A/N: I've been writing this story for AGES. About two years, I think. Every once in awhile I would get the urge to work on it and then I'd write about 1000 words. Then I'd stop and not write anything for six months. But here it is, finished. My first foray into DWJ fiction. Perhaps I'll write more, perhaps not. I'm a terrible updater so I probably not. Anyway, the real reason I'm writing this note is to excuse any disjointedness this story suffers from. I don't have a beta reader so I'm the only one who has proofread it. The problem with writing a story over two years is that my style has changed a bunch and I'm not sure how well this story flows. Oh well, it's over now, and I'm posting this – I can't stand having it lying around rotting for any longer. Hope you enjoy it! - Yabberli
Mitt reigned in his horse as he passed through the gate in the wall bordering Holand. His straight, wet, and brown hair flapped into his eyes and he pushed it out in his impatience to observe his childhood home. Even in the rain and darkness the city looked different than his memory. "Flaming Ammet!" he exclaimed.
'Course, Mitt thought, as he spurred the mare onward, he'd grown up in the slums of Holand, down near the harbor. Up here, as far away from the sea as one could get and still be in Holand, it was all posh people with their huge mansions and carefully maintained gardens.
Mitt snorted. He kept forgetting that he was one of those posh people now. In fact, he was now posher than all of them put together. Can't get much posher than the king of Dalemark, he thought ruefully.
It had been three years since Mitt had been crowned as king of Dalemark, and those three years had been put to good use. He had ridden (to his displeasure) far and wide across the land to convert the Earls to his cause. Now most of them answered to Mitt. Mitt wasn't sure he had gotten use to this revelation yet. There were still days where he woke up and thought he was back in Holand, only to find a manservant by his elbow offering him a mug of tea. Then everything would come back to him, and he would sigh with the enormity of his situation
Not many of the Earls Mitt commanded realized that their king wasn't even eighteen yet. He had the sort of young-old face that comes of being raised in poverty.
Being the king of Dalemark, it was not often that Mitt got away on a journey of his own. He had, in fact, been with a troop of soldiers but yesterday afternoon. Mitt grinned at the memory. It had all started when he had overheard a conversation between the troop's captain and the second-in-command.
"Y'see, Wharton," the captain had said to the younger officer, "after we went around the mountains –"
"Through the marshes," another soldier had put in helpfully.
The captain had glared at him before going on. "Yes, through the marshes, we cut through the forest to the left here –" he had pointed to something on the map "- and ended up in the hilly country. That's our current position. No doubt, those hills will give way to flatter country soon, and then we'll be but a day's march from the sea. Holand, to be precise."
Being king had its perks. Mitt, instead of having to sneak away before being scolded for eavesdropping, was instead able to push his way into the conversation easily.
"Holand?" he had asked. "So as soon as these hills give way we'll be a day from Holand?"
The captain had nodded, and, noting Mitt's interest, had added, "But I wouldn't advise a detour, sir. You know you have to meet the Earl of Canderack in but four days, and it is our duty as soldiers to protect you the entire journey."
"Oh, don't worry," Mitt had assured him. "I wouldn't dare delay the journey." The captain had nodded and looked relieved.
Later that day, just as the captain had promised, the hills gave way to flatlands. They made camp at nightfall, after a good two hours' march across the flatlands, and everyone was soon slumbering.
Everyone but Mitt.
Instead, Mitt had saddled his mare and left a note:
I said I wouldn't delay the journey, and I won't. You take the troop and continue on the Canderack. I'll meet you outside the city at midday four days from now.
Now, a day later, Mitt had arrived at Holand. As he led his mare to a public stable near the center of the city, he mused over his name. Nearly the entire kingdom of Dalemark knew him as Amil. Only a select few (namely Ynen and his family) called him Mitt anymore. Mitt knew that, inside, he was still plain old gutter-rat rebel Mitt. But the name Amil had given him a completely new persona to wear and cast off whenever he wanted to. Under Amil, he could be royal, kingly, and arrogant, whereas with Mitt he could cause as much trouble as he liked. Mitt grinned. He quite liked the arrangement, to be honest.
