Fantasy · Fiction · Novel · Serial

Chapter 18: Guests for Supper

Aetref returned on Mazy at sunset. The mare’s hooves thudded dully on the grassy lane to the cottage. Inside, no one had heard him. I flew out alone to perch on the knee wall of Mazy’s stall while Aetref unsaddled and curried sweat from the mare’s gray hide.

“I had a gray mare once,” Aetref said idly.

I cawed.

“She was a real looker, an appaloosa with spots like ripples on water, white on misty gray. In a fog, she was nigh invisible.”

What happened to her?

“I gave her to someone special who needed her more.”

Maven?

Fingers white-knuckled on the comb, Aetref stopped currying and narrowed his eyes, studying me. “How do you know that name?”

Your brother-in-law told Bragi. He can’t talk about his sister?

“Oh. I see.” Aetref’s blond bangs swayed as he shook his head. “Of course, he can.” He returned to combing the gray mare while the light dimmed as she chomped hay he’d thrown from the loft.

Thank you for sending Warden Kane.

He looked up again. “It had to be done. What did she tell you?”

I shrugged my feathered shoulders. That she would kill Grantham for raping and beating Tanuvia. Do you know if she did?

“She did and came to the dock to let me know so I could bring the news here. Does Tanuvia know of the warden’s visit?”

To my knowledge, no one told her.

“It’s only fair she know she’s safe, but I’m not sure what to say. Killing a man is a terrible thing though Grantham committed that heinous act of his own volition and knew the penalty. He violated goddess, and a man who does that deserves to die. Yet, Tanuvia may have had feelings for him once. Worst of all, whether forced on her or not, there was issue, and there could be a babe, a child whose sire is dead. I’ve been mulling it in my mind the whole way home, and I’m no closer to finding the words.”

Whatever you say, tread carefully. She was morose today and said things as if she was out of her mind.

“What kind of things?”

She said she deserved to be raped.

“That’s insane.”

I just told you that. Gem talked her into Bragi’s bedroom so her father could watch her, but she already seemed better after their talk. She was smitten with him before, and he has a way with her.

“Ai, Gem has a gentle way. It comes from his heart, and it could do Tanuvia much good in her circumstance, but I don’t know if Gem shares Tanuvia’s feelings, and he’s fragile.”

Fragile? Tanuvia said this, too. I don’t see it. He looks sturdy enough to me.

“Believe me. There are more things under the sun than are known by folk in the south. But one tragedy at a time. Let’s deal with Tanuvia’s.”

A tin branch of candles glowed in the center of the dining table. Wind through the open windows played with the flames, setting the candlelight into motion across the bearded face of a man who’d not sat there for two years. Bragi rested his forearms stiffly as if unfamiliar with the experience though surely he’d sat there many times, dining beside his consort, Tanniel, and their little girl, Tanuviel, upon whom the couple had doted. To his right sat Tanuviel with a fresh band of linen around her brow. Her yellow curls escaped from the hems and glimmered in the light of the tallow candles. Even the wonderfolk did not wear golden crowns as comely as hers. Sadly, the magical effect was spoiled by the bruise on her cheek, her swollen eye, and the meaning of the linen circlet. She looked more like a beaten ragamuffin at a charity kitchen.

Aetref wisely put off his news and took the third seat when Gem insisted on serving alone. Tanuvia wiped at her eye, removing random tears, and her father patted her hand, which only made her weep more.

“Now, now,” Gem said, scolding. “If you go on like this, what’s the point of carrying him out here? You could both cry in your rooms alone.”

“She’ll stop. Won’t you, Tanuvia?” Bragi clasped her hand with a fatherly squeeze.

Tanuvia swiped her eye and sniffed. “Ai, Da. I don’t want to cry. It’s just seeing you here. Like it used to be…”

“Tanuvia…” Gem warned her again, but he was smiling, and she nodded meekly.

Gem had cooked, and he served.  Good, solid food; beans, greens, and cornbread; and peaches he’d stewed with sugar and spice. They drank milk or water. Nothing elaborate, only a meal upon which folk could thrive, around which they could gather in companionship and walk away satisfied for the night.

