A/N: I've decided to retcon the ages of the kids as seventeen for Daena, fifteen for Janet and twelve for Alistair. Let me know if that fits any better. I attempted to include some world-building worked into dialogue and an expansion of the sisters' dynamic. Hope that helps :)
"Dear Mrs. Graham,
We are delighted to inform you of the daring deed your husband performed while on patrol at the south-western border. His selflessness as he saved Senior Lead Robin MacTulloch from attempted assassination was nothing short of legendary. And, as is only fitting, Queen Leara wishes greatly to honour this act with a Medal of Extraordinary Valour. We hope your family will accept the invitation to visit the palace for the following weeks..."
Daena's mother, Clara, tailed off and looked up from the letter. She placed it carefully on the battered table and looked up at her three children.
"Weeks?" Janet exclaimed, "Mum, we're going to lose so much business!"
"I'm sure we'll get food and stuff at the palace," Daena muttered.
"But the contracts!" Janet gestured wildly in the air. She twisted to face one sibling then the other, but nothing she saw seemed to soothe her pained frown.
Daena had known she would ruin this.
Clara stood up from the table and slipped the parchment back into the envelope. "We're going, Janet. For your father."
"For dad, Janet," Daena said, doing her best to smile without grinning widely like an idiot.
But Janet only clenched her jaw. "Right. For dad."
She shoved her chair out and snarled with her top lip as it screeched against the floorboards. There would be no apology for damage to the woodwork today, Daena figured. Then she stamped off out the kitchen, through the living room and out the door.
Clara raised a hand to her forehead, sighing. Her dark curls fell loosely around her shoulders as she dropped her head forward, and her normally excellent posture slumped as she took a few deep breaths. Daena sprang to her feet and darted round to her mother's side of the table, wrapping her into a tight hug.
"Er, thank you, honey," she said, patting Daena on the back.
As they pulled apart, Daena reined in her idiot grin again. "You alright, Mum? This is pretty huge, right? I mean, it's great and all, but I can understand if you're need a moment to process it. Queen Leara almost never issues medals anymore. After King Wildev died and she started drawing all her military operations back in, I figured Dad had lost his chance to earn any sort of honour. This must have been really spectacular."
Clara straightened her back and pushed her hair out of her face. "No, you're right, Daena. It's wonderful. I don't really understand any of that military talked, or where you learned that. I just worry about Janet. Do me a favour and go get her when I've got dinner ready?"
Daena nodded vigorously, probably slightly too vigorously. "Of course, Mum. Whatever you need."
Clara moved to the cupboards and inspected what was available for dinner, but after a moment leaned back and looked over at the kitchen table. "And you, Ali, what do you think of all this?"
Ali grinned. "I'm very excited."
"Really?" Clara raised both eyebrows. "I was actually worried that you would also be sad to leave the business for so long. Not to mention your friends."
Ali shrugged, and the side of his mouth quirked up. "Yeah, but everyone knows the palace's colours are white and bright red."
It took Daena much longer than she'd expected to find Janet. She was expecting her to be somewhere on the path to the river, which was where Daena always went when she wanted to be alone. But eventually, after wandering aimlessly around the west road and wondering if Janet had walked all the way into town for some sort of meeting in the village hall - had she gone to church for a moment of peace? - she finally found her.
Her shoulders were hunched as she strode along, looking for all the world like she was leaning into wintry gusts of wind and trudging through slushy puddles. But the sun was glaring directly into Daena's eyes, and therefore shining down right on Janet's back.
"Janet!" she called.
Janet looked up, but didn't stop walking. At least, not for a moment. Her jaw clenched like she was being brutally gagged and her arms and legs slowly stopped their march.
"What do you want?" she muttered.
"Dinner's ready," Daena said, "Actually, it's been ready for a while. Mum wanted me to come get you."
"You don't have to do what Mum says," Janet said, "You've got Dad. Or, you will have soon."
For a few moments, Daena just stared at her sister. But it was no use. Not one of her facial muscles gave her any sort of idea what that was supposed to mean. "What are you talking about?"
Janet sighed and stood with one hand on her hip. "Dad will come home. He'll teach you to spar, for absolutely no reason. You'll completely forget to help Mum with the business, and it'll fall to me, your little sister. That's how I got started in the first place."
"Well, you're much better than me at talking to customers anyway," Daena argued, "And.. and I'm sure I could beat you at sparring. People have their strengths."
Janet fixed her with a tired, withering stare. "You cannot possibly be that blind."
Daena's stomach flipped, like she had swallowed a horrible, bitter acid. "I don't understand... I don't know why you're so upset, Janet. If you think Mum needs more help I'll lend more of a hand."
"Oh, because that'll be useful," Janet snapped, "With your customer rapport!"
Daena felt like her arms and legs were being torn apart on a rack. "Then what do you want from me?"
Janet put one hand over her eyes, much as Clara had earlier. "Look, Daena, do you remember years ago, when you spilled those beef juices on your friend Alice's really expensive blouse, and she fell out with you for basically a month even though you apologised and you couldn't figure out why?"
Daena nodded weakly. "Yes."
"See if you can remember what you figured out." And with that Janet brushed Daena roughly on the shoulder and strode past her, towards their home.