I am

"She was made out of pure spirit and life. A star on earth. Yet a hurricane in space. Cassiopeia Turow was different."
I am a girl who dared to dream. I am someone who sought adventure. I am a person who will learn and thrive and satisfy curiosity. These are all qualities most people share. But most people can't say that they overthrew a monarchy or helped burn down the world.


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23. "Even if it is just one day."

 

TWENTY

“She must have had a day off.”

“Everyone has to, even if it is just one day.”

 

Two months and a week ago

The Golden Compass

 

Cassiopeia’s birthdays were usually the one event of the year that she would actively look forward to. Birthdays were considered important celebrations on Sars and all of the island would trek to the beach to have a party. Several bonfires were made when the sun went down and from evening to night the whole island would share stories and dance and be merry with one another. The morning would typically be spent with her family, in the small kitchen of her home as they baked and talked the hours away. That year, the year she turned nineteen, was the first year where she hadn’t been surrounded by the people she knew and treasured. It was a weird feeling to be waking up to, like an emptiness somewhere within her. Cassiopeia didn’t really want to get up that morning but she knew that she had to. Underneath her pillow were the postcards and letters that had arrived from far off destinations. She knew that they would be from her parents and the crew of the Night Thief. They would hopefully be enough to restore a smile on her face and warmth in her heart.

 

Cassiopeia Turow

The Golden Compass

Harbor Lane

Irille

Eastern Earth

It’s your birthday! Nineteen years ago I was pushing you out of me in a hut. How the time sure flies. I’m sure that you’ll be missing us all in that big city just as much as we miss you. After all this is the first year without you here at home, but I’m still going to make bread and other delicious things while thinking of you. We will still have a celebration in your honor too, as we all need an excuse to party. You must have fun over there, despite the distance between us. Just because you don’t have your dear old mother with you doesn’t mean that this day can’t be one of the best days of your life. That’s just absurd. You live in a tavern from what you’ve told me, so bake your own bread and enjoy the day in the way that city dwellers do. Explore and the have the adventure that you so crave.

You are our daughter, despite how much your mother sometimes protests that. We only want the best for you and we also want your safety. While I can’t keep an eye on you from all the way over here, you need to ensure that today you will serve yourself a drink, no more than one, because this year marks the year on Sars where you are finally allowed to drink. You are legal to do all things in the customs of this little island but don’t go wild. I will know if you do, believe me. We’ll be lighting lanterns for you tonight and maybe you can light a candle for yourself. A birthday without us signals your growing independence. You are such a strong woman and I am so proud of you.

Stay safe and have the greatest day of this year,

Olivia and Elijah Turow (Mother and Father of the greatest daughter ever!)

 

Cassiopeia almost cringed at her mother on the first line and at her father with all the legal stuff. Her parents were the best but god they were embarrassing at times. Scratch that, nearly all the time. Enclosed, they had wrapped the pendant that she had sent to them and claimed that she should have something beautiful around her beautiful neck. Placing the shard around her, she opened the letter from Tommen and Avery. She was preparing herself for more cringe worthy words.

 

Dear Cassie (because I know you hate that name)

You let loose that you turned nineteen on this date and so we blame you for giving us this awesome piece of news. It is therefore all your fault when we say the things we say. Remember that won’t you? You not being with us is a huge shame, since you won’t have our lovely faces to grace your day. But besides that, we hope that you have a fantastic day. The best day of your life! Well, it can’t be without us there.

Enclosed there are a series of post cards of the places that we’ve visited so far – Tommen hopes that you like them. You probably miss us just as much as we miss you. That can’t be true actually. We miss you more.

Avery you are too sarcastic for your own good. Shut up boy.

Anyway, my brain tells me that you can drink in Sars now and so you should use this excuse to have a drink and get drunk. It’s not the first time you’ve done this but you deserve to party and live your life to the best of your ability. We noticed that you haven’t been contacting us with news of what’s going on with you, and so the only logical explanation is for you to keep all mail until we return to you, or you return to us. We expect a mound of mail when that time comes. Don’t get in too much danger.

