So many paths lead through the wood.
All different night from day.
Turning, ever crossing
so who will find the way.
A mother’s heart is strongest,
when eyes beheld so many years
Sarah Lynn Morgan
Syna awoke to the full sunshine streaming into her small room. It was unheard of for her to sleep so late, but of course, she had been very tired. For many minutes she just closed her eyes, and lay there, enjoying the comfort of her covers and her bed. Someone had opened her window, and a warm inviting breeze was flowing over her, coaxing her to wakefulness.
Stretching long and languidly, Syna rose up to peek out of the window. Faintly, she could hear her father talking to the animals, obviously working about the yard today. Pausing to listen to the songs of the birds, a small splash of color caught her eye on the window. Reaching out she found it was a small bundle of flowers, no two alike, tied in a bow made from a small green stem.
“Aida.” Syna whispered to herself, and smiled.
Yawning and stretching once more, she quickly began to move about to care for her needs of a new morning.
She bathed herself in a basin of warmed water, before moving to the box under her bed to find something to wear. Once she pulled it out, however, she could only laugh atthe things she’d found there. Moving to the Trunk, she begin pulling things out to lay on her bed. She only had to move a few of the things before she found a brown skirt and a thistle green bodice to replace the ones she had been wearing for…, two days.
As she dressed the girl in the mirror, she could not help but grin at her when on an impulse she went back to the trunk to retrieve another gold colored ribbon.
Even though she was glad she had placed the bars of soap in the trunk, her first task was surely to take all the clothes in the trunk and hang them outside. She was amazed that it took her four trips. Many of the finer things in the bottom of the trunk, Syna could never remember seeing.
Syna felt very comforted to be about the familiar tasks of caring for both herself and her father. Every so often as she would move about, she would catch her reflection in the surface of the water cistern or in the mirror. They amused her, these reflections, as she watched her hands raise up to smooth and feel the beautiful clothes that enveloped her smooth skin. Much of her dull confusion of the last few days was fading, but still she couldn’t help but feel that there was something she had wanted to do.
Drawing away, to go and turn the bread that was baking in the oven niche, she could hear that her father was now working right outside the cottage. So, dipping some hot water, she made him a flagon of tea chosen from herbs that she knew would give him energy and help rebuild his strength. It was as if he had not been eating, even though she had been putting extra portions in his meals while he had worked so hard to clear the stream.
The tea would help on a day that was cool enough to herald the fall, and would also taste very good, which was why she made herself a much smaller cup. Smoothing the golden bow that she had placed in her hair that morning, she walked the tea out to her father.
She could see that he was building something against the south side of the cottage. He had built a floor, and was seemingly enclosing three sides, leaving a gap between the structure and the house. She could also see, that there were the beginnings of what looked like a small hearth in the wall on the back side.
“What are you building, father?” She asked brightly, as she handed him the tea. It was sunny, and warmer outside than that morning, but the breeze still gave hint to the cooler season that was so late in coming this year.
“It’s something I saw when I was looking for you…” Bryan turned, setting an adz aside to take several appreciative sips of the tea. “It’s called a privy shed. It will be covered on three sides, and it has a small hearth where you can light a fire when the weather is cool. You can wash in here, and not get the floor of your room wet, but still have all the privacy you might need.”
Syna could see a look of mild discomfort on her father’s face when he mentioned privacy. He handed her the empty cup before he turned back and began to smooth the inside of one of the posts he had erected at the corner of the platform.
“That’s very clever, Father. Where did you see it again?” She asked him, trying to keep the conversation practical, rather than focusing on her growing need for privacy.
“I don’t remember in which of the villages, Syn…” He answered, again tripping over her name.
“It’s all right if you call me Syna, Father.” She said gently, causing him to stop and turn and stare directly down into her eyes for a moment or two.
“I’ve never really liked that name.” He said flatly. “I’ve heard too many people refer to you in that way, and it doesn’t feel right to me somehow to call you something that used to hurt your feelings so much.” In spite of the pain on his face, he kept looking at her honestly.
It amazed Syna that he was so strong. For the first time, she could begin to appreciate him as a man, and not just her father. He was very good, and very strong. Most people would have looked away. It shocked her to realize that she was thinking with approval of why a woman as beautiful as her mother might have chosen him as a husband, because it was such an odd thing to think
Finally Syna collected her thoughts enough to tell him “It doesn’t hurt me any more, Father; and it’s just as pretty a name as any other. I like the name now, and I especially like it when you call me that.”
The look on her father’s face was warmer, but still not completely convinced.
“Well then, what about Ayanne, father? If you would prefer to call me that, you may.”
Clearly, this thought was no greater comfort to her father. She found herself asking again, “What is it father?”
Slowly he shook his head as he stared at her for a moment before speaking. “Its just that it’s been a long time since I’ve heard that name.”
Syna could not have been more surprised. “You’ve heard that name before?”
Her father nodded and watched her for a few moments more, always seemingly on the verge of speaking, but he said nothing further.
Finally Syna could not take it any more, and asked more earnestly than she normally ever would when speaking to her father. “Where?”
Bryan’s lips tightened for a moment, not in annoyance at how his daughter prodded him, but more in an aversion to speaking the words.
“That was a name your mother told me… If…” His face was now a mass of emotion as he turned once more toward the post. “If you had been born a little girl...”
