“Everywhere you look, you can see the Gods’ delicate harmony in the world.”
That is the famous phrase written in religious texts, uttered by priests and servants alike. It refers to the ornate beauty, to the terrible power that the Gods had brought into their world, to Tsubasa’s intricate designs that work together like cogs in a great machine. Our continent is an island, far away from any other place, and as such, we are one organism, one body living together.
Beatrice often thought about the harmony connecting all living things together. Everything had a part to play. And to extend it further, every person’s actions had an impact on everything else. Be kind, and your warmth would reverberate across the continent. Do harm, and it would be a poison. Everything mattered.
For instance, the autumn leaves blowing through the wind. It was simply dead matter shed from a much larger organism, but to Beatrice’s eye, each leaf played an important part in the nature around it, providing food for animals, shelter for insects, and, with the passing of time, nutrients for the soil below. All of that coming from an element of creation so tiny you’d hardly stop to think of it.
Sometimes it wasn’t clear how everything fit into the grand scheme of things, but that was a matter of context and understanding. One may have thought that the packs of greyback bears roving around town scavenging through trashcans were a nuisance, but even they had their place, Beatrice would note to herself.
Of course at this very moment, crossing a bridge towards her home, a gentle creek flowing underneath, Beatrice wondered just how true this phrase rang. What place could ever be held in this world for such a girl like the one at the marketplace?
Brown eyes, sharp nose, flowing long hair… For what reason would the Gods ever have created such a beautiful woman, so stunning she distracted everyone around her?
It made her feel jealous that anyone could be as pretty as that girl while Beatrice herself was so plain. She tousled her too-curly hair and wiped at her too-freckled face, but that of course didn’t do anything to get rid of her boring features, which was all of her. She was the kind of girl people mistook for a young boy at a glance, the kind of girl people couldn’t pick out of a crowd even if they had a detailed sketch to go by.
Surely the Gods had a purpose for that, too, but maybe it was just to help spur her to excel at her junior priest classes. Because it’s not like she could have a social life while being the most physically unremarkable human to have ever existed and that would ever exist (at least that’s what she always told herself).
One day, she was going to become a real priest, and she was going to travel across Tsubasa and save every person she could. So it didn’t matter too much to her, in the end, how she looked.
The marketplace was close to her home, but it was always so crowded, and she struggled to make it home with her bags of food intact. Thanks to years of making the trip, though, she learned to navigate the sea of people fairly well. She never knew what kinds of interesting characters she’d meet at the marketplace, either, so it was always worth braving the crowds. After all, if she hadn’t gone in the first place, she would never have seen that really pretty girl, never gotten the opportunity for her eyes to absorb such a stunning image.
Everywhere she looked had signs of the Gods’ hard work of keeping the harmony. The city was safe, the skies were clear, and the air was crisp. A group of old ladies chatted about local gossip on a sidewalk bench. A mustached man on a dandy-horse cycled by and waved at Beatrice. No, she didn’t know who he was, but she waved back and gave a smile.
It was her goal as a junior priest to bring as much kindness to the city of Balarand as she was able. That included the grander, visible acts such as volunteering at the library, going out of your way to help the elderly and the sick, or preaching the virtues of the Gods. But it also included the smaller things, such as saying please and thank you, holding the door open for people behind you, or greeting the people that pass you by. Helping others.
If everyone made it their goal to be kind, the world wouldn’t be so filled with war and misery. But that wasn’t everyone’s goal. It was easy for Beatrice to notice that fact, each time she spotted the Dannark guardsmen that patrolled every city block. Still a rough sight that stuck out against the city streets.
I remember the first time I saw a Dannark soldier in full armor; she was covered head to toe in sharp, dull-gray metal, helmet completely covering her face. I couldn’t help but feel intimidated, and I’m sure Beatrice felt the same way every time she passed one of these guards. That was the intention behind the design. It was not a welcoming sight.
