Gem worked on the chair three hours, slept for four, grabbed cheese, bread, and water from the house, and started walking to Ruski before sunrise.
Tanuvia woke at light and began another day with one variation, she soaked in a sitz bath of mineral salts for fifteen minutes. It was all the time she could spare before returning to her routine of labor and fear.
Bragi told her how proud he was when she overcame the barn door to bring the milk, and she tried to smile. As she faced the monotonous rows with a hoe, the smile faded, and she worked. Towards evening, as Tanuvia was crossing the yard after putting Bumble to bed, Gem appeared as promised.
She stopped wearily and watched warily while Gem’s long strides took him quickly to her side. His black hair was sleek with sweat, his boots dusty, but his gray eyes smiled. “How are you this evening, Curly?”
Tanuvia tilted her head to peer from under her wide brim. “Gem?”
“Is it anyone else? Your father invited me for supper.”
He offered his arm as escort into the house, and Tanuvia seemed glad to lean after a long day. Too young to sigh so deeply, Tanuvia waited at the table as Gem pumped water. On bended knee, while Bragi looked on through his door, Gem applied comfrey to Tanuvia’s bruises, calendula ointment to the scrapes on her knees and elbows, and wound her head with clean linen.
“What should we have for dinner tonight, Curly?” he asked.
“I was going to boil beans.”
“How about if we toss in some of the ham?”
“Ham and beans?”
“And cornbread,” Gem said.
“The cornbread you made before was good.”
Bragi shouted from his room, “It was good, but not as good as yours, Tanuvia!”
Gem frowned and looked toward the door behind which Bragi was bound. In two strides, the young man was at the doorway. “Sir, I need you out here at the table. You can set the plates, slice the ham, mix the cornbread. Are you willing?”
“Good.” Gem strode in, swooped Bragi up in his stout arms and deposited him on the bed. “I’ll be back for you. Just moving your chair first.”
In a few minutes, Bragi was elbow-deep in preparations for supper, and Gem was free to build a fire. Tanuvia was ordered to the rocking chair, where she drank milk Gem drew from the double-walled urns set in the coldbox below the floor. The cool cup perspired in the heat.
“How’s your milk, Tanuvia?”
“It’s good, Da. Would you like a cup?”
“Later. With supper. Enjoy your milk.”
“I feel odd sitting here without working.”
“You worked all day. Why do you have to work all night, too?”
“Because it needs to be done?”
“It’s getting done, so there you are.”
Gem chuckled at the man. “What animal did you carve today, Bragi?”
“I started a mare for the stallion. She’ll stand, resting one leg. I planned to carve her running at first, but then thought it would be nice if she had a foal.”
“And you wanted her to nurse the young one?”
“That was my thought.”
“There’d be a market in Ruski for your carvings. Have you ever thought of selling them?”
“I might someday, but this set is for Tanuvia’s firstborn.”
“A lucky child to have a granddad to carve such wondrous toys.”
Tanuvia sat silent while they discussed her future and a baby, and I wondered what she thought as she drank her milk and rocked. No, I worried what she thought.
After dinner, Gem washed, and Bragi dried. Tanuvia insisted she put away, because she didn’t like her dishes in disarray. Gem carried Bragi to bed and brought the older man a candle so he might carve a while on the mare before he slept.
“Well, I’m off to the barn,” Gem said, and Bragi wished him a good night. He paused beside Tanuvia, sweeping up scattered ashes.
“Is there anything you need before I go?”
She leaned on the broom and looked up to meet his eyes. “I need to know if you’re coming again tomorrow.”
“I told your father I am and every night after as long as he’ll have me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Will you trust I care what happens to you and your father?”
“How can I trust anything?”
“That’s a good question, and the only answer I have is the one I’m discovering. Trust is something you gain by giving.”
“You want me to trust you? When you haven’t given me yours?”
“I’m trying. It’s why I’m here.”
