My Sister's Keeper
Fifteen Annuals Before
Yellowish gold rays of midday sunlight passed through the large beveled windows creating mini rainbows along the hallway. Normally young Princess DG would have enjoyed the light show but today she had no time for such things. Her little red dress bounced around her as she ran down the hall.
Reaching a pair of ornate wooden doors, she pushed through barely breaking stride. Inside she found Azkadellia seated at the piano playing, just as she knew she would be. Leaping onto the bench she crashed into her sister causing her to strike several sour notes.
"DG! What are you doing?!"
Ignoring the anger in the older girl's voice DG wrapped her small arms around her sister and buried her head against her chest.
"You know you're not supposed to interrupt me when I'm playing!" Anger flushed Azkadellia's cheeks bright red as she glared down at the child.
The child's only response was a muffled sob as she clung tightly to her sister. Anger quickly gave way to concern as she realized the girl was crying. Gently wrapping an arm around the child, she used her free hand to stroke dark curls. "Deeg, what's wrong?"
"He took it." sobbed the child.
"Who took what?"
"Jeric, he took my doll and he won't give it back."
"Did you tell, Mother?"
"No." The little girl leaned back to look up at her sister. Tears streamed down her flushed cheeks. "He said if I did he would throw it in the lake. He said you have to come ask for it. You know how he is he'll do it. Please Az you have to help me. You're the only one who can get her back."
Looking down at teary blue eyes a corner of Az's mouth turned upward. "Well, I don't know about all of that." Taking a lace trimmed handkerchief from her dress pocket Azkadellia began wiping the tears from her little sister's face. "The first thing we need to do is get you cleaned up." As the older girl wiped her face DG sat quietly watching her sister.
"That's better." Satisfied with her handiwork Azkadellia slipped the handkerchief back into her pocket. "Come on, let's get your doll back." Slipping off the bench she took DG's small hand leading her to the door.
Several minutes later they approached the gazbo and found a red haired boy in the swing. He was swinging so hard DG wondered if the ropes would break, a part of her wished they would.
Stopping near the gazebo steps Az held tightly to her hand. "Jeric, I wish to speak with you."
At the sound of her voice the boy leapt from the swing and turned to face them. "Azkadellia! I knew you would come." A broad smile crossed his face as he stared at the elder princess. Spying DG the smile turned to a snarl. "That little brat has you wrapped around her finger." Knowing the little girl feared him he glared at her. "You know she's nothing but a nuance. Why don't you lock her in her room and throw away the key?"
Squeezing Az's hand tighter DG stepped slightly behind her sister, not taking her eyes from the boy.
Sensing her sister's fear Azkadellia stood taller, pushing down her growing anger. "Enough, you may be a guest in our home but you will not speak about my sister that way. Now, I'm here because you have something that belongs to her, give it back."
The boy slowly walked toward them. Though he was a year older than Azkadellia he was still a good three inches shorter than the Royal Princess. Knowing this he stopped at the edge of the gazebo floor forcing the sisters to look up at him. "What will you give me in return?"
"Give you?" A delicate eyebrow arched upward. "Nothing, I don't reward bullies."
Red crept up the boy's face as his smile disappeared. Puffing out his chest the boy took on a threatening tone. "Watch your tongue little girl. I am the Royal Prince of Ixy, all there kneel before my father the King."
"You're not in Ixy." Azkadellia answered evenly. "You're in the O.Z. and here I'm the Royal Princess and my mother is Queen. Now give it back."
Even with the distance separating them DG could see a vein running along the boy's temple begin to pulse wildly.
Drawing a deep breath the boy struggled to rein in his anger. His plan was not progressing as smoothly as he had hoped. Taking the doll from his pocket he twirled it between his fingers. An evil smile crept over his freckled face as DG took a small step forward. Jumping to the ground he walked a couple of steps toward the lake. DG moved to follow but Azkadellia held her back, when DG looked up her sister slowly shook her head no.
With his back to them Jeric had missed the exchange. Slowly he turned to face them, meeting dark brown eyes his smile broadened. "I might be convinced to give it back, if you give me what I want."
Feeling her patience start to wane Az eyed him closely. "What do you want?"
Both of Azkadellia's eyebrows shot up.