Hey Cassie, its Tommen here and I hope that you find the adventure that you so craved there in Irille. I miss you. But let’s not dwell on that shall we, I’ll tell you about what’s been going on in my life because I know that’s what you want to know more than just birthday messages. Avery is training me to ascend the ranks and hopefully one day I will become Captain when Avery finally kicks the bucket. Maybe, I can be the captain of my own ship one day. The crew respects me more and I’m loving the status that my new position has now caused. On the other hand I think the amount of reading that I have to do is damaging to my brain. I don’t know how you like it so much, let me tell you.

I’ve seen some amazing places and some of the sights are printed on the postcards. I chose them because I know that you are nearly obsessed with sending them.

Miss you and have fun. Happy birthday.

Tommen, Avery and the fabulous crew of the Night Thief

 

There was a tower of smiley faces and signatures at the bottom. The postcards showed a range of locations the first being a maze, the surrounding hedges bloomed with white flowers. On the back there was only a sentence: You can get lost in here, just like I did. It may have been written in Tommen’s script, but he had left room for the possibility of Cassiopeia wanting to send it on to someone else. The next was of the view of a sunrise over a harbor, little rowing boats in the place where ships ought to have been. A foggy morning was on the next one. A towering structure on the next, a block of alternating rows of metal and glass. The final one was of a river and the Night Thief resting there. On the back there was the excited scrawl from Avery: We featured on a postcard! How great is that? For the first time that morning, Cassiopeia found herself smiling. Once she started she couldn’t stop and she found herself eager to start her day.

 

It was late when she emerged from her bedroom, later than her usual time. She knew that the bar below would be well stocked and so she kind of expected what was going to happen. Walking into the main area, the whole tavern erupted in cheers and applauds. They were all on their feet, glasses in hands and smiles on their faces.

“Happy birthday!” They all cried and Cassiopeia took steady steps forward, tights clad feet nearly slipping on the wooden slats. She was overwhelmed with the emotions enveloping the room. Everyone was just so merry and she put it down to the drink.

Lisa came up and hugged her then, her arms so tight that Cassiopeia’s ribs may have creaked under the force of it. Bruce was more tentative, not forgetting his previous actions. But this was a day for reconcile and so Cassiopeia pulled him into the hug, at least to save her from his wife’s tight clutches.

“Bruce, fetch the cake,” the order was uttered from Lisa’s mouth and directly into Cassiopeia’s ears. The proximity to the loud woman was now being regretted. The husband went dutifully and disappeared into the kitchens.

“You made me a cake? You, in the kitchen?” Cassiopeia questioned and knew that Lisa was best at drinks and not at baking.

“Are you silly girl? No. Bruce did it.” Lisa was brutally honest and placed her hands on her hips as she sassed to the birthday girl. The cake that Bruce brought out was simple, one tiered and yellow. Cassiopeia guessed that it was lemon but the nineteen candles pushed into the top of it could distort her view of the desert. The candles were quickly lit and the bar all crowded around her. “Well then, what are you waiting for? Blow them out!” Lisa urged and Cassiopeia drew in a great breath. She could get them all in one blow she decided. The nineteen tiny, flickering flames casted orange shadows on her face. The warmth coming off them were comforting and she pushed her hair out of the way, not wanting it to be singed. For a moment she thought of her first day there and the execution, but this was her birthday! She couldn’t think of times like that on such an occasion. Her cheeks bulged and then her lips pursed as she exhaled. All nineteen candles were extinguished. The smoke curling around her and making her cough. Cassiopeia smiled as yet another cheer went up in the room and the people around her flung their arms up in celebration.

