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Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Adopted Flower

I warn y'all now that this was a strange story that popped into my head. It's set in an Empire that has a modernish government but no modern technology. Please tell me what you think of it :-)

“That’s right, Sir. Not only will you be helping the Empire, but the Empire will help you. If you and your lovely wife agree to look after an orphan from us, the Imperial Adoption Agency, we will provide you with vouchers every month to be used on food. Also, your family will be entitled to money each year to be used on new clothes.”
“There has to be a catch somewhere,” the man looked at his wife uncertainly.
“The catch is that you must take in a child. It’s a rare couple that actually wants to look after someone else’s offspring. The Empire feels that the best way to look after these poor parentless children is to place them with new parents that will love them, and we ensure that they will not be a burden on those who take them.”
“That’s it, we adopt a child, and your agency gives us monthly food vouchers and clothes once a year?” The would-be mother asked for clarification.
“Yes… I suppose you could say there is one other catch. All of the children we have available for adoption are older. If you are looking for an infant, you should look elsewhere, but I beg you to consider this a moment… An older child can help out with housework and chores; even your business if you own one. We have already taught these children everything they need to know to make a well behaved addition to your family,” the IAA agent informed them.
“What do you mean by that?” The hopeful father wondered.
“Simply that we do not clear a child as ready for adoption until they can prove that they are well mannered, capable of doing chores, and pleasant in attitude. We even teach them to read, write, and do basic arithmetic! All to make them successful no matter which family decides to adopt them.”
“They can read?!” The woman asked in awe. Most adults in the Empire couldn’t say the same.
“Our Empress is a compassionate woman, and feels that these poor children have suffered so much already that it is our duty to make the rest of their lives as easy as possible,” the agent – a smarmy looking man – smiled as if this fact made him personally a generous paragon of virtue.
It was time for the couple to make a decision, and they looked at each other uncertainly. This all sounded a bit too good to be true, but they didn’t really have a choice. This was the only agency in the Empire that didn’t require an exorbitant adoption fee to weed out those who might wish to acquire children for ulterior reasons.
“Where do we sign?” The almost new father asked.
The agent talked them through several pages of paperwork, but soon enough, they were officially the legal parents of whichever child they chose. The next step was to bring them to look at all of those who were ready for adoption. They were astonished to discover that there were at least two dozen children between the ages of 12 and 13 standing in a perfect line, waiting to be inspected.
This was more children than they had expected, and yet… Surely there were more orphans than this? Where were the rest? This selection seemed pretty narrow, limited, and selective.
The couple looked at each other in bafflement. They had no idea how they were going to choose! They didn’t even know if they wanted a boy or a girl, and had rather assumed that the agency would just assign them whatever child needed them the most.
A woman standing watch noticed their indecision, and smiled at them. “I can certainly understand how overwhelming the choice must be, but agency rules state that you may not choose any more than two initially, and then not more than one per year after that… your vouchers increase accordingly, of course.”
Two children?
“Umm…” the expectant father muttered.
“Oh!” The woman gasped in suddenly clarity, and then grinned. “I understand! Do you own a business? If so, what kind? A bakery? A shop? If I knew what your needs were, I could recommend a child to fit them.”
“Um… were farmers,” the couple answered nervously. Farmers didn’t make much on average, but most of the time they could feed several children amply. Especially with food vouchers to help them buy the things they didn’t produce themselves.
“Farmers, hmm… you’ll need someone strong… hardy… and able to think up solutions to unexpected problems.” The woman examined the children, assessing their qualities since she knew what each was capable of.
She thought out loud. “Hmm… he is strong and sturdy, but I am not sure he’s farmer material… She’s a good problem solver, and is robustly healthy, but I’m not sure she is strong enough…”
This made the couple wonder what qualities they would like in a child. Also, if they chose a son, they would have someone to pass their farm to later on, whereas a daughter would be married off. However, there were more sons than daughters in the ten mile radius around their farm. A daughter would have her pick of the young men someday, and her bride price could potentially bring them enough to live comfortably in their old age.
It was a hard decision! They rather felt it would be immoral to adopt a boy and a girl of the same age at the same time unless they were actually related by blood. Otherwise, what would stop them from getting curious together later on?
“A girl?” The husband asked his wife.
“Yes… I think so,” she agreed.
The woman in charge laughed. “Well! Now that that’s settled… I think that this girl might suit you well. What do you think?”
