The trading trip went well. Gem and Tanuvia returned with an empty wagon and a few more coins for Tanuvia’s jar. Bragi cooked a chicken Tanuvia had purchased, and they ate potatoes, yellow squash, and milk for supper. Afterward, when dishes were dried and put away, Tanuvia settled in the rocking chair. Gem brewed mint tea, and they talked a while in fine spirits.
“Well, hadn’t you two better go for your walk? Don’t let an old man keep you from your courting.”
“Da, you’re not old!”
“Thirty-six and gray already! You two go on. I want to put some details on my mare. She’s nearly done.”
After analysis of Bragi’s medical statistics, I’d estimated his age as fifty-one. This new information indicated just how severely grief and Bragi’s infirmity had prematurely aged a relatively young man. Before Gem, Bragi might have lived all those remaining decades bound to that chair, trapped in his room, limited to tasks only his slightly-built daughter could bring him to perform, a heart-breaking fate.
But then, Tanuvia, by no rational means, recognized something in Gem, which she knew, again for no logical reason, was life-changing. In her wisdom, strange as it might seem to me, she’d conquered her fears to woo him, and the results were those good changes they’d wrought together.
If only the Goodfolk goddess had been left unmolested to shape destiny. Now, the prognostication software I applied predicted Gem and Tanuvia’s relationship ended unhappily. Despite my aversion to the role, I’d become a stormcrow.
Gem rose and offered Tanuvia a hand. She rocked forward, leaving her cup for her father to wash, and joined Gem to walk in the night, courting.
“He loves you, you know,” Tanuvia said.
“I love him, too, Curly. He’s a strong, clever, and merry man. I admire him immensely.”
They walked a while longer without talking, but a strange excitement filled the air around them, a phenomenon so real I detected ionic fluctuations and the generation of ozone. The point where their hands met was ten degrees higher than body temperature. If either had been that hot alone, the fever would have killed them.
They stopped in that worn spot on the path where the moon was visible when shining and stars twinkling when the sky was not as clouded as tonight.
“I’d like…” She rested her hand on his forearm, and he started again. “I’d like to… Nai, I can’t do it like this.” He went to one knee, grasped her hand in both his, and looked up.
“Curly? May I kiss you?”
What images came to her mind when she envisioned the powerful man leaning to share that intimacy? What would he expect? Would they be aroused? Would it frighten her? Him? I waited for her answer with as much painful anticipation as Gem did.
“What would it mean, Gem?
“I’m not sure. I just want to do it.”
It was so like them both. Everything was complicated for Tanuvia and simple for Gem.
“It wouldn’t mean you could again. I mean, not just whenever you wanted.”
“I understand. If you say yes, it’s just this one time. After, I’d ask your permission just the same.”
“Alright then. Just once. But don’t stand up.”
“I’ll stay right here as you like.”
“And I can kiss you?”
“Ai, any way you like.”
Tanuvia took a single step, closing the small distance between them. A slight angle of her head, and her mouth breathed against his lips. Eyes closed, she pressed. A shock passed through Gem’s large frame as if he was a rod and she, the lightning. Stepping back, she opened her eyes and smiled.
“Thank you,” he breathed.
“Would you like to walk on with me?”
“I would.” Side-by-side, they clasped hands and continued their walk along the lane.
I considered revealing my presence to warn them of imminent rain, but decided they’d prefer rain to knowing I’d watched them kiss. The first drops fell as they reached the end of the lane, the farthest point on their nightly walks.
Tanuvia squawked. Trees dipped and swayed before the wind as they ran. The rain began fitfully, became a sprinkle, a shower, and finally a downpour. Under a clouded night sky, the path lay dark, muddy, and long. Tanuvia clung to Gem’s hand, and he helped her along against the growing storm.
The candle Bragi had left burning for their return lighted the final burst of their race. Soaked and windblown, they sprinted into the house and dripped water on the floor. Gem laughed aloud, and Tanuvia scolded because he might wake her father.
Gem only laughed again. “Curly, this was the best day and night of my life. Tonight, I’ll sleep better than I ever have—or the worst! I don’t know which yet!”
“You’re being silly, Gem!” Though she scolded, she grinned while fetching towels to dry their hair.
Before she would let him go, Tanuvia loaned him a raincape for the walk across the yard to the barn. Nose crinkled and eyes bright with lingering amusement at Gem’s giddy mood, she watched him disappear into the rainy night from her doorway.
While pumping water to fill her pail for a bath, she continued smiling as if mulling the memories of their walk, that exceptional kiss, their frantic run in the rain, and the memory of Gem filling the house with his laughter, a promise of what their life together could be. If only.
As she approached her bedroom door, the water bucket seemed to grow heavy. Her shoulder drooped, footsteps slowed, and her smile vanished like a star behind a cloud.
Inside, she locked the shutters on her window and called from her room. “Muninn, aren’t you coming?”
Dropping from the rafter where I’d watched the suitors towel off and Gem depart, I alighted on her footrail. She locked her door, arranged her bath items, and blew out the candle to bathe in the dark just as she’d done every night since she was raped. Fumbling for her bed, she lay on her back and listened, I suppose, to the rain.
You’ve locked me in again, Tanuvia.
“Can’t you stay? Just tonight?”
I could, but I wouldn’t like it.
“At least talk to me for a while.”
I can do that as long as you don’t fall asleep. If she did, I’d wake her.
She plunged right in. “Gem kissed me. It wasn’t like any kiss I ever had.” I waited; she obviously wanted to tell me about it. “I never had a kiss from a lover like that. Gem’s kiss was like Da’s but with thunder. Do you think Gem made it rain?”
Judging by what I’d recorded from a distance, Gem had been rocked to his core by that kiss but not sexually aroused. Without any sophisticated predictive programs, Tanuvia had read him perfectly, proving again her intuition equaled or surpassed my programming.
I don’t think he made the rain, Tanuvia. And you? How did you feel?
I cawed, mimicking laughter. How does honey feel?
“Liquid and glowing.”
That’s nice. Will you open the door now?
“Oh, Muninn. You’re such a scaredy-cat.”
After releasing me from the room, she locked her door, and I passed the night in the rafters, brooding.