When she was once again in town, Carlone sold off all but two of the smallest, yet most beautiful of the moonstones that she had found. She knew she would need all the funds she could get for the task ahead, which she understood was more than daunting, boarding impossible. Carlone did her best to clue Viktor in on her plan. Surprisingly he was fully poised to stay on the farm for the summer as a farmhand. "I can't go back to the quarry. I'm not ready to deal with my family at the inn," was his response whenever Carlone asked if he was still planning to go along. She hired three men to help clear two fields and another four to rebuild the barn. Even so, the amount of work to do was endless. Viktor was not lame, but he had mobility limitations that often ended his duties early by handing them off to another worker. During those moments Faya took care of him indoors, which alleviated his hurt pride most of all. Carlone was glad the two had a good rapport between them. As for the other workers, they were glad to make the cash, something Carlone appreciated because their wages were fair but lean compared to the quarry's pay scale. It was the only way that Carlone could have achieved her intentions. Working with them helped bring her up to speed on the history of the town while she was gone too. Apparently, like the other places she had known, most of the original inhabitants had traveled north when the fever hit. For the few that stayed, they found that businesses had all but dried up, causing the local economy to never recover thereafter.
After the fields were planted with the most likely-to-sell crops that Carlone banked on, she let the men go, knowing keeping them on would tank her already spread-thin budget further. By that time though, Faya and Viktor had become a cozy couple. That summer found them joined at the hip so to speak. This brought Carlone some happiness since she was worried that Viktor would not mentally recover from his injury or that Faya would be too stuck in the past to ever smile again. The human spirit had a way of surprising Carlone in these matters it seemed. It was not too fragile simply because it did not die, only sleep until it could find what brought it peace or joy however long that took. By day, Carlone tended the fields and slept in the cart at night watching the open stars in the crystal clear sky. She could not bring herself to sleep in the new barn, it made her miss her mother too much. This was a time for happiness Carlone decided, not to grieve anymore. There were still pings of melancholy when she would have a flashing memory of her days on the farm with her mother or uncle. She even missed her aunt and Kuli occasionally.
Time quickly brought the summer into fall. The harvest was able to be carried out by the three of them over a few weeks. Faya and Viktor by then had their stall at the market, which reminded Carlone of her mother and uncle when they would enjoy their days together. Carlone was pleased that she could safely say that Faya now had a fully functioning farm once more. More importantly, the light had come back to Faya's face. She was no longer a forgotten ghost but was known amongst the townspeople as a reputable seller. The past had been set right between the family, and Carlone found great peace in that. She knew there was nothing more that she could do for her adopted brother and once estranged sister.
With the last of her money, Carlone had the two moonstones she kept made into matching necklaces. She parted by giving the other to Faya. "I want my sister to have this so we can remember each other even when we are apart," Carlone said to Faya who took it knowing it meant that the rift between their mothers was now mended. As Carlone turned to leave she was aware that Viktor would remain with Faya, something Carlone took comfort in knowing. For as capable as Faya was, she was not able to maintain the place alone, no one could. Although there had been no official ceremony Carlone was aware that Viktor and Faya had begun referring to one another as husband and wife.
Carlone left on foot during a chilly night having given the pair her horse and cart knowing they would need it more. She set out glad to be able to have time to herself in the forest. With her favorite pastime of foraging to relax her mind on her way back to her life at the quarry, she was at peace. This time though she wouldn't take the communal road. She went back toward the coast by the same route that she used when she crawled away from the farm the night she survived the fever and all its fallout. Not out of any morbid reason but to confront and de-vilify every step she took on those first dark days. She was now reclaiming her history. This was the journey of what made her the person she had become, a person she finally was proud of. Carlone didn't have a penny in her pocket or much more than a shawl to keep her warm, yet she was content that she spent her riches as she had. If only the way back had gone as she had expected, but the weather was nothing like what she encountered when she was younger. During that time the autumn had been crisp. This time around she encountered constant heavy downpours that had her rushing to get to the coast, instead of mushroom hunting as she had planned.
