5. Spring: Jump (Part 1)

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"A lady must remain dainty and demure at all times. Never should she raise a voice or a hand in anger or excitement. Never should she trot or run in the presence of gentlemen. She must always appear calm, collected, and effortlessly graceful."

A YOUNG ELLADAN LADY'S PRIMER,

Lady Elena Primrose



I crouched on the tree branch.

"Genie." My brother gazed up at me from the ground below. "Don't even consider it."

"I told you, Cyril, don't call me Genie. It's Gene!" I jumped.

My arms and legs felt only air, and then I wrapped my arms around the next tree branch and hung from it, bare feet dangling. Cyril looked at me in disapproval. Thank the Lord and Lady that the bark was smooth or I would have shredded my palms. Oswin, Cyril's best friend, a boy with messy hair and a ready grin, jumped up and tickled my feet.

"Hey," I called, and kicked at him. He leapt away, laughing. I let go and landed lightly on the forest ground. "I still don't know how you do it, Gene," Oswin said.

"You're like a squirrel in the branches."

I swiped at the leaves tangled in my hair. "It's easy. I'm not a squirrel – you're merely a couple of timid mice."

Cyril glowered. "More like we actually have minds in our skulls. Yours is full of lint and daydreams."

"More interesting than what is inside your skull." I grinned up at my brother. He was a head taller than me, but I was catching up to him even though he was two years older. I was wearing an old pair of trousers and a tunic of his. I only had to roll up the legs and arms once now.

I sped down the path. "Race you boys to the pond!" I called over my shoulder. Their footfalls followed and I quickened my pace.

They nearly beat me. I jumped in and sank. Opening my eyes in the murky water, I watched Cyril and Oswin sink to the silt on the bottom of the pond. The chirping of the birds silenced and it was just us, the green water, the tadpoles and frogs.

I burst to the surface and gulped a lungful of air. The boys followed and we splashed about in the water. I was a better swimmer than either of them.

Afterwards, we sat on the riverbank and squished our toes into the mud. I sighed and lay down on my back, careless of the soil, tucking my arms behind my head and looking at the sky.

"I wish we could come to the countryside more often," I said.

"Me too," Cyril agreed. "A month or two a year in the Emerald Bowl is not enough time. It's a bit harder for you to jump off tree branches in the city, after all, isn't it, Gene?"

I chuckled at the sky. "There's always scaffolding." "You haven't," he said, shocked.

I smirked.

"If Mother ever saw you, she'd send you to finishing school quicker than a lager turns to piss."

I shrugged. "I don't do it that often. And I make sure no one's around and that I'm dressed like a mudlark. She'll never find out."

"She better not, little Miss Iphigenia Laurus."

I threw a handful of mud at his face. "Don't call me that." I had the most hideous name. My mother was a sadistic woman.

He laughed, his face and shoulder splattered with mud. Oswin opened his mouth.

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