“You don’t fool me, Gem.”
“Please. Not so fast.”
Though I’d listened to their talk all evening from the kitchen windowsill, it seemed I’d only caught the last few lines of a conversation running for years. I replayed my dialog record back two spans and found no threads to connect. Whatever these two young people were talking about, it was all in their heads. Or their hearts.
“Just to be clear. I’ll expect you for dinner tomorrow?”
“I’ll bring a sparling. You like fish?”
“Da and I love fish, but we don’t have it often, not like we once did.”
Gem smiled then his eyes passed over the bruise on her cheek, and his smile dimmed. “If you need me, I’ll be in the barn. Try to get some sleep, Curly. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
After he left, Tanuvia’s shoulders did not slump as low. Though still weary, she did not drag so hopelessly on the handle of the pump while filling her pail with water.
“Da, I’m going to my room for a wash!”
“Come give me a kiss before bed!”
She went and kissed him. Before she could withdraw, he clutched her hand with his solid grip and looked her in the eyes. “What did Gem say out there?”
“He said he’s bringing a fish for dinner tomorrow night.”
“You love fish.”
“I do, Da.”
“I still do, Da, but he’s been hurt in the past, and I’m…I don’t know if he can love me the way I am.”
“The way you are is just right, and anyone could love you.”
“Maybe, Da. I’m going to wash and go to bed.”
“Alright, daughter. Sleep well tonight.”
Tanuvia shut her window, latched it, and washed with the door closed in the dark. I chose to remain with her though I despised being trapped in the room. She was afraid to have the doors open, and I was afraid to have them closed. What a pair we were.
As she sprawled naked on her back, I perched on her footrail and wondered if she lay the same way in winter. Her breathing and heart rate indicated she was awake in the dark.
It was late when she spoke. “Muninn, I keep seeing his face.”
I’m sorry, Tanuvia. Maybe a cup of chamomile tea would help you sleep.
“I have laudanum in the cupboard from when I broke my arm when I was ten. I’ve thought about taking some to sleep.”
I advise against it. It’s highly addictive, especially for someone who is emotionally compromised.
“You don’t know what it’s like. I hear him breathing at my ear. He was fevered. It excited him to hurt me, to overpower me.”
I’m not sure it’s good for you to talk like this, Tanuvia.
“I need to tell someone. I can’t keep this inside. I can’t tell Da because it would hurt him too much. I need the laudanum to sleep.”
I won’t let you, so stop thinking about it. Let’s make an agreement. If you forget the laudanum, I’ll listen to these thoughts keeping you awake.
“That may help.” Her bed creaked as she rolled to her side. Though a sturdy little bed, the dry wood joints sometimes rubbed.
Her heart rate increased. “It hurt, Muninn, and still does. I’m worried I’ll never enjoy a man or have a consort because I’m too afraid.”
Time, Tanuvia. Let yourself heal. Not in this realm, but in others I’ve visited, I’ve known women who later found lovers they enjoyed.
“That gives me hope, Muninn. Thank you.”
You’re welcome. Do you think you can sleep now?
“I’ll try again. Can we talk tomorrow night?” She rolled back and spread her legs, releasing a fragrance like the woods after a spring rain. I speculated about fairy DNA in her genetic makeup and made a note to collect samples for comparative analysis.
We have an agreement, and I intend to honor it. Will you?
“Ai. I won’t take the laudanum.”
Thank you. Would you like to hear the ocean waves while you try to sleep?
No trouble at all. I can produce almost any sound you like. Would you prefer wind in the trees?
“The ocean, please.”
I initiated a long-playing recording of the ocean waves from a distant realm she’d never visit, a place beyond her wildest imagination, but waves were waves with characteristic properties. She couldn’t distinguish these waves from those of the Ruski shoreline. I lowered my head, hunched my shoulders, and brooded.
If you are enjoying this story, you might like more of my stories at Muninn’s Memories.