Leaving the stable, Mitt patted the leather bag slung over his shoulder. In that bag he had a couple of objects he was never without, but would certainly inspire a lot of questions if they were found: a slightly lopsided silver cup and a crown. The adon's ring glinted on his finger and the adon's sword hung by his side. He couldn't very well wear the crown into Holand and not be recognized, but he hadn't wanted to leave the artifact with the soldiers. To be honest, he didn't completely trust them. Not that he completely trusted anybody. But it wasn't often he was recognized without the crown; three years wasn't enough time to get his portrait spread all over the kingdom, and even the newly minted coins with his head on them weren't all that common. When they were used, they were used mainly in the North.
Mitt felt much more at home after deserting the horse. Riding was still not his favorite activity, even after all these years. He much preferred his own feet to that of a beast.
Recalling his days as a Holand lad, Mitt ducked through a couple of side streets and a scattering of holes in fences (now a tight squeeze; when had he gotten so large?) and found himself in the Holand slums. He looked around at the familiar grungy buildings and grinned to himself. Ah, home sweet home. Those days would never leave him.
He made his way up to a slightly better neighborhood. Even at this rather unholy hour of the morning there were people about. Most of them were shrouded in cloaks against the rain and hurried along, looking flatly at the ground. Mitt strode unfeeling through the shower, ignoring the sharp needle points of water. This downpour was nothing compared to what they got in the North.
Eventually he arrived at a small but attractive house leaning against other residences on either side of it. There was a small yard attached to the house, surrounded by and old and greasy brick wall. Mitt couldn't see over it, but if the yard was anything like it had been nearly four years ago, than Mitt knew what was inside it – a few patches of dying grass and a couple of bullet-battered targets.
Ignoring the yard and wall, Mitt ascended the stairs leading to the door and looked up at his former home. He and Milda, his mother, had lived there with Hobin, Milda's second husband. Mitt had even been provided with two younger sisters after a couple of years.
But that time was gone now. Soon after Mitt's coronation, there was an uprising in the South. And, surprise! Guess who was leading the entire thing? When Mitt had come down from the North to deal with the rebellion, he had been shocked by the sight of a gun in his face. But it wasn't the gun that surprised him. It was the man who was holding it.
It was none other than his stepfather, Hobin.
Hobin had worn a similar expression at the sight of his new king. He glanced at Mitt, looking him up and down, and then his eyes focused on the crown adorning Mitt's head. His eyes widened with shock, and then traveled back down to look him hard in the eye, as if to make sure it was really Mitt.
"You're… you're the new king, then?" Hobin had asked a bit dazedly. Mitt's guards stood back, unsure of what to say and looking completely alarmed by the situation.
"Yes," said Mitt, in much the same tone. Well, what else was there to say to a statement like that? He found his tongue again and continued. "But you! You're the man leading this whole extravaganza? You're the man they're calling Bloody Hobin? My stepfather Hobin, who used to lecture me about revolutionaries and how sedition never pays off, you're the one going around and shooting innocents in the head? My stepfather Hobin, the center of an uprising? Inconceivable! I was sure it had to be another Hobin!"
Hobin grimaced. "Oh, it's me alright," he said. "And if you'd just listened to me, Mitt, you would have understood. Instead you had to go nearly get yourself killed during the sea festival, escaping Ammet knows how and ending up in the North!
"Well, anyway," Hobin continued, "I know you, Mitt, and I know you can be a very persistent young man, sometimes even to the point of annoyance. And I know you're not going to give up until you've got the whole of Dalemark under your thumb, your precious united country. I won't stand for it, Mitt. But I can make your life a tad bit easier."
At this point, Hobin had grinned. He grinned a mad, sickly sort of grin, rather frightening to look at, as if his teeth were to burst out of his jaw at any moment. He went on. "I'm not going to ask how you became king, Mitt. Frankly, I don't want to know. In my opinion, if you were the best the Northerners could find, I pity them. However, I do know that I do not want to see this country under a king." Hobin removed the gun from its place at Mitt's heart. He raised it so the barrel rested against his head. Still grinning crazily, he whispered a few words.
"Goodbye, Mitt. Give my best to Milda and the girls."
He pulled the trigger.
