Tanuvia hadn’t been to Ruski to sell vegetables since the attack. In her plots, peppers ripened past their prime. More okra came in than she and her father could dry and store. Cucumbers, melons, and squash went unharvested on their vines. She continued to water and weed, and she picked what was needed to eat and preserve but never enough for a wagon load, and the food would shortly go to waste if not gathered. Yet, she was silent and took no action while the days began to cool, one after the other.
In the evenings, Gem would arrive, sometimes with a fish for supper, and Tanuvia would leave the plots to greet him in the lane. After supper, they walked while holding hands and talked, but never about the north. They spoke of the sea, which Gem had come to love, or what Aetref was doing, which was not much except playing his lute once every span at the tavern. They talked of Bragi, the animals he carved, or some new device he’d contrived to improve his mobility. They talked happily of the cooling weather and how pleasant it was now in the evening to walk the lane in the dark under the trees.
Gem, in love as he was, couldn’t refrain from comparing Tanuvia’s loveliness to the starlight overhead and her voice to the night breeze. My presence would have spoiled these moments, and I always kept to the trees well out of sight. Though they might have suspected, they had no proof.
When they reached that break in the trees where the sky opened above, they paused one evening as they always did, Gem gazing down on the woman with whom he was more and more deeply in love, and she looking up with stars in her eyes.
“I have a free day tomorrow, Curly. Would you like me to help you take a load to Ruski?”
Perhaps, like me, she hadn’t imagined Gem might notice her lapse or the plots burgeoning with the harvest. Still, he walked by each day on his way to the house and need be dull not to notice the rows and rows of colorful squashes and melons going to waste.
“Is that a no or a yes?”
“It’s an oh.”
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
She dropped her eyes. “I’m worried about what I’ll find there. How many people know what happened? To Grantham? Will they look at me with pity?”
“You should have talked to me before, Curly. I could have told you these things.”
“I didn’t want to think about it.”
“Well, I wish I’d known, and I wish you could be more open with me. How am I supposed to be open with you if you can’t be?”
She raised her gaze. “Can you tell me now?”
“I can. Grantham had Mam, Da, and a sister in town, and they know what he did. Warden Jain explained. They grieve but are also ashamed. They wanted to reach out to you, but the Warden told them to keep away. They’ve kept it quiet because of their shame, though I imagine a few people who knew him have heard something or other. In general, it’s not well-known if that’s what you fear, and no one will look at you any differently at the market.”
“Oh, Gem, I wish I’d said something sooner.”
“Well, that’s just what I said, too, isn’t it? Haven’t we agreed to look at life together now? How will we know if we can do that as partners if you won’t let me stand by your side?”
“You’re right, of course, and I want to stand by you, as well, when you’re ready to let me. Do you think you are?” At his hesitation, Tanuvia clasped his forearm. “It’s alright. I know how hard it can be.”
“Nai, you’re right. I asked you to open up to me, and I’m not doing the same. I’m keeping a secret because I’m afraid.”
“I might know what it is, Gem. Would that help you tell me?”
“Nai! I wish you didn’t ever have to know!”
As if her small hand could steady him, she gripped the sinews of his upper arm. “Don’t be afraid. I’m here.”
“How can you be so brave after what you’ve been through? You shame me.”
“There’s no shame between you and me, Gem. Is it what I think? Did—?”
“Curly! Don’t say it!”
“Alright. I won’t say another word. Do you want to walk back to the house now?”
He nodded numbly, and she dropped his arm to lace her small fingers through his. At the front door, they paused again, lifted their hands and pressed their palms forward and together as they did every night.
“I’ll be here in the morning when you wake, Curly.”
“I look forward to it.”