by Ey Stargazer
A boy finds a tunnel under his bed filled with all sorts of strange creatures
|Now it was on her. I looked at Gemy, trying to communicate the sincerity of what I had just said to her though my eyes. Alera gave her a little push, not enough to make her fall but enough to start her moving. She started to walk towards me. She kept hesitating and turning to her mother. She was almost half way between us now, looking more like a little girl than I had ever seen her. Slowly she approached her mother and then in a rush hugged her.
It wasn’t a clinging hug. I could recongnise it, I had seen it when the cheese moger’s daughter had gotten married and moved to a different village a couple years ago. It was a good bye hug. Her mother kissed Gemy’s forehead. I could just detect the glimmer of moisture in her eyes as she pulled back. She approached Thea next. But Thea stomped off into the trees, her own tears having already started to fall. Alera had disappeared.
She came toward me next, anticipation mixed with dread playing across her features. I spread my arms to her. She only hesitated a moment before rushing into my arms. I held her, I could feel the tears starting to fall from her eyes where her head rested against my neck. I held her tightly her mother fixed in the same spot seemingly unable to move. But we would have to while we still had light.
I didn’t ask Gemy if she had anything to bring. The house was bare bones, and everything in it was shared. Between me and my family I would find a way to provide for her. It was my vow and I would keep it. With my arm around her shoulders I began to lead her off. I glanced back once to see her mother, still standing but with the first smile I had seen playing at the corners of her mouth while the tears streamed down her face.
“I have some supplies that I’ve been gathering this was, the trip should take perhaps three days. We may be out of food at that time but I’m sure my parents…our parents will give us something to revive us and from there we can decide better what to do.”
“Did you really mean it?” her eyes still let out tears, “am I really to be your wife?”
I smiled at her, the first truly free expression I was able to give her. “Yes Gemy, my Gemy, as far as I’m concerned you are already my wife.”
The sack and the few supplies I had put there were still in their place when we arrived, but I hadn’t been anticipating two of us going back. Nor had I though much of what we would come to when we arrived. I wouldn’t be able to change that anyway, so there was little point dwelling on it. Her shoes were only made of hide so I tried to keep us in mossy areas if I could, arriving home with bloody feet was unlikely to do much for a good impression.
“Will I learn to dance?”
“In time you will be the best dancer in the village.” I was conveniently avoiding the fact that I barely knew how to do it myself, but there was a first time for everything and now I had a real reason to try.
We heard footsteps behind us. Couldn’t that woman leave well enough alone? But no the footsteps were too light though they were weighted down from what they usually were.
“Did you think you could really go all this way and make a new life for yourself without me?” Gemy broke from me and raced back to hug her sister, nearly knocking the bag of extra supplies from Alera’s hand. “easy there, madam over joyed bride. We do need to keep moving I dare say it is quite a hike ahead of us.”
I smiled and held out my hand for Gemy, she took it but kept her arm looped in with Alera’s. “I will be glad to have you along, Gemy might have an easier time adjusting if you’re there.”
“What are sisters for? Besides someone is going to need to watch your kids eventually.”
She laughed as we both turned red. “You’re married now I am allowed to tease you.”
“Just don’t overdo it please.”
Alera nudged her, “aren’t you supposed to be a blushing bride?”
I hadn’t been around much of sisterly talk unless I counted the ladies in the kitchen when they were having a canning party, but it was much different from two genuine sisters off on their first adventure. I found myself smiling at their dreams chiming in every now and then to answer a question of clear something up as far as the customs went. I found that of the latter there were a great many, I don’t know where their mother grew up but it couldn’t have been anywhere near where our village was.
The girls took charge of the shelter for the night, pulling ever green sticks together against the side of a tree and packing snow on top of it till no more light could be seen from underneath. They had some considerable skill with living on the mountain that was sure. They could start a fire much faster than I could but they seemed in awe of how much I could carry now that I was closer to my normal strength. We arranged ourselves with me closest to the entrance, Gemy occupying her usual spot, and Alera on the other side of her. They fell asleep much faster than I did. I absentmindedly stroked Gemy’s hair. It was fine and a light red almost orange color. Then it struck me. What on earth had I gotten myself into!
I was much more quiet and subdued the next day. We found the usual goat trail and started following it down. With no goats to drive ahead of us we could potentially make it hallway down or more by the time it was nightfall again. The girls were even more excited then they were before.
“what are your parents like?”
“Well my dad is a very hard worker he does his best to provide for the family and to help things run smoothly in the village. My mother is very kind and especially devoted to my sister.”
“You have a sister?”
“What’s her name?”
“Charlote but we call her Letti.”
“That’s a nice name, so what do they call you?”
“Oh yes, that would be good to know, I’d be terribly embarrassed to be introduced as your wife but not know your name.”