Low on supplies and far from any place to stay, Carlone took the drizzle of an afternoon as a chance to pluck the soggy forest of any food she could plunder. She had filled her canvas bag about halfway with her favorite fall forage when she realized that the clouds had gathered over her. This turned the light shower into a flooding storm. Before she knew it, the weather had turned her around so much that she had somehow gotten away from the old roads. Trying to get her sense of direction in the downpour, Carlone found what looked like a deserted estate. Not wanting to encroach on the property more than she needed to, she hid behind a well outside to check things out. Hoping to see if there was a stable she could take refuge in for the night, to avoid the growing storm. Just as she leaned on the wall for some cover, the ground beneath her gave out, almost sending her into the water below it. She screamed as she clung to the muddy ground. The well's stones caved in on themselves as they fell into the dark abyss of the black water beneath her, their splash was all that lay under Carlone who desperately clawed at the dirt to pull herself up. It was to no avail, she was sliding down. Out of some stroke of luck, before she went down into the well, a man ran out to her aid. He grabbed her hand to pull her up. Carlone was visibly shaken by the experience. "Are you alright?" He yelled at her in the rain, but she was too upset to respond. He walked her inside to get warm by the hearth.
There she learned that she had trespassed on the property of a foreign dignitary. Carlone was fearful that she might face criminal punishment for her blunder, but her rescuer chuckled saying the dignitary was no one of importance but instead was the person who was set to marry the Queen in the upcoming weeks in a lavish, highly public ceremony. "You see these royals are not so interested in petty trespassers like yourself, but only in their tiny pitiful dealings." Carlone was confused by the man's ramblings. She uncomfortably smiled at him, hoping he was just making small talk and not expecting any serious response. To her, the world he spoke of was far away and of no matter to her or anyone in her life at all. The royals were not known as leaders or rulers in that country, but rather wasteful public figures who intermarried without ever contributing to anyone other than hiring waitstaff whenever they were in the area, which was rare. The country had all but done away with royal titles since collecting taxes had gone the wayside several decades ago after a civil war had rendered such things meaningless, thus drying up any income these now functionlessly titled people could claim. The individual townships managed themselves. Currently, there were only a handful of cities that could even house the few royals that were left to the standard they preferred. This was why the man seemed so odd to Carlone, he spoke of the royals as if they had power or official capacity, which was just not the reality the world had agreed with for generations.
The man seeing that his attempt at conversation was not making headway with Carlone informed her that she could stay in the servant's quarters in the wing behind the kitchen until the morning for her to wait out the rain. Carlone thanked him as he showed her to her room. It was noticeably musty. She could tell that it had been out of use for some time. She turned to ask the man how long the estate had been abandoned before she finished he kissed her. She was surprised, but not upset. She then realized his conversation had been so long-winded because he had been flirting with Carlone, who had not recognized it as such. He had been trying to brag to someone about things that were of no value to them. She pushed back from the awkwardness of the moment if nothing else. He was not an unattractive man, they were roughly the same age, him being slightly older. Still, Carlone had never had a man be so forward with her in that manner. It was almost like he was treating her like a consort. He stepped back before telling her, "I'm sorry. It's just that you are so pretty and this might be my last chance to have a relationship now that I'm getting married." Carlone was repulsed that he would try to use her as his last bachelor conquest. He leaned in once more for a kiss which Carlone reciprocated, knowing it was a bad idea, but also accepting she was attracted to him. They stayed together in that small maid's room until sunrise uninterrupted.
In the morning when Carlone went to leave, he asked her to stay, which she did. They were together for a few more days after that. During this time he explained that he was a "Regent" who was engaged to the current Queen. He explained that the Queen was much older than she let the public know. He also explained that she had two children already from non-royal fathers. The Regent went on saying that was why her community reached out to him, as his family were distant title holders themselves, and royals only married other royals. In the vein of keeping up the appearance of her youth, the Queen wanted to officially marry so that she could bring her two children out of wedlock into the public eye as his children by the following winter despite the children growing out of their toddler years by then. Carlone found it all to be so strange to live and die by pretenses alone. However, she was aware that it was very important to the Regent who prattled on endlessly regarding the topic of formality and public personas. Not sure if he was telling a tall tale or if he were the Regent, Carlone decided not to waste too much time with this man any further. When the weather cleared a bit, she said her goodbyes. It was when the estate was too far behind her to see anymore that she realized that missed him, but she also understood that she never wanted to have to deal with his world of bizarre ceremonies either.