Chapter 045: Aniara’s choice

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When Rink woke up, the first thing she noticed was a loud, rumbling noise coming from her left. The second, third, and fourth things she realized, simultaneously in the split-second it took her to sit up and turn towards the noise, was that it wasn't her bed or her room, that she was naked, and what she had done the night before. So it wasn't much of a surprise to her that what she found to her left was Aniara - also naked, lying on her stomach with one arm hanging off the bed, facing away from Rink, drooling on her pillow and snoring in a way that Rink could only describe as reminiscent of a pig with a bad case of the flu. Rink stifled a giggle as she observed her girlfriend - for all of Aniara's (according to Rink, at least) merits, it did not appear that being a graceful sleeper was one of them. Rink hadn't noticed much of that in the past, as when they had had sleepovers previously, the adults in the house hosting said sleepover had woken them up in the morning. Glancing past Aniara, Rink spotted her yellow sundress, Aniara's white gown, and whatever underwear they had worn yesterday in a variety of piles on the floor. She laid back down, going through last night in her head, over and over. Her first time with Aniara, Aniara's first time with her. Their first time at all, for both of them. Rink was sure that, just like herself, Aniara had figured out certain things about her body all on her own, but the touch of another was quite the different, and more pleasurable, experience. So she wasn't a virgin any longer - which, if what she had heard about it was accurate, meant she was a woman now. Not that she felt like she was less of a teenage girl and more of an adult woman now, but maybe it was a gradual process. She certainly wouldn't mind continuing being this close to Aniara, and hoped she felt the same.

She looked at the blonde beauty lying next to her and smiled. Aniara was of marrying age now, and in less than two years, she would be too. Then she could become Aniara's wife and they would live happily ever after as a loving family. Rink was already planning what three gifts she'd present to Aniara on their wedding day, but she didn't feel it necessary to actually talk about marriage with Aniara - she fully expected her to be of the same mindset.

Rink moved closer to Aniara, leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek to wake her up. It took a few moments for Aniara to understand what was going on, but eventually she looked over at Rink and managed to flash a groggy smile.
"...morn'n, Rin-rin."
"Good morning, Anni." Rink hugged Aniara, whose arms weren't currently positioned in a way that let her return the gesture, but she did manage to get one hand into Rink's hair. "I... I wanted to say... I was really happy last night."
"Mmmm... oh... oh! Yeah... we did... do that, didn't we? I'm glad I got to... with you..." While Aniara was still trying to wake up enough to form sentences, Rink put her hands on her face and gave her a kiss on the mouth. As she let go, Aniara dragged her palm over her own face and shook her head a bit. "Well... we should... probably get out of bed."
"Yep," Rink said and waited for Aniara to stand up so she could get out herself without having to climb over her, but not before taking a good look at Aniara's still undressed body as it was hit by the early morning sun. It was later in the morning than they were used to waking up, anyway. Rink collected what was hers from the mess of clothes on the floor and put it back on, while Aniara put on a fresh set of underwear and a white blouse. They had a simple breakfast together before Rink headed out to go back home, but not without a hug and kiss for the road from Aniara.

It was a half beaming and half worried Rink that eventually opened the door to her home - while the reason for and the result of it had been wonderful to her, she had also stayed out much longer than she was supposed to.
"Um... hello," she said as she stepped in, seeing the rest of her family sitting at the kitchen table, probably waiting for her. Usually her father would be out working in the field by now. "I'm... back now."
"And where have you been all night?" Cornelius asked. "It's not like you to make us worry like that!"
"I told you she was fine, dad," Jack said before Rink had the time to reply.
"Well, I... we were having so much fun, and I helped Anni clean up, and it got pretty late, so... I spent the night there," Rink replied as she took a seat herself.
"You didn't have any nightclothes with you, did you?"
"No, but... Anni... took care of that."
"Well, fine. But next time, let us know if you're going to be gone."
"Yeah. I promise."
"Did you eat already today?" Sonya asked.
"Oh, yes, I had breakfast at Anni's place too."
"So, how was the dinner?" Jack asked. "Who else was there?"
"It was great! It was me and Anni, and Kari, Christina, and Selma," Rink started. "The food was good and they really liked my cake!"
"Are you working today?" Cornelius asked.
"I start at noon," Rink replied. It was a few months after Rink's initial declaration of love to Aniara that she had taken on an apprenticeship at the fishmonger - being a fishwife was perhaps not quite what she wanted to do with her life, but for the time being, it fit her well enough. Meanwhile, Aniara had (after enough pestering the proprietor) actually obtained at least a part-time apprentice spot at the archive, but even when she technically wasn't working there, she'd still spend most of her time there, studying and planning.