The couple looked the girl over like she was a horse on auction. She had good teeth, wide hips, and her light brown hair was a mix between the husband’s dirty blond hair and his wife dark brunette. Lastly, the girl had blue eyes like the man did, and so looked like she might have actually come from them.
“Yes…” He looked to his wife.
“I agree,” she nodded in agreement.
“Wonderful!” The woman in charge exclaimed happily. “Did you hear that, Siobhan? You have parents now!”
The girl smiled at the woman in charge, and wiped away the tears that streamed down her cheeks. She hugged her new parents, and made a sound halfway between a laugh and a cry. She’d seen others react exactly this way when they were adopted, but she had never imagined that she would feel so happy that she’d actually cry!
“Siobhan, huh? What a mouthful!” Her new mother laughed happily as she stroked along the Siobhan’s cheek.
“Siobhan, why don’t you go get your things while we issue your parents their first month’s voucher.”
“Yes, Headmistress.” Siobhan curtseyed as if to royalty, and her parents realized how pretty and delicate their new daughter was. They looked at each in sudden doubt. A farm child should be sturdy not delicate, and they looked at all of the other children again. They noticed that none of them had moved so much as their head, and stared blankly ahead. They also realized that all of the children looked beautiful; like each and every one belonged in some lord or lady’s court.
They shook off their doubt, and followed the smarmy IAA agent back to his office. He signed their vouchers, gave them a letter for clothes for all three of them at the shop of their choice, and had an assistant escort them to the main entrance where Siobhan would join them shortly. They waited for her nervously.
“Mother! Father!” Siobhan called out happily as she gracefully rushed down the steps from the girls’ dormitory. She skipped the last step, and blushed at her bad decorum.
“Forgive me,” she bobbed a quick curtsey. “I’m just so excited!”
The humble farmers wondered if it had been wise to saddle themselves with a child with the manners of a young, well-bred lady. She was going to be in for a rude awakening when she got to their farm and realized that she was expected to work. It was a good thing that they would be able to buy her new clothes because she was dressed in her Sunday best, as far as they were concerned, and not suitable for the hard work she would be doing.
Neither had the heart to change their minds now. This girl already considered them her parents, and they would just have to make the best of it. They smiled at her encouragingly, and helped her store her things in the back of their wagon. They hoped she didn’t expect a fancy carriage ride.
“Do we live far from here?” Siobhan asked curiously.
“Yes, we live about half a day’s wagon ride from the Imperial City. If you have any friends in the Orphanage, we make the trek about once a month, so you will be able to see them again,” her mother tried to comfort her.
“Friends?” Siobhan rolled the word around on her tongue a couple of times as if it were new to her. “No… I don’t have any friends at the orphanage. We are not allowed to form attachments to the others… It’s forbidden.”
“Forbidden?” Her father asked. “How can it be forbidden?”
“Is that strange?” Siobhan wondered.
Her parents exchanged questioning glances. “Don’t you think it’s strange?”
Siobhan shrugged. “It’s all I know. We all go through rigorous training, and there really isn’t much time to interact with each other.”
“What sort of training?” Her mother asked in concern.
“Just things like reading, writing, arithmetic, and decorum. It’s important that we learn the skills we need in order to fit into any family that chooses us,” Siobhan replied as she watched the scenery roll by. They were still in the Imperial City, so there was a lot to see.
She looks as if she’s never seen any of this before, but surely she has!
“What about the parents you had before? What did they do?” Her father asked.
“I don’t remember. I was about 5 when they died. I don’t really remember anything about them or my life before their deaths. All I do know is that they loved me, and… I think they must have been poor because when I try to picture them, they always have dirt on their faces… but not like farmers would… it’s hard to explain.” Siobhan informed them.
“How old are you now?”
“I’m 12. I actually just turned 12 a week ago,” Siobhan stated.
“Why weren’t you offered for adoption when you were younger?”
“I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t completed my training,” Siobhan frowned at their probing questions. “I don’t understand, why are you asking me all of this?”
“We just find this whole situation very strange. Why would the Empire keep you for so many years? It would be best to place you in a loving home as soon as possible.”
“Loving…” Siobhan repeated the word several times, and her parents wondered why the word seemed so foreign to her.
Siobhan seemed to have finally assimilated the word to her satisfaction, because she smiled again. “That is a good question, but I don’t know the answer. All I know is that I was not ready for adoption until I completed my training.”
