It all begins with the warm red-brown of reluctant eyelids being warmed by the day's starting light. The soft scraping of metal on stone inspires a flinch up your spine. Soon, the crackling of life to the bedroom’s fireplace makes you aware the pre-breakfast rounds of the hearth servants were doing their job. Dreams of returning to slumber were quickly dashed, and a defeated sigh leaves your dry lips. before a long satisfying stretch removes the fluffy comforter and its warmth from you. You whine in mild irritation as your soles connect to the floor. This rapid transference of cool wood to warm feet naturally brings your eyes open to your surroundings.
The emerald green drapes framing tall arched windows have already been drawn to welcome the early morning through to stir life into the gaggle of Greenvale girl siblings. No warning was given prior to the collision of a heartily thrown pillow connecting with you and robs your yawn of air as its momentum pushes you back down atop the comforter. You’re not the first to wake today.
"Rise and shine, Moonflower! You certainly can't be late today of all days.", a teasing hin girl's voice came from the left before a handful of many girls giggling at once all came in as a bullying chorus. As you get up from the direct hit of the pillow, the heat of rage and embarrassment is felt on your thin cheeks and ear tips. Your sister, Jonquil, is staring at you with a smug smile at her precise cushion connection that inspires a deeper heat that boils under your skin with irritation of many years from this particular bullying sibling. Her round healthy halfling face wasn't unattractive, none of the Greenvale girls were, but Jonquil’s torment made her so wildly punchable. Your eyes scanned Jonquil’s auburn braid, and the thought of giving it a good yank brought about the stinging of nails in your palms that now becomes evident from the force you're squeezing them.
A short time has passed. Everyone is seated at a dining table for breakfast, and not adorned in the normal dresses and formal shoes expected. It’s a more comfortable outfit for everyone, but certainly retaining the expected fine quality of . There at the head of the table is your halfling father, Johnathan Greenvale. His auburn hair silver dusted at the temples is tied back today in opposition of the typical Taldoran patriarch of flowing locks laying upon shoulders as a regal leonine mane. However, he still sported his braided beard down the center of his chest like all proper Taldorans do. Beside him is your robust halfling mother, Deborah Greenvale, the fecund matriarch of your greater than a dozen siblings. Her freckled rosy cheeks were maternally round below her doe brown eyes and were all framed by mirrored twin braids of long walnut hair on this middle-aged halfling mother.
On your father’s side of the table, all the Greenvale men and boys were arranged by age with Elwood the oldest, and down the line to the rest. Beside him was Birch, Florian, then Cypress, Ashton, and Oleander with baby Valerian being held by your mother. Assembled down your mother’s side were all of your sisters, likewise arranged where you sit roughly in the middle. To your right starts with Hazel, Gardenia, and Jonquil, then your twin sisters Heather and Hyacinth. You’re seated between Hyacinth and Rosemary, leaving Willow and Camellia in the care of nurse Trudy at the farthest end keeping the peace by quietly pantomiming a stuffed pig around between the two. What a cute little pink puff of adorable pork! The distracted thought about food made you giggle, then curl in the belly as it growled for sustenance.
As you look around for the kitchen door to part, your mind is racing with reminders and excitement. It's your first pheasant hunt! Not your hunt pre se, but the annual autumnal hunt with this year being your first in attendance. Today, the pleasure of wearing pants is yours as well! How free your steps are without carrying so much baggage of dress around your waist! No corset today will steal your breath and posture you for social blusters! Pockets! The joy of pockets! Instead of a purse, you have pockets being a brilliant invention as you've stowed your favorite butterfly hair pin in one pocket and your hair cord. An anxious squirm reminded you it was your left pocket with the hair pin with a brief pick of the pointier end. Just as you were about to swear aloud, your father’s voice got your attention quick.
"Good morning, my great Greenvales. A special day it is for all of us, but more so today for some of us, isn't it?", his bright and booming voice came as he tugged proudly on either side of his open vibrant yellow vest. Proud and barely stout for his age, he was a vigorous portrait of good halfling breeding of Taldoran noble blood. Squinting his blue eyes, he focused their hue in a more appreciative stare into you. These painful seconds of delay were flavored in anticipatory bile! The waffles are steaming right in front of your face! You can smell the hot syrup and the warmed butter, and he's delaying the sweet satisfaction of breakfast for paternal pride! An irritated thought of his choice in timing passed as he continued to speak while your belly rumbled nearly silent behind his usual pre-meal vibrato.