“Well then people, let’s eat some cake!” Cassiopeia shouted and the whole room became alive and eager. The prospect of food always made people happier. Tamed chaos descended on the tavern, slowly and invitingly – sharing the same qualities of waking up from a great sleep and facing the day ahead. New people who entered the Golden Compass would remark on the same things; however, there was a subtle difference. The newcomers after the cake would reveal full stomachs and Lisa and Bruce chucking their slices at each other. Everyone after that would remark on the off key and almost constant streams of birthday chants and songs, while the occupants of the tavern danced to varying beats. Most of the beats were fast and heart racing, with Cassiopeia amongst them all. She was being tossed and turned by many gentlemen both young and old, deftly spinning from one set of arms to the next. Her woolen tights made her more nimble on the dancefloor and the long jumper she wore floated around her as she twirled. Her dark hair had fallen from her loose bun and was now cascading around her shoulders. Somewhere, someone took a photo and Lisa encouraged them to get copies. In days to come, one copy would be hung up in the tavern and the other two would be sealed away in envelopes. Cassiopeia was overjoyed and although she felt some residual sadness at being away from home, it was placated by the events of the day.

 

 

Lisa and Bruce eventually calmed down enough to sit and observe the girl. “I don’t know how we ever hated that girl,” Lisa mused and remembered back to the first day where Lisa felt that the new tenant was much more than that.

“You seem upset about something,” Lisa said to the girl who was trying to hide her tears from the woman. At first the older woman was being sarcastic but the teary glare she received altered her tone. Sarcasm was not the correct emotion to convey right now. The girl was sitting on her bed and clad in night clothes, the long nighty still draping along the floor.

The girl – Cassiopeia – looked frazzled, “Go away,” she uttered and turned away. She shut the door between them and Lisa was going to walk away, she was, but she found herself lurking on the landing and listening to see if the other girl was alright. She heard muffled grunts and curses from behind the door and then a loud thump. Lisa betted that the girl – Cassiopeia – had tripped over something or struggled getting out of her clothes. Before she was mentally approving of the action, Lisa was pushing open the door and revealing the girl that was down on the floor with her nighty trapped around her neck. Lisa wasn’t bothered by the partial nudity, she had all the same parts herself, but she knew that the girl’s cheeks would colour if she caught Lisa’s eye. Lisa helped her get the nighty off of her head and then she turned away to provide the younger girl some privacy. “What are you even doing here?” Cassiopeia grumbled as Lisa heard her pottering about with her clothes. The clothes she wore were always masculine and it prompted Lisa to eventually shop for some dresses or skirts if Cassiopeia so desired. That’s what happened when a girl spent months on end on a ship with all males. It wasn’t entirely disadvantageous though, the girl was quick witted and observant due to it.

“I was helping you,” Lisa replied and thought back to how the nighty had felt damp to the touch with sweat. No doubt the girl had had a nightmare and was still entranced in the throes of it. “You want to talk about the nightmare you had?” She questioned and she knew nearly instantly that she would get a backhanded reply from the girl.

“Why would I want to do that?” Cassiopeia irked as she moved around the woman, with a hair tie in hand. The dark locks of hers were getting long, and it was a good look on her. Lisa didn’t know of course, that when Cassiopeia left Sars it was a short length up to her chin.

“Talking about it may be better.” Lisa stated and for a moment the doors guarding Cassiopeia’s emotions were unlocked. A vulnerability shone in them and it took Lisa aback. It was that moment that the older woman realised that this was an eighteen year old standing in front of her, and with that delicate age brought with it delicate times. Cassiopeia needed someone, she couldn’t survive in a closed off world on her on. Maybe, Lisa could be there for her one day.

“I believe that you two bonded over beer or something like that?” Lisa asked her husband as they looked at the girl again. Bruce had indeed been brewing a batch when Cassiopeia wandered into the back garage one day. Lisa wouldn’t allow him to brew inside since it stunk the house out in her words. Cassiopeia asked what it was that he was doing and the conversation flowed. Bruce had given her a brief taste and they had conversed over the sensibilities of alcohol. Eventually, the girl’s barriers had fallen away so that they were all familiar with one another and Cassiopeia had went from quiet tenant to pseudo daughter before they all realised it.

