The glow reached the walls of the stable and folded back on itself, bringing daylight to the dark, enclosed space. Sasha gripped the crank and wiggled it into its resting place, next to the “P”. The low hum of the Mustang quieted with the quenching of the light.
You didn’t have fun, did you Yesutė?
Though the light was gone, the glow had seeped into Lena’s skin and was fading much more slowly. It was warm, and it made her smile.
Oh, that’s too bad. Sasha turned the key, sending a grin Lena’s way. His shining earrings flicked lingering sunrays at her as his head moved. This is very serious business, you know, lighting the cosmos. There shouldn’t be any fun involved.
Lena’s smile turned from bright to moon-dark, hiding mischief. She turned it to Sasha.
i’m sorry sashukas.
can i try again?
Sasha pulled the lever beside him, and the door opened. Well, I suppose that’s the only way to get better at it. He shifted out, rising to his full height, well above the Mustang.
The window in the roof started slowly closing its lid to sleep. Lena crawled through it. Her slippers whispered over the sloping glass, the metal muzzle, and off the edge of the nose.
“Shoo-Shoo! Duv se enc’brona. SO enc’brona.”
“Summer, we aren’t at Crom Dubh’s house anymore,” explains Sofia. “We’re at our house now. No one’s se encabrona.”
Summer stares at her for a moment, then says, “Oh.”
The warmth of distant hearthfire feelings soaked in, even as the sun’s light cooled within her. Even the light, bitter tang of Dovilė’s poignance and incredulity, mixed as it was with her contentment and relief, was balmy. But it would cool as they ventured out into the night too soon after the sunset, too soon after the lighting of the hearth. There was more work to do.
Lena’s resolve clicked into place beside Dovilė’s, which had already settled quietly, like a mountain facing eternity.
Sasha reached out, enveloping Lena’s shoulder with his big, gentle hand. His other hand went to Dovilė’s shoulder, far away. I’ll try to keep you guys updated until you come back.
Lena gave Sasha a long hug, pressing some extra heat for the road, sending some to Dovilė and squirrelling away the rest. When they parted, Sasha reached into his pocket and handed Lena the coin. She took in a breath and slipped it away.
Mokosits. Press the coin into his hand, fling all the thoughts at him. Make fun of him as he fumbled and dropped them.
Alvaro. Get everything together in one place for him, re-weave the threads of duties. Watch hope unfolds its protective leaves and the elation bloom on his face. Smile as he moves about, slowly realizing he’s already untied.
Dovilė. Shine among her family, so that they can see a guiding light leading her away. So they can see the cold tasklight, the warm hopelight, the two faces of one lantern-glow.
But first, Lena needed her cloak.
Three kisses on Sasha’s face. And then a breath in, held, a step, and the aspen branches loomed overhead, teardrop leaves still.
But the probing noses of the shadows had pulled back and dipped, bowing their heads at the edges of a gentle light, a lantern-glow. And at the center…
Lena let her breath out.
Chors stepped forth, deliberate but strung. Her delicate, cautious brow pressed back her consternation.
— Yesen. — she ventured. A package, wrapped in brown paper and tied, pressed protectively under her crossed arms.
Lena strung herself too.
— Lady Mother. — she greeted, with a curtsey.
The brows wrestled. The shadows shied back, then pressed in again, settling where they were before. Guilt pressed around her eyes. — I saw it was… I tried to mend it… I knew how important… so before you left… I hardly meant to…
Dovilė waited, watching, uncertain.
Light worry drifted over from Sasha. I haven’t ever seen her at such a loss… Do you want me to talk to her, Yesutė?
Shame colored Chors’s cheeks. Then she bowed her head, white-gold hair spilling over her face, and held the package out to Lena.
Lena took it. Chors drew back, hands clasped tightly in each other, looking intently to the side, a slightly stunned, slightly horrified expression overcoming her. Lena pulled at the twine, unfolded the paper.
