"Christina, please close the window. It is bitter cold, and you need to go to sleep," the innkeeper said as she folded the last of the towels.
She stared down at the four-year-old girl, who like her, was dressed in a brown bonnet and dress with a black apron. The old woman could hear the little girl's teeth chattering, but she knew that Christina could block out the world if she needed to. The candles mounted on the wall threw shadows about as if there were other children there lending Christina their support.
Christina's elbows were propping her up on the white window sill, the rest of her body lying on her bed. For over an hour, she'd been eagerly gazing out the second-floor window into the solemn darkness of the night, her heart slowly sinking.
"I can't, Auntie. He hasn't come yet. Papa always comes every second Tuesday. This is the second Tuesday." She raised a finger. "And he promised he wouldn't miss any more."
"Christina Creangle, your words. There are so many of them. How do you know so many things?" Auntie let out a heavy sigh and picked up the towels.
"I hear them when we work. They just make sense to me. Like the little things I can fix."
Auntie's attempt at a smile soured as she glanced out the window. She'd hoped she'd be wrong today, that for the first time Christophe would show up as he'd profusely promised two weeks ago.
Sadly, since Auntie had gotten up that morning, she'd known how the day would turn out. To distract herself, she had helped her sister to prepare a new edition of the argument they threw at Christophe every few months. They couldn't understand why he wouldn't take Christina with him to live in the palace, as they'd heard that other Conventioneers had family in residence with them.
"Yes, Meeshich?" She tapped Christina on the nose.
"Do you call me little mouse because my Papa does? Or does he call me Meeshich because you do?" Christina took the towels from her auntie's arms. She then scooted to the end of the bed and ran over to help put them on the shelves.
With the job done, Auntie sat down on the edge of the bed. "Sit with me. Come."
Christina hesitated. "Is it okay if I stand? I'm taller this way, and maybe I can see Papa when he comes."
Auntie put her loving arms around the little girl who had been dropped into their lives three years before. Christina's mother, a close friend, had died, and Christophe came to the inn with the two-year-old and a million promises.
"I see the clock you made last week." Auntie pointed at one of the two objects that decorated Christina's room; the other being a black, wooden horse the little girl had made herself. "And I think of all your words, and I wonder how all of this can be in such a small girl." She rubbed Christina's belly, making her giggle.
Christina smiled at the clock, its second hand going around backward, a particular delight for the little genius. "You know, I made it from three broken ones."
"Oh, I know." Auntie's heart warmed as she saw the ever-rarer triumphant smile on Christina's face. She laughed and planted a kiss on the top of Christina's head. "You have told me almost as many times as my sister has told me. And it is the best clock I have ever seen. It is so beautiful."
She turned her head away from Christina and braced herself. "I don't have my glasses. What time is it?"
Christina thought. "Eight forty-two."
The old woman didn't want to ask the next logical question. It would be knocking over the final domino, but it had to be done. "And when is your bedtime?" She rocked Christina gently back and forth, her gut twisting with anxious anticipation.
YOU ARE READING
The King's-Horse (Book 1)Fantasy
An all-new steampunk-meets-fairy-tale series of heart, legacy, and duty. Christina Creangle stared at the smoldering ruins of her life's work. When the Moufan, an ancient secret society, offered to take care of her senile father as repayment of an...