She was the most delicate thing you ever laid eyes on. Tender in feeling and of such a bright countenance as to melt a frozen stream. Of course, I idolized her as younger sisters always do with the older. I saw her almost as a vision of what I, God willing, would become: endlessly inquisitive, graceful in demeanor, lovely as a dewy blossom in the morning light. Certainly, she was quite the dazzling prospect for marriage in the eyes of many fathers looking on behalf of their heirs. I even remember more than a few men my own father's age who attempted to call on Greta, but neither she nor our father would give them any thought.
Besides, Greta was far too curious to live out her days within the walls of Cyrnne, cloistered with some graybearded merchantman. No, she yearned to see the world outside, to learn all that was knowable at the time. Pray do not tell Leopold, but Greta never believed the stories about the outside world that were spread in those days... It was the beginning of what would become the Evangelical Brethren, and it was not uncommon even then to see printed leaflets read aloud in the town square, denouncing the rest of the world – or at least the Global Church – as being replete with scoundrels, idolaters, and blasphemers. That was our entertainment, as children... All of us would gather in the chapel, huddled together in our furs on the second pew from the pulpit, listening with rapt attention as the lay minister repeated to us the depravity of the outside world.
Us children would watch with eyes as big as gold sovereigns, imagining unto ourselves a slew of monsters, creatures as terrible as the shadows playing upon the very walls of the chapel, bedecked with cows' horns and vicious fangs, killing each other in the most brutal ways our young minds could conceive. Mothers whispered fervent prayers as the preacher built to a crescendo, clutched their brood closer as if shielding them from some embodied foe. Unbeknownst to them, some of those children – the young lovers, especially – secretly plotted ways to learn from personal experience of the pernicious evils practiced by non-believers.
Greta had her own ideas; however, hers were neither lucid nightmares nor iniquitous fantasy. No, she firmly believed that many of these stories were false. I have often thought in these long years since her death that she was simply too pure to escape this world uncorrupted, too optimistic to leave its many demons in peace. It was on nights like these, when the preacher's tales were still fresh in our minds, that the two of us would lie awake long into the night, until the stars of heaven outshone the torches of the entire city and talk. "Could all of it really be true?" I would ask her, not entirely expecting an answer. "I wish to find out for myself one day," she would always respond.
I should have known that she would run away from us eventually. Mother always said she spent too much of her days in dusty books, when she could be enjoying the mild air in the garden or – even more importantly – entertaining one of the many men who came in vain to court her. As I said before, she was always too free for that. Father adored us all unabashedly, and could not bear to see even the slightest present or favor withheld from us. Perhaps this was the source of Greta's need to see the world. I felt even then that he held special devotion for her, his precocious gem of a daughter. I was not envious like my older sisters: I too was bewitched by the same spell. Greta was in my eyes the paragon of womanhood, even though she was only sixteen at the time and I barely three years her junior.
This is why her running away broke our hearts as terribly as it did. With Greta gone, I had not a single soul in the world with which to share my heart. No one with whom to chitter about the petty intricacies of courtship, or the piteous state of my bosoms, or any of the other trivialities that consume the thoughts of young girls. Even more, it was as if a half of my mind had been ripped away from me in one night, carried off to the west astride the fastest charger from our stables. Father especially was destroyed by the news; in fact, it very well nearly killed him. Mother was more circumspect in revealing her emotions – something which her first two daughters had inherited as well – yet many times in the following months, I saw her sob in fits when she believed herself alone. Honestly, I doubt that even she ever recovered fully.
Nearly a year passed by the time we learned what had become of poor Greta. I, ever the optimist after Greta's example, imagined her to be having grand adventures like those I remembered reading about in our library. In my mind, I saw her perhaps roaming the west with a merchant caravan, or traversing the Great Bay with a band of pirates. I made entire stories which mapped out her travels across the known world, even into parts unknown; of course, I never shared any of this with my parents or sisters. After all, who could I share any of my feelings and thoughts with if not Greta? Though Father had sent word to every city in the League and even to the southern towns of the Torisians, we heard nothing.
Perhaps it was because he believed her to have simply run off to some distant relations of ours in Meddelburg that we never thought to look further amongst the commoners of Heilicon. It came as such a shock to us all that not only had she been there all along, not more than one week's journey away, but that by now she was also with child. My father's man could learn little else, because he only saw her fleetingly before she ducked back into an alleyway and was lost from view. The way he told it, she was quite clearly the Greta we had known, yet there was something different still. Though her hair retained the straw color it always had, it was now matted and filthy instead of light and flowing. Lines of weariness had appeared on a face once perpetually turned into an innocent smile, a face which held once-inquisitive eyes now devoid of light. In addition to this, there was the child she carried within her. For a time, even Father believed that she had betrayed him; that her prior aloofness with men had only been a pretense for more clandestine affairs. I knew this to be false, but how could I contest the evidence that now lay before me?
I fought within myself the urge to also hate her, an urge which very nearly destroyed my entire childhood with it. How could one as pure as my dear sister have fallen so far? Had the stories we were told by candlelight in that drafty old chapel been true after all? I quickly understood that the world outside was filled with men just like us who lived in Cyrnne; that even our self-made paradise here was not paradise at all, but merely the order of heaven in mocking effigy. These lessons I learned at that age when womanhood looms as both an intangible yearning and a mounting fear; it was Greta who caused me to grow up faster and deeper than my peers. Several more months passed, wherein Father and Mother were torn too much between rage and parental bonds to reach out and save my dear sister from a fate they could not imagine. They withheld their hand until it was too late, for it was after only a few months that we learned of Greta's death.
Greta Frandt, the angel of our household and veritable goddess of my own youth, was dead. She had succumbed to weakness in childbirth, they said. The strain of labor was too great for her frail body and she had simply lost the will to live. It seemed that I alone refused to believe that my sister had given up: after all, was she not the one who told me nearly every night that all things around us had been conceived in beauty by a loving God? Was she not the one who sought for even the slightest glimmer of godliness in even the so-called adulterers and heathens of the outside world?
No, I never did and never will accept the idea that Greta saw no more purpose in life, for she did have a purpose. I can see it clearly now, as it sits here before me. That child whose birth drained her of life was your father. As much as I came to loathe the man vile enough to seduce and destroy my Greta, I also saw her son become a man in his own right, who grew beyond his father's shadow. Now to see his son, my dear sister's grandson, brings me such joy as to let me pass calmly to the next life, knowing that as one chapter is completed, another lies open and ready for the pen. I pray you hold no grudge against your grandfather, Matthieu. Believe me when I say that a lifetime of grudges will bring you nothing but white hair and an added measure of grief in a world already so full of mourning.
We must look at things in a positive light if we are to survive, and yet there are also two things we must remember. Firstly, that – the preceding injunction notwithstanding – we live in a world full of evil, darkness and sin. Secondly, that despite all that, it would be tragically short-sighted of any one of us to view this life as anything short of inherently good, or to value each day as anything less than a gift. Yes, accidents happen; children die; the beautiful and tender ones suffer; many of the world's greatest injustices will never see the light of day; and most crimes will go unpunished. Tragedy and pain occur everyday, but remember: so do miracles.