What Have I Done to Deserve This
Only later did it occur to Hulda that perhaps Fannar had no idea what had happened in the village. She’d know if they’d had any visitors, and really, Pall was the only one not from Lurstrand she’d seen all winter.
It wasn’t like she was keeping track of people or anything. It was just common curtesy. If you arrived in the village you took the time to stop by the train station and say hi. Have a chat, a cup of tea, a seat. If she hadn’t seen anyone else, there probably hadn’t been anyone else.
That worked the other way around too. If someone left, she’d hear about it. Much as many of them didn’t like to talk, they still liked their gossip the villagers. If something happened, she’d hear about it – and not just once.
So no, Fannar probably hadn’t heard of what had happened. Then again, he was the shaman. He might know anyway. The spirits might have told him, or he’d read it in entrails or seen it in the stars or something like that. You never knew with a shaman.
– – –
Fannar himself, well, to be honest, we’ll never know if he knew or not.
He went over to the post office, spoke to Ralphur, and the postmaster told him over coffee. Told him everything there was to know, more or less, give or take. Enough to get the shaman up to scratch.
People had died. Kala was mad. Villagers were worried. The community hung together by the scruff of the neck and behind closed doors you heard whispers of bad omens. Fear sat outside. Fear wanted in.
It’s what the postmaster said, and what the shaman heard, and if the shaman already know he didn’t let on.
Instead, he very politely, as is his way, asked whether his room upstairs was for habitation.
So, yes, Fannar normally lives in Lurensborg, but since he’s the only practicing shaman in the entire Lurvak Bay area he’s got rooms in both Lurstrande and Morskebo. It’s just more convenient than having him stay with one of the families of the village. Less drama too.
He doesn’t have a place of his own in Toft, but they’ve got a large inn, and in the winter no one comes through the mountain pass anyway so he can stay there if he needs to.
Here, in Lurstrand, Fannar’s room is upstairs from the post office. He’s not used it since summer and it’s stupid cold. Frost on the floor. Dead fox under the bed.
No, I don’t know how the stupid fox got there. No one knows. It’s probably a bad omen too if you stop to think about it, so don’t. Just, don’t. We’ve got enough bad omens as it is already. Fannar threw it out anyway – even waited until Ralphur wouldn’t noticed and probably a good thing too.
Other than that. Well, let’s say Ralphur might have been slacking off.
With badly hidden displeasure Fannar stalked off to get himself a cup of tea, and Ralphur went to find the brothers to get their help in carrying in firewood for the little potbelly stove in the Fannar’s room. It wouldn’t do to let the shaman freeze to death in his sleep.
They should probably put in some food as well, and the brothers would leave him a bit of their home made booze – whether he wanted to or not.
– – –
The arrivals hall was more crowded than usual.
Hulda’s legs ached from running back and forth with her kettle, and her cheeks ached from smiling. But, for once, her smile came easy, and she danced among the tables like the coffee-ballerinas of the little restaurant in the opera house catacombs back home. Not that she could dance, or that anyone would ever take her for a ballerina, but that wasn’t the point.
Her villagers’ smiles were wider, and their voice lighter. There was laughter on the din.
Over in the far corner, under the map that showed the railroad network of the entire republic, sat Fannar and Sindri, deep in conversation.
Fannar, his robe hung over the back of a chair, and his staff leaning against the wall, sipped his tea, nodded and smiled – nodded, and smiled. From what Hulda could tell, that’s about all he did. Started out with a few words to get the conversation going and then just listened.
He’d done that all afternoon. Different people. Different conversations. But, most likely, Hulda figured, the same concerns. She’d been over to top up the water enough times to pick up on a thing or two. Lilja. Kala. The missing boat. The winter and the cold, the future of the village, and was he really sure it wasn’t a bad omen?
The man must have a monster of a patience.
And if he could keep talking to the villagers, she could keep him with hot water
It was time again. A tiny nudge at the back of her mind. Time to top up the mugs. She’d been serving up hot water for the villagers for long enough she knew by heart how long it took for them to empty their mugs by now.
She touched her knuckles to the kettle – still hot – and made her way over.
– – –
Fannar and Sindri both looked up as she appeared beside their table. She held up the kettle and grinned at them, and they both smiled back.
“Water?” she asked.
Fannar nodded. Calm as ever. Confident. Relaxed.
Sindri just looked at her, and the smile never reached his eyes. Short black curls. Sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. Unshaven – and not in the handsome way.
In his arms he cradled a small baby girl. Little Saga, six months old. Sleeping. Eventually he nodded. Just a little, so as not to wake the girl.
Hulda swallowed, and for a moment her smile faltered before she forced it in place again. It pained her to look at him. She hurried to turn to Fannar and fill up his mug, and then kept her eyes on the kettle as she filled up Sindri’s.
“There we are.” She straightened up and pushed a little cheer into her voice. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
Fannar looked up at her. His face serious, but not unfriendly. “Thank you, Hulda,” he said and nodded.
“Thank you,” said Fannar, and gave her a nod.
Hulda turned to Sindri to check with him too, but he’d lowered his head and sat staring down at the baby in his arms – or maybe he’d closed his eyes. She couldn’t see his eyes from where she stood right beside him.
Probably a good time to go see who else needed their tea topped up.