Part II

Part I

Challenges

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Photo: Peter Lewicki

My anxiety deepened when I saw the black wolf creeping outside the village. The animal was pacing at the treeline. Now and again it would stop and watch me. Its gold and black eyes were familiar.

I left out offerings of shaped cakes that night. The howling in the night sky seemed closer than before. I redoubled my efforts to finish the new cloaks for my children, their father, and myself.

You can tell a lot about a man by the clothes he wears. You can tell whether he is rich or poor, where he is from, what he likes to eat, whether he has gained or lost weight. Some say that a man’s future is woven in with the fibers. That kind of knowledge can be dangerous.

My son bloodied another child, not simply the normal scrabbles of childhood. The other child is broken and will likely never fully heal. Just like my poor girl with her scars. Their father spends his nights in the feast hall, joining others in their revelry. It is dangerous to be out in these nights between time, but he won’t hear it. This morning he brought me a rabbit he’d won by lottery and kissed my cheek.

“It’ll have to wait,” I said.

He frowned, but nodded, still proud of his winnings, still pleased to present it to me. “We’ll fatten it a bit more in the next few days,” he agreed.

On the Feast of the First Night of the solstice, I pulled our masks from the chest. My children are too young yet for the revelries, but they help their father do up the masks each year as the nights grow longer.

I fed the children and put them to bed, and then we covered our faces and went out. At this time of year it is essential that your face be hidden when going out after dark. The dead walk, and if they recognize you it would mean terrible things. I didn’t want to go, but the man was right, we needed to participate. My mother had taught me that as well.

Our masks are cloth, simple, with holes cut for the eyes and mouth, and crowns of holly, and antlers. I took part in the meal, in the drink, in the spice cake. I joined the procession through the village. Like many of the other women, I slipped away and doubled back to my own hearth. The work must be done before the Wolf Days are. When the Great Queen’s night arrives, we can do no work. The weaving is a form of fortune telling, and on her night, when she is leading away the evil, until her work is complete, there is no future to tell.

I spin until my children’s father returns, and then climb into bed beside him. He is hard from his enjoyment of the evening, and he pushes my shift up around my waist and then is on top of me. He grunts with his effort, and then rolls over and, after a moment, snores quietly.

Part III
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