~ Prologue ~
Echoes of pain scream forever within my mind. Why do they cry out against their bonds? I am right there with them. Trapped for all eternity within the Eye of the Gods. I miss the feel of the wind against my skin, the scent of a freshly bloomed meadow, the sight of Soleanne setting in the west, and the sounds of birds in spring. I yearn for the warmth of a lover’s embrace. My pain is no less than theirs. Yet I chose this willingly. Why did I choose this?
I see now I was mistaken. The Gods tricked me. Please, someone, free me from this torment.
~ Passage from Whispers in the Void
~ I ~
Three dolls rested on top of an old, battered dresser. They were not the finest crafted dolls. In reality, they were far from it. The patchwork cloth, carefully stitched together with tediously hoarded spare threads, the random frayed and faded strands of yarn for hair, and the strategically packed straw stuffing designed to give the impression of humanity to the dolls were perfect to the young girl who had painstakingly assembled them. The girl who currently sat with knees pulled up to her chest on the only windowsill in the room, watching the rain run down the window as if it were the only thing in the world deserving of her attention.
A light knock on the worn, abused door drew her attention. The tear hanging onto the corner of her left eye rolled down her bright red cheek. Fear of an unknown future made her cry. Not sadness. She had been sad far too often to cry from that anymore.
"Anara?" A gentle, elderly woman's voice called through the thin wood. "Anara, it's Sister Dawn. Are you awake?"
"Y-yes," Anara answered, choking on her sobs. "I'm awake." The door opened, revealing a Priestess of Fiel standing in the doorway. Anara had known her since before she could remember. Sister Dawn was her protector. The closest woman Anara considered as a mother.
"Are you feeling well, Anara?" Sister Dawn asked, crossing the room and taking Anara's face gently in her hands. She frowned at the trails left by tears.
"I'm fine, Sister Dawn," Anara said, lithely sliding down from her perch. "I will just miss you, is all," Anara looked away in a poor attempt to hide her grief. She would miss Sister Dawn, but that was only a small part of it. This was her life—a life amongst other children without mothers or fathers. A life that no longer belonged to her. It was also a life she no longer desired, yet had no path to follow away from it. Shadows seemed to grow darker with each passing year inside these walls. The world outside of them was pitch black. "I'm too old to stay here, anyway," Anara bitterly mumbled to herself.
"If you're certain? We could at least wait for the weather to clear up," Sister Dawn said, hesitating by the window as Anara gathered her satchel and the best of her dolls from the dresser.
"That isn't part of it, Sister Dawn," Anara said, forcing a smile. "There are rules we must all abide by. You taught me that."
"Rules I recall you've conveniently broken in the past. Many times, if I'm not mistaken," Sister Dawn stated with hands resting on her hips.
Anara laughed. It felt tense. It should have been genuine as the truth of Sister Dawn's retort was just right for the moment. Simultaneously, it was also far from it and their chuckling ended abruptly.
"That's also Wentworth's excuse to throw me out nearly a year early," Anara said, gently sliding the fraying straps of the satchel over one shoulder. The pouch had once been a deep red, but now appeared more like a pinkish-gray. "I'm ready."
"That's all you’re taking?"
"This is all that's mine," Anara frowned as Sister Dawn refused to move. Why is she making this harder than it already is?
"What about Claire and Cindy? Won't they miss you?" Sister Dawn asked about the other two dolls.
"They'll be loved by the next girl to live here. I want to leave them for her."
"That is generous of you." Sister dawn smiled, finally starting towards the door again. Sister Dawn was delaying her. Anara's discomfort at not knowing where she was going drove her towards it. It felt foolish. Rushing to the unknown instead of clinging to the familiar was unnatural. If she did not go now, though, she would be forced to later.
"Not that generous," Anara briefly smiled. "I'm taking Cassie with me, she's the best of them."
