On the Ruski docks, I flew ahead of Gem and Aetref and landed on a piling as they left the boat. With little time for introductions, I cawed loudly. Tanuvia! They stared. Bathing my glossy, synthetic feathers in its radiance, the sun was a blaze of orange in the west over a slaty sea. Overhead, the air was rampant with gulls circling the boats, but there was only one raven, one black harbinger of bad news.
My name is Muninn, and I am Tanuvia’s friend.
Aetref looked over his shoulder at Gem, who stepped up to answer. Did that mean something? I should have stayed to listen to the men talk after Tanuvia’s visit though it didn’t matter now.
“Is something wrong?”
All Goodfolk must have this intuition for trouble, not just Bragi.
Tanuvia is hurt and has no one to help her. Her father is paralyzed, and I’m…a raven. Will you help her?
Tanuvia wouldn’t let me cancel dinner and didn’t want strangers to know, but Gem and Aetref weren’t strangers and could still come to supper. The solution satisfied the logical parameters of my response programs.
“Hurt? How badly?”
She’ll live. I hoped.
“Can you show us?”
I can. Do you need to go home?
“If it’s far, we should leave right away.”
The conflicting variables of the situation played havoc with my algorithms. I weighted and entered obligations; to Bragi, to Tanuvia, her life, my story. Not least, my honor. But I was unequipped with a matrix sufficiently complex to handle these ethical dilemmas. I winged it as I flew, fluttering around the truth.
Tanuvia suffered a blow to the head. Bragi bound the injury, but she may have other injuries. She won’t show us.
I flew on to give the men time to think. On a tree branch overhanging the road, I waited, and they stopped and looked up.
There was a man at the barn this morning who didn’t belong there.
If not a construct of programs, instruments, and mechanisms, I would have shuddered at the hollow depth of Gem’s voice. I ruffled my hackle and cawed.
Tanuvia tried to end their relationship. He didn’t like it.
Gem and Aetref shared a long look that would have filled a book.
“Is it close enough now to run?” Gem asked.
For two men conditioned on a sparling boat? Yes.
I flew in ahead. Bragi was in bed, his hand curled around Tanuvia’s shoulder as she lay sleeping.
I lowered my volume control. Did she wake?
He shook his head.
I brought help.
Bragi lifted his slate-gray eyes, full of woe, to the broad body blocking the light at his door. “Gem?”
“Sir. I met your daughter in Ruski. She kindly brought us a bushel of food. Muninn says she’s hurt. May we look?”
“She’s asleep.” He sounded as confused as Tanuvia. Nearly as hurt.
“That might be best, sir, if what the raven tells us is true. Is she sleeping or senseless?”
Bragi’s shaggy head sunk low between his shoulders. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I can’t wake her.”
Gem moistened his lips. “Let me think. Um…if you don’t mind, I’ll try.”
Gem grasped Tanuvia’s slender forearm in his paw and gently shook. “Curly? Wake up. It’s Gem and Aetref. We’re here for supper.”
At the mention of supper, Bragi looked toward me with deep gratitude I didn’t deserve. Reviewing the earlier exchanges with the men, I determined my feeble attempt to preserve Tanuvia’s supper was ludicrous. I should have told the men plainly that Tanuvia was raped and in danger. It should not be hard to devise an equation that valued life above girlish hopes for a social success.
“She’s out,” Aetref said. “Sir, I’m Aetref. Gem’s my brother-in-law. We need to look beneath Tanuvia’s clothes to check for further injury, but want your permission.”
“We won’t violate her sanctity,” Gem said. “We swear. We only want to help.”
Bragi was overcome. The most he could do without these two men was hold his daughter’s hand as she died. For two years, burdened with grief for her mother, she had labored alone, earning a living for herself and her paralyzed father, and he could do nothing for his daughter in dire need. But it wasn’t over. She might be saved. Tears brimmed Bragi’s eyes and spilled when he nodded, wetting his beard.
Gem scooped Tanuvia up. Aetref went for water and supplies. As if made of crystal so thin it might shatter, Tanuvia was placed on her bed and stripped of her filthy clothes.
Gem glanced at me on her bedrail. “We’ll burn those. Does she have clean ones somewhere?”
Drying on the line out back. She washed them for dinner.
They bathed her, cleaning the scrapes on her knees. They used comfrey to treat her bruises, darkened during the day. Her left cheek was swollen, purple in the shape of a palm and four fingers.
The men conferred. “Should we touch her there?”
“We should wash her. She could be injured,” Aetref said.
“Do you want to do it?”
“Nai. I’ll get her clothes.” Aetref left, and Gem looked at me for advice.
“Muninn, what do you think? Will she feel violated?”
More than she already does?
“It doesn’t make it better just because it happened before. The second rape is as bad as the first.”
I can’t do it, and her father can’t do it. Wash her and be done with it.”
Gem wept as he worked.
Hope rekindled in Bragi’s eyes. “How is she?” He waved the young men in.
“About the same. We washed her, tended her cuts and bruises. She’s dressed in clean clothes. We’ll burn the ones she was wearing when she was attacked,” Gem said.
“Attack?” Bragi’s bristled eyebrows shot up.
“You didn’t know, sir?”
He glanced at me on his bedrail but didn’t linger. I was only a small piece of his nightmare. “Maybe,” he said. “I thought…I don’t know what I thought. Did Muninn tell you?”
“The raven said a man was here. Aetref and I know the rest. We’ve seen things.”
“He raped my girl? Grantham? Did he? My little girl?”
Bragi rocked to and fro in the bed. Gem braced him with a hand on his shoulder, and Bragi stopped rocking, stopped chewing his lip, and took a deep breath. His galloping heartbeat slowed.
“I don’t know the man’s name, but she was raped. She has every sign,” Gem said.
Bragi had guessed, and they needed to know in case he returned. It was Grantham. She refused to go with him the night before. He said he’d be back.
“God and goddess!” Bragi said. “He could return. That’s what Muninn was warning me about. That’s why the raven brought you.”
“Tanuvia needs more than protection. She needs tending. She’s not only violated, she’s beaten. That’s why she’s passed out.”
“Sir, we’ll get supper and then…if you can tell us what else…,” Aetref said.