This left her parents scratching their heads the whole rest of the ride home. They reached their farm just as the sun was setting, and showed Siobhan to her small room. They really hoped that she wouldn’t be disappointed with it, but despite its small size, it was all hers. Most farmer children had to share a room this size with their siblings.
Siobhan twirled around in a circle. “Is this room all mine?” She asked incredulously. “I’ve never had so much space to myself before!”
“How did they keep you girls from chatting in your dorms each night?” Her mother asked.
Siobhan had a strange look cross her face as she tilted her head in thought. She wondered what they were talking about. How could we chat at night while we were sleeping?
“Well, in each dorm room, along the walls, there were cubbies. Each cubby was just big enough to fit one sleeping child. We went inside our cubby, received our goodnight prayer, and usually were asleep before the cubby door was shut. The next thing we knew, our trainer opened our door and gave us our waking prayer. Then we trained all day – except when it was time to eat…” Siobhan stared blankly at nothing for a few moments.
Her parents were concerned bordering on worried, and had no idea what to do. They wished her pleasant dreams, and left her alone to settle in. They really hoped that they could be good parents to this new enigma in their lives.
Later that night, Siobhan paced her room, and contemplated lighting a candle so that she could read from one of the books she brought with her. She didn’t know what her parents’ policy on wasting candles on reading during the night was, so she decided against that until she could ask. Her pacing caused soft creaks, and prompted her mother to come see what the problem was.
“I can’t sleep,” Siobhan confessed.
“Have you ever had a problem sleeping before?”
“No,” Siobhan admitted. “It normally comes instantly once the nightly prayer is said.”
“Well,” her mother sympathized. “I’m not surprised that your body is reacting to the shock of such a change. Perhaps I can help. If you told me the prayer, I could say it. Maybe that will comfort you.”
Siobhan nodded. “Now I lay you down to sleep, it’s been a long and tiring day. All the learning you must keep, in your head safely hidden away.”
Siobhan lay in her bed, and covered her body with a decorative knitted blanket. She gazed at her mother expectantly.
“Out of curiosity, what’s your morning prayer?”
“Now’s the time for you to wake, all this training you must take.”
Her mother took a deep breath, and sighed to relax herself. Then she repeated the nightly prayer, and was amazed when her daughter fell asleep instantly. She checked her to see if she was really asleep, prodding and poking her gently. Nothing roused her, and this puzzled the farm woman.
The next morning, the couple decided to let Siobhan sleep in as late as she wanted, but as it approached 11 o’clock, they grew concerned. Surely she wasn’t accustomed to staying up all night and sleeping in until noon? They decided to wake her after all.
They poked her, shook her, and called her name repeatedly, but nothing could wake her. Then her mother remembered the morning prayer. She recited it, not really believing that it would work.
Siobhan’s eyes opened unexpectedly, startling her parents. “I’m ready.” Slowly, her eyes focused, and she blinked a couple of times. She smiled, and said, “Mother, Father, good morning!”
The farmers gave her something to eat, and then showed her what her morning and afternoon chores would be. The morning chores had already been done while she was sleeping, but they gave her a good overview, and answered all her questions. Siobhan was expected to collect eggs from the ducks and chickens, milk the two cows, and weed the vegetable garden.
None of that was too tedious or time consuming, so most days, she would have a bit of free time until lunch. After lunch, she was expected to help her father move the cows, sheep, goats and pigs to new pasture. The hardest part of that was checking the fences to ensure that none of the animals could escape.
Lastly, she was given a sickle and shown how to cut the taller grass in one of the pastures reserved for hay making. The farmer really hadn’t expected her to be able to handle the awkward tool, much less use it properly. He planned to let her ease into the job slowly, figuring that he would have to do the bulk of the work until she built up her strength.
She utterly shocked him when she was not only able to handle the tool, but after only one demonstration, she was using it like she had been doing so her entire life. He watched her squat demurely, cut a section of grass, scatter it behind her to dry – as he’d taught her – and then move on to the next section. She really could have been raised on a farm after all!
He swung his scythe fluidly, grateful that this tool was long enough to allow him to stand as he worked, but it was heavy. He was used to its weight – as was his wife since she’d had to help him harvest hay more than once – but it could still throw him off balance if he didn’t concentrate. He stopped paying attention to his surprising daughter, and focused on his work.
After an hour, they had about half the intended area cut, and he decided that it was time for a short break. He pulled a small earthen jug from the cool shade of the wagon, and let her take the first few sips. It was filled with nourishing broth to keep up their strength.
