle realized her sister was exhausted, but something Grandma had once told her pecked at her mind. They couldn't stop to rest. The snow would merely cover them over and no one would ever find them until…well, until it was much too late to worry about being warm.
"Come on, Lila, you can do it. You know you're stronger than me." The girl tried flattery.
"Noooooo!" Lila wailed again.
Gabrielle tugged at her sister's arm. "I'll let you have my shell collection, all the pretty pink ones."
"I don't want them. I have my own." Lila replied, still refusing to budge.
Gabrielle thought for a moment. What would make her sister want to keep going? An idea struck her, not a very good idea and one that might end up getting her in more trouble that she was probably already in, but it was worth a try. "You can tell Poppa I threw the rock and I won't even make up a story to explain. I'll just agree with you." Now, the girl was really grasping at straws. She rolled her eyes realizing what a silly offer that was.
Lila shook her head, "Gab-BEE that's stupid! I told you I wouldn't tell." Lila's teeth chattered but she remained stuck fast in the building snowdrift. In the distance Daisy's bleating grew softer. Gabrielle was desperate. There was one last chance, one last hope to bribe her sister into moving. It would mean giving up the one thing she was sure Momma had worked hard to create just for her, just the way she described the doll she so desperately wanted. The girl sighed and shook off the frown that threatened to pull at her face. She held her sister's cold cheeks with her colder hands and looked into her dark eyes. "It'll be Solstice in just three days Lila, if I get that doll I've been wanting I'll give it to you."
"For keeps?" Lila's eyebrows went up with sudden interest. Gabrielle nodded vigorously. "Promise?" Lila wanted to be sure.
"Cross my heart!" Gabrielle ran her index finger across her chest twice. "But, we have to get home, okay?" Lila nodded and allowed her sister to pull her forward, toward the fading sound of one cranky old goat.
It seemed like hours before Gabrielle reached the fence that bordered her neighbor's property but the daylight had managed to keep its hold on the gloomy sky. She rested one hand on the top of that fence and the other wrapped tightly around her strangely silent sister's ice cold fingers. Slowly she slid her palm along the rail and over every post between Trophonius' home and the rough swinging gate that would be their home.
Inch by inch the girls shuffled through the snow, no longer interested in its novelty or its beauty. Step by step they moved closer to their goal.
Gabrielle stopped suddenly, inhaling a familiar scent. Lila crashed into her sister's back pushing forward in a clumsy stumble. Gabrielle ignored her sister's action and drew a deep cleansing breath, closing her eyes and relishing the aroma. "Smell that?" she asked without opening her eyes.
"What?" Lila sniffed lightly. "I don't smell anything. I just get snow in my nose." The girl rubbed her cold nose with one finger and sneezed a small sneeze.
Gabrielle shook her head. "Momma's nutbread, silly. You told me she was baking!" The girl drew another deep breath and held it for a moment before adding, "And grandma's lamb stew."
"I don't s-smell any-th-thing, Gabrielle," Lila sobbed. "My n-nose is t-too c-c-cold."
"Trust me!" Gabrielle smiled as she once again grabbed her sister's hand and ran told the welcoming fragrance.
"Momma! Momma!" Lila's scratchy squeaky voice pierced the late afternoon silence. "MOMMA!" The child called again and again as her sister dragged her forward.
Hecuba heard with a maternal ear, pulling open the door of her small home and stepping into the swirling snow before her mother-in-law could once again wrap her in a warm blanket. She squinted into the blinding squall hoping that she had heard the child's call and not imagined what she wished.
"LILA?" She called into the tempest. "GABRIELLE!"
"MOMMA!" A duet of high-pitched voices replied.
Through the white wall Hecuba could make out two dark forms struggling toward her. She stepped from her porch into the whiteness and hurried toward her offspring meeting them in less than ten long strides.
Two little girls dove into their mother's embrace finally allowing all the unspent tears to flow freely. One mother wrapped her arms around her reasons for breathing, kissing each head over and over as she fell to her knees in thanks.
