20 years later
The mornings of Alverdion started before the sun itself graced the horizon with its blazing presence, or even before the first farm animal croaked their daytime ritual. It started when the great beasts that crawled out of the sea the night before rose from their nightly slumber and slithered back into the waters before the first rays of light could tinge their hides. The white rocks that were once underneath these great beasts' massive forms prepared themselves to accept the dawn's first breath. As the stones pilfered the warmth of the sea beasts overnight, so too did the sun and sea each morning. And so, the first thing to greet the town of Alverdion each morning was the steamy fog.
The reason for this was unknown, but it spawned many a child’s tale to stay off the beach at night time. The sea beasts were of no harm to the inhabitants of the quiet port town, but no one person in Alverdion began their day before they slunk back into the ocean.
Of all the people in the town, one family woke up earlier than the rest: the Krieves. They were also the head of the town, but that was less coincidental and more consequential; they were the ones who founded the town after all, from the ashes of the last war. From the necessity of survival came a habitual process to protect and build upon the town. It had been like this for the better part of two decades. And so it was this day as well, as the giant and gentle beasts left the land and escaped back into their waters, that the Krieves family started their chores like it was any other day. And, for them, it truly was supposed to be any other day.
Vera Krieves was the last one to wake today, as she had a late night tending to her baby and making sure it was asleep before she was herself. As she prepared herself for the day and headed down the stairs, she saw three of her children sitting at the dining table, her oldest sitting behind the others, busy with braiding their curly hair into tight braids. It was one of the oldest traditions of Vera's family and those of her community and culture, and her eldest had caught onto it quickly enough. Nowadays, he was able to braid their hair just as well as if Vera did it herself. Thankfully, that lifted a good burden off of her shoulders, as it was not a short process. Without the elders from her village to help her out, braiding the hair of her children took the most part of the daylight every fortnight or so. As someone who helped run the city with her husband, there were endless tasks to do with the limited amount of daylight, so any that didn't require her specialties and hers alone was most definitely a sigh of relief.
She glanced over her children with adoring eyes, before they settled on her oldest. "Leigh," she said, vanishing into a pantry for a moment before pulling out salted meat from the slaughter the week before. "Are you heading into the city today?" She slammed the meat onto the wooden counter, smiling slightly at her kids for a moment before she unwrapped the meat.
"Tomorrow." Leigh said, pulling out a piece of rubbery string from where he held it between his lips with his gloved hand. He wrapped and tied it around one braid. It was something he learned from Vera long ago; it'll keep for much longer with her method.
Vera nodded, pulling out a spiked hammer from one of the many drawers below the counter and slamming it down onto the meat. "Is everything on the wagon packed yet? Do you need one of us to go with you?"
"Ooh ooh, I wanna go!" Saffra piped up, trying to turn her head to look at Vera pleadingly.
However, the hair currently in Leigh's hand stopped her halfway, and he tugged gently to remind her of it. "Hey!" he said with a joking tilt in his voice. "Anyway, all that's left is some logs that Apa's yet to get from the field." He pulled out another string from his mouth. "We're supposed to do that today."
"And we've got important things to do while Leigh and Father are gone, Saffra. Isn't that right, Leigh?"
Leigh nodded in agreement. "Don't worry, you'll get to go next time," he half-whispered to Saffra.
"Hey, don't promise anything you can't keep, Leigh!" Vera said disapprovingly. "You know I don't want them going before--"
"I know, I know." Leigh wrapped the final braid and patted Saffra on the back. "You're done. Go see if Apa needs any help." Saffra groaned but obeyed, shoulders slumped. Leigh waved Phara over, who obediently scooted into her place, her time waiting patiently finally complete.
"Besides, the more time you have without the young'uns, the more time you could have with a potential lady friend."
That caused Leigh to pause what he was doing and give Vera a look. "Really, Vera?"
Vera waved the hammer lazily in front of her, accenting her words. "I'm just saying, Leigh. You know I love you--"
"--but we made that house for you and your family, not just you and no one but the gods to witness what you do in there."
"Mother!" Leigh gasped in mock shock, covering Phara's ears. She looked up at him curiously, none the wiser to what Vera was insuating.
"What?" She feigned innocence. Then she gestured to Phara with her hammer. "Phara, where do babies come from?"
"They come from the fins of Avra and Verdon," Phara stated matter-of-factly.
"Exactly. See, someone knows their stuff around here." Vera pointed at Phara. "That's why you're my favorite," she whispered.
"Yeah, well, maybe Avra and Verdon need to stop opening their fins so much around here."
"Leigh!" Now it was Vera's turn to be offended. She frowned at Leigh and he matched her frown with a shrug and a completely innocuous look. She chuckled. "You know, I saw that girl from the market making some very suspicious eyes at you. What was her name?"
"Annika, and I'm not interested, Mother."
"She's nice, though."
"That she is." Leigh sighed. "You know what's nicer, though? If we'd stop talking about potential mates."
"All right, all right." She waved her hands in defeat. "I'm just saying. You know your father and I love you very much."
Leigh didn't respond, only sighing at the beginning of a conversation he had heard so many times before.
"We have loved you from the moment we found you, when Avra lovingly graced us with your presence on the shores. So, I don't mean to pester. I just-- both of us want what's best for you. And we're getting on in our years. I'm just saying it would be nice to have another lady of the house to help around here. And I know you would make a wonderful father."
Leigh scoffed at that.
"What? You would be! Tell him, Phara!"
Phara took her moment and piped up matter-of-factly, "You would be the best father anyone could ask for."
"Phara knows just what to say. I mean, look at what you do for your siblings every morning." Vera tugged at a slice of meat, tearing it away from the larger slab, and tossed it onto the large shallow pot that was always heated and always cooking, thanks to the small Eternal Flame that lay within the coals below it. The sizzling immediately reached all their ears, and seemed to soothe the underlying tension in the room.
Leigh held up a large braid, spreading the multiple threads in between his gloved hand, and wordlessly weaved tightly curled strays back into the main strand.
"Oh!" Vera waved a butcher knife around to enunciate her words. "What about... oh, what's her name..."
"Vera." Leigh said with a mixture of warning and exhaustion. He did not want to start this up again.
But, clearly she did. "Oh, right! Irisa. She worked at the docks for awhile--"
"--And she's already betrothed to Ackan. Plus, I'm not interested." He enunciated that last sentence, hoping it would get his point across.
"Ah, well, I'm sure if you tried enough, she would see you are far more of a man than Ackan ever will be."
"Mother, that is enough!" Leigh exclaimed. He closed his eyes and gathered himself for just a moment as Phara glanced between them nervously. He plastered on a smile and quickly finished the last braid on her hair, and patted her on her shoulders. "All right, go help Apa." Pharah looked to Vera for confirmation to leave the awkward situation, and Vera gave it to her with a nod and a soft smile.
Leigh sighed and swiveled his legs out from the bench and walked over to the wash basin, not looking at Vera as he cleaned the oils from his free hand and the glove, not taking it off. Instead of addressing what she said, he dried his hands and took a good look at her. Vera just nodded at him. "We can discuss this later when we're not heated."
"I shall see you later." Leigh kissed her on the cheek and walked out the door.