"Only right, of course. After all, you were the one who made them," Sister Dawn said, circling an arm around Anara's waist. The priestess really was short. "I'll never get over how tall you've grown. I remember carrying you in my arms nearly seventeen years ago. You were such a small thing back then. And I was much younger. Nearly all my life has been spent at Wentworth's Home for Wayward Souls, and you were the most beautiful child I ever held. You've always had such brilliant blue eyes." Sister Dawn spoke tenderly, gazing at Anara with nostalgia.
"Everything changes, Sister Dawn," Anara sighed as they walked out into the hallway.
The hall was in as much disrepair as Anara's room. The wallpaper peeled back from the boards where leaks in the roof stained the walls. Loose floor boards creaked beneath their feet as they walked. Some even bent beneath their weight. Others were splintered where the years or idle hands had worn away at them.
Dozens of doors similar to Anara's ran along each side of the hall until it made a right turn towards a much larger room. Each doorway marked a room for a younger girl; each one blissfully cocooned in ignorance of what the world had in store for them when they came of age, as Anara had been when she lovingly crafted her dolls.
"Not everything," Sister Dawn said as they made their way into the atrium of the orphanage. "You're still beautiful, and your azure eyes are just as kind and trusting as they were back then."
"I wouldn't say that," Anara said ruefully, receiving an elbow in her ribs. Unjustly, of course. Anara knew plenty of girls from around Barrowton and even at the orphanage who were prettier than she was.
"You don't give yourself enough credit," Sister Dawn said. "Fiel teaches us to love who we are."
Easy for Fiel to love himself. He's a bloody god. Keeping her thought to herself, Anara smiled back at the priestess with a nod. Anara no longer blindly trusted her elders. Not that Sister Dawn wanted to hear it. Not that anyone wanted to hear what she really thought.
The atrium was much more elaborate than the hall and had been carefully maintained. Anara secretly suspected all orphanages were intrinsically similar with a beautiful façade and tarnished interior. Across the room from them was another hallway where the boys’ rooms mirrored the girls' wing. To the right was Wentworth's office behind a richly carved, mahogany door. To their left was the entrance marked by four glass doors displaying the dingy gray of the gathered thunderstorm, and a black carriage at the gate. Anara had never seen that carriage before. Normally it was a simple wagon from the workhouse, but this one had an enclosed cabin. The finer details of it were obfuscated in the black paint from this distance.
"Best hurry up; it wouldn't do to have Overseer Wentworth wait on you."
"Thank you," Anara said, pushing down her anger and fear for her future in the presence of the old priestess. Sister Dawn would be even more devastated if Anara let any of that show. "Thank you for all you've done for me, Sister Dawn."
"You're most welcome, Anara," Sister Dawn responded, pausing at the mahogany door. She looked at Anara, her lips turning into a frown even as her eyes glistened with growing tears. "You're sure you don't want to wait until the storm passes?"
"Rules, remember?" Anara forced a smile and gently brushed her fingers down Sister Dawn's arm.
Sister Dawn sighed but gave up her protestations. She lightly knocked on the thick door and the two waited.
"Come in," Jeremy Wentworth answered. Sister Dawn opened the door for Anara to step through. The priestess curtsied before leaving Anara's side to return to her other duties. "Well, are you coming, Miss Swift?" Wentworth barked at Anara's slight hesitation once the door was open.
"Yes, sir," Anara said, entering and bobbing unsteadily in an unpracticed curtsy. She felt the tattered edges of her skirt with her fingertips; the dress was of appalling quality compared to the luxury of Wentworth's office. Anara felt so out of place among the bookshelves of tomes, bound in fine leather, and the massive desk that had to be larger than her previous room. A single glow lamp, an enchanted device with an eternal flame, was all that served as the room's dim illumination. The air smelled thick with musky incense, which smoldered with an orange glow at the edge of the desk; the scent masking all but a hint of something putrid. Anara gently shut the door while Wentworth ducked beneath the desk; his muttering interspersed amongst the sounds of parchment snapping as he thumbed through a disorganized filing system. The searching stopped as parchment brushed against parchment behind the monumental desk.
