Chapter 9 ∞ Nostalgia
My deductions were correct with regards to my mother’s plan. Conveniently, the streets that led to the so-called statue happened to go through the leisure district. It was quite a place to be—almost festival-like. I doubted a thick crowd would be present all the time. I knew this was a busy city, but surely it wasn’t this busy?
“During testing days, people from all over the country come to take part,” my mother said. “Business booms during these days. Lots of customers. The inns are booked to the last room.”
Erenol and I excitedly stared at the colorful bulbs lining the lamp posts. There were wide sidewalks that extended twenty to thirty steps from the stores. The roads were barricaded by burnished brown streets who had just began to breathe the life of spring. I was reminded of the classic, romantic Paris roads, especially on winter days. The season was still cool as we had just entered spring season. I found the weather particularly refreshing, even under the harsh sun. The spirit of winter was not truly gone.
I took a deep breath when we passed by a stall. There was a guy grilling barbeque sticks on the counter. The smell of it was just appetizing! Seeing the smoke rise and the oil sizzle, my mouth practically flooded.
I felt Eren’s hand tighten around mine. I looked at my companion and found her just as tempted as me.
“Come on, you two.” Hellenia laughed. We went to the stall. I jumped excitedly on the balls of my toes and Eren mirrored my excitement. “Would you give us three of your classics please?” She handed over some coins.
“Three classics coming right up.” The man accepted the payment and began preparing the order.
We didn’t have to wait long. Three sticks of glossy meat were handed to my mother. She offered them to us, letting us pick before taking the last one for herself. I wanted to let go of Eren’s hand to eat mine but she wouldn’t. I didn’t know what she was afraid of, but I didn’t insist on it and settled with eating with one hand. It’s not like I needed two. It would’ve been easier, though.
We resumed walking, munching on our barbeques. I enjoyed the savory otherwise unhealthy flavor of it and Eren seemed to think the same.
“Look at you two,” Hellenia said. She took out a handkerchief and wiped off our lips. “Go easy on that. You might choke.”
We didn’t listen. We continued gnawing until there was nothing left. We carried our sticks until the next garbage bin came up on the path. Since the roads and pavements were in shades of pearl and white, mess was quite blatant. It would be a shame to mar the roads with trash. That’d be unsightly. I could see a disadvantage of this. Must take a lot of maintenance.
As we stopped and threw the sticks away, a scent drifted to my nose, causing me to halt as I tried to pinpoint where it was coming from.
My sudden pause bid Eren to look at me curiously as I turned around, looking for the specific place. “Do you smell that?” I asked.
“Which one?” she asked, wiping her lip.
“It smells like—” I sniffed “—lemongrass . . . jasmine? Mm, vanilla,” I muttered. “I don’t know the others but I’m also picking up roses.” I continued looking around, peeking at the many stores from under my hood. When I saw where it was coming from, I dragged Eren to the shop with the label ‘Scents and Papers.’
“Evyionne! Eren!” my mother exclaimed. “Dear goodness, you two. Wait a moment!”
A ring resounded as we pushed through the green glass door. The moment we entered, the scent assaulted my nose—a little too strongly that I had to shy back. “Ooh, that is strong,” I said, breathing through my fingers. I shoved myself further into the room, taking in the antiquated chandelier lighting and the racks of essential oils pushed to the corner. On the other half of the room were books in towering shelves. They tapered to the ceiling so high, it almost seemed as though they were going to fall over.
“What is this place?” I heard Eren say.
“I like it,” I said.
My mother grabbed our shoulders. “Oh, goodness. Don’t run away like that.”
“Customers!” a muffled voice yelled from the back.
A man came out from a door behind the counter. He had bright red hair and hazel eyes partnered with pale skin. He had rolled up sleeves and dust on his shoulders. Judging by the sheen of sweat on his forehead, he must’ve been doing a taxing job in there.
“How may I help you, dear customers?” he asked.
“Can we look around?” I said, looking at him.
“Oh, then, feel free! Feel free!” He motioned for the crammed room and stepped aside to let us through. “We don’t get a lot of customers.”
“You should consider cleaning up the front of your shop, then. A clearer and less chaotic place attracts a lot more customers,” Hellenia suggested. “But it seems these two didn’t care one bit about the mess.”
