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Prologue - Das Vadanya


In the summer-time, they had the sunflowers. Wide, yellow heads, they had, and great, tall stalks that stretched up to the heavens, as if they were intending to break free from the earth itself. They blocked out the sky, and the weak, northern sun, creating a special place, just for the two of them.

“Someday,” the boy said, puffing out his small chest. “I’ll be taller than these flowers, and I’ll be the one to protect us.”

The girl smiled, of course, but inwardly shook her head. She had been brought into this world, sticky and blue, just five minutes before him. He was her baby brother, a fact which—it seemed to him—could never be forgotten. His entire life had been spent catching up to her, and he could never quite close that inch of height she had on him.

Perhaps that’s why she felt the instinctive need to protect him. There would be no other children in the manor until their sister came along some y ears later, and for the longest time it was them against the entire world. But she was only a girl, with limited powers, and so when their parents and tutors turned their backs they would run off to hide in the sunflowers. They stretched out into long fields that seemed to never end. Maybe, the thought would sometimes occur to them, that if they just kept walking the sunflowers would simply keep going for forever, and take them far away. Maybe they wouldn’t have to go back home.

He would cry sometimes, muddying his trousers from the cool dirt. The tears running down his face would make his reddened cheek sting all the more. At times like these she would hold him tightly to her and hum soft, half-forgotten lullabies.

There was only one time that she cried; in the dead of night, curled up on her side, knees to her chest. The night air bit, but she had been grateful. It was something real to cling onto. She had also stung, but not on her face.

Throughout the years he would always wonder what had happened to her that night, but she never uttered a single word about it. She had to be strong, for him. She would not let him see her weak. Not ever.

But after that day, something changed within him as well, because before long, he started to grow. One morning, he was the small, scrawny boy he’d always been, and the next, that inch of height between them had disappeared. And almost the very day after that, another had taken its place. Soon, just as he promised, he was taller than the sunflowers, and she was not.

And yet, much to his chagrin, he would always remain her little solnishka, her little sunflower. He might have been taller and broader, stronger even, but she was still somehow more. The inch remained, even if no one could see it any longer.

It still remained when his father declared that he would join the army.

That last night, they ran off to their field of sunflowers for the final time. He cried for the first time since he was little, and confessed that he was terrified. She held his hands and sang to him, and smiled, but deep down she was trying desperately to keep in check her own despair. But it was in that moment she realized something important. She needed to take that fear and make it her strength. It was the only way.

After that night, after he left her behind, she vowed that in his absence, she would become even stronger still. She would shield them from the entire world if she had to, so that when the winter came again, when the sunflowers withered and died, their rotting corpses strewn about the fields, they would survive.

She would have plenty of time to accomplish this, and more besides, as she wouldn’t see him again for another three, long years.

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