A/N: This is a rather unusual story for me – it began life as a request from a reviewer. This was previously a story I didn't see myself writing…but here it is. In this story, the Hero of Oakvale is a tad dark, more self-centered, neither really bad nor really good – what I like to call "morally ambiguous" – though he is slowly reformed throughout his contact with Lady Sophia. For those who consider leaving negative criticism regarding the content (i.e., "I hate that you…"), please consider the difficulty in inventing the past and future of a character with a tiny bit part before leaving such. Then you can leave it, if you still think it warrants it. All other honest critique is, of course, very welcome.
Chapter 1: Now and Then
The dark-haired schoolteacher stepped out of the Oakvale Tavern and into the salty breeze that blew through the town in the evening, content to have her belly full. She began to glide along the path up the tree- covered hill toward her modest home, stopping only when a man stepped over from a nearby house.
His face bore a faint look of embarrassment as he spoke. "Sorry to bother ya, Miss Sophia, but I just wanted to apologize for Rupert's behavior at school. His mum and I taught him better and he won't be doin' it again."
The lady of the house stepped out her door and glared at her husband. "Shame on you, bothering the poor teacher so late in the day. Bad enough she's got to deal with those children all day, without being pestered at night…"
Sophia laughed at the scolding. "It's all right, Mrs. Wren. And I appreciate the apology. " She turned and continued to her home while the couple re-entered their own.
As she walked, she thought back to a time that she wouldn't have been so grateful for such little things as a good meal and a sincere apology….
"But, Father! All the young girls in Bowerstone North are wearing new dresses like that!" A shapely young maiden sputtered in a rather spoiled tone.
"All except for you." The man before her stated imperiously. "Even this family cannot afford to constantly pay for your frivolous spending! Hence, the footmen will be returning these." He gestured to the servants behind him removing a substantial portion of her wardrobe.
Couldn't afford to pay? The maiden found that a bit hard to believe. After all, her family was part of the Ednows of Bowerstone North, the famous trading family for, and thus part of, the rich high-born citizens of that region. The only family wealthier was the Grey family, the Mayor's people. She whined some more to her father. "But they're all Ednow merchandise! Uncle Hector wrote up the bill of sale himself. And we all know that I'm his favorite niece." Young Sophia declared haughtily.
"You're his favorite niece largely because of the obscene commissions he keeps earning off your purchases despite our family discount! AH! No speaking further on this matter; my mind is made up. You will have an allowance. If you wish to spend more than that, then you must find a way to obtain your own gold." Seamus Ednow declared before turning to head down the stairs.
Sophia pouted, then sat heavily upon her bed in a fit of selfish annoyance. A glint to her left, near the head of her bed, caught her eye. Hopeful and curious, she turned to discover what intriguing object was causing the shimmer.
Alas, it was only part of the binding of one of her books. Her collection wasn't vast, but it did contain enough information to satisfy those obnoxious, but thankfully occasional, bursts of inquisitiveness that plagued her and distracted her from keeping up with trends.
Both her desire for knowledge and her obsession for stylish fashions benefitted from one gift that truly distinguished her from the other rich young ladies in town - a memory capacity so dizzyingly large, it seemed to border on the infinite. If she read or heard a fact twice, she recalled it, according to town lore. She knew it wasn't quite so impressive, but it enhanced her reputation and gained her attention, so why quibble over mere details?
A commotion arose in the street in front of her home. Sophia rolled her eyes as she headed downstairs to find out what the whole ado was about. Probably the Mayor's daughters, Amanda and Elvira, fighting about Amanda's boyfriend again. Those two always seemed to be ready to fight. Who am I kidding?! Elvira seems ready to kill! Granted, the boy whose family had moved here from Oakvale seemed a bit…below Amanda's station. But it was Amanda's choice, ultimately.
Stepping outside the door immediately showed the young lady just how wrong she was. In the midst of the throng of townspeople stood Weaver, Guildmaster of the Heroes' Guild. The last time he'd been here in Bowerstone North, he'd collected that nerdy little waif, Rose, after her family had put her out. His presence was an event in itself.
His news was more so. As Sophia listened, she learned of the destruction of Oakvale by bandits. Apparently, only a few people had survived, mostly children who had hidden during the raid. She saw Seamus looking over a list of those the Heroes had confirmed dead; his face clouded over at one name.
She looked over another copy someone else was holding, scanning for names she knew. She soon found one –Hector Ednow.
Sophia Ednow's world shattered in that instant. Uncle Hector?! Dead?! No, it's not possible! Kindly old Uncle Hector, whom her father assumed was just as greedy and money-minded as himself… he'd told her just yesterday about a business run out to Oakvale and promised to find her something nice. Now he was gone, the victim of a random bandit attack.
The rest of the day was lost to her; memories jumbled about in a haze of grief and sorrow. Her best friend in the world, her uncle, was dead; her prize wardrobe had been stripped of its most lustrous garments; and just when she most needed to shop and buy some new outfits, her financial resources had been curtailed!
The indignity of an allowance struck her repeatedly throughout the day and whispered poisonously bitter words to her as she fell asleep that night.
Sophia sat down on her humble bed in her tiny Oakvale cottage. She'd already eaten and cleaned her skirt. The damp dirt outside would leave a faint stain as a reminder to focus on her steps before her. Unfortunately, it found a kindred stain on her heart. Sophia knew what tonight would bring to her dreams. Tonight, the suffering would begin anew.
Tonight, she would remember.