"Why would you want that?" DG asked crinkling her nose.
Jeric frowned at the youngest Gale. "I'm not talking to you runt." Ignoring the girl his gaze returned to Azkadellia as did his smile. "So what do you say, Az?" There was a touch of excitement and hope in the question. "One little kiss and the brat gets her doll back."
A cold hardness settled in the girl's dark eyes. While she was furious at the boy's arrogance her voice was controlled. "Do not call me Az, only people I like may call me that. You have insulted my sister and now you are trying to blackmail me into giving you something you don't deserve. I say no."
The boy's face flushed bright red and for just a moment it appeared he might cry. But disappointment quickly shifted to anger. "Fine! Then I guess the brat will have to swim for her doll." In one motion he spun raising his arm, as he turned to the lake he hurled the little doll with all his might.
"NOOO!!!" DG's scream echoed over the lake as she watched her doll sail over the water.
With a quick motion Azkadellia's hand shot out and for a moment the doll hung suspended in mid-air then it flew back landing safely in her outstretched palm.
Jeric spun to find the elder princess holding the doll with a triumphant smile. "Now, you have nothing I want or need." Handing the doll to her sister Az returned DG's broad smile.
"Thank you, Az." She held the doll up checking it for damage.
"You little witch!" They turned at the boy's scream.
"I'll toss you and that brat in the lake." Clenching his fists the boy stalked toward them.
Az clutched DG's hand tightly and the familiar glow spread between them. "I'm warning you Jeric, leave us alone."
"Not till I teach you a lesson."
Sparks danced in Azkadellia's dark eyes. "You're the one that needs a lesson, a lesson in manners. But first you need to cool off."
With a wave of her hand the young prince was picked up and carried through the air for a short distance before landing in the lake with a loud splash.
DG's eyes grew wide and her jaw dropped as she stared at the boy spitting and sputtering as he sat waist deep in the water. Slowly she looked up at her sister. "Wow, I didn't know you could do that."
"Neither did I." Az smiled down at her. "But I guess together we can do anything."
DG smiled. "You're the best sister in the whole OZ."
Az laughed. "I don't know about that."
"Yes, you are. You always take care of me." She threw her arms around the older girl hugging her tight.
Az wrapped her arms around the girl. "I always will, little sister. Come on, let's go before he gets out of the water."
Less than an hour later they found themselves in their mother's study.
"Azkadellia! Daughter, have you gone mad! What in Ozma's name possessed you to throw Prince Jeric in the lake? His father is furious. I expect better behavior from you."
Azkadellia bowed her head under the scolding. "Yes, mother."
"But Az didn't do anything wrong." DG insisted.
Lurline's features softened as she turned to her youngest. "DG, we do not go around throwing people in lakes."
"But Jeric is mean. He stole my doll."
Straightening Lurline's brow rose. "He took your doll?"
DG nodded her head up and down, then smiled up at her sister. "He told me Az had to come get it back. Then he got mad when Az refused to kiss him and he tried to throw it in the lake. But Az got it back and then he said mean things to us and she threw him in the lake." As she looked up at her big sister pride shown clearly on her face.
Az smiled down at her sister without saying anything.
From his nearby chair Ahamo placed a hand over his mouth to keep from laughing out loud as he watched his daughters.
"Kiss him?" Red crept up Lurline's cheeks. "I see there is more to this story than the King and I were originally lead to believe." Looking between her daughters Lurline fought the urge to sigh. "Azkadellia, I understand why you did what you did, but you are going to be Queen one day and you cannot settle your differences by throwing people in lakes."
"Very well then, as punishment you are not to use the music room for one week."
Az's normal composer shattered. "A week?!"
"I'm sorry my dear but there must be consequences for your actions."
Tears gathered in the girl's eyes and her mouth opened to protest. But she caught herself, with a snap her mouth closed and her head bowed. "Yes, ma'am."
In spite of what had happened Lurline hated having to punish her eldest. It was seldom required and the girl always took any correction or punishment to heart. Unlike DG who forgot her punishments moments after they ended. "Alright, next time something like this happens come get me or your father. Understood?"
The princess's responded in unison. "Yes, ma'am."
"Very well, you are excused."
As the girls closed the door behind them Ahamo burst into laugher.
