Fantasy · Fiction · Novel · Serial

Chapter 19: How Much Must She Bear?

I kept vigil through the night. Tanuvia’s heart beat slowly but steadily, and the blanket maintained her body heat. Outside her door, I heard the two young men rise as dawn approached. They took water and left on foot down the little lane leading to the road and Ruski. Tanuvia and her father were alone once more as they’d been for two years. Gem and Aetref, perhaps, would think of them again although the young men had their own problems, which sounded more major than minor.

Right now, Tanuvia needed attention. Her heart rate was rising with her temperature beneath the blanket. Though still asleep, she was overheating.

Selecting a skylark’s song from my ever-growing anthology, I set her name to the music, Tanuvia…Tanuvia…Tanuvia…

Her eyelashes fluttered as she opened her eyes of fern.

“Muninn?”

Good morning, Tanuvia. How are you?

“I’m sore, and my head hurts.”

You should rise and drink some water and a palliative.

“What is a palliative?”

A cup of willowbark tea.

“Oh. That will help my headache. I’m hungry, too.”

As your father will be when he wakes. Gem and Aetref went back to Ruski.

“To work. I remember.”

Tanuvia dressed and padded barefoot as she returned to her labors in the cottage. While heating water for porridge and tea, she made her bed. Quietly, because her father still slept, she rearranged the dishes in her cupboard, repairing the disarray in which the men had stored them. She pumped water to wash her dishrags and drying towel, sour to her fussy nose, then hung them to dry, for which she had to find stockings and boots and carry her laundry to the clothesline behind the house.

By then, her father was awake. She toted breakfast to his room, and they ate together, he in his chair and she on the edge of the bed. Afterward, she heated more water, washed the dishes, and put them away. Not yet done with her morning chores in the house, she filled another pail with heated water to give her father a bath. Stony-eyed, jutting his chin upward to avoid Tanuvia’s eyes, Bragi stared toward the distance through his window. She emptied his jug, brought it back clean, gave him his carving tools, and found the copper milking pail to begin chores outside. Short of the cottage threshold, she stopped, turned with wide eyes, and ran limping back to her father.

“Dada, I can’t do it! I can’t go to the barn! I’m afraid! I’m afraid!”

Hysterical, she scattered her father’s shavings, knocked the basket from his lap and his carving to the floor. Bragi tossed aside the knife in his hand and clasped his daughter as she climbed into his chair. She curled like a child in his lap and sobbed in his arms against his broad chest. Bragi crooned, and stroked, and soothed his little girl, his flower, his jewel. He encouraged her to be brave and reminded her there was nothing to fear, that it was only ol’ Bumble lowing because her udders were full and uncomfortable

He tried to distract her with small things. “Bumble’s anxious to get to her pasture. Besides, wouldn’t you like to see the chair Gem’s working on out there?” He lifted her chin with the curl of his finger and wiped her eyes. She sniffled, crawled from his lap, and cleaned the mess she’d made. With her copper pail in hand, she tried again. At the front door, she looked back at her da, who waved encouragingly from his chair. Stiffening her spine, she minced over the threshold to face the barn across the beaten yard. Once at the door, where Bumble’s lowing was loudest, she panicked again and spun on her heel.

I flew above, wheeling, and called her name. Tanuvia! Be brave! Tanuvia! Bumble awaits!

She stopped to shield her eyes against the rising sun. Spotting me against the sky, she smiled. A talking raven who called her name amused her. Behind the door, Bumble lowed like the day Grantham raped her on the ground in the barn, but Tanuvia turned to bear it, her face grim, her hands trembling as she lifted the latch.

No men jumped at her. No one hit her with a fist and threatened to break her jaw. No one ripped her pants from her legs, exposed her delicate sex, and breached. Yet Tanuvia shook, flinched, and wobbled on the little milking stool. Finally with Bumble at ease in the pasture, Tanuvia carried the milk into the house for her father to churn. Sitting on the edge of his bed, she wept. Bragi murmured soft words, told her again she was brave, and called her his yellow blossom at which she smiled.

“Thank you, Dada.”

Do you feel better?”

“A little. I’ll go weed now. Wild buckwheat is choking the potatoes.”

“Ai, that’s a nasty vine. Keeps coming back.”

“I can’t get rid of it. Do you know what I should do?”

“Don’t let it flower or seed.”

“Alright, Da. I’ll keep trying.”

“That’s my girl. I’m proud of you, Tanuvia. I’ll churn milk while you pull vines.”

Life went on, vining and choking, and Tanuvia went on facing it. Even to me, who merely watched as she endured, her life seemed hard, endless, maybe even useless. She limped, which I’d not noticed when she was still swaying and walking with aid. As the day wore on, and she became weary, the limp grew more pronounced.

Thinking I might offer relief if I knew the cause of her pain, I flew to a fence post near where she bent amid potato plants with tiny, purple flowers. Plunging in her head and hands, she searched for the roots of buckwheat vines, which kept growing back to shade the plants, reducing her yields.

Tanuvia, does your foot hurt?

