The emotional intricacies for Tanuvia went beyond the capacity of my programs to elucidate. Repeatedly, I came upon unsolvable dilemmas with null products, solutions that did not exist. How could Tanuvia contemplate such irrationalities and not be driven mad?
If she adopted Gem’s solution, she’d wonder and worry all her life if she had burdened the man she loved with a child he despised; if he’d done it out of pity; if she’d allowed him to court, not out of love, but because she was afraid to raise the child alone.
For Gem… Well, he was a man; life was simpler. In order to remain in Tanuvia’s life, he’d simply raise her child as his own. Meanwhile, as he waited for her answer, he lent his abundant strength where she allowed.
The days went by, and Bragi’s surroundings were transformed. Items were no longer stored on the upper shelf of the cupboard. A basket was attached under the seat of his chair, where he could keep tools at hand, saving him a great deal of wheeling back and forth. He had a rod with a hook and kept a length of rope in his basket.
After building a ramp to reach the water pump more effectively, he built another for the front door, eliminating the minor barrier of the threshold. Now, he wheeled into the yard with ease and back. At his request, Tanuvia lowered the clothesline behind the house so he could hang the laundry to dry.
One morning, when his daughter woke, Bragi had already milked Bumble, had breakfast on the table, and was churning milk while waiting for Tanuvia to join him.
Gem continued to walk over an hour each way between Ruski and the farm, putting in a full day’s work on the boat, arriving in time for supper with Bragi and Tanuvia, and sleeping in the loft. Each evening,Tanuvia made him pay rent by telling her something about his life in the north. She learned he had the looks and dark coloring of his father, but his mother had shaped him. Growing up, he’d learned basic carpentry from her, but his love was outside with the sheep. His favorite time of year was the lambing, and he’d dreamed of his own flock someday.
“I would have been happy to be a simple shepherd,” he said, and I never heard a man speak with more certainty. I planned to title my story The Lonely Goddess but now thought of naming the file The Farmer’s Daughter and the Shepherd.
One evening, Tanuvia asked Gem if he’d ever kissed a girl, but his reply was to avert his eyes and remain silent.
Bragi laid his hand over his daughter’s on the arm of the rocking chair, a gentle warning, but she asked Gem again. “Never?”
At her prodding, he stood. “I should go to the barn for the night. Thank you for supper, Bragi.”
After Gem left, Bragi scolded her. “You ought nought to have pushed. After what you’ve been through, you should understand some things can hurt a long time.”
Tanuvia left the chair rocking as she hurried to her room in tears. Bragi sent me through the window to stay with her while he pumped and heated water for her bath, a task she usually did herself. Unable to refuse her father’s kindness when he appeared with the bucket, she finally gave up her weeping and thanked him. Bragi, satisfied all was well again, went to bed.
Tanuvia locked her door, blew out the candle, stripped in the dark, and bathed in fear someone might look in, invade her privacy, and violate her sanctity. Habits sustained and fears endured.
Tanuvia, open the door for me before you fall asleep.
“You’re safe in here.”
You know I don’t like to be trapped.
Groggily, she rose naked from her bed, and I was lifting my wings on the verge of flight when alerted by a chemical sensor. I settled my wings against my sides, and she scolded me from behind the door where she hid.
“Hurry up, Muninn. I want to go to bed.”
Tanuvia, shut the door.
“What? You just told me to open it. You made me get up.”
Shut the door and light a lamp.
She clicked her tongue in irritation, but shut the door and fumbled for a match. Once the room was lit, I fluttered to her headrail and then to her mattress. Taking a corner of her sheet in my beak, I flew to the corner of the room, revealing the linen below, freshly spotted with blood. Dropping the sheet, I returned to the rail at the foot of the bed.
It’s not from injury. I can tell the difference.
She stared at the stain then touched herself in a delicate gesture like a hummingbird at a bloom, and her fingers came up red in the lamplight.
“I…I…should…” Her voice quavered like the plucked string of a lute.
You can open the door for me now. I’ll leave you alone to wash.
“Thank you, Muninn.”
In the rafters for the night, I entered the fresh data into tired algorithms, too many insufficient for this particular story, and brooded, awaiting outcomes.
Bragi was milking Bumble every morning now, and Tanuvia was spared the daily trauma of the barn door and the cow’s lowing. When she woke, she pumped water, putting off the breakfast her father offered, and took the pail to her room.
Don’t worry. She’s fine. She’ll be out soon.
“What are you two up to?”
Nothing that will displease you, Bragi, my friend. But this is Tanuvia’s business, none of mine.
She was not long in her room and came out with her sheet wadded in her arm.
“I’ll wash that for you,” Bragi said. “Come eat.”
“Da, I can wash it.”
“Ah, well, either way. Come eat first.”
“Da, I’ll only be a minute.”
“It takes more than a minute to wash and rinse sheets. Why are you giving me fits this morning, girl? Come eat the breakfast I worked since dawn to cook for you.”
Tanuvia sighed and left the sheet floating in a tub of soapy water.
“What are your plans today, daughter?”
“Hoe the okra and repair the channel before pumping water for those rows. What about you, Da?”
“I’m going to cut and spread the okra to dry that you harvested yesterday, and I’m going to wash your sheet, and then I may work on the mare for the barnyard set.”
“Da! I’ll wash the sheet.”
“I’ve got washing in my room. I’ll do it all together.”
Tanuvia looked sullen and ate her toast with butter and jam and sipped her tea, washing it down, then she looked at her father, who was watching her.
“I’m right here, Tanuvia.”
“I have to ask you something.”
“Still right here, daughter.” He raised his bristled gray eyebrows.
“Would you give your blessing to Gem to court me?”
She frowned, and her lips pressed tightly in a thin, pink line.
“Would you rather I wouldn’t?” he asked.
“Nai, I just…last night, I thought things were simpler, and I thought so this morning, but now I think about it again, I’m not sure. There’s still me.”
“Still you? Well, ai, there you are, still you. What are you going to do about it?”
She touched her face with the palm of her hand. The bruise had faded to a faint, yellow stain. The scrapes on her knees and elbows had healed, and the cut on her temple was now a thin, white scar. She no longer walked with a limp and no longer feared bearing the child of her rapist. But she still latched the shutters every night and undressed in the dark.
A tear welled up in her eye, and Bragi grasped her shoulder in alarm. “Tanuvia? What’s wrong?”
She drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Da, there’s no baby.”
His head snapped toward the tub with the sheet. When he looked back, he swiped the tear from her cheek. “I’m glad, Tanuvia. Why are you crying?”
“Because I have to tell Gem about this, and he’ll ask to court again, and I have to refuse him again. That’s why I’m crying, Da.”
“Then don’t refuse him.”
“I wish it was that simple. I truly do.”
“Daughter, you can’t give up on life now. You have a chance to be happy with a man you love. Do you know how incredibly rare that is?”
“I know, Da, and I’m wretched. What do I do?”
“You give life a chance. Tell Gem your news, and free him from his silence, and if he asks you to court, tell him he has your blessing and mine. You’re not under any obligation to ask him as consort, Tanuvia. That’s the whole point of courting, to be sure you’ll be happy together your whole lives long, to be sure you don’t say the vows, profound and binding, unless you’re absolutely sure you’ll honor them.”
“I’ll think about it, Da.”