When the dust has settled

My hands rummage through the drawers of my former home in Floodwend. It isn’t much, but it’s still home. We travelled here once again, to finally bring all of our belongings and ourselves to the farm where we’ll live henceforth, Ethel, Yllfa, and I. It’s not an easy thing to have so many memories thrown back in your face, simply by opening a wooden drawer. Inside I find not much else than old clothes of mine and Eda’s; worn working dresses that once belonged to her and that I couldn’t throw away, and many of my old and non-fitting clothing has been left behind together with them, as my body has grown while the fabrics did not. Dusty, old fabrics resting together in a strange harmony, as if they were ever meant to lay there, never to see the light of day again. Like us they age and fall apart over the years, and old clothes are in truth no more than linen or woolen fibers entwined over and over again; but inside all those fibers rests an essence, something left behind by their previous owners. A barely noticeable scent of a perfume, a drop of dried blood somewhere perhaps, or a single hair entwined with the fibers. I take them all up in my hands, piece by piece, and I sigh as I put them down on the bed behind me. There are shirts, dresses, a few pairs of pants and undergarments… And there is nothing here that I really want to keep, nothing that is worthy of taking with me to the next chapter of our lives. It will all go to the fire in the end, after I close and lock my house. It will be strange to see another family eventually live here, even though I know that many families have done so in many years before I was even born. It’s an old house, full of memories of those who came before us, but it was still ours. Our life’s imprints are all over the walls, embedded in the very air itself. 

In a corner I can see the faint, shoddy lines that sort of look like runes, that Ethel scratched in the wood as a child, before Eda stopped her. The girl only wanted to write as her papa did, doing that which so few of our folk know how to do. Upon the wooden cupboard lies a thin layer of dust that I draw my own runes in, to mimic Ethel’s first attempt at writing. A circle is coming to a close there in a way, as I finish what she started so many years ago. I have tutored her over the years, and today she can write fairly well, good enough to be understood and read letters herself. I remember the proud moment of her life when she had written her first readable piece, a short kind of poem that only the mind of a child could deliver. I continue to sort the garments and other trinkets I find scattered about. The day before I had found Eda’s old silver bracelets, made of thin and delicate rings, weaved together in the fashion of a chainmail hauberk, only much tighter and not much wider than a woman’s pinky finger. She had two identical pieces, but only wore one on her wrist. The other she had wanted Ethel to wear once she was old enough, but Eda never got to see her put it on before she passed. I had held the little wooden box in my hand for a moment then, but I could not remember where she had gotten them from in the first place. It was not from me, that much I know. Was it a gift from someone else? A family heirloom? A treasure from ancient times? And does it really matter, when they are only collecting dust and its silvery beauty grows dim, while tucked away in a small box at the back of a forgotten drawer? And so I bestowed them to Ethel at long last, the final gift and memory of her mother, almost forgotten until now and had likely been left behind, if we hadn’t returned to properly go through everything in the house. What she does with the jewellry is for her to decide, for they were never mine to begin with. They belong to her now, as they once belonged to her mother.

The air feels thick in here, too thick when all the collected dust has been released into the air, after laying dormant for so long in forgotten drawers. I walk outside and find our dog there upon the grass. He’s gnawing on a thick branch, his white beastly teeth digging deep into the damp wood and leaves not a trace of bark behind. He looks so much healthier already; he has grown more muscles and his fur almost glimmers in the dim evening light. Ethel has fed and cared for him well, but she has yet to decide upon a name for him. We play for a while, he and I, and I throw him the stick which he rushes after to catch it in the air, long before it hits the ground. With a loud “Wroooof!” and a panting tongue he returns the stick and lays it at my feet so that I may throw it again, right when my cat Rags comes walking by. He’s been a house resident since forever it seems to me; we took him in as a kitten about a year before Ethel was born, and so he’s even older than her and twice as stubborn as me, and he sits down to watch the dog with those judgmental eyes that might as well say “What an idiot.” out loud to the dog. He meows quietly, passes by my legs for a quick stroke and then he walks away again, likely in hunt for an evening snack. Rags may be advanced in years, and in a cat's view on life he’s likely older than me, but with him I feel a strange bond of kinship between man and beast - we are both past our prime, but still in good enough shape to give even the youngest and fiercest of warriors a good fight and even win, for we have the wisdom and experience of the ages to stay alive. True fighters do not grow old without learning a trick or two after all, and the very same applies to cats, I believe. I delight in the fact that Rags will return with us to the farm, where he - like us - will live out his years on a large farm in good company, in good care, and as much food and rats as he can eat. He’ll have a good life there. 

