Little People: Chapter 1

Merichel Herman, Fiction Editor

There was only one thing wrong with Atija that night: the music.

Or perhaps there was nothing wrong at all, and it was only that Kashmir would never be accustomed to the silence. Not absolute silence, of course, but a lack of background noise—cars, chatter even in the early hours of the morning… Though there always seemed to be music in Atija—lovely, lilting music—it did nothing to remind him of home.

Kashmir cursed himself silently. For nine years he had told himself again and again—Qurdoba isn’t home, Qurdoba isn’t home, Qurdoba isn’t home—and he still didn’t quite believe it.

He sighed, slipping down from his perch on the balcony railing. Nascha’s parents had forbidden him from sitting there. They said it was because it was dangerous, but they were lying—they didn’t want the risk of anyone noticing. For almost a decade, Kashmir had been the royal family’s most carefully kept secret, the king and queen’s deepest shame and their daughters’ closest acquaintance. He found it almost funny that their parents thought they were keeping it from him—their dislike or hatred, he still couldn’t tell which.

Kashmir had just closed the balcony door behind him when he heard the door to his room creak open. He froze.

“Aren’t you supposed to be asleep?” The voice was quiet. Eva.

Kashmir loosed a breath and turned around, striding toward her. “Couldn’t. Aren’t you supposed to be asleep?”

Eva shuffled nervously on her feet. “Me neither,” she said. “I didn’t want to wake Nascha.”

“Ah.” Kashmir smiled. He didn’t really know why they did this—this routine. It had become habit for Eva to come here whenever she couldn’t fall asleep—which, lately, had been more often than not. Kashmir was always awake anyway.

He would talk to her, read with her, they would make up stories, anything to pass the time. He still remembered the first time they had done this. It was the time Eva had explained insomnia to him and he had understood her a little too well for his liking.

Nascha had come to wake him up the next morning and found Eva on the other side of the bed. She had kicked Kashmir and grumbled, “I feel like you should have to be here at least a year before you sleep with my sister.”

Kashmir, being eight years old, hadn’t understood.

“Did you get it?” Eva perked up, approaching the bed. “The book.”

Kashmir pursed his lips but nodded.

Eva’s eyebrows furrowed. “What?”

Kashmir just shook his head and went to fetch the book from the nightstand on the other side of the bed as Eva sat down. He waved it at her as he took his place beside her. “It’s brown, Eva! People don’t read brown books!”

Eva laughed. “Don’t judge a book by its cover, Kashmir.”

Kashmir pouted. “Everyone’s going to judge it just a little by the cover, and this”—he threw the book down between them—“doesn’t make for a good first impression. I’m so disappointed, Ev. You made this book seem so interesting.”

Eva sighed and picked it up, moving closer to him so he could see the pages when she opened it. “It’s an amazing book, Kashmir, trust me. Just—listen.”

She opened to the first page and started to read, although Kashmir had crossed his arms and turned his head away in defiance.

She had nearly finished the page, and Kashmir was just beginning to think that the cover may have been slightly deceiving in its dullness, when footsteps pounded outside the door. Eva faltered, turning toward it.

Kashmir frowned. “I thought we weren’t allowed to run in the palace.”

“It’s Nascha,” Eva said by means of explanation.

And so it was. Only a few seconds later, the door burst open and Nascha flew in, skidding to a halt a few feet from the bed. She looked like she was about to say something, but then doubled over in an attempt to catch her breath. She held up a finger to mean, Give me a second.

Despite being sisters—and only a year apart—Nascha and Eva looked almost nothing alike. Where Eva was thin, pale, with amber eyes and softly curled blonde hair, Nascha was all curves and colors—dark red hair; shining, silvery eyes; golden skin. The only similarity between them seemed to be the smattering of freckles sprinkled across their cheeks.

Nascha’s face was flushed when she finally straightened up, but she was beaming. “Nascha,” Kashmir asked with a smile, “are you all right?”

She nodded, waving him off. “They did it,” she said, still out of breath. Kashmir raised his eyebrows in question. “Mom and Dad. They… they captured a witch.”