The Elven Heritage Legacy
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“Well,” said Anariel with forced cheerfulness. “This is it.”
Ahead of them, the Elven Heritage Association house loomed like a slightly battered green omen. Someone had clearly been tending the sunflowers: it was actually a lot nicer looking than most of the row of apartments, which must have been a perk of being a campus property rather than just a nearby rental.
Lydia shrugged gloomily. “I suppose,” she said, as dully as if nothing would ever catch her interest again.
“Lyds, you’re not still disappointed about the whole birth certificate thing…” Ana began, launching into the same speech she’d been making since late July.
“I’m not, and I still don’t want to talk about it,” said Lydia, and she trudged forward towards the door, which Aranel opened like a jack-in the box.
“Hello, Fresh Meat!” Ara said with a demented cheerfulness, “Are you two minions ready to pledge?”
“Don’t call them that,” Calla put in from the kitchen table, which seemed to be covered in paperwork.
Aranel ignored her. “Lucky for you two, you’re late! The boys are out in the backyard hauling tables, so you two get cleaning duty. Also, we’ve consolidated Achenar and Elirand into the blue bedroom, so you two get the sissy pink one.”
Elirand came down the stairs with a mop at that point. “I still don’t see why I had to move rooms.”
“I thought you hated the pink room,” said Calla. “And what did you break?”
“None of your business,” replied Elirand, “And it’s the principle of the thing!”
“Yeah, well Rean and I, as seniors and founding members, have this little thing called seniority, so we should both get our own rooms, you and Calla sharing would be beyond awkward since we can’t get the double bed out through the door, and Achenar and Calla in the same room invokes the I do not need to know clause of the house rules. Not to mention I think your dad might have a heart attack.” Aranel shrugged. “Anyhow, when Rean and I graduate you can all spread out again, unless you bring in more freshmen.”
“She’s not fair,” Elirand complained, mostly to Calla, who scoffed.
“You’re just finding this out now?”
Elirand waved the mop at her in aggravation.
“ANYWAY,” said Aranel loudly, “Since we have two other pledges who happen to be big strong men and not dealing with freshman registration, we already hauled your boxes up the stairs and dumped them in the pink room. Make sure to thank Amadeus and Basitan, by the way.”
“Maybe you should, I don’t know, introduce them?” said Calla, who seemed to have been driven to the end of her rope.
“Good idea,” said Aranel, and popped her head out the door. “Hey, Amadeus, Bastian, Rean! New recruits! Come see!”
Calla put her head down on the table.
Ana looked worriedly at Lydia, who hadn’t said anything the whole time. This was distinctly not Lydia-ish; normally she’d be more than a mach for Aranel, even at her most obnoxious. That had been part of the idea behind accepting Aranel’s offer to enroll the two of them in the Heritage House after all, despite sharing rooms: Lydia was supposed to have been a good buffer between Ana and Aranel’s more outgoing shenanigans.
“So these are the freshmen that get room preference over us?” said a new voice, and Ana turned around to see one of the only members of the Heritage House she didn’t already know coming through the door.
“This reeks of nepotism,” he said to Aranel after only a glance at Ana and Lydia.
“Of course it does, the heritage house runs on it,” said Aranel dismissively. “Bastian, meet the kid sister, Anariel, and her doppelganger, Lydia.”
“That is not what doppelganger means,” muttered Lydia, as she shook Bastian’s hand cooperatively. Predictably, she didn’t seem distracted at all by the excellent voice, but a quick tally of Aranel and Calla didn’t turn up evidence that anyone had noticed but Ana.
“I know, but we just let Ara run her mouth around here,” said Bastian, shaking Ana’s hand. “Stopping her is a little beyond us.” He rolled his eyes commiseratingly at Ana.
“Er, hi,” squeaked Ana, turning a bit red.
“I thought there was a house law about talking smack about your president,” said Aranel, “Get back to work, all of you!”
Rean and Amadeus, who had just arrived on the back porch, threw their hands up in irritation and turned right back around into the backyard, leaving Calla, Ana, and Lydia to track down the garbage bags.
* * *
* * *
“… And then, Miss Hall said that I should be an artist, because I drew dogs the goodest out of all the things on my paper!” Ariadne finally wound down her explanation of her third day at half-day preschool.
“Miss Hall is a good judge of talent, then,” said Viridia.
