Here's a young Star blurb I've been meaning to get to. I know I keep saying I'll do a young Alanis blurb someday, but… Boop.
I also felt like doing something from a minor character's point of view, as you all know I do from time to time. I've chosen Solla on this occasion, because it occurred to me one day that he gets more and more facetime as the books go on. As if Rodda wanted to do something of consequence with him, but was never able to find a place for him. So I'm doing it for her. :P
It was midsummer, now, and the sun had risen high over the valley. It was sweltering in the village streets, and Solla knew for a fact that few people would be about in such weather. Even fewer people would happen by his sweets shop, because it was the same every summer. Too many rich, sweet treats made people ill in the summer heat, and so this time of year was always slow for him.
All the more to himself, he thought, much to chagrin of the entire village – especially their famous healer and hero. He had been on the soft, stout side his whole life, because he had never not worked with sugar and flour and the sweetest things in life. To the people who tended to the village's health, it had always been a frustration.
And so, with all of this floating lazily through his mind, he was surprised to hear his shop door opening, and to see a small family stepping inside. A family he never minded seeing, but at the same time always dreaded to see.
"Ah, Rowan's back," he greeted cheerily. "And you've bought your lovely ladies with you, I see."
Rowan smiled back, releasing his little daughter's hand to come and meet him. "We won't be a moment, I promise. I hope it's no trouble," he said, shaking the man's chubby hand. "We aren't interrupting anything, are we?"
"Hm…" Solla gazed around his empty shop and shrugged. "No, I don't think so. You are the first customers I've had all day, in fact. Zeel, my dear, you are looking as radiant as ever, if I might say so."
Zeel grinned and smoothed her curls. "Why, thank you. You're looking well, yourself."
Solla leaned over the counter to smile down at their child. "And there is our Star. I do believe you've gotten taller, young lady. Did you get your hair cut?"
The little girl's face fell suddenly. She whimpered and hid behind her mother, burying her face in the woman's skirt. Her parents just sighed and shook their heads sadly.
"We'll just be over here, looking at the things in the case," Zeel said politely, taking Star's hand and leading her away. The child followed her with a long face, her short hair frizzy with humidity.
"She doesn't seem her usual cheery self today," Solla commented in a low voice. "Is everything alright?"
"Star is feeling rather poorly about herself recently," Rowan answered, glancing in concern after his daughter. "My mother grew impatient with a tangle in her hair a few weeks ago, and her bright idea was to chop it all off. Star cried about it for days. It didn't help much when both her front teeth fell out a week later. Even a few candies under her pillow couldn't cheer her."
Solla cringed at this. He had thought the girl's hair had been much longer the last time he had seen her. And Jiller's poor skill at cutting hair was famous. Add to that a few missing teeth, and it was suddenly no wonder that Star wouldn't smile at him, or even open her mouth to say hello. She must have felt quite awkward, indeed.
"Well," Rowan went on, "now you know what's been going on in my house. So, to the matter of what's been going on in yours. I'm only here to check on things, so this shouldn't take very long. You've done as I've been telling you to, of course."
Solla nodded and mumbled in agreement, though he knew his face was growing red and betraying him. He felt nervous sweat gathering on his forehead, and saw the young healer notice it right away.
"So, you've been keeping a log of all your meals, which is what I told you to do. May I see it?"
"Oh, yes, of course," Solla quavered, searching the immediate area for his journal. "It's here somewhere, I know it…"
"We can come to that in a minute, then," Rowan said, his voice heavy with doubt. "Let me see your hand."
With a nervous, innocent smile, Solla pushed his sleeves a little higher and offered his left hand. Rowan gave him a flat, unimpressed look. The one he always gave his patients when he knew they were lying to him.
"Your other hand," he sighed tiredly.
Accepting the sad fact that he had been found out, Solla relented and held out his dominant hand. Rowan took his wrist and checked his pulse, no doubt checking for other telling signs by way of magic. It was quickly very plain that he didn't like what he found.
"You're still not eating properly, are you," he guessed.