To Mitt, it was as if the old cliché had come true – time seemed to stand still for a moment as the gunshot rang out. As the sound began to die away, time sped up, but only a little. Now everything moved in slow motion, as if everybody swam through thick, sun-tinted honey. Hobin crumpled slowly to the ground; it must have taken but a few seconds, but to Mitt those few seconds felt like several agonizing hours. Mitt's useless guards stood gaping with their mouths ajar like fish. The gun his stepfather still clasped in his loose hand was a Hobin – it worked the first time you pulled the trigger.
Mitt snatched his wandering mind forcefully back to the present. Ever since that fateful day, the day on which his stepfather murdered himself, guilt had lain heavy on his heart. After the fatal shot, the gunsmith's words echoed through his mind, repeating like a broken record: "Milda and the girls, Milda and the girls, Milda and the girls…." The mantra was broken when Mitt's guards had grabbed his arms and literally dragged him back to the waiting carriage. Holand was deemed a "danger zone" and dubbed unfit for the king for a time, even though the main threat was now taken care of. The Holand uprising ended with the death of its leader.
But Mitt was not left in peace. "Give my best to Milda and the girls," Hobin had said. Mitt hadn't had been able to accomplish the task before his army ejected him from the city. It was time to pay his debt to the dead.
Mitt's eyes seemed disconnected to the world; though his old home stood in front of him, his eyes glazed over and he saw nothing. His mind, however, worked crazily. Dozens of questions whirled through his brain. What was he to tell his family? Should he reveal his new status? Or should he assume a new character, the dark and mysterious son back from his adventures, a changed man? The possibilities were overwhelming.
A screech from an upset cat reminded Mitt of his current position. The hour was late, probably two in the morning, and the rain beat down heavily has he stood on Milda's porch. Perhaps now was not the best time to barge in on his mother and give her a heart attack with the news of his kingship.
"I'll come back," he promised the air, "in the morning. Really, I will." He jumped over the three stairs to the ground and whispered one last sentiment.
"Everything will be sorted out in the morning."
Mitt woke in a mangy inn; it had been the nearest lodgings he could find on such short notice, and last night he hadn't much cared about where he slept. Now, as the early-morning sunlight shone through the window, he stretched and then grimaced in distaste at the feel of the greasy blanket he lay under.
"If only those soldiers could see me now," he remarked. His voice echoed a bit in the nearly empty room. "Maybe that'd get the sticks out of their arses." He grinned. "And Ammet knows I've seen worse than this! Wonder what they think if they knew their king used to fish for a living."
Mitt changed into his spare set of clothing, slung his bag over his shoulder, and exited the inn. First things first, he thought, and went to visit his horse. She was excited to see him; he fed her a few sugar lumps and then left to the sound of her whinnies. Feeling a bit guilty, he tried to console himself. It's all right. I'll see her later. But I've got something important to do now.
Ten minutes' time saw Mitt outside Milda's house once more. Sucking in a breath of air as if it was his last, he raised a fist and knocked quietly on the door. Perhaps a king would have done the act a bit more majestically, but, well, he was undercover, wasn't he?
He shifted from foot to foot, pondering. Should he put on his crown? No. Perhaps that wasn't the best way to break the news.
When the wooden portal opened, Mitt was glad the headpiece remained in his bag. The woman who had opened the door was not Milda.
"Flaming –" he hurriedly bit back the oath as the woman looked at him.
"Can I help you?" she asked pointedly.
Mitt composed himself with effort. Running his fingers through his lank hair, he sighed. Apparently this wasn't going to be as easy as he had hoped. "Do you know of a woman named Milda? I know she used to live here. She had two daughters, as well."
The woman pursed her lips. "Milda? Can't say I have. I moved in here about two years ago – it came for fairly cheap, as well, seeing as it used to belong to Bloody Hobin – do you know of Bloody Hobin?"
"Better than I like," Mitt replied bitterly.
"Yes, well, I think his widow had to clear out pretty quickly –"
"His widow!" cried Mitt. "That's Milda. Do you have any idea where she went? I'm only in town for a couple days and I'm trying to track her down before I have to leave."
She looked a little suspicious. "I don't know if I should be telling you this –"
"Please! You don't understand!" Mitt interrupted desperately. "I need to know! I've only got a day and a half before I've got to catch a ship and this is something that's been on my chest for years! Please," he said.
