The Prodigal Daughter
My father stared at me, mouth agape, somehow seeing past my changed visage to the trembling girl beneath. Glint cleared his throat, causing both my father and myself to jump with a start.
“So sorry to interrupt this moment of reunion, but would it be possible to speak inside, Aaron? We have some sensitive matters to discuss.”
My father nodded his head and motioned us in. Before I stepped over the threshold, I set a part of my shadow to patrol the door, so that I would have forewarning in the event that someone tried to interrupt our talk.
“Dad? What’s going on?”
Grace, my younger sister, slowly descended the stairs to find out who had come knocking. Ophelia, her twin, came trailing behind her. Ophelia was the one who spoke next.
“Ah, Mr. Glint! I- I didn’t know you were coming!”
She flushed red and started fidgeting. Grace rolled her eyes and instead focused on me.
“And who’s this woman, Glint? Your girlfriend?”
Ophelia started and glared at me. I would have found the scene funny, but for the fact that I was too overwhelmed with emotion. The last time I had seen the twins, they had been only five years old. Over the past seven years, they had grown into quite the stunning pair of young girls. In their identical faces, I could trace the image of what used to be my own. I found my hand moving to touch my cheek, reminded of what I had lost, how I had changed – how I had been changed. I felt Glint squeeze my shoulder.
“Grace… Ophelia… It’s been a while.”
Ophelia’s glare grew harsher when Glint touched me, but as she stared at me, I could see the indignation on her face change to recognition, then to surprise, then to shock, then finally to wonder. She and her sister bolted up the stairs as one.
“Mom! Mom! Quick, mom, come downstairs!”
A few moments passed before my mother came down the stairs, the twins behind her. Her gaze landed first upon Glint.
“Ah, Mr. Glint! We hadn’t expected you. I’m afraid we couldn’t give you a better welcome, but Emma’s been a bit under the weather.”
Emma again. That unfamiliar name. Who was she? However, I didn’t have time to meditate on this question. Moving from Glint, Mother’s eyes naturally shifted over to me. A brief moment, a barely perceptible widening of her eyes passed. Then she dashed across the hall and took me to her breast, hugging me close, tears dripping on my shoulder.
“Advent…! You’re alive! You’re back!”
My own tears fell, landing on Mother’s clothes.
“I’m home, mom.”
I shall omit the further details of our reunion, for two reasons: first, because thinking back on it still makes me emotional, and I fear that the memory would cause my hand to shake and render writing impossible. Second, because I doubt I have the ability to adequately communicates precisely what I felt at the time. Therefore, reader, forgive me, but I shall be keeping this particular memory to myself.
After an exchange of teary greetings and reassurances, we sat down at the dining table, and the twins served us all tea. They had apparently been learning etiquette in a women’s school, and it showed in the degree of finesse they displayed. It was a different style of service than what I had learned as a maid. They poured with dignity; I poured with servility. I briefly wondered how my family had gotten the money to send the girls to school, but I felt certain that the reasons behind the change in their financial situation would be soon revealed to me. I explained what had transpired and why I had disappeared. I explained how Rosalind had saved me, and how I was currently serving her. There were situationally appropriate instances of gasps and cries of indignation, and my father swore to “beat that little shitface up” at one point, but I shall omit these details, too, since they largely occurred in the manner one might expect, at the points in my story where one might expect such reactions to occur.
As for my family, their change of fortunes had been the direct result of the work that Father did for Glint and Rosalind. After being commissioned for the fixtures of the Ezov, a good number of wealthy patrons had sought Father’s services to create furnishings for their own dwellings. Rosalind’s influence, even when she was only a performer and not an Empress, held so much weight that just association with her – and, by extension, with the Ezov – carried no small amount of prestige. With such an influx of profitable orders and wealthy clients, our family’s fortune had risen, while Glint had negotiated an agreement to pay for the twins’ education, in return for their future employment in the Ezov. That was the reason why Father and Mother felt heavily indebted to Glint, even as he insisted that their gratitude was unwarranted. I felt gratitude swelling up in my own chest, but I suppressed it. I decided to properly express my gratitude later, when we had finished what we came to do.
About halfway through our talk, a baby started crying upstairs, which led Mother to hurriedly run to the upper levels. She returned with Emma, a child, a little over a year old, in her hands. She let me carry the child. My youngest sister had raven-black hair – my father’s hair – and my mother’s eyes. She breathed softly in her sleep, peaceful and ignorant of the evils of the world. I brushed her hair and held her in my arms as I continued my story, feeling a strange sense of attachment to this sister that I didn’t know I had. Perhaps it was the contrast of my experiences with her lack of experience – she was young and unknowing. She knew not the ugliness of humanity. I, on the other hand, had known nothing but that ugliness for years. I wanted to protect her from that – at least, as much as was reasonable. For as long as I could. It was with such a conviction that we began speaking of the main reason we were here.
“…Actually, dad, why are you called Aaron now?”
I gave in to my curiosity and asked that question. Father gave me an apologetic smile.
“After you di- you went missing, I hated myself. I hated myself for what I said to you. What I thought were the last words I’d ever said to you. I hated myself for making you run out like that, for hurting you when I should have given you comfort. I hated the kind of father I was. I hated that you didn’t understand my intent, that I wanted to reassure you that I wasn’t disappointed, not that I was dismissive. But that was my fault. That wasn’t the kind of reassurance you wanted. More importantly, that wasn’t the kind of reassurance you needed. Cain was my father’s name, as well. It was his influence that guided my own parenting. I wanted to change that. So I took on a new name, and swore to become a better father for my other children, in honour of the daughter I had thought lost.”
I felt my eyes straining, tears threatening to fall, but I forced the feeling back. There was a time for crying. Now was not that time. We had other matters to attend to. I turned to Glint. He nodded at me to continue.
“Alright. Dad, Mom. The reason we came here today was to discuss an important issue with you. As I’ve told you, I managed to break out of Julio’s control – or rather, Empress Rosalind broke me out of it, and I have accordingly sworn to serve her. The problem, of course, is that Julio’s not going to take this lying down. I can definitely take care of myself, but I’m worried that he’ll go after you.”
“Let him. I owe that bastard several dozen punches, anyway.”
“While your enthusiasm is touching, raising a hand against the High Chancellor would probably be a bad idea. If not for you directly, then for Mom. For the twins. For Emma.”
I glanced at the child in my arms, slumbering silently without a clue about the gravity of the discussions the adults were having around her. Father followed my gaze, and his face fell.
“Then, what would you have us do?”
“For that, I believe Glint has a proposal.”
Glint nodded and took charge of the discussion.
“I, Glint Blackrose, aide and Knight to Empress Rosalind Kronschild, hereby formally invoke the authority which the Empress has placed in me, and offer you, Aaron, the patronage of the Empress.”