Ariadne nodded. “I think so too. Only, what if being an artist means I can’t be something else? Like a magician, or a horse trainer?”
“That’s a thing you can decide when you’re older. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice now.”
Her daughter nodded seriously, then let go of Viridia’s hand and started skipping towards the counters.
“Come buy our fresh plums, Mrs. E!”
Viridia looked up to find Daisy Greenman, grass-stained and smiling, behind the counter. Her massive dog was lying beneath the table, panting, but other than that it appeared that no one was keeping too close an eye on Daisy.
“My, these are certainly very large and purple,” said Viridia, examining the plums, which were, as with all the other produce at the Greenmans’ stall, everything a cook could want. “However do you grow them this big?”
“They’re grown with love!” Daisy replied, twirling from side to side happily. “Mama says everything grown with love gets big and strong. That’s why I’m so tall!”
“You certainly are tall,” said Viridia, selecting her carrots. How old was Daisy, now? Older than Aranel, that was for sure, and Aranel was about to be twenty two. Daisy was certainly done growing taller.
“You have a daughter too,” said Daisy, pointing at Ariadne. “You should be sure to grow her with lots of love so she’ll be big and strong like me!”
“I’m trying my best, Daisy,” Viridia replied, “I think it’s working on my older daughters, but we’ll have to wait and see how big Ariadne grows.”
“Where are your other daughters, Mrs. E? Your children aren’t here!” Daisy looked around, a little worried, and Viridia hastened to reassure her.
“My son and my other daughters are at college.”
Daisy, appeased, nodded seriously. “Briar my brother went to college,” she said. “Mama says college is for people who want to do a lot of reading and writing and math when they grow up.”
Viridia chuckled. That sounded about right.
“But aren’t you a grownup?” asked Ariadne, peering into a basket. She wondered if her mama was going to buy any of the ripe blackberries inside it.
“I’m twenty three and a half,” said Daisy. “Which means my golden birthday is this year!”
“What’s a golden birthday?”
“It’s when you turn as many years as the date you were born,” Daisy explained. “I was born on the twenty third day of April, which is the fourth month, so when I turn twenty three it will be my golden birthday.”
“My birthday is in November,” said Ariadne. “The twelfth. I’m the oldest girl in my class,” she added a little proudly.
“Your golden birthday will be when you turn twelve,” Daisy informed her. “Twelve is a good year. Some people miss their golden birthdays because they are too young to know, but twelve is old enough.”
“Are you having a party?”
“Daddy says so.”
Viridia hunted amongst the vegetables while the girls talked, keeping half an eye on Ariadne and Daisy’s dog. It looked a little wild, and wolflike. But it apparently didn’t care about customers.
“Can I pet your dog, Daisy?”
Viridia looked up in alarm. At least Ariadne had remembered to ask before approaching strange animals. But in this case, a little misdirection was necessary. “Daisy, where is your mama?” she asked, “I’d like to talk to her before I finish making my purchases.”
“Right here,” said Rose, emerging from the greenhouse with a basket. “You’re our first customer this afternoon, Viridia.”
No one was looking, so Ariadne reached out and scratched the dog behind the ears.
“Good, then I’ll have my pick of the tomatoes,” Viridia replied. “How are your other kids, Rose?”
Rose smiled. “Well, my four troublemakers just started middle school,” she said, “Basil hates it, Rosemary and Zebrina love it, and Genny won’t speak of it, which I take to mean either she’s bored or she’s discovering the wonders of crushes and pop music.”
Viridia nodded. “Ana was that way as soon as she hit thirteen. I’m not looking forward to doing that over again with Ariadne in eight or nine years.”
“With any luck you won’t have to,” said Rose, “Briar never went through that phase – he just started spending all his time studying. I never found out until this year that he had a crush on your Ana for the first two years of high school.”
“He did?” Viridia was surprised. Ana had a new crush every couple months, it seemed like, but she couldn’t remember Briar as being one of them. Poor boy: he and Ana would have been adorable together.
“Well, I think he’s over it now,” said Rose, “From his phone calls he spends all his spare time and half of his study time with some girl called Gabriella now. They’re both in freshman lit together or something.”
