I did not write anything yesterday, nor have I for the entirety of today (and it is nearly noon) because I have been devouring several books. The one I picked up yesterday was one in a series of seven, all of which are on this train in the gaming car! Adelaide told me when she came by with her cart for breakfast--and I bought a scone and a cup of tea from her--that oftentimes people leave books on the train, either accidentally or in order to donate them, but this series, called Catherine the Illuminated, was bought very cheaply at a used bookstore by her paternal grandmother, who thought young ladies should have something light to read while traveling.
Well, I am forever indebted to Mrs. Kynton, for I am in raptures over Catherine and her adventures. The story is set back several hundred years, when Illumination was much more common and its effects were stronger and more spectacular. In the first book, she found out that she was not, in fact, the daughter of the king as she had thought, but was left in a basket at the edge of the palace gardens by a peasant woman when only an infant. The queen, childless for all the years of her marriage to the king, heard the baby crying, and took her in as their own daughter.
The first part of the book describes Catherine's life until the age of eighteen, when she finds out the truth about her birth. She sets out on a quest to find her true family--just as I am doing!--and is reunited with her mother and father, humble woodcutters that live in the forest on the edge of the town. They had to give her up because--
Well, I shan't describe the whole book. But at the end, she discovers her wondrous powers, more amazing even that those of the king, and that is where it ends. The second book describes her trials as she discovers more about her powers and learns how best to use them from an old, wise teacher. In book three, which I have just finished, the villain that has been lurking in the background of books one and two comes into the spotlight, and she begins her journey to defeat him.
It is all terribly exciting, and I love reading about Illumination as it used to be (though this is not a historical novel, it is based in history), rather than the quiet, subdued thing it has become. Catherine called up golems of earth to defeat the barbarians who attacked the village, and with the help of her teacher, Gwynedd, rained down fire upon the ships of the Hellenes intent on taking over the country. (Her village seems to be attacked quite often....) Being the daughter of the king, even if an adopted one, Catherine was of course imbued with the Gift of the family's Sacred Crystal shortly after her birth, and it shone especially strongly through her, granting her extraordinary powers the like of which was rarely seen, even at that time.
This has been rather a welcome rest from reading, for I shook the little lamp loaned to me by the Kyntons (they loan them to any traveler who asks for one) at least four times last night to finish reading book two, and have nearly exhausted myself reading book three as quickly as possible today. And now here comes Adelaide with the lunch cart; I think I shall ask if I may accompany her on her route in order to give myself some much-needed exercise.
Very odd. I met Mrs. Kynton to finalize the arrangement Adelaide had proposed--more on that in a moment--and as soon as she set eyes on me in their little parlour, she turned as white as a sheet, and her eyes, the same lovely shade of blue as Adelaide's, widened almost as if in fear. But it was only for an instant. "Mum?" Adelaide asked, her own eyes widening as she leaned over to touch her mother's arm.
"I am sorry, my dear," Mrs. Kynton breathed to her daughter, "I am fine. Miss Greenwater." She smiled, and stood from the sofa where she had been mending a pair of trousers. "Forgive me for looking so startled. You look so like someone I used to know, a very dear friend of mine."
"Do I?" I asked, stepping a little closer and thinking, perhaps, she knew someone in my family.
"Yes," Mrs. Kynton smiled sadly. "But she has been gone for many years now."
My spirits fell a little. "What was her name?" I asked, still hoping that, perhaps, she meant my mother, since her friend had been dead for some time.
"Alice," she told me, and that settled it.
"Mere coincidence," I said softly, my sad smile matching hers of a moment ago. "I am unaware that I ever had a female relative called Alice. Indeed, I know nothing at all about my family, having grown up without one."
"Yes, so Adelaide has told me. And I think her idea a splendid one. Those seats are terribly uncomfortable to sleep in, especially for several nights in a row. And the spare bed in the girls' room has gone unused since we had it built. You are more than welcome in our strange little home."
"I'll be more than happy to help Adelaide with her duties," I said. "I find this train life so fascinating, and I feel content knowing that I am helping you and your family in return for you giving me a place to sleep at night."
"That and your meals as well," said Mrs. Kynton. She went on before I could protest, having not expected that. "Henry and I discussed paying you for your work, but as you are buying all your food from us, that seemed counter-productive. You need all your money, it seems, to reach Reliance."
I couldn't turn down such a generous offer, especially when it would save me so much. "I... hardly know what to say, ma'am," I murmured, having been raised all my life to accept charity gratefully and solemnly. It's just that, with these people who counted me as a friend now, it felt almost... shameful to do so. As though I were imposing.
"Thank us, that is all. You seem like a good and competent young woman, one my husband and I are glad to employ."
"Thank you," I said obediently, and even dipped a little curtsey. That made Mrs. Kynton smile, and I smiled back at her.
"Thank you, Mum," Adelaide said, and Mrs. Kynton leaned over to kiss her head, putting one arm briefly around her.
"I must return to my mending. Two boys and two men go through ever so many pair of trousers!" she said, though cheerily, and returned to her work as Adelaide and I went into the kitchen to put on aprons and load up the supper cart.
"If I had a mother," I whispered to Adelaide as I handed her the dishes to stack underneath, "I would want her to be just like yours." My friend was kind and said nothing of the tears in my eyes, only let her hand brush over mine, then continued about her work.