(Author’s Note: This short story is not a part of the main story, but occurs approximately seven years before the main story begins.)
Eleanor Taylor had just put the final pin in place to mark the hemline for the dress she was making for Mirna Stewart when she heard the commotion outside. She thought she heard Graenas’s voice protesting. “Would you excuse me for just a moment, Mirna dear?” she said, then stepped out the front door of her small home. Sure enough, there was her thirteen year old son resisting the adult woman who was dragging him toward her. “Would you mind telling me what you’re doing practically dragging my son around, Clara Baumhauer?”
The other woman let go of the boy’s arm and straightened herself. “I caught your devil of a son beating the crap out of my Steffan, Eleanor! I thought you might like to know so you can decide whether you should do something about it!”
Graenas ran to his mother and clung to her side. Eleanor reached out and gently touched the bruise that was already turning purple beneath his left eye. “It would seem to me that it was not a one-sided fight, Clara. And don’t think I haven’t noticed that your own son isn’t present for me to assess his injuries.” She forced herself not to smile as the other woman huffed indignantly.
“Do you plan on doing something about your child or not?” Clara demanded.
“Indeed. I plan to help him get washed up and apply an ointment to his eye and any other cuts or bruises I might find. Then I will talk to him about what happened and discuss how he should behave around other children, regardless of how they treat him. And I will talk to him frankly about what I think of grown women who demean him and call him a devil in his presence and how he deserves better than that.”
“Well, I never!’
“I wouldn’t know. But I will tell you now that it would be better for you if you never talk to or about either of my children that way again. Unless you want to mend all of your family’s clothes yourself or travel to the city to have it done.”
Clara clenched and unclenched her fists at her sides multiple times. Eleanor simply looked on, knowing she simply had to maintain her resolve. “Fine! But I mean it! You better have words with your child about fighting.”
“I will have the exact same conversation with him that I’d expect you to have with Steffan. Good day, Clara.” With that, she put her arm around her son and guided him into their home. She glanced at Mirna, who was still standing there in her unfinished dress, then spoke to Graenas. “Why don’t you rinse that bruise with some cold water in my bedroom. I’ll be with you in just a moment.” As he disappeared, she turned her attention back to her customer. “I’m terribly sorry about that Mirna. I think we’re done for today. Let me help you out of the dress so you don’t poke yourself with a pin.”
“Thank you Eleanor,” Mirna said as she waited for the seamstress to undo the clasps on the back of the dress. “I imagine that it must be difficult raising such…different children in a village like this.” She paused, then quickly added. “Because of the way people treat them, that is!”
Eleanor sighed. “No, there’s still a lot of prejudice toward half-elves among a lot of humans, I fear.”
“Have you ever considered moving to the city? I would think they might find a bit more acceptance there, given all the different races that spend time there. Plus, I’d think it’d mean more business for someone as skilled as you.”
“Oh heavens no. My customers need me here. Besides, Urizenya and Graenas would see their father even less than they already do if we moved to the city.” She paused as she helped Mirna step out of the dress, then continued as she began to spread it out on a table. “Besides, Graenas really does have a mischievous side and I worry that he’d manage to wind up in real trouble in the city.”
Mirna finished putting on the clothes she arrived in. “I suppose that’s true. Anyway, what do I owe you today?”
“Two gold pieces if you have them.”
Mirna looked crest-fallen. “I’m afraid I only have one today.”
Eleanor nodded. “If you can spare it, I’ll take it.” She took the coin as Mirna handed it over. “That makes your outstanding balance six gold pieces. You can bring that when you come back for the dress. I should have it ready in–” She glanced around the room at the various projects she had in progress. “–two weeks.”
“I’ll see you then. Thank you Eleanor.”
“Thank you for your business. You’ve always been a good customer. And something of a friend.” The two women hugged and Mirna left. Eleanor took a few deep breaths, collected her thoughts, and went to her bedroom to find her son. Graenas was sitting at her vanity, studying the bruise beneath his eye in the mirror. “It looks like it’s going to be quite the shiner for a few days,” she said as she sat at the foot of the bed, just a couple feet from where he was perched.”
“Am I in trouble?” he asked without turning to look at her.
“Not as much trouble as when you were exchanging punches, I imagine. So do you want to talk about what happened?” She reached for the small jar of ointment on the corner of the vanity and he turned to face her.
“Well, Steffan called me a name and punched me. So I jumped on him, knocked him to the ground, and started hitting him in the chest.”
