Tanuvia hadn’t woken. Gem sat beside her bed, a pitcher of water at his elbow, a cup in his hand. He trickled water past her lips, but her throat seemed as dead as the rest of her though her heart beat regularly. I left Gem with Tanuvia, left Aetref cooking, and sat with Bragi so he wasn’t alone in his grief.
“I know why you didn’t tell me. It’s because I couldn’t help her.”
I folded my wings and hunched. I didn’t feel good about withholding the truth from the man.
That’s not why. I didn’t tell you because she asked me not to burden you with the knowledge. She didn’t want you hurt by Grantham as badly as she was.
He was still in bed, his useless legs stretched out in his trousers. His white feet, bare and lifeless. He looked from his gaunt legs to me on his bedrail.
“Thank you for bringing Gem and Aetref. They have saved Tanuvia’s life.”
You’re welcome, Bragi. I’m sorry I could not have done more. My efforts to thwart Grantham were ineffective. I failed her.
I was appalled at my ineptitude in combat, a situation I would take steps to improve when I had an opportunity. Here and now, though, I had let down two people I had come to care much about. It hurt.
“How do you think I feel, Muninn? At least you tried. At least you saw who did it and brought help for her. That’s more than I could do.”
I suppose we all do as much as we can, Bragi, and be grateful when others are willing to lend a hand.
He jutted his bushy, gray chin toward his open door. “Like those two fine young men out there?”
I think Tanuvia was right all along.
“I believed her from the start. You’re the one who doubted.” He jabbed his finger in my direction, scolding me.
Aetref brought enough food on a tray for three men. The two men ate companionably with Bragi, whom they addressed as Sir. Aetref decided he would return to Ruski to work the next day, but Gem would stay. They asked about the routine around the house, what chores should be done for the animals, and what work was required in the garden rows left untended while Tanuvia was sick. Ill and sick, they called it, unwilling to think of Tanuvia as a victim or contemplate her violation. Pain ebbed and swelled in waves as they discussed Tanuvia’s chores in her absence.
I heard her tiny call, Dada, and flew out. Gem was on my tail as I settled on Tanuvia’s headrail.
Aetref stood in the doorway, and Gem slipped into the chair beside her bed. “Your da ate his supper, and he’s fine. How are you, Curly?” He smiled.
She blinked, confused upon waking to find Gem in her room. Did she still dream? She tried to raise her head. Instead, closed her eyes, moaned, and her fingertips explored a swollen cheek. Tears wet her fair lashes.
“I’ll tell her father she’s awake.” Aetref disappeared.
“Gem? Is that you?”
“Ai. We came for supper. You needed some help so we’re staying the night. I have water. Will you let me help you sit up?”
“How is Da?”
“He’s fine. Aetref went to tell him you’re awake. Drink some water. That will make your father happy.”
Aetref reappeared, and Tanuvia jerked and cried out in fear.
“It’s only Aetref, Curly.”
She stared a moment and released a deep breath as she recognized him. Gem shot a warning look at Aetref and helped Tanuvia sit up. Her eyes rolled back, and Gem held her steady, waiting for dizziness to pass. She drained the cup and then drank another.
“That’s good, Curly. Are you hungry?”
She started to nod, but her hand flew to her swollen face again, and she wet her lips instead.
“Ai, I am.”
Once more, Aetref disappeared. When he returned with a tray, he stopped a couple of steps from the threshold and called quietly, “Tanuvia? Still hungry?”
“Can Aetref come in? He has your soup.”
She was dazed, moving her head with trepidation, closing her eyes against the vertigo, the pain, and the attacks of nausea a concussion produces. The swelling from Grantham’s first vicious slap had swollen her eye closed. Another blow had broken the skin at her temple. Possibly his knuckles in a fist.
“Da needs me. I have to go,” Tanuvia said.
“You’re not going anywhere, Curly. Aetref and I are taking care of your da.”
“You don’t know how. He needs his jug washed, and I didn’t give him a bath yet. It’s hot, so he has to be washed every day. He’ll get sores because he can’t move.”
“We’ll do all that. I mean what I say. You’re not going anywhere. Sleep if you can, and we’ll do those things for your da.”
Later when she slept, Gem and Aetref washed dishes with abundant advice from Bragi and me, looking out for Tanuvia’s interests.
She likes the clean dishes dried with a towel and put away, and she sweeps after supper.
From his room, Bragi called out, “And she hangs the dishtowel to dry! Don’t forget that!”
Gem laughed and called back, “We’ll hang her towel!”
Aetref chuckled and muttered to Gem under his breath, “Fine couple they are.”
More soberly, Gem nodded. “They’re fine folks. We should have been kinder to Tanuvia. We hurt her feelings.”
“We didn’t know her, now did we? We’re here now when they need us. That’s what counts. Now, I’m to bed. I’ve got work on the boat tomorrow while you laze around here living the good life.”