A/N: Hello my lovely readers! You are all my favorite. I am in the process of editing this piece, so if you check back you should see the quality and clarity improving, but while I'm in the thick of it the tenses from chapter to chapter might not match up. Any and all questions or comments are more than welcome and reviews shall be met with undying gratitude and adoration. Enjoy! :)
Chapter One: For the Best
Papa said it's for the best. He said it would protect us all, that it would help the family the way nothing else could, that it was a win-win situation for everybody involved.
Papa can go to hell.
Natara Williams simply does not have the same sort of ring to it as Natara Andrews if you ask me, but therein lies the problem. As the eldest of five in my family, I was chosen as the sacrificial lamb to be cast out into oblivion, or 'given a blessed opportunity' as Papa prefers to call it.
I should not be so hard on him, I know, but it was easy to be bitter as I sat there sore after a long day's journey toward the place that was soon to be my home. Nocona was the nearest city to my hometown of Renmar, but although it was only a two-day ride away, it was exceedingly rare to see anyone saddling up to make the journey. After I arrived, I would learn that Nocona natives considered it to be a town and Renmar more of a village, but the distinction was entirely lost on me, and still eludes me somewhat to this day. True, anywhere with an actual marketplace seemed like a bustling metropolis compared to our sleepy mountain town where an exciting day consisted of losing track of a chicken, but there was rarely a reason to leave. Luxury was a thing of legend, but we had everything we needed right there, and if we were missing out we didn't know it. Looking back, there must have some jealous sentiments among the more restless Renmarens, imagining my move to the outskirts of the city as a glamorous adventure waiting to unfold, but I was too preoccupied picturing sooty streets packed with strangers in a hurry to notice at the time.
In any case, I did not do it for Papa, although it's natural enough to pity him. At ten, I had the strength that he did not. When Mama died I stepped up to the task and took over the job of mother as best as I knew how. He, on the other hand, was never the same since. I first noticed the shift in him when she began to grow sick, and when she died it was his spirit that was lost with her. His big belly laugh became a thing of the past, his eyes always looking tired and movements stiff. I could never decide if it was a shame for Mara especially, who never got to know the man her father once was, or if she was the lucky one for lacking the memory needed to miss Mama.
I'm not sure exactly when we started having money troubles. Whether Papa kept it quiet as long as he could due to consideration or shame will ever be unknown to me. Hitting rock bottom has a way of dispelling such secrets, dignified or otherwise. Papa was humbled by a house full of hungry bellies when the chance presented itself with the word that the wealthy Marcus Williams was in the market for a wife. People began to discuss my being pretty in what could not have come less as a compliment to me, accompanied in my mind as it was with the toll of a dismal bell. Sometimes, it seems the fates just line up, for better or for worse. We came to an obvious enough arrangement.
I had plenty of time to spend sulkily reflecting on what town life had been and what life in Nacona might bring as a host of hoof beats had brought Lucien, who had been charged with escorting me, and I down out of the mountains and into the forest where we ended the first leg of the trip, a depth of trees the last thing standing between me and my future.
Even the weather seemed intent on being unfair to me, blistering hot all day as we rode beneath the brutal sun only to turn to an equally unbearable chill in time for nightfall, as though laying on the ground weren't uncomfortable enough. It wasn't practical to pack a blanket for two reasons. First, it would be warmer in the lowlands to which I was headed, and second, there would be ample abundance at the manor, unlike back home where we knew which blanket came from which sheep and didn't have any to spare. Still, if there had been a hundred reasons not to bring one, it wouldn't have been a comfort to my shivering form that long night. I remember Lucien making a good enough blanket when we were children, but it hardly seemed appropriate to crawl over and steal a cuddle from him now, tempting as the prospect is. After all, I was about to be a married woman.
It would take two days travel to put the distance between my old home and new and the lives that went with them. We were to be married as soon as I arrived, and money would flow back home to my family shortly thereafter.
The turning of events wasn't as surprising as it felt at the time. I had been caring for my family for years with every resource I had. It only stood to reason that I would continue to do so, even if that meant from afar. Worried as I was about the ones I left behind, I knew at that juncture that they needed money more than my presence, simple as that, so I tried to take solace in the exchange.
They say it takes loss to form appreciation, and I can't argue with that. I wanted to never again feel the helplessness of losing the best woman I'd ever know, so if protecting the family I had left required leaving them, then off I went.
Exhausted as I was, sleep wouldn't come. I scooted cautiously closer until I could hear Lucien's breathing, and before I knew it everything else fell away.