Beatrice soon reached her family’s home, which was located on the fourth floor of an apartment complex. Her parents had leased it out for about eight years now, which meant just four to go before they were given legal ownership… well, under Elincian laws, at least. She wasn’t sure how property rights worked under the occupation. Anyway, it meant they were just a few years away from selling and retiring to some coastal beach town, where the weather was warm and the cares were few. That didn’t sound too fun to her.
She knocked on the door and her Dad opened it. “Hey, Beatrice!” he greeted. “What’ve you got for us today?”
“I’ve got groceries, and I’ve got an empty stomach.”
“Leave the stomach and get in here!”
The sight of her Dad was the sight of a smile–she hardly ever saw him without one. He fit all the stereotypes of a scholar, sporting a shiny pale crown where his hair used to be, a belly packing more pounds than a sack of potatoes, and glasses whose thick lenses masked the blue of his eyes. But that only made him more endearing of a presence, especially to his daughter.
They entered the apartment. Their home was as busy as ever, even with just the three of them. It was a bit small, only a single room for the kitchen, sewing table, and dining table, and then the bathroom and bedrooms. Some might call it cozy. But with the day’s activities on full display–a clothesline out on the balcony, a pot on the stove, papers strewn about on the kitchen table–it was a bit chaotic for Beatrice’s taste. She fought the urge to clean up after her parents’ messes and let them learn the value of organization.
Her Mom was busy sewing patches on an old outfit. She didn’t do much outside of the house that Beatrice knew of, but she took care of most of the cooking, cleaning, and scheduling for her daughter and husband. Today she wore the same neutral expression she always had on during focused activities, but it seemed more pleasant than usual. With age, her once-brown skin had faded over the into something resembling an olive, and her hair had gone straight from black to off-white in a matter of years. She had this spark of beauty, this air of near-regency about her, even if she didn’t carry herself as such. Sometimes Beatrice felt like she could hardly tell the resemblence between them.
Dad had been reading a book about the philosophical conundrums of an ancient civilization that inhabited the continent of Tsubasa thousands of years before Elince or Dannark or Doros or Zahn. Mom was good at making dresses and recently mentioned she wanted to try for something in the style of what the ancient people of this region might have worn. However, there was little surviving art of their fashion, so she was stumped. Dad, naturally, had been researching the subject ever since.
It wasn’t often two people were so in love after so many years together, but her Mom and Dad defied all expectations. Exceedingly so, sometimes. At family excursions Beatrice often felt less like a girl with her family than a third wheel on her parents’ dates.
“What are you making for us tonight?” Mom asked, her gaze still crystal-focused on the fabrics in front of her.
“Onion soup,” Beatrice said. “I’m going to try a new recipe.”
What she didn’t tell them was that she had no idea if it would be any good, but that would only be a problem if the recipe sucked. It came straight from her friend Runa’s mother, so it had to be good. While her friend was a bit, um, eccentric, her mother was one of the nicest ladies she’d ever met, and a great cook to boot.
So after some prepwork, Beatrice started a flame on the stove and set down a pot filled with diced onions, carrots, and just a few cucumber slices. She had major reservations about dumping cucumbers into this soup, but that’s how the recipe went.
That girl she saw in the marketplace had some onions in her hands. Maybe she was making onion soup tonight too. Though she looked a bit too proper to be making food for herself.
It was so strange that she could remember that girl’s face so vividly, even hours later. Any other time she noticed some random person on the street, their facial features faded fast. Could anyone really recall every beautiful person they ever saw? Unlikely. And yet, something about her stood out.
After another half hour, the onion soup was apparently done. She dipped a bowlful out for each of her parents and then for herself, and went to set them down on the dining table… except that ithe table was still covered in books and fabrics. “Supper!” she shouted to her parents, both absorbed in their current activities, Dad reading and Mom sewing. It didn’t appear to Beatrice that they even heard her. “Supper is served!” she repeated.
