"I'm so sorry, Joia.""Why didn't he come, Seb?"
"I don't know."
"I had hoped he's be here this year. This year of all years."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"No." She turned to look at Seb. Her eyes were red.
"We could send a messenger. Radstan would find him."
"No!" Joia shouted. "If he didn't want to come on his own, I'm not going to make him."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Joia paced the large basement room of Trade Castle. "It's been one year, Athelstan. Most of the time I'm alright, but today, well, today it's hard."She called this room Athelstan's Room. It was a great, circular room filled with all sorts of beautiful objects. There was a silver goblet, an intricately carved chair, a blanket of the softest cloth, a barrel with perfect copper rings, a bundle of straw and a song that echoed in the very walls of the room. In the center of the room was a circular pool of water and above the room the ceiling was opened to the sky. The early morning sun shown and clouds drifted lazily across the sky. There was no other light in the room except what shown through the open roof.
Joia had been speaking to the dark, still pool of water. In years past, she could run her fingers over the surface of the water and the golden form of Athelstan, Father of the Trades, would appear. The form was a physical memory of the man who had once lived in this castle and taught the trades to the first trade masters. But, his Light had grown fainter with each year. He was no longer needed now that Joia had been Lady of Trade Castle for over a decade now. If there was anything left of Athelstan in the memory pool, Joia would wait for the next Gathering in three weeks time, before she would try and wake Athelstan.
Over the years, Joia had often come to this room to think. She spoke to the pool. Having someone to talk out loud too had always helped her to work though ideas and problems, even if he never answered back. She stopped her pacing and listened to the quiet. Almost quiet. She could still hear Edmund's song, soft and hushed, in the room. She missed him.
"Athelstan, if you have any influence over Edmund, please bring him here this year."
Her mind wandered back to two years ago. She had been so excited to see all the Patrons who would return to Trade Castle for the annual Gathering on the Fall Equinox. Rather than call the date the Anniversary of Scrios's Banishment, as she had that first anniversary, she had changed its name to The Gathering. They did not celebrate their defeat of Scrios. Instead, the Patrons had turned the day into a celebration of the trades. They gathered together to report on the progress of the guilds, rejoice in their successes and discuss solutions to any problems. Not everyone came every year, but many did.
That year she was as excited to see all the Patrons who would return to Trade Castle, but she was especially excited to see Edmund. He was her dearest friend, next to her husband, Hakon. When he didn't come to the Gathering that year, she had been so sad. Hakon reminded her that Edmund was probably too far away, travelling with one of his troupes of entertainers. Joia didn't think that was a good reason for missing the Gathering. Surely he knew it was time as the summer had come to an end, but she had decided to give Edmund the benefit of a doubt and agreed he must have simply been busy. She had hoped he would come to the castle later in the year, full of apologies for not having come sooner. But he never came.
Then last year, as the Gathering was approaching and Joia was making her preparations, a messenger had arrived at Trade Castle with the news of her beloved Hakon. Dead. She had almost called off the Gathering, but it was too late and the Gathering went on as planned. It had been a solemn affair. Seb was there. He had never missed a year. Edmund was not there. That was two years in a row. Seb had stayed with her for several days after the rest of the Patrons had left. He had held her as she cried and comforted her. She did her best to comfort her children, Elric and Dreda. They had been nine years old and completely devastated by the loss of their father. Dreda was distraught and Elric bravely took his place as man of the house, but they all cried over their loss. The children asked for Uncle Edmund, but Joia could tell them nothing. She didn't know where he was or why he had not come to see them in two years.
The more Joia thought about Edmund, the more upset she became. He hadn't come when she had needed him the most. It didn't matter now, though. She no longer needed Edmund. Over the last year she had learned to cope. She was fine. And with the Gathering quickly approaching, there was much to do to prepare.
"On second thought, Athelstan," she spoke out loud, "don't bother sending Edmund. If he comes, he comes. If not, it's alright. I don't need him."
