A Tale from The Lotus Chronicles
Thunder crashed, shaking the glass panes. Tip’s head snapped up and Leah jumped. Shiro smiled and turned the page in his book. The storm had rolled in a few hours prior; the temperature dropping with the sun and turning the rain to snow. The wind howled and Leah snuggled closer to him on the couch. She complained about being cold, but he knew she was reading over his shoulder.
Tip looked around the library, blinking sleep from his eyes. The young man rubbed his eyes and stared down at the economics book in his lap. Within a few moments, his head bobbed again.
“If you’re going to fall asleep, there is a perfectly good bed for you upstairs,” Shiro told the young man.
Tip’s eyes came open, and he looked sheepishly at Shiro. “Sorry, Master Shiro.”
“Leave him be,” Leah whispered in the Eastern tongue. “He’s had a long day. He cleaned the whole guild house and then spent two hours sparing with Theo before coming home and helping me make dinner.”
“I know, Leah,” Shiro told her. Then to Tip. “Have you finished that chapter yet?”
Tip rubbed his face and repositioned himself in the chair. “Not yet, Sir.”
“As soon as you do, I want you in bed,” Shiro told him. “We’ll have to clear paths in the morning once the storm ends.”
“Yes, Sir.” Tip said. “I’m nearly done.”
Lightning flashed, followed quickly by thunder.
“I’m worried about Theo,” Leah admitted, looking toward the front of the house. “I wish he’d come home with you. What if he gets lost in this?”
Tip laughed. “Master Theo will probably just growl at the storm, and it will part in front of him.”
Shiro agreed, but he couldn’t help himself from looking at the clock on the mantel. Theo should have been home a half hour ago. Thunder snow storms were rare in the Plains, but they were some of the worst storm they saw.
A loud crash came from the front of the house, followed by heavy footfalls.
“Oui!” Theo bellowed tromping through the halls and into the Library. “Y'all fallen dead or something, because that’s the only excuse I’ll be taking.”
Shiro stood when he saw his brother. The man held a large bundle to his chest with two sets of small eyes peeking out from under his cloak. He swore and Leah gasped.
“Don’t just stand there,” Theo growled, storming to the fireplace. “Get some blankets and stoke that fire.”
Leah hopped to her feet and ran for the staircase behind the couch. Shiro heard her as she raced up the steps to the second floor than through the door to the spare room. He moved to the fireplace and pulled two fresh logs from the cove and sat them on the fire. Theo knelt next to the flame and sat his burden on the thick rug.
“Where did you find them?” Shiro held his hand to the children’s blue lips, feeling for breath.
“On the doorstep,” Theo growled, pulling his cloak away from them. “I would have missed them if I hadn’t tripped over them.”
Shiro tried to coax the children apart so they could remove their wet clothes, but they wouldn’t move. “Are they frozen to each other?”
“Don’t know,” Theo strode over to Shiro’s desk on the other side of the room. He riffled through the drawers. “They won’t let go of each other.”
“What are you looking for?” Shiro asked, aggravated at the mess his brother was making.
“They’re sitting next to the ink blotter.” Shiro cursed as rage filled his chest. Whoever left these children on his doorstep would pay for the pain they’d caused. He rubbed their little arms and ground his teeth at how cold they were. Their little black eyes followed everything, but neither of them made a sound. They probably couldn’t, over the chattering of their teeth.
A hand slapped Shiro upside the head and Theo glared at him. “You’re scaring them with that look.”
Leah returned with the blankets. “Where’s Tip?”
Shiro looked around for the boy. Tip had left his textbook on the side table and disappeared. “I don’t know. We’ll worry about him later.”
“Oh, the poor things,” Leah pealed the rags from the smaller of the two as Theo cut them off. “Do you think they got lost?”
“I don’t recognize them,” Theo said. “Do you?”
Leah shook her head, tucking a blanket around what turned out to be a little girl. They pealed the clothes from the little boy and wrapped him up. Shiro continued to rub their extremities, trying to coax blood back into them. Leah helped with the little girl.
“They’re Easterners,” Theo said, stating the obvious. “There aren’t many of them folk about. They might have wandered in from the Guildless.”
Shiro’s scowl deepened, and Theo hit him again. “You do that again and I’ll hit you back.”
“Ooh, I’m so scared,” Theo said. “Stop scaring the children.”
“Sorry,” Shiro forced a smile. “I’m just contemplating what I’ll do when I find their parents.”
“Kuri,” Leah chided. “I’m sure they got lost their parents must be worried sick.”
Thunder rolled, and the children jumped, clutching at each other. Theo rubbed an extra blanket over their heads, drying their black hair.
“How bad is it out there?” Leah asked.
Theo swore. “Feels like a tornado’s brewing.”
