I s Aster the only one in the house who cannot sleep? Papa nodded off soon after the evening repast, and Clara’s eyes are closed and her face is like that of an angel. Only she lies in bed, the stream of thoughts running through her mind, a river that will not be dammed. She closes her eyes, tries to relax each limb in turn, but still, still, the thoughts come.

Aster was ten when they left Barcelona, 11 by the time they arrived in Mallorca, though the day of her birth had gone unmarked, unnoticed. Papa had urged her on from the port, even though she was exhausted and all she wanted was to sink onto the cobblestones by the harbor and lie down, feel the hardness of land beneath her body.

Papa had placed one hand in the small of her back and pushed her onward, though Clara, little Clara, only five years old, had been like a weight on her right arm, dragging her back. “Come, daughters, we must get there by nightfall, lest the gates of the Call be locked. Think of the soft bed that awaits you.”

Now, she knows how short the walk is from the harbor to the Call. But then, her legs felt heavy and the ground was hard under her the soles of her shoes. The path was steep. The porter, who had piled their belongings on a boney donkey, lifted his stick and thrashed the creature. He had whined. Aster opened her mouth to object, but tiredness had swallowed her words. By the time they passed through the gates of the Call, dusk was upon them.

They had been invited — ordered? — to spend the night at the home of Mose ben Isaac, a mapmaker Papa had dealings with from Barcelona, their correspondence carried by traders over the Balearic sea. Finding their home in the labyrinth of narrow, darkening streets had caused Papa to mutter in frustration.

Eventually, he stopped a slip of a boy and pressed a coin into his palm. They followed as the boy threaded through the Call, a shadow dancing through the darkness. Every so often, they thought they had lost him. They would stop and look around, straining their ears for his light footsteps, straining their eyes as they searched the narrow streets, the spaces between the homes. But just as quickly, he would appear again, stopping eventually in front of a large house, two columns sandwiching the door.

Aster watched as Papa hesitated, and then gave a timid knock.

The opening door was like crossing a threshold that made night into day. Aster blinked. The place was a blaze of candles and lanterns. “Mallorca must be doing well, to afford such light,” Papa had murmured. Aster had felt ashamed, though she knew not why. Clara clutched onto her hand, and Aster looked down and noticed that her sister’s cheeks were smeared with dirt and her tuner was crumpled. When an ewer of water was brought, Aster had wet her hand and rubbed Clara’s cheek hard, annoyed at her sister for her grubbiness, confused by the unfamiliar feelings.

The lady of the house had bustled toward them and held out her hand, but there was force behind her smile and Aster took the smallest step back. When she felt herself being looked over, she raised her eyes and met the senora’s with something of her old defiance. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 548)