She was greeted by silver moonlight, which cascaded from between her hands.
The paper fell away. In her fingers, a familiar texture: smooth, supple skin, coarse, grating fur. But an unfamiliar sight.
Her cloak. It was shining.
Panic closed its teeth around Lena. Her heart beat its fleeing cadence. Wordlessly Sasha reached out, open, waiting.
Yesen. From the other side came steadiness, the quiet certainty of painless dark.
Yesen. Stribogovna. The cloak was Afonyevna’s, when she had to turn away from the world, to hide so that she might slip through the bars of the gilded cage.
Now she didn’t. Now she was the light sliding between, venturing ever deeper into that which always waited beneath all things.
Yesen ran her fingers over the cloak. At the bottom, Dovilė’s inexpert sewing had been painstakingly nudged to neatness, stitch by stitch, and then gently overlaid with a second, finer seam. While not whole, it would act whole, and appear whole except upon a closer look.
Something flicked. Yesen looked up. Chors had pressed her hand against her mouth, and her other arm across her stomach. She was silent, trying not to let her feelings interrupt Yesen’s. Chors caught her glance, closed her eyes, took a breath, and released her hands to her sides. Then, with quiet, wounded resolve, she looked at Lena with her gentle twilight gaze.
— An apology cannot undo what I have done, Yesen. Intentions pale in the face of this misdoing. — She bowed her head, and her light drew in. — But I lay my apology before you, regardless. If there is any way I can to balance this inequity, I will.
Summer looks up at all the newcomers and her face twists a little. “Mamiiii.”
Carmen gives her a concerned look. “What’s wrong?”
“No.” Summer reaches up. “No, Mami. Too fuw, Mami.”
Carmen reaches down to pick her up. “Aww, are there too many new people, mijita?”
The toddler puts her face in her mother’s chest, turning away from everyone else. “Yeah.”
A mirrored ache, deep, reaching from below, seeping gentle and warm into the heart, even as the light of her cloak seeped into the shadows.
— Yesen. — The voice is a gentle whisper, soft but resonant. — Yesen, my joy, my heart. I cannot hide you right now. But I can hold you up. I can hold you up for as long as you need. Okay?
Her heart beat its fleeing cadence as she draped the cloak over herself and tied it down, as if she were venturing into the night sky, spreading sore and weary wings toward the distant promise of the full moon. She flung its hem before her, watching it fan out and settle at her feet.
They would see the cold tasklight, the warm hopelight, the two faces of one lantern-glow.
— I like it.
Then she wrapped her arms around Chors, pressing against her, afraid and aching and warm all at once.
Chors stilled, shock sending her a-tense under Yesen’s embrace. — Y-you do?
After a long moment she softened, and then her gentle arms wound around Yesen. Afraid and aching and warm all at once.
— Thanks for holding me up when I needed it. — Yesen murmured.
— Oh, my darling Yena. — The hug effused, tightening. — It is heartbreaking to think that might be such a rare treasure for you, that you feel compelled to thank me.
Words woven with strong thread, but delicately shaping an invitation which would wait, eternally patient, quiet, content. Like delicate rays for the curtains to be drawn back before shining in the home.
A gentle, background hum of a sound, of an experience…
From just outside the shop:
“Hey, look at that, we’re all alone over here. You wanna hang out here a while, baby?”
“‘Kay. I’ma set you down now.”
“Hey, hey—alright, I gotcha!” A pause. “What’s up? You feelin’ grumpy, mamita?”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” A pause. “Ohhhh, I think I know what you want.”
“What, Mami?” A smile was growing in Summer’s voice.
“You want… beso en la cabeza?” The phrase was said in a practiced cadence.
“Mmm. You want… beso en la mano?”
“¡Uno!” Pause. “¡Dos!” Pause. “¡Todo listo!”
“¡Ay! You want… beso en la pata?”
“¡Uno!” Pause. “¡Dos!” Pause. “¡Todo listo!”
