Theresa Potter had never really felt like her life belonged to her alone. Instead, it was probably the birth of two younger sisters that came to dictate the course of her life. Mr. Potter had been a modest man who owned a modest shop in a dowdy but still fairly interesting town called Fairaway, in the country of Kyr. Unlike Kyr's capital—Tyrios—Fairaway could be easily overlooked.
While a view of the gray cliffs dubbed the infamous Desolation of Kyr weren't normally much to declare, the people of Fairaway were self-important. After all, they were the few who saw the great and terrible sorcerer Sinister Seros. Admittedly, Seros himself might not have been impressive if not for his mystery.
Sinister Seros himself was known to be a intriguing figure. It was said that he ate beautiful girls' hearts. Most people half-believed it, though they assumed they'd never meet Seros on a normal day. Magical beings and such weren't supposed to just roam about on any old day. Still, this was Kyr, and people had to keep a watch out for such things.
Theresa Potter, however, had her own life to worry about. It wasn't that she was doomed. No, nothing so dreadful or otherwise exciting like a curse or a dangerous quest. Instead, she was destined to live a life that was modest and un-superb.
When her mother died (leaving Theresa and her sister Sarah with their kindly father) the two girls had been amiable enough about gaining a stepmother. Mr. Potter remarried a fairly nice lady named Honey. But it was later that Theresa's misfortune struck. A third child came along, and she was named Miriam.
The firstborn of three.
So it was not in the cards for Theresa to succeed in life. Her sister Sarah would fare only a little better, leaving Miriam, who had the live and care of both her sisters, to be the one who would seek her fortune one day to splendid results.
While some may have been resentful, Theresa was used to sympathetic stares by the time she entered grammar school. She read enough books to understand that she had not the same chance in life as the other girls in her school. That didn't stop her from taking life as it came, and perhaps figuring a way out of her plight. Young Theresa's head filled up quickly with folklore facts. She read that parents in Kyr stopped on their second child, but if that method did not work, they promptly had a fourth. Being the eldest of four was so much better than being the eldest of three.
Unfortunately, the three girls' father passed away soon after Miriam started school. He had not remarried by the time all three Potter girls were in their teens.
Theresa plugged on with her life, without expecting too much from it in return. She had taken to spending more and more hours in her father's shop. As the eldest, it seemed like her rightful duty to her father to keep his shop alive. Sarah, however, being a rare beauty, resented her future in faring second-best. She soon lost interest in the shop as a worthy future. She demanded to be put into an apprenticeship where she could seek "as much fortune, no… more!" Miriam had tired of the shop too, and wanted to get away from the watchful eye of her father. The arrangement that the still-young widower came up with was to be expected. He put Sarah with the famous toy shop in town, Cesari's, and Miriam with a nice old duchess who would teach her what she would need to know as the third child to seek her fortune one day.
Miriam and Sarah, both being strong-willed, had argued so heatedly that, in the end, Mr. Potter gave up and let them go seek whatever profession they wanted. Miriam ended up at Cesari's because, although she had wanted to be far from her father, she had not totally been able to let herself leave home quite so far as another town. Sarah had gone to the old duchess, Mrs. Fairfax, and asked in her charming Sarah way for an apprenticeship. She was not denied, of course.
Only Theresa had stayed in the shop, sewing the seams and cutting out material for extra lace. Growing up around the craftsmen in the workshop behind the store, Theresa already knew the trade. She was also naturally gifted with the needle. One could see that the clothes she made were charming beyond what a little tailor's shop in a little town usually produced.
And so Theresa kept on.
In time, even Mr. Potter grew bored of the monotony of the tailor business. Perhaps the young widower discovered a gray hair one day, and finally decided to live life and put the past to rest. He spent more and more time away from the shop. Without Mr. Potter's chipper knack for business, sales declined. The usual buyers, who were friends with him, came less for dresses than for gossip.
It wasn't that the clothes weren't satisfactory—far from it, in fact. Theresa had become even more skilled in crafting fetching dresses without help from her father. While Mr. Potter was gone from Fairaway, the shop declined even more. The hired help at the shop quit or retired, one by one. Soon, Theresa was left alone in the now dreary little hat shop.
