It’s time to let out the third chapter of Emma’s Story. As usual, this is the first draft and it will be tweaked and edited before the final story is eventually released as an e-book. This version, while unfinished, is still good enough that I’m not ashamed of sharing it with whoever manages to stumble upon it here on the blog. I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions or feedback, you’re more than welcome to post a comment at the bottom of the page.
If you haven’t read the previous chapters, the Stories page links them all.
This weeks musical accompaniment is much more laid back than the previous two week. It’s a recording of a set from the Chillout Stage at the Trimurti Festival in Russia earlier this month. Give it a chance.
Emma’s Story – Chapter 3
The cold winter night drains all warmth from the world, and a pale moon shines on hillsides covered in snow. Kin and unkin stalk and prey on each other in dark woods, and in burrows and villages, sensible fylk sleep and dream of summer.
Stars twinkle to each other. Snow glistens and shimmers in the moonlight. From the hearths of burrows, smoke rises towards the sky – grey pillars standing vigil against the cold.
A young woman leaves the inn at the top of the hill. A small figure underneath the night sky. She stops and waits, rubs her mittened hands together and hugs herself. A thin white cloud billows out of her mouth every time she exhales.
Her home is near, and well does she know the way, even after dark, but on a night like this you do not walk alone. So she waits, just a little, for her friend is on his way and will be right there with her.
– – –
Behind her, the front door of the inn opened and shut. Footsteps, and the light rustling of fabric brushing against fabric, reached her ears, and a moment later Torkel appeared at her side.
“Cold tonight.” He clapped his mittened hands together, pulled his hat down even further over his ears, and shivered.
“Mmm…” Emma nodded. It was.
“The stars are out.”
They were indeed. “Mmm…” Emma hunched up her shoulders and rubbed her hands against her arms, hugging herself. “It’ll be cold tomorrow.”
He cast a glance at her and then looked up at the sky. “Should be a good day for a ride.”
“Yes. True.” She nodded. “Just make sure you’re dressed warm.”
“Of course.” He grinned at her. “I know how to dress for the outdoors.”
A young couple, man and woman, walk together down the hill, like so many times in the past. Tonight, they do not speak, as they often would. They do not hold hands, but then they haven’t done that since they were little children.
Time is ticking, and a young woman worries.
First Green is still far away, but will not be for much longer. She should marry her friend, but her mind is full of doubt and her heart is full of fear.
A young woman can do her part.
A young man has dreams.
As they reached the empty burrow halfway down the hillside Emma stopped. “How’s it going with the preparations?”
Torkel stopped a few steps later, shrugged, and adjust his hat. “Fine, I think.”
“You think?” Emma frowned.
“Yeah, it’s mostly dad and Burje tinkering away with it. Tilda’s been helping too.
“Really?” She raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you helping out?” Their burrow – where they should live. It needed work.
“Well, yes, now and then, but…” He turned and looked into the garden of the burrow. “I’ve been busy, you know.”
“Yeah…” Torkel shrugged again. “Now with the bear and everything I’ve been keeping an eye on the forest. Watching the lands you know, making sure not another bear comes down from the mountains.”
“Really?” Emma placed her hands on her hips and stared at him. Why hadn’t she heard of this? “Isn’t that Lukas’ job?”
“Well, yes, but I’ve been helping out.” In the dark, you couldn’t really tell if he blushed or not, but he probably did. His voice sounded a bit strained. “He’s getting old you know. It’s better if you’re two. Don’t need to cover as much land – if you know what I mean.”
Emma frowned and looked into the garden of the burrow. It could be hers – would be, if only she worked up her courage and made up her mind. “Yes. I guess that makes sense.” It was a fine garden. You could have afternoon tea in the summer. “I didn’t realize he was that old? He seemed fine tonight I thought.”
Torkel turned away from her, looking down the road, towards the stables at the foot of the hill. “Well, yeah, you know, it doesn’t show back home here in the village. It’s different out in the forest, when the snow is deep and the days are short.”
“I see. I see…” Emma nodded – her gaze unwavering. “How did you end up with that task? I didn’t hear anything about it.”
“Well…” Torkel cleared his throat.
“It is a task, isn’t it? The village asked you to do it, right?” She stuck out her chin and poked at his shoulder, daring him to look at her.
“Well…” You didn’t need to see it to know he was blushing now.
“It’s not like that!” He turned to her and threw his arms wide. “We have an understanding, me and Lukas.”
“Oh, an understanding.” Emma crossed her arms over her chest. “What kind of understanding?” Head held high she pinned him with a stare.
