The man was waiting when she went to the barn with her copper pail to milk Bumble, lowing because Tanuvia was late. He pushed her to the ground, ripped the buttons from her pants, and held her down with his weight while he stripped her trousers. She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t shout. No one would hear. Only her father, shackled to his chair. She flailed her arms and clawed, fighting back.
Her nails scored four, bloody streaks down his throat. He slapped her with an open hand, snapping her neck. “Do that again, and I’ll bust your jaw.”
She was half his weight. He rolled her belly down and kicking. She scrambled. He yanked her back and pounded his fist to the side of her head. Her eyes rolled. Grasping her gold curls, he stretched her neck and raped her in the dirt on her stomach. While he did, Tanuvia sobbed. Blood, drool, and dirt smeared her face and chest.
The cow lowed the whole time. Cawing, I flapped my wings in his face. I cracked code, fighting guards that barred me from inflicting harm. I could alert Bragi, but it would only break his heart.
It was Grantham. He left her curled half-naked beside Bumble and unconscious. I cawed and pricked her with beak and talon, trying to rouse her. When she woke, she looked around wildly, afraid.
He’s gone, Tanuvia.
She startled and clambered away. The cow was miserable, and only Tanuvia could milk her.
Tanuvia, listen to me. Free the cow to pasture, then go inside the house.
She teetered to her knees and swayed. “Trousers,” she muttered. “Trousers….”
I pinched her trousers in my beak and pulled them to her hand. Trousers.
Blindly, she grasped and sat in the dirt on her bare bum to pull them on. Her temple bled.
“I have to milk Bumble,” she said as if in a nightmare.
Just free her. Go inside. You need water immediately.
I cawed loudly. Tanuvia! Go inside the house!
I monitored her vital signs as she pulled herself up a wall to her feet. Body temperature and blood pressure had plummeted. Faltering, she wambled to the copper pail, found her milking stool, and leaned her head against Bumble’s side. She milked her cow and cried against the beast’s red hide.
Tanuvia, you have a concussion. You have to stop. Tanuvia, go in the house and lock the door! He could come back! He could kill you!
Limping, she carried the milk into the house. She pumped water and drank greedily from her palm, splashed her face, and stared at the pink water in the tin sink.
Tanuvia, I’m going to tell him.
She eyed the milk she had poured into the churn, blinking, trying to think.
“It’ll kill him. Please, don’t,” she said.
You need help.
“He can’t help me. Just let me do this my own way.”
You’re more hurt than you realize. I know what I’m talking about. If you continue like this with a concussion, it may kill you.
“There’s nothing I can do about that, Muninn. I have to protect Dada. Help me do that. I know you care about my father. We can’t tell him. Help me stop this bleeding so I can take Da the churn.”
It’s not just the blood, Tanuvia. You’re filthy. He will know. He will smell.
“Say I spilled the milk bucket. Please….”
I lied to her father, as she knew I would, to protect him from the truth. He had heard Tanuvia whispering, and he was suspicious. I didn’t know how long I could deceive him. She dug orange potatoes while I monitored the area for Grantham’s return. Helpless, I was watching over her when she collapsed. She dropped to her heels and leaned on her knees.
“I’m…alright. I…m trying not to throw up.”
You must stop.
“I can’t. I have to cook supper for Gem and Aetref.”
No, you don’t. I’ll fly to Ruski and cancel. You must go to bed. Let me tell the Warden what happened so Grantham doesn’t come back.
“Please, Muninn. I can’t tell the Warden. I’ll take care of Grantham, I swear. I beg you. Don’t make me tell strangers.”
Then tell your father. No one should have to do this alone, and he should know Grantham isn’t to be trusted in case he returns.
“Maybe. I can’t think right now. I have to wash these potatoes. Da is going to help me make pie.”
That’s won’t happen, Tanuvia.
“It has to happen!” She put her hands in the dry, tilled earth and made fists around the dirt. “Oh, god and goddess!” She raised her eyes to the cloudless sky and a merciless sun. “Please, don’t take Gem from me! I only wanted to be whole!” Tanuvia dropped her cheek to the ground and sobbed.