"Hush," His wife scolded. "they'll hear you."
Wiping tears from his eyes he stood. "I'm sorry my dear, but you must admit it was funny."
Struggling to keep a straight face Lurline began to chuckle. "Yes, I suppose it is."
"It's nice to know the girl's can take care of themselves."
"Yes, it is." Her face grew serious. "Though the King and I are going to have a chat about his son trying to bully a kiss from Azkadellia."
"Well, I'd say our daughter did a very fine job of defending her honor."
"She shouldn't have to defend her honor especially in her own home. That little brat is going to learn he cannot bully a princess."
"You know how his father is the boy can do no wrong in his eyes."
"I know but he will learn things are different in the O.Z. He'll learn to control himself or..."
"Or I might throw him in the lake."
Ahamo's laughter bounced off the walls as he hugged his wife. "That's my girl."
Leaving the room the girls started down the hallway. Az's head hung low and a tear slipped down her cheek.
Feeling her sister's pain DG reached up and took her hand. "I'm sorry I got you in trouble, Az."
Azkadellia smiled sadly down at her. "It wasn't your fault, Deeg. Mother's right I should have shown more control."
"I'm glad you threw him in the lake. He's mean. When we see him again I'm going to turn him into a bug, then I'm going to step on him."
Before DG could take another step Az stopped jerking her backwards. "No, you're not." Taking the little girl by the shoulders she leaned down till they were eye level. "DG, you must never use your magic to hurt people. Our magic is a special gift from Ozma. It was given to us to help the people of the OZ not to hurt them and you must always remember that. Do you understand?"
Swallowing hard DG slowly nodded up and down. It was not often her sister was so firm with her but she knew her sister was not playing. She knew when Az told her things in this matter they were very important and she needed to listen closely.
"Good." Releasing her sister Az's expression softened as she straightened. "Come on, let's go to the kitchen and see if cook has any papay fruit tarts left."
"But I don't like papay fruit tarts." The child whined, crinkling her nose.
"Well, I do and I'm sure she'll have something for you, she always does."
A wide smile spread over DG's face as she took her sister's hand and they strolled down the hall.
Clutching a large black case in both arms DG made her way down the hall, reaching her sister's room she was relieved to find the door open. At least she wouldn't have to struggle with the case and the doorknob. With some effort she made her way through the doorway.
Hearing a grunt Az looked up to see her little sister struggling under the weight of the case hugged tightly in her arms. Cocking her head to the side the elder princess felt a smile tugging at her lips. "Deeg, what are you doing with my violin case?"
Making her way to the bed DG raised the case and laid it on the bed with another grunt. Breathing heavily she smiled at her sister. "I thought you'd like to play it."
Az eyed the case. "I can't, mother said I couldn't play for a week."
"She said you couldn't use the music room. There's no reason you can't play here."
Sitting her book aside Azkadellia fixed her sister with stern gaze. "DG, you know Mother meant I couldn't play with my instruments for a week."
Not ready to relent the child resourced to plan b, begging. "Please, Az you're so sad I know it would make you feel better. Besides, I miss your music. I like it when you play."
Moving the case to the floor Azkadellia smiled at the girl, as she ran a hand though dark, curly locks. "Thanks, Deeg. But mother would be angry if she knew I played."
Finding a spot on the floor to scuff at with the toe of her shoe DG spoke softly. "I'm sorry I got you in trouble and you lost your music."
"I already told you, it wasn't your fault. I was the one who threw Jeric in the lake. Don't worry about it. My punishment ends tomorrow and I'll play something just for you."
Blue eyes brightened as they met brown ones. "Promise?"
"Promise. I have some good news, Mother said she would go to the lake with us after midday meal."
The little girl's face lite up. "Do you think we could search the woods for apples?"
"I don't know about that. Mother was rather angry with us last time. But we can skip rocks on the water."
"That would be fun I guess."
"I'll teach you how to search for the perfect rocks."
"Okay. But what are we going to do till then?"
"Why don't I read you a story?"
The child's excitement faded. "Okay, but I'd rather hear you play."
"DG, I'm not playing till my punishment is over." Rising from the bed she stepped to a large, well stocked bookcase. "Now, what story would you like to hear?"
"I don't know."
