"We've come to buy the music box," Rose announced to the salesman. "Here, five gold pieces." As her sister held out the coins to the oily mannered man, Sparrow wanted to snatch her hand back. Those gold pieces were worth far more than a little fantasy. They would mean food and maybe even some flint and firewood. The snow was getting worse every time it fell, sticking longer, getting deeper. They're little makeshift shanty wasn't going to keep them warm enough during the winter. But indecision stalled her voice.
Rose took on so much as the older sister. She felt so responsible for Sparrow's well being, she never gave herself time to be the kid she still was. It wasn't right and it wasn't fair that at twelve years old, Rose had to scrape and work in an effort to take care of her kid sister. But maybe things would be different now. Sure, the music box might just be a piece of pretty tin, but it put light in Rose's eyes for the first time since the chill had set in. Perhaps this was just a first symbolic step to a new life. Sparrow had shown that at even seven years old (okay, six and a half), she was capable and quick witted. The jobs she'd done today could very well lead to more tomorrow, and the next day. And she could give Rose a break from being the big sister for once.
So she didn't say a word as the man took those gold coins and gave Rose the music box. "Come on, little Sparrow!" Rose trotted off, looking happier than she had in ages. "Let's go make our wish!" Giggling, Sparrow raced after her sister through the chilly streets.
They stopped at the railing that over looked Fairfax castle. It was one of Rose's favorite spots, and it seemed the most appropriate for their wish. Rose set the music box down on a cloth covered crate and took a deep breath of anticipation. She then let it out on a shaky nervous laugh and looked at her sister.
"Do you do it or shall I?"
"We'll do it together," Sparrow smiled reaching for the little turn-key on the music box. "I'll turn the key and you say the wish."
"I wish…" Rose closed her eyes and Sparrow turned the key once.
"I wish…" Sparrow turned the key once more and stepped back from the box, as a bright light suddenly burst out of it. The box began to spin, pretty music tinkling as it twirled. And then suddenly, in a flash, the box was just gone.
"Wha-" Rose stammered in shock, looking around bewilderedly. "What happened? What about our wish?"
"I don't know. It just vanished." Sparrow's heart squeezed tightly at the look on her sister's face. This was worse than if it had been just a pretty music box. It had been some kind of magic, enough to really make them both believe for a moment their lives would change. And then it just disappeared, taking Rose's smile and hopeful eyes with it.
"Come on, lets just go home."
Sparrow trudged after her sister thinking how cruel the world was. They'd come so close so something wonderful, only to have it snatched from their fingers. They had nothing to show for a days work; no gold, no food, no music box, no happy ever after. It just wasn't fair.
"What are you doing here?" Sparrow's head came up at Rose's surprised question, and saw the friendly mutt she'd saved from a bully earlier. He stood on the wood platform they'd made into their 'house', wagging his tail in greeting. It must have done as much for Rose's spirits as it had for Sparrow's, as her sister grudgingly said: "Oh all right, you can stay."
Grumbling about yet another mouth to feed, Rose went to her little pallet and settled down. But a restless Sparrow just sat down on their little step, patting the dog's head absently when he laid it in her lap. She sat there looking at the slowly clouding sky until soft flakes began to fall. It was then she couldn't stand it anymore. She had to do something.
"C'mon, boy, it's time someone took care of Rose," She whispered to her companion, careful not to wake her sister up.
Arfur was likely to be at the Cow and Corset if his fortunes had been good enough tonight. And if they hadn't, he'd be at the docks under bridge. Either way, Sparrow was heading for the Market Square. At this late hour shops were closed and people were scarce. It was for the best. The wealthier merchant class of the market didn't really like seeing poor street urchins. It made them feel obligated and awkward. Probably because they had no intention of doing anything about the feeling of obligation. As it stood, Sparrow and Rose had been ushered out of the Square every time they'd wandered in during business hours. But at this hour, the gaurds wouldn't care if one of the Old Town urchins came to hunt for fallen coins. It was an often fruitless hunt anyway, as the people of the market were very careful about their gold.
Of course, that was neither here nor there for Sparrow. She was going to take Arfur's offer of work. Yes, she knew Rose would be unhappy, but Rose wouldn't have to do a thing but accept the coins Sparrow brought back. Sparrow would shoulder whatever burdens, moral or otherwise, that working for Arfur might put on her small shoulders. Sparrow could do this for her sister. And she adamantly repeated it to the dog trotting by her side. He seemed eager to believe her, and she wished she were as easily convinced.
"Sparrow!" The shout stopped her dead and spun her around. Rose came running down the narrow street, her breath coming in misty puffs. The dog, noticing a probable delay, went to snuffle around at some crates. "What're you doing? Where you running off too so late?"
