July 10, 2015

In Which Alina Longs for Springtime

January 31, 1193

Alina had never been fond of winter at the best of times. She hated being cooped up in the castle, the world outside at a standstill until spring. She liked fresh air, the smell of earth, grass beneath her feet. She liked coming and going as she pleased, meeting whoever she happened to meet, waking at the crack of dawn and not retiring until well past midnight. November through March made for a bleak cage, and that had been before her older sister found herself in trouble.

To be fair, her parents hadn't been explicitly stricter with her, even if they'd been more jittery than before at the prospect of her in the unsupervised company of young men her age. And, to be fairer, they'd been just as jittery with Nato whenever he'd headed off to a potential lurking place of young women. But between their nerves and Shahira's approaching time and the sheer dull of winter, Alina had been growing more and more restless by the day. She had hoped that Alya's return home would improve things somewhat.

But, as she should have figured given the circumstances, Alya had spent much more of her time fretting over Shahira than keeping Alina from going mad. Even now, the two barely noticed her as she poked at the fire like a mindless husk. It took a lot to make Alina wish that her brothers were around, but today--the straw that broke the camel's back--her sisters had managed it.

"I'm just sorry I couldn't tell you what to expect. I feel as though I'm falling short of my responsibilities as the big sister."

"No, don't feel bad for being smart about it. Plus, now you're have someone else to tell you what to expect--assuming it doesn't kill me, that is."

"It won't kill you. And don't even joke about that!"

Privately, Alina didn't think much of it. Shahira had something of a morbid streak to her; reassuring herself with jokes about her own death might have been a way of keeping things normal. And if Alina had read enough into that to get it, then she must have been mad indeed. What a way to spend a winter, stuck with a sister about to pop.

And then the rest of winter would be spent dealing with the baby! What she wouldn't have given to blink and find it springtime.

"Are you all right?"

Alina rolled her eyes. Shahira must have been so sick of that question, having heard it at least once an hour since the middle of October.

But--for the first time in all that time--she didn't answer.


On Alya's prompting, Alina looked over to the couch where her sisters sat. Sure enough, Shahira was a little pale, a little still--and a little fidgety, all at once.

"I... I think it's time."