Running her slender fingers along the titles Az stopped at a well worn volume. Pulling the book from the shelf she moved back to the bed. With her back propped comfortably against several pillows she began thumbing through the pages.
As Azkadellia settled down DG climbed in beside her. Curling up she rested her head on her sister's shoulder so she could see the pictures as Az read.
"Does this one have a lot of pictures?"
"No, but I think you'll like it. It's one of Daddy's books."
"What's it about?"
"It's about a little girl who has many exciting adventures."
"I like adventures."
"Yes, I know. Ready?"
Holding the book out so her sister could see the pages Azkadellia began to read. "Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and of having nothing to do."
While Az read DG imagined what it would be like to chase a rabbit down a hole. As her eyelids grew heavy she fought to stay awake. Just before she slipped into a peaceful sleep she wished she and Az could have a great adventure like Alice.
Standing just inside the music room doors DG watched her sister play the piano. Beautiful music resonated from the instrument as the young woman's hands danced over the keyboard.
Sadness tugged at DG as she watched her sister play Az had such a gentle and noble spirit. It pained her to think of how the witch had tried to break that spirit over the last fifteen years.
The music stopped and Az leaned back breathing heavily. Sensing she was being watched she turned slowly to find DG smiling sadly at her.
"Deeg!" Leaping from the bench she quickly closed the distance between them. Smiling broadly she threw herself at the girl.
The impact as her sister slammed into her caused DG to grunt, then slender arms wrapped around her with unexpected strength. In the month since the eclipse she had never seen her sister so animated, so happy.
"You're in a good mood." Returning the embrace DG patted her back.
Az held her close and laughed. "Yes, I am, thanks to you." Pulling back she rested her hands on the younger woman's shoulders.
"Me? What did I do?"
"You restored the music room. I wasn't sure you remembered it enough to restore it properly, but it's wonderful." She kissed DG's cheek quickly. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. But I didn't really do anything."
"You gave me back my music, Deeg. That is an incredible gift." The excitement faded slightly as she looked down. "The witch wouldn't allow me to play and until I found the piano I didn't realize how much I missed it."
"I'm glad you're happy." She pulled her sister back into the embrace.
"DG, are you okay?"
"I'm fine. I was just thinking how lucky I am, I have the best sister in whole OZ."
Az laughed. "I don't know about that."
"I do." She held her sister for a moment longer then pulled back.
"Aren't you supposed to be at your magic lesson?"
"Tutor, canceled he's helping Mother get ready for her meeting with the King of Iee."
"So are you going to be there?"
"No, that wouldn't be a good idea." Azkadellia's gaze turned to the floor.
A familiar sadness crept into dark brown eyes. It was a look DG had grown to know too well. "The King's son betrayed him to side with the witch."
"He sounds like a real jerk."
"No, he was just a lonely little boy and the witch played on that."
"So what happened to him?"
"He attempted a coup against his father, when it failed the witch killed him."
"Az, I'm sorry..."
Azkadellia held up a hand to silence her. "No, it's alright I'm going to have to face these things, no matter how much it might hurt."
"I'm sorry you've suffered so much." Unable to meet her sister's gaze she looked to the floor for help.
Slipping a crooked finger under her sister's chin Azkadellia raised her face. As brown eyes met blue ones the elder princess smiled. "The witch caused my suffering; it's not your fault."
Unable to speak pass the lump in her throat DG nodded.
Cupping her sister's cheek she patted it gently. "So what brings you here?"
"I have something for you." Slipping a hand in her jacket pocket she pulled out a crumpled, stained napkin with something wrapped within. Holding out an upturned palm she offered it to her sister. "Cook made papay fruit tarts and I swiped you one, it's still warm."
Brown eyes grew wide as she snatched the offered treat, carefully unwrapping it as if it were a sacred treasure. Holding the pastry up she inhaled deeply, her eyes closed as a blissful expression crossed her face. "Mummm, thanks, Deeg."
"You're welcome." She tried not to laugh as her sister returned to the piano bench to savor her treat.
It had not taken long for DG to learn her sister's weakness for papay fruit tarts. Once the secret had been discovered she made a point of securing the treats as often as possible. At first it had not been easy the cook knew Az liked the treats and while he was never openly hostile to the elder princess he didn't go out of his way to make her happy. Though she didn't really care for the tarts DG convinced him they were her favorite and had begged him to make them as often as possible. More than happy to indulge the younger princess he made a point of fixing them regularly.
