Part VI

Part V


Photo: Oscar Keys

In the days that followed they seemed fine. Neither seemed aware of what had happened, nor to have any memory of it. I noticed changes though, perhaps because I was watching for them. He seemed to have lost a certain restlessness; she gained in vitality.

He sat, having found that antler handled knife again, whittling a piece of wood while I sat to my work. My girl came in from the shed with the dried herbs I’d sent her to fetch. She set her basket down on the table, then twirled a little dried flower at her brother’s nose. He looked up at her and they laughed, and then she tucked the faded bloom behind his ear, and returned to her basket.

He returned to his whittling.

In the firelight, my girl’s wounds shown an angry red as she approached the cauldron that hung there. She added in handfuls of the fragrant herbs to flavor our meal, then gave the big pot a stir.

She sat beside me at the loom and worked the thread. As she did, she sometimes watched my son, and seemed to hum to herself. When she had to take a break to rest her injury, she stood, and without a word, her brother stood with her. She looped her good arm through his and they walked out of the house together. Later he escorted her back, took up a bucket and left again. When he returned with fresh water, he set in on the table, my children smiled at each other, and my son retreated again to his corner and his whittling. My girl wound off her bandages, soaked a cloth in the cool water, and treated her burns as I’d shown her to.

I watched this strange behavior go on, my son doting on his sister, my girl quietly directing her once unruly brother.

As the Twelfth Night of the solstice approached, my girl draped the garment she’d labored on over her brother’s shoulders. It was a cloak lined with fur. As she lifted the hood, in the shadows his face took on an animal appearance and I turned away, gazing into the fire instead.

“Look, Mother!” my girl cried in delight. I put a smile on my face and turned back. My son stood in the middle of the room, his face his own now, the cloak tied around him. Now I saw the ties at his neck extended like an animal’s lead, that ended in a loop at my girl’s wrist. She danced around him, pleased with her work, and as she did, the lead disappeared and reappeared as the light changed on her moving form.

I felt tears rise up behind my eyes and pressed my lips together, then drew a breath. “Where will you go,” I asked, “with such a fine cloak?”

My girl stopped her dancing behind my son’s shoulder and gazed at me, her face vulpine in the shadows. “You will keep the next,” she said, her voice low and full of tempests.

The sound shot me to my feet, “What did you say?”

My girl came into the light again and twined her arms around my waist. “We will see in the next year!”

I felt a sharp pain low in my belly. Then she released me, and she and her brother retreated to their beds to speak in whispers.

My children are not yet adults, but coming close. My girl will be old enough to marry soon. Her father came home after another night of feasting and told me one of the men had noticed her, her budding womanhood and growing curves, as well as her work at the loom and hearth. He sank into a chair at the table near where I sat by the fire weaving.

“He will have her,” he said with a casual shrug. It would mean a mouth less to feed, not that we struggled, but it was always easier to have fewer bodies to care for.

“No.” The Great Queen seemed to speak through me, her tumultuous voice echoing in my head.

He cocked an eyebrow at me. He was master of the house, after all.

“She’s too young yet,” I said, placating. “Give her a few more years. I wasn’t so young when we were wed.”

He considered this, scratched his belly, yawned, then nodded. “Mothers are always reluctant for their daughters to go.”

“Perhaps. My mother was gone before I was. My children are young though, and I have plenty of need for her help here.”

He studied me again, and then smiled, “Well, you keep her then. For now.”

“Children often find their own ways in these matters,” I said.

He grunted, “We’ll see.”

Part VII