A click of the tongue. “What now!” Exaggerated exasperation, webbed with good humor.
“¡Beso en la Mami!” Pause. “¡’Do yisto!”
Carmen’s laugh came through, rich and honey-thick. She hadn’t laughed like that for a long time.
Sweet solace drifted like flower-scent, carrying with it the soft twang of emptiness surrounded by so much fullness. Yesen let it drift over her, a gentle mist settling on her skin and in her hair. Sasha’s stove-light slowly seeped through at the edges, an inviting glow in the midst of the fog.
And Chors’s embrace: comfort and melancholy, warmth and vapor. One light, gently enveloping another.
Then Yesen drew away from Chors. The shadows had backed farther, making way for the combined radiance, slowly growing as Chors’s expression warmed. Chors hardly seemed to notice, her eyes roaming over Yesen, over her cloak, a smile waiting only to be let in.
Once more Yesen looked at the cloak, rubbing it between her fingers.
— How did you do this? — she asked.
A light brush of pink colored Chors’s cheeks. She turned her gaze to the ground. — As you have surely noticed… I… get overwhelmed by joy easily. — She clasped her hands together, as if to contain herself further. — With Sashunya and Vilka so near, and you so… alive… and in such good hands now… I have hardly been happier. — Her blush deepened, coloring the glow around her rosy. — I had no idea it could be so… infectious. My deepest apologies.
… my mother is adorable.
Affection blasted forth like an opened furnace. Then it quickly faded back to stove-heat. Whoops. Sorry, Doviluzė, Yesutė. I was trying to agree and then I got a little carried away…
Shawn, rapidly punctuating a back-of-the-throat buzz with a click of the tongue and push of the lips—all the while, humming with his nose. Then he draws it all in with air sucked between his teeth, building on the moment of rest… and then erupts into a frenzy of throat-beats, tongue- and cheek-clicks, and growls. It shapes a familiar tune with foreign tools.
And then the tune ends with a puffed-cheek, cross-eyed raspberry.
Summer, whose anticipation had been building, bursts into giggles. It’s joined soon after by Leliana’s unrestrained laughter sparked by utter surprise, and the boys’ resulting guffaws and snorting chuckles. The humor quickly leaks into the rest of the room, despite the performance having been only for the gathered few.
them, everyone. Infected. I fear for my health.
It’s only a matter of time, Dovilytė. You’ve been exposed.
Then Chors’s blush faded a little, favoring concern. — I can keep it, until you return. — She paused and added: — So no unwanted attention will come your way.
Yesen drew the hood over her head, covering the laugh leaping in her eyes. — It’s okay. I’ll have Mokosits eat it, then cough it back up later.
A half-humored wince pressed in on Chors’s features. — Oh no, don’t do that to him! He’ll suffer terrible indigestion. — She paused, her smile twitching. She leaned in a little, drawing a clandestine air around her. — If you must, ask Vilka to eat it instead. I have never admired a stronger stomach or a braver palate.
Dovilė snorted. Just ate. I would get lasagna all over it. It would be very messy.
Yesen’s fingers went to her hood, tugging it down further. After a moment, she drew it back a little, to look up at Chors. — I’ll think of something.
Chors eyed her again, then released a breath and a polite smile. — Forgive me. I fear I have kept you too long with my fussing. — She drew back a little and turned slightly, bowing her head a little, giving space for Yesen to depart.
Yesen drew in her own breath, ready to step past Chors and to Morena’s gate, where Mokosits waited, resting his head on his paws. But she stopped toes poised over the new ground.
do you think
Yesen let out her breath.
— When I get back… can I help you move the moon? — Quickly she added, — Just for one night.
Chors’s glow spread, quickly, driving back the noses of the shadows. A wider smile pressed a little at her lips, but kept a polite distance. — Of course, Yena.
Yesen mirrored her not-smile. — Thanks. — She curtseyed. — Lady Mother.
Then she touched her slipper to Morena’s front path.