"For a good sum of you, my dear family, today is one you've lived before. The thrill of the chase and the taste of the hunt heralding in autumn... the day we go and seek the fields and forest for her bounties, and rejoice together in celebration at the fruitful success of your efforts. However, today's hunt will include our Thistle on her first.", his voice was even and rich with the seriousness of parental care. Picking up his porcelain mug, he would offer a breakfast coffee toast to the table in his display of fatherly respect for his newest daughter coming of age.
“Keep your chin up, and may you taste victory yet.”, he generically encouraged and sat himself back down at the head of the table. Once more, you feel the hot burn of embarrassment on your cheeks as all eyes are on you for several quiet seconds. The men and boy siblings were of course bored with the proceedings as it prevented their time outside sooner while the lady and girl siblings were either deciding which waffles were theirs or putting bored eyes on you. The only two who make you feel like this is your family are at the opposite end of the long table tending to the youngest of the herd of your siblings. Despite being surrounded by more than twenty people, you feel the subtle cold of being alone withdrawing you into the empty porcelain plate in front of you.
Your father signals the time to eat is now, and the din of a halfling family rose up vibrantly with the clatter of dishes and flatware shuffling food from platter to plate alongside the many voices now unafraid to get back to conversations on pause before the paternal announcement. Your oldest brothers are negotiating between bites the best trail to take. Your sisters opting not to go on the ride were discussing lunch and dinner plans, some gossip about which cousins were attending, and of course a couple fresh blueberries anonymously arrived from above around you while eating the pair of waffles you'd picked from the platter nearest yourself. Not often do you spoil yourself, but in today's honor you poured more syrup and used more than a modest amount of breakfast honey butter. A private joy among the affluent chaos, the thoughts fade away with some mild consoling in the flavor of sweet buttery waffle. Finally, the taste of breakfast! Some more syrup today couldn’t hurt, you thought!
Wrong. The extra loaded waffles were a poor choice you soon found out. Riding your most favorite pony ever, Albert, your belly regrets every jaunty movement of the trotting piebald beast as you keep up in the middle of the riders for today. Normally, Albert's gait was a slow comfort that allowed for reading or even embroidery, but today's trot was not for a lazy status symbol. It was for a purpose, and its speed jostled that pile of buttery sweet waffles around inside your belly. More than once you spit some syrup-flavored bile out to your left, and keep your head low after such an unlady-like act. Despite the shame you feel, none of your brothers nor even your father seem to care about what you did. It wasn't made a mockery of, and so for a first time time out away from the gaggle of fowl-clucking and pride plucking women did you taste some semblance of belonging. This taste of freedom was so fresh! Another deep breath of the country air help did cure the nausea for a few more trots.
Relief strikes nearly an hour outside your home city, the proud Oppara of Taldor. The jostling ride comes to a stop where all the ponies are tied off at the familial encampment at the north forest’s edge, and you were tasked with leaving lush hay to occupy the steeds. You watch your brothers and father discuss and inventory ranged weaponry and field kits for the day with the extended family who had been waiting for your fashionably late branch of the family tree. You hear them discussing the weather, and the whines of the three Greenvale hunting hounds. The trio of dark short-furred canines kept signaling their eagerness to work with soft rolling barks and whimpers. All of the trim black-gray hounds stood nearly as tall as your father. In noting this now with wide eyes, the friendliest of the canid trio was belly up at your father’s feet and the dog’s long legs allowed for pawing at your father's bearded face. A snap of his fingers caught both yours and the dog's attention, and the animal stilled on the ground with the knowledge of consequence. Seeing its obedience in action, a smug tug of your smile could be felt rounding your cheeks at how your father could command respect from such a large animal with a simple gesture.
A sharp sting at the back of your head at the left told of your hair being tugged in an unkind singular yank. Swiveling your head around to see who'd done it, of course Jonquil's stupid face was looking back at yours. "You should already have your hair up by now, Milk Thistle. You want to keep that white old lady mop, then tie it up or the bushes and briers will rip it off your mousey little head.", her know-it-all demeanor was in full force as this was her fifth venture out on these hunts. You had forgotten she had changed her mind last minute to attend until now. A cold dread iced your veins as you knew this was only the start to today's misfortuntes. A deep sigh leaves your mouth as your vision blackens with closed eyes. Tugging out that stowed hair tie, you twist it all around to secure your hair off your shoulders and adorn the bun with your favorite butterfly hairpin. She was right, but you would never admit it to a face you’d rather spit in.
More time has elapsed and you’re crouching where your eyes are tracking some of the desired speckled birds making a decision to flee their current hiding spot for a new one. The excitement of someone's success was being cheered some several dozen yards behind you. You've opted to go alone to avoid your older sister as well as get some time to yourself to do something you've practiced so many weekends for. All summer your fingers were tired to blisters for the first time ever with archery practice so regularly. Some anxiety keeps your chest nearly breathless as you draw tension on the presently armed arrow. The chubby pheasant waddling from under the bush was making its move, and it was under your aim.