The tarts had served two purposes, first the elder princess was finally starting to put on a little weight. She had been so dangerously thin after the witch the family had been concerned she would never regain her health. Second and most important of all they made Az happy.
Taking a seat next to her sister DG couldn't help chuckling as the young woman nibbled at the tart careful not to lose a crumb. "You know the first step is admitting you have a problem."
"Nothing, it was just a bad joke. I didn't know you played the piano. Do you play anything else?"
"Yes, the violin and occasionally the harp, though I haven't mother's skill with it."
"I always wanted to play an instrument but I just don't have any talent for it."
"I understand I always wanted to draw but I can barely make a straight line."
DG chuckled. "Would you play something for me?"
"Of course. What would you like to hear?"
"I don't know. Why don't you surprise me?"
Folding the empty napkin Az slipped it into a hidden pocket as she stood. As she retrieved the violin from its stand DG moved to an overstuffed sofa.
"I may be a little rusty."
"I'll risk it."
Az smiled and sat the violin to her shoulder. Placing the bow to the strings she drew a deep breath and closed her eyes. As the bow slid back and forth over the strings DG stared in wonder. She had no idea her sister had such talent.
Watching her sister play DG noticed there was a calm confidence about her. Since the eclipse Azkadellia had been quite and withdrawn. Aside from DG she barely interacted with anyone. Even their parents found she flinched at their shows of affection and concern. For the first time since the eclipse her sister seemed at ease.
The music ended and Az lowered the violin smiling boardly. DG returned the smile but it quickly turned to panic as she watched her sister staggered back several steps.
"Az!" She leapt from the sofa reaching her in two strides. Wrapping her arms around a slender waist she steadied the older woman. "Are you alright?"
Patting the arms around her waist Azkadellia nodded. "I'm fine just a little dizzy."
"You're pushing yourself too hard."
"I haven't done anything."
"Your body is still healing. Tutor said it could take months for you to completely recover." She had chosen to ignore the man's warning that the princess might never completely recover. "Why don't you go lay down for awhile?"
Twisting out of her sister's grasp Azkadellia moved to return the violin to its stand. "I don't want to lie down. I already sleep half my life away." There was no missing the frustration in her voice.
"I tell you what you take a short nap now and this evening we can go to the gazebo and watch the suns set."
A snort answered her offer. "I am not a child! You can't bribe me with promises of playtime so I'll be a good little girl and go to naptime!"
Suppressing a grin DG tried not to laugh. "Sorry, Az I didn't mean it like that."
Facing her sister Az felt her anger fade. "I know you didn't little sister. But sometimes I think people only see me two ways. Either I'm the blood-thirsty Sorceress or I'm the lost little girl who never grew up."
"How do you see yourself?"
Az paused for a moment to consider the question. "Sometimes I'm both and sometimes I'm neither."
Moving closer DG slipped an arm around her shoulders. "Well my sister, what are you right now?"
"Right now?" A smile tugged at her lips as she turned to her younger sibling. "Right now, I'm tried."
"Come on, let's go back to your room and if you want to lay down fine, if not we can play a game of chess or something."
"No offense little sister but to steal one of your favorite phrases, you suck at chess."
"Yeah, well I always liked checkers better anyway."
Taking her sister's arm Azkadellia leaned against her shoulder as they walked toward the door. "Alright, but you're not very good at those either."
"Hey! be nice."
Their laughter echoed in the hallways as they walked.
Reaching the bedroom Az lowered herself onto the bed. Allowing her body to relax she supported herself with her hands.
Watching her DG realized she never saw Az slouch with other people around. The realization caused her conflicted emotions. On the one hand she was pleased her sister felt comfortable enough around her to let her guard down. Yet, on the other it was a reminder of how fragile her sister's health was.
Guilt seized her was she watched her sister's head bow. She had gotten her great adventure and Az had paid dearly for it. Moving to the bed she sat down and slipped an arm around slender shoulders. "Why don't you lie down?"
"No. I don't want too." Drawing a breath she turned to her sister. "Shouldn't you be with Mister Cain or harassing Ambrose in the lab?"