 

 

Cassiopeia felt done with dancing, her legs were aching from it and it was only evening. She had spent hours on the dance floor and now she thought it best to take a break and take a walk. The crisp air chilled her legs from the small gaps in her tights and she hugged her arms to herself. The winter was nearing its bitter peak as Celebration season began and the days were getting shorter as the sun grew tired of being out all day. The air did indeed clear her head and she was alert once more but she found that her legs didn’t want to go back to the tavern, they wanted to go to the palace. It had only been a week since she had last actually been inside, but she found that if she asked what the King was doing an apt enough answer would be doing. The Guards must have thought her to be either obsessed or crazy, or both. Probably both actually. Upon seeing her they just rolled their eyes and passed the message along. They left her in the cold while this was happening, forcing her to bounce in place in order to generate some sort of warmth. Eventually, one of them escorted her to the throne room. The throne room was near the ballroom as she knew the route there, but it was a whole other type of spectacular. A large open room greeted her, with a checkerboard floor and a high ceiling supported by many pillars. The ceiling was painted, just like the ballroom, but this time it undoubtedly showed the history of the Wyrick family.

Hadrian looked at her from his throne, his eyes amused as he took in her bewilderment. Cassiopeia knew that her eyes would be like saucers and she hadn’t even focused on the throne yet. The throne was old and wonderful, straight backed and metal with cushions piled on it for comfort. The metal was twisted into patterns that resembled thorns and a small set of steps led up to it. Hadrian’s arm was perched on one of the handles, and it supported his tilted head as he stared at her. “That can’t be comfortable without cushions,” Cassiopeia blurted and then coloured once he laughed at her. Seriously, that was the first thing she said to him? She could’ve said something better, but no she had to put her foot in her mouth and say the first thing that came to mind.

“Why are you here?” Hadrian asked when he had stopped laughing in lieu of answering her blurted out question.

“It’s my birthday,” Cassiopeia stated and then knew that she would have to elaborate, “I wanted to spend it impulsively and so my feet led me here.” She looked down in acute embarrassment at this admission. Why was she getting embarrassed today?

“I feel honored to be an impulsive decision,” Hadrian answered and stood up from his throne, cracking his back when he stepped onto the floor. It was then that Cassiopeia noticed the crown, which was not usually present on Hadrian’s head. His hair had grown slightly too, no longer was he a skinhead and now he had blonde hair sticking up from where the crown had not graced. “But it is your birthday, which means that I have to do something special to make your visit worthwhile.”

“Y – You don’t have to, all I came here for – “ She tried and failed to divert him.

“I’m having none of that, follow me,” he beckoned and he led her through the palace. Cassiopeia was surprised that he didn’t have his brother either with him in the throne room or on the way to wherever Hadrian was taking her. Word had it that they were metaphorically glued together by their hips. They must have separated for a few hours away from one another. Being around each other constantly was sure to get on their nerves eventually.

He took her up many stairs and Cassiopeia was left with calves and lungs burning. “I never knew that a place could have so many stairs,” she gasped and Hadrian assured her that they were nearly at their destination.

“We are in one of the turrets after all, that high up guarantees a lengthy set of stairs,” Hadrian laughed, not appearing to be that out of breath. Although, Cassiopeia could detect some falter to his chest. “Here we are,” he motioned and pushed open a set of worn double doors. The motion revealed a circular room with yet another high ceiling, but the difference of this ceiling was that it was dominated by set after set of wooden beams. There was even a ladder up to the lowest beam. Besides that, the room held an air of age to it and it was decorated with many instruments, particularly a grand piano in the left corner. Hadrian went down and sat on the bench, pressing a key to assure that it was in tune. “I haven’t been here in a long time, not since I was about six. My mother used to come here all the time and play a song. I’ve always remembered how it went, even though I haven’t practiced on this specific piano in so long.” He laughed and then nodded towards the ladder, “I also recall lying on that beam and enjoying the music.”