The redheaded man chuckled. “Well, I am guilty as charged. This shop was left to me by my father. I know not one thing about running a business . . .” he trailed off. “I was doing just that, really. And this is just my first day. Thank you for dropping by.”
“Excuse me, mister,” I said, tugging on his pant leg. “What’s that smell?”
“Thi—um . . . I accidentally spilled a bottle during my cleanup and the whole thing has bathed my carpet right here. I’m ashamed of my clumsiness.” He scratched his head. “I guess it was very potent since you smelled it from outside and trust me when I say my nose is already hurting.” He chuckled. “It’s one of the mixes that my father had done when he was still alive. He called it Midsummer.”
“Mm.” I nodded approvingly. “It does remind you of the outdoors—fresh and zesty . . .” I trailed off. “But I feel like something is wrong with the notes. The sweetness is a little too strong that it somewhat disturbs the balance of the entire scent . . . maybe you should try toning down on the sweet side a little next time.”
“Evyionne?” Hellenia looked at me questioningly from above.
Ooh. I got carried away.
I could feel the redheaded man staring at me with just as much confusion as my mother and Erne. “She’s like a little old lady,” he whispered.
Hellenia simply chuckled. “My daughter is simply that way. She likes to read a lot of books so she speaks like that often.”
“That…does not take just books to know,” he told her.
My mother’s brows furrowed.
Okay. Time to do something else. I don’t know what they might think with that on the table.
I looked at the racks of essential oils and sighed softly. This reminded me of the cellar in my past life. Instead of filling it with wine, my mother—my previous life’s mother—invested in these oils and relied on them to make a living. We actually lived on top of the shop as well. She made custom scents for customers and mixed some more for a line she released yearly. It was a small store and many of the locals really loved it. They either bought those little incense pots or the reed sticks to help diffuse the scents in their homes. I occasionally lit up some for my room as well.
“Do you know this stuff?” Eren asked, blinking owlishly as she looked around.
“I read some books,” I lied. How could I say this had something to do with my past life?
“Liar,” she whispered to me. “I know a liar when I see one.”
I gave her the eye. “I can say that again.”
I began looking through their collection. Even then, Eren did not let go of my hand.
Damn, this girl. I was glad I made a new friend, but she was wearing me out and my poor palms were already sweating so hard. Why was she so clingy? It didn’t matter. I didn’t try to break away for fear of upsetting her. I put up with it instead.
I wanted similar scents to Bulgarian roses and other essences, but I realized that my knowledge of this world’s terminologies when it came to plants in general fell a little short. I had wanted to simply state the names of the oils I decided on getting but he might not know of it. I don’t reckon my words would just carry over, right? Bulgarian is not a concept in this place. Bulgaria isn’t in this realm at all.
But as I stared at their towering collection, I gave up. “Where are your scents for roses?” I asked. “Do you have a stock on pink roses? They have a delicate scent . . .” I trailed off.
He gave me a questioning glance but receded. “I have just what you may be looking for,” he said, reaching up to a shelf and lowering a small bottle of an amber liquid. “Careful, though.” Seeming hesitant to give me a fragile bottle, seeing as I only reached his waist, he uncapped it for me with a pop and let me smell it.
“Definitely Bulgarian roses—at least something similar,” I muttered. This one had a unique quality that set it apart from Bulgarian roses, but it was the closest I could find. “Mama.” I looked at my mother. “Can I have this?”
“What are you going to use it for?” Hellenia inquired, eyes widened.
“You’ll know when we get back. I promise I won’t let it go to waste!” I exclaimed.
She gazed at me pointedly and doubtingly. “Evyionne…”
“Mama, I won’t ask for anything else. It’s my birthday soon, right?”
Hearing the word ‘birthday,’ she ceded and nodded at the shopkeeper. “One bottle please.”
I jumped excitedly. “Can I have…five more?”
My adoptive mother’s face could not be painted. Even Eren was a little incredulous.
“Evyionne…” my mother warningly began.
“Of other scents! What’s the use of buying a bottle if I can’t have at least five?” I protested.
“Evyionne, what in the world would you do with these, even?”
I sighed. “I won’t ask anything for the next five years…” I muttered and pulled a long face.
“The little miss is quite right,” the shopkeeper said. “I’m not just trying to sell more. But if I’m quite honest, I think this missy is planning to make a perfume.” He smiled. “It’s not that hard but it’s not easy either. I’ll tell you what—since you are so passionate, I can give you a set of tools to get started with. They belonged to my father. I’m not really as talented or knowledgeable about this as he was.” He patted my head. “I see his eyes in you.”
