A Long Cold Winter Chapter 1
"Momma! Momma! Make him stop!"
"I didn't do nothin'! She started it!"
"Now, now, both of you stop fighting."
The two children stopped and faced the conflict's mediator.
Terra knelt down so that she was face to face with both of them. Her face was stern, but her eyes suggested otherwise. "That's better. Now why don't you tell your Momma what the problem is? Julia, you tell me first."
The little girl stuck her tongue out at her opponent before launching into her story. "Peter keeps hitting my block building! He says only boys can play with blocks!"
Terra nodded neutrally. "I see. Now Peter, why don't you tell me what happened?"
"Julia is hoggin' all the blocks and I can't use em! And her buildings are real dumb!"
"No, she's lying!"
Terra simply nodded again. "Oh really?"
"No, he's lying!"
Terra held her hands up for them to be quiet. "Now, now, don't fight like this. Peter, you know that you shouldn't go breaking other people's things. And Julia, I think you've got all the blocks. Peter, I think you should try and ask Julia nicely. And Julia, I think you should try to share."
Both scowled at each other. Until something else was thrust between them.
They looked at it without comprehension for a moment. Finally they turned as one towards Terra. "What's that, Momma?"
"It's a sweater. Or at least, it will be when I'm done. I'm working on it because the baby is going to need some extra warm clothes this winter. Am I working on it now?"
After a moment, they shook their heads silently.
Terra nodded in agreement. "That's right. I'm busy trying to stop you two from fighting with each other over the blocks. It's going to be very cold this winter, so what happens if the baby doesn't have warm clothes? The baby might get very sick. Do you want that to happen?"
Wide-eyed, they shook their heads again.
"So do you understand what happens when you fight?"
"The baby gets sick?" Julia whispered in horror.
Terra laughed kindly. "Maybe. But not if you and Peter play with the blocks together, right? Do you think you can do it for the baby?"
After a moment, they nodded quickly.
"Thank-you," Terra said in earnest. "You've made your Momma very happy."
They beamed upon hearing that, already turning to go back to the blocks.
Terra smiled as she stood up again, watching as they systematically divided up the blocks between the two of them. It was a start, she told herself optimistically. The children here were all good children. They just got out of hand sometimes, as all children did.
Another young woman entered the room, a blanket-wrapped child in her left arm as she finished buttoning up her blouse with her right.
"Is Jacob asleep?" Terra whispered quietly, preparing to get the rest of the children to quiet down as much as possible.
Katerin shook her head. "Not yet. He just fed, so he'll sleep soon. Are you tired?"
Terra shook her head. "Not yet. Did you want me to rock the baby to sleep-"
"That's alright, I'll manage. Is Duane back yet?"
Terra shook her head. "He's still hauling wood. Don't worry. I'm sure he'll be back soon."
The smile on Terra's face was enough to make Katerin laugh too. "I just worry about him sometimes. He would have forgotten to eat breakfast today if I hadn't reminded him!"
"Duane works very hard," Terra agreed. "But we have to be prepared for this coming winter. It will be worse than anything we've ever seen, Edgar tells me."
Katerin bit her tongue while trying to decide between supporting her husband and pointing out that Terra worked harder than everyone else put together. Finally she settled with a fairly neutral, "It must be nice to be able to call a king by his first name."
Terra rolled her eyes. "He insists, the flirt. Honestly, if _he_ didn't realize what a flirt he was, he might be annoying."
"I think he's charming. Almost as charming as Duane. Are you _sure_ you're not the least bit interested?"
Terra made a face. "Believe me, I'm _not_ interested. And how can you call him charming? He flirted with _you_ last time, even after he knew you were with Duane!"
"He wasn't serious. And how about his brother?"
"Well, you're lovely young woman, and you're single. The first part isn't going to stay around forever, so you need to get working on the second part. Now how about King Edgar's brother? The one with the muscles?"
"And no manners?"
"But with muscles."
"I haven't given up on you yet."
"I'll... start looking in the spring."
"You said that last year."
"Give it up, Katerin. Can you make supper? I want to put some work into the garden while it's still light."
"You worked in the garden all day, Terra."
Terra shrugged. "I feel fine. And I didn't get all the weeding done."