She sighed. "All right, then. All I know is that old Hobin's widow didn't have enough income to pay the rent after he kicked the bucket, and she had to move to one of those new places down by the harbor. You know, the ones built to replace those old warehouses torn down for the sea festival four yeas ago."
Mitt's eyes had a distracted, glazed look, as they often did when he thought heavily. "Of course," he muttered under his breath. Then he snapped back to attention. He extended a hand and said, "Thank you so much for all of your help. I cannot thank you enough. The year's luck to you."
"Luck to you, ship and shore. You're welcome," the woman replied bemusedly. "Goodbye!"
Mitt gave a small wave and vanished down an alleyway. If he remembered correctly, the one skill Milda possessed was a talent for fine embroidery. Probably she would have gotten a job in one of the shops that embroidered for the nobles.
"All right," Mitt said to himself. "I'll check in some of the sewing shops to see if I can find her before poking around the lodging tenements."
Pleased with his plan of action, Mitt sauntered down to the slums, whistling a jaunty tune. These streets provided him with comfort; his childhood centered around these alleys and he knew them like the back of his hand. Within half an hour he was knocking on the door of the first shop.
"Coming, coming…." A voice came from within. The door opened and a smartly dressed man peered out. "Yes?"
"Er. I'm looking for a woman called Milda. I was given a tip that she might be working here?"
He pursed his lips. "Milda? Yes, I think we do have a woman of that name working here. Unfortunately, if you were looking to see her, it's a working day, and Milda isn't due for a break for a couple of hours. I could give her a message if you like."
Mitt leaped at his chance. "Yes! That'd be great! Er, could you tell her that Mitt is back and he'll meet her during her lunch break? What time is her break, by the way?"
The man chuckled when he heard Mitt's name. "Another Alhammitt, is it? I should have known. More common than water, you are. Anyway, I'll tell her. She gets off at two."
Mitt thanked him profusely and left to find something to do until the appointed time.
The minutes passed quickly as he explored his old haunts. After poking around erratically for a bit, he found himself at the harbor, staring, in fact, right at the same stall he used to sell his fish at. Mitt observed with a glance that Siriol's daughter Lydda was still working behind the stall. Poor girl. She'd done nothing else with her life and probably wouldn't do anything else in her life, either.
He didn't see Siriol's wife; perhaps she had passed away in the time he had been away. Not really a surprise, what with all the arris she used to drink. Night and day, that one.
Helping Lydda was a boy of about eleven or twelve. Mitt approached him as the safest one to talk to. Lydda was speaking to a customer.
"Hey – could you tell me if Siriol's still working these waters?"
The boy glanced at Mitt and went back to sorting freshly caught fish. "Aye, but not all the time. He splits his time wi' 'er 'usband." He jerked his thumb at Lydda.
"Is he out right now?"
"Nah, he's at home. D'ye want to see him?"
"Yes. Does he still live in that old apartment on Wicker Street?"
"Thanks. The year's luck to you!"
The boy just scowled at his haddock.
Mitt traversed the city until he arrived at Siriol's tenement and then climbed the stairs to Siriol's door. He raised one fist and knocked heavily.
A cracked voice sounded from within. "Comin', comin'. Be there in a second."
Mitt didn't have to wait long before the door swung open and revealed the thin, lined face of Siriol. For a moment, silence reigned as the two stared at each other, Siriol in wonder and Mitt in remembrance. Then Siriol stretched out a hand and touched Mitt's cheek, as if to assure himself of the king's tangibility.
"Mitt? But I was sure you were dead!"
Mitt gave a wobbly grin. "Well, as you can see, I'm still kicking." Suddenly he lunged forward and embraced the man. "How are you, Siriol?" he asked as he pounded Siriol's back. "I've missed you!"
Siriol stiffened, and then returned the hug. "How am I? What do you mean, how am I? I've just been here, fishing the waters on my Flower as always! What I want to know is what you've been up to! Where've you been? What have you done?" He frowned. "For that matter, why didn't you use the planned escape route?"
Mitt started. "I – uh, well…."
Siriol's eyes pierced his own. The orbs that held so much warmth just seconds earlier now held all the sharpness of a knife. "Mitt. Why? We wondered. Your mother wept, certain you died, but the rest of us, Mitt, well… we wondered."