I looked back at the girls as they walked behind me, a bright blush taking over Gemy’s features as I smiled at her. I decided to take a page out of my dad’s hand book and try something on her that I had seen him do with my mom. I fell into step beside her, ignoring Alera’s raised eyebrows. I took her hand in mine and caressed her knuckles before lifting her hand and kissing it, “I’m usually called Ed, but you may call me whatever you choose.”
Even Alera was blushing. Gemy stared at me, fixed on the spot and her eyes as big as saucers. I continued to smile tenderly at her, she was beautiful, and quiet and kind, maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. When she regained some composure she walked ahead briskly her cheeks the rivaling her plump lips in color, I would have to try kissing her one of these times. Alera elbowed me.
“You going to walk beside her or what?”
I alternated in and out of being nervous. I wasn’t sure how my family would receive her and her sister, I wasn’t sure how well they would take to village life after spening so much of their lives on the mountain. Of course I wasn’t sure who they would take to me either. For all I knew they thought I was dead all these months. The snow was thin and crisp under our boots, the constant sound of the mountain run off and ever present symphony in the background. We ate our dried meat and berries as we walked all of us eager to make it to our destination and the more ground we could cover today meant the less we would need to go over tomorrow.
“Will we have our own house?”
“I’m not sure if we’ll have one right away, we might stay with my parents for the first while and then in the summer work more on that project.” I hadn’t thought that much about the living arrangements but their mention brought on the conviction that I should tell them my history so they weren’t shocked when we got there. I started from before I met Kyle and continued on with the story, in between trying to tell enough details to satisfy them and answering their questions we were well into the evening before I was finished and my voice was getting hoarse.
“So what happened after you went up the mountain with the boys?”
“Leave that part till tomorrow, Gemy and would you please come nad help me with these sticks? We do need to shelter out here for one more night at least you know.”
Gemy was reluctiant to leave, I was sitting on a log and she had placed herself by my knees, fiddling with the edge of her skirt and listening to me with rapt attention.
“There isn’t that much more to tell, but I’ll continue tomorrow when we head out again.” I had never known anyone ot talk so much. It must have been a girl thing, my dad and I could spend an entire day out in the pasture with little more communication than grunts and we understood each other perfectly well.
Gemy was positively vibrating with excitement that night, enough so that her sister elbowed her a few times to try to get her to settle. Neither of them was really sleeping I suppose their excitement was warrented, they were about to embark on a whole new life, they would likely have to learn a great many things. First off would be that you can use more than four logs in the course of the day and not all food had to be a colorless flavorurless offering.
Gemy got up before the sun. She was sitting with everything packed when I got up.
“Is Alera up yet?”
“Should we wake her?”
“I think it might be a good thing to let her sleep if we can, sometimes sleeping in a strange place can take some getting used too.”
She looked at me like she was talking to a small child. “we were living in a house you know how different could it be?”
Now I got to return her expression, “if I have my way with the construction, a lot different. Or one, there will be more then one room, the necessary will be built so it is attatched to the house so you don’t have to go outside, there will be a separate kitchen and dining room, and everyone will have their own room.”
She was extremely excited, “I get a whole room all to myself?”
Maybe I should rephrase that.
Alera climbed out of the branch structure. “Are we having breakfast Gemy, or do you intend that we depart on an empty stomach?”
After Gemy finished blushing and retrieving the food for the morning from the satchel at her side, we decided to eat as we went, soon we came upon the field with the sitting rocks.
“It won’t be much longer now.” After I uttered those words was when the enormity of the situation seemed to hit my girls.
“Will your parents like me?”
“I’m sure they will once they get to know you.”
“What about the village? Will I get to live with yiou or will I have to make it on my own?”
“I’m sure Gemy would be more than happy if you stayed with us.” In your own room, though I didn’t say that last part.
My reassurances didn’t seem to be giving them the peace they needed and by the time we were a stones throw from the village though not in sight of it yet they were ready to call the whole thing off and trapsie back up the mountain, enough supplies or not.
“Well, we’re come this far,”Alera finally resolved, “if they don’t want us we can go back.”
I suppose I should have been glad but I had been quite serious when I agreed to marry her, it just felt right. I reached back and took their hands. “Gemy, I want you here with me, I can make a living here and support you, I have contacts and resources, even if no one else understands I still want you here. Alera, you’re my sister now, and Gemy will need you too. I can’t provide for you up there, not the way I want to, not the way I know I can. Give it more of a chance please, I wasn’t joking about my commitment.”
Alera seemed satisfied, Gemy was more wary still, though I suppose she had more to adjust too.
