This is the 8th chapter of Emma’s Story. If you’ve not read the previous chapters, you will find them on the Stories page.
The full first draft of the story will be published here on the blog, but keep in mind that it is a draft – changes can and will be made before the final version is published. This version is good enough I’m happy to put it up here, but there will be errors and mistakes that I’ve missed. If you spot anything that seems off, please leave a comment at the end.
This week’s musical accompaniment is a selection of soulful house and it should go really well with the mood of this chapter.
Emma’s Story – Chapter 8
The morning is still dark when a young woman’s expedition leaves the village between the hills. Eight voices, four horses, and two sleds cross a bridge lit by lanterns, over a river black with cold. Past the river, where the forest stands tall and silent, waits a day on the road. Past the river, in the east, waits the rising sun.
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 race into the breaking dawn with a good friend by your side.
– – –
“You seem happy this morning.” Trula, bundled up in a big leather coat with a fur-lined hood, turned to Emma with a smile.
Somehow, the woman had already managed to pull her braid out. She’d had it tucked in back in the village when they packed into the sleds, but now it hung from her hood in all it’s shiny black glory.
Emma drew breath, opened her mouth, and the first ray of sunlight shot through the trees.
Words could wait.
Shades of grey split into black and blinding white. Shafts of liquid flame speared her eyes and blurred her vision. A tear pushed out out of the corner of her eye, and she raised a hand to shield her sight.
Beside her, Trula threw her head back and her hands in the air and hollered at the top of her lungs – a wordless scream to welcome the sun to the new day. Behind them, in the back seat, the old couple riding with them raised their voices too, and even further back, the people of the other sled joined in.
A grin tugging at her face, Emma squinted and focused on the road ahead, trying to see where she steered them. Someone had to stay in control, be responsible – and then she too threw her head back and screamed for the sun. Her horses knew what they were doing, and she so loved the sunlight on her face.
Trula flung her arms around her and gave her a big hug. Then she stiffened, blushed, and sat up very straight with her hands in her lap and her lips pressed together. Then she giggled.
Emma frowned at her for a moment and then her face relaxed into a smile and she bumped her shoulder against her friend. “I am. Happy, I mean.”
“Oh?” Trula raised an eyebrow, pursed her mouth, and nodded. “Tell me.”
Turning her attention to the road ahead, Emma fiddled with the reins for a moment, without really doing anything – just making sure she hadn’t gotten them tangled or dropped them or something like that.
Her lips twitched, and her cheeks pulled apart and her eyes didn’t know just which way to look. She took a deep breath, steeled herself, smoothed out her face, and tried her best to remain calm and composed. “I made my mind up.”
Trula gasped, and a big smile spread across her face. “Oooooh…” She clapped her hands together and bounced up and down in the seat, as giddy as a little girl.
“Yes!” Emma screamed. Her face burned and her cheeks hurt from smiling and she just had to scream as loud as she could or she would explode. “I’ll say yes!”
“Yes!” Trula threw her arms around her and hugged her so tight it almost hurt. “That’s great!” She held on for a moment and then pulled away, cheeks rosy red, smiling like the sun. “Congratulations! What made you decide?”
Emma shrugged, brushed her hair out of her face, and adjusted her hat so it sat right on her head again. “Well… I figured… I might as well.” She smiled and tried to look nonchalant. “It’s the best offer I’ll ever get, and so what if he’s a bit of a wild-brain? He’s supposed to be like that.” Grinning, she made a chopping motion with her hand. “He’s still my friend and I’ve known him all my life.”
Giggling, Trula nodded. “I guess there is that. It’d be weird if he changed, right?”
“Oh, he’ll change alright.” Emma tilted her head and winked. “I’ll bring him to hearth eventually – one way or another.“
Trula jabbed a mittened fist against Emma’s arm and grinned. “That’s the spirit.”
“I thought so too.” Still smiling, she turned her attention back to the road. “Little by little, I’ll make him a good burrow-man. Who cares if he’s not perfect right from the start.” She shook the reins and yelled at the horses to keep them moving as the road began climbing up a low rise. “It’d just be weird if he started worrying about harvesting potatoes or oiling the garden furniture all of a sudden. It wouldn’t be him you know.”
“Way!” Trula nodded. “You’ve got your entire lives ahead of you. No need to rush it.”
The sled crested the rise, and the valley on the other side spread out before them. A forest dressed in shining white reached as far as the eye could see, disappearing beyond the crooked horizon of faraway hills.
The sun warmed her face, and Emma pushed the hat up her brow, and then took it off completely. The wind tugged at her hair and sang in her ears. She close her eyes and smiled, and everything was as fine as it could be.
She opened her eyes and looked at Trula. “What?”