After he had his fill, he stashed the jug back under the wagon, and rested in the shade of a tree for a few minutes. He watched the sun, and knew he still had at least two hours of good daylight to work in. With any luck, they’d finish and go in to eat before the sun set.
“Father, may I try my hand at using your tool?” Siobhan asked as she ran her finger along the long wooden handle of the scythe.
He laughed, amused that she was so eager to work hard for parents she had just met the day before. “Why not? Please take care though, it’s very sharp, and you could easily injure yourself.”
“Don’t worry, I watched you use it,” Siobhan smiled as if this assured her of skill with the tool.
“I suppose that you hope to use a scythe so that you don’t have to bend over like with the sickle,” he mused aloud.
Siobhan shrugged. If she were honest, she felt compelled to master the tool simply because she had seen him use it. She picked the scythe up respectfully, and tested its weight in her hands.
It was definitely heavier than the sickle was, but it did not seem too heavy for her to handle. She swung it a few times for practice in an area that was clear, and nodded when she found the rhythm that felt right. She walked to an uncut patch of grass, and carefully cut it with the scythe.
The farmer’s mouth hung open in shock as he watched her use the tool with ease! Most boys her age found it difficult to use a scythe! Yet, here she was, handling it like she was born a farmer’s daughter.
He scratched his head, and went to find the scythe his wife used upon occasion. While he was in the barn, his wife came to see what he was doing. She saw a strange expression on his face.
“I think she may be lying to us, Mary.”
“Why do you say that, George?”
“She uses both a sickle and a scythe as if she was born to it. I suspect that she is a farmer’s daughter after all, and that is why her headmistress chose her for us. They’ve just taught her a bunch of useless information, and given her the manners of a young lady to make us think that we are getting a real prize.”
Mary laughed. “Don’t be silly, of course she is a prize! No matter what her past is, she belongs to us now. It’s just going to take us all time to adjust to such a big change.”
“You’re right, I’m sure,” George sighed.
“Do you wish we had adopted a little lady good only for marrying and breeding?” The wife asked her husband.
“Of course not! It’s just so strange!”
“I agree, but it really doesn’t matter, she’s ours now…” Mary reaffirmed.
“Yes… You’re absolutely right, my love.” George hugged his wife, and then hauled the second scythe to the hay making pasture.
For the second time in 20 minutes, his jaw hung open in absolute amazement. The entire designated portion of the field was cut! It had been done properly too!
“Did I do well, father?”
Speechless, her father could only nod. “Er, um, uh…” He wondered if they should start on the next chore, or head in for the night. This grass needed to dry overnight, but he was behind because they had gone to the Imperial City yesterday. Normally, he would cut an entire field by himself, or with his wife’s help, once the morning dew had evaporated, and then he would let that dry while he gathered and stacked a couple of rows of previously dried hay. After that, the stacks sat in the field – drying some more – until he had time to collect them, preferably before it rained.
If he did his job well the first time, the stack would be weather proof, and if he messed up, it would rot. He preferred to avoid potential spoilage by gathering the stacks for storage in his barn’s hay loft. Unfortunately, all too often he simply ran out of time and they sat in the fields in stacks all summer.
He had cut one field this morning, and started on their current field this afternoon/evening to make up for missing yesterday. This meant that he had dried hay from the other day to stack, and stacks from several days ago that could be brought in. He looked at the sky to divine if there was rain in the near future, and decided not to risk his good fortune.
“Let’s gather some stacks while we have time.”
“Yes father,” Siobhan agreed obediently.
He frowned at her, puzzled. Then it hit him. “Call me Papa.”
Siobhan responded with a dazzling grin, and said, “Yes Papa!”

*****

“Mary! You have to see what our brilliant daughter has done!” George called out to his wife excitedly.
Mary rushed out to see what the fuss was about. She was lucky that the stew she was making for dinner would not need constant tending at this point, and the bread had just come out of the clay oven. It smelled divine, and she couldn’t wait to taste it!
“Look!” George pointed at a small mechanical roller Siobhan was hauling to one of the hay pastures. Her parents followed her, and watched as she set it on the ground.
 “What is it?” Mary wondered.
“It’s a hay cutter!” George announced.
“A what?” Mary asked, certain she had misheard him.
“As you know, it takes a great deal of time and effort cut hay by hand, so our ingenious daughter built a machine to cut it for us,” George explained.
