Later that night, they sat together in a small chamber in the Abbey which had been lent to Avery, talking desultorily and wearily, their grief momentarily abated.
Avery sat on the bed in her nightshift, clean but much wrinkled from having been folded at the bottom of her saddlebags for so long. At the foot of the bed, she had stowed the rest of her gear, including her pack, her sword and her saddlebag, there being no other place for it in the narrow cell. Gay perched before her on a little stool, as Avery brushed her long blonde hair.
It had been a custom of theirs when they had been children growing up together, to brush each other’s long locks turn and turn about. They had even competed to see who could grow their hair longest, and now Avery’s hair reached the small of her [PS1] back and Gay could sit on hers. Avery had to lift her friend’s glorious mane in order to comb the ends, but her own brown hair was in no way put to shame[PS2] . Now, though they had not seen each other for over two years they reverted to the old custom unhesitatingly, as if it gave comfort again to take up the old habits of being seven and eight instead of seventeen and eighteen [PS3]
Gay yawned under the soporific effects of the brush. She fought to keep awake.
“Oh, God, Avery! How could I stay away? You are my sister and dearest friend. You and Eland are all I have.” For a moment her shoulders slumped. [PS4] “What will be do without her?” she whispered forlornly[PS5] .
There was a silence but the brush never stopped. “I don’t know, Gay,” Avery faltered at last. And Gay felt a chill, as she realized that her friend, adventurous, strong, capable Avery, was as bereft as she. “I never thought she would die,” Avery went on, laughing and choking in a queer way. “You know that Gay? Who ever would have thought that Eland would die?”
Avery shook her head. “I’ve heard nothing,” she said. “I sent a message to Agippa [PS7] two weeks ago when Eland worsened, but I don’t know if she got it. It takes almost that long to get to the University anyway. In all likelihood, she has not heard. I wish she were here. You are the only ones I have left now.”
“Two years,” Avery mused. “Who would have thought that at the end of the two years this would happen? She died of the wasting sickness[PS10] , you know,” she added inconsequentially. “It started in her lungs and just spread and spread.”
For the first time the brushing stopped. Gay sat stock still, fighting the drowsiness which threatened to overwhelm her.
“I saw her once on leave a year ago,” she [Avery] went on. “I saw even then she was sick. There was nothing I could do but watch her die.[PS11] She was never strong and with this she turned into a wraith. It consumed her. I had never seen anything like it. Oh God help me, whatever possessed me to watch her die?”[PS12]
Gay sprang up and put her arm around her sister.
“Avery, shhhh,” she whispered. “It’s all right. She is at rest, she is at peace. Let it be, my sister. Let it be.”
Gradually Avery quieted, and with a shudder Gay watched as she picked up the brush. But the girl only held it. She ran one blunt finger down the bristles.
“I have an interview with the Abbess tomorrow,” she resumed. “She has some things of my mother’s and there is the matter of paying the Abbey for their care.”
Gay looked at her indignantly but Avery only shrugged wearily. “Oh, what do I care, Gay? I don’t want her gold; there’s little enough of it as it is, and the Abbey is welcome to it. They took her in when no one else would, cared for her as if she were [PS13] one of their own. Let them have it,” she finished impatiently. She glanced at Gay and smiled briefly and looked down at the brush. Her restless fingers stilled.
“After that, I know not what I shall do,” she said, softly, then briskly. “I’m tired, Gay. I think I’ll go to bed now.”
Gay watched her with a feeling of unease. Her own grief she could understand; Avery’s was strange to her.[PS14] “But I have not brushed your hair yet,” she cried, dismayed, clutching at the own familiar thing she could pinpoint, correct.
Sighing, Gay took up the tongs on the windowsill and lifted the glowing brazier from the floor, depositing it outside the door.[PS16] Unrolling her bedroll, she tried to get comfortable on the cold stone floor. “I’ll brush your hair tomorrow,” she promised. There was no answer. Rolling over and peering through the dark, Gay could see Avery was already asleep. It was always thus. Even when they were children. It was as if Avery sought refuge in sleep from the strain of the waking world[PS17] .
The Abbey garden was a sensuous riot of late summer flowers, a shocking contrast to the narrow asceticism indoors. Bees hummed from blossom to blossom in the heavily scented air. The sun shone down warmly on the herbal bed, the little fruit orchard, the peonies, chrysanthemums, roses[PS19] . Gay lolled on a stone bench amid the splendor, her eyes closed, her face offered up to the sun.
It was still morning. Avery had been gone from the room when she woke, and was still closeted with the Abbess. Gay dressed, and drawn by the view of the garden, decided to wait for her friend outside the stone walls of the Abbey. There was still an outer wall, of course, [PS20] that circled the perimeter of the church, the nuns’ cells, and the gardens, but from here Gay had a view of the Errin countryside, with the nuns at work in the fruitful fields, and nearer to hand, the courtyard and entrance gate below her.