"Can't the kids do it tomorrow? They like doing that."
"But they'll pull up the carrots at the same time. You know they will."
"You won't get a husband if you're always dirty."
"I don't need a husband. I need to weed the carrots."
"If you had a husband, I'll bet he'd weed the carrots for you."
"Well, that's _entirely_ different," Terra agreed sarcastically. "Wanted: one husband. Apply in Mobliz. _Must_ like weeding carrots."
Only once she was outside, out of Katerin's sight, did Terra let herself shiver slightly. Katern... once a lovely girl, now growing into a lovely young woman of eighteen years. She had herself a prize catch for a husband. Duane was tall, ruggedly handsome and after two years of living in Mobliz, had gotten quite strong for his own eighteen years of age. Perhaps Katerin was simply trying to inflict similar charms on anyone else around.
Which, unfortunately, was limited solely to Terra at the time. All this ridiculous talk of husbands and such... maybe Katerin needed a proper honeymoon with Duane in the spring. Terra knew that Katerin meant well by all her prodding, but...
...sometimes the idea of a husband made her feel ill. She enjoyed joking around with Edgar of course, him still the incorrigible flirt he'd always been. But she knew that he wasn't serious about it. He had his kingdom, which he valued more than life itself.
She got much of the same from Setzer on the occasion that he stopped by. He seemed to have given up on Celes, contenting himself in the knowledge that she had found happiness with Locke. Several months ago, he had suggested they act out several plays together sometime. After finding and reading the plays in Figaro Castle's library... she could still _feel_ the blush she had experienced after the climax' of the play Sparticus'. At least Setzer was probably _still_ feeling the slap she had given him in return on the next visit. He had simply laughed it off, of course, saying that Daryl had done the exact same thing. Nothing short of the end of the world could ever faze _that_ gambler.
But honesty, she had the children already. Why did she even need a husband? What could a husband provide her that the children didn't tenfold? The joys of watching them live around her. Of seeing them play and argue. Of having them cry on her shoulder when they had skinned their knee. Of softly singing them to sleep at night. Of watching them grow up, one day to have children of their own. She was their Momma', and that was above any crown or throne in the world. At one time, that had been more than she could ever have dreamed of, and now, it was still more than enough to make happy.
It was almost an hour later that something interrupted the weeding of the carrots. A faint scuffling of the dirt at the edge of the garden got Terra's attention. Even as she unburdened her left hand of a weed in readiness, she turned to face the intruder...
"Thou'rt looking well, Terra."
Her face lit up. "Cyan! I hardly recognized you!"
The man smiled kindly in return. "Nor I thee, for thine present kinship with the earth."
Terra laughed, knowing she must look a frightful mess right now after an hour of weeding. She decided to refrain from mentioning how she didn't have a husband to do the carrots for her.
"It hath been some time since our paths have crossed."
"I'll say," Terra agreed. "So how have you been?"
Cyan chuckled. "Thou might sayeth that I have not been idle."
She tossed a weed onto the pile, standing up to face him. "Well, I've got time to listen. Start talking."
Another chuckle. "I am loath to put thee to sleep with all the details, but I hath encountered many an interesting event. T'was in Thamasa that I last had a roof over mine head."
Terra perked up. "Thamasa? How are Strago and Relm doing?"
"Quite well, I believe. Sir Strago has changed little, including his frequent digressing into tales of yore about his feats of bravery as a youth. Lady Relm is truly becoming a woman af grace. I understand she will soon be fifteen years of age."
She giggled. "I have to see Relm again sometime. Strago hasn't changed a bit, has he? I should have known it would take more than a year to change him around.
"The mongrel of yon warrior Shadow's lives with them also. Interceptor, he was named, I believe."
Terra allowed herself a brief moment of amusement over Cyan's speech. A year had obviously not even come close to relaxing the warrior's old fashioned way of speaking. But that seemed to be the only thing that had remained. Cyan looked to be a completely different person at first glance. The purple armor that had once been like clothing for him was gone, replaced by a similarly colored hooded cloak. He now sported two swords instead of his original one. His forearms wore several scars that she was fairly certain had not be present a year ago.
"Have you run into Locke or Celes lately?" Terra inquired. "I haven't heard anything from those two for over half a year."
