Side A – Yasgrid
If Yasgrid had found herself sitting stark naked at the campfire she would have felt less embarrassed than she was at being caught in Nia’s elven body.
“I’m sorry!” she said, covering herself with her arms in a gesture that didn’t make the slightest bit of sense the moment she did it.
Her grandmother, predictably, laughed.
“I’m guessing you didn’t think I would notice that? Did you?”
“I don’t know why I’m like this!” Yasgrid protested as her recently expressed desire to remain in Nia’s skin rang in her ears.
“It’s not a bad look for you,” her grandmother said, turning one of the Larkfish that was still on the fire. “Could use to eat a bit more though.”
“Do you know how this happened?” Yasgrid asked. The panic at being discovered was still there, but her grandmother seemed to know more about what was happening than she was letting on. Maybe it was privilege of being dead?
“Well, I can tell you that you haven’t done anything wrong,” Grandma Lokona said. “And that no matter what skin your wear, you’re still my granddaughter.”
Yasgrid hadn’t even considered that swapping bodies with Nia could have been a punishment. It was reassuring to know it wasn’t, although a question immediately occurred to her.
“Nia’s ok too isn’t she?”
Yasgrid couldn’t place why she felt so protective of the young elf woman. They’d known each other for a single, admittedly unbelievable, day. Regardless of how strange their circumstance was though, or how much they needed the other’s help, Yasgrid had never warmed to someone as quickly as she had with Nia.
“I think you’d have to be the one to tell me that,” Grandma Lokona said, her eyes twinkling with a hidden smile.
“But I don’t understand any of this,” Yasgrid said. She wasn’t angry at her grandmother, but a bit of the Kaersbean fire was starting to flare inside her breast at the general unfairness of the cosmos and its silent refusal to explain itself.
“Are you sure?” Grandmother Lokona asked. “You understand things well enough to take part in a High Elven ritual didn’t you?”
“Yeah, but it was easy and I had Nia there with me,” Yasgrid said, wondering how her grandmother knew about something that was so far distant from Frost Harbor.
“So Nia told you what to say? Or how to speak with that big crystal rat killer?”
“Well, no,” Yasgrid said, reflecting on the fact that Endings had spoken with her before Nia had rejoined her for the ceremony. That hadn’t been hard though, and it had been Endings doing all of the magic mind speech. Hadn’t it?
“In fact you did that job the so well that you got signed up for another didn’t you?”
“Kayelle got signed up,” Yasgrid said. “We’re just along as backup.”
“That sounds reasonable. I suppose they always include backup on dangerous assignments.”
“Well, no. This is kind of unusual.”
“You don’t say.”
“I didn’t mess up their ritual did I?” Yasgrid asked, worried about where her grandmother’s questions were leading her.
“I guess we’ll have to see how things go this year, won’t we?” Grandma Lokona said offering Yasgrid a flask of Stoneling ceremonial wine.
Side B – Nia
Nia had felt a distant anger blaze in her heart, but her father’s words ignited a far more immediate one.
“What do you mean mother asked you to come here?” she asked, eyeing her father for signs that her mother might be lurking behind him.
“She still talks to me,” Ayas said. “When she’s alone. When it’s late. When she can let down her guard.”
Nia didn’t want to imagine a situation like that ever occurring, but she could picture her mother having a quiet moment, alone in the room she’d once shared with her husband, when the perfect poise left her. The image should have filled her with sympathy, but it didn’t.
If her mother was always perfect then Nia couldn’t fault her for never being approachable. Discovering that her mother was as vulnerable as everyone else was terrible though. It meant that Naosha could be soft and fallible and real but had never chosen to let her daughter in close enough to see it.
“Why would she talk about me?” Nia asked, not bothering to hide her bitterness. The music inside her had turned into a discordant cacophony but her anger kept her from feeling its loss.
“She talks about you a lot,” Ayas said. “You and your sister.”
“And when was the last time she had anything good to say?”
“You know your mother. She spends more time worried about what’s going to happen to you, than reflecting on what’s gone right. Which is probably my fault to some degree.”
“How can it be your fault? You’ve been dead for years now!” Nia’s patience for excuses was all but bottomed out. Then she heard her own words and knew the answer before her father spoke.
“That’s problem isn’t it?” he said. “Your grandmother passed before you were born, so you don’t know what your mother was like then. I suppose she was always somewhat controlled, but I think after losing her mother, she worked harder to live properly. And then I went and died too and all that proper living didn’t spare her from the pain of my passing.”
“Why didn’t she stop then?” Nia asked.
“Naosha M’Kellin, my dear wife, can do many things, give up on what she considers to be a good idea is not one of them however. I see some of her stubbornness in you. And in your sister.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Nia said, not hiding her scowl.
“You haven’t,” Ayas said. “Ever. That stubbornness is Naosha’s greatest strength, and it looks like you’ve been making good use of it too.”
“Mother isn’t stubborn though. She’s all grace and sweetness and does anything people want her to do!”
“Are you sure of that?” Ayas shook his head. “Think back. Has your mother ever done anything she thought was wrong? Has she even let people talk her into things she didn’t want to do? Or does she let people sway her into graciously doing exactly what she intended to do in the first place?”
Nia wanted to object. She wanted to list all of the myriad times her mother had been maneuvered into this or that position of duty or obligation, but each instance she could recall was one where her mother wound up in charge of something she had fairly definite opinions on in the first place.
Nia blinked as her anger cooled a few degrees, chilled by the simple question of how well she really knew her mother?