“Oh, already?” Dad asked. “Let’s eat, then.”
“You have to clear the table off first…” Beatrice whined.
They did. After a minute of tidying up, they said a prayer and then all dug into the soup. It was… pretty good. Not great. An accurate summary of everything Beatrice cooked. The cucumbers had basically melted into the soup, so they tasted like mush. Surely she messed up at the recipe, because this didn’t seem right at all.
“So, how did your day go?” Dad asked, seemingly enjoying the soup just fine. “Anything fun happen?”
“Nothing special,” Beatrice said, declining to mention the beautiful girl she saw at the marketplace because that would be odd to mention to your parents. “My classmates are dumb and never want to learn anything new, so our group project went really poorly.”
“You mean in religion class,” Dad said with a chuckle. “You know not all students are there for the same reason as you.”
“’Well’ nothing, young lady. The Gods inspire people through different ways. Maybe some of your classmates have the same interest in history or woodwork that you have as a junior priest.”
It sure didn’t seem like it. Nobody at her school seemed to hold the same enthusiasm that she did, for any subject. Everyone simply wanted a graduation certificate so they could get out of there and start on an apprenticeship.
“Speaking of history,” Dad continued. “Did you know that the ancient civilization that used to exist in Balarand was known as Allanshoi?”
Beatrice sighed with a smile.
“Yes, sweetie, you’ve told us this several times,” Mom said. She was already finished with her soup and set the bowl aside to continue working on the dress.
“Yes, but did you know that the name was formed in the tongue of the Danites, the tribe that eventually settled in Doros and Zahn? Because of that, if we look to how linguistically the Danite language formed names, ‘Allanshoi’ is most likely a loanword from another language. And we can guess that ‘Allanshoi’ was probably something more like ‘Alnsay’ or even…” He took a dramatic pause. “Something like ‘Elinsay’.”
Beatrice was having a bit of a hard time following this line of thought.
Mom was similarly incredulous. “So what you are saying is that the ancient civilization called their land an older word for Elince?”
“That’s my conjecture,” he said. “I think whoever they were, our language is directly descended from theirs. Which in my eyes means we are the true heirs to whatever relics they may have, especially the artifacts in that museum that definitely do not belong to those–” He noticed his growing tone of voice and calmed himself down. “–those Dannark archaeologists who think they know everything.”
Beatrice’s Dad had had a hard time adjusting to life under the occupation. None of them were ever targets of punishment or arrest, and now that taxes were down, they had more money for themselves to spend; it almost seemed like a net positive. But because of all the cultural research Dad did, he loved the kingdom more deeply than even some of its rulers.
“I think we just have to give everything some time,” Beatrice said. “We’ll keep up our hard work and one day Elince will be a better place. Dannark might not be as bad as they say.”
Dad grumbled. He was not very keen on Beatrice’s opinions on the occupation.
“Well, your studies haven’t changed, at least,” Mom said. “I’m really glad for that. If anything happened to your school…” She said she was glad, but she didn’t smile.
“It’s not like we follow different Gods or anything,” Beatrice said, trying to keep the mood up. “They’re probably giving my school more money, if anything.”
Speaking of school, Beatrice hadn’t looked at any of the material for tomorrow. She hated being behind during lectures, so she needed to fix that as soon as possible. “You can have the rest of the soup,” she said to her parents. “I’m going to go study.”
“That’s my girl,” said Dad.
Her room was a bit too small for a grown adult, but perfect if you packed the shelves just right and didn’t mind the small gap between the desk and the bed. She went over to that narrow space in front of her desk and promptly opened up her notebooks.
Beatrice was a junior priest, a trainee at a religious school dedicated to the Gods. Education certificates were required for almost any apprenticeship in Balarand, and it just so happened that the Church gave free education. School was very popular, but the required religion classes weren’t usually well-regarded by students.
It was her actual, literal dream: she really wanted to become a priest, to help keep the harmony strong across the entire continent.
So she studied away.