“We’ll have to walk by the goat folds first, there isn’t likely to be anyone there since they should all be out to pasture now. My parent’s house is one of the first ones you will see, that is where we will go first. Once you’re comfortable, I’ll show you around the rest of the village, we can go at your pace, I can catch up with people on my own if you wish, I don’t want to crowd you.”
My mom would take to them immediately. My father had hinted every now and then that I was eventually going to have to move out and start my own family, I learned the family business, I had been taught how to make repairs around the house. It wouldn’t be that difficult, especially since I would still be going to help my dad and he would help me as well. The road that passed through the village took a rout parallel to the path to the goat folds, so we were not likely to meet anyone from the front. It did occur to me that my father might be out with the goats, which meant that I might be coming in on mom and Letti alone, but maybe that would be for the best.
The house looked a lot different, the entrance had been moved, I’m guessing to correspond with the tunnel opening so people wouldn’t have to go though the whole house to get too it. I guess that took some of the space in their house off the list, we would probably have to stay in the living room till we could have a house raising. No one seemed to notice us, then again there was very little reason for people to come from this direction until it was time to get the goats in for the day. What was curious was what I saw on them. Every person, it didn’t seem to matter the age were carrying a wyrm or had one moving along close beside them. For a village that just a year ago was scared of the creatures they had certainly changesd. I had walked around with Kyle at my heels ever since the injury maybe that had something to do with it. My eyes burned slightly at the thought, I still did not know the real fate of my wyrm. Had I failed Kyle? Was kyle my charge or was I hers? Perhaps we were there for each other. I had thought it over many times, reliving it in my dream, trying too find something I could have done to save her. No solution presented itself, no clues in the conversation, would I have been eaten if things had been any different?
I shook my head to clear the thoughts, taking a steadying breath. I could do nothing about it now, even if I wanted to go back the entrance was blocked and I would have to stumble around in unknown tunnels to find another way and what if I did? I could do nothing about the monster. But I could…I would take care of the young ladies entrusted to me. They were both trying to hide behind me, which can’t have been very effective since they were both trying to peak out to see what they were getting into. I motioned with my arm and led them toward where the old entrance was to the house. I knocked and opened the door. I could hear my mother in the kitchen.
“Ah back with those onions already? You’re such a fast little dear. How was Maria today?”
I put my fingers to my lips and stepped out of my boots. Might as well make this a proper surprise.
I tried to walk softly, she probably thought I was Letti after all. I peaked around the corner into the kitchen, my mother’s back was to me while she worked on something over the counter, I said a quick prayer that she wasn’t handling a knife and walked up behind her.
I put my hands on her shoulders to keep her facing forward and said close but not too close to her ear, “did you miss me?”
She dropped the knife and started to tremble, rooted in the spot she didn’t seem sure what to do. At length she said. “I’m dreaming again, I was so sure I was awake." I saw a tear slide down her cheek. When did I get so much taller than her? I took my hand off her shoulder and brushed it away. She took my hand in her hand shaking. She stared at it for a moment then started to touch it with her other hand, still not convinced that I was real. I clasped her hand and gently led her to turn around. The tears were flowing freely now. Her eyes were full of hope, but also dread that what she was seeing wasn’t real.
I smiled at her, tears in my own eyes. “Yes, I’m real, I’m here, I’ve come back.”
She sniffed, “that’s exactly what Edmund of my dreams would say.”
I pulled her into my embrace, she felt so small now, had I grown that much or was this the result of my being gone for so long. I stroked her head like she used to do with me when I was younger, not noticing how much of a beard I had grown until the tendrils tried to get stuck in them.
“Mom, I have someone here for you to meet.” I tried to pull back to motion Gemy and Alera to come forward but mom held fast. Sobs starting to shake her body as she was convincing herself that I was real. At length she pulled back, touching my face and starting to do some highbred of laughing and crying. She pulled on my beard, traced my eyebrows, ran her hands though my wild hair that had gone a winter without being properly kept. The she traced my cheeks and forehead. Finally she stood on her tip toes and planted a kiss on my forehead.
She resumed hugging me. “I’ve missed you so much, I thought you were never coming back.”
I cupped her face in my hands and returned a kiss to her forehead. “I might not have been if it weren’t for these ladies.” Might as well cast them in as positive a light as possible. “Mom, I’d like you to meet someone very important to me.” I exgtended my hand, Gemy move forward, slight tears in her eyes after watching the scene before her. “This is Gemy and her sister Alera,” Alera stepped forward and attempted an awkward curtsey, “They saved me when I was lost on the mountain. Gemy,” I braced myself slightly for the response I wasn’t sure I would get, “is my wife now.”
