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Chapter 17: Burden of Guilt

As the sun climbed the sky, in sleep, Tanuvia’s elfin face shimmered with sweat and was flushed where it wasn’t black with a bruise in the shape of a man’s hand. A tear wet her eyelashes resting on her cheek, and her lips moved silently. Her thumb twitched as with palsy. Bad dreams. Nightmares in the heat of the day. Her fingers curled and spread, forming a claw.

I transmitted deep-sleep delta waves in an attempt to shift her brainwave patterns out of REM sleep, but the dream gripped her. I suffered all over as I recognized her tiny motions replaying the rape. She was raking her nails down Grantham’s throat. It was bad enough I had recordings of the entire attack, complete with data on the biological states of both the assailant and his prey. Did I have to watch the victim relive it? I cawed loudly, but she didn’t wake. Rather than poke and scratch, which might terrify her, I flew from the windowsill and glided to the barn.

I called, mimicking a raven’s cry. Gem! Gem! Gem!

He came to the open barn door and squinted at the sun. “What is it?”

Tanuvia is having a nightmare. I can’t shift it.

Gem ran.

~()~

He touched her as if she was a fallen wren with a broken wing. His fingers brushed the back of her hand, her clenched knuckles. “Curly? Wake up. It’s Gem. I brought you some water. You need to drink.”

Tanuvia screamed and slashed with her taloned hand. She leaped from the bed and ran blindly, stumbling, trapped in the corner of her room. Gem dodged the sudden attack, escaping the raking claws.

“Tanuvia, it’s alright. Wake up, Curly.”

From his room, Bragi shouted, “Tanuvia! What’s wrong?”

Gem focused on the wounded young woman. She curled on her knees in a shadowed corner, whining and staring with highly dilated pupils.

I flew to Bragi to explain. Tanuvia woke up frightened from a nightmare. She’s not hurt, and Gem is trying to calm her down.

“Well, go help him!”

I cawed indignantly and fluttered back into Tanuvia’s bedroom. In the few seconds I was gone, Gem had coaxed her to take the cup from his hand, and she drank while he sat on the floor beside her.

“I’m sorry I screamed. I thought you were someone else,” she said.

“It’s alright. People scream sometimes when they wake up from bad dreams. Do you want some more water?”

“Mhm.”

When he left, she crawled from the corner and stood to look out the window. “He’s not there.”

Who, Tanuvia?

“Grantham,” she said with a sob. “I dreamed I saw his face in the window. Like that night.” She turned to look at me. “You didn’t tell Gem did you?”

Tanuvia…

“Did you?” she asked, demanding.

I didn’t tell Gem, but—

“Tell me what? Here’s your water. You should sit down. You’re swaying.”

“Nothing,” Tanuvia said quickly. She sat as he bid at the edge of her bed and sipped just as greedily at the second cup of water.

“Do you feel better?”

“Ai. I should be back at work. We’ll lose everything in this heat if I’m not watering.”

“I’m doing the work, Tanuvia. If I can help it, you won’t lose a single bean. Your job is to rest.”

“Why? How did you come here when I didn’t pick you up in the wagon? Why have you stayed?”

“Aetref and I walked, and we stayed because we found you hurt, and your father needed help. We couldn’t just leave the two of you, now could we?”

“You walked all the way from town?”

“All the way. If we had only come partway, we wouldn’t be here.”

Gem grinned at her confusion. “Curly, you make me smile, you know that?”

“Why do you call me that?” She pursed her lips, piqued.

“Don’t you have curly hair?”

“Only a little.”

Gem laughed aloud. “Your hair is curlier than a sheep.”

“Did you just compare me to a sheep?”

“I did. I like sheep. They’re gentle animals.”

“Oh.”

Gem rose to his feet and stood looking down at her. “What else do you need before I go back to work? Hungry yet?”

“I can feed myself.”

“Curly, will you let me help you?” He dropped to a knee and took her hand. “It’s something I need to do.”

“I could eat a peach. That sounds good.”

“I’ll bring you a peach, and water your crops, and then I’ll make lunch for all of us. Will that suit you? Will you let me do that?”

“That will suit me. Thank you.”

She ate her peach while leaning on her headboard, her knees drawn up and ankles clamped. “Muninn?”

Here. I was perched on the windowsill above her head.

“Does he know?”

Yes.

She ate the rest of her peach through tears, and I thought she would choke on it and then we’d have another incident, but she finally ate the fruit down to the pit. When she held the stone on the palm of her hand, I flitted down to snatch it in my beak on the wing. Executing what I fancied a stunning, aerial spin, I tossed the pit out the window as if I was her trained bird, and I didn’t mind the allusion.

“I didn’t want anyone to know,” she said.

It wasn’t something you could hide. Your father would have seen the marks, Tanuvia. As soon as the bruise colored on your cheek, it revealed the shape of a man’s hand. He could smell the seed. He would have figured it out.

But Gem…”

Your father needed Gem and Aetref. You were unconscious in his bed, and he couldn’t wake you. I had to get help for him, and they are capable of lifting him.