Mitt gulped, his throat as dry as burning paper. "Wait – you see, I – "
Once again, Siriol cut him off. "You were gonna betray us, weren't you?"
"I – beg pardon?" Mitt's mouth said automatically. His brain ran in panicked circles. Siriol knew, he knew, and probably nothing would convince him that Mitt wasn't an appallingly terrible traitor now that he knew. But Mitt had changed – realized the error of his ways, of a sort, turned over a new leaf, almost as soon as that doomed mission was over. Siriol knew his secret, but he didn't know this new Mitt.
Siriol interrupted his frantic reasoning. "Don't lie, boy; I can see it in your eyes." He stared accusingly at his former apprentice.
"I'm sorry," Mitt whispered. There didn't seem to be anything else to say.
"Sorry? Do you think that's going to cut it, Mitt? Do you?" Siriol stood up, angry. "You tried to betray us. We helped you, Mitt, we believed in you. You broke your mother's heart – yes, I know you thought she didn't care – and if it wasn't for those girls of hers she'd probably have given up by now. They brought her hope, Mitt, like you never did. They gave life to her tired body in the form of somebody to care for. They gave her a purpose, Mitt, after you ran away. I know you didn't think it mattered, but – she loved you."
Siriol paused his rant and looked at Mitt again. He seemed to be waiting for Mitt to say something.
Mitt cleared his suddenly dry throat and swallowed. He opened his mouth. "I – I don't know what to say," he murmured. "I'm sorry. You really can't know how sorry, I am, Siriol. I know what I was like, Ammett, was it only four years ago? I was a terrible little brat. I wanted nothing more than revenge. I thought you betrayed my father. I thought my life was your fault; I blamed you and the other Free Hollanders. But Siriol – " his voice broke. " – I want you to know, I've changed. I'm no longer the little street rat who ran around with dreams of toppling the rule of the Duke." He raised himself to his full height and looked with pleading eyes at Siriol. "Please, Siriol. I don't ask that you forgive me. I simply ask that you accept the fact that I am no longer who I was."
Silence engulfed the room. Siriol looked at the ceiling, at his feet, anywhere but Mitt. Mitt stared unerringly at Siriol until the older man raised his head and gazed deeply into Mitt's eyes. "I – I want to forgive you," he stuttered out. "But I don't know if I can."
"Try," Mitt whispered. "For me." Siriol nodded.
Mitt spun and walked purposefully to the door; it was nearly two o'clock. As he passed beneath the sagging frame, he turned around once more and spoke.
Mitt scurried through the streets quickly. He hadn't intended the meeting to progress in the fashion it had, but then he hadn't exactly put much time in to planning it. Ammet, he obviously hadn't thought about it at all from the way it had gone. Where had his brain gone?
No time to think about that now; he was about to meet his mother again! Mitt's heart sped up at the thought of meeting Milda, but then it suddenly sunk to somewhere within the vicinity of his feet. He hadn't put any thought into this meeting, either – what if it turned out like his rendezvous with Siriol? That hadn't been pleasant.
I haven't completely revealed my thoughts like that in years. I feel – oh, I don't know. Naked, barren, exposed – I haven't felt like this since Maewen went back to her time. No thinking about that, though. I'll see Maewen again, I know it.
But back to the point – if his meeting with Milda turned out akin to the one with Siriol, he didn't know what he would do.
I suppose I could just call it off, he considered. I mean, it's not like I promised or anything –
He cut himself off. No, I promised Hobin. I told him I would tell her –
"Give my best to Milda and the girls," a voice whispered in Mitt's mind.
No, there's no way I can cancel this.
The manager pointed Mitt to the side door. "She's waiting. Seemed excited when I told her."
Mitt thanked him politely and opened the door with much more assurance than he felt. His heart leaped frantically in his chest, and he breathed more quickly in response. Calm down, he told himself; he managed to reign in his panicked heart a little as he sank down into a chair in the hallway the side door led into. Dingy spots tinged the white-washed walls, and a worn hand-lettered sign proclaimed this to be the "Visitor Waiting Hall."
"Guess I'd better wait, then," he muttered to himself and sat.