The peace and calm of the garden soothed her. Some of the emotional exhaustion of the previous day had left her and now she stretched and arched her back like a large, comfortable cat. She closed her eyes and let her mind wander.
Would Gavrelle never come? The thought disturbed her a little. The three of them [PS21] had been friends together in this very village, playing and fighting through the long years before being apprenticed out two years ago.
Gavrelle’s family, her father, mother, and five brothers, lived next door from Eland and her two children. Gavrelle’s father farmed for the small Duke [PS22] who ruled the shire. One of Gay’s first memories was of Gavrelle’s father because she had not known before then that in most families a father lived in the house. He had frightened her when she was very young, and then intrigued her. [PS23]
She thought back to her other first memories, of Eland and Avery. Curiously, though she was five years old when Eland adopted her, she could remember no father back then a vague impression [PS24] of cold outside, a warm fire, and kind hands offering her a bowl of warm soup. Eland’s hands. Later the image coalesced into her tall, beautiful foster-mother. Gay smiled in the sun, tears sparkling on her closed lids.[PS25] She used to think Eland was a kind fairy, unchanging, immortal.
Eland told hershe was the daughter of a tinker family and her real mother and father had died in the snows. She remembered clearly the conversation.
“Your papa and mama were tinkers, my dear,” she had said. “They wandered the shire, fixing things for people. But your mama got sick and could no longer care for you. Your papa loved her very much and grew sick with worry over her. They brought you here to me as I could take care of you, and then they later went into the storm.”[PS28]
Gay had heard only one thing. “But you’re my mama,” she objected.
“I am your mama now,” Eland answered firmly. “Your real mama died.”
And Avery. Avery was Eland’s real daughter, and Gay was not jealous of her either, because Avery and she had something in common. Avery was an orphan too. She had no father, or rather, Gay thought, Eland had no husband. She smiled again to think of the stories the two little girls had made up, in search of Avery’s father. As for her, Gay had no wish for a father, but Avery she knew was quietly obsessed by it.
But even then, they knew better than to ask. They from talk in the village that Eland’s mystery was in some way a great shame. Once she overheard them playing “the father game” in the front garden and paused and watched them. Feeling her eyes, [PS31] the girls looked up and their play faltered. Eland stood at the gate with a basket under her arm. Gay had never seen her look so beautiful, her chestnut hair – so like Avery’s! – curling around her sunbrowned face. Then her foster-mother shook her head sorrowfully at both of them and went on into the house. Subdued, the girls played the game no more.
It was funny, Gay mused, that Avery looked no more like her mother than she [Gay] did. Save for her long brown hair, she had nothing of her mother in her. Where Eland had been tall and strong, Avery was short and thin to almost boyishness. Eland’s face was smooth and oval, brown from the sun, her short nose turned up at the tip, her eyes a dark, dark brown. Avery’s face, by contrast, was pale, save for the sprinkling of freckles across her thin blade of a nose, slightly crooked from having been broken once. Her cheekbones jutted from her squarish face. Her lips were thin, rather than full. Eland’s eyes were large and lovely; her daughter’s were narrow, fringed with dark lashes, and a deep grey-green.
Eland was a beauty [PS32] and only grew lovelier with every wrinkle and line added to her face. Avery – was striking, Gay admitted, but so unlike her mother, she sometimes wondered to herself whether she too was not a foundling.
Gay knew she could never be mistaken for Eland’s true daughter, but she never minded. Her long, thick gold hair, for one thing, branded her as different. And her eyes, though shaped like Eland’s, were a deep rich blue, almost violet. [PS33] She was as fair as Avery but never freckled. And though Eland had been tall, Gay was taller still, although she was only seventeen. Already she had the voluptuous shape of an older woman and enjoyed the attentions of the village men – especially Pitur, Gavrelle’s brother.
If Gavrelle came, she could give her word of Pitur, she thought, a little naively. Now Gavrelle and all her family could never be mistaken[PS34] . They all had blue eyes, fair skin, and curly dark, almost black, hair. Gavrelle’s had fallen over her shoulders in a thick, shiny mass that all the other village girls envied. The younger girl was a rare beauty. The three had formed a society. [PS35]
When two years ago Gay went to be apprenticed to the tailor in Durrin, and Avery went into the Duke’s Guard as a swordswoman, Gavrelle had gone to Agippa to study at the University there. Had the friendship broken up as well, she wondered. She was free; now that Eland was dead and could no longer pay her fees to the tailer. She was free of her contract. She thought of the circumstances with some anger and bitterness, for her master was a good teacher, and yet at her misfortune had simply cast her off. If she wanted, she could go to Agippa, see Gavrelle, renew if needed[PS36] the bonds of friendship. She had a desire to see the great city anyway, so mysterious in the surrounding mountains, a famous seat of learning. She had a vision of the city as being shrouded in thick fog, with silent scholars walking bout in long robes, carrying scrolls of great wisdom. It was not hard to picture Gavrelle in that milieu; there as something infinitely wise and mysterious about Gavrelle.
