To a number of prompts, starting with Ã. Set in the Aunt Family universe.
“Once upon a time.”
“And long, long ago.”
“And long, long ago.” Rosaria smiled at the children around her. The smile was as much a part of the story as the beginning, as their responses, and the pictures she could see forming in her head.
“How long ago, Aunt Rosa?”
“Long enough ago that the histories have faded into dust. That the stories have been retold until their shapes are lost. That the retellings have been repainted and made into movies.”
“Really long ago, then.”
“So very long ago. Once upon a time, or so we’re told, there lived two brothers. Not just any brothers, no.” Rosaria felt the shape of the story and was intrigued. It wasn’t so often that her tales were of boys. “These brothers were giants. Ãurs, thorn-giants. And they loved each other more than anything in the world.”
One of her nephews started to say “eww,” almost as a knee-jerk. But before he could say anything, he caught a look from two of his cousins. Ahh. Aaah, that’s where they were going.
“And they loved each other,” Rosaria repeated, “the way that the best of friends love each other. They trusted each other more than any other at their backs. And they listened to the other when they needed advice.”
“Besties.” One of Rosaria’s nieces smiled, and squeezed her friend’s hand.
“Besties.” It wasn’t a bad word, as such things went. She waited for the children to finish their giggling, and then continued on. “And so it was all meet and good, until the brothers reached their time of adulthood.”
“Grown-ups ruin everything.” That from one of Rosaria’s favorite nephews, and one that would need watching.
“There are times when growing up can ruin many things.” Rosaria smiled at that nephew in particular, as if sharing a private joke. And perhaps they were. “I myself have found that the trick is to not, quite grow up.”
“But you’re old, Aunt Rosa.”
So she was. She continued with the story, instead. “And certainly do not grow up too fast. Which was the problem, you see, with these brothers, the Ãurs. They were growing up, I’m afraid, faster than they could. They were growing out of their childhood before they were ready to fit into adulthood.”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s like being too big for your size six pants, but not yet big enough for the ones your mom bought for the next year.” That niece ought to know. She was growing like a weed.
“Oh. Hunh.” And that nephew wasn’t growing much at all. Rosaria continued. “The brothers reached the time of adulthood, as we all must do. They were still best of friends, still the closest love two brothers could find, until they were tested.”
“Tested. Because, in this land, all must be tested to become adults.”
“Like the standardized exams?”
“Something like that. But, because they were thorn-giants, the testing was to be of their mettle, not of their spelling ability or their skill at matching tiny shapes to one another.” She waited for the giggling to subside.
“Their metal?” One of her nephews frowned. His sister whispered something in his ear. “Oh! Like what they’re made out of.”
“Exactly. They were going to have to prove what they were made of. And to do that…”
The children chorused together. “There would have to be a quest.”
“Exactly. A quest. So, as they were about to reach adulthood, these two thorn-giants, best of friends and best of brothers, began their quest. The one went north, the other south.” Rosaria pointed without error in those cardinal directions.
“What were they looking for?”
The children were so good at cues. “They were searching for a symbol.”
“A symbol? Who sent them after that?”
“Why, their village, of course. For the village are the ones who live with the children, who raise them, and who will work with them when they’re adults.
“Like picking an Auntie.”
That was interesting indeed. “Like growing up in our family, yes.” She folded her hands back into her lap. “They were told ‘go find the thing that most represents you,’ and so they began walking.”
“One to the north and one to the south.” The children pointed.
“Indeed. And the northern brother, he walked up the mountains and down the mountains. He walked around the lake and swam through it. He walked through the snow, and through the rain. And what do you think he found?”
“Nothing indeed. And yet…”
“He found mountains.”
“He found lakes!”
“He found rain!“
“And muddy boots.”
“Very much so.” Rosaria was proud of her students. “He found many things, did he not. But none of them were, he thought, the thing that represented him.
“Meanwhile, the southern brother walked down the beach. He walked through the swamp and around the bay. He walked through the rain, and the storms, and the sunshine that beat down upon his shoulders. And what do you think he found?”
“He found the ocean and the storms!”
“Indeed. He found all of this, and yet…”
“Nothing that was his symbol.”
“Very true. And what do you think they did next?”
“They kept walking!”
“Indeed. They kept walking, the one north, and the other south. When they had to, they swam. When they must, they took boats. When they could, they road trains. They found the warmth and the cold, the wet and the dry…”
“But nowhere their symbols!”
“Exactly.” Rosaria made a circle in the air. “And the one brother kept going, North and North and North, and the other, South and South, and South, unerringly, always the same way, until…” Her fingers met in a loop around the other side.
“They ran into each other!?” The children bounced.
“They did. And they looked at one another. They had been walking for years, by now. Walking forever, it felt like. And what did they find?”
It was one brother who spoke, quietly. “They found their symbols.”
“Very good.” Rosaria loved all of her nieces and nephews, grandchildren and borrowed-kin, but these particular ones, today, she loved more than most.
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