This fits in between Frozen River 02 and A Mission.
The fire crackled with dry wood and pitch. Rafe sucked the marrow from a bone and leaned back on her bed roll. The sky was hazed, but did not feel like snow. If it weren’t cold, she’d think she was looking at fireflies rather than stars.
“You think we’ll be home tomorrow?” Wilf asked.
Rafe nodded. Strange she did not think of it as “home” even after nearly a year of being back. Neither could she bring herself to use Pinesucker’s Hollow as the people out away named it. “Neither fish nor fowl,” she remarked, not really caring if Wilf and Molly thought her crazy.
“It was rabbit,” Molly said, hunched on her own bed roll, building a little tower of sticks. “You should know. You shot it.”
“I was thinking about, belonging. Where is home?” Rafe feathered her hair under her palm. “This time out away from Riverside. It’s made me think.”
“About going back on the road again?” Wilf looked at her. He was fingering a silent tune on his chanter, the pipes packed away in his stuff-sack. The hope of can I come with you was clear in his voice.
“It’s been years since I worried about where I belong. To whom I belong. Riverside is no different than any other place I’ve been, where local rules apply. I’m my own home. I belong to who pays me. I’m loyal to who fights at my side. And it occurs to me that I’ve been well satisfied. I’ve walked away alive.” Her voice faded away.
Rafe lost herself in the familiar sound and smell of the fire. She rubbed her head again with both hands, bone between her teeth. “Roll the screen on top of the fire circle and we’ll get some sleep.”
Molly got the screen, that would keep sparks from flying, and draped it over the edges of the circle. She exchanged glances with Wilf across the fire and nodded her head in Rafe’s direction.
“Auntie,” Wilf said, “What is it between you and Mam, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Rafe lifted the corner of the screen and slipped the bone into the fire. “Between me and Jenna?”
“This going to end up in one of your songs?”
Wilf’s mouth smiled but his eyes looked thoughtful and guilty. He twisted the chanter in his hands. “Would it matter?”
“Maybe not. I’d pick my story carefully, in any case.” Rafe leaned back on her elbows. “I wasn’t always a soldier, and I didn’t always think before I acted. I don’t know that I always … What does Jenna say? … ‘consider my actions’ now. But, I’m better aware of the potential for payback.” Rafe cocked her head at Wilf. “Will that do for a story?”
Wilf nodded, again.
“So. Molly, a while ago, you asked about me and Grammy Heddle. What do you know about that?”
“I heard she beat you with a lease stick until you nearly died.You must have done something awful, though no one would say what. She’s that patient, even with me.”
“Well, I didn’t get beaten to death, but she whaled on me a bit and then finally conked me a good one on the head. What I did was not the thing that is between your Mam and me, Wilf. It is what you might call a signal.
“You both know I don’t exactly love Winter Home. It was worse when I was young.” Rafe caught a look from Molly. “Not five-miles-up-a-hill-both-ways, sort of worse. It was the same it is now. A kid is too young to have a job of their own, is still at the mercy of the snap and come here from anyone older who wants to tell them what to do and where to go. Winter Home felt like a trap. It still does.
“There I was, maybe five, maybe six. Mam …”
“My Mam, or Grammy?” Wilf broke in.
“My Mam,” said Rafe. “I never knew her as Grammy — was pregnant with Jenna, and that was part of the problem. Mam, was terrified and distracted and I took every advantage going.”
“Terrified? But she’d already had you. Did she almost die then? And Uncle Ducky is only a couple years younger than Mam.”
“It wasn’t so much having a baby that scared her. It was how to deal with the baby once it arrived. Look. See that mug keeping hot on the edge of the fire ring? Keep your eye on it.”
Rafe began to sing. No words but aaaahhhhh, up and down like she was searching for a note. In less than a minute the cup began to vibrate, edging away from the fire. Just as it tipped to the ground, the sides split and the rim peeled back like a lily opening. The tea flowed through the slits. Wilf and Molly, eyes bugged out and jaw slacked, stared at her.
“Shut your mouths. Yes, I did that. I did something like to Grammy Heddle’s warp threads just before she beat me.”
“She knew it was you?”
“Everyone knew it was me. I was born screaming and breaking things. Broke the midwife’s specs. Broke my Da’s whiskey glass. Broke cups, dishes, candle sticks, you name it. How do you control a kid that could break things with her voice? Mam did what she could, but she was petrified of having another monster. Da was the only one who could …
“Well, by the time I was, say, six, I broke what I wanted to. I had learned that much, but there was no discipline. It’s a wonder no one poisoned me. Grammy Heddle had asked me to do, I don’t know what. All I can remember is thinking ‘I’ll make her sorry.’ I broke every third warp on her loom. She’d had enough. I saw her closing in on me and thought I was done for. When she started to beat me, I screamed and broke more stuff.” Rafe shrugged. “You’ve seen a kid have a tantrum before. I can see now, she had no choice but to thump me on the head and lay me out cold.
“By the time I came to, Grammy Heddle had taken steps. I would be taught manners and she was in charge. By the time Jenna was born, and was like any other baby, Mam had a favorite child, at last, and an ally.”
“That was the end of it?”
“By no means. But I did learn limits. I learned I was not the most powerful thing in the universe.”
“No one even whispered about this when you came back last summer.”
“Nobody talks about Pauly Gorge, either. But everyone knows. Some things are just swept out the door, and as long as they don’t return it’s as if they’ve never been. Baggage only stays with those that know and need to remember.”
Rafe turned to her nephew. “How delighted was your mam when you started singing?”
“That explains some things,” Wilf said. “But how did you break the cup? You just did scales, with your voice.”
“Vibrations. It took a while before I got control. Mostly I had that need beat into me. And I was stubborn. It’s been years since I broke anything without intending to.”
“Did you use it in battle?”
Rafe fixed Wilf with a squinty look. She thought she could see the rhymes starting in his head. “From time to time,” she said. “The important thing is that for Jenna and Barton Stubbs, and others, this is baggage they’ll drag back in the door, as a solution to our water problem. And if I decide they’re right, you and Molly will both be going on another little trip with me. But it is right for you to know that I am able to do this.”
“Can you even break …” Wilf started.
“Time to get some shut-eye.” Rafe flipped open her bed roll and covered up. Wilf and Molly would talk and suppose; she would listen, but was happier leaving them to fireside inventions. No need to confirm or deny their speculations.