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* * *
The journey was one of discomfort for the woman, each rut and bump of the road was announced with jarring movement that left still healing injuries aching anew. Not that this rose would complain of the abuse and new bruising, all of it taken stoically with mouth tight and face slightly paled. Worse injuries have been dealt to her before – much worse. This was more an inconvenience.

In these few days, has much in the way of words been exchanged between the two? Certainly the journey has been a quiet one save for the occasional, 'Pass me this,' and 'Do you hurt much,' and of course, 'Scotch .. please.' To dull the pain, of course. Small touches conveyed more than words could anyways, the 'I'm here,' of his hand upon her leg, the trusting rest of her head against his shoulder.

Such a homecoming is not one that she had imagined.

When he spoke her head was rising from such a rest, the half-lidded eyes pulling open with curiosity. “Of course I remember.” How could she forget that night? Other bits and pieces of her childhood blurred in spots, merged with the memories of others in the way that often happens with the passage of time. Not the ones that concerned him. Oh, not those.

There was a laugh then, a warm velvet sound – perhaps the first of which that has been produced till now with this journey taken up. “Hardly... but worry of getting caught never slowed us down.” Why should they allow it to do so now?
* * *
He thinks, on the road; mostly of that night, of the dizzying dancers, of Rosamaria with her pockets lined with sugar, of the two of them shoved behind the statue of St. Iona, in the darkness of the family chapel, giggling and stuffing strawberry tarts into their mouth. How happy they were to have gotten away with something so big, until Nurse showed up and dragged them both out by their ears to their tired, post-party parents.

They've been in the cart for a few days. Everything they have is loaded in it: the furniture, the books, Rosa's wardrobe. The whiskey. That's stashed up front.

It's all right. He breathes easy; they take turns napping in the back of the cart wedged in the wrapped-up bedclothes. They stay at inns along the way. He registers as "Marcus Grant," because it's been a while since any of the Helstones have passed this way, and he doesn't want to leave a trail for the agents of Altias Bromn that follow. He rests his hand on Rosa's leg during the day. He stares forward. He stays quiet. He doesn't talk about Myrken Wood. Or Altias Bromn. Just his father; just about the old times.

"... do you remember, Rosa," he says, "when we met? Is that the only time we got caught? I don't remember."
* * *
"I'm real sneaky," the girl would insist as she clutched so easily to this presented challenge. Torn stockings and ruined skirt from the tree climbing, she would not even squirm a tiny bit at the suggestion of using her skirt to carry the ill-gotten treats away.

Oh the plan did sound like an excellent one to her -she would nod eagerly in agreement! "Of course! She did not help. Why should we share?" She knew nothing of his sister, why should she feel obligated to split their booty with her?

How bright those dark eyes were, sparkling with delight while impish smile did spread from ear-to-ear. "Let's go!" Without another word the girl was beginning to ease herself down like a small monkey with small grunts of labor here and there.

* * *

"I don't know," the boy confesses, squinting. "We have to be sneaky. Maybe when people move off -- I think Mother and Father are going to make a speech soon. They do every year. It lasts for five minutes, and when everybody's listening to them we can pop up and stay quiet and use your skirt to hold the goodies. And then we can eat them all and not let my stupid sister have any."

The boy is so incredibly happy about this; it suffuses his face, and he casts a grin at his other small companion.

"I think we have to get closer first, though."

* * *
For a child of her age those eyes were intense things watching as the boy settled near, her face puckered in the way of one prepared to defend herself from a coming verbal-belittling. There was a careful way in which her mouth did begin to twist, retort resting upon the very tip of her tongue. Whacking at things certainly was not boring in any way!

It was a retort that would never come, not while this odd boy did present such a splendid challenge.

Dark eyes were squinting, peering through the weeping droop of willow branches -attention sharp upon the spread of delicate and rich desserts. Watch the very corners of her mouth carefully, the way that it did twitch upwards in the slow spread of a very impish expression.

"Easily," the girl child would agree. "You have any idea how?" The bustle and activity beyond the safety of this shared fortress was watched intently now.

* * *
* * *
Coriolanus considers this, and then yanks himself up into the tree, resting against the trunk as he clambers over to her side, his pants dirty and his boy's tie crooked. Now this is interesting, he thinks; this is far more fun, right here, than anything his sister can think up. Maybe, he thinks, I can talk her into it.
 
"Naw. I don't like playing knights. All that whacking is really boring. I have something lots better," he says, pointing.
 