Siobhan’s contraption was like a cylindrical box. She had fitted it with wheels, and it rolled easily as she pushed it. Inside a cage, curved blades spun, cutting the grass and scattering it to dry at the same time.
“I’m confused; I thought Shevvie could cut an entire field with a scythe in less than an hour? Why does she need a contraption to do it for her?” Mary asked, using Siobhan’s nickname. Siobhan was pronounced shuh-von, and so they affectionately called her Shevvie.
“That’s very true, she can cut a field amazingly fast using only a scythe, but she made this machine for me. This way, I can cut another field almost as quickly as she can.”
Mary could tell her husband was giddy with the idea that he could do more work in less time. Especially since he had been so astonished – and frankly jealous – when he realized that his daughter could do one of his more difficult jobs in half the time it took him. She smiled at him, and left to tend to her own chores.
Mary realized that it was coming up on one year since they had adopted their daughter, and that meant that her birthday was coming up too. This called for a trip to the Imperial City to buy fancy food with their vouchers, and perhaps a new Sunday dress to wear to the barn raising next month. It would be such a wonderful birthday!
Mary paused to look at the saplings Siobhan had begged them to plant as soon as the frosts had ended for the spring a few months back. Come this time next year, they would have an orchard blossoming for the first time. Cherries, apples, and plums! Mary’s mouth watered at all the pies she would be able to make, and the best part was all of the seeds were foraged from plants Siobhan had come across as she explored the land surrounding their farm! They were free and indigenous, and therefore likely to grow without problem.
“Maybe she really is as brilliant as my husband thinks she is,” Mary admitted, not normally one to give such a lofty compliment.
Siobhan and her parents celebrated her birthday, and the anniversary of her adoption in style with a feast complete with cake. She would have been happy with a hug and well-wishes just because she had a family to celebrate it with, but their generosity made her want to cry. I am so happy!
Her new Sunday best dress was simply beautiful, and made her feel like a princess when she wore it. “I can’t wait to show it off at the party!” She said, referring to the upcoming barn raising. There would be a dance in the new barn once it was built, and all of the women were beside themselves planning out what food to make and bring.
With Siobhan to help him, her father was able to get several days ahead of his normal yearly hay making schedule. As a result, he sent his daughter in to help her mother with all of the cooking that needed to be done during the two days prior to the party. Mary used their vouchers to buy some expensive maple syrup, and a bushel of exotic fruit called bananas and another of oranges from the Imperial City food vendors, and planned to make a several pies with them.
The day of the barn raising arrived, and everyone for miles around poured onto their neighbor’s property to help out. Everyone arrived in their work clothes, but had brought their Sunday best along for later on. Excitement was high as everyone loved getting together as a community to work and play.
The men and older boys started building the barn’s frame, and women helped out by carrying tools and nails, or staying out of the way. They also brought the menfolk food and drink. Some women even carried handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat off the men’s brows.
Siobhan listened as some women sang. She was by her father’s side, helping him as best she could, and noticed how the men seemed more lively in their work when the women sang. This made her grin since singing was part of her training.
She joined in the singing, and when one song ended, if it took a moment for someone to start a new song, she filled the silence with a song of her choosing. More than one boy her age paused to look at her as she sang before resuming their work. She didn’t notice though since she was too busy helping her father.
“Shevvie love, could you hammer a nail in here?” Her father asked her as needed, and she complied, never faltering in whichever song she was singing.
Other women sunned themselves as they watched the men work, also singing, secure in the knowledge that they had all been working their fingers to the bones for days cooking. It was not unheard of for girls to hammer nails like Siobhan was, but usually a family had at least one son, and girls were in short supply. Therefore, girls usually worked in the house with their mothers.
Mary was one of the women carrying around a bucket of water to prevent dehydration. She even had a jug of broth on hand for anyone who wanted it. They all knew it was going to be a long day before the barn was ready for the dance.
“Hey Mary, you’re adopted daughter sure has a pretty voice,” a woman remarked as Mary passed her.
“Thank you,” Mary blushed as if the praise applied directly to her.
“She seems handy with a hammer too,” another woman added.
“You got lucky,” a third stated. “I knew a couple once that took in a orphaned child, and the child was spoiled rotten! Expected to be waited on hand and foot, and nothing they did could teach her to produce a spit’s worth of work!”
“Yes, we were very lucky,” Mary gushed happily. “Siobhan is a wonderful child. She’s never moody, always happy. She goes to sleep when we tell her to, and wakes up when we tell her to. She is always obedient, and is so very clever! I couldn’t ask for a better child!”
