This is the tenth chapter of Emma’s Story. it’s been ten weeks, and there’s not much left now. At a guess, there will be three more chapters, and then it’s done.
As usual, this is the first draft, but it’s good enough that I’m happy to share it with whoever wants to read it. If you have any questions, or any feedback. Feel free leave a comment at the end.
This weeks musical accompaniment is of my own creation. It’s a mix-set I created about a month ago and it’s based on the theme of traveling through a landscaped wrapped in rain – ideally by train. It is, as usual, completely unrelated to the story, but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway.
Emma’s Story – Chapter 10
A young woman stands still in the courtyard outside the barn. The chores she thought done, are not. Alone in the yard, at the edge of the circle of light, stands the sled. Large and dark and heavy, it is too much for a young woman to move on her own.
She thought she was done, but she is not, and it is another weight on her shoulders.
A young woman stands and stares, and eventually she sighs and leaves.She will have to ask for help. Soon, but not just yet. For now, all she wants is a moment of peace on her own. She needs her cubby – with her bed, her chair, and her little table – and the door that doesn’t quite close unless you nudge it just right. She needs to sit down, compose herself, and collect her scrambling thoughts. The sled is pushed to the back of her mind.
She just wants a moment. That’s all she needs.
A heavy door keeps the winter out, and once inside a young woman stops again. An old burrow is warm and still and silent. Candles burn where candles should, but no one comes to meet her. No one shouts a greeting. The hallway remains empty, and the burrow remains silent.
A young woman’s family is out. A village needs to see to its guests and all hands must help. She is alone at home and she will have her moment of peace.
On silent feet she steals through hallways and corridors, reluctant to disturb the calm. To the kitchen she sees herself, for hot water and for tea. To the kitchen, the heart of the home.
In the kitchen, at the little table, next to the hearth, sits her father and her mother.
– – –
Emma stopped in the doorway, and her mouth fell open. What were they doing here? Why weren’t they out among everyone else? Why hadn’t they said anything?
She closed her mouth and cleared her throat. “Mother. Father. I’m home.”
Herman looked up. He shifted in his chair, crossed his arms over his chest, glanced over at his wife and then nodded at Emma. “Welcome home child. How was your trip?”
“My trip was good father.” Emma dropped a little curtesy. “How lies the burrow?”
“The burrow lies well.” Herman coughed into his hand, shot his wife another glance, and scratched at his chin for a moment. Then he clasped his hands over his belly and chuckled. “Me and your mother managed to keep the young ones in check.”
Go-Hanna straightened up and fixed her eyes on Emma. “Did you stable the horses?
“Yes mother.” Emma nodded. “The horses are stabled, and I’ve rubbed them down and fed them.”
The old woman nodded in return – her back straight as an arrow and not a hint of a smile on her face. “I take it you heard Torkel isn’t back?”
Emma’s jaw tensed and her neck stiffened. That’s why they were here. That’s why they weren’t out among the others. “Yes mother.” She took a deep breath and held her head high. “I heard.”
Go-Hanna nodded, reached for a cup of tea on the table, and nodded again. She did not sip her tea – just held the cup – and her eyes never left her daughter.
Emma’s shoulders slumped and she sighed. So much for a moment of peace and quiet. “I’m going to head up to the inn and see to my guests. I will be back by midnight.”
Herman straightened up and gave her a big smile. “Don’t worry. You have guests. Take your time.”
“Midnight she said. Midnight it is.”
“Yes mother.” Emma bowed her head. “I’ll be here.”
– – –
A young woman leaves her home again. She has not had her moment of peace. She has not collected her thoughts. And yet she goes to face her village.
The road up the hill is as busy as a summer’s day, but a young woman does not stop to speak to anyone. Her strides are strong and her jaw is set. She meets no one’s eyes, but feels the eyes of others heavy on her back.
The first flakes of snow drift from the sky.
– – –
The inn at the top of the hill is more crowded than a young woman can remember it ever being before. Warm. Cramped. Noisy. She hunches up her shoulders and makes herself small. She shuffles and sneaks, wiggles and squirms, and little by little she makes her way to the table, in the corner, where young liars drink.
She watches where she sets her feet. She keeps her elbows in, mumbles her apologies, and looks the other way. Never before did it take so long to reach her seat. Never before was her chest so tight at her watering hole.
Her friends are not there.
A young woman despairs. Strangers’ friendly faces smile at her from well known seats, and a young woman must smile back. It’s forced and it’s weak, but it’s a smile and it’s seen, and no one will say a young woman did not mind her manners.
Propriety must be maintained.
Yet her friends are not there, and the inn at the top of the hill is not as it was. It is too warm. It is too crowded. There is too much noise and not enough air and she’s all alone.
