[8 Years Prior…]
“You don’t get it! Not like Auntie Catalina does.” Ellie puffed out her cheeks, refusing to let go of the framed print.
That print was the source of all their current contention. It sparked a fight that carried its way from the store into their home. Hilda had imagined a pleasant day with her eight year old daughter, one where they’d pick out dresses and share some mini cornet cakes. Her hopes were unmet as soon as they passed the art store.
Ellie practically smashed her face into the window trying to see what was inside. No amount of reminding her that they needed to go to the bakery (“don’t you want some cake?”/”they have you favorite cakes there”) got her to move. Ellie demanded to go inside, and perhaps a stronger Hilda could’ve gotten her daughter away from the window, but that didn’t happen.
Hilda gave in, much to Ellie and Mr. Vrana, the store owner’s delight. The far older man directed them around the store, pointing out various paintings. Ellie didn’t pay attention. She ran right to the artwork that had caught her eye and stomped until, yet again, her mother gave in.
Mr. Vrana explained that it was only a duplicate and not the original, hence the faded ink in some spots. “The original would look much better in your home,” he said, “but it would be more expensive.”
If they wanted the original piece, he could get them in contact with the artist herself. Ellie loudly refused. She wanted the print and she wanted it now—no waiting for the artist. And so, that was how Ellie procured the print and Hilda gained a perplexing dilemma.
Asking her daughter what drew her to the print so strongly led to a lot of glaring and silence. The cornet cakes didn’t get her to talk. Hilda went as far as to buy the larger sized cornet cakes, in the hopes that would win Ellie over. Apple fritters had no effect, either. Dress shopping was similarly disappointing, with Ellie not wanting to participate.
Once they returned home, Hilda stooped to Ellie’s eye level, and criticized her behavior. “This is unbecoming of you, Ellie. Do I have to take your picture away? Would that help fix what’s going on with you?”
“No.” Ellie continued to fix her with a dirty look.
“All I asked was why you liked it. Can you explain why to Mommy, please?”
That was when Ellie hugged the print closer and then sucker-punched her mother with: “You don’t get it! Not like Auntie Catalina does.”
Hilda admitted that she wasn’t the most creative person out there. Her artistic sensibilities strayed towards clean lines and simple refinement. Whenever she was in charge of decorating for banquets and the like, she chose safe color combinations like black and gray.
Once, when she was twelve her father let her design a dinner party for his friends and their children. At Osgar’s urging to mingle with the other kids (Hilda preferred the company of adults), Hilda sat at the children’s table. It was there that she was treated to everyone complaining about how bland and boring everything looked, and how the Chief needed to fire thedesigner and get a new one. Mortified, Hilda played along.
Later, when her father thanked her for setting everything up, she swore she was going to die where she sat.
“Okay, we have different tastes,” Hilda said. “That’s fine.”
“Yeah, you don’t think girls are pretty. This is a pretty girl.” Ellie held up the artwork, a tasteful depiction of a woman washing her clothes by the riverside. According to Mr. Vrana, it was done with some sort of wood block and ink art technique.
“She is pretty.”
“No, no, no,” Ellie said. She shook her head, her pigtails swinging. “A pretty girl to you is different. You don’t get it. And Auntie Catalina says you’ll never get it.”
“And she does?” Hilda fought against the frown forming on her face.
“Mmhm. She’s a violet. I’m a violet, too! We’re special. I’m gonna put this in my room. Bye, Mommy.”
“Wait a second. Um…” A landslide of questions crashed through Hilda. “I know you love your auntie but to be a violet, there’s certain things you have to… Um…” Hilda swallowed. “You’re a violet because you want to be just like her, right? Next you’re gonna be an enforcer. That’s kind of adorable,” she laughed nervously.
“I’m a violet because I like girls.” Ellie beamed. “Boys are nasty. I’m gonna marry a pretty girl who rides horses.”
“I thought boys were nasty, too, at your age, but that didn’t mean I was a violet. I think you’re just being you. You can think girls are pretty without being a violet, you know. Anyone can think that.”
“I’m a violet! I’m a violet!!” Ellie shouted.
Hilda covered her ears. “Shhh, please calm down. You’ll wake your father.”
“Violets are the best. Let’s hang up my picture. I want it above my bed.”
At dinner time, Ellie became quite candid. She told her mother that she’d never know the pain of pining after a woman. Her using words like “exquisite torture” made Hilda rearrange her to-do list. She needed to pay Auntie Catalina a visit—top priority.