"Ah, here it is," he gleefully said, slamming the drawer shut with emphasis, causing Anara to jump slightly. Anara felt her heart racing, Wentworth's clear enjoyment from this adding to her anxiety. "Anara Swift arrived on the first Fillesdahd of the Second Month of Gathering, unknown age. Abandoned on the steps outside the home in the year of thirty-one sixty-three." Wentworth spoke dramatically, a piece of parchment obscuring his face from Anara as he reclined lazily in his monolithic, brown leather chair behind the table. His left hand was wrapped in dirty gauze, stained yellow and pink from whatever he was hiding beneath it. "Given that today is the same Fillesdahd of the year thirty-one eighty, that would make today your seventeenth birthday, would it not? Nearly a woman grown now, aren't you?"
"Yes, sir, it would," Anara answered, feeling uncomfortable as she remained standing before his inquiries. "I guess I am, sir." The enormity of Wentworth's chair made him appear minuscule from her elevated vantage point. Only a man of opulence could afford a chair with such intricate embroidery and finely carved woodwork. It was beautiful and fit seamlessly within the room. Anara felt out of place. The contrast of how she must look with the belongings around her would draw anyone's eye if they could see.
"Which means..." he slowly put the folder down and leaned forward to look at Anara. Anara blanched as the man's disfigured face came into view from the light of the single glow lamp. The steady orange glow illuminated Wentworth's rotten skin. "Today is the last day you can remain here. Establishments such as Wentworth's Home for Wayward Souls cannot cater to those who have outgrown youth. You have failed to attract anyone to adopt you through your consistent disobedience and failed to conform. It is time you were sent off to learn a valuable trade." Wentworth's sneer made it worse, and the glee in his voice showed he enjoyed this but Anara could only focus on the scars. Anara recoiled, wanting to flee. Thade's Grasp, Wentworth's affliction, was the source of the stench of rot. She had heard it was bad from Sister Dawn, and the other priests of Fiel when they thought no one was listening. Nothing like this.
His left cheek was nearly gone, exposing teeth and tongue behind it every time his mouth moved up and down. As he continued to drone on her mind was transfixed by the face, the words vaguely registering as some speech of the pride she would obtain in service to Iliona.
The part of his gums she could see were gray with black blotches instead of a healthy pink. One eye was dead; the pupil and iris were covered with a filmy haze that dulled any color it might have had. The left half of the jaw was lopsided with bone cysts and pits beneath the repugnant flesh and what hair Anara could see on his head was a mess of matted clumps. The rest of his left side, hidden by ornate silk clothing, was likely to be as wretched of a sight as well. A few patches of silk were darker than the rest where his wounds had seeped through his bandages to stain the cloth.
Anara could remember six years ago when it first started. The flurry of healers who had come to see Jeremy Wentworth about his ailment had been exciting. Anara was still young, and to see so many people from towns far away was a rare treat for the orphanage.
Overseer Wentworth had been strikingly handsome back then. A chiseled jaw, penetrating, dull green eyes, and shoulder length lustrous black hair had even caused Anara to fancy him as some sort of knight in shining armor who would free her someday. Not to mention his captivating smile. That had all changed, along with his demeanor toward his charges, when the tips of his left fingers had gone numb and turned black. After that, they started coming.
First the priests from Aederon City; not the ones from the orphanage, as they were hardly equipped to handle the affliction, but real healers who practiced their craft behind closed doors. It had worked to a certain degree, buying the overseer time and keeping him free of deadly infections, but Wentworth had sought a cure. His need to be rid of the disease consumed his mind while the disease greedily devoured his flesh. He sought aid from all of the realms
Only the Dristelli answered.
