Believing

"The golden divinity and the russet divinity, he soon realised, were clearly in love with Florian: the former, dreamily and happily; the latter, bitterly and almost against her will." Westmark, page 92.

When Rina first met Florian, she hardly believed in him.

Her town, Quilan, had been small. Her mother and her father were often worried because they were short on money. When she thought about it, most of the town was worried because of money. So she and her two twin sisters and one older brother grew up thinking it natural for people to have a worried, not-enough-of-something look on their faces always.

Florian didn't look like that. Florian's face was a mixture of so many things, with his wry smile, his serious grey eyes, his sarcastic eyebrows, and his habit of suddenly losing all that and laughing for his children or looking at them with such affection that Rina wanted to throw her arms about him, but he never looked harrowed or frightened. Probably because of Florian's authority, people took note of his children and accepted them. This was different from being underfoot in a small house where everyone was simply desperate to have everything done before night fell because they could only afford to burn lamp oil when it was absolutely necessary.

Florian was unhurried. Florian could listen to her when she talked.

Her sisters, who were both eighteen when she left and by then already had the usual look of people living in Quilan, called her a sentimentalist, and when all three were getting along, they made her talk about her unrequited loves and told her stories about princesses woken from forever by true love. These were her favourite stories, and she wasn't ashamed of them even now.

Her sisters wouldn't have been surprised that she was in love with Florian. They would have laughed and brushed her hair while they asked all about him. Rina might not have known what to tell them, though, because she still wasn't sure she quite believed in him. He was far too wonderful to be real.

It didn't take her very long to realise Zara was in love with him, too. But while she liked being in love with him because he was so wonderful- -because he was /Florian/--Zara didn't seem to like it at all.

Not that Zara liked anything.

She still felt bad about it, though. Real life should be like stories. People should be happy when they are in love, more happy then they've ever been. It was--it was a pity Zara didn't like it.

She had left Quilan a year ago, because her sisters told her she was pretty and she was afraid she wouldn't be if she got the worry-look that made her mother so plain. She only realised later that she shouldn't believe everything her sisters said, and plainness rather ran in the family. By then she had a job as a laundress, and spent her evenings wrapping a hard-earned piece of silk around her swollen hands to make them feel better.

Then she met Florian, and because Florian was Florian, she felt pretty again, and didn't mind her hands as much. She was terribly in love with Florian and she liked herself for it. She wished Zara could be like that too.

One evening Zara spent being particularly bad-tempered and sharp, and De Roth and Stock were both suffering for it. Rina, on the other hand, was feeling rather mellow, and she got up the courage to ask Zara something she'd been planning since she found out Zara didn't like being in love with Florian.

Her sisters would have laughed and brushed her hair while they asked all about him. Rina knew that would have pleased her, the way it used to. Perhaps Zara, who didn't like anything, would like it.

"Zara?" Rina asked, and was startled to see that when they stood face to face, she was the same height as Zara. "Zara, may I brush your hair?" She felt rather as though she could have dropped her face in her hands from embarrassment. That had not come out quite right.

Zara was tugging on a strand of her reddish-brown hair, which could have been wavy but was leaning more toward frizzy, and was rather tangled. "My hair?" she asked in disbelief.

"You have pretty hair, but it would look even nicer brushed out," Rina smiled hopefully. "It's no trouble. I'd like it." She was praying desperately that Zara wouldn't notice Stock grinning to her right.

"All right," said Zara at last. Rina was relieved.

Zara's hair turned out to be easier to brush than Rina had thought, if she did it lightly without getting too deep into the tangles. She was very afraid of pulling it. It was not at all like her flat, fair hair, and so thick! So she ran the brush over carefully, only touching the parts that weren't tangled. It hurt just a little because her hands were still swollen.

"Do you love Florian?" she asked abruptly, not sure how to lead up to it. Her sisters never needed to be cautious how they asked such questions, because such questions didn't bother Rina.

"I think so," said Zara's voice, grouchily. "You didn't just want to ask about that, did you?"

"Well... yes," Rina admitted. "My sisters liked to ask me about that sort of thing, and I thought maybe you'd like it too," she added, afraid Zara would decide to go if she had no explanation.

"Oh," Zara's voice said, sounding unsure. "Well, then."

"What?"

"Then go on, keep asking. If that's what you /want/."

Rina beamed at the back of Zara's head. She had as good as said she liked it! "What do you love most about him?"

"He's doesn't mind. He doesn't complain. He doesn't worry."

Rina couldn't help it: she laughed. "I love that best, too! Isn't he wonderful that way? Isn't it just so lovely hearing him talk? You're right, he doesn't mind at all. He's so easy to talk to!"

"Yes..."

"It's lovely, isn't it? And the way he's so clever. I wish I had half his wit."

"Oh, you manage," Zara mumbled, and "Ow!" as Rina snagged the brush on her hair, forgetting to go carefully in her excitement.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to." Gently, Rina detached the brush. "Isn't he handsome?"

"No. He wouldn't be interesting if he was. Don't you dare tell me the pockmarks give him a rakish air, either. Florian isn't handsome."

"Oh..."

Zara craned around to look at her. "Now, don't be disappointed because we disagree. He's Florian. You and any other person in the world couldn't look at him and think the exact same things."

"I suppose that's true."

"I think so." Zara sighed. "Thank you for brushing my hair."

Rina smiled at her. "I liked it. You have nice hair."

With a little, despairing shake of her head, Zara touched Rina's cheek gently. "You may go on thinking that."

"Um--" Rina shivered.

"Thank you." She kissed Rina carefully, almost like the sister's kiss Rina's gotten many times before, but not quite. Then she left, hurriedly, blushing.

For a while after, Rina wondered if Florian noticed they both acted a little strange around him. Zara was even more angrily in love, and she herself was afraid to speak very much to him, so she sat around and bit her fingernails off and talked to Luther when Luther was there, and Justin when he was not.

Slowly, she realised that Justin was much easier to believe in than Florian. Florian was frighteningly perfect. Zara was a little frightening, too, just because of being angry. Justin, however, was easy to be in love with.

She knew that behind the beauty and bloodthirstiness, Justin was alone, and unhappy. He /needed/ someone to love him, even a laundress with swollen hands.

Sometimes she imagined telling this to her sisters while they took turns brushing her flat, fair hair.