My grandparents’ cottage sat a furlong behind Grandpapa’s workshop and the center of the village square. The ringing of the hammer striking the anvil and the acrid smoke from the kiln pierced the air. I smiled. If I ventured closer, I knew what I would see: Grandpapa perched on a stout, upturned log, bellowing instructions to Uncle Danith. Although Uncle Danith had taken over the responsibilities of head blacksmith years ago, Grandpapa still pretended he was in charge.
But I skirted the village square, for my destination did not lie in that direction. Sven and I planned to meet at his parents’ cottage since it was closer to the Enchanted Forest. Their cottage once belonged to my maternal grandparents, and Grandmama dwelled there briefly after my parents married. When my parents and maternal grandmother passed away, the village council urged Flynn and Lena, Sven’s parents, to inhabit the cottage since it was near the village and the fields Flynn farmed. They reluctantly agreed. To this day, Grandmama had never visited Sven’s parents at the cottage. She simply couldn’t handle the memories it evoked.
Soft footsteps behind me disturbed my musings. I paused, glancing over my shoulder. My brow furrowed. Not her.
“Celeste!” she called. “Wait for me.”
Lark. Although she was no blood relation, I considered her my cousin since her grandfather had married my grandmother. Years ago, our parents were dear friends, and everyone incorrectly assumed Lark and I would continue the friendship.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like Lark; I did. With her sweet disposition, her willingness to help anyone in need, and her cheerful attitude toward life, it was impossible to dislike her. But I could never see her as a dear friend, for she was everything I was not. I preferred the outdoors even when the air was so cold it stabbed like knives. She preferred the inside of the cottage on a spring day drenched with sunlight. I enjoyed taking care of animals, hunting, and helping Auntie Areya with medicines. She enjoyed cooking, sewing, and taking care of children. She was the fair maiden in the stories from my mother’s book, and I . . . I wasn’t sure what I was, but it certainly wasn’t that.
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