Itazu was sitting on the ground near her father’s desk; she had some paint she was getting all over the floor, the wall, her clothes and in her purple hair.
Henry had noticed but chose to keep quiet. He’d promised to play with her today and instead an important form had arrived and… well, she was being quiet, so who was he to scold her?
As he added the last stamp and signature, he realized it was far past lunchtime, and his daughter hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
“Hungry?” he smiled.
She crawled out from under the desk, nodding energetically.
“Go get changed,” he frowned at the no longer white shirt.
“It’s prettier now,” Itazu argued on her way to the stairs.
Henry didn’t respond as he moved over to the kitchen, opening the cupboard to disappointment. Empty. He sighed. He’d meant to head to the market this morning, just before the form arrived. The thought that, had he been at the market on time, he would have been able to enjoy his day off… filled him with anxiety. That form was important.
“Itazu!” he shouted.
“Yes, Father?” she appeared up the stairs in one of her white puffy dresses.
Henry sighed. “How about we go on a day trip?”
“I was thinking now, and we get lunch out.”
Her eyes widened, her expression one of glee. She ran over. She was short and barely reached her father’s waist. “Can we get ice cream?”
“After lunch, sure.”
“Yay,” she hugged her father. “I love you.”
“Because I buy you ice cream?”
Henry laughed, “do you remember the rules? If we go out, we don’t transform, show any signs of strength, speed, heat magic—”
“I won’t flap my wings, touch any fire, I won’t smile in case my fangs are visible or scratch any cats back,” she played with her claws. “I know all of this father, I’m not a child anymore.”
Henry raised an eyebrow but nodded in approval all the same. “Let’s go.”
“We taking Croissant?” Croissant was Henry’s horse, a beautiful tall horse of dark brown with skinny legs.
Henry groaned. “On a market day? It would be a nightmare. No, we’ll take the train. Have I ever taken you on the train?”
She nodded. “A long time ago.”
“You haven’t been here that long,” he laughed, picking her up. “Let’s go.”
She fiddled with his tie as usual, being dropped back down on the ground as Henry locked the door and grabbed her hand to walk through the fields towards the train station.
Usually Henry found himself stopping often to speak to his neighbours. Usually they talked about horses, of which Henry was enthusiastic. Sometimes about farming, of which Henry had no idea but was polite about. It was always nice that these conversations never involved politics.
Today there was nobody to stop and talk to. It was lunchtime. It was also market day. Most of his neighbours were busy making money to pay for their food; or eating.
They reached the train station. Henry didn’t need to stop to buy tickets. He already had a pass. He showed it to the guard, who looked at Itazu evaluating her age before nodding and letting them in.
Henry sat Itazu down by the window, which she promptly placed her hands and nose on, staring as the fields started moving.
“Why don’t we use the train more often?”
“Well, mostly, because we then have to carry stuff home. Croissant can’t come on the train, you see, and I’m not strong enough to pull a carriage.”
Henry laughed. “Other than that. There’s the fact the train won’t leave us exactly where we want to go.”
“Trains have to stop at train stations. There are plenty in the city, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still not as comfortable as taking Croissant straight to the front door, right?”
Itazu nodded, staring out the window. The train made a hooting sound, and she jumped back.
Henry laughed. “Maybe we’ll ride the train more often.”
The train pulled to a stop, a female sounding voice announced the station, “Apple Acres.” The doors opened and a couple of people got off.
Itazu stared at the doors, then her father.
“Not yet. We’re getting off at the Municipal Market.”
Itazu nodded, kicking her legs.
A couple of stops later Henry had Itazu’s hand firmly in his own. She squirmed a little and complained at the tightness, but it was busy, very busy. And Henry was taking no risks.
“What do we need?” Itazu asked as she jumped down the steps with her father in toe.
“What don’t we need?” he joked, “Mostly eggs, milk, whatever fruit and vegetables are in season. We have pasta and rice. Would you like more honey?”
She nodded, “And we ran out of cocoa.”
He nodded, “Yes, more cocoa. Do I have enough coffee…?”
“Yes, but you did run out of the weird leafy thing.”
“Tea, Precious, it’s called tea.”
“It looks and tastes like leaves.”
“I’d bet my nose you’re going to love tea when you grow up.”
“Because I like it. Your mother loved it more than she loved me, and you love yourself a hot beverage.”
“No, I love myself a hot cocoa,” she corrected.
“If you say so, Precious,” he squeezed her hand, she squeezed right back, her strength rather impressive, earning a groan from her father.
Henry bought the milk and the cocoa, letting Itazu carry them. Her strength came in handy. He was just buying some fruit when he was recognized by one of the king’s other advisors.
“Henry!” The man was short. He wore a suit and was well shaven. A military style haircut, he was the advisor on cultural exchange, which oddly enough at this very moment mostly meant military stuff.
“Oh, Frederick, hello.” Henry’s tone was not that of pleasure.
“How’s your break going?”
“Break? I spent all morning with the new refugee forms.” He pulled his daughter closer to himself, scared she would wonder off.
“Refugee forms?” Frederick frowned. “I told the king we didn’t have the resources.”
“Ah, did you now?” Henry bit his tongue, holding back a less than polite comment, “Well, turns out we do have the resources.”
Frederick shook his head, turning his attention to the little girl, “And this is the reason you’ve been absent?”
Henry nodded, “Yes, this is my daughter.”
Itazu smiled up at the stranger, before quickly closing her mouth to hide her fangs, keeping a rather awkward, tight-lipped smile.
The man just laughed, not attentive enough to notice the weird features, “She looks like quite the troublemaker.” He gestured to the paint filled hair.
“Ah, yes, that she is.”
