When I was about twelve, and for some reason the memories of that year are all rather muzzy - it seems like nothing interesting happenned to me when I was twelve; I remember being eleven and meting Kiera, and that stands out, and then when I was thirteen and killed an old Orca by throwing him over a cliff, but twelve is a blur - I ran into Kiera fairly often, every five weeks or so, which doesn't seem like a lot until you look at it from the Dragaeran side. Dragaerans can consider that they've seen each other recently when the last time they spoke was a year ago. Still, usually she'd show up while I was out running errands, or just trying to get out of the house for a bit. Only once that I can recall did she actually show up at the door and ask for me.
My father was quite suprised, but he didn't argue, and even though I had been washing dishes he came to get me and told me she was there and wanted to talk. I don't know what he thought of her, but given she was Dragaeran, he probably approved of her as a friend.
It was her birthday. I knew that Dragaerans give gifts to their parents, and Easterners generally get gifts from their friends, but Kiera told me her parents had died long ago. "I don't think about them much," she admitted. "We never really got along."
Looking back on that now I realize what an understatement it was.
Kiera said she was determined to show somebody a good time and she thought I needed one, so she was going to take me to dinner. We had a nice chat about lockpicks, and drank a lot of peach brandy. It was one of the nicer days I can remember of my early life.
When I got home the restaurant had long since closed, and my father gave me a very strange look when I came in, still stubling a little from the brandy and blushing from Kiera's goodbye kiss. He didn't mention it, though, and when I got up the next morning I found a headache remedy by my bed.
I found out when Aliera's birthday was almost by accident. I showed up at Castle Black one evening and she wandered into the party looking very, very, smug. I asked her why.
"I just killed a fool of a Dzur," she declared. "He thought to insult my father's honor." She shook her hair out. "I don't think he'll do it again."
Ah, of course. She was a Dragon; Dragons usually look smug about winning. "Of course," I murmured politely, and looked around for someone handing out drinks. "How long has it been since you last defeated a Dzur in a duel? Two weeks?"
"Almost four," Aliera corrected. "I think they're learning."
Modest, isn't she, Loiosh snickered.
"Anyhow," she said, "I left him for Morrolan to revivify, and I expect he'll be slinking in here later and avoiding me. An appropriate birthday gift, don't you think?"
I thought first of the Eastern custom and almost blurted out from who? but Loiosh nudged me and I managed, "Ah, I didn't know it was your birthday."
"It is." Aliera nodded. "I think Daddy would be proud of me." There was something resembling sentiment in her eye. I agreed quietly, and the two of us went off and found some peach brandy, and I made rude remarks about the other guests telepathically and Aliera attempted not to snicker aloud.
Somehow I had always assumed that Aliera's mother was dead. Certainly Aliera never mentioned her. I wonder what she gives her for a birthday gift? What does a goddess want, anyway? Does she even believe in celebrating birthdays like the Dragaerans do? But I don't think she'll ever give me an opportunity to ask, and there are a lot of other questions that would have to go first if she did. Come to think of it, if I ever got an opportunity to ask questions of Aliera's mother, she'd probably smite me before I got more than four or five in.
Cawti's birthday was a few weeks after mine, although she was older than I was. In fact, by the time I was twelve, the Sword and the Dagger already had their reputations.
Thinking about it logically Cawti must have been maybe ten years older than me. Somehow I never got around to asking her age.
I gave her a lant. She was delighted. "I havn't played one of these since I was a little girl," she told me. "I wonder if I still remember how?" She picked it up and proceeded to prove that she did indeed remember how, which made it really a gift for both of us. I loved listening to her play. She was so graceful - she didn't always hit the notes quite right, but she knew how to make the instument give up it best tone. It felt like hours, listening to her, although it was probably only half one.
Eventually she set it down with a sigh, and kissed me, and then we had dinner - roast lyorn in mustard sauce (mustard is a seed, like peppercorns, and it's very yellow when ground up fine), and peach brandy. Lots of peach brandy.
That was while we were happily married, and I never even suspected that anything was wrong. She hadn't spoken of the plight of the Easterner for a very long time. I, more fool I, never asked. I though she'd put it aside, one more problem to be solved later, and concentrated on the more pressing problems like making sure all the business of the Sword and Dagger was well and truly finished, and advising me on the running of my region. We spent a lot of time together in those days. I was truly convinced that there were no secrets between us. I guess we're always learning.
Teldra was an orphan from a very young age, and she had never taken up the Eastern custom even while she lived in the East. She hadn't felt it appropriate. She was the kind of person who always gave, and never got back half as much.
Thinking about that made me rather sad. I went to a little place I knew and got a glass of peach brandy, a variety she had once admitted to liking, although I'd found it rather too subtle the last time I'd tried it, years ago. In another life, almost.
It tasted like sunshine on an orchard somewhere very far away.
It was very, very good.