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Author Topic: Precious Things [CLOSED; Epistolary]  (Read 120 times)

Precious Things [CLOSED; Epistolary]
« on: December 29, 2019, 10:54:38 PM »
[OOC: This is a closed thread designed to introduce Mercedes and Julia Carello, and lay the foundation for a catalog of their letters while the former is away for cadet training. Also occasionally featured is their family friend and Mercedes' hand-to-hand trainer, a NPC named Godfrey Ignatov.]


Spring 845
#2 Old Mine Trace, Krolva
The Fall of Wall Maria


Julia pulled off her thick leather work gloves and used the long braided cord attaching them to hang them around her neck. Having at last reached a stopping point on the scythe she was repairing and sharpening, she picked up the chipped mug of tea Mercedes had brought her. It was cold; Julia hadn't realized so much time had passed. But then, wasn't that always the way? She sipped anyway and stepped out of her workshop -- a glorified lean-to, really, crammed full of workbenches piled with half-complete projects, stacks of raw material and salvaged goods -- for a breath of fresh spring air.

She leaned against one of the posts and watched her granddaughter, Mercedes, as she practiced riding tricks on Sabine, an ink-black mare to match her hair that had been hers since she was four. Fuck, was that really twelve years ago? Julia thought and sipped again. The bitter taste of the tea was assuaged as she watched Mercedes with pride. Her heart felt warm, like the sun on her cheeks. A rare feeling, associated almost exclusively with Mercedes. My most precious thing.

Mercedes rode circuits around the large yard and used the bridle and saddle to perform moderate acrobatics: alternately dipping down the side of either flank, pulling herself beneath Sabine's belly or across her chest; or hopping down to trot lightly alongside her a short ways before pulling herself back up; riding backwards; even carefully standing on her back as Sabine continued to canter. Sometimes she'd whistle a certain way and Sabine would turn a certain direction. Both girl and mare seemed to delight in the exercise, their faces as light as the breeze.

Her father's tricks. Her mother's tricks, Julia thought, not without fondness.

It amused her -- although she had been an accomplished rider herself before her...injury, and she had given Mercedes input, this talent and oneness with her horse seemed to be a hereditary trait. Her parents in particular had always been uncannily talented riders, but  Mercedes had been too young while they were alive to have really seen much of it. Yet horsemanship -- along with keen eyes for marksmanship and an admittedly dangerous tendency toward loyalty -- was in the Carellos' blood, so Julia supposed she shouldn't have been surprised that Mercedes exhibited all of them already despite Julia's best efforts.

Were they my best efforts, though? she wondered, taking a longer drink. Have I not encouraged her to be a Carello just as much as I've tried to hide us both? She decided to practice self-forgiveness, though she was terrible at it: of course Mercedes wouldn't stay here forever, and to that end it was Julia's responsibility to ensure she was as prepared as she could be -- even if she wanted to put off that leaving for as long as possible. But how long would it be?

Julia turned her head at motion in her periphery. Approaching on foot from the direction of the abandoned mine, no doubt come from the hidden path through the copse that offered a buffer between her property and the fringes of Krolva, was the average-looking figure of Godfrey Ignatov. Although not approaching the house from the road like a normal person was, itself, normal, he did seem to be walking faster than usual. Out of principle Julia never went out to greet anyone who visited her, but she wandered a few paces out of the shadows, frowning. Godfrey was one of the few people she let come to their house without prior notice -- after all, he had been a friend of two of her sons; it was he who had helped them reach this place when they'd moved back inside the Walls, and it was he that taught Mercedes how to defend herself -- but he was nonetheless not expected today.

Godfrey hopped the zig-zagging split-rail fence that corralled part of the property, raised a hand in greeting to Mercedes on the other side of the pasture, and without breaking stride approached Julia. The sun caught the silver in his dark brown hair and for some reason the age showed more in his face today -- a weariness around the hazel eyes, a gauntness about the mouth. There were sweat marks on his shirt, suggesting he'd run here.

