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A Warm Gaze

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The training grounds were nice to be before the rest of the order would be awake. Only a few stray streaks of sunlight were painted on the sky. Altena mindlessly swung my lance at nothing, muscle memory guided her motions while her mind was elsewhere.

This world, Askr, brought people who were nothing but distant memories and names back into her life. Her brother, Prince Leif had been happy to see her when she’d been summoned. Sir Finn kept his typical stoic expression, her uncle and cousin had shared some exchanges. She hadn’t spoken with her aunt much, but she’d smile at her whenever they passed each other by. Her parents have been trying to speak with her, but she would merely greet them before walking off.

When she’d first arrived she spent most of her time with her family and Sir Finn, only really speaking when addressed. Then Travant had arrived, summoned by some method she didn’t care to know when she saw him. Then she’d been trying to avoid her blood family, only evading her parents, but Leif gave have space.

She was unsure if someone had already told her parents of her upbringing, that she grew up in Thracia believing she was Travants beloved “daughter.”

She’d been pulled out of her thoughts when she heard the heavy door open from behind here. She quickly spun on her heel and tightened her grip on her lance as if ready for a fight.

“Oh,” a soft voice spoke. Altena met the woman’s gentle gaze, quickly looking away. ”I didn’t know you trained this early in the morning.”

Her mother, Lady Ethlyn walked up to her slowly, a warm smile graced her expression.

“I’m surprised you’re awake this early as well,” Altena responded, shifting away from her a little. “Let alone here.”

Ethlyn let out a small laugh. “Quan wanted to go out on a ride early today, before he departs for a mission.” She answered. “He realized he misplaced a handkerchief I made for him so I told him I’d look for it.”

“It might be over there,” Altenna told her, casting my gaze over to a table with all sorts of trinkets and charm laid across.

“Ah, thank you!” She strode over to the table giving quick glances to objects as she moved them to the side.

I watched her for a moment taking in the warmth and kindness Leif had inherited from her, and according to some she also did. I looked away carefully going back to training. I swung with power trying to properly even my weight on my feet. No matter how hard she tried to ignore it she could always see Lady Eth- her mother’s bright hair in the corner of her eye.

“Aha!” She heard her mother exclaim. She spared her a long look, seeing her proudly lift a small handkerchief. It was clearly hand-stitched, mostly black but had some white and gold accents. She never saw people with them growing up, most wouldn’t waste resources on frivolous things in Thracia. The first she ever really saw one was when she joined Lord Seliph’s forces.

Her mother folded it and held it carefully, like she would Altena’s hand back home when she was alive. Ethlyn turned to her perked up a bit, before quickly striding over to her. She reached up being at least a head shorter than her, brushing some locks of her hair out of her eyes. Ethlyn’s eyes looked slightly melancholic, but also caring.

“I’ve noticed sometimes your hair gets in the way,” She spoke softly, lowering her hand. “If you’d like, maybe I could get you something to tie it back or I could teach you to braid it.”

Altena was surprised by her words it took her a moment to process them. She smiled a little, a tight feeling in her chest.

“I might ask you,” she told her. “Qu- Father should be waiting for you.”

Her mother’s expression becoming flushed with embarrassment. She gave her a small wave before quickly trotting towards the doors to leave before she came to an abrupt stop. She cast her gaze down at the floor, eyes flooded with regret.

“Altena,” she said her name carefully. “We- When you told us what had happened. We don’t mind that you were raised in- in Thracia, by…”

Altena looked away, the feeling in her chest growing tighter.

“I should apologize for bringing you in the first place,” Ethlyn continued. “But I’m so happy that despite that, you’re alive. That you’re here, if you ever want to speak with-”

Knowing where she was going Altena raised her hand to stop her. “I don’t need you to apologize for something you couldn’t have known.” She spoke, lifting her head to meet her mothers gaze. “And I’m not sure where I stand on my feelings about him.”