Syna watched her father’s back for the few moments that it took the tool that he had been smoothing the post with to slowly fall to hang limply at his side.
Syna stepped toward him, and soon she was holding him from behind. “I’m so sorry father. I’ve hurt you so much lately, and I’ve never meant to hurt anyone.” Syna squeezed him about the middle.. “I miss her too.”
“I know you do, little one. A boy…” he clucked out loud now, shaking his head at his mistake, but feeling better to be able to talk about it openly. “Sorry. A girl shouldn’t have to grow up without her mother, and with only a big lout for a father to ease her way.” He turned carefully within her arms enough to drag her around where he could hug her back.
“You’re not!” she managed, before his strong grip crushed her to him briefly.
“Yes I am little one. But I love you more than anything in this world, and somehow your mother always thought that if anything ever happened to her, that would be good enough.” His grip on her had shown no sign of abating, when he spoke once more. “I long ago learned to trust her judgment in such things, child. I still pray every night she was right.”
It was one of the few times Syna had seen her father smile when he had talked about his missing wife. Syna just listened to him, willing him to go on - for both their sakes.
“She always seemed to know what to do. I’ve never seen anything like it, unless of course it was what I see in you. I don’t know what happened to you…, but I can tell you that even though I’m scared, I still love you just as much. You are just like your mother.”
Syna’s eyes were a little wet, as he pushed her back, allowing her to say. “That’s why I like you to call me Syna, father. I know you do.” She was just dabbing her eyes with the edge of her maiden’s armor, when a voice from behind startled them both rather badly.
“Morning Bryan. …Syna…”
Syna turned to see Dara, and Keely standing there watching them. The look on both of their faces told her that they had been there sufficiently long enough to hear much of what her father had said.
“Hello, Dara.” Bryan said.
“Hello, Dara.” Syna, echoed. “Hello, Keely”
No sooner had she gotten the words out, than Keely had taken two steps toward Syna, and pulled her into a tight hug. Syna could see Dara’s brows as they slowly climbed toward the top of her head. She looked worried, but she said nothing. Keely held onto Syna for just long enough for Bryan’s brows to begin the same slow crawl upward, before the girls stepped apart.
“I’ll make some more tea, Dara,” Syna said taking Keely by the hand. “I’ve just made some sweet breads to surprise Father, but we can all have some now.” Both were grinning as they hurried around to the front of the cottage.
Bryan almost avoided Dara’s eyes when she turned back from watching the retreating backs of their daughters to look at him. In an instant, they both knew that the same name had popped into both of their minds: Chandi. Neither would speak it though, for fear of causing hurt in the other. Neither needed to. All of them had been friends for too many years.
Once the girls got inside, it was only moments before Keely had pressed her lips to Syna’s. Not wanting to be caught, Keely kissed her quickly but very passionately, before she then began to drag her friend to the hearth. “Come on, Syna. I’ll help you.”
“It’s good to see you, Dara.” Bryan began again. “I’m a little surprised though. I had assumed that you and Calum would have had a late night. What brings you up the valley so early this morning?” Bryan smiled at her.
Dara laughed out loud at him, and walked over to pat his arm affectionately. “You know, I almost corrected you when you told Syna you were dumb, Bryan, but a remark like that makes me think I’m glad I didn’t.” She laughed a little more, even reaching out to pat his arm affectionately again, even as she might have done to her own Calum. In silent agreement, both turned toward the cabin.
When Dara spoke, she consciously put the concern for Bryans plight behind her. Not because she was concerned to let him know of her genuine affection for him. He had always been very dear, and she had never hidden that, but rather she chose not to take that path along which lay dealing with the root of all of his unhappiness. All of their lives had changed when Aria disappeared. The not knowing had, over time, changed them more.
She already had one…, or perhaps now two, unpleasant tasks before her.
“The truth is, Bryan, we didn’t have too late a night. Most of the folks left for bed within an hour of your leaving last night.” She said this glancing up at him, to see him nod with complete understanding before she continued “And, Bry, I’m ashamed to say that it was Keene’s Idea for me to come up as soon as I could get away.”
That brought Bryans brows up to their apogee once more. “Why did Keene send you?” He asked, unable to choose between the half dozen reasons the elder might legitimately have done so this particular morning.
“Well, I’m ashamed to say this, but it was his idea that I should come up… and if it was truly necessary, to give your little Syna the benefit of that same little talk that I gave to Keely some years ago.”
Bryan stumbled, even though the ground over which they passed had long ago smoothed by many years of use.
“That’s what I said.” She continued without breaking her own stride, even thought Bryan had not spoken. “To be honest, I’m a little embarrassed that I did not think of it myself, but to be sure, it’s not like we’ve had much time to get use to this. I assume he thought it might be a good way to confirm… Well, you understand.”
If Bryan had not been so lost in thought, he might have stammered at the implications Keene had suggested.
“Dara, I may be a man, nowhere as bright at Keene; but I think I can explain anything that she need s to hear I’m her father after all…”
Dara simply nodded, and waited for the realization grow in him, as it surely would, that father or no, Keene was probably right. Pregnancy and sex was one thing, but hygiene was another matter altogether.