With the sun down and a breeze through the windows, the heat was briefly bearable, and the occasion was as nice a supper as Tanuvia had dreamed she’d provide for the two men, Gem and Aetref, a chance for them to meet her father and for him to meet them. Now and then, Tanuvia wiped a tear though trying to smile for her father, involved in goings-on as he hadn’t been for years.

Aetref cleared and washed, and Gem lifted Bragi to the rocking chair that sat alone at the hearth. He brought chairs from the table and moved the branch of candles to the stone slab before the fireplace. When Aetref was done washing up, the dishes put away, and the dishtowel hanging to dry, he joined them, and they sat quietly a while, digesting and musing. Tanuvia rested next to her father, holding his hand, and Gem propped one boot on the slab. Aetref lounged with his long legs out straight, his ankles crossed, and his head resting back on the chair, a man weary from a long day of work hauling heavy nets from the sea.

“Would you like to rock, Da?”

“It’s been a while…,” he said wistfully.

Gem arranged Bragi’s lifeless legs on a cushioned stool and tucked another cushion to wedge his torso in tight. Tanuvia pushed to rock her father, and Bragi leaned his head back. He closed his eyes, and no one could imagine what he dreamed of the future or remembered of the past as he swayed back and forth at his daughter’s light touch.

Aetref sighed at which I lifted my wings uneasily and resettled my feathers with a shake, agitated by what I sensed on detectors. Probably he hated to disturb the peace they’d all worked together to create, but though this peace was real and could be made again if they tried very hard, there was still heartache to face. It had to be done.

He sat forward in his chair and squared his feet on the floor. “Captain expects us both on the boat tomorrow, Gem. If you can’t or won’t, I’ll understand, but that’s the way it is.”

Gem watched Tanuvia rocking her father.

“Did you hear me, Gem?”

Gem wrenched his gaze from father and daughter. “I heard you. I suppose you’re right. That’s the way it is.”

“We need these jobs.”

“I said you’re right. I’ll be there.”

Ignoring the men, Bragi didn’t open his eyes. He wore a small smile at the corners of his lips, and Tanuvia watched, her swollen eye leaking tears down her bruised cheek. She hadn’t turned toward Aetref when he spoke, all her attention on her father and this chance he had to rock in a chair he hadn’t sat in for over two years.

Quietly, Tanuvia asked, “Is it nice, Da?”

“It’s nice, Tanuvia. I used to sit here and rock you when you were a baby. Your Mam would nurse you, and I would hold you over my shoulder to burp you, and you would fall asleep on my shoulder in this chair.”

“That’s a nice memory, Da. I remember sitting in your lap here when you taught me my letters.”

“Ai. We did that right here, didn’t we? What happened to those blocks I made with the letters?”

“I think they’re in the barn loft.”

“We should find them. We’ll need them someday.”

“Oh, Dada…” Tanuvia leaned her brow to her father’s forearm, and he laid his palm on the back of her head. “Life goes on, Tanuvia. We won’t let him take your future.”

Aetref and Gem listened in respectful silence, but then Aetref’s heart rate rose, and his eyes dilated with tension.

“Sir,” he began. Indolently, Bragi raised his dark gray eyes from his daughter’s head to look resentfully at Aetref for disturbing their precious peace so hard to come by, so hard to hold.

“Forgive me, but there’s something I need to share with both of you. There’s no good time to do this.” He moistened his lips with a flick of his tongue. “It’s about the man, Grantham.”

Tanuvia’s torso heaved with a single sob as she bowed over her father’s arm, and she clutched the rocker in both hands as if someone tried to yank it from her grasp.

“I’m so sorry, Tanuvia,” Aetref said. “But it’s important you know you’re safe. Grantham won’t be back here. Not ever.”

Tanuvia became icy silent, and all three men gazed with concern as she clung to the chair and hid her face against her father’s sleeve.

Bragi raised his glossy eyes from his daughter’s bowed crown and gazed numbly at Aetref. “I suppose you men will be going home then.”

“We’ll spend another night if that’s alright.”

“You’re welcome here anytime. Thank you for everything you’ve done for us.” He dropped his eyes to Tanuvia, who hadn’t moved. “Daughter, we should go to bed.”