Hilda pounded on her sister-in-law’s door. She heard a crash, followed by a thump, and then stompy footsteps. Hilda considered staring through the peephole to give Catalina a fright, but thought better of it. All of the noises hinted at a less-than-pleasant mood.
Catalina opened the door, her long, curly hair especially wild. She suppressed a yawn. “Is there somethin’ wrong?”
“We need to talk.”
“Urgently.” She rubbed her eyes. “Did something happen to Vicente? Is he okay?”
“He hasn’t worsened. This is about something else. It’s not something to panic over,” Hilda said.
Catalina ushered her inside, then locked the door. She grabbed a handful of shirts off of her couch, clearing a space for Hilda to sit. Paperwork littered the coffee table in front of it. Knowing the deadline on some of those, Hilda sighed. It looked like Catalina planned on waiting until the last minute to do anything about them.
A painting of Catalina, Vicente, and their brother Federico in their teenage years hung over the mantel above the fireplace. Hilda commissioned it as a gift for the Navarrete family when she and Vicente were married. That had been 11 years ago.
“My ex left a bag of tea leaves here. Do you want any? They’re from the northwestern region,” Catalina said. She gathered her hair into a messy ponytail.
“Only if you were planning on brewing tea for yourself.”
“Yeah, I’m hoping it’ll help wake me up. You know, for something that isn’t worth panicking over, you sure treated it that way. I don’t know about you, but most of us like to sleep at this hour.” Catalina worked in the kitchen as she talked. The open lay-out allowed Hilda to see her rummage around her cabinets for a tea kettle and cups.
“This is my day off. I’m completely booked after this.”
“The day’s over, Hilda. Don’t tell me you worked through the daylight hours. You need to take a break.”
“I split the day with Vicente and Ellie. I picked up Ellie afterschool and took her to the shopping district. It was a bit of a disaster, to put it mildly.” Hilda leaned back, feeling herself sink into the couch.
Catalina made an unsympathetic “tsk, tsk” sound. “She had another one of her classic Elspeth tantrums, didn’t she? She’s gonna keep doing that if you don’t nip it now. I don’t even want to think about what she’ll be like if she never learns the word ‘no.'”
“I think she deserves some leniency, all things considered. She’s still adjusting. We all are.”
Two years without Vicente, and Hildegarde still didn’t know what she was doing. Life was so much easier with him by her side. He’d always been her support system, from the first day they met. His father and her mother, the Chieftess at that time, had died in the Fourth Territorial War against Erzya. She’d only been ten when her father gave her the news.
Hilda had it in her head that she wasn’t allowed to cry. Throughout all of the memorial parades held for her mother, she stayed strong. She held everything back. It was Vicente, a boy from a hunting family, who got her to open up. They bonded over their mutual loss. He taught her that it was okay to cry, and that it didn’t mean she was weak.
Pain crossed over Catalina’s features. “Yeah.”
“Thank you for bringing him back. Dr. Cuthberht said every second counted. You saved him.”
“Of course, I did. I wasn’t going to leave my little brother to bleed out in the woods,” Catalina said. She adjusted the burners on her stovetop, then set the water-filled kettle on top.
“You should reconsider my offer. Intendant Carlson is stepping down soon. You’re the best candidate I have for the position,” Hilda said. She straightened in her seat. “Stockbrunn needs a hero as its Intendant of Internal Affairs.”
“I’m not a hero. I didn’t do anything special.”
“I don’t see how you can think that.”
“And,” she said, “this is an important part: I don’t have a lot of experience. Do you want everyone crying about nepotism happening in your court? Your brother’s the Intendant of Agriculture, and now you want to make me the Intendant of Internal Affairs. That’s not a good idea, Hilda.”
“It doesn’t matter what people think. I want to be surrounded by people I can trust. My Intendants should be good-hearted people who are capable of leadership. They should be people worth looking up to as absolute pillars of Stockbrunn’s tenets. There’s no one better than you for the position.”
“I’m the town executioner. I’m not exactly someone people look up to. Well, except for when their heads are in the basket, I guess. Hope you don’t mind a splash of gallows humor with your tea.”
“Whatever it takes for you to cope. I’m just saying, you don’t have to do that anymore. You didn’t have to become an executioner in the first place. I still don’t know why you decided to do that on top of everything else. You’re a fine enforcer.”
“I wanted to see the aftermath of it all. What happens to the worst of Stockbrunn’s criminals?”
The tea kettle shrieked. Catalina shut off the burner. She dropped the crushed tea leaves into their cups before pouring the hot water inside.
“Give it a moment,” Catalina said. “It’s best when you don’t rush to taste it.”