Below, they swirl and twist in their finery, in their silks and satins and brocades, a tapestry of a hundred ambitious dreams: there is Cory's father and mother at the head table, toasting the guests. There are the butlers at the edges of the room, ready with napkins and wine and appetizers like silent monoliths; there is his brother stiffly accepting compliments; there are the musicians on the dias at the end of the room striking up a volte.
 
There is also a dessert table, yards long and filled with as many desserts as a young boy could desire: orange-cakes, chocolate ganache, ladyfingers lined with lemon-infused sugar, towering palaces of frosting three times the height of the mayor's youngest boy.
 
It is, in short, heaven.
 
"I saw the servants bring in sugar-swirls. I can't get them on my own, and Father won't let me have some, and my sister's stupid and won't help," says Cory, dropping his voice conspiratorially, "but I bet we could get some."
* * *
Pirates can be girls,” the little girl would sneer right back at the boy struggling against the grasping, skeletal limbs of the twisted willow tree. “My mamma tells me stories before bed of a most fierce girl pirate who sailed near her home when she was little and she told me that I may be anything that I wish to be.”

There was a pride in those dark eyes that was undeniable; it lit sparks of such a lively light!

“I will –not- be a shore-maid… but if you wish to be the pirate then I will be the brave knight that shall capture you!” Lips would curl in a triumphant look as the girl clung to her high-up perch.

“Oooh, you could not have stopped me if you wanted to! …And I always win.”

A child’s plump finger was pointing sharply at the boy, eyes squinting and straining against the dark even as small chest did puff up with some sense of self-importance.

* * *
"You're not a pirate, you're a girl," the boy says, again, whapping away a branch that has snagged his ostentatious tailcoat. As she gains the field, new life seems breathed into his scrawny limbs, and he climbs, climbs, climbs -- his head finally breaking through a bunch of hanging branches like a Jack-in-the-box, dark hair lit by the faraway torches below. He ignores the fact that she reached the top first. "My papa says girls can't be pirates, so I'm not going to yield. So I can be the pirate, and you can be a shore-maid!"

A stubborn chin is stuck out in Rosamaria's direction; a short, prefunctory hauling of his boy's body up onto a sturdy branch facing her. And once he is set, he crosses his arms in triumph, much like he's seen his father do in the courtroom. Strains of music floats from the gardens below to the children's hiding-place that is this tree; the wind kicks up, pushing and coddling the two worse-for-wear children -- slightly dirty, their clothing torn and ragged-edged in places where flashing branches have caught seams. Cory's white knee-socks, to the future chagrin of his mother, are stained, and the careful ties at the tops dangling like branches themselves.

"At any rate, you can't win, because this is Papa's tree," he says, thinking this irrefutable logic -- "it is a Helstone tree. You're lucky I am letting you climb it at all!"

* * *
I am the pirate queen, Rosamaria Ramirez!” the young girl would boast from her advantage of height within the tree. This, of course, was only half of a fib as her name was indeed Rosamaria Ramirez but who was very much not an actual pirate. To her youthful mind, pirates were still a romantic notion and not the actual, dirty scoundrels that they are.

The girl had paused her climbing when this triumphant declaration had been made –not only so that she might strike a small and heroic pose while wedged between the ‘y’ shape of two branches but also so that she may tug furiously a bit of lace free that had been snagged.

There was the sound of ripping and a tiny hiss of irritation. “Do you yield to me yet?” Dark eyes glittered downward with a cherub’s mouth filled with laughter – torn lace was already forgotten.

* * *
Imagine the horror an adult was feeling?

No, imagine the horror Coriolanus Helstone was feeling, as this girl-imposter dragged herself back into the tree with the kind of attitude Celia never had. With a cry of annoyance, then, he's launched himself at the tree, dropping her shoe into the dirt behind him. He is not yet the quiet man of the future; no, here, at this moment at least, he is still a boy who enjoys games with his brother, and it's up the tree like a slowish spider, all gangly limbs and trying, with branches tearing at the small scarf tied smartly at his neck, at his sleeves, at the clothes his mother dressed him in just in case he ran into a guest or two. 

Rosamaria will find that she is lucky; she has the sweet spots on her side of the tree, child-height handholds; he has to reach, he has to haul, and he quickly falls behind.

"... this is no fair," he's bursting out between breaths, trying his hardest to get the better of her. "Who are you?"
* * *
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