"Godfrey," Julia said, a note of curiosity in her voice. "What is it?"

Godfrey put his hands on his hips and took a calming breath. He then began motioning with his hands, taking the trouble to be precise and slow despite the fact that Julia had become fairly proficient over the past decade. The act always reminded her of the reason his tongue was mostly gone -- for daring to support the Carellos. It was the same reason he had his own path to their house. The same reason he did not tell her where he lived, and the same reason he functioned as best he could under the alias 'Peter LaSalle'. He, like she and Mercedes, managed.

Julia focused on his signing. Wall Maria...breached, at Shiganshina. Titans everywhere. Military is mustering, townspeople fleeing to other towns. He went on to describe a specific pair of abnormal titans and the manner of the attack.

The breath nearly gone from her and panic and anger flooding in to take its place, Julia hissed, "When? When was this?" Though judging by the amount of information available to someone out here in the west, she imagined it was a couple of days at least.

Godfrey paused deliberately, made a separate sign. Confirmation.

"Three days ago..." Julia repeated. She looked out in the yard at Mercedes, considering the ramifications. It wasn't hard to conclude. "Population control. Conscription," she said, mostly to herself, but a glance at Godfrey saw him nod once solemnly. She looked back at Mercedes; the teenager had brought Sabine to a stop in the middle of the yard, the smile on her flushed, dewy face already falling. The wind pushed her glossy hair -- her father's hair, Julia's hair -- across her face and Julia had this faint sense of losing her already.

Julia started as Godfrey laid a hand on her shoulder. His expression was encouraging now. She resisted sneering. As fond of Mercedes as she knew him to be, it would never be the same for him. But it wasn't like she could hide this truth. Not now. Julia steeled herself and waved Mercedes over.

Mercedes guided Sabine with her thighs to the edge of the workshop but did not dismount. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"Three days ago two unusual Titans attacked the gates at Shiganshina," Julia said, her voice as clinical as the times she explained scientific methods. "Wall Maria has been breached. We should expect waves of refugees and greater conscription pressure any day now. However, if we lay low we can avoid you --"

"I should enlist, then," Mercedes said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. In a way it was. "They'll need more soldiers."

Julia's blood pressure spiked. "You will fucking not," she barked.

"They'll need more soldiers, Julia," Mercedes repeated, frowning now too. "It doesn't make any sense for me to be excluded."

"I will not give up the only thing I have left!" Julia yelled.

"I'm old enough to make my own choice, Granna! What's been the point of all this training and learning if I'm never going --"

"The point certainly isn't for you to throw away your life for --"

Mercedes' jaw worked itself. "For humanity? And who says I'd be throwing away my life? Do you really have so little faith in me? Let me do my duty!"

Julia threw her mug of tea to one side; the pottery shattered on her anvil and Sabine whinnied and stomped in worry, but did not bolt. Julia's voice was low, dangerous, "It is not your duty. You will stay here. You will not enlist. No more discussion." Her broom-crutch wasn't nearby but she wasn't about to look for it now -- she loped painfully through the rows of the pitiful vegetable garden Mercedes had planted and through the back door of their tiny house, slamming it behind her. Her hip throbbed, but her heart hurt more.

Desperation and sadness welled in her like a hemorrhage; now more than ever she hated this cramped house and the circumstances that brought them here, now more than ever missed Esteban. She rubbed the wedding band with a crooked hand, her body twitching this way and that before deciding to haul itself up the narrow, twisting staircase with great difficulty. Tears rolled down her cheeks. As she locked herself in her room, she cursed the Titans, cursed the Shiganshina gates for not being strong enough. She would fight tooth and nail to keep Mercedes out of the military, even if she knew that fight was futile. « Last Edit: January 25, 2020, 09:53:30 PM by Julia Carello »
Logged

"To live past the end of your myth is a perilous thing."
~ Anne Carson

Re: Precious Things [CLOSED]
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2019, 11:28:20 PM »
[OOC: This entry is taken and tweaked from one of the first chapters of The Jaguar, if interested.]

