Within the borders of Faustian in the province of Dor, Cardoj Domain, Maple Village, a young lady with a white hairband perched by the river, washing clothes.
Cardoj was quite south in the kingdom, so, although it was late autumn, the temperature had yet to drop too low and she could still do the laundry with bared hands.
"Lia! Tia wants you to go home for dinner!" called a middle-aged woman with a headscarf from the village entrance.
"Got it, Aunt Marie!" replied the lady as she gathered the washed clothes and piled the unwashed ones separately.
When she stood up and turned to the village, she found the woman who had called her still standing there and scoured over.
"Let's go," she said, dragging the older woman along.
"Oh, Tia has such a good daughter! I'm so jealous," Marie sighed dramatically.
"Hans and the boys aren't half bad, and we still owe you for your help with the harvest," the young lady countered.
"Those brats? They're just mouths to feed!" the elderly said with what had come to be known as 'Aunt Marie's tongue'.
"Hehe," the younger woman giggled.
"And they can't hold a candle to your brother even if they weren't 'half bad'. No one in the village can hold a candle to him, for that matter. I mean, he's already a scout jarl and it's been, what, three, four years since he enlisted? Imagine how far he can go!" Marie exclaimed.
The girl's eyes darkened slightly with longing. It vanished quickly, replaced with a bright smile.
"Hans' is doing great as well. He was a third-rate last I heard! Everyone in the village showers him with praise every chance they get."
"He's only gotten as far as he has by riding your brother's coattails. At the very least he has a working brain, or a partially working one," despite her tongue, Marie's voice was warm and proud.
The two strolled through the village side-by-side as warm villagers greeted them enthusiastically as they passed by. A majority of the villagers were parents and elderly -- all the younger and middle-aged men having either enlisted with or been conscripted to the army.
The pair arrived in front of a particular house in the west end of town. The two exchanged a few more sentences, then parted, the elder of the two heading to the house next door.
The younger woman waved her off, then stepped into the yard as the other did the same towards her house. The two yards were all but identical in size and shape, as were the small, chest height walls surrounding them. The two gates were identical as well, although the gate to the younger woman's yard looked newer, more recently varnished and repainted, than the older woman's.
"I'm back," the younger woman called as she closed the gate behind her.
"Welcome home, Lia," an older man's voice, both Lia and Locke's father, answered.
He sat on a well-worn log near the house's front door, puffing on a carved wooden pipe. He, too, was named Locke. Commoners only had given names. It was also common, especially amongst the poorer families, for the eldest to inherit the father's name, such that it functioned almost as much as a family name as a personal name. Such duplication in a family made it necessary to find other ways than just given names to distinguish between people, and it meant there were many seniors and juniors. The Locke father-son pair, for example, were known as Old Locke and Little Locke, or collectively as 'the Lockes'.
Locke was no longer 'little', however, though the name would probably stick until he had a son of his own, and he was named Locke as well. If he was not, he would probably forever be known as Little Locke, even if nobody actually called him 'Little Locke' to his face anymore.
Nobles, of course, did have surnames. It had become the unofficial rule that surnames were a marker of nobility, and thus a privilege reserved for them. The official mark of nobility, of course, was a coat of arms, an official emblem which represented the entire household. Because of the surname privilege reserved for nobility, it was also proper to call nobles by their surname, which was taken from the domain they were granted when given their peerage. Hence why the baron of the barony of Caroj was called Baron Cardoj. Of course, since only the actual holder of the peerage was a peer, even if the entire family were considered nobles, only the holder of the title was called such. Which was why Solon, despite being Baron Cardoj's son, and being fully titled Solon Cardoj, was not called Cardoj. There was only one Baron Cardoj, and thus he could only be called by his surname once he inherited the title from his father. Since it was unnecessarily bloated to use his full name every time, he was simply known as Solon.
"How many times have I said this? Don't smoke so much!" Lia said protestingly.
She was a sensible and well-behaved girl, but there was no avoiding a fight with her when she saw her father puffing on his damned pipe.
"Cough... I don't have much time left, dear, at least let me enjoy what I have left," her father said, coughing again.
He acquiesced, however, and tapped the tobacco out of his pipe and slid it back into the loop of his waistband.
Lia put the clothes and bucket away and fetched a small stool. She plopped down behind her father and began massaging his back.
"There's no doubt. Daughters are the best!" her father said as he stretched out lazily and relaxed under her skilled fingers.
The best thing he had ever done, and the best decision he had ever made, in his opinion, was respectively fathering his son, and adopting his sister's daughter. His adoptive daughter didn't know she was not his own, however. In fact, only he, his wife, and a few of the village elders knew that little fact.
The smell of food brought the massage to an end several minutes later. A middle-aged woman exited the house just as the two were turning around in their seating arrangements to get proper whiffs of the delicious aroma carrying two bowls. In them were several slices of bread and a couple corns-on-the-cob.