Anara had marveled at the initial sight of the Dristelli. She had never seen anyone from beyond Ashfall before. The Dristelli were both beautiful and scandalous at the same time. They were long limbed, slender of build, and all of them—men and women alike—wore loose dresses that hung from one shoulder and left the other side of their chest completely exposed. Their eyes were large, like birds of prey, and instead of hair they had plumes of feathers that grew from their scalp and down their back. The plumage was more colorful and longer on the men than the women.
By the time the Dristelli physicians had arrived, Wentworth no longer resembled a hero from a story. Instead, he was the villain. His face had become pitted with scars, yet still whole, and his hair had thinned considerably. They left soon after with Wentworth screaming at them for wasting his time because they had refused to bond him, whatever that meant. So, with Ilionans unable to do anything to cure him, Wentworth had slowly rotted. His mind had turned inward. His life now revolved around Thade's Grasp except for the little pleasure he got from making others miserable.
It was singularly revolting. Even so, Anara could not rip her eyes from Wentworth's visage. His undulating throat and jaw as he spoke caused the scraps of flesh on his left jowl and neck to shudder and sway. His dead eye only closed half-way with a ragged eyelid. The milky, green eye always stared outward next to the yellowing bone of his eye socket. Despite the damage, there was very little blood. Green ooze, so dark it was nearly black, leaked from the wounds as cracks formed in the dried layers of decayed flesh. Had a quick wound done this much damage, Wentworth would have been dead. Thade's Grasp worked slowly. Slowly enough for the wounds to try to heal, even as the foundation of those scars were eaten away.
"...perhaps you will learn respect in your new life!" Wentworth snapped and Anara realized she had been staring.
"My apologies, sir," Anara curtsied, averting her gaze from the man. If his disfigurement had not been enough to keep even the bravest of men’s eyes from him, the burning rage in his good eye would have. Wentworth frightened Anara. "I did not mean to stare."
"No one means to stare! You unabashedly gawk! The sooner this place is rid of your rebellious and insubordinate behavior the better," Wentworth spat as a light knock sounded. "A wretch like you should know better, Miss Swift. You should know your place. You are nothing. An insect on the heel of a peasant's boot." The knock came again more persistently. "Come in!"
Anara glared at the man, biting her tongue to stop the tears burning in her eyes, as the door to Wentworth's study opened once more. Clicking sounds drew Anara's attention from the horror of Wentworth's face to a woman as she gracefully swept into the room. She was easily as beautiful as Wentworth was ugly. Her skirt teasingly revealed flashes of her legs with each step that landed with a saucy click from her high-heeled shoes. Her sleeveless bodice was even tighter than the skirt. The woman was certainly as old as Wentworth, but in much better care than Anara had ever seen a woman.
She had only the faintest of wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, as if her life had been void of any real mirth to smile from, and the pale complexion was proof enough her skin had been sheltered from Soleanne's light. Her stunningly red hair was pulled back into a tight braid that fell to the small of her back and her eyes flickered with the minimal lighting of Wentworth's office. Her lips were just as vibrant as her hair, obviously painted, and a light blush gave color to her cheeks. That was fake, too, as the woman probably had very little to actually blush about. She seemed worldly and confident in the way she carried herself despite the revealing dress that she wore with a straight, hourglass posture. Anara enjoyed how the strange woman looked, she had never seen someone dressed so enticing and exotic before.
"Jim!" The beautiful woman exclaimed as she walked up to the desk, brushing past Anara as if she were not there, and took his hands into her own. The woman wore long gloves that came up above the elbow, leaving her shoulders bare. "It has been too long since I've had the pleasure of visiting your home. I had heard about your affliction but had no idea it had progressed so far. Is there any hope of a cure?"
"The Order of Light does not seem to think so. Even their best healers are confounded," Wentworth said, smiling the most genuine and repulsive smile Anara had ever seen. "And the Dristelli have refused my petition to perform a bonding to preserve what little is left of me."