Cyan bowed his head. "Of the whereabouts of Locke, I am uncertain. I encountered the General some time back in Jidoor."
Terra didn't miss the clipped edge his voice had taken on. A loaded statement if she'd ever heard one. "Are you two _still_ not talking?"
"Rest assured, Terra, we are conversing."
"That wasn't what I meant, and you know it."
"The General and I... have ne'er been on the best of terms."
"I know that. So why don't you give _me_ the cold shoulder? I was an Imperial soldier too, remember?"
"You were without control over thine actions. The General hath no such defense."
Terra sighed. Some things simply refused to be forgotten, and Cyan was a prime example. One might have thought that he had recovered completely from everything he had experienced before. The loss of his family to the Empire, his battle against his sorrow, and the bizarre journey untaken to regain his confidence and esteem as a warrior. Cyan had weathered it all better than most other people could even hope to, yet even now, he still harbored a deep dislike against anything even remotely related to the Empire. Terra still had a hard time understanding why she had never been given that label herself.
"So where are you headed now?" she finally asked. She might have tried arguing the point, but Cyan was a hard person to argue with. She had never thought to ask his age, but knew that he had lost an eight-year old son to the Empire. At a glance, she might have guessed him to be approaching forty years of age. Unlike many of the other warriors she had fought with before, Cyan had an air of experience that most lacked. Certainly he was only human, but he always one of the last to jump to irrational conclusions. Terra herself always felt foolish trying to advise him when she had so few years of her own to base her advice upon.
Cyan nodded. "I am headed north right now on some business."
A raise of an eyebrow. "Business? Up north?" Terra knew the area around here better than anyone, and there was perhaps thirty or forty miles of land to the north, comprised of nothing but wilderness. Beyond, nothing but ocean.
Cyan gave her a kind smile. "Better you do not know."
Terra's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Really, Cyan. I won't tell anyone else, but there's nothing out there that I know of. If there's some danger to the kids here..."
He nodded, conceding the point. "T'is no danger to any soul here. Suffice to say, Kefka had not a monopoly on insanity and there are those who would follow his path, no matter how good intentioned. I mean to set some errant thoughts to rest, least they take root."
"You're... certain there's no danger to anyone here?"
"Quite certain," Cyan agreed.
Had he agreed a little too quickly? Terra wasn't completely certain. Even Cyan's abstract explanation was enough to make her nervous. Anything with Kefka's name could make her nervous. She'd never heard another fellow human breathe his name without adding on a curse, but she had more reason than most to hate the name.
"If you're _absolutely_ sure," she conceded warningly. "I have _children_ here to protect."
A haunted look crossed Cyan's face. "I would die myself before letting harm befall such young ones as these," he whispered.
Terra's face softened as she understood what he meant. "I'm sorry, Cyan. I should know better with you."
"No fault falls on thee, Terra. Thou wouldst be remiss in thine duties if thou didst not challenge me such."
"Will you at least stay the night?"
He shook his head reluctantly. "Though I am grateful, I must press on. I may have delayed too long already. Perchance I return this way, I may take thee up on the offer."
"Alright then. But be careful, alright?"
"I will do nothing of a heedless nature," Cyan agreed.
Terra frowned. "That wasn't what I meant. You couldn't be heedless' to save your life, Cyan. When I say be careful', I'm telling you not to do anything that could end up with you getting killed, you understand?"
Cyan's brows furrowed. "T'is not a safe world, Terra. Kefka was but a vast impersonation of the inherent evil in persons both great and small."
It was a long moment before she could answer that. "That doesn't mean you have to go searching for more of that evil."
He smiled kindly at her. "T'is evil in each one of us. To ignore it is to concede defeat to it. It must be faced and defeated, least it eventually overcome and rule over us."
Terra had no reply for that.
Cyan, perhaps mercifully, changed the subject. "So how hast thou been? I regret having not tarried this way more oft than I have to this day."
"It's going well. We're all getting ready for this coming winter. Edgar came by about a month ago. He says that the weather had been behaving strangely. He expects this winter to be the worst anyone alive has ever experienced. No one knows why its happening, but things are going to be bad."