My mother still looked unconvinced but as I stared at her with my puppy dog eyes, she yielded.
“Alright.” She gazed at me. “It doesn’t hurt to do this once in a while.”
I swallowed nervously.
After nearly ransacking through the bottles, I finally found myself a complete set of the notes I needed to create a signature perfume my previous life’s mother had personally cocktailed for me. She showed me the whole process and what to do so I was confident I could handle this. It was primarily composed of flowers; a sharp opening of rising violets and the subtle touch of the rose. Hints of vanilla allowed it to glide down easily upon fading, leaving a powdery scent behind.
I really missed this.
Soon, the counter was filled with bottles of essential oils. I gave them a once over and nodded. I decided that starting with these for now was acceptable, considering I was not really the perfumer here—just the daughter of one from a past life.
My mother gave a weary sigh. “We’ll take all these,” she said.
“Five hundred and four bullions.”
Hellenia stammered. “C-can’t you give me a discount?”
“Since you’re my first customers in a while, four hundred and ninety. That’s my limit. You should know how hard and expensive it is to have these oils. We have pure and high quality stocks on these essences, and they are quite hard and rare to get as well.”
My mother sighed. “Evyionne, you’ve bankrupted me. Goodness, why did I give in? You’re just six…what are you possibly going to do with all of these?”
I gave a sheepish grin.
“If I see this going wasted, you will know pain, young lady.”
I felt a sweat drop on the ridge of my back. Technically, she could turn me down. I think it’s because of the fact that I hadn’t asked for anything so far that she was relenting.
The clinking resounded as she reached in and pulled out silver coins with purplish centers, throwing it on the counter with a drop of sweat trailing down the side of his face.
The shop owner nodded. He took out a couple of coppers from the drawer and put them in her hands. “Here’s your change.”
“Come on, you two.”
“Wait a moment,” the shopkeeper said. “I have this book here. I have a feeling you would like this, young lady.” He reached over the counter and gave me a thick, leather-bound book. “Consider it my thanks for your patronage. I hope whatever you do with these will be fruitful.”
I felt its heaviness in my arms and nearly staggered.
“Would you like me to bag it for you?” he offered, seeing my struggle.
“Yes, please,” I said, sweating. He went around the counter with a blue, soft-weaved fabric bag. He put the box of essential oils and the book in it too. “Here you go.” He handed them to my mother.
“Thank you. What is your name?” my mother inquired.
“It’s Kilda,” the man replied. “Come again soon.”
“Ooh. I hope not,” my mother jokingly said.
They shared a laugh. We made our way out of the shop.
I caught my adoptive mother staring at me as though I was a baffling art piece. “I think I will need to work on my immunity against your charms, daughter,” she told me. “Honestly what will you do with these?”
“I read a book about it. I’ve been wanting to try it since then. It didn’t look so hard.”
I saw her doubting face.
I racked my brain and pulled a face as I lied. “I remember Mistress Kora grew beautiful plants in his garden,” I told her. “He had a couple of roses and those beautiful violets last season. He told me those seeds even came from far, far away and that they weren’t easy to take care of.” I gave my mother’s hand a tug and flashed my most innocent smile. “I wanted Mistress Kora’s garden in one bottle, but I don’t think just five of them are going to be useful…”
Finally, my adoptive mother laughed. “You’ll have many chances, Evyionne. For now, start with these. No crafts are easy even if they seem simple.”
“Yeah,” Eren stated trustingly. “If it’s Evy, she can do it.”
After running around for a bit more, we finally reached the statue. Eren was a little apprehensive about going. Meanwhile, I was awestruck. The statue was grand and tall, towering to almost twenty feet. It had a svelte body curled like spring, racing towards the sky as though eager to return to its domain. It had open jaws with a ball on its tongue. Looking closer, I realized it was actually a full moon.
“Look at the ground,” my mother said.
Its shadow cast a long line across a series of numbers. It was then that it dawned me. “It’s a sundial!” I said, amazed. “That is amazing! It’s a giant one!”
“Nobody uses it anymore but…” Eren shrugged. “I agree.”