“Well, if Ana’s seeing someone, she hasn’t told me about it,” Viridia replied. In a house with her siblings, the Elkthorns, Rean and Lydia, it was practically impossible that word wouldn’t get back to Viridia one way or another. She hoped Ana was just getting serious about studying and making new friends, instead of chasing boys: she’d always had a tendency towards boys who were just a little bit too old for her.
Daisy, who must have been feeling ignored, had selected a pair of exquisite apples and pushed them into Viridia’s hands. “Try these, they’re our freshest!” she said.
“Daisy, we’ve talked about how to help customers,” said Rose, “You’re supposed to be helping them find things politely, remember?”
There was a slump to Daisy’s shoulders. “I’m sorry Mrs. E. I was rude.”
“Apology accepted,” said Viridia. “I’m going to stand here and talk to your mother before I finish shopping, so I’m not going to need a lot of help.”
“But I like to help…”
“Daisy, sweetpea, why don’t you go help by weeding the tomatoes?” said Rose. “I think they might need watering too.” As Daisy marched off, watering can in hand, she revealed a large mud splatter up the side of her dress.
Rose sighed. “I’ve bleached that dress I don’t know how many times… But it’s her favorite. She refuses to wear pants until the weather cools down.”
“Mama, can I go with her?” asked Ariadne.
Tomatoes couldn’t hurt her, so Viridia nodded and let her wander off.
“Where were we?” asked Rose.
“College students,” Viridia supplied.
“Yes, well. Unfortunately it seems we’ve hit a bit of a snag in regards to my niece Jules. Now, I’m never exactly sure what goes on with her – she’s never really been good at sharing since her mother left town – but every few months I hear a different story. First she’s living in a dorm with Jacob and Stella, then Jacob and Stella have broken up, then Stella’s seeing someone else, then Stella and Jules are applying for an apartment together…”
Ariadne liked dirt. And tomatoes. And squiggly-crawly worms. She had a vague idea that these were not girly things, but she was pretty sure that people who didn’t like worms were stupidheads, and didn’t know what they were talking about. People who had pretty firefly lights that followed them were probably not stupidheads, because why would fireflies follow you if you didn’t like them?
Daisy was very different, for an adult, but the fireflies liked her, just like they liked Daisy’s mom. Ariadne was sort of jealous, because she’d like some fireflies of her own. They only followed Daisy sometimes, though.
She tried to lift one of Daisy’s watering cans, and failed, so she squatted down in the dirt and started picking up pebbles.
“Daisy, did mom say to water those tomatoes?”
Ariadne gasped. She’d seen fireflies around more than one person before, but this was different. These were redder, and in their light the shadow flickered and changed, and for a moment was shaped like a dog.
“Mama did say, Zae,” said Daisy, who was very absorbed in the task.
“Did you know your shadow is a dog?” Ariadne blurted before she could stop herself.
The strange teenager froze, and the fireflies vanished. “What did you say?”
“Your shadow is a dog when the fireflies touch it,” Ariadne explained, pointing towards the ground. It had been a very small shadow, and you couldn’t see the dog shape all the time.
The teenage girl loomed over her.
“Who told you?” she hissed. “Daisy?”
“Told me what?” asked Ariadne, a little unsure. “That you have a dog shadow? I saw it. The fireflies show me things.”
“Augh!” Ariadne watched warily as the strange teenager kicked a watering can and muttered something under her breath that sounded like fudge. Then she calmed down and crouched in the gravel. “Look, this is very important,” she said. “I need you to swear, cross your heart and hope to die, that you won’t ever tell anyone what you just saw. Ever.”
Ariadne’s eyes were wide. She hadn’t known it was that important. “Is it a bad thing?”
“Yes,” said the girl shortly, “It’s a very bad thing. And if you tell anyone about it you’ll be in a lot of trouble. So swear.”
“I swear!” squeaked Ariadne, “Cross my heart and hope to die!”
“Good,” said the teenager, and stomped off, leaving Ariadne sniffling. The fireflies couldn’t be bad, could they? Was that why her mama and daddy never believed her when she said she saw them?
* * *
“So,” said Aranel, “Now that we’ve got Ana all moved in, first things first: the legacy.”
Anariel rolled her eyes. “Yeah, we all know that you want to be heir because you think it will help you become mayor or something,” she said. “I don’t get why it’s such a big deal – I mean, one of us has to go live with mom and dad for the rest of our adult lives because of some sort of ancient tradition from Elphemerea or something? What’s even the point?”
