he book was beautiful. The cover was thick, hand-tooled leather dyed a beautiful parrot-green. The pages, made from thick sheepskin, were hand-painted and hand-bound. In all it was a stunning example of the bookmaker's art.

The inside cover bore a handwritten inscription from her father.

My Dearest Little Elizabeth,

This season is the hardest for separation from those we love. Though it is not upon us yet, the frost and falling leaves remind me of what is to come. They remind me of how I will miss you on the holiest of days. They remind me of how I miss you now. I can only dwell in memories on that day. Memories of you in my lap in front of the fire as we sang and opened our gifts. Memories of your beautiful mother tending to family and guests, of sweet old Olivia serving the pudding. I miss it already, and will miss it much more all too soon.

It was always my greatest wish to have a child of whom I could be proud. You are that child and more.

I know the poem in this book seems silly, but when I saw this volume you immediately leapt to mind. The verse, I believe, speaks to the joining of souls; as you, your mother and I are all surely joined. The book itself is glorious and new and dazzling, like you, my jewel.

May God keep you and grant you peace. May he bring us all together soon. May he end this war.

Your Loving Father

Edward Porchester

Elizabeth could read, certainly, but the her father's script was difficult to make out and full of big words. It made her feel grown up, to have received such an inscription and childish to be unable to make full sense of it.

"Mother. Can you read this for me?"

"Of course, dear. Let's see... what does it say."

She began to read under her breath, to get the sense of the passage before she spoke out loud, but she never got to the point of oration, instead trailing off into total silence.

The silence hung for a moment too long, causing both Elizabeth and Olivia to look up at the same moment.

Elizabeth watched as huge tears coursed down her mother's cheeks. She was sobbing deeply, yet barely a sound escaped from her. When she realized she had an audience she excused herself and ran from the room.

Elizabeth and Olivia stared at each other, eyes and mouths wide with surprise.

1995 Hyperbole Studios Inc.