"You better get yourself cleaned up and into some other clothes, then," Cornelius said and stood up, starting to head for the door to get to work.
"I will..." Rink replied, thinking about something. As Cornelius opened the door, she stood up. "Dad?"
"Yes?"
"Well... Aniara's eighteen now, you know..."
"...what about it?"
"When... when I turn eighteen too... will you ask Anni's dad about me and her getting married?"
"You know I only want what's best for you..."
"Oh, here we go," Jack whispered and rolled his eyes.
"...but I don't know if you always know what that is," Cornelius said.
"It's what I want," Rink replied. "It's the only thing I want!"
"Why can't you find a nice boy instead? There's a lot of-"
"Because I love her!" Rink exclaimed to interrupt Cornelius and headed off towards her bedroom.
"You know she's never been interested in boys, dad," Jack stated with a sigh before going after his sister, as their father left the house without another word. Sonya had chosen to not join the argument, but was shaking her head at her husband's tone, being more on her children's side in this matter - but also of the opinion that Rink should wait with making such a big decision until she actually was of marrying age.

"Knock, knock," Jack said as he pushed the door to Rink's room, which she had left slightly ajar, open.
"I'm not here," Rink replied as Jack entered. He found his sister sitting on her bed, hugging a pillow.
"Just wanted to make sure you're alright."
"I'm fine," Rink sighed.
"So... you 'spent the night', eh?" Jack smirked. Rink replied by throwing the pillow at him, which he caught without much issue.
"You say another word and I'll shove that pillow up your nose."
"Hey, I'm happy for you." He returned the impromptu projectile in the same fashion. "You two really seem to have something."
"We do... especially now," Rink said with a mild blush. "I just wish dad would be happy about it too."
"You know he'll come around... and he can't stop you anyway," Jack said.
"I know, I just... want him to be more supportive of us. Marrying Anni... it's what I want more than anything."
"It's your decision to make, either way. Yours and Aniara's. You don't have to have dad ask for her hand for you."
"I knooooooow," Rink whined. "But that's usually how it's done!"
"You've still got more than a year to convince him. And you know I'll always back you up if you need me!"
"Yeah, I know... thanks."
"So... you gonna be alright, then?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. I should get ready for work, need to take a bath..."
"Good," Jack said with a nod before he stood up and headed for the door. "I gotta head over to Felivo's, I'm already late. Love ya, sis."
"Same," Rink replied with a smile. "You're my favourite brother."
"It's a stiff competition," Jack laughed before he left the room as Rink grabbed clothes to change into after cleaning herself up.

~~~~

With their apprenticeships, Aniara and Rink didn't see each other as often as they had done when they were both in school. They still managed to make time for semi-regular dates, as well as the occasional sleepover, but none of them had a schedule they could plan around any longer - the fish market was one of the busiest businesses on Gondol, so Rink worked a lot more often than not. Aniara, for her part, was focusing more and more on the expansion of the archive, which she saw as the first step towards establishing a library.

Jack was helping his father out with the farming work more now, but was also working part-time as a tailor together with Powel at Felivo's shop, the two of them having completed their apprenticeships. Rink kept working on convincing Cornelius that she and Aniara belonged together, and while he had gotten less vocally critical about the concept, it was clear that he still wanted Rink to find a prospective husband instead.

One day, a little over three months after Rink's seventeenth birthday, Jack and Powel were both working in the tailor shop. Felivo was away for the day, but the two of them were trusted with running the place themselves. Jack was taking measurements for a dress on the only customer in the shop, a woman in her fifties, when another similarly-aged customer walked in with a few garments that needed repairs. As Powel started sorting them out, she turned to the already present customer.

"Getting something new, Brit?" she asked.
"Oh, May! Yes, me and Alan are having our thirtieth anniversary soon, so I'm getting a new dress for the occasion."
"How nice," May replied. "Speaking of that, by the way, did you hear that the mayor's son is getting married?"
"Oh, is that so? How wonderful!"
"Yes, I hear the mayor himself presented the proposal on his behalf just two days ago."
"That must be something special, to have the mayor himself ask for your daughter's hand!"
"No doubt about that."
"So, who is the lucky lass?"
"That Miman girl. Aniara."
Jack froze up upon hearing the name. "...what did you just say?" he asked, joining the conversation. "Who's getting married?"
"Harry! You know, mayor Chefone's son."
"And to who?"
"The Mimans' daughter, Aniara. She's very pretty, you know! Long, blonde hair, fair skin..."
"Y-yeah, I... I know her," Jack stammered with disbelief in his eyes. "I... I have to go!" he continued, dropped what he was holding, and dashed out the door.
