Previous chapters of Emma’s Story can be found on the Stories page.
As usual. This is the first readable draft of the chapter. It can and will be changed, edited, and tinkered with. It may even get thrown out completely.
This weeks musical accompaniment comes from Oleg Polar, a DJ I discovered earlier this week and who’s sets I’ve been listening to a lot. He’s spinning a rather smooth and friendly kind of breakbeat that fits very well with the kind of progressive house music I’ve been into lately.
This particular set contains breaks versions of classic trance tracks and chances are that even if you’re not normally into that kind of music you will recognise at least some of the tracks. I hope you enjoy it, both the music and the story.
Emma’s Story – Chapter 4
A new day is not yet dawned, for this is the dark time of the year, but a young woman is awake since long. She is dressed and eaten, washed and ready. And isn’t it funny how, in the pale morning light, all the fears and worries of the night before are washed away, even if the sun is still long to rise.
When dawn comes she will leave.
Flames, from torch and lantern, bring light to a cold winter morning. Outside a stable, a young woman’s family help her prepare for the journey. Horses two, brown and black, are harnessed to a sled. Furs and blankets, thick and warm, are brought out from coffers and chests. No travelers shall freeze when riding on this family’s carriage. Respectable fylkin travel in comfort.
A sled is made ready and a young woman takes the reins. Beside her, a lantern high on a pole keeps the darkness at bay. Her family say their farewells and return to their burrow. They have tasks and chores to see to inside, where a fire burns in the hearth, and where no wind tugs at coats and skirts.
They will not wave her off, for she will not be gone long, and they know she will be back.
She can drive.
In the east, a washed out grey heralds the coming of day, and in the village on the hill, a young man and his brother arrive outside a stable. Each brother is dressed for travel. Each brother carries a burden of his own to bring on the journey. One brings supplies, the other weapons.
Emma shook her head where she sat in the driver’s place at the front seat of the sled. A faint smile tugged at her lips. Too early to get upset. “Seriously Torkel.” She raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to war or something? Two crossbows?”
Burje laughed. “Ayup. He’s going to conquer all of Askerum on his own.”
“Hey!” Grinning, Torkel slapped his brother over the shoulder with his free arm. “They’re a fearsome lot over there.”
Emma laughed. “They’ll be fearful at least when you get there.” She motioned for them to join her. “Pack in and hop on. We’ve got a long way to go.”
The two brothers piled their bags and bundles into the space between the front and the middle seat – same as where Emma had placed hers. They’d each be gone at least one night, probably two. You never knew what to expect and another set of clothes could always come in handy, and extra mittens, a spare hat, a towel of course, and something to chew on – and a little flask to put the fire in your chest if things turned bleak.
Torkel clambered up on the front seat and wriggled himself in under the furs to sit next to Emma. He twisted around and gestured to his brother. “Hop up. There’s plenty of space here.”
“Hah! No way.” Grinning, he stepped over to the back seat of the sled and climbed up. “I’ll ride here. More space, and you chatterboxes won’t keep me awake.”
Emma turned around, raised a warning hand, and shot him her best fake indignant glare. “Just don’t snore too loud or you’ll scare the horses.”
“Pfft! There are scarier things between them and me.” Burje laughed, pushed his hat down over his eyes and leaned back – snuggling up among the furs.
Emma turned to Torkel. “I guess it’s just you and me then.” She raised an eyebrow and winked at him. “Just.”
Grinning, Torkel lifted his arm and laid it over her shoulders. “Yeah. Just.” For a moment, he kept his face straight, and then his cheeks flared red and his grin turned into a big foolish smile.
“Oh, you.” Blushing, Emma elbowed him in the side, but not very hard. It’d be awkward if he thought she thought he was being too forward. Something warm fluttered in her stomach – something warm and little and not at all wintery.
It was fine. Really. Best friends – and such. It would be fine. Things would work out. Let’s not worry. Not now. They’d have a great day together. Sleigh ride through the woods, just the two of them. Everything would be fine.
“Just,” she said, and her face burned like the sun and her smile pulled at her cheeks so hard it almost hurt.
Torkel said nothing. He just looked at her, squeezed her shoulder, once, and smiled.
Emma nodded, turned her attention to the horses, and took a deep breath. “Karolina! Ussilago!” she yelled and shook the reins. “Move it!”
As day dawns over snow-covered hills, messengers leave a village, carrying words of need. A clear blue sky awaits the sun, and when she finally climbs the horizon, drifts of dull grey snow explode in blinding white – a myriad shining diamonds welcoming a new day.
Through this cascade of light, horses brown and black carry three friends on a mission. One, pleasantly asleep. The others, silently enjoying the ride. A nod, a smile, a lifelong friend. Two warm bodies close together, and a future hand in hand.
And isn’t it strange how, when a new day dawns, all of last nights worries seem so small and far away – especially when you’re bursting through the sunrise with your best friend by your side.
