This is the thirteenth, and last, chapter of Emma’s Story. If you haven’t read some, or any, of the previous chapters you can find them on the Stories page, here. That page also has the full story available in PDF and MOBI (kindle) formats if you want to download it instead of reading it from the webpage here.
As usual, this is a first draft and there are likelty to be changes made to both this chapter and to the entire story as a whole. In fact, at the end of this page I’ve linked to another page which lists the changes I’m already considering.
This week’s musical accompaniment is a throwback to the sound accompanying the first chapter. That time it was the second part of a mix-set, the downtempo set. This time, it’s the first part of the same set, with a more energetic and insistent beat, but still with the same dark feel.
Emma’s Story – Chapter 13
She sleeps through the day.
When she wakes up it is dark. Someone tells her everything is okay. They tell her to go back to sleep and that everything will be alright.
She sleeps through the night.
When she wakes up it is morning. The daughter of summer is gone and she is a young woman once more. She no longer sees in the dark. The walls no longer breathe, and the glowing red outlines are gone. The world is crisp, clear, and real.
She sleeps no more.
Warm and safe and comfortable. She is herself again. Everything is okay. Only her young man is still lost and she is not in her bed at home and everything is really really not okay.
A young woman has her breakfast. She thanks her host, and is told she will always be welcome back. She says her farewells, and then she leaves. Her journey home is cold and lonely. She worries all the way.
It takes forever.
The sun sets.
The stars come out.
A lantern swings on its pole and lights the way along dark winter roads.
At long last, her carriage climbs the final rise. Her horses are tired and so is she. They crest the hill, and she looks out over the village she knows is there, but does not see it. A hillside is shrouded in darkness.
A single light burns at the top of the hill. The Wanderer’s Friend stands vigil in the night, guiding errant travelers to warmth and safety. A single flame, just outside the inn, and nothing else.
No lanterns burn outside the doors of burrows.
No snowlamps glow in frozen gardens.
No torches light the road ahead.
A village is blind under the stars.
Her mind full of fear and her heart frozen cold, a young woman makes her way to the barn outside her home. She meets no one, and she sees no motion. A village is empty, quiet, and cold.
She takes in her horses. She sees to them with food and water. She rubs their coats and picks stones out their hoofs. She combs their manes and tails. She covers them in warm blankets and she mucks out their boxes.
A young woman does not think. Must not think. Focus on the task at hand.
The tack gets oiled and polished. Brushes and combs get cleaned out and sorted. A floor is swept and a stable is tidied and eventually, at long last, and all too soon, there is nothing left to do.
And then, she just stands there.
She clings to hope, and it is futile.
She waits, and nothing happens.
In the end she shrugs, takes a deep breath, and goes to confirm her fears.
– – –
Emma stepped into the burrow’s dining room, and the conversation she’d heard moments before died away. Her mother and father, seated at each end of the long table, turned their heads and looked at her. Edgren and Viola, the oldest of her siblings, turned to look at her, turned away, and left the room in silence.
Emma said nothing. Standing just inside the room she waited until the footsteps of the kids had faded away. Molten snow dripped from the fur on her legs and feet, down on the dining room floor, but she just didn’t care.
“Mother. Father.” She looked from one to the other. “I’m back.”
“Daughter,” said her father.
“Emma,” said her mother.
Silence filled the room. It choked her. Kept her quiet. Stole her voice away.
Her parents looked at her, unmoving, silent – and then her father looked away.
Emma cleared her throat, took a deep breath, and forced herself to speak. “How… How did it go?”
Her father squirmed and stared down into his lap.
Her mother took a deep breath, swallowed, and then she just sat there – silent, not looking at anything, looking very small.
This wasn’t right. They should talk to her. They were her parents.
“What happened?” she snapped. Wide eyed she looked back and forth between them. “Is the bear gone? Where is everyone?”
“Ehm… “ Herman coughed into his fist and his shoulders slumped. “It went…”
Her mother drew herself up. “The bear is gone.”
“Then what happened?” Emma threw her arms wide and stared at her. “Something went wrong didn’t it?”
Once again she looked back and forth between the two of them, waiting for either of them to speak up. Daring them to stay silent.
“Well…” Her father squirmed and his eyes darted from his daughter to his wife and back again. In the end he just stared down into the table in front of him and didn’t say anything else.
Go-Hanna cleared her throat. “Daughter.”
Enough already. “Don’t daughter me!” Emma glared at her mother and made a chopping motion with her hand. “Something went wrong, didn’t it? Torkel went and messed it all up, didn’t he?”
Herman cleared his throat. “Emma…”
Go-Hanna shifted in her seat and pulled a smile on to her face – the kind she used when entertaining guests she’d rather hadn’t come. “Perhaps you’d better sit down.”
“What?” Emma put her hands on her hips and stared at her mother. “No! I’m standing right here. Tell me what happened.” She clenched her fists and stomped her foot and screamed. “Tell me!”
Her father shifted in his seat. “It’s Torkel…” He paused and cleared his throat. “He…”
“Ssh…” Go-Hanna waved at him to keep quite. “Let me.” She turned to Emma and took a deep breath. “So… Torkel…”
“What did he do? Is he okay?
Silence fell over the room again. It gathered in the corners and crept across the floor, smothering everything in it’s way.
Not a breath was heard.
“He’s dead, isn’t he? He tried to kill the bear himself.”