Bryan was almost to the door when his thoughts finally crystallized. “Well.” he said loudly, “That shed won’t get built by itself.” as he turned to cover his embarrassment at taking the easy way out.
Dara was smiling sympathetically, even when he gave her a little pat on the shoulder, as one man does to another to wish them luck, because she had seen the look on his face. One of the things that Keene had said to her, was that Bryan was in fact one of the smartest men he knew, but as a relatively young man, he still had his limitations. Keenehad confided that he was not getting any younger, so much so that he was beginning to look forward to the day when he and Braelan could sit together by the fire while Bryan had all the fun.
It was the first mean thing she’d ever heard the elder say.
She was still laughing in sympathy, for both reasons, as she passed through the door.
A remnant of the smile was still on Dara’s face when she stepped across the threshold into the common room of Bryan’s cottage, but it quickly died. It took her a moment for her eyes to adjust, but not so long that she did not see her Keely quickly release Syna’s hand from her own.
She quite openly sighed to herself, and said “Keely?”
“It’s quite common for one girl to hold her best friend’s hand. It’s quite another for her to let go of it, as if she’s grabbed a hot pot handle, whenever someone else walks into the room.”
Dara’s face held little if any emotion that the girls could fix upon, but the one that was most absent was pleasure. Dara, with a mother’s instinct for both of the children, knew that there was another problem here. She had seen signs in Keely, her lack of interest in any of the young men in the village, but she had wanted to hope that it was just that she was young. Her beauty, Dara knew, would bring many of the young men into her circle. Now, it looked like her worries would take their most troublesome form. It reminded her of Chandi so many years ago, and they had been quite right about her.
She wanted to stomp her foot, and scream out some vile curse.
The discussion she’d fought so hard to arrange with Syna less than a month ago, she might have had with her own daughter at any time. Damn!, she thought.
Syna simply shrugged a little nervously at her, in an obvious gesture of apology, but Keely looked as if she had been struck.
“Mother?” Keely began, even as Dara simply stood and watched in amazement at the thought that Keely might actually say something to her that approached an excuse, or even an untruth. It had always been one of the things both children had in common, neither had parents that gave them cause to lie.
Keely flushed crimson, before she simply said. “Sorry, Mother.”
“It’s all well, Keely, but you should be careful.”
“How long have you known?” Keely asked softly.
Since about a minute ago, for sure, Dara thought. Dara was a very honest, and straight forward woman though.
“Since the day after Syna first showed up in her mothers skirt and vest, Keely. All you did is go on and on about how pretty she was, and how much you loved her bow, and her clothes, and her hair…” Dara answered, shaking her head at the child. “The only thing you didn’t say, was how much you loved her, but you really didn’t need to. Even your father asked me about it.”
Dara could not muster the smile she wanted to as she walked over, and taking her daughter by the shoulders turned her toward the door saying, “Be a dear and go and get us some more firewood, while Syna and I check these sweetbreads of hers.”
Keely almost objected that Syna had already put in quite a pile of wood in the box by the hearth.
Dara said. “I think that the pile we saw down by the lower field should be just about right, if you take your time, and don’t walk too fast. You and I can talk on the way home.”
Syna watched Keely’s back, as she was propelled out the door by her mother.
Dara was still trying to smile again, when she turned back toward Syna from watching her daughter. Her face simply would not make the expression. “So how are you this morning?” Dara asked, her genuine concern for Syna asserting itself as soon as she saw the worry in the girl’s eyes.
“Very well, thank you, Dara.” Syna replied. “I’m sorry if I’ve…’ But Dara simply waved her hand dismissing that subject for the moment. Even she couldn’t question Syna about her feelings toward girls, when she’d just had the same conversation with her about boys.
So, she simply moved on to the one that brought her here. All the while, she could not shake the thought that she had had this conversation with her daughter some years before, and that given what she had seen in the pair, that it might have come in the nick of time — for both of them.
An hour later, when Dara and Syna both came back out of the cottage to call the others to lunch, it was Dara’s face that shown with a little color. She had no idea where the child had learned all of that, but she could surely have wished that her own mother had known even half as much as this young woman seemed to know. What had shaken her though, was the way Syna had continued to smile so kindly as she calmly and clearly explained everything Dara wished to know. Including her feelings for Keely.
It had not taken long, before Dara had given up trying to gently steer the conversation to the delicate subjects she had on her mind, and had gone over to simply asking questions quite openly for her own enlightenment. She still didn’t know if some of what Syna had said was true, but it certainly made sense as if it was all true.
Syna had only smiled quietly to herself in between answering Dara’s questions, as she went about the tasks of getting lunch ready - just as she had been doing since she came home…
That’s what bothered Dara the most. Dara knew there was a problem, now, and for the first time she was very worried that the child was not just hiding something, but that something was wrong with her. She just couldn’t put her finger on exactly what it might be, and that was a first.
She sighed to herself then, because she had expected to grow wiser as she grew older; and, she could only believe she had. However, she’d just never anticipated the questions to become so much harder, so much faster than she learned. It didn’t seem at all fair.
The meal was, if anything, even better than Dara could have managed. Syna had always taken to the maidenly arts with an affinity of a bird to the air. Dara mused, that it was just that they now no longer seemed such a discord. This made Dara worry too, because everything about this…situation, did.