“In winter?” Leah exclaimed, her voice catching. The whole idea of the destructive windstorms that plagued the Plains terrified her. “I thought those only came in the summer.”
Theo looked at Shiro, letting him answer his wife’s fears. Shiro blew hot air onto the little boy’s feet to give himself a moment to decide what to tell her. “It’s unusual, but it’s been known to happen.”
Leah’s eyes grew wide. She reached for the children as if she could shield them from the idea with her body.
“I have hot water.” Tip proclaimed, carrying a pan and several dish clothes into the room from the kitchen. “Did the Snow Queen get them?”
“The what?” Leah asked, clutching the babes.
“It’s called frostbite, Tip.” Shiro clarified. “And not that I’ve seen. Thank you for the water. It was a good idea.”
Tip straightened and smiled at the rare praise. “I have some leftover stew heating, too.”
“I like the sound of that,” Theo smiled. “Did you make it?”
“He helped,” Leah answered for him. “Did you build the fire in the stove, Tip?”
The boy nodded, his posture wilting and his eyes turning to the floor. For as long as they’d known him, Tip had been shy of any flame. He could light a lamp, but even that had taken them a while to get him comfortable with.
“I didn’t think about it, I just did it.” Tip mumbled.
Shiro waited until Tip looked him in the eye. “Well done, Tip.”
A smile tugged at the boy's lips. “I should go watch the pot, so it doesn’t boil over.”
Water sloshed in the bowl as the boy sat it on the floor and retreated to the kitchen. A look passed between Theo, Leah, and himself. Shiro took up a cloth and rung it through the hot water. He touched the warm cloth to the boy's shoulder. The boy cried out and backed away.
“I want Papa.” The little girl whimpered in the Eastern tongue.
“It’s okay.” Leah cooed, stroking her hair.
“I know the warmth sends needles through your skin,” Shiro told the boy using the Eastern tongue. “But it won’t last, and we need to get you warm again. Okay?”
The boy cringed and buried his face in his sister's hair, but he didn’t back away when Shiro touched the cloth to his arm. They washed the children as best they could, but they didn’t let go of each other until Tip brought bowls of steaming stew to them.
“Hey,” Theo complained. “Where’s mine?”
Tip looked at the bowls in his hands and then back toward the kitchen.
Theo laughed. “I’m kidding, kid. I’ll get my own.”
Tip handed out the bowls as Theo left to get his dinner. The young man sat on the edge of the couch. “Where’d they come from?”
“We don’t know,” Leah cut a hole into one blanket and pulled it over the girl’s head.
Shiro fed the girl a spoonful of the hot soup after blowing on it. Then offered a spoonful to the boy. The boy took it and smiled as Leah pulled another modified blanket over his head.
“I don’t think they speak the Imperial trade language,” Shiro told Tip. “The girl said a few words in Eastern, but that’s it.”
“What’s their names?” Tip asked.
“We haven’t asked,” Shiro said. “They only just stopped shivering.”
“What’s your name, little one?” Leah asked, tucking the girl’s hair behind her ear.
“Kasumi.” The little girl said, taking the bowl of soup.
“Kasumi?” Leah said. “That’s a pretty name.”
“Oh,” Theo said, entering the room, a large bowl in one hand and a chunk of bread in the other. “Are we naming them now?”
“They already have names, Theo.” Shiro sighed as his brother climbed over the back of one chair and propped his feet on the low table in front of the couch.
“And what do we call you?” Leah asked, tickling the little boy's toes.
The boy giggled and pulled his foot away. “Katsu.”
“How old are you, Katsu?” Leah smiled at the boy.
Katsu held up a little hand, all five fingers splayed out.
“Five?” Leah confirmed, and the boy nodded. She tickled Kasumi’s toes, “How about you, Kasumi?”
“Kasumi’s not ticklish.” Katsu offered, taking the bowl Shiro offered him. “She’s five too, but she came first. Papa told me to look after her.”
“Where is your Papa?” Shiro asked him. “Does he know where you and your sister are?”
The twins looked at each other and quickly filled their mouths with soup.
Leah looked sideways at Shiro, and he shrugged.
“Did you get lost in the storm?” Leah asked, softening her voice as much as she could.
Katsu shook his head, scraping the bottom of his bowl. “Miss Sandy told us to wait at the door…”
“Then she left and never came back.” Kasumi finished.
“Sandy?” Theo asked, wrinkling his nose. “Sandy Miller?”
The twins blinked at him.
“Isn’t she one of those followers of Sotar?” Leah asked. “Why would she just leave two children on our doorstep? It doesn’t sound like something they would do?”
“I’ll find her and ask,” Theo growled, like a dog with someone trying to steal his toy. “And if I can’t find her, I’ll find out what Calvin knows.”
“You can start after we dig out in the morning,” Shiro told him. He wanted answers, but they needed to set priorities.