Pressing her hand to the small of her back, she arched her back to stretch her cramped muscles. As blood rushed from her head, she staggered and blinked. In distress, I flapped my wings. A moment later, she’d fought the dizziness and wiped the sweat from her lip with her sleeve.

“What, Muninn?”

Your foot, Tanuvia. Does it pain you.

“My foot’s fine.”

What hurts? Why are you limping?

“It’s not my foot. It’s…private.”

Girl private?

“I’ve told you. Go away, nosy bird! Fly away!”

She raised her arms and waved her hands to shoo me to the sky. I leaped into flight, knowing enough now to advise her. If only that mathematical die had fallen on the other side and I’d told her I was female. How much had she suffered alone since her mother died? With no one but her father to share her troubles?

I hadn’t realized how long a day was, how many hours, how many rows to hoe and how much water must be pumped into a dirt channel to grow a bean, an ear of corn, or a row of potatoes. In linen trousers and blouse, leather boots, and a wide-brimmed straw hat, Tanuvia worked the farm, limping, sweating in the heat, and sniffling when her thoughts crowded too closely to chase away with the shovel or hoe. Nor could she run when they tripped her, enveloping her like the wild buckwheat vines embracing the potato plants. Or perched on her shoulder, whispering in her ear like a blackbird of gloom—like a raven.

When Bumble had come home, and Tanuvia had hauled water for both horse and cow, she returned to the house. Supper must be cooked and dishes washed again. She swept and brought in her washing from the line. She and Bragi folded the linens together, and she put them away. By then, the sun was low. Tanuvia was weary, sticky with sweat, and wanted to bathe.

“Always dirty now,” she said, confiding to me in her room. “I can’t get clean.”

I grieved for her. It will pass.

“That’s what you said, Muninn.”

It will, Tanuvia. It’s only been two days.

“Two days? I can’t decide whether it feels like two hours or two years. Sometimes one and sometimes the other. All I know is there was a life before and a life after, and they’re not the same. I’m not the same.”

She started to unbutton her shirt, then stopped to look toward me on the windowsill.  “Come in if you’re staying. I have to close the shutters.”

In this heat?

“I see his face in the window.”

He’s not really there, Tanuvia.

“That’s what I keep telling myself, but I want to bathe, and this is easier.”

After I flew in to perch on her footrail, she closed and latched the shutter. She stripped in the shadows, stood on her towel, and washed from the pail with soap and washcloth, leaving her skin damp.

“Muninn, I’m sorry I chased you off today.” She lay on her back on the bed, her limbs akimbo in the dark. “I know you were trying to help.”

Tomorrow, if it still hurts, you should pump water for a tub bath, pour mineral salts in the water, and soak in the tub. It will ease your pain.

“Mam used to do that for aching feet.”

It’s the same idea. It will help the inflammation.

“Thank you, Muninn.”

You’re welcome, Tanuvia.

She was dozing fitfully in the hot stuffy room and sweat was beading above her lip when a knock came at the cottage door. I was trapped in the bedroom with window and door closed, and Bragi, naturally, could not answer the summons. I cawed loudly to wake Tanuvia. The knock came again, and Bragi called for his daughter, his voice muffled by the wall, “Tanuvia!”

She’s coming! I cried, raven-like. Tanuvia, wake up. There’s someone at the door. You need shirt and trousers.

“Tell them to go away,” she said, croaking sleepily.

I’m trapped in the room.

She fumbled in the dark, searching for her clothes, and whimpered about sleep.

The next knock was louder, insistent, and the visitor declared himself with a shout. “Tanuvia! It’s Gem! Open up!”

Bragi replied with another shout, “She’s coming!”

Hurry, Tanuvia. They’re worried about you.

Finally, she was dressed and limped to the bedroom door, where I escaped on the outward draft of hot air. I flapped through the kitchen window to meet Gem outside.

She’s alright, Gem. She was asleep.

“Muninn! Thank god and goddess! I was afraid she was—”

Dead?

“Or too sick to rise.”

She didn’t expect you tonight.

Tanuvia opened the door, and Gem looked down on her weary face, the freckles, the bruise, and swollen eye, the band of linen, soaked in sweat and stained brown with dirt. Her feet were bare, and she held the candle with a hand still limp with sleep.

“Tanuvia, you’re so beautiful!”

I cawed in astonishment. What!

She stood silent, blinking, and Gem hastened to speak. “Ah…I…I’m sorry. I was scared something had happened to you, then I see you’re alright. It was just a beautiful sight.”

She looked down at his dusty boots. “Oh.”

“Oh, but I don’t mean that either!”

She looked back up at him. “What do you not mean?”

“What? I don’t know! I’m confused!”

“Gem. Why are you here?”

“Isn’t that obvious? To see that you and your father are alright and ask what you might need done.”

“How did you get here?” she asked.

“I walked. How else would I get here?”

“It’s over an hour by foot, Gem. Did you work on the boat today?”

“Ai, Tanuvia.” He was perplexed by this line of questioning. “Should I have not come?”

Bragi yelled impatiently from his bedroom. “Tanuvia, let the young man through the door!”