Everyone ate in silence at first, enjoying the quiet meal that they all so badly needed given the stress they had been under. The fact that Syna’s meals were such delightful blends of savory flavors, naturally made their enjoyment of this one a most pressing need. As they continued through the meal, however, eventually they began to enjoy small interjections of conversation as well.
Keely asked. “So what was that you were talking about when we came up, Syna?”
Her father looked a little uncomfortable, but Syna did not see his face as she was politely facing her guests. “Nothing really. Father is worried that calling me Syna might hurt my feelings, but I’ve told him that I like that name much better than Ayanne.”
Dara made a funny face, which of course, Syna did see.
Syna continued. “I heard the other name too, but Syna just feels like me now. Not everyone who calls me that means it in a mean way. I like it better.”
Bryan spoke up. “I just told her that was what her mother would have…” Those words were too hard. “That was a name that her mother had admired.” Bryan told them, as Syna scooped more food onto his plat over his mild instance that he was full.
“You need to eat father. You’ve been working much too hard down by the stream…”
Dara, watched them, agreeing with Syna’s surmise that Bryan needed to eat more, but knowing that Bryan had not worked on the clearing for weeks. Even so, her thoughts were searching for something she still felt she was missing. Then she realized.
Dara spoke to Syna directly “When you told me we could call you Ayanne, was it because your mother had told you about that name?”
“No.” Syna answered, picking up the basket to cut another piece of bred for her father. “I heard the name recently. I don’t ever remember hearing it before. I was surprised when my father told…” Syna stopped speaking when she saw the way Dara was looking at her.
“What is it mother?” Keely asked her, having missed nothing in her mother’s face.
Dara shook herself a little and looked at each of them before explaining. “It’s just odd, I ‘d assumed that your mother must have mentioned that to you, Syna, and that’s why you picked it. I had never heard of it before either, except for one other time.”
“How did my mother come to know that name, Dara?” Syna asked, as she took Dara’s cup and refilled it with cider.
Dara mumbled a little to herself, but saw no harm in telling the tale. Even Bryan leaned forward to hear.
“Well, there is not much to tell. It was when we were both little girls. As I remember it was just about the time that the villagers had a terrible sickness upon them. You girls wouldn’t understand, and to tell the truth neither did Aria or I really, but people got very sick, and many died. We were all frightened.”
“Well one day, when Aria and I were playing by the river, we ran into Keene’s new wife, Nori. She stopped to talk to us, to tell us not to fall into the river, and to be sure to stay dry because if we didn’t we might become ill…”
“While we were talking, she told us a dream she had had the night before. She was amazed, and kept going on about how vivid and detailed it was in her mind. It a story about a Fairy Princess named Ayanne, who lived a long time ago and far away in a land to the south; and about how these little people had searched for her for many years till they finally found her. Nori said that it was a lovely story, and all the little people were singing and so happy because they had finally found that princess, and how they had lived very happily, together ever after.”
Dara shook her head. “I’d forgotten that your mother had picked that name out in case she had a baby girl. I don’t think that anyone else knew of it. At the time Nori told us, everyone was so frightened, that they didn’t see each other unless they had to. Aria and I had to sneak away to the river just to play together.”
Dara was looking at Syna all the while she told the story, which fascinating though it was, was also making her feel uncomfortable.
“I suppose that your mother must have told you that name at some time, or even the whole story when you were very small, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard that name anywhere else.”
Everyone was silent for a long time, When Bryan spoke next.
“That was a bad time. I remember it well, because I was older, and I used to work in the mill for Liam’s father. He was as old as Keene is now, and he used to make people leave their grain out by the front door of the mill, and then send Liam and I out to get it. Usually it was me, because Liam was always trying to fix something or other. Then Keene would bring it back to the village to drop off the flour. Fortunately, we got a very early spring that year, and then sickness just faded away. My mother said that she had strange dreams too, as I recall, but I don’t think she ever told me about them. After the sickness, we were all to busy planting after so many years of famine. Since then, however, we’ve been very lucky.”
Syna cold not return Dara’s stare, in which she had been fixed from the time Dara begun to speak, so Syna looked at Keely instead.
Fortunately, that prompted Keely to speak next. “I remember The Elder telling me about a sickness. I’m glad we don’t have things like that anymore.”
Even as the girls gathered the dishes, Syna could feel Dara’s eyes on her. It was like the feeling of having forgotten something, only worse, because of having someone mad at you for doing it…
The girls were talking quietly by the basin as they cleaned the dishes; while Dara and Bryan were similarly engaged as they sat closer to the fire. Thus none of them noticed the approach of the elder gentlemen before he called out from the door
“If I’d have known you had company, Bryan, I’d have waited till tomorrow. Should have sent word, at least I suppose.” Keene, said in a friendly way.
Bryan and Dara fairly leapt from their chairs to invite the man to the fire. Keene was getting on in years, and was seldom seen so far up the valley, let alone the hillsides these days. It bode that he had something very important on his mind indeed, especially since he had sent Dara here already. Nevertheless, the priority was to have the man quickly ensconced by the fire with a cup of warm cider, and a small bowl of lunch in front of him.