A hand tugs at a young woman’s coat. A friend with a braid smiles from a small table by the wall.
A young woman didn’t look there. She didn’t think. She didn’t see. She didn’t look there. No one ever sits there. Why does her friend sit there?
Tension falls from tired shoulders, and as a friend scoots over, a young woman grabs a seat, on a bench, by the wall, where she’s never sat before.
– – –
“Hey.” Emma leaned her head back against the wall, closed her eyes, and took a few deep breaths. “Thanks.” She smiled at Trula, and began tugging at the scarf around her neck. “I didn’t see you.”
Trula looked down at the little round table in front of them. “It’s okay.” She nodded and fiddled with the tip of her braid. “How are you doing?”
Emma rolled her scarf up and put it on the table next to the old jug with the candle. She pulled her coat off, stuffed it under the bench, and had a look around. People sat or stood wherever they could – talking, smiling, eating, drinking. Everywhere. It was so warm.
She swallowed and cast down her eyes. “Good. Good. It’s a bit crowded, isn’t it?” No one she knew had looked her way. Not that she’d seen.
“Yes. Very.” Trula squirmed. “Uhm…” She tugged at her braid, let it go, and clasped her hands in her lap.
“Did you see the others? How are they getting on?” Emma craned her neck to try and see if she could spot any of her guests she’d brought.
“Err… yes.” Trula raised her hand and waved it in the direction of the hearth. “They’re over there – somewhere.”
“Great.” Emma put her hands on the table and stood up. “I’ll just…” She made herself as tall as she could, turning her head this way and that to try and see where her guests sat.
People. People everywhere. She frowned, and scanned the crowd once more. Too many people. With a sigh she sat down and crossed her arms over her chest. “They’re okay, right?” Sweat beaded on her brow.
“They’re fine. Really.” Trula chewed on her lower lip and tucked her hands in under her hips. “They had food and drink when we came.”
Emma leaned back against the wall. A breath sighed out of her, and her shoulders slumped. “Good, good.” She nodded to herself. Food and drink would be nice. “Good… Uhm… Where’s Burje?”
“He’s off getting drinks.” Trula stretched her neck, trying to spot someone in the crowd. “You can have his. I’m sure he won’t mind.” She slumped back and pulled a grin on to her face.
Nodding, Emma forced herself to smile too. “You two getting along then?
“Yeah… He’s sweet – a bit shy, but sweet.” Trula gazed off into the distance, not looking at anything in particular, and her smile relaxed and became more real.
“Yes…” Emma’s cheeks warmed up a little. “I guess I probably should have mentioned that?”
“Haha, nah.” Grinning, Trula waved the comment away. “It was funny.”
Emma swallowed, put her hands on her knees, and hunched up her shoulders. She cleared her throat and stared down into the table. “Look. About earlier. I’m sorry…”
“Don’t mention it sister.” Trula shuffled around where she sat on the bench and turned towards Emma. “It’s okay.”
She placed her hand on top of Emma’s. “I was there. I saw what happened. It’s okay.”
Emma looked up. Trula squeezed her hand. Their eyes met.
Someone saw her. Face to face. Finally someone looked at her and didn’t turn away. Her breathing became easier and the heat of the room less cloying. Her shoulders felt a little lighter.
For a moment they just sat there, eye to eye. Then something moved at the side of the table and Trula’s gaze shifted, breaking the contact. Emma turned and looked up at Burje, standing there with two large cider mugs.
“Oh hello, Emma.” Burje shifted on his feet, and looked around the table for something to sit on. “How are you doing?”
Emma smiled up at him, clasped her hands in her lap, and tried to think of something to say.
Trula leaned forward, reached out both arms and took the mugs from his hands. She put one in front of Emma and kept the other for herself. “Thanks Burje. But…” Frowning, she looked from her cider, to Emma’s, and back to hers. She chewed on her lip and then donned her widest, most disarming smile and batted her eyelids at him. “Aren’t you getting one for yourself?”
“But… But…” Burje sighed and his shoulders fell. “I’ll be right back.”
They looked after him as he walked away and disappeared in the crowd, then they looked at each other and giggled.
Trula lifted her mug and tapped it against Emma’s. “Cheers, sister.”
– – –
A crowd enjoys itself at the in at the top of the hill. Old friends meet, and new ones are made. Stories are told, memories are shared, and gossip flies on winds of breath. Who did what, with whom, and why, when, where – and did you hear?
Someone got married. Someone did not. Someone had children. Someone did not.
And most of all, everyone knows, a son of the village is not here. And of course no one knows for sure, but everyone says, and everyone saw, and they were all there.