"I'm trying, really I am," Solla insisted, though he knew he sounded pitiful. "It's just, green things have never been to my liking, and all things are better with a little butter and salt, and – "
"A little?" Rowan interrupted sharply. "There is no such thing with you, I can tell. Your blood pressure is far too high, and your heart is a mess. It could give out any day, now. What do you expect me to say?"
"Please, just give me another week. Another day. I'll do it this time, really I will."
"Solla, I can't keep doing this with you," Rowan told him with terrible bluntness. "I give you chance after chance after chance – all I do is give you chances, and still you won't follow through. None of your numbers have improved since I agreed to start seeing you. If anything, I'm sure they've gotten worse. We can't keep doing this, don't you understand?"
Feeling genuinely sorry for being such a nuisance, Solla took a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped at his dripping face, laughing without humor. "It was so much easier before, when the solution was just to see Sheba about my heart medicine…"
"Then you can go back to seeing her and limping along on your precious heart medicine," Rowan nearly shouted, pointing angrily toward the door. "This is your very last chance – it has to be. If things haven't changed even slightly by next week, I won't see you anymore."
A small gasp caught their attention, and they looked across the shop to see Star watching them anxiously. Her pale eyes were wide with fright, unused to seeing her father so cross; but her lips remained tightly closed, lest they see her missing teeth. Zeel, who must have been listening, looked concerned. But she took her child's hand, reminded her it was very, very rude to stare at other people's misfortune, and went on pointing out items in the glass case as though nothing had happened.
Satisfied that Star was distracted, Rowan took a deep breath and composed himself. "If you are unwilling to change, then I can't help you," he said in a calm, even voice. "I want very much to help you. You are a beloved part of our village, and I would like to keep you around for a long, long time. But I can't waste my time trying to work with patients who won't work with me. You do understand, don't you?"
Solla nodded and hummed to himself, too ashamed to find words. Rowan accepted it and walked off to stand with his family, patting his daughter's head.
"I didn't mean to yell, my Small Star," he told her gently. "It wasn't right of me, and I certainly didn't mean to frighten you. Will you ever forgive me?"
Star gave him a tiny smile and nodded, but said nothing. She went back to pointing at the sweets in the case, her eyes sparkling at how different and beautiful they all were.
"We were playing a game just now," Zeel told him. "We are counting them all, and looking at the different shapes."
"Is that so?" Rowan asked. "What do you see in there?"
"Um," Star mumbled, trying to speak clearly without opening her mouth much. "There's four circle ones.. And five square ones… And a bunch of the flower ones. Four or five hundred, I think."
Solla wandered over and found her pointing at a fresh batch of rose-shaped candies, while her parents smiled and laughed. He knew there were twenty of them, because he had just made them in the morning and hadn't sold any of them yet; but he supposed it must seem like a lot to a six-year-old child. He peered down at her and saw her eyes gleaming with special interest at them as she went on pointing, trying to count them all.
Zeel reached around her back to tug her husband's sleeve. "Rowan, she's been so upset lately," she whispered. "Don't you think we could…?"
Looking doubtful, Rowan reached into his pocket, jingled a few coins inside, and then shook his head. "Not today, I'm afraid."
They both looked terribly disappointed; but, seeing there was nothing for it, they shook it off right away. Unable to treat her with sweets, they hugged and kissed her, and patted her short hair instead.
"You've been such a good girl," Zeel told her. "You've behaved yourself perfectly all day, and we are very proud of you."
"Indeed," Rowan agreed. "But I say we hurry and finish our rounds, so we can be home. You are overdue for a nap, my dear."
Star pouted at him and made a whining noise, clinging to the glass case. She was very fussy at the mention of a nap, making it all the clearer that she needed one. They began to gather her up, but Solla held up his hand to stop them.
"I've never seen such a well-behaved little girl, myself," he said to her, leaning over the counter to see her better. "Have you enjoyed yourself?"
Star smiled back and nodded shyly.
"Did you see anything in the case you liked? Which was your favorite?"
She gazed back into the case, pointing longingly at the rose candies. "That one," she mumbled, courageously resisting the urge to ask for one.