"I never trusted them anyway. Perhaps it is best if you see to your affairs within the realm before reaching outside of it for aid. Surely the other orders may have proposals to consider," Mistress Adair said. "Perhaps if you prayed to Malef instead of Fiel."
"The Order of Flame wants to burn it off, Erin, as if that wouldn't kill me faster. No, I'm afraid the God of Fire's answers are only helpful in battle or in bed." Mistress Adair smiled at that.
"And the others?"
"Ezebre teaches to accept life as it is – a fat lot of good her advocates in the Order of Wind were. The Order of Stone says death, in all its forms, is the natural order of things and should not be opposed. An individual cannot oppose a mountain."
"So, no aid from Duloreb. What of Mertas?"
"The priests of the Order of Streams make useless tonics—all of them," Wentworth finished his list of the five orders that followed the five gods of Iliona.
"That is unfortunate. Though if I might change the topic to one of a less unsavory nature, why have you sent for me? It was an uncomfortably hasty three-week journey here from Aederon City. I certainly hope my travel has not been just to hear such disagreeable news. Especially since I will no doubt miss the majority of this year's Harvest Festival as a result."
"Of course not," Wentworth said, motioning to Anara. The woman's eyes followed. "I have a ward who is of an age that might interest you."
Anara clenched her fists under the weight of Mistress Adair's gaze. She had a sudden sensation of being a slab of meat before a butcher as the woman looked her up and down.
"Really, Jim, I thought you'd stopped sending your girls to establishments such as mine," Mistress Adair said, slowly walking around Anara.
"I changed my mind concerning her," Wentworth grumbled and rubbed his right temple out of irritation.
“She isn’t much to work with.” Mistress Adair tsked as she paced. She shot a sideways glance at Wentworth, clearly picking up on his tone as well.
"I have a name!" Anara blurted out, thinking how hypocritical it was for Wentworth to talk about showing respect. Both of them were speaking to each other as if she were not even there. It was rude.
"Willful," Mistress Adair smiled, ignoring the outburst. "I take it she's a problem child," Mistress Adair sighed, glancing at Wentworth.
"Not too horribly," Wentworth weakly countered, half laughing like a child caught in a lie. "She's broken a few rules during her stay, but what child doesn't in sixteen years?"
"You used to lie better, Jim," Mistress Adair said, pushing Anara's shoulders back. "Stand up straight, girl. Let me get a real look at you." Anara obeyed, her fists clenched.
“Long blonde hair, arrow straight too,” Adair noted, running a hand through Anara’s locks from the top of her head to the small of her back. “Dirty,” the woman wrinkled her nose and wiped her hand on Anara’s back. “Beautiful if she took care of it.”
“I only get…” Anara started, feeling embarrassed.
“No talking,” Wentworth barked.
“She is a little behind on maturing,” Adair leaned back and tapped her chin with her right hand while the other held her elbow as she looked Anara up and down from head to toe. “Obviously from malnourishment. Pity, Jim. You used to feed your girls.”
“What has that got to do with anything?” Anara squeaked, crossing her arms over her chest, self-conscious of her lack of bust.
“She’s too skinny and tall—nearly five-nine despite the malnourishment. Men don't like women taller than them.” Adair said and shook her head. “A few years in a corset should fix her silhouette, not that it’s horrid but it could be tighter in the waist than it is. Her face is a bit wide, but not so much it appears manly. Though that could just be from the dirt and sweat on it coupled with your office lighting. Full lips balanced by the width of her face, which is good. Still... I don’t know, Jim,” Adair shook her head with a long sigh. She took Anara's chin in her hand and turned her face side to side.
"So, wash her and feed her, she'll be pretty enough for your requirements," Jim said, waving a hand apathetically even as his brow furrowed with worry.
“She has a pretty nose. I'd wager silver that she is from the Eastern Coastal Region given her features. And I presume, with eyes as vibrant and exotic as those, most men might look past her height and strong jaw line. What did she do to warrant your ire so suddenly, Jim?” Adair folded her arms beneath her bust, giving Wentworth a stern look.
