Part 21 - By Another Name

“It’s a pleasure to meet your majesty,” Edna said, still smiling.

“The pleasure is all mine,” Iona responded, then changed her mind, “No. I’m sure it won’t be. I’m incredibly charming, you’ll find.”

“Oh?” asked Edna, “Well, then you might become the second kidnapper on this adventure whose company I grow to enjoy.” Iona tilted her head at this, and Edna responded by tilting hers at Highmond. The old man missed the memo, not tilting his head once. Instead, he sat dumbly staring at their new acquaintance, moving his mouth in an as yet failed attempt to form words. The others carried on without him.

“Really? Him?” Iona asked, in a tone that said she wouldn’t believe the answer. “I am sorry about that, by the way. My guards were acting under the orders of the previous sovereign. I’ve not had time to change everything. I do hope they weren’t too brutal. I’ve been on your side of them plenty.”

Edna raised one eyebrow - the left one, if you must know, “For your crimes as a witch?”

“Oh! No,” Iona gave a dismissive laugh, “For my crimes as a criminal.” She paused to let that land then continued with a shrug, “No, as a witch I’m incredibly upstanding - very law-abiding.”

This Iona Plum was dripping in sarcasm, which Edna normally hated. Well, in others - she prized it in herself. What did that say about her? She pushed that concern right out of her mind, so it could go have tea with grief. Perhaps this sarcasm was a refreshing break from Highmond’s unabashed earnestness. (I mean how hard is it to abash your earnestness now and then?) Perhaps it harmonized with her own sarcasm where others had clashed. Perhaps it was just that confidence rewards itself.

Whatever the reason, Edna wasn’t annoyed at all by this new person in her life. Rather, she was trying eagerly to form a clever response when Highmond finally spoke, saying, “Anato no namae wa Naya Sakura desu ka?”

Edna winced, waiting for this to go as it had all the other times, but without thought or hesitation or suddenly screaming at them Iona said, “Kanojo wa ane desu.” She gasped. “That! What is that?” she said, attempting to keep her joy in check.

“Japanese, er, Nihongo,” Highmond said, “You’re saying Naya Sakura is your sister?”

“I suppose she must be,” Iona responded, “I only just remembered I had a sister.”

For a reason Edna couldn’t decipher, Highmond scoffed at this answer. Edna had been taking her turn as the dumbly one, but she spoke up now, “Who is this Naya Sakura? And why do I recognize her name?”

“She’s an adventurer - classified a master hunter,” Highmond said. There was a strange vigor to his voice that sounded somewhere between hostile and reverent. Edna gave him a look and he cowed a bit as he continued, “The best in our world. I would have gone to her instead of bothering you, Edna, except, well you know, all the babies.”

Iona crossed the room as Highmond explained this, coming to rest against the footboard of the massive bed, next to Edna. If she was insulted or at all even affected by Highmond’s inexplicable animosity, she hid it behind an infinite vault of swagger. “Adventurer!” she said. Iona tossed the bust she had been faux-tidying onto the mattress, “That’s why that League thing sounded familiar.”

Highmond made a grunt of assent, which Edna had learned to distinguish from several of his other grunts. Namely, his grunts of confusion, disturbance, trying to cover another bodily function, and of course miscellaneous, all-purpose grunting. “So, your sister is this Naya Sakura,” she said, setting her tea on a corner bedpost. She turned to face her new neighbor, “And your name is... Iona Plum?”

“Ah. Good question. Yes, it isn’t.” She winked at Edna and smirked. Edna tried to smirk back, and tried not to think what it might have come across as instead. “I can’t remember my real name - it was taken from me by the endless tide of Change that has washed over our town. Each new time and world made it harder to remember what things had been like before. Eventually I grew tired of the new names that came to me and gave myself one that I have endeavored to keep ever since.”

“And that name was Iona Plum?” Highmond scoffed, differently from his previous scoff. The first was derisive, but Edna clocked this one as more disbelieving.

“Yes,” was all the woman who called herself Iona said.

Edna brought the topic around to more useful bits, “So you’re saying these new times come in and change everything about you, even your name?”

“Not quite everything. As far as I can tell, people stay generally who they are. Personalities keep from one world to the next. Jobs and families and general social status stay roughly equivalent. Other than that: yes, everything changes.”

“And why should you be the only one aware of any of this?” Highmond asked, with all the pomposity he could muster. Then he added a “Really!” for good measure.

“Highmond!” Edna snapped, “What is your problem?”

“This woman is a criminal, Edna! By her own admission! Probably some sort of confidence schemer or burgle heister or... something.”

“Your point?” was all Edna said. She had befriended many criminals - confidence schemers, burgle heisters, and otherwise - in her adventures. She found they all had one important characteristic in common: they were human. Well, except the ones who weren’t, but even they were people.

Highmond was aghast - aghast and agape - aghast and agape and agog, too. “How can we know she is who she claims? What if she isn’t even the queen of this… village?”

“I’m not,” Iona said flatly. They both stared at her. Edna was beginning to feel the fool when her new friend said, “I’m the Queen of the Universe.”

Highmond scoffed. A scoff so loud and clear, he would later remember it as the greatest scoff of his entire scoffing life. He wrote an ode to that scoff that no fewer than twenty-seven poetry magazines rejected for publication.

Iona called out, “Larry, dear!”

The guard now called Larry burst through the door. “Yes…er…serving person.” He gave her (what he considered to be) a significant wink.

“No dear, it’s alright. They know,” she said, not returning his (apparently insignificant) wink. “Please, oh Captain of the Royal Guard, tell our fine guests who I am.”

The man called Larry was visibly confused, but he obeyed without pause. “Well,” he said, “you’re Her Majestic Witchiness, Iona Plum, Queen of the Universe.” He finished with a hard nod, like he was nailing the final period onto the sentence with his chin.

Highmond made noises - you know the ones. Edna gave Iona a sly, impressed look. Iona smiled, thanked Larry, and dismissed him. “There,” she said, “Now we’ve established I am in fact your Queen,” Highmond’s noises intensified, “I think I should like an answer to Highmond’s question.” They each stopped their respective reactions, switching to a shared confusion. Iona went on, “Why am I - deserving though I am - the only one aware of any of this?”

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