His pleasure at the meal as genuine as his friendly and familiar conversation, but both parents could see that his eyes keenly assessing all around him, as he noted everything about the cottage and the girls. They could also see that his eyes were drawn to Syna most of all, even as he made the usual observances of the state of the fields and the harvest in this part of the valley. Would Bryan have help to bring in the lower field? Had he made plans with Ladd to do the same for him?
None of this surprised Dara, or Bryan, except for the point at which he’d turned to stare at Dara for two breaths without speaking.
“Father?” Syna asked quietly, on hearing the lull in the conversation. “Keely and I are going to walk down to the stream. I want to look for more roots for Braelan, and it’s such a nice day…”
Bryan nodded, as she picked up a small basket by the door. He frowned because he was glad Keely was with Syna, not knowing if he would be able to watch her head toward the forest alone..
Dara frowned because Keely was with her too, but was silently thankful as she finally watched the girls headed for the well with the basket and several small bottles.
Keene didn’t make a face at all as Keely once more reached out to hold the knot that held Syna’s apron, but the kindly old man immediately set the bowl aside and took a deep sigh.
“Well, Bryan,” He said with a wry smile, “I suppose that I did not really have to apologize for sticking my head in your door unannounced.”
“No. I expected to see you today or tomorrow, but I do wish that you would not come so far up the valley alone. If you’d said something last night, someone might have come along with you.”
Dara was quick to make grunts of firm agreement. She had often sent one of the older children along with Keene, to lend stronger shoulder to the old man’s travels about the valley. He would not take a horse, feeling he was too old to mount easily, and she did not approve of such a long journey on foot either.
“Calum said as much as well,” Keene smiled warmly, “and even sent one of his boys along with me, but I sent him packing. You see I wanted to speak with you alone, and this time I didn’t want my travels known throughout the village. ”
Dara began to make noises to summon Keely back so that they could leave, but Keene quickly squashed that notion.
“By no means do I wish to exclude you, Dara. I should have said to you both.” He smiled kindly at her, even as he reached out to lay a firm if old hand on her forearm. “In truth, I’d hoped to catch you here as well.”
“Honestly, I’m rather surprised that Jada isn’t here.” He said this looking from one to the other. “I was unsure how I could avoid…, involving him any further.”
Dara nodded, but explained to them both, “He left very early this morning, Keene, well before I did. He asked Calum for a horse so that he could let his rest in the field, and headed out on the south road near daybreak. I was surprised he wasn’t here when I arrived too.”
The Elder just nodded, and pondered that for a moment staring into the fire. “Toward the head of the valley. Humph.”
Dara didn’t feel the need to nod, because there was only one road, and it cut right through to the top of the valley, and that was the south road. If Jada had not stopped here at Bryan’s house, the next point of interest must have been the pass, the village a morning’s ride beyond that..
“Good. What I have to say, is for us alone, and I think it should stay that way. Jada seems a nice enough sort, but the less said about any of this the better. You see, I’ve been up most of the night thinking, and by the time I went to visit Braelan this morning, I was convinced that we might be able to help each other more than any of us realized.”
The look on their faces assured him that he had their full attention; even before Dara settled herself back down to listen to the man politely.
“I’m not sure of all that has happened, but to be honest, I’m inclined to think of it as just one more in a long chain of miracles that we will never be able to explain. I have to say, that the most amazing part of this miracle may be that Syna never seems to stop smiling. At the very least, that may be the part in all this that warms this old heart the most.”
“What is more important though, is that her blessing may be just the device we need to help not only your lovely daughter, but the rest of the village as well.”
“Help the village?” Dara asked the man, more than a little worried. “I’d have thought that you’d be more worried about the child’s safety.”
Keene squeezed Dara’s arm once more, but saw the mirrored concern in Bryan’s eyes as well.
“That’s just it. If I am right, I don’t really think we need worry about that any further. To be sure, I was very concerned of late. Mostly for the child’s safety, but also for the problems it might cause in the village. I have to say, that I found what that miserable Chandi did to him even more worrisome than what the boys were saying. After all, we’ve long known that they were a pair of near sighted Asses who were only waiting for the opportunity to get themselves into really serious trouble. No, I was more worried that the villagers as a whole would decide that Syna was the real problem, and one that they were better off without.”
Bryan and Dara both looked as if they had something to say to that, but neither did.
“It’s silly, and it’s hard to believe of the people we’ve lived with , but the truth is that three lazy people and a mug of brandy is all that’s needed to start the worst kind of trouble. Not fifty miles from here, I’ve heard that some townspeople dragged a widow woman from her house, where they threw her bound into a river for a wytch. I will not have that here. Not while I’m alive, and most certainly not to one of our children.”
Keene could see that their personal concerns had not allowed them to see Syna’s problems within the whole scope of the village as Keene had, even as he secretly took a little pleasure in their realization that he knew the circumstances of the encounter with Chandi on the road. However, he could also see their realization of how broad the puzzle was that he, Keene, had been trying to piece together. He gave them only a moment before he continued.
“To tell you the truth, until this morning, I had no idea what I was going to do. I honestly did not know which of you two, or Calum, or Liam might be brought before the elders with the blood one of those fools still on their hands. My bet would have been on Dara,” he smiled at her in apology, “but I have to say that I am now feeling much better about the whole thing.”
“I don’t fully understand, Keene.” Bryan said to the man.