He didn't have to wait long; Mitt's breath caught in his throat as a door near the end of the corridor cracked open. Light filtered into the hall in a needle-straight line for a moment before the door became fully ajar and a woman with brown, straight hair and a slightly overweight frame stumbled into the open space of the floor beyond.
Her worn face turned upward and Mitt glimpsed a flash of disbelief in her eyes before her lips broke into a wide smile and she threw herself into Mitt's unready arms.
Mitt's knee's buckled under Milda's unexpected weight. "Mitt!" she exclaimed, voice reverberating in his ear. Mitt couldn't help wincing a bit. "Mitt!" she yelled again, stepping away from her and looking him up and down. "Oh, Mitt, I've missed you so much!" Tears started falling from her eyes. "Where have you been? What have you been up to? Why did you leave? Oh, Mitt, there's so much we need to talk about!" She dabbed at a tear with her finger.
Mitt's silence continued. Now that he stood here, in the position he'd craved for years, he wasn't sure what to say.
Milda's voice grew stern. "Mitt? What are you doing? Answer me!"
Mitt acted fast. He smiled a bit and looked up at his mother. "Sorry, Mum," he whispered. "I'm just not sure what to say."
"Well, you could answer my questions. There's a start."
Mitt shook his head. "That's the thing, you see. I'm not sure if I can answer your questions. There's too much I can't reveal… too many secrets… too much I don't wish anybody to know..."
Milda looked alarmed. "What could you be involved in that's as important as all that? What've you gotten into? Are you in trouble?" Her tone sharpened. "Do you need money? Is that it? Is that why you've come to visit me after all these years of nothing?"
"No, no, it's nothing like that!" Mitt shook his head hurriedly. "I'm fine with money, really. Got more than I need, in fact." Milda appeared surprised at that. I wonder what she would think if I told her how successful I really am.
He cleared his throat. "Actually, I do have another motive for my presence. I – I have a message for you."
"A message? From who? Who would send me a message? I assume you've been up north, and the only person I know up north is you."
"The message is from a Southerner."
"A Southerner? How long have you been down here and not visited me, Mitt? Me! Your mother!"
"This was years ago, Mum," Mitt said in an attempt to calm her.
"I don't care if it was centuries ago! Why didn't you find me? Talk to me? Seek me out! What were you doing down south? Why couldn't you have told me?"
Mitt said quietly, "You wouldn't have believed me."
She threw up her arms. "I didn't know what to do with you then, Mitt, and I don't know what to do with you now. All right, tell me this message."
"I can't." Milda looked utterly exasperated and defeated, so Mitt quickly added, "Not until tonight, that is. I need the girls there, as well."
At the mention of her daughters, Milda's eyes grew softer. "Your sisters, Mitt! You haven't seen them I so long! I wonder if they'll remember you? No matter. You'll love them. They're wonderful, girls. Sweet, pretty, smart –"
"In short, everything I wasn't," Mitt commented bitterly.
Milda looked horrified. "Oh, Mitt, I didn't say that! It's just, they're so much like their father –"
Her expression darkened. "Yes, their father. Hobin. You did hear about that, didn't you, Mitt?"
"Yes. Rather more than I would have liked to," Mitt replied, swallowing. How quickly they had come upon this subject. "But back to the point – there's something I must tell you about. But I'm only going to do it once, and it's a message for the girls, too. Could we meet somewhere tonight, perhaps?"
Milda scrambled for a pen and paper. "Of course! But you have to come to dinner, Mitt, I insist – I'm your mother, after all! Look, here's our address – it's in one of those apartments they built to replace the warehouses, you know."
"Yes, I know," Mitt said, still a bit dazed. "I'll be there tonight, I promise – seven a good time?"
"Perfect!" Milda beamed. She suddenly seized Mitt again in a tight hug. "Oh, Mitt!" she squealed. "You just don't know – you have no idea how much I've missed you. I thought you were dead!" She stood back with her hands on Mitt's shoulders and just looked at him, taking in his fine clothes and grown-up face and shaking her head. "Oh, Mitt," she said again. "I'm so proud of you!"
Mitt gently disentangled himself from her grasp. "Thanks Mum," he said sincerely. "I think that's all I ever wanted, really. And if I'm not mistaken, I believe your boss wants you back now." He pointed to where the man from earlier stood in the doorway.