"Oh, the poor boy, he must have had an eye for her too. No wonder!"
"No..." Powel said as he picked up what Jack had dropped and looked towards the door his friend had just disappeared through. "Jack isn't worrying about himself..."

Jack dashed from the shop, heading towards the town. He had to find Rink, right away. He couldn't believe what he just had heard - and if Rink was already aware, there was no chance that she would have kept quiet about it. Rink had stayed over at Aniara's place only the week before, even. Something was really, really wrong here, and if Aniara hadn't said anything about it to Rink... Jack was certain it was best that she'd hear about it from him.

He didn't slow down when he reached the town, keeping his pace steady as he went for the fish market by the docks. It was a fairly busy place - fish was easily the most common choice of protein for the people of Gondol, and they took care of the hauls from all the fishermen - sorting it out, cleaning the fish, cutting them up, weighing, and selling. Rink was in the process of gutting a rather large specimen of one of the common breeds of fish around Gondol when Jack spotted her standing behind a counter. He pushed his way to the front, towards his sister.

"Rink!"
"Jack?" Rink said and looked up. "I thought you were in charge of the shop today... what are you..."
"I... I am, me and Powel, but... I had to... I had to talk to you."
"Oh... about what?" Rink asked, slightly worried. "Is something wrong?"
"Yes... something is, and it has everything to do with you," Jack replied.
"O... kay... what is it, if it's that important?"
"Have... have you met up with Aniara at all recently?"
"Not since our last sleepover, no... I've been really busy. Why?"
"I... I just heard... at the shop... and they said..."
"Slow down a bit, I can't understand you..."
"Okay... okay..." Jack said and took a deep breath. "Can we... can we step away for a moment? I don't want you holding anything sharp right now."
"Um... okay," Rink replied and put down her knife, turning to her supervisor. "Can I take a break? This might be important..."
"Fine."
"Alright, thanks." Rink followed Jack out of the market, going around a corner to be undisturbed. Jack put his hands on her shoulders and looked her into the eyes. "What's this all about, Jack?"
"I just heard from a lady who came to the shop... that... Harry proposed to Aniara the day before yesterday... and she said yes."
Rink blinked a few times as Jack's words sunk in. "...what did you just say? That's... that's impossible!"
"She was sure about it... she said it was Aniara Miman."
"No! She would never- I'm the one who's going to marry Anni!"
"She hasn't said anything about it? Everything's been good between the two of you?"
"Nothing's wrong between us! I love her! She loves me!"
"So... she just..."
"She was waiting for me to turn eighteen! I mean... we never said it, but... it was obvious! We were going to get married as soon as possible!"
"So how... why did..."
"I don't know but I'm going to find out!" Rink exclaimed and shook Jack off before starting to run herself, still wearing her fishmonger's clothes. She was heading towards the archive, certain that she could find Aniara there. Jack looked in the direction she had left for a moment before collecting himself and setting off after her - though after his dash from the tailor's shop, he was winded enough that he couldn't quite keep pace with her.

Rink was confused, angry, and sad. There was no way, in her mind, that this could be even remotely true. But Jack wouldn't lie to her. Standard sibling behaviour aside, the two of them had always supported each other, and Jack knew Aniara was the most important thing in the world to her. She had to get to the bottom of this, right now. Her mood hadn't gotten any better as she reached the archive, throwing the door open.

"Where's Anni?" she exclaimed. The only person she saw was the archive's primary keeper, Strinder, sitting at the table by the entrance. Anyone who wanted anything to do with the archive had to be let in by him. Aniara had spent quite some time convincing him to let her assist him.
"Take it easy with the door! Now, what was that?"
"Anni! She's here, right?"
"Anni... oh, you mean miss Miman? She hasn't been here for three days. Her father came in yesterday to tell me the news."
"The... news? You mean..."
"Her engagement to young master Martinson, yes."
"AaaaaAAAAAAAAAAH!" was all Rink could manage to get out in reply before turning around and leaving in an even worse mood than she had arrived in. As she exited the building, she saw Jack coming towards her, having finally caught up.
"Rink!" he shouted. Rink didn't pay him any mind - if Aniara wasn't at the archive, then the next place to look would be her home. So she started setting off in that direction - which, from here, was the same direction Jack was coming from. As she attempted to pass by him, he grabbed her arm, stopping her.
"Let me go!" she said and tried to wriggle free, but Jack held on.
"Rink, wait!" Jack tried getting her to calm down, but it seemed impossible. She tried pushing him away, which made him lose his balance - but he still had a firm grip on her arm, so he took her with him as he fell on the grass next to the path. "Sorry, but..."