“I think you do, Bryan, but I also think it will be good to talk it over. First of all, after what occurred last night, I don’t think anyone else will represent a physical threat to the girl. Jada sent word to the boys this morning, just before he left on the south road, that he expects them to present themselves for service to the court in E’lon den no later than next week. I suspect he’ll see them pressed onto a ship by the end of the month. Now he certainly does not expect them to show up, but that will effectively force them to move on. They won’t stay here, and that’s for sure. What’s more, with everything out in the open as it was, I seriously doubt that anyone else would want to ally themselves with the pair. So you see, although I’ll not relax till they’re fully gone, I’m no longer as much concerned for her safety from that quarter. Or..” he finished squinting his eyes and not really looking at them. “I should say, I won’t be when they are gone.”
Dara spoke up. “I was not aware that you had been so concerned. We appreciate your help.”
Keene smiled sadly at her. “In fact, I have to tell you, that I was greatly afraid that I had done too much You see, when I heard what those fools had done to Syna in the village, I went out to visit their grandfather. I told him that I would not only hold the boys fully accountable, but I’d hold him accountable as well for not putting a stop to it. Then when the child went missing, I was afraid that I might have precipitated some harm to him. Now I know that was not the case, but I feel I should apologize just the same for not thinking of that in the first place.”
Both parents heard the tremor of genuine regret that spoke of much affection for Syna. Both assured him that no apology for his efforts was needed, but he only waved them to silence. It bothered him to have them staring at him in awe of his machinations. He knew they had far too little appreciation for how hard he had to try, and for how often he made mistakes like that.
“There is more, now.” he continued. “First of all, Syna is now a young woman, and so is Keely for that matter.” he said, causing Dara to shift uncomfortably. “And from what anyone can see, she is a very beautiful and mature young woman at that.”
Dara’s stomach clinched with the certainty that virtually nothing escaped Keene’s sharp old eye. She was not surprised as much as awed. Not for the first time, she thanked all the saints that he was such a reserved and very good man.
“I still don’t follow.” Bryan said, causing Keene to smile at him once more.
“And I still think you do,” Keene answered, “but you are her father, and may be having the same trouble admitting some things, as all fathers do.” He fairly chuckled at Bryan. “I was never as lucky as Aria and you Bryan. I lost my poor Nori too soon, but it’s not so long ago that I don’t remember that the holy man who married us, never asked any of the questions that he should have. The only one he got right, was to ask if we loved each other. He never asked me if I would be prepared to see my daughter swept away from me in just a few years. I might have blown the whole thing then and there.”
Keene smiled at some distant memories, but remained remarkably on track.
“You see, Bryan, Syna is not a girl. She is a woman. As miraculous as that may seem, it also has useful aspects. Anyone who might have felt at liberty to be harsh or cruel to Syna as an unwelcome child, will damned well think twice before mistreating a woman of this village. That goes for any woman in this village. Not just Syna.”
Keene could see that one caused them pause, so he did the same. He watched as each looked from one to the other, until they fully began to realize just how far the dynamic had shifted in Syna’s favor.
“What is more, if the more ignorant of the people aren’t sufficiently afraid that one of us would have them in the village common for any misdeed, they are probably more than a little afraid of Syna herself right now.”
Dara and Bryan both looked like they might protest in the girl’s defense, so he waved them into silence with a hand yet again. “Now I know as well as you both, that there is no harm in the girl, and there never has been; but, I have to say that I’ll not discourage that idea for a day or so at least. I’m sure that soon enough everyone will come to accept her for the gentle soul that she is, even without our help. And!” he smiled more broadly than they had yet seen, “Even thought, it is that help that I’m here to offer.”
“What help?” Dara asked.
“Well, that’s the beauty of it. I won’t really do much. I didn’t even think of it.” They looked confused, but he only smiled. “Perhaps this afternoon, if you’ll both be at the Inn when Syna goes to check on Braelan, you’ll see what I mean. She is going down this evening?”
Both Bryan and Dara nodded.
“The point is, that I’ve already discussed this with Braelan, and he agrees with me, that Syna will be our new healer.”
“What!” Dara gasped loud, and began to stammer.
Bryan was prepared to continue for them both, in an only slightly softer tone. “Keene, I’m sure you’ve thought this through, but Syna is too young for that much responsibility.”
Dara jumped right in then, as well. “I agree. That would be completely unfair to the child. I mean there is no doubt that she has some skill, lord only knows how, but what would happen if… Well if something bad happened to someone she was caring for…”
Bryan was growing more animate now. “…Then some idiot might be calling for a burning at the stake, which I’m a little afraid they might do anyway. The risk, Keene…” Bryan finished by shaking his head.
Keene just watched them until he had their attention again.
“You have not seen Braelan this morning. I tell you, the change is…, miraculous. It was all that I could do to convince the old soul not to take up his sack, and head off to torture more innocent villagers this morning…” Keene actually chuckled.
That brought a stifled laugh from both Dara and Bryan. Not only was it a surprise, but it was a far more open admission of his friend’s lack of skill as a healer. (Menace would be more correct.) The fact that Keene was several years older than his lifelong friend seemed to be the one point that had completely escaped The Elder.
