Gem was up before dawn as usual. The rain had stopped in the night, and I joined him as soon as he woke. After relieving himself by the side of the barn in the dark, he gave me his message for Aetref.
“Say I found my heart’s ease.”
Not just tell him Tanuvia asked you to be her consort?
“Ai, but be sure he knows I’m at peace.”
Does this have something to do with your secret?
“Just take the message, Muninn!”
I tapped on Aetref’s window to wake him. He opened the shutter, and I fluttered in to perch on a bedpost. The ramshackle house was as filthy and barren as before. He lit a candle and sat on his bed.
“What are you doing here? Is Tanuvia alright? Bragi? Gem?”
Everyone is fine. Gem sent me to tell you he wouldn’t be working today. He’s building a bed for Tanuvia. Staring in open-mouthed silence, Aetref ran his hand through his pale hair. Furthermore, he told me to tell you he’s at peace, that he’s found his heart’s ease.
“I need to talk to him.”
Do you have a message for me to take back?
“Tell him I’ll come to the farm tonight.”
On their first night together as consorts?
“Hmm, good point. Not tonight then, but soon.”
Aetref, will you tell me something? Will Gem’s secret harm Tanuvia?
“Harm her? Nai. Distress her? It will.”
Can you tell me what it is?
“I can’t. Not unless Gem allows.”
Let me put it bluntly. Tanuvia believes he was raped.
“I can only tell you this kind of thing happens in the north.”
Flying to a window to bypass Bragi and Tanuvia, I found Gem alone in Tanuvia’s room, tearing her bedframe apart, and delivered Aetref’s message.
Aetref knows. He’s coming here soon to speak with you.
“Thank you, Muninn.”
How goes the work?
“Well, this little bed was well made, Bragi’s craftsmanship, and I’ve had a hard time because I was trying not to destroy it. We may want it again, and I only want to break it down small enough to get the pieces through the door.”
Use it again?
Grinning, Gem stood straight to look at me, perched on the windowsill. “The same way Bragi used it.”
I cawed loudly, fluttered my wings, and flew off, leaving him chuckling. He anticipated children with Tanuvia, and who was I to point out the obvious difficulties no one else seemed to expect?
In taking my message to Ruski, I’d missed the moment when Bragi learned Tanuvia had asked Gem to be her consort, and the omission was a dissatisfying gap in my story. After delivering Aetref’s message, I found Bragi in his customized workshop. These days, when not cooking and cleaning, he spent much of his time there, tinkering. With a window open wide, he worked at a table, replacing the splintered, wooden handle of a shovel.
“You don’t want to shave the shaft too thin,” he said, explaining. “It has to fit tight into the haft of the blade.”
How do you make the hole for the peg?
He set down his planer and took up his hooked pole. Deftly, he reached above on the wall to lift down a hand drill.
“This. It was the first tool I bought after we moved here. Tanny and I built the cottage and barn with this drill, and I finished the inside while she broke ground on the gardens. Tanny was the farmer, you know. I was just her muscle.”
Like Tanuvia and Gem?
He grinned widely. “Just like.”
Bragi, do you think this might have been a little sudden?
You know Tanuvia still shutters her window at night?
“Ai. I hear her lock her bedroom door.”
You don’t think that’s a problem?
“Gem’ll see to it. Don’t worry. Where there’s love, a way will be found. Besides, who says they have to consummate right away? They’ve got the rest of their lives.”
Illogical. Probabilities indicate an unsuccessful pairing. They may have committed to a consortship barren of children.
“Pfft! Apparently, you’ve never been in love, friend raven.”
And apparently he didn’t know the nature of Gem’s secrets. How was Gem going to “see to it” when he could not even reveal to Tanuvia what had happened to him? Not that she didn’t know, but that was beside the point.
Gem was a damaged man, and I didn’t think he could be cured by a kiss, no matter how ground-shaking it might have been. Worse, to my calculating mind, was the harm he might do Tanuvia. What happened to Gem was years old. The tragedy locking Tanuvia in her room at night was barely thirty days past. To her, the face was real enough, and she could not remove this ghoul in the window by reason alone. It was a hallucination, plain and simple, meaning she was not a well woman, and the idea she’d try to share intimacy with Gem horrified me.
By mid-afternoon, the bed was installed in Tanuvia’s room, and Gem sought Bragi’s approval.
“Is it heavy enough?” Bragi set the brake he’d added to his chair, gripped the handrail of the new bed, and shoved. The bed didn’t budge. “I think you can show her,” Bragi said, giving his blessing.
I cawed. Wait! They both looked at me. You haven’t even dressed it!
Bragi and Gem whipped their heads around to stare at each other. Their eyebrows shot up, and Bragi released the brake on his chair with a jerk. Gem hurried out, presumably to fetch linens from the cabinet. Men. What would Tanuvia have thought if I hadn’t caught Gem’s glaring error and she’d come in to a bare mattress? Pathetic.