"Oh, heavens!" Milda exclaimed. "You're right!" She quickly took Mitt in another giant hug before rushing off towards her boss. "I'll see you at seven, Mitt!" she called back. Mitt waved goodbye a bit torpidly.
Well, he thought. That was…interesting. I guess I'm meeting her at seven?
Checking the clock on the wall, he noted that he still had several hours before his date. Now, what to do with the time…
Mitt spent the hours wandering around the streets and reacquainting himself with the market. He even took a side journey to the posher part of town to see if anybody would kick him out. He seemed to be presentable enough, though, as nobody glanced twice at him in the wealthy district. As it should be; I am their king!
Before long it was nearly seven and Mitt scurried down side streets in order to make it to his mother's apartment in time. He pit stopped at a market stall just about to close for a bouquet of slightly wilted white lilies and ascended the stairs to the apartment building.
Once he got inside, his eyes scanned the look-alike doors lining the hallways for the number written on the sheet of paper clutched in his hand. Stopping at the correct door, he raised his arm and knocked.
He heard the pounding of feet from inside before the door was thrown open and he was once again engulfed in one of Milda's suffocating hugs. "Mitt!" she shrieked, seemingly forgetting that she had seen him not 5 hours ago.
Mitt grinned and awkwardly patted her on the back. "Hey, Mum," he said. Milda squeezed him a bit and finally let go, stepping back to look at him like she had done in the embroidery shop.
"Well. Supper's almost ready so you're just in time!" she exclaimed, and took Mitt by the hand to lead him in. "And you've got to see your sisters, Mitt! I didn't tell them you were coming, just that we had a surprise visitor coming to visit. They'll be so excited! If they even recognize you, that is. I can't believe how you've grown, Mitt! You're a man now!"
The room they entered was small, but well furnished. A rug lay on the floor and a sofa sat in front of a table with a small bowl of snacks. Milda sat Mitt down on the sofa and told him to make himself at home. "Well of course, it is your home! I am your mother after all. Just sit tight, Mitt, and I'll go fetch your sisters." Milda beamed and rushed out through the door to the adjoining room.
As she left, Mitt pondered over her last words. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the assumption that this place is automatically my "home," he thought. Does she expect me to live here or what? Ammet! What if she does? She'll be so disappointed when I leave….
But Mitt had no more time for reflection because Milda soon returned with children in tow. Mitt stared at his sisters. They had been just toddlers last time he had seen them! Now they were both taller and shared identical looks of puzzlement on their faces as they gazed at Mitt.
Milda cleared her throat and gazed down at her girls with a smile on her face. "Now, girls," she began, and both of her daughters tore their eyes away from Mitt and looked at their mother. "Do you remember who this is?"
Both shook their heads, bewildered by the strange young man in their sitting room. They turned back and stared.
Milda couldn't contain herself anymore. "It's Mitt!" she cried. "Your brother, Mitt! I didn't think he was ever coming back, but he's here!"
The girls looked confused. The older one cautiously looked up.
"Hi," Mitt said helpfully.
"Hi," responded the older girl. The younger one waved tentatively.
Milda shook her head disapprovingly. "Girls! Mitt's your brother, and you haven't seen him for ages! Give him a hug!"
"No, it's all right," Mitt hastily intervened at the scandalized faces of the girls. "I'm practically a stranger. They were both very young when I left and I doubt they remember very much of me, if they remember anything at all."
The girls seemed relieved but Milda looked disappointed. "Oh, all right," she said sadly. "We'll give it time, shall we?"
"Yes, time," began Mitt. "Er, about that – "
But Milda wasn't listening. "The supper!" she cried. "I'll be right back!" and she rushed into the kitchen, leaving Mitt with his sisters.
The two girls stared at Mitt and Mitt stared back. He had no idea what to say.
"Er… I don't suppose 'hi' will work again, will it?" he started hopefully.
The girls both shook their heads.
"Well…" Mitt stalled as he thought of something to say. "I don't know how much you two know about me so I'll start there. I'm Mitt. I'm your half-brother. I lived here in Holand my whole life until a bit after the two of you were born and then I got involved in the wrong sort of uprising and I had to fly the coop. So, after that, I traveled around for awhile, ran into some good luck, and now I'm back here! In Holand," he finished lamely. He was rescued from more babbling by the return of Milda.
