I let her think what she wanted, and I might or might not agree to participate. Meanwhile, another day of her routine went by, milking Bumble, bathing and feeding her father, hoeing rows of eggplants. Today, she washed clothes, extraordinarily laborious. When she lay back damp on her bed that night after a bath in her room from a bucket, I was on her rail. She had hinted all day and was on the verge of sharing her hopes when a call we knew drifted through the window above her head.
Adan. She keyed out the light, stood on her knees to look out the window, and the shadow of his lean face appeared over her sill.
“Tanuvia, come out.”
She hissed at him. “Ssh, my father will hear you.”
“What does it matter? Come with me. I brought a jug of beer.”
“I don’t want beer, and I don’t want to come. Go away, Adan.”
He didn’t bother to whisper. “Tanuvia! Come with me!”
She shouted right back. “Nai! Go away!”
From Bragi’s room came the inevitable cry. “Tanuvia! Are you alright?”
Voice frequency analysis indicated terror, and there was a wooden crash muffled by the wall.
“Da!” Tanuvia screamed, scrambled for her shirt in the dark, and ran.
“Tanuvia, my girl! What’s wrong?”
“Dada, I’m alright. I swear. Are you hurt? I’ll get a lamp. Let me see.”
I stayed, eyeing the shadow of Adan silhouetted in Tanuvia’s window. He had the decency to remain silent, but he hadn’t left. Maybe that, also, was the decent thing to do. If Bragi was hurt, then he might help.
“Oh, Dada, you’re bleeding.” Tanuvia mourned.
“Never mind, Tanuvia. As long as you’re alright. It’s only a scratch.”
“You’ve cut yourself. Don’t push me away. I’ll help you back into bed.”
“I can do it myself, girl! You’re only in my way.”
“I’ll get the wound kit. I’ll be right back.”
The sylph rushed around the cottage, gathering supplies to help her father. At this point, it might have been gallant for the young man, Adan, to offer help, but he left. Tanuvia ignored him, all her attention on her father’s wound. In a nightmarish scramble to go paralyzed to Tanuvia’s aid, a nail jutting from Bragi’s bedside table had ripped the flesh on the inside of his forearm. She cleaned the cut and liberally smeared herb-infused ointment—calendula—before binding his arm with clean, linen strips.
“Is it too tight, Dada?”
As she worried over him, Da was now Dada, and he didn’t seem to mind.
“It’s just right, Tanuvia.” He patted his bed, inviting her to sit, and when she crept up beside him, he put his arm around her shoulders and pressed his face against her neck. “I heard you shout, daughter, in my sleep. What happened?”
She stroked his hair smooth on his head, and scratched his beard, and laid her cheek on his graying head, cuddling him like a mother does her infant.
“Oh, Da, I’m so sorry. It was Adan at the window, and I sent him away. I shouted at him.”
“Sent him away?”
Clearly, he was confused. Maybe that had never happened before.
“I don’t like him anymore. If he comes around, tell him I’m not here.”
“Tanuvia?” He lifted his head to peer in mild astonishment.
“Well, don’t look so surprised. Besides, I thought you didn’t like Adan.”
“I don’t. He doesn’t have the decency to knock like Goodfolk. Stands out there calling your name like a sick bull.”
Tanuvia giggled and ruffled her father’s gray, bristled hair. “He sounds just like that, doesn’t he? Well, no more. And I don’t want to see Grantham either.”
“What about Brant?”
“How do you know about…? Never mind. Not Brant either.”
“Tanuvia, I don’t understand. Are you sick?”
“Da! I’m not sick! I just know you’re right. It’s wrong to entertain those young men without vows.” She snuggled tighter against her father, and he shrugged her close, and she kissed his forehead. “Dada, did you and Mam say vows before you…?”
He was not uncomfortable talking about it. “We did not, Tanuvia. I bedded your Mam, and she asked me the same night. After that, I built her a consort bed, and we shared vows and consummated the bed.”
“And Mam never took the womb’s bane?”
“Not to my knowledge. You were born twenty-eight spans from the night we first bedded.”
“But what about after? Why don’t I have brothers and sisters?”
“That’s a hard thing to talk about, but there was another child conceived. If she was a girl, we were going to call her Lily. A boy was to be Crag. Your Mam brought the baby to term, but then something went wrong birthing her, and…your Mam…she bled…too much. Lily died.”
He sighed deeply and clutched his daughter. “Your Mam never conceived after that, but it wasn’t from the herb. She was hurt inside, injured. But we had you, our jewel, our flower, and we were happy.”
Tanuvia held her father’s shaggy, gray head, and kissed it, and rocked him gently. “I’m sorry for the grief I caused you, Da. It’s going to be better around here. I promise.”
“Daughter, I don’t know what has caused this sudden change of your heart, but I do believe you would be happier honoring seed and womb. That kind of pleasure, it endures, it goes on. Not like…well, not the fleeting type grasped in desperation or loneliness.”
“I think so, too, Da. Now, I want you to sleep. That’s what I’m going to do. Work tomorrow.”
She tucked in her father then took the lamp from his room to light her way. Before slipping out of her shirt, she keyed out the wick, returning her room to darkness.
“Muninn?” On her back, she mused into the night.
I’m here, Tanuvia. I flew in her open door and alighted on her bedrail.
“Did Adan leave?”
“I’m glad. We didn’t need him anyway.”
You might have.
“Well, we didn’t. Da was right about him. I’ve been good to him, and he left when Da was hurt.”
You told him to go.
“And that makes it alright to leave Da hurt?”
I thought you were glad he left.
She rolled and rustled on the bed. After the labor she had performed that day, she should have been too weary to keep her eyes open, but something kept her awake. From the darkness, she spoke again.
“I have a plan, Muninn. We’re going to meet Gem.”
“I need you to steal something.”
“What? Ravens steal things! You’re always trying to steal my coins. Don’t act so innocent. Besides, we’ll give it back.”
What am I supposed to steal?
“It doesn’t matter as long as it belongs to Gem. Once you have it, bring it to me, and I’ll do the rest.”
And you’ll return it to him? And he’ll thank you for stealing his belongings?
“I won’t tell him I stole it. He’ll believe he lost it.”
This is a bad plan, Tanuvia. First, I would have to steal something he might possibly lose. What might that be? Second, it’s not right to start a relationship with a lie.
“I concede those points. What do you think we should do?”
“We. Ravens are smart. You can think of something, can’t you?”
Perhaps. Do you know where these brothers live?
“I could find out from the Rascal’s captain. She said it was a small house near the docks.”
Don’t bother. I can find it more quickly my way. Let me gather the facts first. I’ll let you know if there’s an honorable way to meet the young man.
“Oh, will you?” Excited, she sat up in the dark. “Thank you, Muninn. How long will it take?”
Not long. I should be able to tell you by tomorrow night.
Do you want to meet Gem respectably or not?
“I do. I want our life together to start as properly as Mam and Da’s.”
Your life together? Tanuvia, you haven’t even met him yet. Perhaps you should temper your enthusiasm until you do.
“Pft. What’s the romance in that?”
This was not my first spin at collecting a love story. The most likely ending of Tanuvia’s tale was disappointment. At heart, she was a sweet girl. She worked hard, and she loved her father, but you didn’t steal and lie when courting a nice, young man, not even to meet him. Despite the stardust in her eyes, she might lack the knack to woo her Gem.