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every finger shall have its ring

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“Hasn’t anybody ever told you that it’s okay to have nice things?”

Mizer blinks up into Emilia’s narrowed eyes as she drops the wooden box on his bed. It bounces slightly, and its lid slips sideways to reveal a peek at tall leather boots with colorful lacing. Judging from the heavy wooden beads, Emilia has participated in their making to at least some extent.

“I dunno, but I’m pretty sure that I love nice things a lot, and I’ve made it clear to everybody that that’s the case. What brings this on?”

She stares pointedly at his feet. Mizer scratches his head and shrugs.

It’s his nineteenth birthday and she’s the second to come calling, flying to the little house in the forest on the back of a young griffon: Twelve years old and armed with a shiny new club and utterly fearless. She’s brought gifts from many of the others—those like Gulcasa and the twins who would have a hard time coming all the way down from the castle when there’s still so much to be doing. That’s maybe a harsh way to put it, though: Mizer’s glad they’re keeping busy, putting in the effort to treat Bronquia and its people right. He’s delighted they remembered his birthday at all.

“You’re wondering why, huh,” he says. His feet are rough and there’s dirt smudged on the top of his toes, even though he wipes their soles off whenever he comes inside.

“I don’t have to wonder, it’s easy to tell.” Emilia tosses her hair in a bossy sort of way. She has been practicing on her brother, no doubt. “It’s about penance and not forgetting and all kinds of dumb noble things, just like everybody else. I mean, you’re smarter than my brother, so you should be able to understand that it’s okay to have nice things, and that when you’ve got a little voice in your head telling you that you deserve to suffer or whatever, you can’t trust that voice.”

“It’s not that.” It is that—Emilia’s spending too much time with Nessiah, she’s getting too sharp-eyed for her own good—but it’s not only that. “It’s taking a while to get used to wearing shoes, is all. I love them, and I love to collect them, but it doesn’t always feel right.”

“On your feet, or in here?” she says, pointing at his chest.

“Both,” Mizer says, giving up trying to divert her attention. “It feels a little like—like they’re too good to be wasted on me. I’ve always been okay without them, I mean.”

Emilia rolls her eyes theatrically and reaches out to punch him lightly in the forehead. “You dummy, the whole point of like everything is so that people like you and me’ll be able to enjoy luxuries and stuff. Like shoes. Like nice leather and fabric and jewels and beads to make clothes with, and warm beds, and feeling safe at night. Everybody deserves to be able to have nice things that make them happy.”

“That’s what I keep telling myself. It still feels weird, though.”

“Nessiah says that if you keep telling yourself for a long time, it’ll feel less weird.” She sits down on the bed next to him, tucking her skirts around her legs like a proper lady. Mizer flops onto his back, feet dangling down to graze the floorboards.

“I figured listening to him’s what’s been making you so smart,” he says.

“You’re still better than my brother. At least you understand when people tell you crud.”

“Well, I don’t mean to make you worry,” Mizer says. “Thanks for the shoes. And for bringing me shoes from everybody else.”

Emilia shrugs. “You’re welcome,” she says. She picks at a loose thread in the quilt he uses as a comforter. “But like, you should come over to the castle sometime. We’ll make you dinner and we can all go down to Tiera to see Siskier or something.”

Mizer stretches and looks at the ceiling. The place is small, but it’s his house: A real house, and not just a dirty old shack for him and his flunkies to stash their treasures until there’s a chance to sell them. Houses are less expensive now that Gulcasa’s in charge, and the carpenters have been allowed to leave the army to go back to the jobs they love.

“There’s a lot of nice flowers in the forest that don’t grow around Tiera or Flarewerk,” Mizer says. “I’ll bring some fruit for you guys and some flowers for Siskier, when I do visit.”

“My brother’ll like that,” says Emilia, and she smiles. “Thanks.”