The Thread of Life, Part 3

The conclusion to the short story about Rose Daughter.

Sort of. 😉

*

“Figure you ran off for a reason,” was all he said when she asked about it at supper.

“We should go,” she said. “Tonight. Right after supper.”

Witold’s broad shoulders lifted and fell, like they did when a fox got in with the chickens or the cow gave less than expected. “I can’t go, Rhi. This is my land.”

“They’ll find me.”

He gave his same nothing-to-be-done shrug and wiped his plate clean with johnnycake.

Rose stared at her full plate of beans and bacon, crumbling her own johnnycake into finer and finer bits. “I’m pregnant,” she said.

“All the more reason, then.” He reached across the table and put one of his hands, so big, over hers where they played with the johnnycake. He stilled her fidgeting. “Our child has a right to this place,” he said, and there was a look in his gray eyes that stilled the wild feeling in her chest. He must have seen her give in, because he smiled.

That night she made love with him, though she was tired from the long day. She wished she could say it had been something special, but it was very ordinary, all told. She guessed that in itself was special: that between them there was ordinary, and it was pleasant for both of them, and satisfying. All the same, she lay awake afterward, embraced in arms thickened by work. Every time her eyes fell shut, some tiny scuttling noise or the creak of the gate in the wind had them springing open again.

Eventually she gave up, slipped out of his heavy, limp hold, and took her sword from the chest. She opened the hatch, so quiet, and climbed down into the cellar so she could have light. Down among the cheeses, she danced the forms again and again, watching her shadow play over the shelves and looking for the comfort of no-mind. She knew they would come for her. It was only a matter of time.

Wasn’t long, as it happened. Next day noon, Wolf and Porcupine walked down the road and stood at the gate. Mud spattered clear up to their knees, patches of dirt on their brown boots and the legs of their trousers. Rose was in the yard just then, taking a barrow full of dirty straw to the midden. She wore her sword, at least. She didn’t want to die, not now, not really ever. Wolf tried to catch her eye; he’d lay a charm on her if she wasn’t careful, and talk her right onto Porcupine’s blade. “Rose Daughter,” he said gently. “Do you really want to live this way? All alone, with no Wild Mouse to love you?”

“I don’t need Mouse to love me,” she said. “He did, and he does, and I’ll always feel the same. But I don’t need him to live.”

“He’d die all over again to hear your talk.”

“You don’t know shit about Mouse.” She wouldn’t look at Wolf, no matter how bad she wanted to challenge him with a stare. “Leave me be, the both of you. I’m not hurting anything.”

Porcupine reached over the gate. Rose’s sword came hissing out.

“Don’t do it,” she told him, and when he lifted the latch anyway, she leapt forward. But the thing was done, his hand away before she reached him, and her jab parted only air. He brought his sword around just in time to knock hers aside.

Wolf began to cast. Rose jabbed out again and again, for Porcupine’s jugular, his eyes, his groin, quick-time. He pinked her once, on her hip, which could’ve been a disaster were she slower. She pinked him too, nearly got her blade into his armpit, which would’ve ended things in a hurry, but he slapped her arm down and her point only tore the shirt over his ribs, nicked the skin.

Keep him moving, that was the thing of it. Keep him dancing, so Wolf had a rougher time aiming at her with his songs. She backed into the yard, yielding ground to Porcupine, stepped around him and back again, side to side. Wolf’s spell hit the ground, spraying dirt high, but she’d found the no-mind by then, and Mouse. Only mud struck her.

She danced, feeling only the flex of her limbs, the shocks into her shoulder when Porcupine’s blade met hers. Mouse urging her on: live, Rose. She danced like never before, facing two brothers in arms. They used to be, anyhow. She had no words for them, nor they for her. Tooth and nail, blades and magic. The air sang with Wolf’s castings, and with the clash of steel on steel.

Rhi!

Just like that, her mind snapped back into the living world. Instead of the uncarved block, she was Rose, and deathly afraid for Witold right outside the barn door. “Go back in!” she screamed, and Porcupine’s sword passed through her arm and out again. The wound burned and bled. Wolf shouted a Word, and there was a terrific crackle. Witold’s skeleton flashed black through hot-orange flesh and he fell smoking. No time for him even to scream, though Rose felt her throat scrape with her own cry. She saw a shining form fly from the corpse like an arrow to Paradise.

Now. She could swear it was Mouse drove her. Later she would think that. Now, she lunged forward faster than ever before, seizing Porcupine and driving her sword under his ribs, to the hilt. Deep into his heart.

It took him a moment to realize how dead he was. She pulled her blade from the hungry clasp of his flesh, and all he did was gape at her. Blood burst from his mouth and coursed down the front of his jerkin. Wolf let loose with an animal shriek and fell to his knees just after Porcupine, clutching at his chest as if the sword had entered him too. Rootbound. When Porcupine collapsed dead, facedown in the shitty, bloody mud, Wolf followed in half a minute, no more. Like he was supposed to. Like Rose had been meant to.

She wiped sweat and dirt from her forehead. Hardly any dry wood to be found. They took a long time to burn, but she bound up the wound on her arm and watched until she saw bright forms flying skyward. Joined at the hand. It must have been from Mouse. She’d never seen that way before.

Rose pressed a filthy hand to her lower belly. She fetched a few things from the house. Their child had a right to the land, but she couldn’t stay here.

On down the road again, but seeing where she went. North and west, out of Muscodite lands. That night she wept so bitter for the men she had lost that she feared she would bleed and lose the child, too.

She didn’t.

There’s so much to tell. But let it lie, for now.

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