“Thank you,” Hilda said as Catalina set her cup on the coffee table. “Do you have a coaster? I don’t want to stain the wood.”
“That old thing’s already stained. I don’t care.” She sat on top of the jacket that was already in the chair opposite the couch. “Before you inform my superiors, yes, I do plan on doing my laundry tomorrow. Your unannounced visit caught me at a bad time, that’s all.”
“I’m not judging.”
“That’s not what those eyes of yours are saying.” Catalina grabbed a pillow from off of the floor. It became a buffer between her presumably burning (if the billowing steam was any indication) tea cup and lap. “Now, I know you didn’t rush over her to talk about that. What’s going on?”
Hilda heaved a sigh. “Everything started with a print we bought at Mr. Vrana’s art store. Ellie became angry when I didn’t understand why she wanted the print so badly. She said it was because the girl was pretty and I didn’t understand pretty girls.”
“So you’re here because Elspeth called you ugly? Oh, Hilda, there are far worse things to be called.” Catalina grinned.
“No. She said I don’t understand them because I’m not like you. She says she’s, um…a violet,” Hilda said.
“Her being a violet makes you uncomfortable?”
“No. She’s probably not one. She’s probably just emulating you. So, I would appreciate it if you didn’t talk to her about any more ‘exquisite torture.’ Ellie’s too young to listen to your relationship problems. Besides, she’s rather impressionable. She doesn’t need to hear that.” Hilda picked up her tea cup and blew over the surface.
“Sounds to me like you’re uncomfortable.”
“I’m not uncomfortable! Cornelius is married to a man.” She’d always been supportive of her brother. “I don’t have any problems with you, either. People’s preferences don’t bother me, and they shouldn’t bother anyone else in Stockbrunn. My parents did a lot of groundwork and advocacy in this area.”
“It’s different when it’s your kid. Sometimes, archaic values creep back in,” Catalina said.
“I love Ellie. Violet or not, she’s my daughter.”
“Then why are you so intent on denying any possibility of her being violet? Be honest with me, would you act like this if this had been over a boy?”
“She’s young.” Hilda sipped her drink to buy time.
“Alright. I’ll be honest and say no, I wouldn’t be acting this way. But it’s not because I have a problem with violets. I’m just… I’m terrified. It felt like there’s suddenly this rift between us. She threw up a wall. Our whole day was ruined because she decided we’re too dissimilar. It’s only going to get worse. First this, and then…” She shut her eyes to keep from tearing up.
“Your daughter’s not going to be an exact copy of you. That’s not how children work,” Catalina said. “It’s a given that she’s going to be different from you.”
“What if she hates me? This feels like the beginning of the end. Yesterday, she was calling me the best, and now I’m the worst.”
“She’s not going to hate you. You’re her mother.”
“Mothers aren’t immune to hatred.”
“Don’t do anything that’ll make her hate you, then. I’m not saying that you should let her run wild and do whatever she wants. You’re still going to have to be her mother and not her best friend. Just don’t be a horrible person to her, if that makes any sense.”
“If she does turn out to be violet, what am I going to do about that?”
“Nothing. Carry on with loving her. It’s not difficult,” Catalina said.
“Not that part. The girls. Every girl could be a potential match for her. That’s a scary prospect,” Hilda said. “I know how men work, but women?”
“Oh, please, don’t start with that. You don’t know how men work. You got married when you were sixteen. Your advice would be useless in either scenario.”
“That was uncalled for.”
Catalina laughed. “I’m only speaking the truth. Do you want her to follow in your foot steps on that?”
“I’d have a heart attack. Things were different back then,” Hilda said.
“I’m with you on hoping Elspeth doesn’t do the same thing. If you’re freaking out now over nothing, you’d definitely explode over that. I’d die of laughter looking at your face. Rest in peace to us both.”
It perplexed Hilda (in a good way) that this was the same woman who had donned an executioner’s mask nights before and set a man into a guillotine.
“Let’s hope not.” Hilda raised her tea to her mouth. “That’d be a woefully terrible way to go. Death by a daughter’s love.”
A/N: Sorry, I couldn’t finish Chapter 70. I was blocked trying to write it, but I was able to finish this, so that’s good! Remember a long, long time ago when people had to vote between this interlude and another one? Finally, I sat down and wrote it. >_<
Hey! We held a survey in Summer 2016 that I’m bringing back for the end of 2017. If you have 5 minutes, please take this survey. First page is some questions about your thoughts on the story, second page is for demographic information, and the final page is where you can place your suggestions. The survey is ANONYMOUS.
Chapter 70 should be out on December 5th. Thanks for the wait.