Chapter 3: After the Silence
I walked out of the room, and found Atheron, the hermit (our hermit, Gran would tease), still at his table, concentrating on swirling bread around his bowl. He was bringing it up to his mouth, but stopped when he saw me.
“I’m sorry, Tina.”
He had just enough time to put his bread aside as I ran to him, sobbing, losing myself in his big, comforting arms. Giving over to grief and the onslaught of uncertainty, the emotions took their toll and I collapsed into sleep under their weight.
When I woke up, he’d put me in his own bed under a massive blanket.
He slept on his cot which he took with him in his travels, and he’d let the hearth fire burn down to embers. The sky was suffused with bright moonlight, and speckled with stars.
He was snoring softly.
I didn’t know if he’d taken Gran, or left her, but I didn’t want to wake him to ask, so I went to take a peek into the room instead. Her body was there, but he’d covered it with another sheet, tucked in around her.
We’d enjoyed a peaceful time here, not having to look over our shoulders as we ran; Atheron had been valiant and vigilant in protecting us. He even made Gran laugh, and there was always a patient kindness in his eyes when he dealt with my childishness.
I tried to find out what drove him to hermitage, about his life before now, but he was as protective about that as everything else, finding a way to distract me while he pretended he was going to answer.
I’d pout later, realizing what he’d done, and promise he wouldn’t get away with it next time, but as far back as I could remember, he always did.
“G’night, Gran,” I said, as if she’d just fallen asleep and I’d see her smile in the morning.
I climbed back into bed, turning over what she’d told me about the dark arts, but I wasn’t sleepy anymore. I didn’t feel any different after the transfer of power, outside of that flying sensation and the light around us, nothing else happened.
My sleep had been dreamless.
Sitting up in bed, listening to the forest sounds, I suddenly needed to know what Atheron intended to do with Gran, and I didn’t want him to do it without me. I stayed awake, reminiscing, remembering Gran as I’d known her in my brief life.
She was beautiful and brave, and try as they might, men far taller, stronger, and even older than she couldn’t intimidate her, no matter what their life’s station. There’d been other times I’d seen her eyes, hooded and distant, as she looked out the window at the changing seasons that marked her time, her lips moving as if in prayer, but no sound to indicate who or what she prayed to, or for, and why she was doing it.
Even with my childhood curiosity, I never got the courage to ask her; I simply called it ‘Gran’s time,’ and left her in peace whenever she was like that.
In a welcome memory I didn’t know I had, I saw her smiling down at me in my crib, singing, laughing, her face full of love and joy for my birth, for me. A feeling of peace went through me, warm like a hug in winter, better than Atheron’s comforting arms.
Go to sleep, Tina.
I turned on my side, away from the rising moon, and pulled up Atheron’s massive blanket; I had to use both my hands and all the strength in my arms to get it up to my chest.
Chapter 4: Knowing, Parting
In the pale pink light of a foggy morning, Atheron made a cairn for Gran, and we sang a dirge that was supposed to put a soul that might be restless at peace. I don’t think Gran’s soul wanted to go through any more than it already had.
She would be somewhere surrounded by water, deer, and birds, and large swaths of sunlight on grass, and flowers with scents she could catch on a breeze; I didn’t think she’d miss the weight of the magic either, but if she could have taken it with her, she would have spared me the burden.
We finished the dirge, unsure if either of us felt any more at peace for singing it, but the last note faded away with the last tendrils of fog.
The birds resumed their song when we were done, and I didn’t realized they’d stopped until it happened.
“Thank you, Atheron.”
He sadly smiled and gave a heavy sigh. For all that he was a hermit with a plot of land, isolated for however long, for whatever reason, I think he was grateful for the company; having someone to care for took his mind off the reasons and circumstances that led him to such a life.
“You’re welcome, Tina. I was honored to know her.”
Later there’d be questions, plans, decisions, and going through Gran’s things. For now, neither of us felt like talking, and though the joy had fled from our lives for the moment, the morning chill had not.
“Time for breakfast and tea,” he rumbled. “Let’s go.”
I took his hand, and we returned to the cottage.
I noticed he’d closed the door to what had been Gran’s room, emphasizing her absence, and the empty places in our hearts we knew no dirge could ever fill.