Ethlyn stood straight, clutching a hand to her chest. “If ever want to speak of it to Quan or I, we’ll listen.” She said calmly. “I have to go before Quan begins to run around the castle looking for me. I’ll see you soon.”

Altena nodded watching her mother exit the training grounds, her bright hair slowly fading into the dark halls. She turned her back to the door and went back to training.

 

---

 

Altena stood outside her parent’s room, part of her hoping she’d only find her mother inside. She’d seen her mother around in the two days since their last conversation, but Ethlyn had been swept away by the other healers she was present with. Altena knocked on the door as slowly, then began to nervously tap her foot. The door opened quickly, Ethlyn poking her head out from behind it.

“Oh!” She exclaimed happily. “Come in, would you like me to make some tea while you’re here?”

Altena slowly entered the room, her mother shutting the door behind her. “I’m alright, I don’t drink tea.”

Ethlyn nodded, she gave her another one of her smiles. “Is there something you wanted to do or talk about?” She asked.

“I wanted to see if your offer was still open,” Altena answered. “About you teaching me to braid my hair.”

“Of course it is!” She responded, quickly walking over to a vanity grabbing a brush and a red band. She tapped on the chair in front of it, saying, “you can sit here, so you can see.”

Altena walked over and carefully sat in the chair. It wasn’t quite built for someone her height but she wasn’t too uncomfortable.

“I’ll explain as I go, okay?” Ethlyn said pulling her hair back.

Altena nodded, feeling her mother brush her hair down gently. She watched her mother’s hands and face in the mirror, carefully brushing her daughter’s hair small sections. No had done this back when she was home in Thracia, she merely detangled it and went about her day.

“I would brush it down a bit before dividing it. Once you brush it down, split it into three even sections, or as even as you can,” Ethlyn informed her, doing what she just told her. “Pull the right section on the middle section, that makes the right the middle and the middle the right. Then you pull the left section of the middle. Make sense?”

“Yes,” Altena told her.

Ethlyn nodded, slowly pulling the sections over each other. “You can pull it tighter or make it looser,” she told her, stilling her hands.

“Tighter,” Altena answered, Ethlyn gently pulled a bit. “That’s good.”

“Then you repeat the process of crossing the sections.” She said moving her hands a bit quicker. 

It felt strange to have someone do this for her, she never really worried about her hair and other formal appearances. She mostly focused on training with a lance and the well being of southern Thracia than being pampered by someone else. Though it felt nice having her mother do it, it felt oddly comforting.

“Then when you reach the bottom, you just tie it off, like that!” Ethlyn chirped, tying off the braid with the red band. “Do you like it?”

“I do,” Altena responded, pulling the braid forward.

“I’m glad,” Ethlyn said standing next to her daughter. “Your hair wasn’t difficult to work with and I’m assuming you don’t do much with it.”

“I don’t, I’m not one for such things,” Altena told her with a smile.

“You never really were,” Ethlyn laughed. “When we tried to do a portrait you couldn’t sit still when getting ready or during the actual portrait. That’s why you’re holding Leif’s hand. Remembering that day makes me feel so happy.”

“I don’t remember much of that day other than being tired of staying still,” Altena responded a bright smile on her face.

Ethlyn opened her mouth to speak when there was a knock at the door. She stood quickly and opened the door and perked up when she who it was.

“Oh Finn, do you want to come in?” Ethlyn asked, stepping aside a bit.

“No, Lord Quan was wondering if you’d want to watch him help Lord Leif to use lances,” Finn answered, before his eyes drifted towards Altena. “He was also wondering if you’d like to help as well.”

Ethlyn turned over to her, with a bright smile. “Would you want to Altena?” She asked, stepping a bit closer to Finn.

“I’d love too,” Altena said, standing from the chair she was in.

Ethlyn smiled even brighter, following Finn to the training hall. Ethlyn stood next to her while reminiscing on days gone by, accidentally digging up some broken memories of Altena’s early years. The warm feeling in her chest only grew and she felt at home.