Aranel was clearly racking her brains, “Yeah, actually I don’t know anything more about it than that,” she said, “Ana, you were waaaaay to young to remember when mom and dad were on about it all the time -”
“For the Green Ones’ sake, I’m only three years younger than you.”
“Anyhow, it sounded like a good deal at the time, but I’ve changed my mind,” Aranel said, “I don’t want it. I don’t think it does anything. I had a talk with dad this summer and he said it was up to us, and that he’d clue the future heir in on the rules, but honestly, all I know about it is that the one of us most likely to get married and pop out adorable spawn is the one who should inherit the house and land.”
Achenar hadn’t really thought of it that way. Actually, he hadn’t thought much about the existence of the Legacy until the last few years, because it was always going to be Aranel’s thing.
“You’re sure you don’t want it?” He said.
Aranel snorted. “Look, if it’s all about continuing the family line, I’m not putting kids before my career. I’m not too keen on spending my time clinging to whatever Elphemerean traditions we haven’t already forgotten either – do you two remember the sort of clothes we wore as little kids?”
“Vividly,” said Anariel.
“And the Green Ones,” Aranel continued, “We all swear by them, but we have no idea who or what they are. Because at this point, it’s just how everyone we know swears. It doesn’t even mean anything.”
“So, ask Dad to explain everything,” said Achenar, “I don’t see why knowing more about where we came from would be a bad thing.”
“Which is exactly why you should be heir,” said Aranel, “You actually care about all that stuff.”
“And you think it’s a waste of time.” Achenar was surprised, after he said it, to find himself getting angry at Aranel. It wasn’t just the traditions, it was her assumption that whatever was best for her was best for everyone. As well as her apparent inability to actually ask people what they wanted rather than arranging their lives the way she wanted them.
“I just don’t want anything getting in the way of my career,” said Aranel, “I’m always going to be an elf – hell, I founded the heritage house, in case you’ve forgotten – but I don’t have to reject modernity or spend all my time talking about the old ways from a world I’ve never even seen to do that. If I’m going to get anywhere in politics, I’ve got to think about what’s going on here.”
“Fine,” said Achenar, though it wasn’t fine at all. “If you don’t want it, you’re excused. But don’t you think you’d better ask Ana what she wants before you decide I’m going to be heir?”
Aranel glanced at Ana, and shrugged. “Honestly I never thought you’d even have an opinion, Ana.”
Anariel rolled her eyes. “No, I don’t want it. I’d say I didn’t care one way or the other, but honestly? Getting married and having kids is the last thing on my mind right now. I haven’t even declared a major yet, and I’m not about to marry off for convenience like some Regency heroine. It’s going to be true love for me or not at all.”
She stopped her speech, and then got tomatoey red.
“And anyway I’ve been dying to finally get to college so I can finally date without people looking over my shoulder,” she mumbled. “Seriously. Our parents. So old fashioned. How did you two even survive the twenty questions? And the curfew?”
Ara made bewildered eye contact with Achenar, and shrugged.
* * *
Since they’d officially started dating, Calla had made sure to schedule time every week that she and Achenar could escape from the rest of the heritage house, alone. There was something extremely awkward about making out with your brother and your boyfriend’s siblings in the next room. And there certainly wasn’t enough privacy for anything more than that…
So when Achenar was too distracted to appreciate the fall colors at the sculpture park, she intervened right away.
“There something on your mind?” she asked lightly.
He shrugged. “Just Aranel.”
Calla spared a moment to anticipate the whole year they’d have without “debate team meetings,” or random mascots infiltrating the house once Aranel graduated. She’d miss Rean, and probably Bastian and Amadeus, but certainly not the Simmerson Cow, who had let off a firecracker in their mailbox in what was apparently a warm welcome wherever the bovine impersonator had been raised.
“Just Aranel doesn’t usually preoccupy you so much that you can’t enjoy a date,” said Calla. “So what’s wrong? Are you two fighting?”
From Achenar’s face, that was a yes. Not that he was likely to admit it. “Not fighting, exactly,” he said, “More… disagreeing.”
Calla was instantly on alert. She’d been expecting the whole legacy thing to come up since they started college, but she’d been fairly certain that Achenar wasn’t going to do anything about it, since Aranel wanted it and she seemed to get her way in everything. At least when it came to her brother and sister.