Ethel returns not long after, running up the small hill to our house. Her pale cheeks are flushed and she’s breathing hard, and my thoughts wander for just a moment of her well-being before she bursts out “I see you two are having fun!”, and gives me that young, innocent smile that I have always loved so much, as she catches her breath. She’s so much like her, I think. We play with the dog and speak for a while; of her late night talk with Yllfa of womanly things that I have little to no business in, of the petty boys that bullied her, of the boys and young men that treat her with the respect she deserves, and why carefully choosing your friends is so important, and not to let any harmful presences into your life. She’s growing up so fast, and I can almost envision her in a bridal gown, together with a faceless man of her choosing and tying their bonds of marriage, and perhaps eventually having children of her own. I do enjoy the idea of having grandchildren one day, though I hope that time still lies many, many years ahead for her. Unlike some other young girls and women in our world, Ethel will get to choose her path in life, just like Eda and I once did. Ancient traditions and courtly wills aside, I will force no man upon her, and she will not be promised to someone else unless it’s by her own choice to do so. Her mother and I lived together by choice, even if against the wishes of some, and that’s the kind of life I want for my daughter, if she even decides to marry at all. Finally I ask what she had herself brought up in Aldburg, before we left. “Do you want to say goodbye to mama?” She nods, although her demeanor changes drastically. I understand her, for I feel much the same. We walk along the road that we had taken Eda to her final rest, and we speak of memories we both share of her. How we all used to play chase through the forest, with Eda hunting Ethel while she laughed so loud that she scared off all the birds nearby and hid in the bushes, and how I’d position myself to ambush her somewhere, if I could. We speak of how Eda and I took turns to carry her on our shoulders across the town and almost anywhere we went, because she wanted to see the world from “up there”, as grown-ups did. And as we come closer to the place we want to visit, we remember the day of her final farewell, when we gave her body to the fire so her journey to the halls would go swift and undisturbed.

Soon we arrive there, at one of the many places where men, women and even children of Floodwend have been seen safely to the other world of rest, feast and afterlife. We speak of traditions and honor, and of remembrance. Courtly mounds and erected stones are more reserved for those of lordly and royal blood, and often for the more common people like us, we will not be buried under heaps of stone and dirt in our final rest. We will be consumed by the fire, and our ashes scattered to the four winds across the Mark. Our bodies will be gone, but our spirits always remain in the ashes, in the soil, in the water, and in the air. I kneel down, roll up my sleeve and put my hand upon the fertile soil. Noone has been burned in this place for a year or so, as we continually change location so the earth and rock also gets a rest from the ever hungry fire. I dig my fingers down into the earth and let the soil trickle through my fingers, and then I look up to Ethel. In the dim evening light Ethel has her eyes, her hair and her stature, and for a brief moment I see Eda standing beside her, looking down with the proudest of eyes on her little girl, so grown up. I blink and she’s gone again, nothing more than a mere visage conjured by my mind, and I turn back to the earth where my hand still rests. I speak quietly, but loud enough for Ethel to hear. 

- “Eda... my wife, my love, mother of my child. I miss you every day, so very much. I want you to be proud of me, of Ethel, of everything we're doing in life. Wherever you are... you are never forgotten. With or without you... we carry on.”

I glance towards Ethel again and I see tears on her cheeks, and her eyes are beginning to glow faintly red from the sting of warm, salty tears. I continue saying my own piece, something I’ve wanted to say to my departed wife for a long time now.

- “I'll always love you, even though you're not amongst us any more. I ask that you be proud of Yllfa as well as us, if you can find it in your heart to do so. I love her as I loved you, and she loves Ethel as much as we do. This is the path that I - that we - have chosen. And I know it's the right one for all of us. We'll meet again, one day. All of us together.”

Ethel cries more loudly now, and I can hear her shattered voice trying to speak, but no words seem to escape her. She lowers her head and I touch her arm so that she may join me, and saying her own piece in her own time. She sits down beside me and rests her head on my shoulder, still weeping softly and I can feel her tears falling down on my bare arm. I lay my other hand on hers and squeeze it tightly while she speaks in a whisper, and then my own eyes are beginning to sting, and I feel tears escaping them with Ethel’s words.

- “Mama, I love you…  And one day we will all be together… and oh I don’t know how things work, but I will find out… and we will all be so happy. I miss you so much… I wish you hadn't been taken from us. And I will name a daughter after you… if I have one that is.” 

Through the tears I smile brightly at her last words and plant a loving kiss upon her head, upon that bright blonde hair she inherited from her mother. “She’d love that, Ethel. I would too.”, I whisper in her ear. Ethel looks between me and the earth and speaks again. 

- “And I hope you don't mind, but I call Yllfa mama too now. I really hope you don't mind.....”, she says and looks at me for reassurance. Her eyes are bright red from weeping, but also filled with pride and love. I cannot hold back my own tears either, for never has a father been so proud of his daughter as I am. Ethel continues speaking, and still glancing between me and the earth. 

- “I know she isn't mama, but I love her too. So I guess I am sort of lucky in a way, mama… I have you there, in the stars watching over me… And Yllfa and me… We will always look after papa, so you don't need to worry about the scrapes he gets into.”

I smile and put my arm around Ethel, to keep her in a loving embrace as I feel words forming upon my tongue as well, and can’t keep them down.

- “Yllfa is a good woman, Eda. She’s strong, gentle, loving and beautiful, and with the ferocity of a wolf she protects us. You’d have liked her, I know it. Be proud of us, and everything we accomplish in life. For everything we aim to do and be, is to honor you and our family.”

I feel a sudden gust of a warm summer wind sweeping over the plains, and when it wheezes across the rocks it almost sounds like a whisper is being carried upon it; something none of us really hears, but rather feel it. The wind catches our hair like the gentle touch of a hand, before it disappears again across the fields. I sigh and look up to the darkening sky, where stars are beginning to light up towards that dark blue canvas, that will soon turn into the blackest of night. “I believe she heard us.”, I say to Ethel as we sit there together, fondly remembering our departed loved one, and hoping for a bright future together with Yllfa, our cats, and the dog. A family is not necessarily bound by blood, but of love. And that, we have aplenty. 

And inside my old house, the dust has settled once again. Soon another family will clean it out and in time bring their own things, writing their part of the history and continue the legacy we leave behind. Just as we will write our own, in our new home.