I should point out her waste of breath. Bragi was permanently in his bedroom not more than twenty steps from any point in the cottage, and his door always open.
“In here, Tanuvia!”
They were mad.
“Get in here! Tell me how it went. You’re not smiling. What’s wrong? He didn’t like the flowers? The food? Did he think the soap rude?”
“Da! Slow down.” She sat on the edge of his bed. “It was mostly awful. Aetref didn’t want to take the basket. He said it was too much. Maybe it was. Then I forgot to say the flowers were for Gem. I wanted Gem to know I was thinking about him when I picked them. Anyway, I asked him to walk with me, and Aetref said I couldn’t.”
“What did Gem say?”
“Gem didn’t say anything. Aetref said Gem doesn’t walk with women alone.” She shrugged desolately. “I thought about it on the way home. Maybe he has to have a chaperone. I didn’t think to ask. I was desperate when Aetref refused. So I asked them to dinner here.”
“Tanuvia! They’re coming, aren’t they?”
“Tomorrow. Oh, I have so much to do!”
“Wait. Don’t rush off. Tell me something. Do they know?”
“Ai, Dada. I told them. I thought about that on the way home, too. I want you to sit at the table with us.”
“Girl, you know I can’t. You’re not strong enough to lift me that far.”
“You can, Dada. I’ll move the table close to your door, then your chair to the table. Then you and I will work together. Please, Dada. Help me try.”
Tanuvia’s green eyes shone, and a tear slipped from the outer corner of her eye to spill down her pale, freckled cheek. Bragi raised a thumb to brush the drop from the corner of her lip where it collected with another and glistened.
“Alright. Maybe. If you pull a chair to the door, I might support my weight on that. We’ll try.”
“We can do it, Dada.”
“I said we’ll try, but don’t be disappointed if we can’t.”
“But I will be. I want you to be with me. Gem is special, and I want you to know him and him to know you.”
“Daughter, stop. You’ll make me cry, too.”
Though the hour was late, Tanuvia laid new wood for a fresh fire. She swept her floors, dusted, and put clothes to soak. Indulging in a sheet of paper, she consulted with her father as she made a list.
“Ham, I think, don’t you, Da?”
“We can hardly serve beans.”
“We’ll have ham and potatoes with soured cream. Gem said he liked soured cream.”
“What about something sweet?”
“Oh, like pie?”
“Your Mam made the best orange potato pie. Do you remember? I could do it if…well, I could tell you how though it won’t be the same as your Mam’s.”
“Let’s do that, Da. You can help me.”
“There’s nothing I’d rather do, daughter.” He smiled, and she kissed him above his gray beard on the cheek.
“I’m going to sleep. I have a lot to do tomorrow. Do you need anything before I go?”
“Just key off my lamp on the way out.”
She left him in darkness and went to pump water. By the light of a candle, she stripped and stood on her towel with soap and washcloth. Perched on her footrail, I heard his footsteps first—Grantham. He looked in her open window and whistled long and low. Tanuvia flinched and scrambled for her shirt to hold to her chest.
“Don’t you look lovely tonight, pet.”
“Grantham. I’m not interested.”
“Is that why your nipples are beaded?”
“That’s the cold water.”
“I’ll come around to the front and meet you. We can go to our spot.”
“Didn’t you hear me? I said I’m not interested.” Tanuvia shrugged quickly into her shirt and reached for her trousers.
“Since when? Did I do something?” The young man’s brow furrowed beneath tawny shocks of his hair.
Tanuvia slid into one pants leg and hopped into the other. “I don’t want to do that anymore.”
“Never? What’s gotten into you? I thought you liked me, liked us, liked…that.”
“Grantham, don’t make this hard.”
“I’m already hard, and you always liked it before. What’s changed? Give me a chance to fix it. I’ll come around to the door. We can talk about fixing it.”
“I’m not letting you in. It’s late, and I’m tired, and I have a long day tomorrow.”
“Tanuvia, sweetheart. We need to fix this tonight.”
“Grantham, I’m not your sweetheart. I never was.”
“You were. You are. Why are you saying this? Did I stay away too long? Is it Adan? I saw him in town and told him to keep away from you. Are you seeing him again? Is that what this is about? I swear if he comes around here again….”
“Grantham, you’re not listening to me. I really have to get to bed.”
“But this is important!”
“Ssh, keep your voice down. Da is asleep.”
“Tanuvia, come out where we can talk and not wake your father. If you’ll open the door, we can work this out.”
“Nai, not tonight.”
“Not then either. Not anymore at all. It’s over, Grantham.”
“I won’t accept that, Tanuvia. I’ll come back tomorrow. We can talk then.”
“Don’t you dare. I have guests tomorrow,” she said.
Grantham pinched his forehead between fingers and thumb, and rubbed. “What guests? A man? Is it Adan?”
“It’s not Adan. Please go.”
“I’m going, Tanuvia, but I’ll be back soon. We had something good, and I won’t lose it.”
That didn’t go very well.
Tanuvia blew out the candle before undressing again. She rinsed in the dark and lay atop her bed in the small breeze from the window.
“He’s going to ruin everything. He’s going to show up just when Gem and Aetref are here. I know it.”
Tanuvia, I’m curious. Why go to the trouble to court Gem when you could have Grantham, who is willing?
“By willing you mean willing to go to the woods with me?”
He sounded sincere about liking you. Perhaps there could be more with him if you tried.
“I don’t love Grantham. Notice he couldn’t talk to me about this through the window? He wanted me to come to the door for one reason. He only wants to drag me to the woods.”
Would you go?
“Nai. I don’t want—.”
Don’t want what?
“I don’t want his seed.”
I see. Aren’t you still protected?
Tanuvia rolled to her side and drew her knees up tight to her chest. “I stopped taking the womb’s bane the day I saw Gem. I honor the womb and any issue god grants me. I don’t want it to be Grantham.”