“What’s your Papa’s name?” Leah asked, running a nail along the bottom of Kasumi’s foot.
Kasumi moved her foot away and concentrated on her soup.
“How about your mother?” Leah asked. “She must be worried sick, wondering where you are.”
“Mama died,” Kasumi said, her bottom lip quivering.
“Did you run away?” Theo asked, sloping a piece of bread in his soup.
“Papa sent us away,” Katsu said, curling up on the floor and resting his head on Shiro’s knee.
“Mr. Rudy said the master wanted to hurt us, so we had to go away.” Kasumi finished.
“Who’s Mr. Rudy?” Leah asked, puzzled.
Shiro touched her arm, his eyes not leaving the little boy’s head. A warmth filled his chest, and it scared him. “I think that’s enough for tonight. It’s getting late and I’ll need my medicine soon.”
Leah’s eyes flicked to the clock. She cursed and jumped to her feet, moving to his desk. She returned a few moments later with a dark bottle. He closed his hand around hers and they waited. The others didn’t speak, and the twins seemed to pick up on the seriousness of the moment. The clock chimed the hour and Leah kissed him. When they parted, he took the medicine. The taste seared his tongue and throat; he moaned against the stab of pain that assaulted him before the medicine took effect.
Little arms encircled him. Shiro looked down to find the little girl hugging him, a lump stuck in his throat. The little boy joined her a moment later, and it was more than he could take. He looked to his wife for rescue, but the look on her face told him her thoughts.
“No,” He said in the Imperial tongue. “No, we are not keeping them.”
Leah stood and kissed the crown of his head before taking the bottle back. “Of course not. But they will stay until we find their parents and I’ll take no arguments.”
Shiro looked at his brother, but Theo just grinned. He then looked at Tip, but the boy had fallen asleep.
“But there are many good families within the Guild lands who would take them.” Shiro protested.
Leah came back and pulled little Kasumi from him, leaving him cold from her absence. “No arguments. Come along Katsu, it’s well pastime you two were in bed.”
Shiro watched as Katsu stumbled up the steps, trying to keep up with Leah and his sister. Leah took them to the spare room at the top of the stair. Shiro lost all will to argue the matter. He ran his hand through his hair and looked at Theo.
“What just happened?”
Theo’s grin filled his face. “I think you just became a father.”
The next day they woke to find several feet of snow had fallen through the night. Shiro, Theo, and Tip set to work digging paths around their house and to the street. Halfway through the work, Theo found Sandy Miller’s body crushed by a fallen tree branch on the side of the house. From what they could tell, it had killed her when she’d tried to circle the house to get someone’s attention.
Later that day as the Lotus Guild helped the citizens of their lands clear paths and dig out of their homes, Theo and Shiro spoke to Calvin, a leader in the local church of Sotar, about Sandy and the twins.
“I’m sorry,” Calvin said, leaning on his shovel. “I wish I knew. Sandy kept to herself most of the time. Twins from the Eastern lands, you say? I can’t say as I’ve ever heard anything about it, I’d remember that I’m sure.”
“Uncle Cal,” Heather called, coming from the house with a steaming mug. “I brought you some hot cider.”
Heather always unsettled Shiro when he saw her. Her deep green eyes and brown hair were so like Birdie’s, he had to remind himself they weren’t the same. Birdie was gone, and Heather’s spirit was nothing like hers.
“Oh, Master Shiro, Master Theo,” Heather said. “I didn’t know you were here, would you like some cider, there’s more on the stove.”
“Thank you, Heather.” Calvin interceded for them. “We were just finished here. The Guild Masters were telling me about a set of twins that Sandy Miller dropped at their door last night. Did she say anything about it to you?”
Heather shook her head. “No, not that I remember. I’ll ask around though. Sandy lives just down the block I can take you there. I’m sure she can answer all your questions.”
“Sandy died in the storm last night,” Shiro told the young girl. “The twins nearly died on our doorstep because of it.”
Heather placed a hand on her chest. “Oh dear, the poor things. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No,” Theo said, his voice pitching deep. “We have it in hand. If you hear anything, please let us know.”
“Oh, I will,” Heather said. “Are you sure you don’t want any cider? We have plenty.”
“No,” Shiro said, backing away. “Thank you.”
The day wore on and by the end; they were no closer to finding out who the twins’ parents were or where they’d come from. The day turned into a week and the week into a month and still nothing. Katsu turned out to be a very talkative young boy, but every time they asked him something about his father or how he and Kasumi had come to Zentral Ebenen, he’d go silent. After a while, other matters took precedence and the twins’ past remained unsolved. By the time a full year had passed the twins had taken to calling Leah and Shiro, Mom and Da. They’d become so much a part of the odd little family, that their real parents, if ever they were found, would have a hard fight to get them back.