I was stealing a coin when I met Tanuvia. She waved her arms and shouted. I flapped away in a black flurry of wings but didn’t go far. I still wanted one of the coins. I perched on her windowsill, cawed loudly in irritation, and she scolded, wagging her finger. I focused the monocular of one inky eye, snapped my synthetically-feathered wings, and folded them sleekly to my sides.
She was eighteen, petite for her race, with small, peaked breasts, calloused hands, and freckles sprinkled over her nose. Her mother had died from a fever that swept the region. Bragi, her father, was paralyzed. Tanuvia recovered. They still had the produce farm, so she labored where three had worked before and cared for her invalid father. Her heroic tale, overheard in Ruski, had drawn me to the cottage. Here was a story. Then I found the copper coins, polished and shiny in the glass. The red metal, sparkling in the sunlight, was as good as gold to me. At the right angle, it twinkled like a red star. I blinked, and Tanuvia noticed my eyes.
“You’re no common raven,” she said.
“Who are you talking to?” We swiveled our heads toward the masculine voice, and Tanuvia called.
“Only a raven, Da, that flew in the window. Do you need anything?”
At the man’s bedroom door, she poked in her head. Bragi was as gray-haired and shaggy-faced as an unshorn sheep. Not half as meek. Muscle corded his neck and strained the seams of his shirt. He occupied a heavy, wooden chair with wide armrests and a canvas-sling seat. He wore linen trousers over stick-like legs, and his sickly, white feet rested on a cushioned stool. He was two halves. One was dead and a burden. A basket of wooden shavings filled his lap, and he wielded a whittling knife in one hand, a figure emerging from wood in the other.
“Nai, daughter, unless you have a kiss for me.”
As she granted his wish, Bragi dropped his work to embrace his daughter, his hand in her hair. He ruffled her yellow bob, and ringlets sprouted under his hand like a gilded cloud of fiddleheads.
She complained. “Da!”
“I don’t know why you try to straighten it. Your mother never did. The curls are sweet.”
Though Bragi’s bed was already tidy, she spruced busily in his room while her father squawked.
“Don’t do that! I can do it later.”
“Nai, nai, nai….” Tanuvia fussed back.
“I meant that to be there where I can reach it.”
She admonished him. “You mean it fell, and you couldn’t get it back on the shelf.”
“That’s what the bell is for.”
“I’m not going to ring for you like you’re a damn servant. You have enough work to do.”
“Da, your language. What would Mam think?”
He mumbled ambiguously.
“That’s right. This is not a tavern. This is our home.”
“Tanuvia, I said I was sorry. What do you want from me, girl?”
“I’m not a girl. I’m a woman. Sit up and let me adjust your pillow. You’re slouching.”
Bragi gripped the armrests of his heavy chair, jerked himself up and forward. Working quickly, Tanuvia recovered the pillow, plumped, and readjusted it in the small of her father’s back.
“Better?” She handed him his basket and pecked him on the cheek with another kiss. They turned and looked out the open door, but not at me.
Bragi’s bushy eyebrows knitted across the bridge of his nose in a scowl. “It’s Adan.”
“I know who it is.”
“Why is he standing out there shouting? Why doesn’t he knock like decent folk?”
“I better see what he wants.”
The cords in Bragi’s neck flexed. “We already know what he wants.”
“Da. Please, don’t. I’m a grown woman.”
“You’re a fool!”
I hopped to the windowsill and flew to the thatched roof to peer down on the man. He was long-legged, sinewy, and one bang draped cockily across a syrup-brown eye. Tanuvia appeared in the sunlight and shut the door behind her. Hardly had she turned before the lanky man wrapped his arms around her waist, tugged her loins up close to his, and leaned low to kiss her. After a moment of amorous greeting, Tanuvia hissed.
“Not here, Adan. Anyone could ride up and see us.”
But not Bragi. Tanuvia could do as she liked. Her father might know, but there was nothing he could do.
“The barn?” He grasped her hand and spun. My story was suddenly interesting, but I had already seen enough coupling of their race to predict the heavy breathing, the slitted eyes, the flex and jerk, their groans of wonder at the capacity of flesh for pleasure.
Instead, I flew to the cupboard. The glass jar was nearly as tall as the shelf. I couldn’t reach the copper coins without knocking off the jar, which I could have done, but only at the risk of breaking it. I scanned the room for a solution. The kitchen was equipped with a table, a tin sink, and a hand pump for water. A lonely rocking chair faced the brick fireplace, adorned with iron implements for cooking. Bragi’s bedroom door was open on one side of the hearth. Another door was shut, Tanuvia’s bedroom.
I flapped from truss to table to cupboard, peering into baskets and shelves, but found no solution to the dilemma of the jar. I peered in at Bragi in his chair, where he carved with dangerous jerks. The muscles of his neck bulged. His brow was thunder, and he muttered, rumbling. He yanked his head to stare at the distance. What did he hope to see? Bragi dropped his knife and figure into the basket. Fingers limp and dangling, he rested his elbows on the arms of the chair. Hanging his shaggy, gray head, he wept.
This story was grim. Bragi’s sobs slowed. He wiped his eyes on his shirtsleeve. I had forgotten about the coin. I wasn’t sure I wanted it anymore, not enough to watch what Tanuvia did to her father. I flew to the windowsill, across the plots of vegetables, which Tanuvia usually tended this time of day, and beyond to the woods. I found a high branch with a circumference suited to my taloned grip, folded my wings, and brooded. I processed what I had seen, analyzed, and drew conclusions, none of which I liked.