Torkel shifted on his feet, and stared down at snow on the ground between them. “Well, you know Lukas.” He took a deep breath, and raised his head to face her. “He’d never admit to being too old to do the job. I figured I’d step in and pick up the slack. He’ll do his part, and I’ll cover the bits he doesn’t.”
“You what?” Emma’s mouth fell open. “Does he even know you’re out there?”
“Of course he does.” Torkel shrugged and held his hands out, palms towards her. “I mean, he must. He’s got an eye for the woods. He knows I’m there.”
“Torkel, Torkel, Torkel…” Emma sighed and shook her head. “Your father and brother are doing up the burrow you want us to live in, and you’re sneaking around in the forest pretending to be a warden.”
“I’m not pretending.” He crossed his arms over his chest and held his head high. “I’m doing an important job for the village.”
“A job that someone else is already doing and that no one has asked you to help out with.” Eyebrows high, she stared at him. Seriously?
Jaw set, he glared at her. “It’s still an important job.”
“You know, Torkel…” Emma paused and closed her eyes for a moment. She took a deep breath, and a big cloud billowed out of her mouth as she let it go. “It’s things like this that makes me doubt you’ll make a good burrowman. You’re not taking responsibility for our future.”
“But I am.” He threw his arms wide. “I’m watching out for the village.”
Emma ground her teeth and clenched her fists. “You’re…” She stopped. She forced herself to relax and let her shoulders fall. What was the point? “Never mind. Forget it. I’m going home.”
A young woman’s heart is full of pain. Despair. Frustration. The kin and unkin of the dark will do well not to cross her path this night.
The stars and the moon watch in silence as she strides through her village, to the burrow of her birth. A young man walks behind her, keeps even strides and safe distance, for on a night like this, you do not walk alone. He clings still to hope.
She closed the garden gate behind her, making sure the latch fell in place and locked it shut. The gate wouldn’t stop anyone getting in or out, but it was bad form to leave it ajar. It was unhousely – you didn’t do that to your home. She sighed and started up the path to the door of the burrow. Home.
“Emma, wait, please.”
Emma stopped. Of course. He couldn’t just let go. He had to say something, of course. He also had a stake in this. It wasn’t just her future and not just the rest of her life – it was his too. She owed it to him to hear him out, to give him a chance, try her best. They were both in this together, whether she liked it or not.
“Wait please, listen to me.”
Emma half turned around and looked back towards the gate. She crossed her hands in front of her and hunched up her shoulders. The night was cold and she wanted to get inside and go to bed. She’d give him her ear, but he’d better make it quick. She wouldn’t have a long argument in her own garden. Her mother might hear. “I’m listening.”
“I’m sorry. I realize it was bad of me. I’ll stop. I can change.”
“I’ll show you.” He took at step closer, almost, but not quite, touching the gate. “I can be a good burrowman. I know it.”
Emma glanced back towards the entrance to the burrow. A lone candle burned in the window next to the door, welcoming her home, but nothing moved beyond it, that she could see.
She sighed and turned to face Torkel. “You haven’t showed me anything so far.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. It’s just…” He lowered his gaze and his voice became a whisper. “I don’t know…”
Emma cleared her throat. “Well, you’d better figure it out then.” She put her hands on her hips. “I won’t marry a wild-brain who’s just running around in the forest whenever he gets the chance.”
Torkel swallowed. “I’m really, really sorry. I’ll change.” He reached out his hands towards her. For a moment it looked like he’d go down on his knees right there in the snow, but the gate would have hidden him out of sight, and he remained standing. “I’ll do anything.”
“Emma.” He put one hand on his heart and reach the other one out towards her, over the gate, into her garden. “You’re the one that I want. I’ll do anything for you. You’re my best friend.”
Her stomach tied itself into a knot. They’d been best friends for as long as she could remember. How had it come to this? They’d always been friends – always would be. “Torkel…”
“I want to be a family with you. There’s nobody else.”
Her heart ached. He was right. There wasn’t. It was him and her and that’s that. It’s how it was meant to be. Her cheeks flared up, drew the chill of the night away, and pulled her lips into a smile. Blushing, she cast down her eyes. “Yes…”
“Please, Emma. I really don’t want to have to go looking for someone in another village.”
Reality hit her like a fistful of snow to the face. So that’s how it was? The cold of the night seeped right through her clothes and chilled her to the bone. She straightened up. Her back stiffened and her face grew rigid. He dared. She exhaled through clenched teeth, and a cloud of breath rose from her mouth and dispersed into the night sky. He so very dared.
“What?” Torkel frowned.
Emma shrugged, but her heart wasn’t in it, and her shoulder sagged. “I’d better get to sleep.” She forced herself to straighten up and dragged some kind of smile on to her face. “You too. Early start tomorrow.”
Chapter 4 is available here.