She left the circular room and went upstairs to the kitchen. Supper was bubbling in a kettle in the fireplace. Over the years, Joia and Hakon had employed several servants for the castle. There was a grounds keeper who took care of the gardens, two house maids to help keep the castle's many rooms clean and in order and there was a housekeeper who tended the castle's day to day needs. Joia still did all the cooking and always helped with keeping the kitchen clean. The housekeeper, an older woman named Keeley, had been appalled when she first arrived and saw the lady of the castle washing the dishes. Joia had never wanted servants, but she could not care for the castle alone, so even after help had been hired, she continued to work and help keep her home.
After checking on the cooking food, Joia went to her sitting room. It was a bright, cheerful room. She kept her sewing here. She sat down in her favorite chair and picked up the sewing basket. She was almost finished with a new shirt for Elric. He needed to have several shirts to take with him when he left. If she could find the time, Joia planned on sewing him one more shirt.
She felt the warm sunshine on her face while she sewed. Summer would be over soon. It always seemed the warm summer months went much too quickly. Soon the warm days would turn cool and the green leaves would turn orange.
"Mother?" a quiet voice called to her, waking her from her thoughts.
"Yes, dear?" Joia turned to see her ten year old daughter come into the room.
"May I sit with you while I sew?"
"Of course, Dreda. I'm happy to have your company. How's your dress coming?"
Dreda held out a brown tunic to show her mother. "I'm almost finished with it."
Joia took a corner of the dress into her hand and looked at the seam. "This is fine work. You've really improved."
"Thank you," Dreda smiled and sat next to her mother. Dreda looked a lot like Joia - small and petite. The biggest difference in looks between mother and daughter was Dreda had Hakon's blond hair. Both of the children favored Hakon in this way.
"It was a year ago today, wasn't it?" The small girl looked up to her mother.
"Are you alright?"
"I miss your father. Every day. I'm sad, of course, but yes, I'm alright. We had a wonderful life together. Almost eleven years of marriage and having two beautiful children together. It was a life together that I will always treasure. Are you alright?"
"I miss Father, too. I think of him every day. Sometimes I talk to him. Is that strange?" the small girl looked to her mother.
"No. It's not strange. I find myself talking to him sometimes, too."
Dreda smiled. For several moments both women sat in silence, each lost in their own thoughts and memories.
"Do you think Uncle Edmund will come this year?" Dreda asked.
"I don't know."
"Do you want him to come?"
"I don't know." Joia saw her daughter's eyebrow go up in question. It made Joia chuckle. It was a face that she had seen Hakon pull a million times. "Yes, I suppose I do want him to come. I'm kind of angry with him, though."
"Because he wasn't here when father died?"
Joia sighed. "And because he hasn't been here to see me, us, at all in the last two years. Almost three years now."
"I hope Uncle Edmund comes. I miss him. I want to see him once more before," Dreda paused. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, "before I leave."
Joia put her sewing down and reached out to take Dreda's hand. She felt tears prickle in her eyes. She didn't know how she was going to cope. Dreda had promised to go live with Joia's sister Ebba for a while. Ebba was happily married to Derry and had seven children to prove it. The children were young, though. Ebba's oldest son had been a help to her, but at the beginning of summer, he became the apprentice to his father and spent his days learning the cobbler trade. Ebba needed help taking care of all her little ones and Dreda said she would go help.
Elric was also leaving home. He had been promised to Joia's brother, David, Erthenhorn's master baker, and would become his apprentice. Joia was so proud of Elric, going to learn a trade and Elric was excited to be going. Joia would miss them both so much, but since they would both be in Erthenhorn, she would be able to visit often.
She wasn't excited about being alone, but she knew she would be alright. She always was.
"Dreda, Ebba is my sister. You'll be in a good, loving home, although I fear it will be quite noisy," she smiled at her daughter. "You know, you don't have to go."
"I want to go," Dreda said.
"And I know you will be such a wonderful help to Aunt Ebba. If you get the opportunity, go about the village and visit the people there. Get to know them. The weaver is a kind woman named Sara. She was the weaver's apprentice when I lived in Erthenhorn."
They sat in silence for a moment. Joia squeezed Dreda's hand once again before letting it go and picking up her sewing again.
"I'm glad we aren't leaving until after the Gathering. I hope Uncle Edmund, Uncle Seb and Sidonia come to it. I want to see them all again before I leave."
"I'm sure they will be amazed to see how much you've grown."