"I shed mine armor for a cloak some time ago," Cyan agreed. "Mine armor only protected against blades. This clothing protects me from the cold, which will soon be a far worse enemy."
Terra only sighed sadly. "Sometimes I'm not sure if they understand how bad things could be. I think Duane does too. But Katerin and the kids..."
"Does thou doubt thine own chances?"
"Everyone here is going to be helpless. Katerin and Duane care so much for the children here. But they don't understand how to survive. I'm only beginning to learn to care, but I know about surviving. Does that make any sense to you, Cyan?"
"I believe so," he agreed. "We hath all traveled vastly different ways through life and we hath each sampled a different selection of its fruits, some sweet and some bitter. But we can ease each other's pain by warning about those that are bitter."
"Something like that," Terra agreed. "Next spring, I think I might see if anything can be done to get the kids to another town."
"Thou wouldst leave your home?" Cyan inquired, looking genuinely surprised.
"It isn't fair to the kids out here, Cyan. You must see that. They're wonderful, all of them. But they're innocent about so much. They understand hard work and making the best of circumstance. But we don't even use money out here. Duane and Katerin can only teach them so much. I couldn't hope to teach them anything. They need to grow up in a place where they can learn."
"I suppose you are correct in that."
"They're all tough kids. But the sooner we move, the better. We have this winter to worry about first. But after that, I'm going to talk about it with Duane and Katerin. I'm sure Edgar would have some ideas on how to move all the kids."
"I do not doubt that his Majesty would be happy to shelter thine charges behind Figaro Castle's walls right now," Cyan added suggestively.
"I don't either," Terra agreed. "But his castle has its own problems with this weather. It will be just as bad there, and they're used to the desert heat. Here, we're at least used to cold weather. It... won't be as bad for us, I think."
"Perhaps I may be able to assist you when I return," Cyan agreed. "I am a man of the battlefield, unknowledgeable in the ways of domesticity. But I am easily able to procure items from other cities for you."
She smiled. "Thanks Cyan. Any help would be appreciated. Right now, Duane and I are building a second wall to keep off the north wind."
"An ambitious project," Cyan observed.
Terra looked mildly frustrated. "I know. But it will let us stretch out our firewood for a longer time."
Cyan raised an eyebrow. "I had not taken Sir Duane for an engineering type."
Terra flushed. "Well, actually, I'm organizing it."
The eyebrow went up another notch. "I had not taken thyself for such either."
Terra looked uncomfortable. "I... learned how... a while back."
"I see." Even someone with less observation than Cyan would have noticed Terra's extreme degree of discomfort. Being the person he was, he did the proper thing and shifted the topic. "So Sir Duane and Lady Katerin are doing well? And their offspring?"
Terra beamed. "Very well. They've named the baby Jacob, after one of the children who died when Kefka attacked the town. He's got a healthy appetite and he already looks like Duane!"
"I am happy to hear that. I will have to pay my respects when I come back."
"You can't stay for supper? The children love you, you know."
"I am quite enamored with them as well. But as I said, time is in short supply right now. I will have much more time at my leisure afterwards."
"Well... alright, I guess."
"I hope to only be a few days. Until then, I bid thee farewell, Terra."
She smiled. "You take care too, Cyan."
With a nod, Cyan turned and started away, heading north.
He turned back. "Yes, Terra?"
She had a worried look on his face. "Locke wasn't with Celes?"
"I inquired about such," he replied solemnly. "In her words, yon rogue Locke still searches for Rachel."
"I... see," Terra agreed quietly. "Well, be careful."
"I shall. Good day and take care of thyself also."
Terra watched the warrior walk away. A shadow of worry crossed her face, only stifled after several moment's effort. She had a bad feeling about this. Something didn't feel right. Maybe something really was amiss. Or maybe she was a little shocked about what she had learned about Locke and Celes. Or perhaps she was only being paranoid.
It had been a long time since she'd ever heard Cyan say farewell'.
*Anybody who's wondering about the meaning behind the Sparticus' paragraph will just have to stay innocent. ^_^ - Intrasonic
*Re-reading has revealed that this chapter could be taken as a plot to set up Terra with Cyan. (Hmm...) While that _would_ be original, you can just wipe _that_ idea out of your mind right now. - Intrasonhs
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