Trula reached her arms up and laid them atop the back rest of the seat. She tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and smiled at the sun. “Making up your mind like that – it feels good, right?”
“Yes, yes it does.”
She did feel good. Calm. She’d get married, have a family – a burrow of her own. So what if he’d gone to the winters for help. It wasn’t the end of the world. They’d get over it – and the bear would be gone too. And he probably hadn’t. He’d said he wouldn’t and he wasn’t one to lie.
He’d never lied to her.
– – –
Happy, with her heart and her horses set for home, and with her friend by her side, a young woman enjoys a day on the road. Two friends talk and chat. Futures are planned. Dreams are shared.
Forests, lakes, and hills slide by and morning turns to midday. Two sleds make good speed and spirits are high. The blue sky. The white land. Sparkles of diamonds where sunlight hits snow.
Midday comes and goes, and after a short break, with the sun at their backs, the ride towards evening begins.
Above northern hills, clouds begin to gather, and whispers of snow come sailing on the wind. The afternoon will remain clear, but there will be no stars in the sky this night, and come morning the land will have donned a new set of clothes.
The day fades early, and as the sun sets, the sparkles in the snow are already long gone. The world turns from pale, to grey, to dark, and travelers are grateful for the lanterns they’ve brought to light their way.
At long last, the forest black around them, the sleds crest a rise and their destination lies ahead. A hill dotted with lights. Torches and snowlamps along roads and in gardens. A lantern by every burrow’s door.
A young woman’s heart grows lighter, and a tension she did not know she held is lifted. This is her home. This is where she lives. Here she is welcome and here she is known. She traveled the furthest and will be the last to return. They’re all waiting for her here, and she brings the help they need.
She drives her horses up a busy road. A small village is full of people from near and far. Faces she knows and faces she doesn’t hurry by on this errand or that. All guests must be fed, and all guests must have a place to sleep. A village is busy, busy, busy.
All the way to the top of the hill she drives them, to the open space outside the inn. Here, her guests can rest and eat and drink. Here, they are welcomed and given a place to sleep before the big day tomorrow. Here, their journey ends.
A young woman wants her bed. She is hungry and thirsty, but her work is not yet done. Before she can rest, she needs to find her young man. Before she can find him, she needs to see to her horses.
They’ve done well this day, and they too need their rest. A young woman is tired, but she is this village’s daughter, and she will not pass her own chores on to her brothers and sisters.
In the light of flickering flames, a young woman waits at the reins, catching her breath while the sled stands still. She and her horses both. Those who travelled with her unpack their things, say their thanks, and head for the welcoming warmth of the village inn.
All but a young woman’s friend.
– – –
Standing next to the sled, Trula looked towards the door of the inn through which the rest of her village folk had disappeared. She tugged at her braid and stomped at the ground, shaking off snow that had gotten stuck in the fur on her feet. Looking from the door, to Emma at the reins, and back to the door again, she frowned and fiddled with the straps on her backpack.
Eventually, she cleared her throat and looked up at Emma. “Will you be joining us?”
Emma thought for a moment. “Maybe later.” The sooner she found Torkel, the better. “I need to see to the horses first.” Sleep would be good too.
“Oh, ehm… Just you?” Trula looked down and scraped her feet against the ground.
Clearing her throat Emma glanced over towards the inn. “Err, well, yes…” Torkel was probably inside already, having a drink and a laugh with whoever he’d brought. She’d have to get up here again either way. “I guess…”
Emma felt her face grow warm, and her lips twitched. “Uhm…” She cleared her throat and looked over at her friend again. “Would you like to help out?”
Trula’s face lit up and her eyes grew wide.“Yes!” A big grin on her face she practically bounced towards the sled.
Emma pulled away the big sheepskin fur that covered her legs and patted the seat next to her. “Come on then… Sister.” Smiling wide she reached out a hand to help her friend climb aboard.
– – –
A young woman takes her friend and her horses and her sled down the hill again. They may be tired, and they may be hungry, but she can’t help stopping for a moment outside an empty burrow.
There is pride in her eyes and in her voice as she shows her friend where she will live. Someone has hung a lantern by the door and there are snowlamps in the garden. A village will not let an empty burrow show a dead face – not on a day like this.
A woman with a braid is suitably impressed.
At the bottom of the hill, at a young woman’s family’s barn, the sled finally comes to a rest. The horses are brought inside and put in their boxes. They are seen to with water and with food, and two young women set about rubbing them down.
Outside, in the yard, stands the sled, waiting for its turn to come inside. A young woman and her friend will push it into the barn once their horses rest in comfort. Snow has not yet begun to fall, but it won’t be long until the first flakes come drifting down. The sled can stand the weather, but it may be hard to pull free in the morning.
That’s the end of Chapter 8. I hope you enjoyed it
Chapter 9 is available here.