In a curious way, Avery was also at a point of choosing. Though she had been happy in the Duke’s service, she had left it a year ago and joined the command of Javreel, captain of the local militia, in order to be closer to Eland, who was sick even then. Gay knew she had been miserable in Javreel’s service.
The militia, far from upholding the law of the Shire, often broke it more often than they served it. Local militia were often more rapacious than their ducal counterparts, being less disciplined. Gay wondered how Avery had survived in the band of robbers for as long as she had. She knew it had been hard for her[PS37] . And it must have been hard for Eland too, to have known that her daughter, of whome she was so proud! Joined the militia out of concern for her.
That was another thing about Eland too, that her daughter chose a career in war at the full blessing of her mother, who was all things peaceful and kind and good. Instead of allowing Avery to become apprenticed in the local band, she sent her away to Tallin, to General Greyam, where she would be instructed in honor, and discipline, and wall as well.
It would be so wonderful if Avery and I could go to Agippa, Gay thought. She stretched and yawned again, then sat up at the sound of a commotion in the courtyard below. She got up off the bench and looked out over the wall.
At first she thought the cloaked figure was a man, and yet that could not be because no man was allowed within the gates of the Abbey. Then a shiver started down her back as she thought, Pitur! No Gavrelle.
Confused, she only gripped the stone parapet and looked down, too numb to call out. There was Gavrelle, looking like twin of her elder brother, somewhat shorter and slenderer[PS38] no doubt but still almost identical. Her hair was short now, Gay saw, but there was another difference in Gavrelle, she could not tell what exactly[PS39] .
[PS1]This seems awfully unlikely for a warrior, which — spoiler alert — Avery is. The hairbrushing is something I did with my sisters and I always loved it.
[PS2]I’m…pretty sure I had a thing. Also, the subtext has become text again.
[PS3]Ah ha! YA, baby!
[PS4]This is interesting. I’m switching POV back and forth but it’s as if I’m trying to figure out who owns this scene. The daughter (Avery)? Or the foster daughter (Gay)? Why did I start from Gay’s POV when technically Avery has the greater right. Definitely a rookie mistake.
[PS5]It’s as if I knew that I would be eschewing adverbs so had to get them all in at once.
[PS6]Wait — is is Gavrielle or Gavrelle?
[PS8]so…much…sadness But I am transcribing so it’s taking longer. In actuality, just reading this, it’s moving faster than it seems to me right now.
[PS9]I use contractions now
[PS10]Ahhh. I started writing this after my sister was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease. So some of this is working out fear and grief. (She survived. I promise.)
[PS11]Wait…I don’t think she stayed then. Or did she? This needs editing.
[PS13]Nice use of the subjunctive
[PS14]Really? I mean, it was Avery’s mother. Maybe she just doesn’t understand how Avery shows her grief? This is interesting, only because I don’t know what I was thinking. Which might be a recurring theme of this project.
[PS15]oooh, will this be the one bed trope of many a fantasy tale?
[PS16]that is an interesting little bit of scene setting. No idea where I got that, and it reminds me that I never even mentioned the brazier so I would definitely have to put it in at the top of the scene. Also, hoping the hallway is also stone, because maybe that’s a fire hazard.
[PS17]This is an interesting thing to Mary Sue, but that is me to a T. Especially back then.
[PS18]Nope, no one bed trope here.
[PS19]I wonder if those are late summer flowers?
[PS21]I had two best friends growing up, and pretty sure this is based on them. I very carefully hid the particulars though!
[PS22]eek on so many levels.
[PS23]I struck out the following clause “before she grew to love him.” I can see why I did that but I also want to say awww, to poor Gay. Good men are lovable. There’s nothing wrong with that.
[PS24]sic; no idea
[PS25]Busted that tight POV wide open
[PS26]What the hell? Why doesn’t she care about her mother?
[PS27]I think Eland is Marmee.
[PS28]I dunno. This sounds awfully fishy to me. Maybe Eland isn’t Marmee.
[PS30]Shit. This is some weird stuff.
[PS31]Thog’s Masterclass would be proud.
[PS32]Oh My God can we stop! I believe I made this point.
[PS33]okay. I kinda see what’s going on here — this is romance genre convention. Not bad but I’m definitely overdoing it. Partly this is because I’m transcribing, but obvs the detail is killing what little pacing is happening.
[PS34]sigh…here we go.
[PS35]Louisa May Alcott or Jane Austen? Not sure where that came from.
[PS36]ooh, this sounds cool.
[PS37]So here’s a craft note. This stuff about Avery is the type of thing that should have come out in the girls’ conversation in the little room. All this exposition is the definition of telling. I’m telling the story to myself. Not fatal for a first draft, but now that I know all this, I can go back and redraft, and put all this in organically. And also kill like 75% of the description.
[PS38]Yes, I know.
[PS39]man, if this is because Gavrelle has had sex, I’m going to be really pissed off at past me.