world-building and graphic novel in-progress

Hope in Peacenight-time

A short winter story with Tock and Eleanore (previously pictured here and here), pre-Rescue Quest.

Though winter usually inspires her, Tock finds herself upset one year, as romance after romance fails. In her beloved legends, magic (and love) is grand and dramatic. But sometimes, it just takes a friend’s realistic outlook to help one dream again.

Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks, always, for reading ❤

All content and characters © Rachel Terwilliger.

~~~

Winter was often slow and difficult on the mountain plateau. Most of the Gnomes lived inside, of course, safe from the storms on the surface (if not as safe as the Dwarves, who lived even further in). But it still meant food was a bit scarcer, bones a bit achier, when the winds blew in with the airships.

This was especially true of the Corrigans’ community. Living near the airship docks meant dealing with the wind and snow much more than, say, the nobles. Or the Queen, who was even warmer far within the stone. Most of the middle class and the poor did their best to bundle up and get through it. But even the forced optimism of their winter holiday didn’t last long in the face of such irritation. For months, the streets were lined with wind-blown, swaddled ladies and gentlemen, hurrying to and fro, doing their best to get inside as quickly as they could.

Tock, however, reveled in it. She always had. She loved the surface world, the farms and the forests and the open sky. Those things had always promised adventure to her, far more than going further in-mountain, so the wintertime was just another chance to steal little moments of the outside world. She might be the only Gnome with such sturdy winter wear, and the others may call her crazier as usual, but that never stopped her from dancing in the snowy wind as it tore down their streets, or from decorating the slope around the Sprizzenfritz Dock with very animated, sometimes inappropriately-gesturing Snow-Gnomes (that was one thing she could never get Bumble to join her in – but at least he kept his mouth shut about it).

One year before her grand quest, however, she felt a little less cheerful. Her people’s distaste of her enthusiasm was starting to have an affect. Not to mention the buildup of heartbreak, as her first love saw others behind her back, followed by other loves that quickly fizzled out to nothing. The stories she adored held romance in such high esteem, and there she was, having trouble finding one that kept.

As such, one day she flopped with disdain onto the setee in her friend Eleanore’s shop, new snow spilling all around her.

“Gods, Tock!” Eleanore exclaimed, ushering a customer out the door as she stooped to sweep the mess away. “Think first, perhaps?”

“Sorry,” she mumbled, forcing a smile with little charm. “I made some Snow Fairies. And some Soldiers being ecstatic about a tower of pine cones. Lord Grumblethorpe will be quite pleased.”

She rolled her eyes and stood up. Smoothing her burgundy skirts, she switched the sign on her door to ‘closed,’ then turned toward the young woman with frustration. “You shouldn’t bother Bumble’s father so much. I’m sure it makes things difficult for him.”

Tock shook her head. “I doubt it. He’s only noticed once all these years, after all. Peacenight-time always seems to distract him.”

“Being the time of year in which his wife left him and all their children? Yes, I imagine it would.”

Her young, round friend leaned forward with surprise, almost falling out of her seat. “What’s all this sympathy for Mr. Sprizzenfritz? Have you forgotten how awful he is to Bumble? To all of them?”

Eleanore shook her head. She leaned against the counter, arms over her chest, and sighed. “Of course not. In this season, however, I tend toward sympathy for everyone.” Her lip twitched with the shadow of a smirk. “Even troublemakers who whirl into my shop unannounced and ruin my best sofa.”

“….Oh.” Too late, Tock shrugged out of her frozen overcoat. Her expression turned sheepish as she realized the seat beneath her was already soaked. “I can find a way to repair it?”

Eleanore nodded, even though they both knew that would never happen, and stepped back behind the counter. “I am open for another hour, technically, but I’ll try to close up early. You may wait in the back room.”

“Thanks. “ Tock smiled, more genuinely this time, and scurried out of the storefront.

She waited calmly in the back for about ten minutes before she was struck with unbearable boredom. After a quick scan of the stock, she took to rearranging the spare mannequins until they looked like they were dancing. She followed that with stacking hats around the dancing figures like elegant pillars.

Reminded again of romance by the image she’d created, she flumped back onto the nearest seat, wondering about her hopes and her own first love. Lorna. She wondered if her career, performing as ‘Shiny Victoria,’ was still going well. That, at least, she had kept herself from – the torture of anonymously going out to those Public Houses where she performed, in order to see for herself. A few months ago they had met again by chance, and tried being friends. It went disastrously. Though Tock had taught Lorna a lot of the flirting and charm she now embodied, she herself had always been faithful. She never thought Lorna would stray, until it had already happened. And then again. And again. She knew she had been foolish, to keep trusting, but she had wanted to believe that their love would be enough….

