The continuation of Rose’s story. ❤
Mouse still pulled at her. Little by little, though, she drew up out of her pain, unfolded from the tight bud she’d made of herself. Witold didn’t talk much. He didn’t need to, and he didn’t press her to either. Little by little Rose opened, and one night, she took Witold, pressed herself up to him in the dark of night and kissed him. He clasped her in big arms and told her he would love her as long as he lived.
She rode. His eyes were gray and gentle when he looked at her, and his rough hands ran up her, and he said she was beautiful. The next morning, after she’d taken care of the cow and the chickens and the shaggy horse, she took the rapier from the top of the cedar chest. In the yard, she showed him what she had been.
The dances came back to her limbs. The forms—she knew them in every inch of her body, muscle, bone, and joint. There was ache, from long disuse, and she needed to practice. But she knew them. And the no-mind was easier to touch, the uncarved block, the mirror without a speck of dust. She felt Mouse, but no mind, no pain. She was with him there, was him there. Tears ran down her smiling face while she danced, Pig to Snake to Puma, all the way from first to last, and her sword flashed in the rising sun. She wore a dead woman’s yellow dress, big on her, tiny pink flowers fairy-scattered, and it clung to her skin when she was through.
“I didn’t know,” he said, his hands knotted at his sides. “Rhi, forgive me.”
She clicked the rapier into its scabbard. “What for?”
“Fuck it. Nothing.” She stripped off the dress and tossed it to the ground. Naked beneath. Feet bare and dirty from dancing in the yard. Muscle beginning to show again, beneath her tan been-outside skin. She knew she was beautiful when she looked down at herself. Muscle. Small breasts, nipped-in waist, open hips. When she felt his eyes on her, she thought goddesses didn’t get looked at this way. “Take your pants off.”
It was good after that. All through the crispy-aired autumn she came back to herself more and more. She started wearing pants and shirts again, even though they didn’t much care for it in town. People in town didn’t much care for her, on account of some religious nutcase said the People were demons of the forest born in the dark under the trees, and ate children and danced with the demons of Hell. If Witold had minded it, she might’ve given him the respect of a dress at least, but he never so much as looked at her breeches sidewise, nor her pointed ears. Each night, he’d hold her in his arms, and every so often he’d say, “Rhi, I’m so proud of you, just for being the way you are.” And it was a good harvest altogether, so forest demons were safe for the moment at least.
Every day, while the treetops turned to glorious flame, while the leaves turned brown on the ground, when snow dusted the yard, and when it heaped up in white mounds, she danced up through the forms and slipped into no-mind like an easy pair of old boots. She ached for Mouse, but he was there for a little while each day, and it was easier to bear, somehow, because she knew she would feel him again. The thread pulled tight, but she could live with it. And she had Witold, who loved her, who asked nothing of her. It made her want to give everything. She loved him too, with the quiet remnants of her heart.
By the time the yard turned to thick black mud, she thought she would stay with him until he died. It wouldn’t be so very long, by her way of thinking. Thirty years? Forty? It was nothing. By the time snowmelt soaked her boots every morning, she knew this time next year there would be a child, a baby with big blue eyes like hers and ears pointed slightly, just so, in between the two of them.
When the leaves poked the tips of their noses from every branch and twig, they loaded up the wagon with good butter and cheeses aged in the warm of the cellar and went into the town. She still didn’t know its name, any name but Witold’s, though she guessed she might’ve paid attention. Their faces all looked more or less the same to her, except for his sharp one, but she helped him sell cheeses and smiled as nice as she could.
They were packing up when she saw them. Rhulan and Tierney—Howling Wolf and Porcupine Quill—poking up and down the muddy main road, where she’d fallen last summer. Rose turned her face from the ruts and tucked deep into her hood. Before now she hadn’t thought of them following her, or of them finding her if they did, but now she realized how stupid that had been. “You don’t belong in this world, Rose.” Hadn’t Turtle himself said so to her the night before they’d burned Mouse’s body? “You should’ve gone with him.” And then, very calm, very smooth, Turtle had explained to her that she needed to lie down with Mouse and let his pyre eat her flesh.
Well. The agony Rose suffered made her a lot of things, but she was nobody’s sap. She lit out of there like her ass was on fire. It would’ve been if she stayed. She didn’t want a thing to do with the Musicians anymore. Best they didn’t know she was alive and using the dances. Best they didn’t know she went to Mouse in no-mind. Best they lost the trail here.
Next moment, they got close to her and Witold sitting on the wagon seat, and stopped Witold flicking the reins. “Good man,” Wolf said, “we’re looking for an old friend. Have you seen her?” And he sang a Word of power, stretching out his hand. An image of Rose formed above his palm, drizzling multicolored sparkles. The real Rose, on the seat, went cold and stiff as a dead cat.
“No sir, I don’t recall,” said Witold. “Maybe last summer she came through, but I don’t know for certain.”
“Think,” said Wolf, and there was power in his voice, but Witold slapped the reins and called to the mule, and they ground away. Rose felt eyes at the rear. Witold said not a word, and she was grateful. But she pressed her hand over the base of her belly all the rattling way home.
(to be concluded next week!)