“Is that even safe?” She asked as she took a step in that direction.

“Why don’t you find out?” Hadrian said and smiled as Cassiopeia heeded his words. The ladder was rickety and of an age that was almost startling. It was a grandpa and as Cassiopeia climbed it she became worried that it would collapse. That wouldn’t happen she assured herself and she kept climbing until she could swing one leg over the beam. As Hadrian started the music, the tune floating around the room as individual keys were pressed, Cassiopeia sat like she was on a horse. Her confidence grew however, as the song progressed and she found herself lulled by it. Soon she was lying on it, staring up at the network of beams and with her arms out on either side of her, dangling over the side. She didn’t feel secure but she felt like she was a bird, held aloft halfway between sky and land. She could almost imagine a child Hadrian doing what she now was and falling asleep to his mother’s musical brilliance. Cassiopeia couldn’t see the king from this angle but she somehow knew that he would look concentrated and a little bit sad. Remembering his mother clearly struck a chord and rightly so.

 

The music was floating and ethereal, allowing Cassiopeia to daydream. The piece rose from muted sounds to a grand and climatic fluttering. The keys being pushed down with an urgency and fleeting move that she hadn’t predicted. It was far away and yet right in front of her as she closed her eyes and remembered a time where she had felt peace once before. Delicate and graceful, she could imagine dancing again and she had the urge to walk along the rafter, to claim a bit of dangerous activity that would allow her heart rate to tap a mark against her ribcage. That’s what she did and she took careful steps along the beams, finding her footing and balance as she turned and observed Hadrian. His eyes were closed and his body was folded over the piano of which was a dark colour nearly overcome with dust. The song ended and the King opened his eyes and for a second he looked forlorn. Then he saw Cassiopeia and it vanished completely.

“What are you doing?” He asked as he stood up.

“I’m acting impulsively,” she claimed as she wobbled and sat down once more. She didn’t need to fall down and hurt herself especially on such a day for celebration.

“I’ll say,” Hadrian said and only needed to climb two steps of the ladder to be able to reach the beam. For a moment he believed himself to be in the shoes of a child, playing airplanes on the beams and acting like skilled trapeze artists. It was a world which wad daring and freeing, the daring part coming from climbing onto the higher up beams and the freeing part coming from feeling like you had wings. Life was peculiar and fun here, a place where imagination could roam for a while. Cassiopeia forgot about heading back to the tavern and having to make drinks in the morning, and Hadrian forgot that once Cassiopeia left he would have to return to his duties.

They were detached from the real world in that room and that was the bliss of it.

 

 

Dear Tommen (and Avery I suppose)

I danced with a King today. Well, I wouldn’t call it dancing but I would call it having fun. Thank you for your letter and the postcards, they were enjoyable to read and see. God you’re so in love with yourself Avery it’s unreal. Today I felt rather homesick but I think it was cured by dancing in a tavern all day and then going to the palace and having fun with the King. That’s all that you’re getting and I can imagine that your thoughts will run riot – but don’t worry nothing really scandalous happened, not what you’re thinking of anyway. It seems sad that you’ve noticed that I don’t send you letters and that’s partially down to how ambiguous your destinations are, I mean you’re travelling the world of course your destinations are going to be all over the place. But it’s more than that I…

She couldn’t finish it and she couldn’t put down in words what her thoughts were. The unfinished letter would be tucked away into an envelope and then into one of her draws. She couldn’t bear to send it to them because their thoughts meant something to her. If they really knew what was happening and the stakes of living in an urban environment instead of still at sea, they would be wracked with worry. It was the same reason why she didn’t tell her parents some things. Their judgements on her words and the corresponding emotions they would then feel made Cassiopeia’s head hurt. They weren’t even anywhere near her and yet she worried about them all the time. It was the fear of the unknown she supposed, that crater that would take forever to grow into something wonderful. Cassiopeia didn’t like the feeling but she would have to live with it. The letters would stay unread by anyone’s eyes except hers for a while yet. 

 

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