T here is a stone hut in the corner of the garden; it would be the perfect place for Aster to hide the rough map she has been creating under Jocef’s tutelage. As Aster approaches, she hears a thud from within.

Who could it be?

She gently pulls the door open.


Clara, kneeling in the corner over one of the storage trunks. Aster feels bad for a moment, for Clara is oblivious to her presence — unable to hear, she has no inkling she is being watched. Quickly, Aster puts the rolled-up map into her sash, hides it with a fold of blue fabric. She walks over and touches Clara on the shoulder. Clara startles. She turns.

“Clara, what are you doing here?”

Clara jumps up, defensive. “What business is it of yours?”

“It’s none of my business.” Aster’s heart squeezes. They used to be so close. And some of their distance comes from her; she has been preoccupied of late, she has not been a sister. Aster holds out her hand in their old gesture of sisterhood. “Since when have we had secrets from each other?”

Clara’s face is unreadable. She lets Aster’s hand linger in the air, until Aster lowers it.

Aster looks around the old stone hut; the corners are thick with spiderwebs, and a layer of dust lays over the storage trunks. She tries for camaraderie. “It is an age since I have been in here.” She wipes her hand across the wall, then claps the dust off into a little cloud that makes her sneeze.

She throws open the lid.

“Remember this?” She pulls out a tiny dress, turquoise silk, sewn with gold thread.

Clara nods. The tautness about her mouth seems to soften. “It was my favorite dress.”

Aster wonders why there had been such a lavish dress sewn for such a young child. She does not know. Regina would not know, she only joined them in Mallorca, when they needed a housekeeper. Papa would know, but he would not answer. There is no one left to sketch the past.

She looks at Clara’s face, and decides to thrust away the melancholy thought. Aster holds the dress up to the light. “Do you know where this came from?” Clara shakes her head, no.

Aster takes a breath and summons up the magic of storytelling. Every night, they would sit up together, embroidering tales.

“One day, you were walking along the streets of Barcelona, coming from… the herb stall. Mama had a basket filled with lavender and rose petals, she was taking them home to dry and then be placed in alcohol, and then sprinkled across the linens.”

Clara nods. Her hands twist and shake, and Aster again feels a pang of remorse: She does not spend enough time with her sister any more. “And the king of Spain was riding through the streets. The litter holding his wife, the fair queen, followed. Mama and you pressed to the side of the street, and just as the litter passed, the curtains fell open. The queen’s eyes drank in the crowd and her gaze rested on you. She called for the litter to halt, and gestured that Mama and you come near.”

“ ‘Who are you?’ she asked. But Mama was not able to answer, such was her fear and trembling. You, though, dipped your eyes and sank into a low curtsey. ‘Come and ride in my carriage,’ she said.

“But Mama was terrified. She snatched you up into her arms and jostled her way through the crowd, running and hiding and jolting as far away as she could. Though it was treason, to disobey a queen’s command.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 560)