Spring 845
Six days later, Krolva


The clock struck Three o’clock in the afternoon, and the bell echoed over the heads of the tearful parents crowding Krolva’s central agora. Four covered wagons were gathered in the middle of the square and on the seat of one stood a tall Garrison soldier, who called, “Any others? Last call for new recruits!” Late snow fell in a light flurry from the overcast sky.

A few last new recruits pushed their way forward and after giving their names to soldier-attendants on the ground, climbed in the wagons. At one side of the agora the crowd shifted aside to let Mercedes and Julia through. Mercedes did not miss the glances -- some obvious, some more surreptitious. She supposed they'd never been seen before by some, after all. It made the nerves in her stomach boil.

Nonetheless she tried to smile. “Thank you, Julia,” she said.

“For what?” Julia grunted.

“Letting me go.”

Julia pursed her lips and looked away, wiped irritably at one eye. “You got your things?”

The duffle bag was in Mercedes' hand but answered, “Yes,” for the fifth time.

Julia ran her hand down Mercedes’ long, thick dark braid and let it fall against her shoulder. “Remember to write, and visit when you can. Don’t punch the other kids too hard. And like I told you,” her voice lowered, “if you don’t have to, don’t --"

“-- tell anyone my last name, I know,” Mercedes nodded indulgently as she took one of Julia’s hands in her free one. “I’ll be fine, Granna. Promise.” She still didn’t know why, but it had been their way of life for so long that it no longer seemed to matter.

Julia looked her in the eye and Mercedes could see the hard-fought tears, there. Julia’s mouth opened as if to say something, and then closed; she patted Mercedes’ cheek and embraced her tightly. They stood there hanging on to one another for a long while before Julia uttered, “I’m proud of you.”

Mercedes started at the rare sentiment, swallowed the lump in her throat that hadn’t been there a moment ago. “I have to go,” was all she could manage when she heard the soldier call again. She felt Julia nod against her shoulder.

Julia pulled away, sniffed loudly, and then reached up her left sleeve. She pulled out the family bangle -- a single hinged gold band in the shape of a leaping jaguar, nearly biting its tail, with amber and black tiny stones forming the pattern of its coat. One of its emerald eyes was missing, as were some of the smaller stones, but it remained impressive nonetheless.

"This was my grandmother's," Julia told her, "and likely her grandmother's before her. It carries the spirit of the world that was -– a better world -– and hope for a new one. It has brought us luck, and now it will guard you."

Julia opened it and closed it about Mercedes’ right wrist. Mercedes hid her surprise.

“I love you,” said Julia, and her warm breath fogged and patted her face.

As she was given a kiss on the forehead, Mercedes said, “I love you.”

“Now get out of my sight, you hellion,” Julia muttered with a crack in her voice and forcibly turned her around, gave her a light push. Mercedes walked forward without looking back.

At the nearest wagon a soldier with a clipboard looked at her expectantly. “Name?”

“Mercedes Carello,” she replied as quietly as she could without seeming shy or nervous.

The soldier flicked to a second page and made a mark, then indicated the wagon with her pencil, “Thanks. In y’go,” she said.

Mercedes felt excitement bubble in her belly as she grabbed the rope handle on the side of the wagon, hooked her foot onto the single rung, and pulled herself inside the warm dark. A dozen or so other recruits stared at her from either side with a mix of cautious camaraderie or curiosity; she smiled at them, but a quick glance didn’t reveal anyone she knew -- not that she was expecting to, having not had many playmates the whole ten years they’d been here.

She looked out of the back of the wagon one last time to search for her grandmother. Another recruit hauled herself in and pushed past her, and Mercedes craned her neck. She saw Julia limping back through the crowd to the street that would take her home and, for a second, was upset by her leaving. She heard the snap of reins, the rumble of cart wheels on cobbles, and then the cart began to move under her. At last Julia climbed up on something to be seen clearly above the crowd, and turned watched her leave. Though some of the crowd began to dissipate, Julia was still standing sentry when she was lost to view.
Logged

“I’m surrounded by the past and it is demanding something from me.”