Tanuvia stepped aside with her single candle, and Bragi shouted again from his bed. “Gem, bring a light! Let’s see you!”

Looking apologetically toward Tanuvia, Gem found the candles, lit one from Tanuvia’s flame, and carried it to Bragi to have his face seen by the older man.

“How was your day, Bragi?” Gem sat companionably at the foot of the bed.

“Hot. How was yours?”

“Not as hot. It’s not so bad on the boat with the ocean breeze. It was hot walking here, but I brought a waterskin.” He tapped the leather skin at his hip, strapped across his broad chest.

“Aetref not with you?”

“Exhausted. We ate, and he went to bed, and I came here.”

I watched this scene from the table, and Tanuvia went to her room with her candle and blew it out, then lay on her bed in her clothes. She left the door ajar but didn’t open the window. Monitoring her vital signs, I wasn’t surprised when she fell asleep.

“Is there anything you need while I’m here?” Gem asked the elder man.

“Could you check on Tanuvia? She had a rough day. She’s not really well enough to be up and around, but what can she do?”

“That’s why I’m here. To check on you both. If there’s nothing else you want, I’ll look in on her.”

Fluttering in, I landed on Bragi’s chair and turned one oil-black eye to Gem, glaring. She’s asleep because she’s weary. Too weary to live. Too weary to die. She’s strung out, ready-to-drop, bone-weary, dead-tired, sick-and-tired, dog-tired, burnt out, heartsore, and footsore, knocked out, beat, and beaten. If she rises from that bed tomorrow, I’ll consider it a heroic act of the strongest woman I’ve ever known. Please don’t wake her. I beg you. Gem, not even you can raise the dead.

Gem covered his face with his hands, rubbed his forehead, and sighed, the image of despondency. “How do I help her, Muninn?”

I wish I knew. I’m afraid you have too many of your own problems to help anyone but yourself. Since I don’t know what those are, I can’t say for sure. All I can do is warn you that Tanuvia is creeping toward an edge over which she may fall. After considering all variables, I don’t see any other possible outcomes.

Bragi cried out in anguish. “Nai!”

“I won’t allow that,” Gem said.

You may not have the power to change it. What everyone has forgotten is that Tanuvia bears the weight of the world on her shoulders. You have your troubles, but she has hers and the world’s, as well. You, the men, expect her to honor the issue and womb, and she’s tried to do that, to be goddess, but who is her god? Who?

“I never forget she’s a woman,” Gem said. “It haunts my dreams.”

Your dreams are not enough for a flesh and blood woman. They don’t ease her labor or the burden she carries. Better if you do not come here, Gem, to remind her what she lost.

“I won’t stay away.”

Another man said the same thing to her the night before he raped her. I begin to understand what it means to be goddess, but I have yet to see what it means to be god. When I have collected Tanuvia’s story, I will call it The Lonely Goddess, and I will close it with her epitaph, “She gave all she was.”

Bragi sobbed. “It’s true. She’s given all she is, my little girl. She has no more to give. Two years keeping us both alive and now this. She’s done. She and I are both done. Maybe if she didn’t have to care for me…”

“Nai!” Gem exclaimed in horror. He leaped to the head of the bed and clasped the gray-haired man in his brawny embrace. “Bragi! Don’t say such things! I’m not done, and I’m here! I can help!”

“You’re a good man, Gem, and I thank you and Aetref for what you’ve done, but Muninn is right. You have your own troubles.”

“Nai, nai, nai…” Gem stood, shaking his head. “It doesn’t end here. I can’t let it.” He lifted his gaze to Bragi’s and held his eyes. “Listen. I’m taking light to the barn to work on that chair. I may not finish tonight, but I’ll be back again the next night. And I won’t stop coming back. That’s how it will be. Will you help me help Tanuvia? I’ll come earlier tomorrow night, straight from the docks. I’ll eat here with you and Tanuvia.”

“What about Aetref? You’re going to leave him alone every night?”

“Aetref is twenty years old, not a boy whose hand needs holding by his brother-in-law, and, besides, I’m with him on the boat all day from before dawn. It’s not as if I don’t see him. When we come home, he collapses on his bed and sleeps. Are you going to let me help or not?”

“How can I refuse help to save my daughter?”

“Good.” Gem smiled. His pale eyes had darkened under a low brow but lit again as hope lightened his features.

“It won’t be long until you’re free to move around the cottage, even go in the yard. Not long at all!”

With that promise, he sprinted through the door with candle in hand, but I squawked, Gem!

He wheeled. “What?”

Open Tanuvia’s window. She closed it because she was scared of the face she sees, but she’s asleep now, and it’s hot in her room.

“The face?”

Grantham’s face. He talked to her through the window the night before he attacked. She’s afraid of the window now because she sees his face.

“God and goddess, how much must she bear?”

Just open it for her. I can’t, and Bragi can’t. Please.

“I’ll go now, and I won’t wake her.”

Thank you.

 

Continue Reading, Chapter 20

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

3 thoughts on “Chapter 19: How Much Must She Bear?

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