Having trained for this, you sat here now with the doubt of missing this first shot against your moving target.
Furrowing your brow as the loss of confidence droops the tip of the arrow, you purse your lips and start to re-aim when a mocking snort comes from behind, and the twang of a bow sounds off behind you. Startled, you whirl your head around to see where this moment of hell was being donated from. One of your middling brothers, Birch, was unimpressed with your hesitation and claimed the fat slow bird as his prize. You can see the frown you have put your white brows down into your vision as you look at him in contempt. Ugh, this is making your queasy stomach lurch again! Taking a deep breath to calm yourself, you go to speak but are cut off and spoken over.
"You had that all day, Thistle. Don't get all soft now. You talked a big game all summer long about being such a good shot... so take one.", his slightly snide advice came out with a huff of brotherly chiding and a shake of his head again. Brushing his fingers through his short auburn beard with a contemplative hum of second thoughts fading his smug smile, he'd point forward at the bird twitching on the ground with the arrow pinning it to the earth by its throat. "Go dispatch it, and I won't tell anyone I shot it.", his softer smile came about as he noted your frustration at his sibling heckling. You could feel your ears hot once more as you looked at the flapping pheasant, then back to Birch as you considered this. You shake your head and explain how that's dishonest, but you'll baste his birds better when the cooking of them came to be as a thanks for his generosity. Understanding was plain on his face, and he went about to handle his lucky shot's poor consequences while you trot off for a new set of bushes to wait out a new chance.
It’s now later in the day with the taste of failure being complimented by the tart green apple you were finishing up. As you skipped on the lunch back at the campsite to take more chances to get yourself a bird, this was what you opted for to tie you over for the coming pheasant feast in a few hours time. Tossing the core to the grass, there came a deep inhale while you dabbed your sleeve on your mouth to clean off the refreshing sour flavors tingling at your tongue. For about twenty minutes, you had your eyes on a pair of nestled down pheasants keeping themselves low and presumably hidden. Having decided that this would be the perfect shot with the target being still, you drew back with the arrow in sight of your success. You hold your breath and barely narrow your white lashes into view.
"You're not allowed to bait the pheasants, Moonflower. That's cheating, mn?", that nasty voice came from behind and made your shoulders rise involuntarily. While watching the pair of birds make a break for it and take flight, you turn the drawn arrow on Jonquil. You are so sick of her bullshit that this is enough! She clearly can see your seriousness and lack of remorse in the angry face you’re projecting. You began adding some tension to the drawn arrow before she would drop the apple core you had discarded and stare at you in disbelief. You barely control the urge to roll your eyes at her sudden loss for words. The burning in your arm holding the tension in place makes your brow twitch as you keep silently staring down your bully sister. Your ears are ringing and your fingers are cold as you remain wordless in your defensive aim. She finally dares to back up a few steps before turning to run back from where the camp was, and now nearly as pale as you are. Good! The bully has tucked her tail and fled!
On the adrenaline high of standing up for yourself against your sisterly bully at the end of a drawn arrow, you relocate further down the gentle hill at the edge of the north forest. You finally see some of the pheasants had been spotted scurrying along the underbrush. A shout of success from one of the men in the family came with some clapping and whistling a good distance off. Wow! They’re so good at taking birds! A wistful smile was brief as you settle down to sit on the small hill while savoring their celebratory sounds. With you having the high ground against the three pheasants below, you put the arrow previously aimed at Jonquil down on the fowl at the front. Hedging your bets with the birds in the bush, you feel the chances of you hitting one or more birds works out after a few minor adjustments for distance. Once more, you take a deep breath and lay the aim on the cluster of cuddling pheasants.
This time, no one comes. No dog barks. No siblings come to torment. No whistles, no claps, no nothing. Only the thump, thump, thumping of your racing heart in year ears amalgamated with high toned ringing. The arrow leaves your fingers, and you realize you'd forgotten to breathe for too long. Thack! The impact of your arrow is heard before you see everything unfold. Two of the birds were warbling their cries of fright in flight while the other kicked up its leg and tail in an uncoordinated dance towards death. You look around to be sure that this just happened. Scanning side to side, you stand up quickly, too quickly as your head reels in the mix of accidental oxygen deprivation and a poor choice in food today. A burp of returning green apple went into your hand while you ran down the hill to inspect your success. Joyous day at last! Something went right! After a few celebratory twirls with your dying pheasant in your excited hands, you laugh at how stupid and morbid that was before running back to collect your bow discard halfway down the hill in your hurry.
