Fantasy · Fiction · Novel · Serial

Chapter 22: Independent

Dawn broke cooler than it had in over a moon. Gem was already gone. The small sounds of Bragi’s waking drifted to my perch, the creak of his bed, the whiz in his jug. Then a new sound drifted across the quiet room, the whirr and whisper of wheels as Bragi leaned from his bed to bring his rolling chair into position. A few minutes of effort later, Bragi appeared, wheeling himself through his door.

In a flutter of synthetic, black wings, I flew to the table and cawed excitedly. Brave day, Bragi.

“Brave day, my friend, Muninn.”

Should I fly to the shelf where the firesteel is kept and bring you the tool?

“That would be useful. I’ll lay the firewood and we’ll soon have porridge for my daughter.”

Very good. I believe that tool needs a new home, as well. Perhaps lower down where the fire irons are kept.

“We’ll leave it there when I’m done.”

One item after another, as I helped Bragi prepare breakfast, Tanuvia’s tidy household was rearranged to increase Bragi’s independence. With his formidable torso strength, he was capable of great feats from the chair, and Gem had provided a leather strap to cross his abdomen to assist with Bragi’s balance and provide leverage.

Even the pump handle, a few inches too high, yielded to Bragi in his determination to have water for porridge and tea for his daughter. I suggested a ramp.

He had difficulty with the trapdoor on the coldbox in the floor because he could not reach so low. I suggested a type of fork or hook on a long rod by which he could extend his reach either up or down, and his world opened yet another degree.

In the meanwhile, I found a bit of rope, threaded one end around the latch and offered him the ends by which he swung the door open to the box below. Repeating the maneuver with the rope, he fished up a jug of cream with a convenient handle.

And why couldn’t most cups and jugs be fitted to his special needs? Who said the world had to be one way and not the other? Why not a world that could be reached from a chair?

Though much due to Gem’s aid, Bragi embraced his new mobility and threw his heart into building the fullest life imaginable. And hadn’t he always? Carving, churning milk, folding clothes, and cuddling his daughter, everything he could do from that room, he’d done it. All he’d lacked were legs, for which Gem had provided an adequate substitute, and now the possibilities for Bragi were nearly as great as any man who was whole.

Groggy from a long night of nightmares, Tanuvia wambled in from her bedroom on bare feet. Her good eye opened wide as she saw what was done. Bragi had set the table with bowls of warm porridge topped with raisins and fresh peaches, a pot of cold cream ready to pour over the steaming porridge, and steaming cups of rosehip tea while a cool breeze softened the sunlight streaming through the windows.

“Da. You did all this?”

Bragi chuckled. “With a little help from our friend, Muninn. And I have a lot more work to do today. Come have your breakfast while it’s warm.”

Tanuvia dined like a princess while her father doted. They talked of what they might change to make more things possible for Bragi; the cool breeze currently wending through the house; winter coming and the need to preserve food and purchase a ham. After they ate, Bragi refused to let Tanuvia bathe him until he’d washed the dishes.

“Go milk Bumble,” he insisted. “We’ll do it after.”

With her copper pail, she ventured from the house to cross the yard, whereupon I flew ahead and perched on the roof of the barn where I could survey the farm in one sweep of my gaze.

At first, Tanuvia remained enthralled by the wonder of breakfast and the knowledge of her father in charge of washing up. She’d not even washed a cup, and hadn’t known a morning quite like it for over two years.

Bumble lowed, loud and plaintively, and Tanuvia slowed, each step a tentative decision as she approached the barn. She looked about as if seeking a place to flee, then she ran, and the copper pail rolled across the dirt. The front door slammed. From the windowsill, to where I flew from the barn, I watched Bragi stroke his daughter’s hair and his dark gray eyes fill with tears.

“Tanuvia, my jewel, it’s alright. There’s nothing there. It’s only ol’ Bumble wants her milking.”

“Dada,” she sobbed from her knees. “I can’t forget.”

“Nai. I don’t expect you to forget or forgive. All I ask is you don’t let him take your life. Bad enough he stole what he did. Now, look at me.” And he cupped her chin, lifting her head. “You go on and open the door, and Muninn will fly in first.” He looked toward me. “Won’t you, Muninn?”

I cawed.

“And then you go in next and milk poor Bumble. Can you do that?”

“Ai, Da.” She sat back on her heels and wiped her eyes dry with her sleeves. “If Muninn goes first.”

“You’re brave and bright, Tanuvia, and I’m so proud of you. I’ll have these dishes done by the time you’re back, and we’ll have a quick bath, then I’ll do the churning. Do you think you can go now?”

She tried again. Retrieving her pail, she rinsed it at the pump outside, balefully eyed the barn door, and looked up to see if I was flying above. I was, in lazy circles. She scuffed to the door and nudged it aside.

I drifted in to perch on the half-wall of Bumble’s stall and cawed. All clear, Tanuvia.

She peered slowly around the edge of the door like a brownie who’d wandered from the woods, come to steal the cow’s milk, and crept in on boot toes until she could see we really were alone aside from the beasts. I stayed with her as she milked Bumble, and followed her as she set the cow to pasture, and followed her again into the house, where warm water waited in a pail. Her father had assembled soap and washcloths for his bath. In his room, he’d removed his shirt and pants, though how he’d done it, I couldn’t imagine, and he’d draped a sheet across his lap. He was already washing his hairy chest, and his arms were damp.

“Da?”

“Just need you to reach my back,” he said, a euphemism for places he couldn’t feel or reach without her help. When he was rinsed and clothed again, Tanuvia reached for the bucket of soapy water, but Bragi stopped her with a cry of dismay.

“I can get that, girl.”

“Da,” she started to protest, but then smiled and set the bucket back on a chair where he could reach it. “I’ll bring you the milk then.”

“No need, Tanuvia,” he said breezily. “Is it in the house?”

“Ai, it’s by the door.”

“Just leave it. I can churn it out there.”

“Dada. I’m so happy.”  She flung her small form against her father, freshly scrubbed in herbal soap, and gently kissed his cheek. He wrapped his arms around her lithe waist, and he kissed her in turn, and they embraced like sweet-smelling lovers in each other’s arms.

In sequence, Tanuvia’s morning had been filled with wonders, terror, and joy, and she had little time to think of Gem or the hopes and fears he presented. She spent her day at work but with her labors greatly eased, and the sun was not so hot that day, and she’d nearly finished weeding the vines from the rows of potatoes.

Her father prepared their lunch and washed up while Tanuvia took a break in the middle of the day with a cool glass of milk. When suppertime drew nigh, she hadn’t yet left the plots to cook their meal, so I flew down to ask why. She straightened her back and peered contentedly from beneath her wide-brimmed hat.

“Da will get it.”

Continued Reading, Chapter 23

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