"Oh, good! I see you're all talking," Milda exclaimed. "Now, come everyone! Supper is ready!"
Mitt merely picked at his dinner while Milda chattered on and on. It seemed nothing could dampen her good mood at having her son back. Mitt felt terrible about the news he would have to impart. Mitt's sisters didn't say anything for the entire meal and avoided his eyes.
Finally all of the food was eaten and Milda cleared the plates, After returning to the table, she settled down and turned to Mitt. "All right, Mitt, I've talked enough now. You've barely spoken a word! Where have you been? You know I've been worried sick! Tell the whole story; I'm frightfully curious. And I'd also like to know about that message you said you have for us as well."
Mitt gulped. It was now or never. "Well," he began. "The issue here is that I honestly can't tell you much about where I've been. I guess… I guess I can tell you the message now, though."
Mitt took a deep breath. "Here's the thing. This isn't the first time I've been in Holand since I left. I was here once before, too. In the middle of the uprising."
Milda nodded, still confused. "But why didn't you –"
"Wait, Mum, please. Let me speak. During the day I was here, I ran into somebody very interesting. Hobin."
Milda's eyes grew wide. Both of Mitt's sisters lifted their heads at the mention of their father.
"I can't tell you all of the details, but I talked to Hobin right before he did it, Mum, you know what I'm talking about. And these past few years I've been carrying around a message with me until the next time I came to Holand. Hobin's last words were 'Give my best to Milda and the girls.'" Mitt bowed his head. "I wanted to make sure you got that."
Milda burst into tears. "Oh, Mitt," she sobbed. "I've always wondered why he did it – he had me and the girls to think of! I thought he must have been mad," she said, wiping a tear from her eye. "But he was thinking of us at the very end, Mitt! Why did he do it, then?" she asked plaintively of Mitt. "Why, Mitt?"
Mitt was silent. He really hadn't expected a reaction of this sort. Tears, yes, but he hadn't taken into account the possibility that the words might hurt Milda. The girls looked confused and the older one had tears running down her face.
In that moment Mitt realized. I never should have come, he thought. This whole trip was a mistake. A stupid, nostalgic, self-indulgent mistake. Giving this message to Milda may have been my excuse but really I just wanted to come see my old haunts. Ammet! I am such an idiot! I knew Milda didn't need this message; I've probably messed up her life even more now. She was doing fine without me or any last words from Hobin. Who knows what damage I've done now?
He broke out of his reverie and Milda's sobbed words washed over him. "At least we have you here to help us now, Mitt," she was saying.
"Er," Mitt began. This was exactly what he had feared. "Mum, I…" he had to say it. "I can't stay, Mum."
Milda's sobs ceased and the room was silent. Finally she spoke. "You can't?" she asked softly.
Mitt's heart broke. "No, Mum, I can't. I'm sorry. I have a job I can't desert and I need to get back to. I realize now I never should have come here. I've disrupted your life and I don't think telling you what I did was worth the pain it caused you. I'm sorry."
He got up and headed for the door. "I have to go now. Please give Siriol my apologies as well. Tell him I deserve everything and that I've realized that I'm still the same little selfish brat I once was. I'm just better at hiding it now, even from myself."
Milda looked shocked. Mitt decided he couldn't just leave her like that and walked back. He leaned over and hugged his mother, then gave her a kiss on the cheek. "I'm sorry again, Mum." Milda began to cry again and hugged him back.
Mitt stood up and glanced at his sisters. They wore identical looks of stupefaction. He walked over and gave both of them hugs as well. Both went stiff when he touched them. "Sorry," Mitt apologized. "It's just I don't think I'll be seeing you again and I had to hug you both at least once. Sorry for mucking up your life and all that. I hope this stupid visit of mine doesn't result in lasting trauma or anything."
The older girl shook herself and spoke. "Well, bye then."
"Bye," the younger one echoed softly.
Mitt grinned. "Glad to see you're both fully capable of speech."
Mitt looked at Milda and, seeing her crying still, spoke. "Cheer up, Mum. I promise you I'm doing the best I can to make this world a better place. And I have more influence in that than you may think." He strode towards the door and this time did not turn back.