"Why?" Rink asked with tears in her eyes.
"I'm sorry, I just wanted you to-"
"Why didn't she tell me?"
"Oh..."
"She could at least have... I have to... I have to go to her!"
"Alright," Jack said and stood up. He held out his arm to help Rink up. "We'll go to her place. But let me go with you."
"Jack..." Rink grabbed her brother and pulled herself up next to him. He held on to her hand.
"I just don't want you to do anything stupid, okay? And... I want to make sure you'll be alright."
"Okay... okay. Let's... let's go," Rink said and squeezed Jack's hand harder.

Hand in hand, Rink and Jack made their way to the Miman household. Rink took a deep breath as she knocked on the door.
"I'm coming," the voice of Aniara's mother replied from inside. "Oh, Rink, hello," she said after opening the door. "What brings you here? In your working clothes?"
"I have to talk to Anni! She's... she's here, right?"
"Oh, no, sorry, she's over at the mayor's place, to plan for... the... the wedding."
"That's it!" Rink shouted. "Why is Anni marrying him? I'm her girlfriend!"
"Rink, don't..." Jack started.
"No! Anni is in love with me! I'm the one that... we were going to get married!"
"I thought Aniara had spoken to you about it... she didn't mention that there were any hindrances when Chefone and Harry came to present the proposal... and the decision was hers."
"It's their fault! I'm going to... aaah!" Rink exclaimed and let go of Jack, starting to run again.
"Excuse us!" Jack told Aniara's mother and set off after Rink. Since they had walked from the archive, Jack had rested up enough that Rink's head start wasn't much of an issue, and he caught up with her in a matter of minutes. He ran up behind her, wrapping his arms around her to stop her.
"Let go!" Rink stated as she tried to escape her brother's hug. But Jack held on, forcing her to slow down. Soon they just stood there, not moving, not saying anything. It wasn't long until Rink started sobbing, tears falling from her eyes. "I... I have to..."
"Do you really think going to the mayor's place is going to help?"
"I don't know what else to do..."
"I know the two of you loved each other... I don't doubt Aniara's feelings for you were genuine, but... she's clearly made a choice here. She accepted the proposal... and she never talked to you about it, even as you two... were together. I really can't figure out why... but I don't think she's going to break off the engagement to Harry. At this point, are there any other answers you could get that wouldn't just make you feel worse?"
"So... what should I do?" Rink sobbed. Jack led her to the side of the road, and they sat down in the grass. Jack put his hand on Rink's shoulder.
"If there's anything I can do to make you feel better..."
"She was... she is my everything," Rink said between sniffles. "If I have to see her with someone else like that... I don't know what I'd do." She sighed.
"What if we..." Jack started after a moment of silence.
"What?"
"What if... we go away for a little while. Take a little trip off Gondol... just you and me."
"...are you serious?"
"Why not? I think it would do you good. Like you said... you probably couldn't stand to be here while Aniara's..." Jack swallowed the rest of the sentence.
"But... what about... do you really think mom and dad will let us?"
"We'll go anyway."
"Aren't you supposed to take care of the shop?"
"Felivo's still got Powel. And he knew the both of us wouldn't be there forever. He can take more apprentices."
"Even... even so..."
"The trading ship should be here tomorrow. We can go with them. Get a change of scenery... see things we'd never learn about from staying here."
"Jack..."
"So... what do you say? Maybe you'll find some other nice girl out there..."
"That's not what- but... maybe..." Rink said with a sigh. "Yeah. Let's... let's do it. If Anni's here, and I'm not with her... I don't... I feel like I don't want to be here."
"We'll need to get ready, then," Jack said as he rose and offered his hand to Rink. "Rink and Jack Kazai, going on an adventure together."
"That's silly..." Rink said, but couldn't help but smile as she took her brother's hand, and as soon as she was up on her feet as well, pulled him into a hug. "Thanks. Thanks for being ready to do all this, for... just for me."
"Anything for my dear little sister," Jack said and hugged her tight in return.

The two of them didn't widely announce their plans of departure. Jack told Felivo he was quitting, and Rink ended her apprenticeship at the fishmonger's, but neither of them specified why. They had expected convincing their parents to be the hardest part, but after an hour of arguing, it was Sonya who put her foot down and told Cornelius that the children were going to find some way to go no matter what they said, so they should help to make sure that their trip would go as smoothly as possible. Jack added that they would return - something Rink had no comments on.

The trading ship arrived as projected in the afternoon of the following day, and left with two additional passengers on it - one who had planned on coming back but never returned, and one who hadn't planned on it, but over ten years later found herself walking the path past the birch trees, heading for a certain other tree...

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