A sun that shines, a wind that doesn’t blow, and a road well traveled, make a journey safe and smooth. Five friends – for once you’re long enough on the road, horses count too – speed through forests dressed in winter. They climb hills covered in snow. They cross ravines and streams on ancient bridges made of stone and wood. Across a frozen lake they race the sun into the afternoon and then, hungry, happy, and with cheeks rosy red, they come to where the road splits.
“Halt!” Emma pulled on the reins and brought the carriage to a stop.
“Why are we stopping here?” Torkel frowned. “We’re not even near Hemsbo yet.”
“No.” Her face grim, she nodded towards the left path, the one leading south. “But look at the road. It’s just a footpath – too narrow for us.”
Torkel looked, and nodded. “True, true.”
“We’ve got a long way still to go, and I don’t want to wear the horses out in that deep snow.” Emma twisted around and clapped her hands together. “Burje! your stop!”
“Aww…” A bundle of furs and blankets, topped by a knitted wool hat, stirred in the rear seat of the sled. “I’m sleeping.”
“Lazybum!” Emma grinned and clapped her hands. “Off with you now.”
Groaning and grumbling, Burje fought his way out of the pile of furs. He sat up, blinked a few times, and looked around. “Where are we?”
“Crossroads just past Gunnarsvak.” Emma wiped the smile off her face and gestured towards the path leading south. “They haven’t cleared the road wide enough for the horses. You’ll have to walk from here.”
“What?” Burje stared at her. He looked at where she pointed and then back again. “But… Gunnarsvak? That’s not even close to Hemsbo?”
“I know…” Her shoulders slumped, and she tried to bring a smile to her face. “It’s as near as we’ll get though. The sled’s too wide. We can’t make it through.”
Torkel nudged her shoulder. “Uhm, guys, how about I take this one? Burje can go on to Askerum instead?”
What? Emma’s mouth fell open. Didn’t he want to spend time with her? Their first time on their own so far away from home. It’d be almmost like they were already married.
“I can stay here and sleep?” Burje frowned at his brother.
“Yeah.” Torkel nodded back. “You can go to Askerum instead of me. It’s not like they know we’re on our way, so it doesn’t really matter who goes where.”
“Sure thing.” Burje grinned wide and leaned back in his seat again, putting his arms up on the backrest. “I don’t mind.”
“Wait, what? Why would you do that?” Emma stared at Torkel. She put his hand on her shoulder and forced him to face her.
“Well…” Blushing, Torkel cleared his throat. His eyes darted around, but didn’t meet hers. “It’s a pretty good walk up to Hemsbo. I figured I might as well. I’m more used to being out and about, you know.” He nodded at Burje and grinned. “And he’s so comfortable where he is.”
Frowning, Emma glared at him. “I know you Torkel. You’re going to head up to the winter fylk aren’t you.” She raised her mittened hand and poked him in the chest. “You’d better not. Seriously, you’d better not.”
“No. Emma. Don’t you see?” Torkel took her hand in his and held it. “I could do that. I want to do that. It would take care of the bear easily, but I wont.”
“No. I won’t.” He lowered his eyes and studied her hand in his. “I’ll go to Hemsbo and ask them for help and then that’s that. I won’t go to the winters. The village didn’t want the winters involved, so I won’t do that. I’ll do as I’m told.” He placed his other hand on top of hers, took a deep breath, and with a big grin on his face he raised his head to look her straight in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you I’d show you I can make a good burrowman?”
“Oh Torkel…” Emma’s shoulders fell, and she lowered her gaze. Her cheeks burned and her throat clumped up. “Well, I guess that’s good.” Guess? Stupid girl. It’s good and better. So much better. He’s getting it. He’s finally getting it.
She raised her head and met his eyes. He’d always had such pretty eyes. Her face grew even redder. “I’m sorry.” She paused, swallowed, took a deep breath. “I’m just worried.”
“Don’t worry.” His smile grew even wider, and he squeezed her hand in his. “I’ll be good.”
Emma pulled her hand back. She gave her head a little shake to clear away the rosy mists, straightened up, and made a stern face. “You’d better. If I hear you took as much as a step south of Hemsbo, there will be no marrying for you.” She lowered her eyebrows and fixed him with a stare. Back in control. “Is that clear?”
“Clear as starlight, girlie.” Still with a big smile on his face, Torkel leaned back and threw his arms wide. “You can trust in me.”
Emma turned her face away and cast down her eyes. “I sure hope so…” she mumbled. “I really do.”
“I’ll show you.” He stood up, climbed out of the sled, and grabbed his backpack and one of the crossbows from the middle seat. Smiling, he stepped away from the carriage and raised his hand to wave. “Have a safe trip now. I’ll see you back home.”
A young woman sits alone at the reins. For the longest time she stares down the road to the south, where a young man disappeared among the trees. She waits for nothing, and she knows it.
In the end, she gets them moving again. Her, the horses, the young mans brother sleeping in the back.
Halfway through the afternoon they stop in a village along the way. This is their second stop, and from then on a young woman travels alone.
Other than that, the rest of the ride is uneventful.
I hope you enjoyed it. The next chapter is available here.