The Pyne girls sat on a bench in their family’s bakery with cinnamon and cardamom wafting around them. Fennec’s head rested on Fairfax’s shoulder and tears dripped down her nose and cheeks, leaving dark spots on her sister’s pale blue sweater.
Raw night air drifted in through the open door and a carriage horse clip-clopped on the cobblestone street. Usually, hungry patrons crowded the bakery, buying wheat loaves and warm croissants, gossiping and sipping tea, soaking in the warmth and light that effused through the shop. But now the three siblings were alone in the bakery, and the absence of movement and sound was glaring.
Greyson stood and began pacing the red brick. Fairfax watched her elder brother, noting his restless hands and the contrived aspect of a boy holding back tears. They met eyes, which forced Greyson to pause and then turn behind the tall counter. He began shifting hefty bags of sugar, waiting for the rhythmic physical action to dull the blood pounding in his ears.
Fennec sniffed, and Fairfax wrapped an arm around her shoulders. She sought for comforting words, but her mind wouldn’t cooperate. She closed her eyes, but then she had to immediately open them again to avoid the creeping vertigo of distress.
She kissed the crown of Fennec’s dark head and stood up too, walking toward a stack of wooden bowls. Grabbing the nearest, she began mechanically filling it with ingredients. When a rough batter formed, she turned it onto a floured board and rolled the round out flat with a long, thin pin. Then she reached for the biscuit cutter. With each swift push and twist of the cutter through the puffy dough, Fairfax felt her breath slow and the feeling return to her hands.
The biscuits browned and she took them from the stone oven while Fennec found peach jam and Greyson brought out churned butter in a porcelain dish. The siblings gathered around a table in the corner, slicing into the steaming hunks and spreading butter like icing with a silver knife.
“He shouldn’t have gone north,” said Fennec.
“If father didn’t survey our lands every year, they’d be lost, Fen,” said Greyson.
“I know,” said Fennec. “But he could’ve sent Hempley instead of going himself. The river is dangerous for noxie nobles. Someone did something to him, I bloody know it. Our father didn’t just slip on a wet deck and fall overboard.”
Greyson had been trying not to imagine his father sprawled and thrown like a doll by pitching waves. He wasn’t satisfied with the explanation the officer had given them, either.
“Let’s not draw conclusions until we know more,” Greyson rationalized aloud. “Perhaps the commander will give Mother news.”
Fairfax twisted strands of cheesecloth between her fingers. She had begun to overcome the initial shock, and some of the fear had drained away, but she didn’t know how to grieve yet.
“I wonder if Mother expected us to close up the shop and is waiting at home already?” Greyson asked.
“You’re right, we should go,” said Fairfax, “but I’ll leave a note on the counter in case she comes here first,” she added, pulling pen and ink from the rummage drawer.
Fairfax folded the remaining biscuits into a kerchief to take home to their Mother and Maggie, and then the siblings extinguished lamps and threw smoldering coals from the stone oven into the alley slop. But before Greyson could lock the shop’s front door, a heavy step approached.
The man who strode through the bakery doorway had piercing blue eyes and a browned face that contrasted sharply with his crisp shirt collar. He wasn’t naturally dark-skinned like the affluent noxie class in Dover, but fair, with a rough tan that could only result from a continual cycle of burns and heals in the harsh sun. Fairfax was reminded of a painting in the Dover museum that featured a famous Mainland duke who was the first to sail to Istleguard and back.
“May we help you?” Greyson asked.
“My name is Kipling,” said the man. “Are you Tennys Turner?”
“No. I’m Greyson Pyne. Who’s Tennys Turner?”
The man shifted his weight and glanced around the room as if testing for something. Fairfax thought she even heard him sniff the air.
“He’s an escaped convict,” said the man, “whom I’ve been tasked with finding and returning to jail, where he belongs.”
“Then that’s certainly not me,” said Greyson.
Kipling narrowed his eyes. “Well, you could be his twin. You say you aren’t him, but how do I know?”
“I have identification papers, but not here.”
“Then I’ll come with you to get them.”
