“Rafaella!” The stars had disappeared from the edge of the horizon, and Rafe kept walking. Her sister had no business being up at this hour, and certainly no business shouting her name down the hall. Well, more of an insistent hiss than a shout, but the danger of waking up Ma and Da.
“Rafaella!” The call came again and Rafe didn’t stop. She turned the door latch, shouldered her pack, and headed out into the dark. She breathed in the chill scent of dew, undercut with ashes from Da’s forge. She breathed deep trying to memorize the smell, a little surprised at the catch of regret it raised at the pit of her throat. Fireflies were still visible. On the crest of the ridge above town, she could clearly make out the mound of the Memory Oak that would catch the first real light of dawn. Tonight, this morning, a quarter moon hung in the sky, pointing her way up the cliff to the Oak.
She whipped around and hissed back at Jenna. “What?” It was more of a snap than she’d ever dared before. “What do you want? You belong in bed.”
Jenna stood just outside the door to their house. Our parents’ house. No, Rafe blinked, her mouth clamped in grim satisfaction. Her parents’ house. Those who went to Sojourn in the world, went without family or friends. Some went to study, or apprentice, while others, like Rafe, went to soldier. Their families did not mourn, as they would the truly dead, but quietly anticipated their return.
The Sojourner would leave in the dark. If they returned. Come true dawn, the family would discover a tidily made bed, sometimes with a farewell note on the pillow, and send one of the younger children to the Memory Oak to copy down the newly made mark. Then someone would recreate the design in a weaving, or woodwork, something that would hang on the walls of Sojourners’ Gallery in Winter Home. That was how a leave taking would happen in normal families.
And yet here Jenna stood, talking at her. “Wait until I tell Mama….”
Rafe’s eyes slit. The corners of her mouth went up, but it wasn’t a smile. “Do you think that matters to me now? At this stage? You tell your Ma whatever you want. It is nothing to me.”
“She’s your Ma, too.”
“And will be glad to be rid of me.” Rafe looked at Jenna’s feet. “You should have worn shoes. Poor planning on your part.”
Jenna stood, shouting, on the stoop as Rafe disappeared into the darkness. No candles were lit. No lanterns turned up. Not even in the neighbor’s houses.
Rafe climbed the narrow path to the Oak. She had known the mark she would make since her father had given her the sword that now rode in the scabbard at her back. Now it shone golden in the rising dawn: an open half circle for a mouth, emitting a sword with a crossed hilt, with two short lines on either side, for the sound of her voice. Let Jenna be the Smith. She was Ironsong. Rafe Ironsong.
Ducky would be the one to copy the mark, excited to see what she had made, and take it home to be crafted to hang in the Sojourners’ Hall in Winter Home. Jenna would go with him, not because she cared, but because she wanted to be seen doing it. Would her mother relent to traditions she clung to and weave it into a tapestry? Or would she let Da make a trivet out of iron?
Taking up her pack, Rafe went to where her horse had been hobbled the evening before. It was her right, as a Sojourner, to take three days’ supplies, a bed roll, and a horse. She could have brought anything else she had made with her own hands, but she didn’t. The pack unlaced and became saddle bags. The sword stayed in its scabbard as Rafe rode away from Riverside, her back to the rising sun.