"Nothing to worry about," Wentworth demurred.
"Remember how your lies used to be better?" Adair asked. "Put your arms up." Anara complied and was suddenly aware of just how short her dress was. She was seventeen now, yet still wore the same outfit from three years ago. Adair ran her hands down Anara's sides starting from her elbows and pressing harder as they neared her ribs. "Be straight with me Jim, no more dancing around it. The truth."
"She attacked a priest," Wentworth said. Adair paused, her hands stopping at Anara's waist.
"I never attacked..."
"I said be quiet," Wentworth barked. Mistress Adair frowned at the disfigured man.
"A violent girl is far worse than an insolent one. You want her to come to my establishment and attack my employees? Or worse, my patrons?" Adair asked, glaring at Wentworth. "I should not have come. Just to satisfy my curiosity may I ask whom she attacked?"
"Brother Mitchel," Wentworth said and Adair frowned again before going back to her examination. She lowered Anara's chin to look into her eyes again. Even wearing such tall heels Anara was taller than Mistress Adair. Like most people, Anara had bothered looking at so closely, Mistress Adair's eyes were as brown as they came. Lighter than usual, but still brown.
"I'm certain that old lecher deserved what he got. You still keep him around, knowing how severely he punishes rule breakers? How badly was he hurt?"
"Not so bad. It was an emotional shock more than anything. His methods worked, usually," Wentworth admitted. "Brother Mitchel never was able to make this one comply, though. He has grown old, and the girl is too old for that kind of scolding anymore. He left for the Fertile Vale."
"That bad? How long ago? Has she attacked anyone else since then?" Adair quickly rattled off, causing Wentworth to pause and consider his words carefully. The way Wentworth's expression changed clearly showed he did not enjoy being put on the defensive.
"No other incidences in the past month worth noting. Honestly," Wentworth said and Anara clenched her jaw. Wentworth was lying; she never attacked Brother Mitchel, no matter how much he deserved it for his method of punishing the younger children.
"Don't grind your teeth," Adair scolded offhandedly to Anara. "She's passable, Wentworth. I'll admit as much. Barely more than skin and bone, but I can work with that."
"Then we have a deal."
"I did not say that," Mistress Adair said, turning away from Anara. “I said passable, but the work to get her ready will be costly. More than just money, but time as well. The price point still needs to be discussed.”
"You're selling me!" Anara protested angrily. First Wentworth lies about her and now they're discussing fees for taking her. Her eyes widened as she glanced back and forth between the two with a strong urge to flee and the dull warmth of anger. "Slavery is illegal in Iliona, everyone knows that!"
"A finder's fee, dear," Adair said, placing a hand on Anara's shoulder as she moved to stand behind her. "Not a slaver's fee. Once you reach the age of citizenship in a year you'll be welcome to forge a different path if you choose. I'll merely provide you with some skills to fall back on should you need them."
"Which you most likely will," Wentworth grumbled under his breath.
"You aren't helping your case, Jim. You’re supposed to tell me her redeeming qualities. Slothfulness will not be tolerated, and only decreases her value to me," Adair said, her voice sweeter than honey. "I'll pay a quarter what you want for finding her."
"Perhaps if you had taken better care of her," Adair said. Anara really felt like a slab of meat now. Do they have to do this with me present, she thought. "Look at her, she's half starved, half covered in mud and half naked. I'm surprised the realm lets you keep your orphanage. You used to take better care of your wards." Anara clenched her teeth together again, she was not that dirty and it stung a little that the strange woman offered so little. Anara almost laughed at the irony of feeling ashamed of being worth so little to the woman. “Don’t grind your teeth, dear, they’re one of your better qualities.”