“I dearly wish I could say the same about my children!” Nearly everyone agreed.
“It must be nice having her help around the house,” a slightly older woman who had never been married sighed wistfully.
“Actually, she helps George out in the fields. He needed her help more than I did,” Mary explained. The women all nodded. It was near unthinkable that a man would work his farm without any help at all. There was simply too much to do!
“If you needed someone to help him out, then why did you not adopt a boy?” The first woman asked curiously.
Mary gestured to all the boys helping out with the barn raising. “When it came time to decide, we realized that there were already so many boys compared to girls in the area. It seemed like a girl would have a better future here than a boy.”
“Oh!” The women all agreed. They often worried about finding wives for their sons in the future. It was smart to bring in a girl. Several of them exchanged shrewd glances.
“Do you think it would be a good idea to adopt more girls into the community?” They asked each other. This would make an excellent solution to their gender imbalance, and that way the girls would already be a part of the community when they married into a family.
“Well, if any of you do, I highly recommend the Imperial Adoption Agency. We thought the agency strange at first… Siobhan was so very odd when we first adopted her, but one thing that they told us from the very beginning was that they train the children to be pleasant and fit in no matter what family adopted them. The training seems to work!” Mary informed them.
Soon enough, the barn was ready, or at least as ready as it needed to get for today. They would work on it some more tomorrow, and then it would be up to the owner to finish it to his satisfaction. For now, it was a sturdy and weatherproof building big enough to have a party in!
The women got busy carrying in the food and laying it out on makeshift tables, while the men disappeared to wash up and change. After the food was placed on the tables – still covered – the women used the barn as a place to change into their colorful dresses. They gossiped and exchanged recipes all the while.
“Oranges! You can afford oranges?!” A few women gasped.
Mary explained about the vouchers they got in exchange for adopting through the IAA, and this made many of the women think harder about adopting girls of their own. The more they talked about it, the more the idea seemed perfect for their community. The women couldn’t wait for their husbands to join them so they could share the good news.
Meanwhile, Siobhan had changed, and was bouncing on her feet as she waited for the dancing to start. She hadn’t danced since training. Well, not officially, just spur of the moment jigs, and what she did when she was cutting the grass for hay. It was a secret dance the scythe had taught her, and when she performed it, she almost flew through the field!
Ten minutes later, the boys and men were allowed back in the barn, and the crowd roared with chatter and laughter. Everyone grabbed a sample portion of each wonderful dish, and Siobhan began to wonder if the dancing would ever start. She decided to eat a few bites as well since she didn’t want to get sick from lack of food in the middle of a party.
Finally, the dancing began, and Siobhan begged her father to dance with her so that she didn’t have to wait for a boy to gather the courage to ask her. He laughed at her request, and then swept her across the floor. The tune they danced to was lively, played by men and women who had brought instruments along for just this moment.
When the first dance ended, an older boy beat out all of the others brave enough to ask her to dance. He was a fairly good dancer himself, and informed her that they were perfect for each other. She laughed at his comment.
“I’ve been warned not to let any boys sweet talk me into anything inappropriate!” She told him.
“Inappropriate?! All I want to do is dance!” He feigned innocence.
“That’s good to hear, but I am afraid that you will need to wait in line again once this dance is over,” Siobhan smiled.
He sighed in defeat, “I know.”
Siobhan was a popular dance partner, and was asked to dance by all of the boys old enough to be interested in girls, and quite a few of the men. They were –of course – all married, but wondered what it would be like to be young again, and free to marry such a good looking and seemingly perfect girl. The idea that there should be more girls in the community began to take a firm hold in all their minds.
“My lady,” the son of the local lord bowed gallantly to her. “May I have this dance?”
“You may,” Siobhan granted as if she were the young lady he called her.
“I am already 16, and my parents have not yet chosen my bride. If you would like, I can ask them to consider you,” he offered a minute into the dance.
“Oh! My Lord… Do you think your parents would seriously consider the daughter of humble farmers?” Siobhan asked.
“Perhaps not, but it doesn’t hurt to ask,” he winked at her, and she laughed.
“I would be honored… but I will not hold my breath,” Siobhan answered flirtatiously.
“You sound like a real lady, perhaps they might consider the match after all,” he mused.
Soon, Siobhan was handed off to her next partner. He was a dazzlingly handsome man, and he also treated her as if she was raised a fair and well bred lady. This made her instantly wary of his motives.