"You are a god-sent," Locke said with a grateful smile as he took one of the bowls.
The meal was simple, sparse some might say, but it was one of the more indulgent meals the family was capable of having. If not for the young Locke's financial support, they could not have afforded even the cobs, much less the bread.
Tia put the other bowl on the log next to the one her husband had taken and headed back into the house. She emerged a minute later with another bowl, a deeper one this time, full of soup. It was a little too generous to call it soup. It was really just the water in which the cobs had been cooked. It had been used to cook several wild vegetables, and a powdered starchy wild vegetable had been mixed in to thicken it some.
The three huddled around the steaming pot of soup and dug in. Despite the village's southern location, it still got thoroughly cold in winter, and the late autumn wind which came down from the north brought with it some of the north's chill. Despite that, it was still warm enough outside, in the late afternoon sun, that the change of scenery from the small, simple interior of the house to the open sky was worth the chill on the wind. The house was just 20 metres square, split in three between kitchen, main bedroom, and livingroom, the latter of which doubled as Lia and her brother's room in the evening.
They weren't in a particularly poor state for the village. Their situation was quite common amongst the villagers, and their village wasn't particularly poor in the region.
The three ate around the single, large, cross-cut stump which served as a table, occupying three of the four wind directions. The fourth was vacant, reserved for the son who had not been home in years.
Father Locke was modest in character while Lia took after her mother, who was a simplistic, diligent woman with zero complaints. Whenever the family at together, they would always keep Locke in their hearts. The occasional gossip did liven up their meals, but those were far and few in between.
Locke Senior grabbed a cob of corn and chomped down on it. From time to time, he slurped from his bowl of soup. Lia was like a living image of Tia -- the duo simultaneously bit into their bread meekly.
"Food prices in town are on the rise again," Tia remarked after she swallowed a mouthful of bread.
Locke's family was unlike Hans' from across -- they didn't have robust young men and the management of their two-acre field relied solely on an ageing Locke Senior and the two frail women. Their harvest was often insufficient to fill their stomachs; in fact, it was barely enough to keep them from starving. Hence, they would still have to purchase food.
"So be it. No one has surplus food these days," Locke said between chews, "How much money is left from what Locke sent back last month?"
"Half of last month's income is tucked away safely. As for the other half, we have 30 copper thalers left," reported Tia.
"It's enough, then. The baron's caravan should be returning in two days--" Locke Senior trailed off. Though it was a known fact that the baron's caravan was returning, that did not guarantee that their child would send money back. On countless occasions, they had witnessed many young men from the village stripped of their chance to set foot in their homes again, and whatever came back in their place was death pension and bad news. They dreaded the possibility of receiving word of their child's death. For this reason, like most villagers, Locke's family bore a complicated feelings towards the arrival of the baron's caravan.
Reading her old partner's mind, Tia chirped optimistically, "Stop thinking about those things. I've saved up much of the money Locke sent back. Besides, he was promoted to squad jarl last year, so he provided us with more. We have more than enough to use, but I suppose it's about time we find him a wife." To say that Tia was slightly concerned about Locke's marriage would be an understatement. After all, he was already 18, the perfect age to settle down, get married and have children.
"Well, Locke has been doing good in Herr Baron's unit, so yes, it's about time to find him a good wife." Locke Senior nodded along. He couldn't agree more with his wife.
After the meal, Lia and Tia stacked the dishes together as Locke Senior strutted over to the gate with his hunched back to check if it was shut properly. Storing away the farming tools and whatnot, he hoisted the three benches in his arms and returned to the house.
During late autumn, the days lasted almost half as long as the night. It was no surprise that many folks had already gone to bed at this hour.
Once they were done collecting the dishes, Lia wished her parents well and returned to her room. This was a room of approximately seven to eight square metres, and there were only two wooden beds and a cabinet that stood half a metre tall. The cabinet served as Lia's closet as well as a place for her to store her little trinkets. These include her hairbands, hand-knitted handkerchiefs, to name a few.
Lia removed the white band from her hair and cautiously placed it in the drawer. In it was another green scarf, which she had also bought this year, but only after her younger brother had specially sent a businessman to deliver the message from the frontlines. Lia stroked the scarf and spaced out. After snapping back to reality, she ignored the flaring heat in her cheeks and adjusted the scarf back to where it should be.
Lia laid in her bed as her gaze lingered on the unoccupied bed beside hers. The emptiness seemed to seep into her heart as her mind wandered off to her brother, Locke, the mischievous yet pragmatic boy. As a childhood memory of herself hugging Locke in their sleep replayed in her mind, Lia wrapped her arms around her shoulders, hugging the air, and reminisced deeply...