Arching a brow at the unexpected change in conversation DG giggled. "You trying to get rid of me?"
Grasping her sister's hand Az held her gaze. "DG, I don't want you to put your life on hold for me. You need to move on."
There was something in the way the older woman spoke that stirred a memory deep in DG's mind. A memory of Azkadellia explaining important things to her, things she should not forget. "I am moving on, but that doesn't mean leaving you behind. You're a part of my life Az and I'm not letting you slip out of it."
Tears glistened at the corners of the brown eyes as they stared back. Raising the grasped hand Az placed a gentle kiss on it. "Thank you, Deeg."
"Alright, enough of this lets find something fun to do." Looking around the room she stood and moved to a large bookcase. Scanning the titles most meant nothing to her. A few appeared to be written in strange languages, then one caught her attention and she was certain she was reading it wrong. Taking the book from the shelf she thumbed through it. No, it wasn't a dream the book was real. Holding it up she turned to Azkadellia. "Where did you get a copy of Alice in Wonderland?"
"Daddy gave it to me for my eighth birthday."
"I love this book."
"I know." Az replied with a crooked grin.
An eyebrow raised as DG studied her sister. "How do you know?"
"I was the first person to read it to you."
"Really?" Sitting on the bed beside her sister DG held the book in her lap, as she gazed ahead. "I wish I could remember that."
Reaching up Azkadellia swept a strand of stray hair behind her sister's ear. "I wish you could too."
DG turned to look at her and caught the sadness in the brown eyes just before Az pushed it away.
"I know, why don't I read it to you. It might help you relax?"
Considering the offer for a moment Az shrugged. "Alright, I think I'd like that."
As Azkadellia stretched out on the bed DG slipped off her jacket tossing it over the back of a nearby chair. Settling on the bed she propped herself up in a comfortable position.
Resting her head on her sister's shoulder Az curled up wrapping an arm around her waist. "You're warm."
DG chuckled resting her head against the one on her shoulder. She knew her sister was constantly cold. It was one of the side effects of the possession. Azkadellia had reluctantly admitted it to her one night, when she found her wrapped in blankets. Though it was a warm summer evening Azkadellia had been trembling with her teeth clattering. They found the only time she was comfortably warm was when she was in physical contact with DG. Tutor had suggested it was because of their magic bond, DG's magic helped fill the weakness in Azkadellia's caused by the witch.
Closing her eyes DG reached out a hand and then slowly drew it up. As her hand moved the blanket at the foot of the bed slowly spread over them. Once the blanket was in place she opened her eyes to study her handiwork.
"Very good." Az praised. "You're learning."
"Yeah, maybe next week I can learn to make a bed."
"That would certainly surprise everyone."
"Hey, don't be mean, missy or I wouldn't read to you."
"Sorry." Though the apologize sounded sincere it was followed by a small giggle.
Opening the book DG began to read. Closing her eyes Azkadellia found the thought of spending a beautiful summer day sitting on a river bank with her little sister very appealing. No bodyguards, no threats and no past to grieve over, just two sisters enjoying a quiet afternoon. Yes, it was a very appealing thought indeed.
Lulled by her sister's voice Azkadellia drifted off to sleep with images of white rabbits and mice with long tails swimming in her head.
Reaching the chapter with a chatty caterpillar DG realized she had lost her audience.
Sitting the book on the night stand she kissed the top of her sister's head. "Sweet dreams, Alice." Pulling the blanket up tight around them she closed her eyes. Laying a hand atop Azkadellia's she released a small amount of magic, as it crept up her sister's arm and through her body Az sighed. The sound brought a small smile to DG's face. She knew her sister would sleep soundly with the cold pushed away for the moment.
Resting her head against the one on her shoulder she felt a twinge of guilt. Between training and diplomatic responsibilities she felt at times she was abandoning her sister all over again.
Making a silent vowel to spend more time with her sister, she felt sleep tug at her. As she allowed it to pull her into its warm embrace a fleeting memory of she and Azkadellia laughing and playing by the lake took form. Her lips turned upward slightly as she drifted off with memories of happy summer days in their Wonderland of long ago.
Reviews, comments and thoughts are welcome and greatly enjoyed.
Royal Guardian against hostile lawn gnomes.