After their flirting and dance had progressed almost to the end, he looked deep into her eyes, probing her as if looking for her innermost secrets. She thought this entirely strange, but didn’t wish to cause a scene. She smiled patiently, and waited for the dance to end.
He spoke to her unexpectedly, whispering in her ear. “There once was a flower filled with secrets aplenty. Mysteries kept inside, waiting and at the ready. Now is the time to open them wide, to spill blood and create a tide.”
Siobhan’s face went blank, and she nodded. “I await your command.”
“The local Lord here, whose son you danced with mere moments ago, is a traitor to the Empire. You must use any means necessary to end his life, and the threat he poses. If anyone gets in your way, kill them, though it is preferred that you minimize the collateral damage, if possible.”
“I understand,” Siobhan stated in an emotionless monotone. Her eyes still looked blank, and her body lacked the flair she’d danced with earlier.
Her father noticed that she seemed off, and came over to rescue her if necessary. He arrived next to them just as the dance came to an end.
“The flower has not yet bloomed; the tigress waits on her prey.”
George frowned, thinking what an odd thing to say. Siobhan suddenly returned to herself, and curtseyed to her dance partner. She turned to discover her father at her side.
“Papa! Excellent timing, I find myself in need of some air!”
George escorted his daughter out of the barn, wondering why she was using the formal, overly polite speech she hadn’t used since shortly after they brought her home. He was puzzled, but decided that it was because she was mimicking the men who had danced with her. Just who was that last one anyway?
“Did something happen, love?”
“No… Why do you ask?” Siobhan wondered.
“You just seemed… not yourself for a moment there,” her father replied with a shrug.
“There you are!” Mary announced as she exited the barn. She was arm in arm with the Lord’s wife, and he followed them.
“I was looking for you,” the Lord informed George. “Walk with me a moment.” The two couples strolled towards the river the men had all washed up in earlier to get away from the blaring noise of the barn. Siobhan followed since she had no orders not to.
“It seems my son has the silly idea of marrying your daughter,” the Lord finally stated. “I just wanted to nip that in the bud before your daughter informed you and you all got your hopes up.”
Siobhan laughed. “I warned him that it was likely impossible that such an esteemed Lord would consider a lowly farmer’s daughter for his son’s bride. I do hope that he did not overly trouble you with his fanciful request.” She ended with a respectful curtsey.
The Lord stepped closer to her, and inspected her more closely. She presented him a minor mystery to solve. “Why does a farmer’s daughter speak like a true blooded lady?”
“She’s adopted, my Lord,” George hastily explained. “We believe that the Imperial Adoption Agency taught her lofty manners on the off chance that a titled couple happened to take her in.”
“I see, that could prove useful… but not as a bride for my son…” The Lord stroked his chin as he mused over his private thoughts. “Would you be willing to sell her to me – as a servant,” he added hastily to assure his wife that he did not lust after a 13-year-old girl.
“Certainly not!” Mary objected. “I will not part with my precious daughter merely to provide you with a useful servant!”
“Come now, be reasonable. I would see that she is well provided for. She would never want for anything,” the Lord informed them.
Even his own wife narrowed her eyes in response to that. “What kind of servant is so well cared for? I can only think of one!”
The Lord stammered because he could not tell them that he wanted to train her as a spy, but Siobhan realized this instantly.
“I see, you wish to take me as your ward, dress me as a lady, and send me to court to spy for you,” she stated in no uncertain terms.
The Lord gaped at her in astonishment. “How did you -” He stopped himself from outing himself as a traitor.
Siobhan sighed sadly, her face growing blank. “I guess it’s true,” her voice grew emotionless as she spoke. “The flower blooms, the tigress leaps.”
Siobhan kicked one of her feet behind him, and twisted her weight into him to knock him to the ground. Before he could respond in the slightest, she pinned him down, and grabbed his head firmly. She twisted his head until his neck snapped, and then regarded him numbly.
His wife screamed in outrage, and her parents stared at her in white faced shock. The Lady launched herself at Siobhan, and she defended herself. Her parents reacted by trying to come between their daughter and the wife of the man she had just murdered in cold blood.
Inside her mind, Siobhan felt nothing. She heard her orders to kill the Lord and anyone else who got in her way repeat over and over. She felt like she was watching someone else commit these atrocious crimes, and wondered why everyone was so agitated.
