Written on November 20, 2019 (♏)

When the barrels of golden sweet oranges arrived at Igros out from Warjilis, Alma had spearheaded their efforts to abscond with a basket for private use, although Ramza was informed that he would bear responsibility for the conspiracy should any of their party be caught and interrogated. Tietra, for her part, had tried as best she could to have as little to do with the affair as possible, fearful of bringing trouble upon anyone. Still, after whatever frightfully convoluted plan they had undertaken was over-after the disguises had been discarded, the scullery maid bribed, and the boys fled to some obscure hideaway with their portion of the take-Tietra found herself huddled under the steps of the wine cellar, clutching a fruit that had been handled her with all the pomp of a sacramental orb.

She did not want to confess that she had never had an orange before-at least not the whole of one. She'd recalled that traders had drifted by their village with some candied peels for a few seasons, and she faintly remembered the taste of thick, bittersweet preserves she'd once been given when ill. Non-native fruits, however, were not a luxury found ten leagues out of Gariland in the homes of horse breeders. Nervous, she kept fidgeting with the object she'd been given, not yet entirely certain as to whether there might be a proper protocol for peeling it.

"I wonder if you can conjure with it like an apple," she said at last, rolling it about in her hands. "If you peel the skin off an apple all in one go and toss it overhead, they say it will spell out your husband's name."

She looked to Alma, whom she hoped would take this as a cue to demonstrate how oranges were peeled. She watched as her friend cut at the fruit's top with a short knife and unwound the skin in a long spiral, stopping abruptly at the end to tear the peel in two before it was separated entirely.

"There," she said laughing. "I hope this means I shall have the good fortune to never marry."

"Truly, miss," Tietra said, taken aback but trying to sound more curious than shocked. "You... you don't want to marry?"

She popped a section of fruit in her mouth and leaned against the damp stone wall, smiling. "I suppose I could take on Delita if you don't manage to ensorcell one of my brothers," she said while chewing, "but it would be a purely pragmatic arrangement." She broke off another slice. "We should sleep in separate houses while you and I carry on as sisters."

Tietra turned several shades of scarlet. Alma laughed again.

"Please don't take me seriously." Her voice softened as she grabbed her friend's hand. "I would never ill use your brother nor have the indecency to saddle you with one of mine. I'm just not..." She paused. "...marriage means a different thing for noblewomen, and I should like to forestall thoughts on it as long as I am able."

Tietra nodded, although she wasn't entirely sure what Alma meant. She was happy though-very happy-that she'd even joke about trying to trade off brothers in some manner or another such that they could remain together. Even as grateful as she had been these past years, plucked from ruin and suddenly dropped in the midst of a knight's household, she had never known the gap between her despairs and joys so fully as she had when Alma Beoulve had finally ridden to Igros to stay, a laughing girl in a red cloak who seemingly carried another season into Gallione with her even in the midst of the winter snow. To have at last such a companion and conspirator was more than she had or could have asked, and she did wish that Alma should persist with her-alive with all buoyancy that four monastery walls could not enclose-for however long she could manage.

She gripped back at her friend's hand, and Alma seemed to do her utmost to shake off whatever pensive silence had its hold on her. She plunged her thumb into the center of her orange and slowly pulled away another segment, which she held out for Tietra with a smile.

"Enough of all this, though-we should leave off talking about the peel and get at what's inside."

Tietra ate slowly, closing her eyes a moment as she tried to put to memory how sweet it was.