Eleanor nodded and considered what question to ask him first. “Just so I get a full picture, were you doing anything before he hit you?”
Graenas shifted a little and lowered his eyes. Quietly, he said, “Well, I was trying to kiss him.” Eleanor nodded, already guessing the name the other boy had called him.
“So why did you try to kiss him?”
“Well, I was curious what it would be like to kiss him. I mean, he and all the other guys are constantly going on about kissing various girls. Especially Uri.”
“You realize she’s going to threaten to make your right eye match the left one if she hears you call her that, right?”
He grinned impishly at that. “Okay, Urizenya. But was it wrong to try kissing him?”
Eleanor again chose her words as carefully as if she were threading her smallest needle. “Well, you should have asked him if it was okay first. I mean, most boys prefer to kiss girls rather than other boys.”
“Is that why he called me a…I think the word he used was fa–”
Eleanor cut her son off. “Yes. And that was a very cruel thing for him to say. Just as cruel as his mother calling you a devil. You should never call anyone either of those names. Unless you’re actually talking about a literal devil.” Graenas stifled a giggle.
“But that other word means a boy who likes kissing other boys?”
Eleanor began to wonder if there was some wisdom to Mirna’s suggestion. At the very least, it seemed like it might be a good idea to take Graenas to Albion City every now and then so he can get to see different people and the diverse relationships they form. “Yes. They also fall in love with other boys.”
“Like how you and Father fell in love?”
“Yes, just like that.”
“But what if I fall in love with a boy that doesn’t like kissing other boys?”
“Well, then you cry for a bit and then try to find someone else to love. Someone who can and will love you back.” She finished tending his bruise and said, “I need to go work on Mirna’s dress. Would you like to help?”
Graenas grinned. “Oh can I? I’ve been practicing my stitches, just like you showed me!”
Eleanor nodded and led her son back out into the front room that served as both a family sitting room and her work shop. She knew it would give him something to focus on and soothe him. “Why don’t you work on the bottom hem? I need to fix the bodice a bit.”
“Yes Mama,” he said as he walked over to the spools of thread. He carefully sorted through them for a couple minutes before returning with one. She beamed with pride as she noted how closely its color matched the garment he’d be working on. He threaded his needle and began to work. She followed suit, gently humming one of his favorite songs as they worked side be side.
After a few moments, he broke the near-silence. “I don’t think I should’ve jumped on him like that. I did it because I was hurt and angry, but I don’t think it was right. I mean, he punched me once. I pummeled him several times.”
“What do you suppose you could have done instead?” she asked, her needle never stopping.
He thought about it, “I could have tried getting away from him.”
“That would have been a good idea. Assuming he didn’t chase after you to keep hitting you.” She placed her hand on his, taking care not to jab him or herself with a needle. “Remember. He was wrong to hit you too. Don’t forget that.”
“Even though I shouldn’t have tried kissing him?”
“Yes. That was another bad choice on your part. And he had every right to be upset. But he still shouldn’t have hit you or called you that name.”
“Thank you Mama.”
“You’re welcome. So, what have you learned?”
“I shoudn’t let my anger get the better of me.”
“Always ask a boy if I can kiss him first.”
“Just…do I have to wait for an answer?” he said, an impish grin on his face.
“You are your father’s son, you little smartass. Do you really need me to answer that question?”
“No Mama. I know now I have to wait for their answer and respect it. Even if it’s a no.” He sat there for a few moments, staring at his handiwork. “You know, the way the boys talk about kissing girls, I don’t think they ask the girls if they want to be kissed first.”
“I suspect you’re right.”
“That isn’t right either, is it?”
“No, it’s not. Have you ever heard your sister complain about stupid boys who won’t leave her alone?”
“Yeah. Is that because they do that kind of stuff to her?”
” A lot of times, yes.”
“Wow, they’re lucky she doesn’t haul off and punch them. She punches hard.”
Eleanor laughed, thinking of the conversations she’s had with parents who were angry about how hard their sons had been punched by Urizenya. “Yes, I suppose that’s true.”
After a few more moments, Graenas said, “Mama?”
“Have you ever been so angry that you had to resist the urge to hit someone?”
“Yes, I have.”
She didn’t answer for a long time. “Most recently, Clara Baumhauer.” Graenas hugged her and the two went back to working on Mirna’s dress, humming Graenas’s favorite song in unison.