It was evening when Tanuvia returned with Mazy pulling an empty wagon. She drove into the yard, set the brake on the wagon, and leaped down with a gleam in her eyes.
She raised her voice with a peculiar lilt that had not been there before, and found her father, predictably, in the chair where she had left him.
“Come in, Tanuvia. What is it? What’s going on?”
“Nothing, Da. I’m home, but Mazy is still hitched. I just wanted to be sure you were alright while I was gone.”
Bragi peered at his daughter, who hung on his doorjamb.
“Come in here,” he said.
“Da. Mazy’s still hitched.”
“She can wait a few minutes. Come in here and light a lamp for me.”
When the room was bright, Bragi demanded she step closer, and he grasped her hand. She was flushed, her cheeks pink with platitudinous roses, her chin tilted at a cheery angle.
“Why are you smiling?”
“I’m just happy, Da.”
“Do I have to have a reason? Am I usually that glum that I can’t smile without accusations?”
“It’s a man, isn’t it?”
He jerked her arm lightly. “Tell me, Tanuvia! For once, have pity on me shackled to this chair.”
“Da, I do! I’m so sorry. But what can I do? I try so hard. I just want a little…a little….”
“So it is a man who has put this smile on your face.”
She was drawn forward, forced to take a step, and Bragi pressed his nose to her shoulder to sniff.
“Da, please! Nothing happened!” He let go, and she tipped back on her heels. “Are you satisfied? I told you nothing happened.”
He wasn’t wholly convinced. “Go unhitch Mazy and make supper. I’m hungry.”
She fled, but as soon as she passed his threshold, she was smiling again. Bragi wasn’t. He watched through his door until she left the cottage then dropped his head, and I thought he would weep again, but he only drew a long, shivering breath. Perhaps he had cried away all his tears. Maybe he was done.
That evening, I assumed another young man would visit, but none came that night. Nor, did it seem, had she met with any in Ruski. I confirmed Bragi’s assessment with my sensors and felt dirty doing it as I was sure Bragi had. Sniffing his daughter for the scent of a man’s issue was as humiliating to him as it was to her. Before she retired for the night, she took a few coins from her pocket and dropped them into her coin jar, then pushed the glass back into the shadowy corner of the cupboard. Oh, for hands!
Alone in her room, she stripped and washed, dampening her skin so she was cooled by the breeze through the window above her head.
I thought she had forgotten about me. That was how quickly she took me for granted, perched on her bed’s footrail.
Naked, she lay on her side, staring at her lamp glowing marigold.
“I met someone today.”
For Bragi’s sake, I took a small dig. A man?
She sat up, spread her knees and criss-crossed her ankles, airing her sweetly aromatic, pink-and-gold sex like a naked fairy on an Amanita toadstool. I expected translucent wings to sprout from her shoulder blades and lazy, lecherous bees to sample the nectar at the golden tuft south of her navel.
“Oh, don’t be like Da. I need to tell someone.”
So tell me.
Invariably, a story collector elicits admissions, explanations, and narratives of all kinds. I had been privy to everything from bad poetry written in secret to the confession of a murder. Tanuvia’s mystery man would certainly not shock me and only mildly interest me. I already knew she was randy as a faun.
“I wish you had seen him!”
It came pouring out, how the lad leaped from the sparling boat on which he worked as powerfully and nimbly as “a wolf…a cougar” but “no brute,” how he was tall and “strong as Da,” a compliment to the young man, and how she felt a “tingle” in her loins though she was penitent for her lust, which she believed unfitting once she saw the lad’s eyes, his “soulful eyes” in which she glimpsed a “mild man, fragile and wounded” and needing her care.
“Somehow. Oh, it’s lunacy!”
I was jaded by Tanuvia’s previous affairs, and my response disappointed her.
Grantham is quite powerful, too, and not an ugly man.
He was, a well-built man whom Tanuvia had found sufficiently fascinating, at least for a night.
“Grantham? You don’t understand!”
So you met him on the docks?
“Well, I didn’t meet him. I saw him but didn’t have the courage to talk to him. He’s gentle and frail, and I didn’t want to frighten him.”
Frail? Didn’t you just tell me he “could take apart a bear with nothing but his hands”?
“Well, ai, but…but…his eyes….”
I see. Well, if you did not meet, did you, at least, find out his name?
“I did. I waited until he left the dock, and I talked with the captain of the sparling boat. He works on the Rascal with his brother as a deckhand. His name is Gem! Isn’t that the most beautiful name you ever heard?”
Beauty is an unquantifiable characteristic, Tanuvia. The criteria are impossible to establish objectively.
I said beauty—.
“I heard you! But his name is beautiful—just like Gem.”
She clasped her hands together over her heart; her pupils dilated in the dark; her pale brow dewed with sweat; and I anticipated an episode of syncope, i.e. she looked like she would faint.
Hm. You learned his name, but did you find out if he is vowed? You aren’t going to cuckold another woman are you, Tanuvia?
“Of course not. He’s not vowed. He’s only sixteen and lives with his brother in a small house by the docks.”
She was frustrated with me. “Oh, I don’t know! But if there are, I will win him.”
So he’s a game to you? A challenge?
Only eighteen, she had not previously shown any constancy in her choice of lovers. She might have been equally giddy in the past.
“I would never do that to him. Muninn, you know nothing about love. How could you? You’re only a raven.”
Ravens mate for life, Tanuvia. Both parents are devoted to their nest and raising their young. I think I know a little about love.
“Then you should understand how important this is. You can’t deny love.”
People deny love all the time. It happens more often than not actually. It’s quite rare for love to be requited.
“Which is why it’s so important!”
Hm. You have a point.
“So? Will you help me?”
I played audio of a Goodfolk man choking on a chicken bone. The recording was one of my favorites.
What? I’m not sure that’s appropriate, Tanuvia. Your Da doesn’t approve of your romances.
“This isn’t like that. Da will approve. I know he will love him as soon as he meets him.”
Isn’t there a small problem with that? You haven’t even met him yet.
“Oh, but I will, and you must help me meet him.”