~ Anna Akhmatova

Re: Precious Things [CLOSED]
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2019, 11:52:14 PM »
Late Spring 845
A week into training


Dear Julia,

How are you? I hope you’re eating and not staying up too late. I miss you, and my room, ha-ha.

The first week here has been more intense than I think either you or I imagined it would be.  We assemble at Seven A.M. every morning -- and that will apparently roll back to Six A.M. in a couple of weeks when there’s more light -- after breakfast, which isn’t great but it’ll do. So far they seem to be working on our basic physical fitness first, but next month we have our first of two general gear aptitude tests. They haven’t asked me much about horseriding or medical knowledge or shooting skills, sorry. I guess it’s not important right now. I wish I could have brought Sabine, but I understand why.

I’m fitting in okay. I don’t talk to the others much in case they ask my surname, like you said.  I get along all right with the other girls in my dormitory but they can get annoying sometimes. Two of them in the bunk next to me are always bickering. Someone had a crate of nice cotton rags, soap and vinegar delivered to each of the girls’ dormitories -- I had to explain to some of the girls that vinegar helps get blood stains out of things -- I guess they haven’t started yet. During training, I think we’re all too tired most of the time to fight, but there’s some people here who must think they're gonna be the next Commander or something. I don’t think I'd ever want to be a commander but it makes me want to try my best nonetheless, and make you proud. Maybe I'll end up as a squad leader if I try hard enough.

I’m looking forward to our aptitude tests, and I really like the hand-to-hand fighting. They also have proper weight-lifting stuff, which is a nice change from lifting buckets of nails! I’m glad now that you did what you did, and had me exercise and train a bit already. I hate running, though. They have us run a lap every day, and if you do something wrong either you run another or you do chin-ups until you fall down. At least it’s not hot yet -- maybe by the time it is, we'll be used to running and we won’t be sweating as much. I can’t help but wonder how many of us will make it through to the end of training.

Anyway, I miss you. Write soon.

I love you,
Mercedes

PS -- They said all the girls have to make sure our hair doesn’t go an inch past our bra bands and should never be loose if it’s longer than our chins. I had to trim a couple of inches off mine even with the braid, but I don’t mind. I’d rather not get it ripped out of my head if it were to get caught in the fan blades of our gear. So don’t kill me -- it’s just a couple of inches.

« Last Edit: December 29, 2019, 11:53:14 PM by Mercedes Carello »
Logged

“I’m surrounded by the past and it is demanding something from me.”

~ Anna Akhmatova

Re: Precious Things [CLOSED; Epistolary]
« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2020, 08:47:31 PM »
Late Spring 845


Julia's attention honed in on the shard of dirty ivory paper to the exclusion of all else. Godfrey handed it to her first with a knowing smile and she resisted snatching it, showing eagerness, and hooked a finger under the sloppy anonymous wax seal to spring it free. Godfrey continued unpacking the rest of the crate of miscellaneous supplies he'd brought her; the thuds of them on her kitchen table fell away as she sank back into the chair to read.

She read Mercedes' letter -- the first she'd received in the two weeks she'd been gone, now -- voraciously. Speed-reading was a habit she'd learned early in her internships in the Industrial City, in her teenage years, but the drawback was how unsatisfied she felt when she reached the end of the two thin pages all too soon. The salient information was gained, but she went back and reread more slowly, taking in the tiny details as though they could replace every inch of her granddaughter's face: a fragment of a fingerprint in a dot of smudged ink in the bottom corner, the boldness of her 'I's that had come from Julia and the staccato of her upper and downward strokes that had come out of nowhere.

Her heart ached. "I miss you" -- "I love you". Julia's eyes prickled and she blinked it away. It was hard here without Mercedes. They'd never been apart from one another for more than a day at most for the past sixteen years. It didn't feel natural. It would get better, she knew, and she knew logically that it would be at no cost. After all, hadn't she grown up just fine being away from her own family?