“I’m so ashamed.”

She wrapped her arms around her legs and tucked her bandaged brow to her knees. Damp, blonde curls sprung from the edges of the linen.

Why would you be? You did nothing wrong. Grantham was the one who shamed himself.”

“I bedded him without vows and denied him a child. Grantham forced his seed on me, and it’s what I deserve for rejecting his issue all these moons. I deserved to be raped.”

Tanuvia! No one deserves what happened to you! I’ll be back, Tanuvia.

I was not a qualified psychiatrist, but I had sufficient diagnostic tools to determine that Tanuvia’s state of mind under her circumstances had a high statistical probability of spiraling out of control. She needed friends and family in her despair.

I gave the man my warning call again, Gem! Gem! Gem!

Looking up from the handle of the well pump he wielded, he shaded his eyes. Water continued to splash, hit the tin bucket, and flow into the irrigation channel Tanuvia maintained with a hoe between her rows.

“What is it this time?”

Tanuvia.

“You’re a regular watch dog.”

I’d been flying around his head but now alighted on top of the pump handle, and he stood straight.

Tanuvia requires closer watching. She’s in a poor state of mind. Very low. Her judgment is currently impaired due to a combination of shock, emotional impairment, and concussion. I considered presenting the psychometric results, but decided it was overkill.

“We’ll put her in Bragi’s bed. He can watch her, and I can work.”

Good luck convincing her.

I lifted my wings and hopped into flight, leaving Gem gaping after me. She never listened to me anyway. Considering her feelings for him, Gem would have a better chance of making her sleep with her father, and I went to Bragi to explain.

Gem has gone to bring Tanuvia to sleep here. She’s not well and needs you. She’s despondent, and we’re worried her injuries may cause her to do something foolish.

“Is he there now?”

I just looked in. He’s talking with her.

Bragi had spent part of the morning churning milk to butter, and he’d been carving a farmyard animal when I flew in. He gave directions as he dropped his work and tugged the corner of a bedsheet.

“Pull that taut. I’ll hold this side.”

I blinked rapidly. He wanted me to do housework? It was one thing to toss Tanuvia’s peach pit out the window, but making beds? Did he know I was a full member of the Vinculum Atheneum?

“Hurry up! She likes things tidy. We have to straighten for her.”

Rolling my eyes in derision, which a raven cannot, I hopped on the bed, grasped the corner of the sheet in my beak, and leaped into flight, tugging the direction Bragi indicated. Then the other end. Then the sheet that was rumpled at the bottom of the bed. He couldn’t reach it, so I pulled it to his grasp then fluttered to the opposite corner. Bragi fussed and bullied, and we finally squared both his sheets. How did a paralyzed man rumple his bedsheets so thoroughly anyway?

They were still talking in Tanuvia’s room, and I wondered what was taking so long. It was the nature of my programming to be nosy and then to find out what I wanted to know, so I flew to her doorway and perched on top her open door to listen.

Gem had pulled up a chair, and she sat on the edge of her bed. With Tanuvia, Gem was a lamb.

“I can’t undo it, Gem. I tried, and you see what happened to me.”

“Please, Curly. You’re not to blame. You didn’t ask him to beat you senseless. You didn’t give him permission. Man comes humbly or he mustn’t come at all. Was he humble?”

“Nai,” she sobbed. “Oh, he wasn’t! He wasn’t!”

“Ssh, it’s alright.” He patted her shoulder. “Don’t be distraught. Muninn is right about your head injuries. You need to rest. Maybe you’d like to lie down with your father. It’s awfully nice for him to have you in the house during the day.”

Clever Gem.

“Alright. I don’t take enough time to keep him company. He’s alone too much.”

Gem offered his arm, and his pale, gray eyes held a glimmer I could not fathom with dialectic or psychometric analysis. Tanuvia smiled, and I nearly lost my grip on the top of the door. He had charmed her? Or had she charmed him?

She curled her fingers, lightly resting her weight against him. Her hands were calloused from grasping a hoe, and her fingernails worn to the quick. Her face was pale, always shaded under a wide-brimmed hat in the field, but her hands were tanned by the sun, colored like the earth in which she worked. Gem placed his hand over hers to secure her on his arm, and his hand was just as calloused, his fingernails just as worn.

Still suffering from concussion, she wove on her feet. Gem guided her around the hearth and into her father’s room, where she kissed her da on the cheek, and he invited her to nap. She lay down with a sigh on the freshly-made bed as if she’d taken a long journey. In minutes, she was asleep like a wounded animal.

I perched the better part of the day on the windowsill, sharing Bragi’s vigil over his daughter, and analyzing data to make sense of the story—brooding, brooding the story egg like a raven on a nest, turning it evenly to balance the yolk, and sustaining its heat so it properly quickened and at just the right time.

Continue Reading, Chapter 18: Guests for Supper

If you are enjoying this story, you might like to read more of my writing at Muninn’s Memories.

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