“You’ll have to be more specific.”
“To make a long argument very short, the three of us sat down to talk about it, and I’m the heir.”
“Just because Aranel – wait, did you say that you’re the heir?” asked Calla in surprise. Judging by Achenar’s wince, it was the wrong thing to say.
“Yeah. She didn’t want it. Now I’m stuck with it.”
“But… do you not want it?” asked Calla. “You’d be great at it, just so you know.”
“I’d never really thought seriously about it,” said Achenar, “I’d just assumed that Aranel would go for it and I didn’t really want to get in the way.”
Which described Achenar and Ana’s usual attitude towards Aranel depressingly well.
“But she doesn’t want it.”
“Apparently? This is the first I’ve heard of it,” said Achenar, “I was pretty sure before this that Ana wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole -”
“Not surprised,” muttered Calla. Ana was a sweet girl, but she had exactly zero initiative.
“- so at least that wasn’t a surprise. But Aranel really put her foot in it. I don’t even know why I’m angry at her, this is probably the first time in her life she’s ever considered the idea that someone, somewhere, might be better at something than her.”
Calla made a commiserating noise.
“Just, she could have told us, you know? Instead of arranging it all to her own benefit. You remember when she made us all be the heritage association board?”
“It was exactly like that.”
They wandered a little further, and Calla digested that for a bit.
“You know,” she said, “Acting like that, it’s probably a good thing she’s decided against being heir.” She paused a moment, to try and compose her next thought. “But just because she’s decided against it doesn’t mean you have to do it.”
“Yeah, but it’s important,” said Achenar, “Not just because it’ll make Mom and Dad happy, but because it’s worth it to make sure that we keep something. I don’t want our kids to grow up with no idea of what our parents’ lives were like, you know, on the other side, or even what it was like when we were kids. It doesn’t really have anything to do with authentic clothes, or names, or mostly doing without TV or computers – and I’m not sure that was ever because of tradition, it could just have been something my parents didn’t think was worth spending money on – it’s like no one else gets that it’s about knowing that you’re different from everyone else but not knowing anything about why.”
“Mom and Dad have mostly shared traditions and stuff with me and Elirand,” Calla replied, “Recipes, a few stories about their childhoods -”
“Dad never talks about that,” said Achenar moodily, “Mom’s told us a few stories about growing up with her sister, even though it always makes her sad, but he’s never said a word. Eluisa told us more about Elphemerea than anyone else. And he’s the one who thought up the legacy thing in the first place.”
“Then we make them talk about it,” said Calla, “Learn everything we can, write it down, find out how everything really worked – make it mean something for the next generation, because clearly it didn’t sink in on either of your sisters.”
“You really want that?” asked Achenar, “It’s all – it’s sudden, it doesn’t have anything to do with your teaching career, it’ll probably take a lot of time -”
“Knowledge sim, remember?” cut in Calla excitedly, “I can’t think of anything more personally interesting to research, and if we don’t do it, who will? Only…” she slowed down, “When you were talking about kids, that wasn’t a general ‘our,’ was it? You meant… your kids, with me?”
“I, er..” said Achenar, “If you – I mean – will you…?”
“Marry you?” Calla finished for him, half laughing, “Of course.”
“I don’t have a ring.”
“Well, in case you haven’t noticed, I hate those chocolate diamonds they keep advertising. They’re tacky. Just so you know, in case you’re going shopping. For something that might have a diamond or fit on a finger or something.”
“Right,” said Achenar, “When I drag my foot out of my mouth and propose to you properly, no chocolate diamonds. Got it. No public spectacles either, like graduation parties, or holidays…”
Calla shuddered. “Yeah, none of that please. I’d rather not be gawked at.”
“Same,” said Achenar, “Tell you what, I’ll figure something out, you just pretend to be surprised.”
“You know what would be hilarious? If we surprised everyone else,” Calla said mischeviously,
“Not that they’re going to necessarily not see it coming, but I’d like to be able to make Meadow freak out a little, pay her back for that totally-expected but still really quick engagement announcement of hers.”
The two of them shared a grin, and then a kiss.
* * *
Author's note: Left justification means I don't have to give a crap about LJ's wonky indents. Three cheers for character limits.