Keene continued. “In truth, the change in the man is as much of a miracle as Syna’s — rebirth. I will tell you, Bryan, I’ve never seen the like. Aria’s grandmother was one of the best healers anywhere, but even she could only make folks feel a little better. The man I though would not see this morning’s sunrise is not even complaining. I don’t intend to loose that opportunity, not for us, not for the village, and most of all not for Syna herself. Besides, no matter what any of us do, we can be certain that someone who Syna is caring for will turn out badly. Everyone does, in the end, you see. That’s something I’ve also been giving a lot of thought these past few years.”
“Keene,” Bryan said, “I’m as amazed as anyone by what she did for Braelan. It was a miracle. Perhaps in a few years, when she’s older, it would be more advisable. Most of the older woman in the village know at least a little about caring for the sick…” Dara was nodding emphatically at his train of thought. “…, or if you insist, I might allow you to arrange for an apprenticeship to a real healer, but not right now.”
Keene’s laughter took both by surprise. “You think I’d let some old fool trifle with her natural talents. Be serious, Bryan. I know I haven’t misjudged you that badly all these years. Even the best of those people are rarely of any more use that any good woman whose raised a child or two. No. That would never work, and would probably be the surest way to a serious problem, and I mean a serious problem. No, Bryan. I’ll not have any part in that.”
“I don’t want to worry either of you, but you need to understand this fully. Dara hears the stories more than you Bryan. Things are ugly, all around us. But in many of those villages, there are healers who do many of the very same things that some young women are getting thrown into rivers for, or worse.”
“People more naturally expect such from their healer. Especially if the Healer is good
enough to actually help people. No one in their right mind would even consider turning on the one person who might save their lives if they get hurt or sick. Syna would be protected better than any or all of us might otherwise be able to do.”
Bryan wanted to say more, but long habit told him to remain silent while he thought about what Keene proposed.
When Keene finally finished, it was with a voice that was flat calm.
“Someone will die, even with Syna’s help. Given what I saw this morning, by the time that happens, my guess is that she’ll have helped many more people. No one will underestimate her value or her kindness, because they’ll already know how great that is to them.” Keene shook his head, rose to walk his cup toward the cistern. “If not, then every time she walks out that door, Bryan, might really be the last time you see her.”
Dara was less patient about it, but she also held her tongue for a while. Out of both respect and fear. Finally she asked, “What do you propose?”
Smiling, he said, “Well the old cabin just down the valley from your farm seemed to be in very good shape when I sent a boy who came with me to look at it. I think that Bryan should set her up there, to be able to begin her practice…”
Bryan was off of his chair.
Keene held up both hands. “Now I know, that you want to keep her with you, and I see no reason why she should not spend most of her time here in the home she has always known, but as a healer, she will need a place of her own. People who are ill, will need to be able to go and see her in private, Bryan, and they will be far less likely to see her as a child if she is living under her own roof.”
“No.” Bryan said softly.
“Well,” Keene shrugged slightly, “you are both two of the smartest people I know. If the idea has any merit, you’ll both see it soon enough for yourselves. I’ll certainly not argue for a father to let his daughter go off on her own; but I daresay this, that Syna will soon enough be looking for a place of her own, no matter what any of us say… I ‘d prefer to have her close, rather than have her swept off to someplace like E’lon den. Down there, they never throw young women into the river. They burn them.”
He watched them just long enough for that to sink in.
“Keely, please stop, you’re tickling me.” Syna pleaded half-heartedly even as she leaned back into Keely’s embrace giggling. Keely, took it as another opportunity to nuzzle her warm breath into the nape of Syna’s neck.
“No.”, Keely said, as she kissed the slightly smaller girl behind her ear softly, causing both to shiver. “You smell too nice.”
“But I need to find some bark for Lessa. The Elder said she is suffering and… Keely!” The larger girl dragged her down to the grass…
The afternoon sun was so warm as Syna lay snuggled with Keely, that she was quickly relaxed enough that she might have been able to fall asleep.
She would have happily done so, save for Keely being so insistent.
Syna had no fear that anyone might spy them in their little forest glade. She knew also, that should she be urgently needed, the fairies would let her know. She was only too happy to allow Keely to snuggle up to her, even when she begin to kiss her lips and face gently, but insistently. Syna heart began to race faster as she basked in her affections, warmed inside from Keely’s gentle affections, just as from without by the sun.
Keely, ever more worldly, would alternate soft kisses and caresses with stopping to stare loving at Syna, only to begin her caresses all the more.
Syna could not help but jump a little as she realized Keely’s hand was making it’s way into her blouse to caress her tummy before sliding around her waist, pulling her closer as Keely kissed her deeply... It took several minutes for Syna to remember to breathe, but soon she began to sigh her own passion freely into Keely’s lips.
She vaguely felt Keely loosening more of her clothes as Keely caressed her all over, but when Syna reached to help her, Keely only pushed her hand away. She smilingly preferred to do everything herself. Syna’s need for Keely, and innocent passions began to assert themselves even more, as she shyly lay the rejected hand on Keely’s chest, and her fiercely beating heart...
The golden-eyed fairy sat beside Aida, on a branch from where they had already sent away all of the lesser faeries, and all but the blue-eyed fairy who only they could see on the far side of the glade.
Suddenly, Golden-eyes looked at Syna’s Aida with a brilliant smile and glowing eyes, only for them to dim again as she watched the look on her smaller sister’s face. More quickly than a human might have ever noticed, Aida’s eyes began to glow a little more brightly, but Golden-eyes had seen. That there was nothing either could do, she instantly knew the first time she saw Syna and her Aida together.
