My Brother Eftae
The night before I was due to leave for Mystery Island, Eftae came into my room. He was my brother and best friend. 'Are you excited?' he asked, sitting on my bed. I was folding some clothes into my suitcase.
'More nervous than excited,' I admitted. 'It's like starting a new school.'
'Only a million times better than school!' he said.
This was true; I was leaving behind the little village school in our pocket of the Brightvale countryside, and instead journeying to the training school on Mystery Island. Ever since they'd first been told that I had some talent, my parents had been scraping and saving to send me to the training school. Though we were poor farmers, they were determined that I'd have this chance.
'Eftae...' I said.
'Are you upset Mom and Dad are spending all this money on me?' I asked. It had been playing on my mind ever since they'd announced I could go. Though codestones had fallen in price, my training programme was still going to be expensive. When I thought of all the shoes and sacks of flour and new bicycles that money could have bought, I couldn't help but feel guilty. It seemed so unfair – that my parents would spend all this money on me and not Eftae. I'd avoided the topic so far, but now I was about to leave I had to bring it up with him.
Eftae's face split into a grin. 'Not at all,' he said. 'Look, we both know you're the only one worth sending to the training school.'
'You always loved going to the battledome when we were younger though. I bet you'd be pretty good.'
'Maybe, but I'm nothing compared to you. I want to stick to school – that's what I'm good at. I'm just lucky my passion is a bit cheaper than yours! And look, if you still feel bad, you can always pick me up a bottled faerie going through Faerie City, right? I can train that way.' He was looking at me with a face so honest and free of any hint of jealousy that I just had to hug him. Though I was leaving him behind in Brightvale, I knew we'd always be close at heart.
* * *
Early the next morning I caught a ride with a neighbour of ours headed to Faerie City with a cart for the market. I sat in the back among the turnips and potatoes and waved to my family until the three Kacheeks faded into the distance.
I was a little early for my boat and wandered around the docks. They were stalls selling just about everything – my eyes were popping out of my head taking in all the rows of journals, swatches of fabric, exotic spices, jewellery, trading cards... I had never seen so much stuff in my life!
It was almost time to turn back when I noticed one with a huge collection of bottled faeries. I didn't have very many neopoints and what I had I needed to buy lunch... But I thought of Eftae and picked one, a bottled fire faerie. It took extra time to buy a box and a stamp, so that I was really running to catch my boat. I did write a quick note though – "Dear Eftae, this is the first of many! Not being at the training school isn't an excuse for not being able to fight! – Love, your big sister, Erren". I was hungry without my lunch, but it didn't bother me somehow.
Over the next weeks and months I settled into life at the training school. I found it challenging, but I was doing what I loved and couldn't help but enjoy myself. Sometimes after I long day I found myself homesick, but the letters and food packages I received helped a lot.
When I returned back home for Christmas, I found Eftae waiting for me at the crossroads. After the exotic clothes and foods and views I'd seen in Mystery Island, it was so refreshing to see my brother, unchanging as ever, waiting for me. Though his dungarees were patched and his hat worn, he looked neat and had his head buried in a book, though he raised his eyes every few minutes to scan the road for any sign of me. When he did see me, he jumped off the fence and let his book fall to the ground and waved madly, as if he needed to attract my attention in a crowd.
'Did you bring my faerie?' he asked, grinning from ear to ear.
'Is that all I am to you?' I said, but I was laughing too and opened my suitcase to find the air faerie I'd bought for him. I handed it to him and then we walked the short distance to the cottage, talking loudly the whole way, so eager to hear everything the other had been doing.
* * *
I received a scholarship after my first term at the training school and no longer needed to rely so heavily on my parents. I was doing well and getting well-known as 'somebody to watch', but whenever my ego started to swell Eftae knew just how to bring me back to earth. I visited home as often as I could and always stopped to get him a faerie on the way. He'd meet me at the crossroads – it was a family joke that he was only met me to get his hands on the faeries faster.
Though he never said it in his letters, he always looked forward to my visits home, just like I did. He'd always finish his letters – "Don't forget my faerie!" We wrote to each other once or twice a week, so I was always up to date with his life. He was really clever and doing very well at school. He had big plans, to leave home once he was finished school and go to Neopia Central. I knew he'd soon be doing great things.
I was right. There came a day when he wasn't waiting for me at the crossroads, book in hand, faded shirt rolled up around his elbows. I walked to the cottage alone and was welcomed back by my parents. 'There's some very exciting news,' my mother said. 'Eftae is gone to Neopia Central for a job interview! Isn't that great?'
I was happy, of course, and I crowed over it with them and we all hoped he'd get it. But inside, I felt a kind of sinking feeling. I could see how it would turn out, when he got the job. Of course, he would get it, they'd have to be fools not to hire my smart, funny brother. If he didn't get this interview, there'd be another, and another. It scared me. Neopia Central was even farther away from Mystery Island than Brightvale. We might only see each other once or twice a year. The thought saddened me.
After dinner I sat on the bench outside the back door, thinking about the future. 'Is everything alright?' my mother asked, standing in the doorframe.
'Yes... Well, no actually. I'm just thinking about Eftae. I'm scared that as we get older we'll drift apart.'
She looked at me for a few seconds. 'Here, come with me,' she said finally. I followed her to the shed at the end of the garden. She opened the door.
Inside, lining a wall of shelves, were rows and rows of little glass bottles. With a start, I realised that they were the empty bottles of faeries I'd bought him. He must have kept every bottle! Mouth gaping, I took a step closer and ran a paw lightly over the glass. There were dozens and I noticed then that there were little scraps of paper in each one. I picked one of a shelf and tipped it out.
"Erren is home for Christmas! I hope she likes the present I got her. I'm already dreading when she leaves I'll miss her so much," one read. I picked another – "Erren is at level twenty-five now, she's learning so fast. I hope she's as proud of me as I am of her." I reached down to the corner, where I found the first dusty bottle I had ever sent – "Erren has only been gone a day and she already sent me a present. She is the best sister EVER." I knew I didn't need to worry about our relationship, ever. Wherever our lives took us, Eftae and I would always have each other, whether it was face-to-face or by letter, or messages in bottles.