Silence fell, and she heard a man’s voice say, “The tigress sleeps until the flower need bloom again… I’m truly sorry, not many of the children we train are called upon to act like this. It’s unfortunate you were, but it’s over now, nothing more than a nightmare. Allow it to fade from your mind.”
Slowly, Siobhan felt like she was waking up. I had a strange dream… but it’s gone now… I can’t remember it.
She opened her eyes, and wondered why she was in her father’s arms, asleep on the ground, outside in the cooling summer night. She pushed him off her, and sat up. Her eyes grew wide as she realized that her father’s eyes stared at her in dull horror, and that her mother was covered in blood and unmoving next to them.
She screamed the blood curdling scream of one who has discovered their loved ones dead beside them. She did not move, and dared not breathe beyond that required to scream. She continued to scream until her throat was raw, and everyone had come running.
The gathered crowd stared at her in horror. Not one of them knew what to do. Bodies littered the ground, and she was covered in blood, but no one suspected her of murder. No one who heard her scream and watched her reaction could believe her capable of such a thing, and besides, she was only a young girl.
Eventually, she was unable to scream, and sobbed. Men finally came forward to tend to the bodies. They decided that a small band of strong men must have snuck up and murdered the Lord and those unfortunate enough to be near him. After all, his neck was snapped, and the rest were all stabbed repeatedly.
The only mysteries were why the Lord’s own knife appeared to be the murder weapon, and why the murderers left a survivor. The men exchanged grim looks as they realized that she must have been spared because they had been too busy using her and had to flee when she started to scream. Judging by the amount of blood on her, she must have literally been under everyone as they died.
It was a tragic event, and no one had any idea why the Lord was targeted. His son sat next to Siobhan – both wearing blankets – as the corpses were cleaned, honored, and wrapped so that they could be returned home for a proper burial. Neither could speak, but they held hands in mutual grief.
The young Lord’s uncle was eventually ready to go – the dead Lord and his wife waiting in a large cart – and Siobhan was left alone to wonder what happened. No one knew how to comfort her, and so they all shied away from her. The last man she remembered dancing with – which was the last thing she clearly remembered – offered to drive her and her parents home.
Having no other choice, she accepted the offer, and followed him to the cart her parents’ bodies had been loaded into. He drove her to her farm without needing to ask for directions, and left her alone to grieve while he slept in the barn. The next morning, he did the most important chores before gathering wood for a pyre.
Siobhan had a horrible time trying to sleep, and as a result slept late. She had no appetite, and still felt covered in blood – despite washing it off and changing her clothes – as she silently followed as the mysterious stranger guided her to the waiting pyre. He recited the traditional prayer for the dead, and set the wood ablaze.
What do I do now? Siobhan wondered. She could run the farm herself – especially if she sold off some of the animals – she knew how, but did she really want to stay here all alone? She was still too numb to think.
After the fire burned out completely, the mysterious man asked for her attention. “You are an orphan once more, but this time you shall be a valuable ward of the Empress. You shall live in the palace, and train to be part of the secret guard. You’ve earned it.”
This made no sense to the part of Siobhan that could not remember what happened, but somewhere deep inside, she knew he was right. Part of her secret training at the orphanage had prepared her for this possibility. She nodded in acceptance.
He instructed her to gather whatever belongings she wanted, and warned her that they would leave first thing the next morning. In the meantime, he was going to chat with her closest neighbor – assuming that he had returned from the barn raising by now. He planned to arrange for the neighbor to care for this farm and take in the livestock for the foreseeable future.
If Siobhan chose to in the future, she could return here to this farm. It was now her rightful property, but it would be years before she was old enough to make that choice. In the meantime, she was going to be kept so busy that he doubted she would even remember this place a year from now.
Two days later, the man presented Siobhan to the Empress, and handed over a report on the success of the girl’s mission. The Empress smiled sweetly at the orphan. Siobhan woke from her stupor, and curtseyed respectfully.
“I hear you are to be one of Our secret guards.”
“Yes, Imperial Majesty. I look forward to it,” Siobhan replied elegantly.
“Excellent. You’re the most promising one yet…” The Empress informed her cryptically, and sent her to be fussed over by the palace staff assigned to care for her. Siobhan realized that in a way, she had been officially adopted by the Empress, and she wondered what she had done to deserve it. She hoped she’d remember someday.

As I was telling my friend Elly, I wasn't going to post this just yet because it doesn't feel quite done to me. I decided to post it after all with the intent to probably have a part 2. I don't know why but it just doesn't feel right without a love story in here some where, lol!

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