Myrtia hurried through the knee-deep snow to wrap the entire group in a large warm fur before guiding all back to the warmth of hearth and home.
~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~
Before Herodotus and Merops returned, crestfallen and defeated in the darkness of the storm, both girls had been soaked in a warm tub, fed a hot meal and wrapped in dry clothing. Two sets of small boots stood at attention, stuffed with straw, in front of the fireplace.
Myrtia hushed both men as they entered, explaining the return of the children before nightfall. Merops smiled and swept his mother into a bear hug then turned and slapped a strong hand on his brother's back. "You see, little brother, I told you they were as smart as they are strong."
Herodotus sighed with relief before shaking off his snowy garment and hurrying to see for himself that his children were safe. He disappeared into the small room off the large kitchen returning a few minutes later with the look of relief only a parent can reveal. Relief that slowly melts away leaving an odd sort of justified anger. The older mother began warming her own children with hot stew and warm blankets, hoping to quell her younger son's temper before her older granddaughter felt its wrath.
In the adjoining room Hecuba tucked her younger daughter into bed, resting a hand on the girl's head as Lila sneezed again. 'Perhaps,' she worried, 'the danger had not yet passed.'
"I'm sorry, Momma," Gabrielle apologized again for her little adventure.
Hecuba sat on the edge of the bed and turned toward her elder child. She shook her head. "I'm afraid this time, little one, you are going to have explain to your father."
"But…" Gabrielle began only to be silenced by her mother's index finger softly resting against her lips.
"No buts, this time Gabrielle. He's waiting." Hecuba pointed toward the door.
Gabrielle chewed her lip and wrapped her arms around her mother's neck. "I love you, Momma," she whispered into her mother's hair.
Hecuba smiled as she held her daughter out in front of her. "I love you too. Very," she kissed the tip of the girl's nose, "very, much." She spun the tiny girl around pointing her toward the door and sent her forward with a gentle swat on the backside.
Gabrielle stopped with one hand on the door and rubbed the spot where Momma's hand had landed. She looked back, but already Lila was demanding her mother's undivided attention. Once again her little sister had turned on those dramatic tears. She sighed heavily and pushed the door open then stepped into the outer room.
She stood for a moment against the door, trying to be as silent as possible. If no one noticed her she could easily slip back into the room and tell momma that poppa hadn't said anything and that she was very tired. She could hop into bed next to Lila and be asleep before her father had a chance to 'talk' to her.
It wouldn't be a lie.
Grandma sat in a big chair near the fire; her knitting needles clicked wildly in her hands as the shawl she was creating crept over her lap and onto the floor. Uncle Merops snored softly in a second chair just a few feet from his mother's work. His head was tilted back and his mouth open just a tiny bit. He snorted a few times and changed position, but did not wake. Poppa stood with one hand on the mantle, staring into the fire as it crackled and popped casting a wiggley red glow over the warm room. He turned toward her and glared.
Immediately, Gabrielle dropped her gaze to the floor and swallowed hard. She was no stranger to Poppa's strong hand and in her short nine years had spent more than one night standing for her supper. She glanced over her brows at her grandmother and uncle. She'd disobeyed Poppa and nearly gotten herself and her sister lost in a terrible storm…certainly she would be punished…but not in front of grandma…not in front of Uncle Merops.
Poppa sat down in his favorite chair, the biggest chair…the chair closest to the hearth. "Come here, Gabrielle." He spoke evenly as he pointed to a spot directly in front of him.
The girl slid her feet across the floor, holding her hands protectively across her posterior. Already tears spilled over her cheeks and the voice that usually could not be silenced suddenly seemed stuck in her throat. She knew grandma was watching her every step and even her uncle's snoring had ceased. Stopping in front of her father she squeezed her eyes shut and prayed this would be over quickly.