Frederick then began to talk about politics, specifically military and refugees. Henry nodded and responded politely, correcting him often. After a while, he let go of his daughter’s arm, allowing her to place the milk down on the ground. A little longer and he crossed his arms, attempting to send the message of disinterest.
Itazu, meanwhile, was now sitting on the floor with her own arms crossed. She was becoming bored, and the worse thing was she didn’t even understand what the adults were talking about.
She would ask her father a lot of uncomfortable questions later about the new words she was picking up. But at this very moment, she was bored.
Then something drew her attention.
Past the buzzing market with flowing people, there were the alleys, small and dark. In one of those alleys, Itazu could see a ball of grey fur moving around. She wasn’t sure what it was at first as she got close to the ground to get a better perspective.
Long tail, pointed ears, she gasped, “Kitty,” she whispered.
The cat turned, staring at the girl with wide eyes.
Itazu smiled, her fangs showing, “psh, psh,” she rubbed her fingers trying to call the cat over.
The cat just stared, turning at every loud noise to stare at different parts of the market.
Itazu frowned. Of course, it was too loud for the cat to come near her. So, she pulled one of the bottles of creamy milk and opened it, holding it out towards the cat.
This got the cat’s attention. It took a hesitant step forward, but then a carriage moved past, and it quickly hissed and ran deeper into the alley.
Itazu gasped, thinking the cat had caught its paw. She looked up at her father, but there was no time. An animal needed her, so she ran into the alley with the open bottle of milk.
It didn’t take long to find the cat sitting atop a window sill licking its paw, way out of reach for the short girl, but she held up the bottle and slowly, the cat stopped licking itself and began to pay her attention. Eventually jumping down, Itazu sat down and poured the milk into her hand, holding it out for the cat, who happily licked the liquid out of her hand.
Itazu giggled softly. “You’re so cute,” she whispered.
The cat purred as Itazu’s free hand moved to stroke it behind the ears.
“You have lovely fur.”
“Anyway,” Frederick smiled, “I should be on my way. Duty calls. The king can’t manage without me.”
“Oh, no, of course not,” Henry held back the sarcasm as he smiled and uncrossed his arms.
“I’ll be seeing you around, Henry.”
“I sure hope not,” Henry grumbled beneath his breath before turning towards his daughter. Well, towards a box of milk bottles with one bottle less. “Precious?”
Itazu gave the cat a quick hug. It accepted it reluctantly, obviously domestic. Then she made her way back towards the market, following the noise as a pose to her memory. When she came out of the alley, she didn’t recognize any of the stalls, and couldn’t see her father.
“Father?” she whispered, knowing he wouldn’t hear her. She glanced around. She took a deep breath. “Okay, okay,” she tried to calm herself down. She sat on the ground and held the milk bottle close to her as if it were a toy.
“Itazu?” Henry began to search frantically around the crowd. “Itazu!”
Soon guards were by his side and he explained the situation. Thankfully, Itazu was easy to describe.
Itazu took another deep breath, recalling the shopping list. “I just need to find the honey stall,” she decided, holding the bottle of milk and moving through the busy market.
She was very small and seemed calm. Despite her purple hair, she managed to pass by several guards without being noticed. She reached a honey stall, but the picture was different. Usually her honey had a picture of a flower and this one had a picture of a bee. She didn’t feel confident her father would find her here.
She took another deep breath, her eyes closed, then opened slowly. She moved over to the stall. “Excuse me mam.”
The lady looked down at the young girl, before smiling, “Yes?”
“Can you tell me where the train stations is pretty please?”
“Of course,” she smiled and pointed, “Just go straight on.”
Itazu nodded, a small smile, “Thank you mam. Your picture of a bee is really cute by the way.”
The lady blushed, “Thank you, Sweetheart.”
Itazu held her milk close and began to make her way towards the train station.
Henry was becoming more frantic by the minute. This was, after all, the first time since Itazu’s mother disappeared that he didn’t know where the girl was.
Itazu arrived at the steps of the train station. She walked up with care, but didn’t recognize it. She looked up at the sign. It didn’t read “Municipal Market”, rather “Viridescent Park”. She took another deep breath. She moves to walk down the stairs and return to the market, but the milk bottle slipped. It hit the first few steps and just continued rolling, but after the last step, it hit the stone floor and smashed into a million pieces.
Itazu stared at the broken glass and spilt milk, and bursts into tears.
Quickly, one of the train station employees runs over. “What’s wrong?”
“I dropped it and it broke!” she pointed to the milk. The employee grabbed her shoulder softly, trying to calm her down, “And I can’t find my father!”
Another employee wondered off to find a guard.
Soon, the guards told Henry his daughter was at the train station. Henry was there in record time, pulling his daughter up into his arms. “Thank goodness,” he sighed, “Don’t you dare wonder off like that again,” he squeezed her.
Her arms wrapped around his neck and she continued to cry, “The bottle broke.”
Henry looked at the broken milk bottle with a shake of his head and an apologetic look at the employee who was cleaning it up. “Hey, hey,” he pulled out his handkerchief with one hand, the other still holding her, he wiped at her tears, “I still owe you some ice cream.”
She grabbed the handkerchief from her father, wiping her own eyes and nodding. “Ice cream makes everything better.”
Henry nodded, “My thoughts exactly.”
She put the handkerchief back in his pocket, gesturing towards the ground, not complaining when her father held her hand tight like before.
“Yes, Precious?” Henry held her tight as they made their way towards the ice cream parlour, his heart just beginning to slow from the panic of losing sight of his daughter.
“Can we get a cat?”
Henry looked down at her, the tears were gone but she was still shaking slightly, “Of course Precious. Why not?”