A young woman sits on a bench, by the wall, with her friend who is not from here. And don’t look now, and don’t stare, but it’s her. What will she do, and what will she say, to her young man, now that he is elsewhere.
– – –
“Hello again. Sorry about the wait.” Burje appeared by the side of the table, carrying a mug of cider for himself and a little stool he’d grabbed from somewhere along the way. He sat down and nodded at Emma. “I didn’t see you arrive or I’d have brought three right away.
“It’s okay.” Emma smiled, and looked around. “It’s pretty busy today.” No one had seen her. They’d all just accidentally turned the other way whenever she passed. Every single one of them.
“Sure is.” Burje grinned at her. “Lova and Tessica are running their legs off just to get food out to everyone.” He sipped his cider and let out a long sigh. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many people here at once.”
Trula perked up. “I can go help. I know how to run dishes.” She put her hands on the table as if to get up.
“No no, it’s fine.” Burje raised his hands and waved at her to stop and sit back down. “They’ll manage – and they’d probably take it the wrong way too.”
“Oh, oops…” Red-faced, Trula sat back down again. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know you didn’t.” A big friendly smile shone on his face. “But they don’t know you like I do.”
“Aww…” Trula grinned wide, and her cheeks flared up.
Emma cleared her throat. “Get a barn you guys.”
Burje’s face grew bright red. Eyes sparkling, Trula covered her mouth with her hand. They both looked at each other and began to giggle.
Emma heaved a big sigh, sipped her cider, and looked the other way. Really, she was happy for her friends. She was. Really.
– – –
A young woman has a drink with her friends – has two, has three. She smiles and she’s friendly. Her back is straight and her gaze is proud and she’d do a village proud if only it saw her.
But a village does not see, and a village does not care. The man she would marry is elsewhere, and what will she do, and what will she say.
A young woman has a drink beside her friends. Her mind is elsewhere and theirs are with each other.
The evening grows old, and the crowd thins out, but the questions remain. Where is the son? What will the daughter do? And don’t look now, and don’t stare, but really, it’s her, and she’s just sitting there.
A young woman drinks alone, with her friends – has another, and one more.
– – –
Emma stared down into her mug. Empty – again. How many was it now? Not that it mattered. Four? Six? Whatever. She glared over at the door to the inn. Stupid door just stood there, just shut. No one came in any more. People just left.
She slammed the mug down into the table, a little too hard, and it toppled over and fell on its side. Stupid mug.
Burje and Trula tore their eyes from each other and stared at her.
Crossing her arms over her chest Emma glared at them. “He’s not coming back is he?”
“Who?” Burje frowned at her.
Emma snorted. “You know who!”
Burje shrank back, and cast down his eyes, pulling his hand from Trula’s. “Oh, right…”
“Yeah. Right! He’s ruined it good now.” She heaved a big sigh and leaned forward with her elbows on the table. “I went and made up my mind and now he’s gone and made a mess of everything again.”
The fool. He’d better not walk through that door now if he knew what was good for him. And what were they doing holding hands like that anyway?
“I’m sure it won’t be that bad.” Burje coughed into his fist and forced himself to smile. “He’s probably just lost.”
“Lost my dirty toes!” She slammed her fist into the table and pointed an angry finger at him. “You know where he is!”
Burje raised his hands, holding his palms out towards her and glancing around the room. “Shush. Emma. People are looking.”
“Let them!” She shot to her feet, caught her balance with a hand on the table, and poked a finger into his chest. “They’ve been staring all night, and I’ve had enough of it. I’m leaving!”
They had. Everyone just looked and judged and never dared to meet her eyes and she’d show them. She’d show them good she would. She’d get him. Now. She would.
“Yes… “ Trula shifted where she sat on the bench. “It’s getting late, and we’ve got a long day tomorrow.” She glanced up at Emma and tried to smile, but didn’t quite manage to for long.
“That’s not…” She stopped herself. This was none of anyone’s business but her own. “Yes. You’re right. Goodnight!”
That’s it for this time. The next chapter can be found here.
I’ve had some comments on this chapter from friends and my beta reader. It’s about how it seems as if the village expects Emma to look after and manage her potential future husband, even though they’re not yet married. It’s like everyone thinks she’s responsible for him, and how that’s not very believable.
I’ll not be changing that in this version of the story. However, I agree that it’s an issue and I believe I’ve found a way to work around it. Rather than have all of the social pressure on Emma be from the village it will come in various forms from several different sources: her mother, her father, Burje, Torkel himself, and (still) the village.
Changing this will require a fair bit of rewriting of not just this chapter, but of a lot of scenes from earlier on as well. That’s why I won’t be making these changes here and now, but wait until the first draft is finished.
I just wanted to let anyone who reads this far know that I’m aware of the issue.