She admired the dragon with yearning in her eyes. I admired it as well. There was a majesty to it—a wonder—that would pull any who looked upon it into deep contemplation. There were many elements to it that seemed a little conflicting to me but if I had to label the feeling it was giving me, it was nostalgia. And I didn’t know why.
The sun was setting. I didn’t realize how fast time actually flew. It had been pretty late when I woke up. I wasn’t really sure what time it was when we left the War College.
It was seconds later when a beast descended from the sky, onto the open grounds just ten steps away from the statue.
It was that blond-haired man who had saved us earlier this day.
“Ah, I knew it was you,” he said, jumping off the back of the handsome beast he was riding. It was my first time seeing it up close. Such sleek scales and a long neck—crescent moon talons and a finely built form. It had beautiful, leathery wings that glowed opal under the setting rays of the sun.
“Is that a dragon?” I could not help but ask.
He looked at me and smiled. “Meet Avalon,” he said, reaching up to his mount and caressing the horn jutting from its jaw.
“That’s a nice name,” I whispered.
I looked at the dragon in awe, quite amazed. It returned my gaze with a calm gaze as though to examine my soul. I saw the heaven in its eyes, a shower of rainbows in the after-rain. It had the sky in its scales and the auroras in its wings.
It stared at me for many moments before lowering its head to my level. Its head was twice as big as I was, but I was at peace even as it neared. Eren, on the other hand, had finally broken off her tight grip from my hand and hid behind my back while squeaking in panic. A resonation in my soul rang and I felt the dragon’s throat rumble.
“Whoa,” the man began. “It’s not every day he likes someone.” He scratched his head. “Dragons are particularly hard to please of all the beasts.”
“Leiran,” my mother began.
“Ah.” He pulled his attention back to Hellenia before looking at the girl behind me. Eren peeked over my shoulder. “That reminds me. I need to take you back.”
Eren pouted and looked at me. “Evy…”
“You’ve got to go back, Eren,” I said. “I’m sure you don’t want to keep your mother worrying. Isn’t she sick?” I pointed out.
Looking at her pitiful face, I pulled a smile to my lips. “Mama, is there a way I can talk with Erenol after this?”
“Of course, darling,” my mother stated, hand on my back as she patted Erenol’s head kindly. “Leiran will give Eren my personal frequency so she can talk to you anytime.”
“Really?” Eren’s eyes lit up.
“Sure.” I nodded. “That way, this isn’t the end.”
“Of course not!” she exclaimed, jumping on her feet excitedly at the notion. To my surprise, she dove in for an embrace that I was nearly choking. “Ahhh…I made a friend.” She squealed. “I can’t wait to tell mama. Let’s go, let’s go.” She finally broke away and approached the blond captain, waving at me as though there was tomorrow.
I returned the wave.
“Would you need a ride home?” Leiran offered, taking the shoulder of Eren as he faced us.
“No,” my mother told him. “My daughter and I…” she began with a breath. “We will be walking. This is the first time I brought her outside the House. She deserves a little more time to sight-see.”
The blond captain looked down to me. I could see he was trying discern my face under the shadow of my little cape. I stared right back with my amaranthine pair, wondering what sort of thoughts was running around his head. Was it the judging kind? Whatever it was, I would leave it to him. His expression was ambiguous. I didn’t know if he was calm, surprised, confused, or angry.
“Evy, right?” he asked, tilting a brow charmingly.
I smiled. He was kind of cute. “It’s actually Evyionne.”
“Well, Evyionne.” He knelt before me. “If anyone bullies you or tries to hurt your or your mother, you can have me come to you when you break this.” Leiran pulled something from his pocket. It was a little, pear-shaped, glass crystal that glowed with the symbol of the dragon under the light. It was strung in a simple, woven cord. He placed it around my neck and gave a couple of pats on my head.
Way to go, this man, trying to win the heart of a woman through her child.
“I’ll see you soon, Hellen,” he said with a bright smile. “Come on now, little girl.” He took Eren by the shoulder before lifting her up to the dragon’s back.
Within moments, they were high up in the air, Eren waving at me and shouting senseless things.
“I like him, mama,” I told my mother.
“Really?” She laughed.
“I hope Eren finds her way home okay too.”
“I do too. Come on. Let’s go.”
“He definitely likes you,” I said.
“Oh, Evy.” She pulled me to her side and tapped on my button nose. “Not as much as I like you, my little girl.”