When Bragi saw her, his face fell in a frown. “Tanuvia? What happened?”
“Oh, Da. I tried.” She ran to his chair and dropped her head to his lap.
He stroked her hair, damp with sweat. “Tanuvia. Straighten up and tell me what happened.”
She sniffed. “Remember I told you about a man?”
“The one who had you dancing?”
“I tried to meet him tonight. I mean…I met him. I went to his door and asked if he would like to buy potatoes. But he and his brother didn’t have two coppers to rub together. I gave them a bushel.”
“Why are you so distraught, daughter? You did a nice thing.”
“Da, he hardly looked at me. Who would blame him? I’m sour with sweat, and my shirt is dirty, and my hair is curled like a baby’s. Why are you laughing at me, Da? It was horrible.”
He hooked his knuckle under her chin and kissed her forehead. “All is well, Tanuvia.”
“I don’t understand, Da. What are you saying?”
“If you had gone to meet Grantham for the first time, would you come home with tears because your shirt was sweaty and dirty? Would you come home at all?”
She thought about it. “I wouldn’t worry about my shirt because…but, Da, I would have come home.”
“Ai, you’re a good girl. You would come home—after a while.”
“Oh, Da. I’m sorry I worried you all those times. I’m home now, and I’ll fix us a lovely supper.”
“And you’ll tell me about your young man. I want to know everything. Agreed?”
They ate supper in Bragi’s room, and Tanuvia talked lyrically about Gem, how he was strong and had gentle eyes like a doe. She told her father how she lay awake at night wondering how to meet him and could think of nothing else. She told him again how Adan made her angry. She was a woman, she said, and could choose with whom she spent her time. Wasn’t that what Mam taught her? Her father agreed.
“Gem was polite. He asked me in, and his brother looked in the basket, too. They were embarrassed they didn’t have any coins. I ran out of things to say, and Gem looked at the stain on my shirt. I grabbed the basket and left.”
“What did you tell him about the farm?” Bragi wanted to know if the men knew about his paralysis, but the question was painful.
“We didn’t get farther than our names. But I did see their house. It was atrocious, Da, truly. I felt bad for them.”
“It was dirty and bare. It wasn’t a home at all, not like here.”
“Not everyone keeps a house as well as you do, Tanuvia. You make our house a home.”
“Aw, Da, thank you. I try.”
“You do. What do you plan next?”
“About your beau.”
“He’s not…I would like that, but…oh, I don’t know what to do. I can’t go back selling vegetables. That’s too fawning, isn’t it?”
Bragi chuckled. “Ah, Tanuvia. You make my heart light tonight. I may carve a little pig tomorrow. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll carve a trough and build a little sty. Why, I could build a barn, and the wee one could put her animals in it for the night.”
I flew to Ruski for the second time that day. Aetref, who sang with his lute, was a tenor. I arrived in time to hear Gem, whose voice was deeper, sultry.
“These would be better with butter.”
“You’re complaining? Unbelievable.”
“Not complaining,” said Gem. “…or soured cream.”
“Soured cream. Mhm. We should get a bit of butter. You could bat your soft eyelashes and we’d get it free like the potatoes.”
Aetref chuckled. “Joking, Gem. But she did seem smitten.”
“She seemed nervous. Strange since she was only selling vegetables.”
“The last thing we need around here is a woman,” Aetref said.
“Don’t you mean what we need more than anything in the world around here is a woman?”
Gem sighed, and a chair scraped the floor. I fluttered to the tin roof before Aetref appeared in the door with their pail. Lamplight from other open doorways and windows lit his way to the water pump and back. Gem appeared, and the two men passed each other.
“I have to make a visit,” Gem said.
Crockery clacked dully, a tin pail tapped, water swashed. Gem returned, and wooden joints creaked under a strain.
“Why do you think she really gave us those potatoes, Aetref?”
“I told you.”
“I did not flutter my eyelashes.”
“I don’t think you had to.”
“She ran out of here like I pulled a knife. That had nothing to do with my eyes.”
“It might have had everything to do with them.”
“You’re funny tonight, Aetref.”
“I think so. Get off your ass and kill the coals with the water. It’s too hot in here. I’m going to visit, then bed. Work.”
Once Aetref returned, lights went out, and they shut the door but not the windows. From the roof, I flew to the windowsill and perched. In IR, their recumbent shapes in bed revealed nothing but that they were hot-blooded, muscular men, cooling as they slept. I reviewed their conversation. Tanuvia was a curiosity. They said nothing about her emerald eyes; curly, blonde hair; dainty figure; or pretty, pouting lips. Her feminine allure escaped them.
There was nothing here for Tanuvia except grief, just as she feared. Surely, in a town the size of Ruski, Tanuvia could find a good man to whom she could give her heart, whose seed she could honor to give Bragi his grandchild, who would make their lives more than bearable, maybe joyful. That man, whatever Tanuvia saw in his eyes, was not Gem. End of love story. I would leave in the morning after bidding Tanuvia farewell.