Poppa's strong hands wrapped around her upper arms lifting her small form easily off the floor. She didn't mean to, didn't want to be a baby, but she couldn't help it…her sobs escaped in a quick staccato string as her father gathered her into his warm embrace. He tucked her neatly into the space close to his heart and wrapped his big arms around her, covering her entire body with his protection. He rocked her gently and patted her back in soothing comfort.
"Shh, shh, my little girl. You're safe now. Shh," he crooned, his prickly cheek resting against her soft forehead. She reached her small arm across his chest in an effort to return the hug. "You were very brave today, Gabrielle." He remarked as he rested his chin on her head.
"I didn't listen to you," the girl sniffled.
"No, you didn't," Herodotus agreed as he hugged her tighter.
For a moment Gabrielle waited for the rest of her father's comment. It did not come. "Are you mad?" she whispered.
"Mmm, hmm." She felt the response resound in his chest against her ear.
"Gabrielle, do you remember Timpani?" Herodotus asked before Gabrielle could continue. The girl nodded against his chest. "Do you remember how you felt when he got sick and we tried and tried to make him better but couldn't?"
Gabrielle's eyes welled with renewed tears. She nodded again, unable to answer verbally.
"Remember when I told you that's how it is when you love something with all your heart, when something is part of you and suddenly you know that you might never see it again? It's an ache that no medicine can fix. It's a terrible feeling, isn't it?" the man continued.
"Uh huh," the girl agreed in a sob, remembering the pain of losing a cherished pet.
Herodotus allowed the memory of his little girl's loss to sink deeply into her heart. "That's how you made Momma and I feel today." He stated simply.
Gabrielle thought for a moment about the weight of that responsibility. She had nearly broken her parent's hearts. Knowing that was worse than any punishment either parent could have administered. "I'm sorry, Poppa. I'm sorry," she sobbed again as she snuggled deeper into her father's embrace. Guilt lay heavy on the child's shoulders and suddenly the thought of chastisement seemed an escape from its awful grip. "It was all my fault."
"It is a great big world out there, Gabrielle and you are so very little. What would I do without you?" He hugged her closer. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Are you going to punish me?" The little girl whispered, still fearing the worst.
"What do you think?" Herodotus asked just as quietly.
"I think I didn't remember what you said the last time, Poppa, but I am really sorry and I didn't know it would snow so much. Please, Poppa, give me another chance. Please?" She spoke quietly into her father's shirt, playing with the carved bone button that held it closed.
Herodotus smiled at his little girl's ploy. She knew he rarely was able to refuse her. He tried to sound firm, but the joy of having her safe and holding her close was overwhelming. "Well, we will have to do something about this running away all the time won't we?"
Gabrielle swallowed hard imagining just what that something might be. Poppa had never ever used the strap. He'd threatened, but never really used it. She wondered if this time she had pushed a bit too far.
"I suppose you have earned yourself that spanking I promised." Herodotus remarked, trying to hide the smile that threatened to expose his teasing.
Her worst fear. Gabrielle pulled herself into a tight ball against her father's large chest. A few squeaky sobs escaped her before she buried her face in his soft chamois tunic. "Poppa," her voice was barely audible, "I won't do it again…please, Poppa?"
"I really think you need to learn a lesson this time, little one." Herodotus prolonged his little girl's anxiety.
"I did. I d-did learn my lesson, Poppa," the child hiccuped. "Running away just gets things worse and snow is prettier to look at then get lost in. I won't ever do it again, Poppa. I won't." Most of her plea was drowned in her now uncontrolled tears.
"I don't know," her father dragged out his response, allowing an imposing pause make it seem as though he had already decided on her penalty. Time seemed to stop and the sounds of the wood popping in the nearby hearth sounded much too similar to a strong hand landing on a small bottom. "Maybe I should make sure you don't forget again."
Gabrielle let out a shaky breath. "I won't forget again, Poppa. I really, really won't."