She sighed. “This never happens in the legends.”

“What doesn’t?”

Tock started, nearly falling out of her seat once more at the sight of Eleanore beside her. “How long have you been standing there?”

“Long enough to study your attempt at sculpture, and to develop curiosity as to why you find it so enthralling.”

“Ah.”

Eleanore sat down beside her, gently guiding her back up into a proper sitting position. “Did you see Miss Fitzsprocket?”

Tock groaned. “Why do you always KNOW things?”

Eleanore laughed, a chiming sound like enchanted bluebells. “You are just an easy read, chuckaboo. What happened, then?”

“It’s not about  Lorna. Not really. …You know that girl I met last month, Rell?”

“Yes.”

“That’s….not so much happening as it is not happening, anymore.”

Her friend hugged her and kissed her quickly on the temple. “I’m sorry, my dear.”

“Me too! I mean, I shouldn’t be, since we just weren’t compatible, but…..ugh!” She fell back, dramatically, pressing the heels of her hands into her eye sockets. She groaned anew as one of her braids caught on the coat stand behind them. “WHY?”

Eleanore stifled laughter as she pulled her friend’s hair free and smoothed it down.“Not everything works out right away, Tock. Sometimes one must wait for the person they’re supposed to be with. The one who’s just right.”

She froze. “Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” she answered with a chuckle, amusing them both with the repetition and breaking the gloomy atmosphere. “But I am not worried for myself. Love happens. Sometimes it just takes time.”

“Not in the stories, it doesn’t.”

Eleanore sighed. “Tock Corrigan, you need to stop basing your life around those. They’re not as helpful as you think they are.”

Tock thought about that for a moment. Then she stood, firmly, hands on her hips, and shook her head. “No. They ARE helpful. They give me hope, and ideas. And a sureness in my heart that there’s something more out there, Eleanore.” She leaned forward, clasping the shopkeep’s hands. “There’s this whole big world out there, there has to be more than just us and the Dwarves and those Lowland folk the traders deal with. We live well in the stone but there is so much more outside. And so much more to life! I want to FIND it, and I want to share it with someone! Someone I love.”

Eleanore sighed and smiled sadly. “Your friends love you, Tock. Your parents love you.”

“I know. I love you too, and them too. But you know what I mean.”

“I do.” She stood up to meet her, clasping her by the arms. “Still, that doesn’t mean you won’t find what you want. And in the meantime, can you just try to enjoy being here, now? With the people who love you on a less adventurous level?”

Now Tock rolled her eyes, though she was clearly defeated. “I’ll try.”

“Good.” She steered her towards the shop’s front, grabbing her coat for her and helping her into it as they moved. “Now if you please, I’m expecting company, and we’d like to be alone.”

Tock quirked an eyebrow. “Oh really?”

“Yes. You are not the only one who is courting, remember?”

She chortled and stuck her tongue out at her, then swept out the doorway with a flourish, already in lighter spirits.

~

The next morning, Eleanore woke with a stretch and an un-lady-like yawn, pulled herself up out of bed into worn slippers and her thickest robe, then scuttled into the kitchen of her apartment. She listened for noise in the shop below, ever wary of disrespectful folk, and -hearing nothing – she fixed her tea and some mushroom soup for breakfast. As she ate, she gazed out the window. After a few moments, one of the docks farther down opened and a ship pulled out amongst a gust of flurries. She smiled, hoping Tock felt well enough to appreciate it.

After breakfast, she dressed in a fine, practical brown gown and pulled her hair back into its usual bun, making sure nothing was out of place. She grabbed her ring of keys and her ledger, then, locking the door soundly behind her, she headed down into her shop. Mornings there usually began with a quick inventory of her more popular and expensive goods, a quick once-over to make sure everything was presentable – minus the setee, this time – and then opening, to wait and hope for a good sale day.

She set her ledger down on the counter, hooked the keys onto her belt, and leaned to open to curtains to the front windows. Startled, she jumped backward at an unexpected sight. She ran to the other window, staring again at the same surprise.

A string of life-sized Snow-Gnomes stared back at her, making ridiculous faces like rude children. In the middle of the group was a large snow heart, decorated with smaller hearts and cogs and topped with one of the fancier hats from her own shop.

She stared, stunned, then burst into laughter.

It seemed that Tock would be all right, after all.

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