Anyatka Tenorbekk found it hard to smile.
As she gazed into the tired looking glass, she studied the turn of her mouth and the tension in her forehead. She was merely twenty-three years old, yet she felt much older and she feared she had begun to look it.
She practiced a smile. It turned into a grimace and she looked more like her elder brother than she cared to admit. Without realizing it, her brows furrowed and her mouth puckered. The worry weighed her cheeks down and they lacked their normal flush of pink. She pinched them to get the colour back into them, but they turned blotchy instead of rosy.
Is that why he hadn’t come to see her yet? Is that why he seemed to forget her?
Perhaps she was just being silly. She had spent weeks without seeing him before. True, that was when they ventured north to rid of her the possessive spirit taking over her mind and body, but even then, he had come. In the end, he had come and he had been there gazing down at her when she awoke from the nightmare.
She pushed the thoughts from her mind and wiped the embarrassing tears forming before they could fall.
He was just busy with the spring. His roses would need tending. And Hallem went off again with the company, so he was working by himself.
She was being silly.
Patting her cheeks, Anya composed herself and rose from her cushioned stool. She grabbed her sketchbook and glided out of her room, through the front door, and over to her own rose bush. She sat down next to it with the book in her lap and she sighed. She opened it to a blank page and then she looked up.
Abiorn stood down by the edge of lake with Eirikr’s fishing pole. Normally she would frown and tell Abiorn to stop messing with his brother’s things, but today it did not seem like the right thing to do. Eirikr was in Rohan with the Wayfarers. So was Miss Cwen and Eruviel. She was the eldest of the family at present and it was her duty alone to keep the house and guide her brother now. She had to make the real choices for the first time in her life and this time, another depended on her.
As she watched her brother cast his line, her hand moved to select a piece of sharpened charcoal. She didn’t have to look; her fingers knew which one she wanted. It was a fresh piece, but she could tell by its weight and size it was the right density for her stroke. Anders had sharpened more than a few of the pieces he had gathered for her, so all she had to do was put the blackness to the page and let her body do the rest of the work.
Shapes and shadows. That’s what she could create. Her brother’s slender shape that was not quite so slender as the months passed by. The shadow of the too-small cabin that reached for him by the edge of the lake. It suddenly seemed too big, like the breadth of her brother’s shoulders as he reeled in a small flash of silver on top of the water.
Her brother was growing up. He’d be sixteen in three days’ time. Before he left for Rohan, Eirikr had approached him and handed him a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string.
“I won’t be here for your birthday. I am sorry to miss another one, Abbi. Abiorn.” The eldest Tenorbekk cleared his throat loudly and nodded to the package. “Open it now, if you would. I’d like to see if you like it.”
The package contained a dagger made in replica of the one Exio had given him in Evendim. A funny look had passed over Abiorn’s face and for a moment, Anya wondered if it was such a good idea to give the boy something that reminded him of the dead man.
“Thank you,” Abiorn had finally said gruffly. He rubbed his nose with the palm of his hand and nodded. “You had this made for me?”
“You have a pair now. Twin daggers to protect you and Anya from any more orc invasions.”
The boy had nodded and held out a fragile hand to his older brother. It was grasped firmly, and then Eirikr pulled him into a brief and rare hug.
“I’ll be back before you know it,” Anya heard him murmur to Abiorn. “Take care of each other.”
That night, Abiorn tucked the dagger next to the one already nestled in the chest that he kept beneath his bed.
He had been quieter than usual lately.
Durrow was quieter than she had grown used to lately.
She missed them. She missed him.
As she looked up from her sketch, her eyes fell onto a deep burgundy bud just beginning to unfurl. She touched its delicate petals with the very tip of her sooty finger.
She had kept it alive. Through the moves and broken hearts, she had kept it alive and now the rich scent of the open blooms filled her head with spring. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly, she counted to ten.
And then, she opened her eyes.