He glanced at her parents, silently asking their permission to do something very nice. Seeing at once what he meant to do, they nodded eagerly, looking very thankful. Solla reached into the case, took out one of the candies, and handed it over the counter.
"Well, my child, you have exceptional taste. Why don't you take this one home with you, then?"
Star's whole small self lit up with surprise and joy. All thought of her missing teeth vanished, and she grinned a big, gappy, glorious grin for what must have been the first time in days. She moved to grab the candy at once, but then suddenly remembered her manners and looked to her parents.
"Mum, papa, can I?" she begged, bouncing excitedly. "Can I have it, please, can I have it?"
"Of course you may," her father laughed. Needing no more than that, Star snatched the candy in her own hands, smiling down at it as though it was a wondrous treasure.
"And what do we say?" her mother reminded. Star had to think about it for a second, and became a bit shy as she remembered.
"Thank you," she said in her sweetest voice.
"You are most welcome, young lady," Solla answered. "It's been a sincere pleasure."
Star began to blush, and hid behind her mother again as she happily gobbled up her candy. She was like a whole new person, and her parents looked impossibly relieved to see her smiling again. Zeel was so happy, she leaned over the counter and left a kiss on his cheek.
"Thank you so much," she grinned, her own pale eyes sparkling just like her daughter's. She took the child's hand and led her to the door, and Rowan took their place.
"I can't tell you how much that means to us," he said, shaking the man's hand warmly. "What a joy it is, to see my only child smiling again."
"Oh, think nothing of it, really," Solla insisted, reaching into the case once again. "On that note, take a few more – one for you and one for your wife, and another few for you all to share later. I don't plan on making a sale any time soon, and don't need them around to tempt me."
Rowan was surprised and pleased as the candies were bagged and handed to him. "So you'll really do it this time?" he asked hopefully.
"Well, I, too, should like to be around for a long, long time. I've watched you grow into a fine young man, and I only wish I could say I had a hand in that. For every time I should have been there for you and was not, I hope I can be there for Star."
"…Thank you, Solla," Rowan said in a stunned, quiet voice. "That means the world to me."
Feeling better than he normally did about changing his ways, Solla was content to smile and wave goodbye as the family left his shop. While Star went on chattering excitedly to her mother, Rowan paused in the doorway to look over his shoulder.
"I'm really counting on you this time," he said.
"You have my word, young man," Solla agreed right away. "I promise."
It was easy to promise and mean it this time, he found. He gazed after Star, trotting along between her parents, and thought of how he had made a difference in this short, unpleasant season in her life. He wondered how many children her age had teased her for how she looked. He wondered if her grandmother had scolded her for being upset over her handiwork. He wondered if her parents were being harassed for not making her pretend that she was alright.
He assumed the answers were: all of them; yes, definitely; and, of course they were.
But he had made a difference and brought them joy. The art of candy making had once been looked down on as frivolous, unnecessary, even weak. Maybe so, when candy makers had been compared to farmers and builders and warriors. So, naturally, when Rin's first candy makers had shut down their shops, the same people who had condemned them complained that they missed those sweets, and begged to have them back. Candy couldn't protect a person in battle, or keep him warm or give him company, or any of the practical things their people valued so much; but it did bring comfort and happiness, which they were slowly learning to value, as well.
And how often had Rowan been swept into an adventure, with a few of Solla's well-made toffees in his pocket? He had said before that those candies had been an enormous comfort in moments of darkness, an innocent piece of his home to remind him what he was struggling for. He had grown a special fondness for them because of that, and Solla had made sure to send him home with many of them.
To be sure, Star would need that comfort in years to come. She would need a safe place to stand, and older friends she could put her trust in. And he was the village candy maker, with a special responsibility to all its children on his shoulders. Star would need him someday. He could see that now. He couldn't bear to think that his poor health would take him before that time.
And so he finally, really, truly resolved at last to put sweet things aside. There were far sweeter things in life to be had, and they were well worth eating broccoli and greens for.
This one might be referenced in something else later. Post-Star's Journey, in the near-distant future. Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed reading this one, as much as I've enjoyed dreaming it up.