"Half," Wentworth said coldly. "But if she recoups your loss within two years, I get a small percentage of that." He might have cared about such an insult to his reputation once; before Thade's Grasp started destroying his mind. He might have been angered by Adair’s claim that he did not take care of his wards. Then he would have puffed out his chest, daring them to prove his lax attitude towards the welfare of his wards.
But not now.
"Three-eighths and you can have that percentage," Mistress Adair said, smiling as if she had bested some indomitable foe.
"Deal," Wentworth said, holding out Anara's custodial form. Mistress Adair signed with large, flowing strokes and the two shook hands to finalize the deal. Mistress Adair linked her left arm with Anara's right and turned to go.
"Nicholas will be in to pay you and to see to gathering any medical or personal documents you may have on the child. Oh, and include any records of her other infractions so I may be well informed," Mistress Adair said as she opened Wentworth's mahogany door.
"Of course," Wentworth said, sounding relieved.
The door shut behind them and Mistress Adair shuddered. Her composed and shrewd demeanor melting away in a heartbeat. She let go of Anara and practically clawed her gloves off, taking care to turn them inside out, before balling them up.
"Vile man, he should have just let Thade's Grasp kill him," Adair hissed. "Pay him three-eighths what he suggested in the letter, Master Brenton," she said to the man who opened the glass door for them. He was considerably older and taller than Mistress Adair but Anara recognized the boyish grin on his face as she addressed him. He was enamored with the younger woman even though he could have been old enough to be Mistress Adair's father.
"Who's the new gir'?" He asked in a heavily rural accent.
"This is..." Mistress Adair started, pausing to blink long eyelashes at Anara a few times. "What is your name?" Before Anara could answer, the man let out a deep, rumbling laugh.
"Jus' like you 'rin, to care more about the barter than the gir'," Brenton said holding out his hand towards Anara. "Name's Nicho'as Bren'on," he said.
"Anara Swift," Anara answered, taking his hand which he shook so vigorously that her arm felt more like a wet noodle than a limb with bones in it.
"Pleased ta meet ya, 'nara!"
"Uh-nar-uh," Anara enunciated.
"Tha's wha' I said, 'nara," he only grinned back at her.
"Don't bother," Mistress Adair sighed. "Our driver has known me nearly twenty years and still refuses to say mine correctly. Which, need I remind you, Master Brenton, you should not be using at all. I am Mistress Adair to you and all others outside of the temple. This young woman will be Mistress Swift from now on."
"Wha'ever you say, 'rin," Nicholas said as the two of them stepped out into the drizzling weather.
"One more thing, Brenton," Adair said and the driver stopped half-way through his turn to go back towards Wentworth's office. "Burn these as soon as you get a chance," she said and tossed the balled-up gloves to the driver.
"Will do, 'rin," Nicholas said, nodding his head very slightly.
The two of them waited on the steps of the orphanage, keeping just out of the rain from an overhang above them. Anara shifted uncomfortably. The entire world seemingly hushed by the steady downpour just a few feet away from them. Anara shivered. She had no coat to speak of and the waiting just stretched on as Adair kept her attention on the carriage. Anara looked around, wondering why they were just standing there. She was alone with a complete stranger. Someone who had just judged her based solely on her appearance. An appearance Anara had never really enjoyed and to have the woman voice so many of her self-critical thoughts renewed the grief she felt from earlier.
Anara caught herself from letting tears flow down her face. She looked around to bring back better memories from growing. Memories of splashing in mud or playing in snow. Memories of the other orphans that would become her friends only to be taken in by a childless family, leaving Anara behind year after year. Each year growing older, each year becoming more and more of a woman and less of a child.
"Where are we going?" Anara asked, realizing her reminiscing had spiraled down towards despair. "Mistress Adair," she added, unsure of how to address the woman.
"Please, Anara," the woman smiled warmly at her. "Call me Erin. We are sisters now. As for your question, didn't Wentworth tell you?"
"He might have," Anara hesitated, remembering Wentworth's half-dead face and the lecture she was supposed to be listening to at the time.