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“I like the bun.” “Thanks. Papa helped me with it.” “...” “...” “May I ask why the change in manestyle? It’s pretty, but you’ve never much liked having your bangs gelled back with the rest” “Master Swiftword says it’ll help me meditate to not risk it falling in my face and distracting me.” “Well. He’s really not one to speak now, is he? Has he seen a mirror lately?” “He’s got a mane-band he wears when he’s gotta concentrate” “Ah” “...” “...You sure you don’t want to wait until later? You can still help raise the pole and a probably get a few dances in before midday” “I need to practise before then. Or I’m not sure I can get deep enough before midday hits.” “...And it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. You’re still way ahead of where Master Swiftword thought you’d be now.” “But it’s now when the heavens are close enough! If I can’t Listen deep enough when midday hits, I won’t get another chance until--” “Autumn equinox is just three months away. I know it feels like it to you, but trust me --it’ll come quicker than you think” “...why wait when I can try now?” “Well... for one, Harvestfest isn’t at the same time as the autumn equinox, so you won’t miss anything. But Midsummer solstice is, well, on midsummer.” “...” “Come on Love, just help us decorate the pole? That’s always your favourite part. Tell you what, I’ll even tag team Papa with you --I’ll hold him down and you can braid flowers into his mane.” “...you can go, you know. But I want to try this.” “Midsummer is for spending time with loved ones --and I’m going to do that, no matter if it’s making flower crowns or listening to Swiftwords jabbering.” “You can still go be with Papa and--” “And leave you all by yourself on midsummer?? Nope, sorry love, no can do.” “I’ll be with Master Swiftword.” “Old Birger Swiftword wouldn’t know what a ‘loved one’ is if they jumped up and bit him in the dock.” “Mama!” “...Right, right. Sorry love. But... I don’t like how he is pushing you. You’re just eleven, you should not be working more than your Papa and I. And... look, I know something is up with the Marks --no, hush a second, let me finish-- You keep saying things I know your Papa or Aunts and Uncles wouldn’t have told you. And your brother and I certainly haven’t. Noone else we know care or knows much about marks or talents.... except old Swiftword. So...” “...I’m gonna turn twelve in a few weeks” “Darling, please... just --what, exactly has he told you?” “Nothing! It’s-- it’s just what I’ve been thinking and stuff. An’ why are you so-- you and Pa always says you’ll support whatever I wanna do, but now when I say I wanna do this you’re all-- ugh!” “Love --If this is what you want, then you know we will support you. But darling... wanting to do something, and fearing not doing something, isn’t the same thing.” “... you also say sometimes you gotta do stuff ‘cause people need you to, not because you want to” “...Yes. But that's-- When you or your brother was sick, your Papa and I cleaned up after you, not because we wanted to, but because you needed us to. And when the Lake grows agitated, Swiftword goes and speaks with it and helps calm it down, not because I imagine he likes standing in cold water, but because the village needs him to.” “Right, so that’s--” “But. Your Papa and I were adults, who understood the consequences of our actions and chose to have children. Swiftword was more than old enough to understand what being the village Listener would entail when he moved here and chose the position. You, love, are eleven--” “Almost twelve” “--still a child. This isn’t your responsibility, and --I know you don’t like to hear this but-- you are not grown enough to see and understand all the results this will lead to.” “But I will, when I’m older. An’ then I can choose better ‘cause I’ll know better what being a Listener is.” “...but by spending all your time on this, you’ve effectively already made the choice” “Oh, please Mama, don’t make me stop, I wanna learn this! W-- we can go back and raise the pole if you wanna, but please don’t make me stop!” “... I won’t, darling. But, please... just be careful. And promise to tell me or your Papa --or your brother if that’s easier-- if you ever feel scared or overwhelmed, alright?” “I will, I promise! An’-- an’ I’ll make sure to spend less time studying, okay? And if, um. If I finish early, we can still go to the last dances and the feast maybe?” “Alright, love. I’ll hold you to that.” “Mhm!” “...” “...but, um. You really don’t haveta come if you don’t like it. I can meet you and the others at the pole later?” “Nope --as I said, not leavin’ you all by yourself on midsummer. I chose to be your Mama, so I’ll stay with you when you need me” “But I don’t? It’ll be boring, and Swiftword’s there if any spirits come by. I’ll be safer than the rest of the village” “Love, this isn’t a case of need, it’s of want. I love you, and I want to spend midsummer with you.” “...Love you too. But I still think you could be with Papa and--” “Too bad!” *Mwah* “Mama! Don’t kiss my head, you’ll mess up the bun!” “...Oh no.” *Mwah* “How will you survive?” *Mwah* “How horrible!” *Mw--* “Mama!”