For just a moment, Golden-eyes smiled sadly, and then touched her nose to Aida’s. With a small flurry of rapid wing beats that only the most timid bird might notice, Aida was alone. Across the glade, Aida could see that Blue Eyes, had turned to pet a fuzzy caterpillar that was crawling by, leaving her quite alone.
Her eyes continued to glow and dim, and then glow again as they slowly moved from the ground beneath the tree, to Syna, and then back again….
In her innocence, poor Syna had already lost herself to Keely several times. First she lost herself to Keely’s kisses, which seemed to draw the breath from her, only to as suddenly breathe a brighter life back in. Then to the exquisite agony of Keely’s gentle fingers, sometimes softer than a butterfly’s wings, and sometimes more insistent. Helpless before the innocent passions that overwhelmed her, Syna would be lost once more to her own exquisite release.
She could scarcely feel Keely smiling into her lips, as she held and cuddled Syna tenderly, warmly cupping her exquisitely sensitive center, until her instincts told her it was time to begin again.
But Keely too was lost. She no longer thought of what anyone in the village might think or feel. She already knew. Several small happy tears of love and realization began to fall unnoticed into Syna’s beautiful hair, as she held her there. Keely had lost herself in her love of the smaller woman, so innocently holding so tightly and so trustingly to her.
The heat and moistness, such willing gifts, were driving Keely; just as the small sounds and smells of Syna filled her senses leaving nothing else. Keely’s eyes were sightless, and her breath tore from her as her own excitement at her admitted love for the girl began to overcome her as well. It was a cold fire that moved from her legs to her rear, as it began creeping steadily upward toward her spine, grinding her need into the smaller form below her.
She felt Syna stiffen yet again, at first ridged, and them shaking as she assuming she had once more achieved her heart’s fondest desire for the girl, when Syna screamed into her lips in fear….
Panic and confusion battled to overthrow Keely’s passionate yearnings, a she looked down to see Syna, still clutching desperately to Keely with her eyes wide and staring at her in terror..
Only Syna saw the two frantic Faeries, no more than a bur as they dashed about just over Keely’s head.
It distracted Syna with another fear as she thought they were going to attack Keely, but she soon realized that they were only searching for the danger. In shock, Syna saw one of the small ones, with a stone knife held up near its shoulder, was slapping and kicking leaves out of it’s way, as it searched behind Keely for any danger hiding there. Instantly to strike, at any threat to Syna..
Keely was crying now, and cradling her head, in a good approximation of the frantic faeries themselves. Tears of a different kind were falling on Syna’s face.
“Oh, my angel, what happened? Did I hurt you? Tell me where it hurts! I’m so sorry! Tell me, Please!” Keely was weeping and shaking as much as Syna was.
“Please, baby. Tell me what’s wrong! Did I frighten you?” She pleaded over and over.
Keely’s panic was growing worse with every moment Syna was unable to speak; along with that of the still more faeries that had appeared suddenly zoomed in behind Keely. All save for Aida. Aida was hovering just above Keely, risking being seen, to hover and stare down into Syna’s eyes.
Keely’s crying finally drew Syna’s eyes back to her face. “Tell me what’s wrong! Did I hurt you Princess?”
For several moments, Syna could only stare wide-eyed at her. She tried to understand what Keely was saying, even as she fought to make some sound of her own. Her panic still blinded her for several more moments, before her love of Keely began to assert itself. Ultimately, she was able to shake her head slowly, fighting to regain her breath and her reason, even as she began to tremble like the base string on a lute.
“What is it, Baby.” Keely pleaded now breathlessly, crying helplessly now, and crushing Syna frantically to her in an attempt to cover from all directions in her arms.
Syna’s trembling, an instant reaction to the adrenaline surging through her, began to calm finally as she clung within Keely’s arms.
“I…” Syna finally whispered.
Keely began to rock the smaller woman, and chant. “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I though you were ready…”
Keely tried again. “I’m so sorry, Syna. I went too fast, I should have waited. I would never hurt you.”
But Syna was just staring up at her in shock. Keely watched her mouth begin to move again for several long moments before any sound at all came out.
“Keely…,” she took a small breath shaking even harder. “Your fingers’ were inside of me.” Her voice was less than a whisper, full of fear and confusion.
“I know little one.” Keely cuddled her head once more. “I’m so sorry, I wanted you to feel good. I love you.” Keely moaned.
“They were inside of me, Keely.”
Keely, sensing something very wrong, lay her lover back just enough to look into her eyes. This time Syna looked back at her, for the first time fully aware. Keely wanted to say ‘What!’, but could not even get that word out.
“Keely.” Syna said beginning weep softly, “I…, I think I’m a girl…”
Above Keely’s head, Blue-eyes shot off to the north….
By the time Golden-eyes came racing through the trees, her chest heaving, Aida was gone, leaving five other greater Fairies, and dozens of the small faeries there watching Keely, gently walking the smaller woman back toward her cabin.
Golden-eyes didn’t have to even look at the others to realize what had happened. Neither worried, nor surprised, she settled down beside the others to watch with an unmoving, and unblinking stare..
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