Theresa was the sole person still keeping the tailor in business, if it could be called business.
Not many came to shop nowadays. Occasionally, Miriam would breeze in like a breath of wind to cheer Theresa up with a fine trinket from Cesari's Toy shop. But like the wind, she soon disappeared. These occasional visits became rare as the days went by, since Cesari's grew quite popular, leaving Miriam less time to visit.
Theresa swore to herself that she would keep the shop running, no matter what.
It became harder and harder to do, however, when girls that used to attend grammar school with Theresa caught her on the streets buying groceries or behind the counter sewing would come up to Theresa and sneer at her. It was the especially rude ones, who were either the only daughters of woodcutters or just had a good omen determined at their birth. Their favorite subject to bring up with Theresa was always how she was the eldest of three…and how 'dear, poor Theresa' would probably never get out of the tailor in order to seek her fortune—which would result in disaster, anyhow.
By and by, Theresa grew more and more reserved. She was rather practical and shy to begin with, so the extra hours in the shop and the teasing only exacerbated her reclusiveness. Life settled into the routine of shopping each morning, opening the hat store, sewing more hats, gazing at the passerby when they didn't come in, and trying to ignore the gossips that still crowded outside the door.
It was on one of these days, a rather sunny, clear morning, that this story begins.
The sun was well into the sky when she left shop that morning. The Potter house behind the artisan workshops led to the courtyard, which led to the front door of the store—and that was the route Theresa took to access the busy streets of Fairaway in time to buy groceries each day. She hadn't much money, now that the clothes weren't selling very well. But it didn't take a lot to feed just one.
Brown hair fell into her eyes as she made her way to the produce stands. She brushed it aside with pale fingers that then traveled down to inspect the produce. Maybe some tomatoes for a sandwich at lunch. The open crates hosted a colorful selection, and she picked her choice under the watchful eye of the shopkeeper. The morning air carried wisps of smells from baking bread, boxes of soap, sweat from working hands, and whatever else the people of Fairaway were up to that morning.
"Oh, 'bout a two-pence." The man stroked his great brown moustache as he accepted the money. Theresa was a familiar face that made calculating shopkeepers smile, before turning to help another customer.
She dropped her purchase in her shopping basket and hurried on. Theresa could wish nothing more than to hurry back to the isolation of her workbench, but she still needed to buy bread. The shoving hands and prodding arms of all the people on the street were like a tidal wave. A sharp scent of cloves assaulted her nostrils, a heady smell, not so different from the plants sewn onto the autumn bonnets in a few months time.
There was a bread stall down the lane. But she felt like doing something a little more today—maybe because of the slow days and weeks, rolled into an endless, monotonous parade. She hadn't had one of the bakery's cakes in a while. Although luxury was not something she often spared for herself... today was May Day. Maybe she would buy herself a small slice of cake, with fresh cream and strawberries, and take it home to finish between several meals. With measured steps, careful not to get stepped on by the large crowd in front of Cesari's, Theresa approached. Her grip on her basket of meager contents was vice-like, knuckles white, as she squeezed through like a shadowy wisp.
Miriam will be glad to see me, at least, she thought. However, before she had the chance to pass the throng idling in the front of Cesari's, three young ladies dressed in fine costumes with billowing skirts stepped in her path. The bright colors and lively patterns of their dresses stood in stark contrast to the gray drabness of Theresa's no-nonsense work dress.
"Well, look who it is."
Lissy, the silversmith's second daughter, turned her dainty mouth upwards when met with Theresa's silence. Mel, behind her, was a girl with a big voice to match her frame. Since grammar school, Mel had decided that, by bullying Theresa some, she would gain the favor of Lissy, who was by prettier and smarter (one had to admit) than herself. Gwen, the third, crouched behind Lissy, her lanky blue-black hair framing a crooked smile.
Mel smiled at Theresa. "Theresa Potter, I did not know you left the tailor's at all these days."