The silence drowned out everything. It pressed at her chest and threatened to suffocate her. It choked the life out of the very air. She gasped for breath.
A fist of ice gripped her heart and kept it from beating. Her lungs burned and throat tightened.
“Say it’s not so…”
Her eyes stung, her stomach churned, and her mouth filled with the taste of bile.
Go-Hanna shifted in her seat, clasped her hands in her lap, and turned to Emma with a serious face. “Daughter…”
Herman cleared his throat and clasped his hands on the table. “It is so.” He looked at his wife – stared at her, not seeing Emma at all. “They found him outside the bear’s cave. Dead. His crossbow was still loaded.”
The world broke.
Empty, unable to breathe – reeling, spinning, falling – Emma took a step back, turned, and ran.
– – –
A young woman runs.
Out of the burrow. Out of the garden. Out into the night. Past the barn and out of the village and into the forest she runs.
Eventually she slows down.
She stops completely.
No wind blows. Trees stand tall and silent around her – black pillars rising out of a grey carpet of snow.
A night wears no color.
Far above, in the depths of the skies, stars sing the song of night. The song that no one hears.
The chill of winter nips at a young woman’s cheeks. Tiny flowers of frost take root in her eyebrows. Her breath billows out of her mouth in plumes of smoke, but it is too dark and she does not see it.
It is cold enough she can hear the air crack.
A young woman stands alone and waits, but nothing changes and no one comes and what’s done is done. Eventually she turns around and starts walking back. It is not yet her time.
She must live, and she must deal, and she will.
She hugs herself, grits her teeth, and struggles on. Somehow she finds her way back to the road that leads to the village on the hill. She must have run so far.
Far ahead, and high above, she sees a light. A small flame in the depth of night. It calls to her and wants her to come. The Wanderer’s Friend will bring her home. Step by step she makes her way back.
– – –
A young woman stops outside an empty burrow. She does not live here. She never will. It is not her home and she should not be here but she stops here anyway.
They all hate her now. They think it is her fault.
She stares into the garden. No child of hers will play there now.
It is her fault.
Naked trees point their fingers at her, and an empty burrow’s door is forever shut to her.
She should have known. He said he would show her.
Who will she marry now? A young man’s brother will not want her. She failed his brother.
How can she even think of that? How can she be so selfish? It is her fault he is dead. No one will ever want her now.
She should leave. Go to Storvak. Be a monk. Live with the goddess.
The Lady will not want her. She wasted the carrots. She did not think, and she insulted the winters. Her kindred. The Lady’s gift. She is not good enough.
She cannot stay, but she has nowhere to go.
They all hate her now. They think it’s her fault.
She should have been stronger. She should have said yes. There was time, and she wasted it.
It’s all her fault.
A hand grabs her shoulder, spins her around, and a daughter of summer slaps her across the face with the palm of her hand.
– – –
Emma gasped and touched her fingers to her cheek. It burned with pain.
“You hit me!”
The daughter of summer scowled at her, and rubbed at her palm with the fingers of her other hand. “You should stop being an idiot.”
Emma sneered, clenched her fist, and punched the avatar of her goddess in the face.
The other woman fell backwards and sat down in the snow. She glared at Emma and rubbed at her chin. Then she grinned and disappeared.
She stared at the spot where the daughter of summer had sat. She looked at her hand and flexed her fingers. Her knuckles hurt.
Emma sighed. She looked down the road towards her home, and then up to the Wanderer’s Friend burning at the top of the hill.
– – –
With a soft thud, the door of the inn closed behind her. Warm air and familiar smells filled the room. A small fire burned low in the hearth and lit candles sat in their holders on some of the tables. Inn-keeper Ulfsgrim stood over by the counter, but other than him she saw no one else.
He’d looked up when she opened the door and now he just stood there, looking at her and trying not to stare.
Emma walked over.
“Hi,” she said.
Ulfsgrim looked at her for a moment and then gave a nod. “Hi.”
She bowed her head, fidgeted for a moment, and then looked up again. “Can I have a whiskey, please?”
He clasped his hands behind his back and cleared his throat. “You’ve heard?”
“Yes.” She nodded. “I heard.”
“Okay.” He nodded too. “Just making sure.”
“It’s okay…” Emma covered her mouth and coughed.
He leaned down an produced a small clay cup from a shelf under the counter. “Warm?”
“Okay, just…” He stopped himself and nodded.
“Make it double. Please.”
Ulfsgrim’s eyebrows went up, but after a glance at Emma he smoothed his face out. “Double it is.” He cleared his throat and nodded over towards the hearth. “Why don’t you grab a seat and I’ll bring it out to you.
Emma nodded. ”Thank you.”
– – –
She pulled up a chair and sat down by the hearth. Her usual table over in the corner stood empty, but she didn’t feel like sitting there. It didn’t feel right, so she sat down by the fire, and stared into the flames.
Time passed. Flames flickered. Wood turned to ash.
Someone came to stand beside her. They touched her shoulder and handed her a steaming earthenware cup. Emma took it in her hands and warmed her palms against the rough surface. Staring into the flames she took a sip, and then another. The hand didn’t leave her shoulder.
Eventually, she turned her head and looked up at her friend. “Hi.”
“Sister. You look like shit.”
That’s it. This is the end. I hope you enjoyed it.
Afterword – comments about where the story comes from and why I wrote it.
Question – if you have the time, I’d greatly appreciate your input on something.
Potential Changes – a list of the things I plan to change in the next version of the story.