Julia's hands rested on the edge of the kitchen table, the letter pincered between them. She remembered Godfrey was there. Although he had no real reason to come here too often anymore now that Mercedes was gone, he kept it up for the time being to keep her company and though she'd never admit it aloud -- just as he'd never draw attention to it -- she was grateful. She looked up at him; the small wooden crate was empty and on its end now, and he was leaning on it with his arms folded, his hazel eyes staring patiently. He was invested in the letter from Mercedes too, in a smaller way. He deserved to know.

"She's all right," she said, the letter collapsing on itself and disappearing into her shirt beside her heart. "She's doing well. Of course she is. No sign of any trouble yet." She pushed herself to her feet.

Have you eaten dinner? he signed to her. The crate was placed by the door. Or would you prefer just tea?

Julia saw then that among the small card boxes of components she'd ordered for her latest project, jars of antiseptic, new set of metal punches, bottle of lamp oil, and hank of tanned leather cord were a few groceries. It took her a moment to process them as things she herself could eat rather than something seen from afar, as provisions for others.

"Tea," she quipped and stepped away from the table, heading toward the living area. "But if you wanted to do something with whatever those things are while it brews, I suppose that's your prerogative." She heard the choked rasp of his laugh and, now that he wouldn't see it, smiled to herself.

The spine of her house was the line between kitchen and living area; on this spine was her open fireplace, hearth, and stove. Julia rounded it and headed for the desk on the lefthand wall, over which was a painting of the family myth by Joaquin. When Julia lit a candle from the fireplace and placed its grain of light on the desk under the painting, its colors came alive: her however-many-great grandmother, Sabina Marchesi, in a rich violet dress and her black hair wild about her. One hand was buried in the mottled gold and ebony fur of an injured jaguar as its powerful body writhed, mid-leap, before her, fangs and claws bared -- her other hand, adorned with the infamous bangle, was raised like that of a saint as she attempted to still its fury. She'd succeeded, apparently.

Julia sat slowly on the stool, contemplating it a moment longer before taking out her writing implements. Mercedes had asked her to write soon, after all.

Dear Mercedes,

I miss you, too. I'm glad to hear you're settling in and enjoying yourself. It sounds to me like you're taking after your uncles and that the life of a soldier will suit you.

You'll be pleased to know that Godfrey seems to have taken your place in making sure I get at least one square meal a week. I can make no guarantees about staying up late, however. Aside from thinking of you often, I am keeping myself preoccupied with work on a new clock commission -- for the main square, you know. I've never seen it accurate and I finally had enough. The payment should keep us in good stead for the next few months.

I also may have another interested party for Bashka as a sire; I expect this will be the last year he is viable. You may want to consider offering Sabine for breeding -- it would give you a little extra in your savings, for when you choose to settle somewhere. Since you're away, now would be an optimum time since you wouldn't have to worry about being unable to ride her while she carries. Let me know and I can arrange it.

The time will come for your other skills to shine, not to worry. I have every confidence in you. Try not to get too ahead of yourself, or draw too much attention. And if you decide to chop off all your hair, heaven forbid, at the very least send it home so I can keep it with your mother's.

I love you.

J


She sat back to let the ink dry. She was never the verbose kind over letters. Nothing ever seemed important enough to put down on the page -- at least not outside her journal to Esteban. Besides, she was fairly certain cadets' mail was still read, both outgoing and incoming, and it was a risk for them to be writing as it was. She remembered that problem from when her sons were in training -- Leon and Joaquin had been the ones to figure out that cadets could not seal their own letters and that this was done by staff, and that their incoming mail always had the seals broken. Why exactly had been a mystery that Joaquin, in fine fashion, had challenged and received punishment for, and had kept his head down thereafter. Julia could imagine well enough, as an adult if not as a cynic.