"Go home, Rose," Sparrow sounded so serious for a near seven year old that it made her sister blink in surprise. "Go home and go back to sleep. I'll come back in a bit. I've…I've got some things to take care of."
"Sparrow, what are you thinking'?" Rose tilted her head as she eyed her sister, a frown on her face. "Is this about the music box? Forget it. We've got more important things to worry about now. It's over and done with."
"I know," Sparrow nodded. "I know what we have to worry about and I'm done letting you do the worrying, Rose. Go home. I'm going to take care of us, of you, from now on." So saying, Sparrow turned away from her sister and kept going, proceeding into the street crossing.
"I don't know what you're thinking' but I don't like it, Sparrow."
Sensing her sister stomping up behind her, Sparrow spun in her step. She opened her mouth to tell Rose that it didn't matter. Whether Rose liked it or not, Sparrow was going to start doing something about their situation. But she never got the chance. The dog suddenly began frantically barking, drawing both girls attention. But the dog's warning was too loud and too late.
The carriage careened around the corner of the narrow road sharply, the horses hooves muffled by the layer of snow on the cobble stones. It seemed, to Sparrow, that time slowed down then. It was like she had all the time in the world to understand the barks of warning and turn her head back the other way, to see the horse and carriage barreling down on her and her sister, standing in the middle of the street. And it was with aching infinity that Sparrow saw Rose react first, shoving her little sister roughly out of the horse's path.
The scream was barely articulate as it ripped from Sparrow's mouth. After a horrified heartbeat, Sparrow's limbs began to obey her in frantic fast forward. She scrambled up from the dirty snow where she'd landed, crawling on hands and knees to where her sister lay on road. Rose's back was to her, and she was very very still. Sparrow reached out a hand, but before her fingertips could brush her sister's shoulder, someone snatched her back by the waist.
"No, no! Let me go! Rose! That's my sister! My sister! Let me go!" She screamed and struggled against the firm arms that held her. She kicked and beat with desperate fists as she was turned to face away from the prone form on the ground. It was minutes before the soft hushing voice could penetrate her panicked brain, urging her calm and still. The best Sparrow could manage was to go limp in the warm arms, and began sobbing.
"I'm so sorry," the deep cultured voice said in her ear. It did nothing to sooth, but only brought on more tears. "What's your name?"
"Sparrow?" the voice said softly, testing it gently. "What were you doing out here in the middle of the night, little Sparrow?"
He called her Rose's pet name for her, and it sent her into another raging fit of sobs. She hiccupped on tears as she tried to answer. "I was….trying to make it right. That stupid music box! She wanted to live in a castle and… and it just disappeared! I just w-wanted to take care of her. I w-anted to m-make it right."
Those warm arms rocked her, the voice hushed and cooed in her ear. Eventually, it wore her little body and weary heart down to exhaustion. She hung limply in those strong arms, that had held her in the falling snow while she wailed. And she heard that reassuring voice once more before she passed into fatigued oblivion. "Don't worry, little Sparrow. I'll make it right."
Lucian Fairfax held the child in his arms for more than thirty minutes before the poor thing had wailed herself out. The driver had gone to get the nearest guard. The pitiful thing lying on the ground needed to be taken care of, and there would be no way that Lucian would carry both the living child and her deceased sister in the carriage together. That would be utterly cruel.
"Lord Lucian?" The guards were in a pair, a wise idea during a winter night patrol. The looked at the young girl on the ground and one of them sighed. "You're driver told us what happened. Didn't see them until it was too late. Little one's lucky to have gotten out of the way."
"Yes," Lucian nodded, giving the girl in his arms hair a soothing stroke, as much for him as for her. He'd never thought to hear such an anguished sound from another human being, especially not from one so small. He'd recognized that sound she'd made when she'd realized her sister lay dead. He'd made that very sound when his Amelia had been taken from him. "Take the….body to the physician. I'll make arrangements for her myself."
"And….the little one?" The other guard inquired, nodding to the limp Sparrow.
Lucian didn't know what possessed him in that moment, but the words came out all the same. Perhaps, his soul needed a balm for it's unintended sin. Perhaps he just understood the needs of this sudden kindred spirit. "I'll take her to the castle with me. She's owed something after fate has ripped away all she had."
With that he carried the child into the carriage. He held her in his lap, keeping her limbs warm. Yes, she was owed something all right. Fate was harsh, and she owed more than just this little bird a debt. And now he was more determined to see Her pay in full.
As the carriage rolled away, a silent figure stood in the shadows. She had heard and seen all. Strange, how a sudden little twist of Fate had changed the outcome of all the future roads and paths that she had forseen. Now, suddenly, all was blank to her long vision. The future of Albion and its greatest Hero was suddenly very much up for grabs.