Tanuvia, you’re suffering from a concussion. If you don’t stop, you will die in this plot. I won’t be able to bring anyone fast enough to save you.
I was having no effect on the raving girl. If Bragi knew, he might offer comfort, but little else. I could spread the tragedy around evenly or let Tanuvia bear it all. I didn’t have an algorithm that provided an answer. She went into the house with her face streaked with blood and dirt. Dumping the basket of orange potatoes in the sink, she pumped water.
“Tanuvia? Are you ready to make pie?”
“Almost, Da!” Her voice broke.
“Come in here, girl!”
“I’m washing orange potatoes! I’ll be in soon!”
Bragi commanded, “You come in here now, Tanuvia!”
Wild-eyed, she glared at me and hissed as if I was responsible for what was to happen. She couldn’t walk a straight line. She groped chairs to reach her father’s door, where she hung back, hiding like a five-year-old.
“I’m here, Da.”
“Tanuvia, what happened?”
“I fell in the barn. It’s just a scratch.”
Her hand flew to her temple, and her fingers came away with fresh blood. She looked surprised.
“Go wash and bring me supplies. I’ll bind it.” Bragi’s voice boomed. “Don’t argue! Do what your father tells you, girl!”
She fell back on her heels, reeled away, and plunged her hands into cool water in the sink. She needed help, and there was no one to help her. She found the supplies and knelt by his chair.
“Be honest, Tanuvia.”
“I just fell, Da. I don’t have time to fuss. I have a lot to do today.”
“We should send Muninn to Ruski to cancel. We can do it another night. This is a bad gash. Your eyes are glassy.”
“Da, what if they won’t again? What if this is my last chance to be happy?”
“Tanuvia, no need to be theatrical. If they’re nice men, they’ll come again. If not, we didn’t want them here in the first place.”
“Da, they’re nice men. They wouldn’t hurt a fly, either of them.”
“Calm down. Stop wiggling. You’re pulling me out of this chair.”
Tanuvia sat obediently, and Bragi washed sweat and dirt from her neck and behind her ears like she was his little girl. Tenderly, he smiled down at her mild manner and affectionate gaze. She was confused, and her father must have seemed a dream.
“My jewel, my little flower,” he murmured. The corners of her mouth twitched in half a smile. “There. With that bandage, you look like you’ve been in a fight.” He grinned, but the spell was broken. Tanuvia’s face twisted with horror. “Tanuvia? What’s wrong?”
That young woman was steel to the core. She pulled herself together and lied to her father, so he wouldn’t be frightened, so he wouldn’t bear more tragedy than he already carried in that chair.
“Nothing, Da. Just light-headed. I fell pretty hard.”
She dragged herself from her knees, hiding vertigo. Gloomily, Bragi watched her shuffle from his room with a limp.
“Muninn,” Bragi said.
He waited to be sure she was gone.
“What happened to her?”
She won’t let me tell you.
“Tell me anyway.”
I would if you could help her.
“Then fly to Ruski and cancel. Tell her what you did so she’ll stop working.”
I can’t do that to her. She’s afraid she won’t ever have the nerve to ask Gem again. She’s afraid he won’t ever come, that she’ll never have a nice man—only men like Grantham.
I didn’t know where she found the courage to labor on. How could I be the one to stop her from trying?
“What do we do then?”
Talk to Gem and Aetref without telling her.
“You trust them?”
More than I trust Grantham.
“That’s not saying much.”
No, it’s not.
“I believe you want what is best for Tanuvia. Talk to them, but make her put down her work first.”
I’ve been trying all morning. She won’t listen. She’s in shock from the fall.
“Tell her I need her. I’ll keep her occupied in here as long as I can.”
She lurched about the cottage, performing mad tasks in bewilderment. We preyed on her confusion and made her rest in bed beside her father. I flew in with a wet cloth, and Bragi laid it on her red cheek. She fell asleep. She was filthy and stank, yet Bragi’s eyes held insufficient horror. He must assume a liaison; the accident, a separate event. In this peaceful society in which women were matriarch and revered as a goddess, Bragi was untaught. Rape was inconceivable. When he learned it happened to his jewel, his little flower, his anguish would be like the sea, unfathomable. That’s why I didn’t tell him.