Theresa ignored them. It was a very tiresome, time-consuming affair, to be 'pitied' by either Lissy or Mel. To be perfectly honest, she was desperately searching for an escape route from the three worst people she could have run into. Not that she particularly despised them. Everyone in town held their biases toward firstborns of three. These girls were just more explicit about it. It was that the three had so often in childhood liked to make other people's misfortune—or supposed future misfortune—the social 'project' of their own lives. Lissy tittered with the two girls standing behind her like oddly mismatched guards.
"Have you heard the latest gossip, dear Theresa?"
"No." Theresa avoided eye contact. "I've been busy with errands."
"Come now, dearest, take a guess."
They clearly wouldn't leave her alone until she'd thought of something satisfactory. The crowded streets and people pushing and shoving into her space seemed to make the ground tremble at her feet. Theresa tugged her shawl closer to her. Maybe she was spending too much time in the hat shop.
"I-I don't know."
This caused Mel to crow at the top of her lungs. "Of course you don't know! You're the simpleton—eldest of three! I should have known you wouldn't know about Georgina Rice."
Lissy frowned at Mel's outburst, but flashed a sugar-coated smile at Theresa.
"Well, dear Theresa," and here, Lissy inserted a soft, sad look at her addressee "Everyone knows that two days ago, Georgina Rice was accosted by a sorcerer."
"—Sinister Seros" added Mel, flipping her locks over to one side of her round face.
Lissy nodded slowly, gauging the Potter's reaction, looking for a weakness to attack. "Had her heart stolen. Poor Georgina, she's locked herself in her room, you know. I went to see her," this fact was stressed, with great importance. "The dear wouldn't accept any visitors, but I've heard her ranting about how handsome and sweet he was."
And here Lissy laughed lightly, as if she found her old classmate's anguish extremely amusing. Theresa felt a pang of sympathy for Georgina, although one had to admit that the girl had always been a little too bubble-headed for her own good.
"I see." Theresa tried to sidestep politely, but Mel spoke up after her.
"You'd better watch out for the roaming magicians nowadays. Maybe, if Seros stole Georgina's heart, he'll come after you next!" shouted Mel. "Lord knows they have no taste!"
Theresa ignored the comment, moving away at a brisk pace.
She turned from Cesari's to walk along the alleys as to not bump into fresh waves of people. Georgina probably didn't even meet a sorceror. It was probably just a regular fellow, one of those tavern men who drank ten gallons a day and sought women everywhere. This was the kind Mr. Potter had warned her, Sarah, and Miriam about. Georgina was just the type to get heartbroken by such a brute. The outside world really was far too dangerous and wicked. She needed to get back to her familiar world of thread, felt, and wax. She needed to head home and -
Caught up in her rush to get home to open shop, Theresa nearly collided with someone.
After grazing her with a very fancy silk sleeve, the figure hurriedly dodged into the dark alley. If Theresa had cared to stop the rude passerby and take in her surroundings, she'd have known that the alley led to a dead end. As it was, Theresa hurried on further before coming to a halt.
The subtle scent of roses caught her attention. It was the same scent that trailed her late mother after she brought in bright bouquets every morning to spruce up the shop, back when it did well.
Theresa, whose natural curiosity rebelliously piqued, retracted her steps to the opening of the dark alley. She didn't expect to see anyone, since they had walked with such haste. And the last thing on her mind was to identify a perpetrator and demand an apology, as Sarah undoubtedly would have.
With the purest of intentions, Theresa peered into the alleyway. She caught a flicker of movement in the darkest part of the narrow, shadowed space. She leaned forward into the space between the two walls, shopping basket clutched tightly in both hands.
Out of the dark, two striking silver eyes blinked back.
Then, a shadowed figure stepped forward, as if peeling away from the wall. She could see a vague outline of him. He was tall, male. That was two descriptors too much for her. Theresa felt the urge to run away, in case the strange young man was dangerous, you understand. But even in the poor lighting, she could see he was that dashing, noble-looking figure (if you liked that sort), and seemed uninterested in accosting her. It seemed almost comical for her to flee.
Slowly, the stranger brought a finger to his lips. The trace of a smile lingered there as he shook his head, as if telling her not to draw near. From his tapered wrist, the inset of fine embroidery gleamed on a fashionably trailing sleeve. A twinkle from a jewel winked out of the darkness somewhere behind his midnight black hair.