Well she was startled there was no denying that fact but she recovered beautifuly. She looked at Gemy and then back to me a couple times with an expression seeking to be assured that I wasn’t joking. I smiled and squeezed Gemy’s hand. If my mom didn’t accept her I’m not sure how I would be able to get anyone else to. After what felt like a long time though I’m sure it was only a few seconds, she beamed and latched on to Gemy. “Thank you thank you.” Tear were still flowing down her face as she took both our hands and squeezed them, she laughed, it sounded releaved, “you won’t find a better husband,” he tried to wipe her eyes, “I raised him myself.”
Gemy’s relief was palpable. She rushed into a hug of her own initiation, perhaps relieved that she would still have a mother close by even if she was down the mountain from where she grew up. Alera was beaming though she wasn’t about to intrude into the scene too far. But mom soon saw to that.
She reached her arm out and smiled at Alera, I was happy to see them all getting along.
Then I hearad the thud. I turned. An older version of Letti was standing in the entrance to the kitchen, her mouth open and the onions she had lately been carrying still rolling on the floor, I bent to pick them up. Letti tried to say something, but didn’t have much success, she had a different feeling to her then I remember. I smiled as I put the onions on the counter. “Hello, Letti, did you miss me?”
She nearly screamed out her approval and leaped into my arms. I must have grown a lot since she didn’t seem to but I knew she must have. My mom was still clinging to my wife and her sister. Looks like it might be up to me to make the introductions. Letti’s tear were startgin to slide down my neck.
“Letti, meet your new sisters.” Mom’s eyes were red from crying but she didn’t seem to care all that much.
Letti leaned back to see around my head but kept a firm grip on my neck still.
“They saved Ed on the mountain.” It was a very simplified version of the story but it would suffice for now and I wasn’t so sure that it was necessary for people to know the whole story, knowing my dad he might go up the mountain on principle to put Thea and their mother to the task.
Letti was polite and kind in her receiving of them but she made it obvious that her enthusiasm was for me to be home. She was only what, getting close to seven years old now. She would be happy about it enough in the future but in the mean time she was mostly concerned that her big brother was home.
“Do you need any help with the meal?” Alera was always the sensible one.
My mom did not seem to comprehend her question for the longest time but Letti seemed more then willing to let Alera take over the food prep so she could spend time focusing on me. Mom came to understanding when Alera found an apron to put on.
“Oh, oh yes, but let’s get you settled first. I’m sure I have something that would be far more flattering on you and, warmer as well, it’s a miracle you didn’t freeze in those thread bare clothes.”
The girls looked at me in confusion as my mother dragged them off toward her room. I rubbed the back of my neck, I hadn’t paid that much attention to their clothes but as I watched them walk away, I couldn’t help but notice that there had been several alterations to their dresses as they had grown rather than to make them new ones. As it stood, both girls hems were getting to be nearly above the level of their knees and their stockings were displaying some obvious holes.
“Why did mom call them my sisters?” Time for more explaining.
I fell asleep on the couch in the living room. My things had been removed an what used to be my room had been entirely transformed to a entrance room for the tunnel. My parents still had all my stuf, though my mom was convinced that none of my clothes were going to fit me anymore anyway…she was probably right. We would be put up in the living room as I had thought. I did offer to ask Maria if she still had a spare room available but mom wouldn’t hear of my leaving again so soon. It had been so long since I was here, it almost didn’t feel familier any more, but it was still the same arrangement of furniture, the village was still mostly the same, there were some new structures that I would have to ask about later but for now I was content to just sit and think about nothing. Until I fell asleep and for the first time in so many months I slept without dreaming.
I awoke to someone grabbing my arm and pulling me upright from the couch. It took me awhile to realise it was my father who was burying his face in my shoulder. He was crying, I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen my father cry. I hugged him back, surprised to find that we were nearly the same height now, though I hadn’t filled out as much as he had yet.
“I thought I would never see you again. When the boys told us about the cave and then that aweful screaming and the roars…and then when they saw no sign of you and you didn’t return home. I thought the worst, we all believed you were…”
He couldn’t bring himself to say it, by this point we were both crying though I’m sure we would try to deny it later if we were asked.
“Did you meet…” I finanly choked out.
“Gemy? Yes, she told me I would find you in here.” He gave a slight chuckle, “she was so nervous of me, though I think I surprised her more than anything when I hugged her. So you’ve found a wife have you? Your mother tells me that I am in her debt for your safety.”
I started to relay the tale to him, he held up his hand, “she already told me…the whole story.”
I wasn’t sure how to take that but the look in my father’s eyes told me which version of the story she had told, I felt myself pale a bit.
He put his hand on my shoulder as we sat down again, “you did right by her son, I’m proud of you, she will have a much better life down here, Alera as well. I’ve cautioned her not to tell the full version just yet. We don’t need to send people on a witch hunt right now and the important thing is you are all safe now.” We were quiet for a moment, then my dad laughed and smiled at me, “but under the circumstances it seems there are a few things I’m going to have to tell you.”