A short time further had come to pass. The shadow of the forest cooled you on your way back to the camp after you confirmed your kill, and left it skewered proudly with the arrow used as convenient handles for transport. When you arrive, the familial group present greet you with some claps as they see you bring in a floppy fowl sporting the purple and black feathers of its fatal shot belonging to you. With the hint of sunset closing out the hunt, you had made it back in time to help break down the camp and start counting heads to make sure all the Greenvales got home. You’re taught how to ensure a fire is put out in the wild by no less than eight of your relatives excluding your father who does so again not but minutes later. When all forty-nine Greenvales were accounted for, that’s when the impressive site of the rowdiest of the bunch tore off at the front in a made pony dash towards Oppara. Your heart was with them, but Albert’s would surely fail if you pushed him to go so fast. However, your ride was peaceful with your prize pheasant in your lap sloshing its dead head against your leg in steady thumps. This is going to be the best tasting bird ever!
Home at the Greenvale estate came roughly an hour and a half ride back as everyone was slow with celebration songs, wine drinking of the older family, and stories being told loudly the whole ride. You had listened to many from those around you, and yet not a word had come from the recently silent Jonquil who you had noted was riding behind you the entire distance in their return. A brief recollection of your father snapping his finger at the dog to behave, you put on a proud smile as the contentment of conquering this bitch warmed your cheeks positively once again. A happy hummed tune, a celebration tune coming home to spice apple pies, is heard as you trade Albert into the servants at the stables and depart to tidy up to help cook the feathery catches of the day.
You’re now tending to pheasants already scalded and plucked by the kitchen servants. Yeugh, how slimy and inaccurate! You can still feel a couple of the feathers sheaths prodding from the warm slick bird skin. An older dwarven woman, Ingrid, and a portly middle-aged halfling chef, Ganard, were busy with many side dishes that needed to be just right after collecting the basics from your sisters more competent in the kitchen. The youngest were out setting the table in the formal dining room tonight as it was the only place for the room for what was to unfold. These two were among your favorite house staff, and you were too gleeful to be in the kitchen as Ingrid playfully scolded in sharing your mirth over success. Don’t let it get to your head, she said! If only she could hear how it was you who stole Jonquil’s tongue! Sentenced to stuffing the birds with the breading mixtures, you would take the time to ensure that all the pheasants were equally balanced. Except Jonquil's pheasant, of course. You shorted her a couple apples knowing how much drier it would be. What a satisfying surprise that would be! With the Greenvale estate about to host a reunion of the hunting party today, the seventeen pheasants on the kitchen table didn't seem like enough to your eyes knowing how many rotund and hungry halflings were about to descend on your home until dawn.
Ingrid served the three large dining tables with roast bird after roast bird after roast bird while Ganard announced who had taken the victory shot upon the served pheasant as was tradition for these hunts. Your father, your brothers, your sister, and cousins came before your name was said. Everyone had applauded, and given expected praise with whistles and glasses tapped with flatware. When "Thistle" was announced by the chubby halfling chef, he would nod once when he made eye contact with you. The same praise was lifted with clattering of flatware, whistles, and your cousin, Jemma, giving you a nudge and a hug to congratulate your win today. While a few more names were said, you focused your eyes at your lap and reflected on today until the serving procession ended. There was so much that happened, but the excitement of it all made it easy to remember.
The noise of your family at breakfast was nothing like the cheerful cacophony of the extended Greenvales cutting loose once dinner had been cleared to begin. Someone began playing a violin intensely loud like some lowborn fiddle while the shuffling of flatware and many voices murmured too many things at once to discern any one conversation. With your first tasting the dark meated delicious gamefowl you dispatched earlier, you were struck with a streak of gluttony for the plump pheasant and it's greasy rich flesh so succulently prepared. You gleefully unraveled it bite by bite with your fork and knife on your plate without noticing anything else. Four servings of your bird was had before you dared taste any of the baked sweet carrots, buttery seasoned mashed potatoes, warm dark bread, or even your favorite; the breaded stuffing. So much of the roasted pheasant made up for the lack of good eating today, and a slowness would come about gradually as you grazed on the other items of autumn celebration. Unfortunately caught in a conversation with Jemma waxing on and on about a book on songbirds, you sluggishly piecemeal eat your second slice of pumpkin pie. After setting the dessert plate upon your dinner plate to comfortably lean back in your seat, you drink from your sixth mulled berry cider a another time and drift off into the blackness of a food coma with Jemma blissfully unaware you didn't give a damn about which larks were in the region this time of year.
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