Herodotus shook his head, knowing he had 'tortured' his sweet child long enough. Again kissed the soft blond hair beneath his chin. For as much as this little scamp deserved a very warm bottom after her very cold misadventure, he had no intention of spoiling this cherished reunion with his first born. The man coughed and cleared his throat to hide the chuckle his daughter's sudden tense reaction brought about. He squeezed her a little closer and gently rubbed her back. "Although I think a spanking would only last until you got it in your head again to run off for some reason or another," he sighed, then waited for her to relax before continuing. "So, I think what I am going to do is ask you to promise me something, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief but wasn't sure of her father's words. She hadn't heard much after he had agreed that she earned a good flogging. The only thing puzzling her was why her punishment hadn't already started! Herodotus pulled her gently away from his chest and bent to look into her eyes.
"Are you willing to make me a promise, Gabrielle?" he asked again.
"Yes?" she wondered, confused by her father's request. Poppa's warm smile chased away any anxiety that remained. His eyes crinkled when he smiled, she loved that. Now his voice was soft and there was no anger, no disappointment tainting it.
"If you can promise you will not run away, oh at least until next harvest…" he paused, gauging her reaction. His dark eyebrows rose as she began to nod. "Then, I will see what I can do about having you go with Merops to sell the grain in Scione." He winked at his mother who up until know had been oblivious to the conversation between father and daughter. She smiled in return, nodding vigorously. "You'll be ten seasons old by then. I think that is old enough to be of some help to your uncle."
"You're asking me, not telling me?" Gabrielle asked, gazing up into her father's clear green eyes.
He smiled and nodded. "Telling you hasn't gotten me anywhere, little one. But if you can keep this promise I will do my best to try to show you a bit more of this big world that you are so anxious to explore. Maybe that way I can keep you from doing something rash."
"And I can go to Scione? Just me, with Uncle Merops and Grandma?" The girl needed just a bit of reassurance. Herodotus nodded. "Oh yes, Poppa, yes I do promise. I really promise." Two small arms wrapped around the man's neck as the child rose to her knees on his lap and kissed his rough cheek over and over. "I love you, Poppa."
"Good," Herodotus agreed then sealed the agreement with one firm swat to the girl's bottom.
Gabrielle squeaked in surprise as her father's embrace encircled her once more. He kissed the forehead and smiled knowingly into her wide eyes. She swallowed once as she sunk back into his arms, cuddling close to the one who she knew would love and protect her with all his heart. This was the safest, warmest place in her small world. She knew she would never really run away from it. Herodotus rocked his first born gently as he hummed a song remembered from his own days of snuggling close to a loving parent.
"I love you, Poppa," Gabrielle whispered around a yawn as she pulled her hands up under her cheek and allowed her heavy eyelids to close.
"You'll always be my little girl," Herodotus whispered back as he felt the child drift away in blissful slumber.
Hecuba stepped quietly into the room less than a candle mark later. She closed the girls' bedroom door softly, so as not to waken her youngest. She smiled as she gazed upon the man she loved and the child who had brought them as much joy as she had exasperation.
Herodotus' cheek rested against the top of Gabrielle's head as he too had surrendered to the lords of sleep. She knew that it would be best to take the small girl and tuck her into bed next to her sister, but for now this sight was too precious to disturb. She took a heavy blanket from a large box near the wall and wrapped it gently around her daughter, careful to tuck the long edges over her husband's shoulders as well.
Placing a soft kiss on Herodotus' cheek she rested her face close to his for a few seconds then kissed the child at his chest.
The wind swirled around the small farmhouse, throwing the cold stuff of a winter night against its fortress.
"You won't hold her there forever, dear sweet husband," the woman whispered, not wishing to wake the occupants of the room. "How will I ever make you see that this one has only been loaned to us and that she sees well beyond the boundaries you hope to place on her?" She tilted her head and gently moved a stray hair from his brow. "But for now, dear one, wrap her in your love for one day we may have to hold her only in our hearts."
* * * ~~~~~~~~~~ ** * ~~~~~~~~~~ * * *