Ana woke up in her old cot on the floor across from Noralie. She was sound asleep; the sunlight was only just beginning to peak over the western mountains and filter through their bedroom window. Ana smiled, seeing such a familiar sight. Noralie had a habit of falling asleep with her mouth open and complaining that her throat felt dry in the morning. Just like when she had been four. Ana rose slowly from her cot trying to make as little sound as possible before she crept across the bedroom and down the stairs. The smell of Guineviva’s chicken soup wafted up the stairs and made Ana smile.
Fond memories of the two years she lived with Guineviva stirred and Ana felt as giddy as a young girl did.
“Good morning,” she said to Guineviva. There were a few customers in already enjoying the soup casting strange looks at Ana. “Need any help?”
Guineviva stared, not sure of what to say. “I prepared some dough you could put in a pan.”
Ana almost skipped across the room, put on an apron and got to work kneading the dough, just as she had when she was twelve years old. She hummed a simple tune quietly to herself as she worked. Guineviva tried not to stare at her but she did observe a drastic mood change in Ana and did not know what to make of it. Every time she looked at her, she did not know what to expect.
“Where is Devlin?” asked Ana as she placed the dough in the pan.
“He is at the Nightingale’s residence helping Kim take care of Tybalt.”
“That is good, his friends missed him,” Ana looked down at her gloved hands and tried not to think about all that may be said about her in her absence. She was scared the Tybalt would try to turn Devlin against her.
“If they don’t like me why are they letting me stay?” she asked.
“First of all I’m the one letting you say. This is my home and my rules. You are welcome as long as you want to be. Second of all it would break Noralie’s heart if we let anything happen to you and third of all, Tybalt’s terrified by you, and I never liked him much anyway,” Guineviva ranted. Ana chuckled.
“Thank you, but you’re scared of me too,” Ana said quietly.
“No I’m confused. I don’t know what to make of this entire situation and until it is sorted out I will treat you the same I treat Noralie or Devlin,” Guineviva sighed. They continued to work in the kitchen like in the old days and Ana seldom spoke for fear she would say something that would bring her worries back and upset Guineviva. Noralie came to help as well and she walked around dusting off Guineviva’s tables, counters, and decor.
But of course peace never lasted very long in Guineviva’s house.
A woman in her late thirties entered the soup kitchen carrying a small bag. Ana looked at the woman and felt the hair on the back of her neck raise. The woman was familiar in a way she could not explain to herself and this sort of occurrence disturbed her, it made her angry with the total stranger.
Perhaps she was an accomplice of Nenavysta’s that Ana had not known about, or the woman was a serial killer in disguise and was just waiting for the opportunity to pounce on Ana’s family, or worse, Nenavysta could have hired her. An assassin, to kill off all of Ana’s family in a manner that Ana would not be able to blame on Nenavysta. Ana’s thoughts were reeling in horror and her mind was stretching out into all the dark corners Nenavysta hid in searching for the reason as to why this woman was so familiar.
Ana put down what she was working on and marched over to where the woman stood, trying to rein in her outrage so as not to alarm anyone.
“Hello, does a Guineviva live here?” the woman asked.
“Why do you want to know?” Ana asked crossing her arms and keeping her voice low so that she would not alert Noralie.
The woman had silver eyes and very short blondish hair, she barely came to Ana’s shoulders, she was only five feet tall.
“I don’t know who sent you but if you ever come near here again...”
“Ana!” Noralie chirped skipping over to her side. The woman shifted slightly and Ana shoved Noralie backwards and grabbed a knife off the counter. The people in the soup kitchen gasped and watched the drama unfold. Ana stood defensively between Noralie and the woman, her face twisted in anger.
“Stay away from us,” Ana shrieked. Guineviva came down the stairs.
“Anaxandra Tanner what in Order’s name do you think you are doing!” Guineviva roared helping Noralie get back onto her feet.
“Please stop I’ll leave,” the woman said backing into the wall horror-struck.
“Sonja?” Guineviva asked looking at the woman.
“Sister, who is this girl?” the woman asked.
“Sister?” Ana asked looking from Guineviva to the woman. Guineviva and Sonja were both petite, light haired, with the same silvery eyes.
“Ana would you put that knife down for goodness sakes! This is my little sister Sonja,” Guineviva said running over and hugging her. Her face was streaked with tears of happiness.
“It’s been a long time,” Sonja said hugging Guineviva back.
“I thought you were dead. They took you away and I never heard from you again. Come sit.”
“Oh it’s a very long story and if you don’t mind I’d rather not tell it right now,” Sonja said sitting on a stool next to the counter. She had very sad eyes, Ana thought.
“Well where have you been at least?” Guineviva asked as she began to prepare tea for the group.
“I was in the Palace of the Pharaohs’ working as a nanny and maid.”
“Why did they let you leave? This is the first time I personally have ever heard of any slave being let go. You either die serving a nobleman or you marry out of it which happens only once per every million deaths,” Ana sniped. Guineviva struck Ana with a rolled up newspaper making Noralie giggle.
“Actually I think that’s a good question. Our mother was taken away to be a slave. Is there any chance she could come back,” Noralie said standing up for Ana. Sonja’s mouth fell open looking at the girls. She felt like they had thrown a glass of cold water in her face. There before her was sweet calm Noralie who had an aura about her like a spring flower, Sonja couldn’t imagine her being an orphan and all that that entails in Existence. Then to Noralie’s left and front, whom Sonja believed had intentionally positioned herself between Noralie and she was Ana: edgy, aggressive, over defensive Ana who had held a knife to her not ten seconds after she walked in the front door. Looking into Ana’s eyes she supposed that Ana was used to that type of first impression but Sonja had lived a long time in the palace and had been surrounded by damaged men, women and children alike. She knew everyone copes with hardship differently and she knew that Ana had good reason to be this way. They always did.
“I made a deal. I want to tell you dear why I am out and your mother is not but my situation is unique and if I tell you, why I am out and you tell anyone else. Then I will be killed.”
“Are you involved with some kind of conspiracy?” Noralie asked.
“Noralie!” Ana snapped which was not really an objection to her sister’s rudeness.
“I suppose you could say that but it is a little more personal than that,” she said taking a tentative sip from her tea. “Are these all the kids staying with you?”
“No our big brother Devlin lives here too,” Noralie answered.
“That’s wonderful that you’re all together,” Sonja said smiling at Guineviva. Ana marvelled at how much they looked alike and looked at Noralie whom looked surprisingly like their father, but more feminine.
“What was it like?” Ana asked.
“What was what like?”
“Being a slave, living in that big palace? You didn’t happen across a woman named Cyma Tanner? Did you?” Ana asked trying not to sound desperate. Sonja thought carefully and sipped her tea before answering.
“I cannot recall meeting a woman that looks like either of you girls or that goes by that name. I’m sorry honey but being a slave is not easy. You need to do what your told when you are told no matter what. It is horrible and you have no rights. Not a lot of people can tolerate that sort of treatment they go mad or lose all sense of themselves.”
Ana frowned at the ground then stood and walked out the door.
“Was it something I said?” asked Sonja.
“Forgive Ana we’re still growing into her habits and she’s still growing into us,” Noralie said taking a sip of the tea; she had been nursing since waking up that morning.
“What do you mean by that? She hasn’t always been here?”
“I don’t feel inclined to describe the whole situation but if Ana ever starts acting strange just step back and let her be,” Noralie said standing and getting to work washing dishes.
Sonja looked at the door and could not keep her mind from wandering. She decided that despite Ana’s unpleasant nature she wanted to get to know the girl a little better.