Greyson glanced sideways at Fairfax. “Sir, my sisters and I were just told that our father was killed in a riverboat accident. We were about to return home to be with our mother. Surely this can wait until tomorrow?”
Kipling didn’t move or speak.
“I’ll meet you at the courthouse with my papers first thing in the morning,” Greyson offered.
The bounty hunter expressed a low, slow breath. “Very well,” he relented. “But I don’t usually make exceptions, especially for grimskins. If you fail to show, I won’t make them again.”
Kipling scraped his heels on the brick, shoved through the shop door, and disappeared into the night. His insult hung behind him in the air, provoking the Pynes.
“A word isn’t worth blood,” said Greyson, looking between his sisters, whose hands and jaws were clenched.
“But it’s not right,” argued Fennec.
“Do you want to chase after that fellow into the night, then? Just forget it and let’s go home to Mother.”
Fennec’s black eyes flashed, but she relented and gathered her things. The Pynes left through the alley door and walked east through the dark Dover streets.
When Greyson went to confirm his identity at the courthouse the following morning, the bounty hunter seemed highly dubious – until he saw the stamp of the family crest on Greyson’s papers. Then he regarded Greyson differently, shook his hand wordlessly, and walked away.
For a moment, Greyson stood alone in the solemn hall, wondering about the person whose face resembled his own so closely. Then he decided he had more immediate concerns than outlaw doppelgangers. He put it from his mind and left the dark courthouse for the morning-bright street.
It was Friday, the day of the funeral, and Fairfax woke to muted pattering on her window. She pulled the curtain back, watching raindrops slide down the glass. Miniature copies of the world were reflected, upside-down, in each clear orb. She felt that the weather was mocking her with predictable, storybook insincerity.
The sisters helped each other into their mourning attire. Getting fitted for a dress to wear to her father’s burial ceremony had been a surreal, melancholy experience for Fairfax. She sighed, remembering the tailor’s exaggerated pity as he asked her to choose between practically identical selections of black lace.
During the requiem, she looked around at the faces in the crowd that had come to pay respect. There were more people than she had expected. And quantity wasn’t the only surprise; the quality of the crowd was reinforced by dignitaries and minor royalty dotting the multitude. Fairfax had always known the Pyne name – the Pyne silver, she reminded herself – commanded high esteem in Dover. But now, she wondered at her father’s influence.
The eulogy became incomprehensible to her, so Fairfax gazed into the caverns of the church steeple high above. She couldn’t see the giant, solemn faces of the bells because they were hidden in the shadows, but she knew they were there. She imagined how the bells would sound if they were to break from their moorings and crash down the stone tower onto the horror-stricken crowd helpless in pews below.
She didn’t want to, but Fairfax listened to her mother weep. It was hoarse and soft, and yet the sound filled the room completely, like far-away cannon that can barely be heard, though every ear is trained toward them. Fennec’s hand clutched hers tightly and the blood pulsed warm and quick beneath gauzy skin. Fairfax squeezed and a flush of empathy passed between the two girls.
The sun crept out and shafts of light filtered down through the stained glass windows, illuminating a prismatic kaleidoscope in front of Fairfax on the tile floor. The priest intoned a final prayer and directed the mourners toward the graveyard. They stood and walked in a silent procession through iron gates and into the open air.
Then the sun filled every corner and tiny diamonds flashed on early spring petals. The Pyne plots were overlaid in red roses, and as she passed by, Fairfax reached out to pluck one and roll its velvet tenderness between her fingertips.
Her father’s wooden coffin sank into the black earth. A sylvan, rusty scent suffused from the fresh-turned loam, and Fairfax breathed it in deeply, finally succumbing to the emptiness. For a few moments, she was so numb she wondered if she had disappeared. Then she experienced an unfamiliar, far-off perception of herself, seeing her life as an outsider might. She felt that she, like those around her, was watching and waiting as events unfolded to see how she herself would react. Her life was spent on stage; the world existed to watch.
Society often indulges self-importance in the wealthy or famous, or in youth on the cusp of adulthood, and this sort of solipsism is especially justifiable in Fairfax’s case, it being benign and magnified by her grief. Most people, however, only imagine their relative importance to history. Fairfax Pyne wasn’t imagining hers.