Her mind drifted to them, her lost children. I had five sons -- five beautiful, good sons... Valentin, my gallant one; Joaquin, my talented one; Alejandro, my spirited one; Rafael, my devoted one; Leon, my wayward one. How I loved them, and their father too, of whom they were all facets. My good, brave sons. All betrayed. All gone in the dust. She looked up at the heraldric portrait of Sabina and the jaguar. All of Julia's strength had amounted to nothing, in the end. Her last chance was Mercedes.

Godfrey set a mug of tea beside her hand, and next to it, a trio of rose-colored cubes that seemed to glow through their dusting of sugar. Her favorite sweet. Presumably Rafael must have told him at some point during their time together -- he used to bring her some on his visits, spoiling her with the bulk of his Military Police wages even after he had a sweetheart of his own. She was surprised Godfrey would remember. Her hand reached out and squeezed his own in thanks. « Last Edit: January 25, 2020, 09:54:44 PM by Julia Carello »
Logged

"To live past the end of your myth is a perilous thing."
~ Anne Carson

Re: Precious Things [CLOSED; Epistolary]
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2020, 10:10:00 PM »
May 845

Dear Julia,

I'm sorry it's taken me a while to write. They keep us pretty occupied during daylight and by the time I have a moment to myself I'm practically falling asleep.

They were nice enough to have an initiation celebration for us recently. A way to break the ice I guess. One girl I met in particular, Claude Larsen, grew up in Krolva too as it turns out and we're becoming fast friends. Do you know the name Larsen? I thought since her mother was a nurse that maybe you'd done repair work and stuff for her before.

Anyway, I'm starting to warm up to everyone. I still don't really bring up my name but most of the time it doesn't seem to matter -- I've found that if I talk and smile enough that people get distracted. That being said, I've noticed some of the Instructors pause sometimes when they first see me, or read out my name. And sometimes other cadets seem to recognize it -- sometimes they're ugly about it too but I just ignore them. I don't understand the point. But if there was a point, you'd tell me, right?

There's a rumor going around that tomorrow we finally get to look at some maneuvering gear! Of course they fitted us for our harnesses almost as soon as we got here but we've yet to even touch any actual gear. I doubt they'll throw us in the deep end and make us try to use it -- honestly some people seem to have enough trouble with obstacle courses on the ground as it is -- so we're probably just going to learn theory first. I'll probably be bored but I'll try my best. It'll be interesting to see if what they show/teach us lines up with all the things you showed me from your notes. I'm eager to actually put theory into practice.

I'm glad you're keeping busy, and that Godfrey is keeping you fed. As far as Sabine goes, I guess it's okay to breed her. I wish I could be there to help choose sires but I guess there's no helping that... Just make sure the people are nice and it isn't just any old sire. If she does get pregnant give her lots of apples -- she prefers the yellow ones.

I'm starting to fall asleep and they're coming round checking for lamps still burning, so I should go.

I love you,
Mercedes

PS -- I really miss baths. And the showers here are pretty awful. Think you could stop by and show them how to increase the water pressure, maybe get us more than thirty seconds of hot water? Ha-ha.


Mercedes glanced at the doorway to the dorm, hearing the night warden on his patrol call someone else out for having a lamp lit. She hurriedly turned the lamp she was using all the way down until it extinguished, shoved Julia's latest letter between the thin mattress and the bunk sideboard, and clambered off the floor and into her bed.

She laid on her back in the sapphire-dark, listening to the snores and whispers of the other girls as she gently waved her return letter back and forth as though fanning herself, letting the ink dry. One bare knee rose and her free hand pulled idly through her damp, loose hair. She passed her gaze slowly over the room, thinking to what she'd written. Why did some people give her weird looks when they learnt her surname? It wasn't many, but it was there. She didn't like not being liked.

The night warden's long shadow jumped over the sleeping bodies of the girls as he passed in front of one moonlit window and then the next at the front of the dorm. Mercedes listened to his steady footsteps on the porch suddenly end as he stepped off into the grass, and sighed. She folded her letter and tucked it with Julia's -- she'd send it tomorrow.
Logged

“I’m surrounded by the past and it is demanding something from me.”

~ Anna Akhmatova

 

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