Tanuvia seemed to be working her limbs on poorly-oiled mechanical joints. First, her neck lifted her wounded head, then her fingers unhinged from the chair. She took a hesitant step, turning her face from the men. Gem leaned to carry Bragi to his room, and Tanuvia swayed on her feet to which the men reacted with alarm at an imminent fall, even Bragi, whose arm extended before he remembered he wasn’t whole and couldn’t reach her. She jerked her palm outward, warning them away. Feebly, she meandered alone to her bedroom and shut her door against the world.

Against the world, but not against me, not if I hurried to enter her window. She was sitting on the edge of her bed in the dark.

“Muninn?”

Yes.

“I heard your wings.”

I need to upgrade to silent flight.

“Like an owl?”

That would be ideal. It’s the leading edge of the primary feathers that makes the difference.

“I’m sure that makes sense to you.”

Tanuvia, do you want to talk?

“I’m not sure.”

Who would know?

“Know what, Muninn?”

Whether you want to talk or not.

“You sound like Gem now.”

Is that a bad thing?

I flew to the footrail of her bed, prepared to roost and brood for the night while she slept, but she stood, silhouetted against the dark blue of the sky framed by the open window. With a sharp tap, she closed and locked the shutters.

“I want to wash. It’s all I want to do. All the time. I’m dirty, Muninn, and I need a bath. There’s blood on me.”

She unbuttoned her shirt and dropped it from her shoulders then reached for the button on her trousers.

Tanuvia, you can’t go out for water like that. Do you want me to have water brought?

She worked the buttons and dropped her smalls along with the pants.

“Nai, don’t bring water. I’ll try to sleep but don’t know if I can. I keep seeing Grantham’s face in the window.”

That will pass.

“Will it? How do you know?”

She extended her arms, found the door to crack it open for me, then swept for the bed. She lay on top her sheets, arms and legs splayed like she often did, seeking relief from the nighttime heat. There were indications she was not as calm as her weary voice indicated. Even in the dark, her pupils were constricted, and her pulse was fast.

Because I believe you’re suffering from head trauma, and the shock of the news you had earlier is negatively affecting your mental acuity. When the injuries heal, your mind and heart can begin to heal, too.

“I’m sure you’re right, Muninn.”

When she passed into sleep, she lay as if nearly dead. Her heart rate lowered to one beat short of the grave, and her body temperature plummeted to just above survival. I’d never seen the like and hoped it was a natural, biological process by which Goodfolk preserved and healed themselves. Concerned, I flew to the common room and alighted on the floor beside Gem, already asleep on his pallet. I nibbled at his ear to wake him. He swatted at his head, and I fluttered a few feet away.

Gem. Wake.

Quietly, he hissed, “Muninn? Are you mad? I thought you were a spider.”

I’m worried about Tanuvia.

Beside him on the floor, Aetref sat, groggy with sleep. “What is it?”

Someone needs to cover Tanuvia with a blanket.

“What? It’s sweltering.”

Tanuvia’s not sweltering. She’s cold

“Is she fevered?”

No. She’s cold. I just said that. Please help her one last time. She needs a blanket.

Aetref was indignant. “One last time? We’re not abandoning her, Muninn. We’re only going to work on the boat tomorrow. Folks have to make a living.”

The blanket, please, and don’t wake her.

Aetref stayed in the doorway with a candle so the light wouldn’t wake Tanuvia, and Gem crept in more silently than I could fly. He blinked hard and fast when he looked down on her lissome pink and cream body, battered, bandaged, and vulnerable in sleep. She was insubstantial, of no importance to anyone but her father. She was too immaterial, of too little status with too little ambition to be a good protagonist for my story. She had no special skills, was not clever, and had no dreams to fulfill that would make her a heroine. She was spindrift, a simple sylph on hard times. Bits of poetic files floated through my processors just ahead of my grasp. I could not pin her down, could not tack her to my board or reduce her fragile beauty to the subject of a tale. Like a butterfly, she evaded.

When Gem turned, it was to flee, and he gaped for breath on the common side of the door. His heart beat like he’d run from Ruski.

Thank you.

Gem’s silence was leaden, and he bent as though carrying a heavy burden. He crept to his pallet like a man who’d been kicked in the cods.

“There’s no need for thanks. Wake us if you need anything else,” Aetref said.

Continue Reading, Chapter 19

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

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