Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Eighty

Peter was sitting in dark corner of the front room at Gilly's. He had been watching Helena all day. She had glowed with pride when Inga stepped up next to Polly at the betrothal, and still seemed more radiant than any of the girls at the celebration.

Inga was taller, and more curvaceous than Helena had been at the same age, but they held their heads just so. There was no mistaking mother and daughter.

After the betrothal, everybody in the village scattered to their homes or futher festivities while Helena and Peter cleaned up the hall. They had watched Polly and Marko drive off with his family for their quiet dinner. They had seen Daniel squire his fiancee toward Gilly's for merrymaking. Inga had walked to her grandparents' in the misty winter noon with her beau.

Then they were left alone with their thoughts and each other.

At first, Helena bustled about, pulling down the garlands and stashing them in bundles near the door. Peter had set about stacking benches along the walls -- one up, one upside down on top -- two deep on one side, a single row on the other. Helena hummed a song from her homeland, something she had been doing more frequently of late, Peter mused.

The hall grew chillier, now that the people with all their energy and excitement were gone. Helena rubbed her hands together, Peter blew on his, and their eyes met.

She blushed and looked away, but he saw a tear drop.

Suddenly, she was in his arms -- his lips brushed the top of her head -- and they stood, gently rocking.

She sobbed, and his own breathing was uneven, as the grief they shared but hadn't acknowledged washed over them.

"Oh, Peter!" it came out in gasps, over and over, and, "Sebastian!"

His deep voice rumbled back, "Helena, Helena!" and the empty hall whispered "give - it - time".

The rocking became a gentle swaying, and then they were dancing the midwinter dance, the healing dance, the living dance. Starting in the center, her alto and his baritone keeping time, they spiraled out, and back again, each step a bit lighter than the one before, each measure a little faster.

Finally, exhausted, they met again in the center and stopped.

Helena's bright eyes and rosy cheeks matched a smile as brilliant and hopeful as Inga's as she looked lovingly at her husband.

Peter's shoulder's straightened, and his whiskers parted to reveal a still-straight grin. Then his eyes glittered with tears, and he dropped to one knee, "Helena, my silence has hurt you; my grief was not mine alone and I was wrong to not share this time with you. Forgive me, and let's make the coming year as full of hope as the last few months have been full of pain."

She bopped him on the side of his head and pulled him up, her lips twitching, "Silly boy. Of course we will. Now let's finish this job and go have some mulled wine with Gilly and Paul"

And so Peter watched Helena mingle with the guests and family at Gilly's, now serving more tea, now playing with a child, now sitting quietly with her mother. He almost missed Adam coming up behind him.

Adam was about to turn away, when Peter spoke, "No Father, please stay." He moved over to make room on the small settee, displacing the cat who gave him a meaningful look and stalked off on stiff legs.

Adam sighed slightly as he sat, rubbing a hand over his face tiredly. It caught Peter off guard, and he looked again, more carefully at his father. Adam looked old, he thought, his face was drawn and his color -- though it was difficult to be sure in the dim light -- seemed a little gray. And he had never quite stopped holding his shoulder and arm close since it had been broken at harvest time.

Peter was surprised to realize that his father was fragile, but the words from the older man made it clear that he was still as strong in his thought as any of the men in the village.

"I see you and Helena have made up," he nodded, "And it's about time." He gestured with his pipe -- the indulgence he allowed himself still -- toward Ava, now sitting in the middle of a circle of women, obviously recounting her memories of early married life. A traditional I remember story, so common at betrothals and births, unique it seemed to women.

"Your mother was worried, you see, Helena seemed so alone. I knew you would make up eventually, but she wasn't so sure. You see, when your brother took off to go travelling," Adam's voice dropped a notch and they both unconsciously looked around for Tor. He was at the other end of the room, with a still-pretty middle-aged woman on his lap, laughing uproariously at some joke.

"Tor gave us quite a scare, you know. He was a real handful when his voice started to change, and it wasn't very long before he decided he knew better than anyone what needed doing. He would disappear sometimes for several days, up on the mountain, hunting and camping. He just didn't seem to understand that we couldn't really manage the farm without knowing what hands were available.

"So one day, he announced at breakfast that he was not going to help in the fields. Of course it was during the lambing, when I really needed the extra hands to separate the birthing ewes so we could keep an eye on them...

"And his bag was packed, and he walked off down the road, saying he had given his word to the stone trader. I was furious, and said things I later regretted. Your mother was beside herself, not knowing where he was or what he was doing for so many months. And quite honestly I was worried that the things I had said had driven him away for good. Finally a different trader brought back word that Tor had stopped in a city on the plain, and was working for a smith.

"And then one day, there he was again, walking down the lane, a smile on his face and several inches taller."

Peter nodded, remembering the day his brother had left, and the day he had returned. Both caused such upheaval and disturbance in the routines that it took Peter, Paul and Adam several weeks to get back on track. He also remembered Adam being extra gentle with Ava while Tor was gone. It had seemed to cement their relationship, rather than sunder it -- as Sebastian's disappearance almost had to Peter and Helena.

"He just needed something else, Peter," Adam continued, "And so too, perhaps, does Sebastian.

"We do not all need the same things..." Adam pulled on his pipe and seemed to drift into memories.

Peter waited a moment, but Adam didn't pick up the story again. He looked out again at Helena. There were so many things he wanted to ask his father. But he searched his heart and asked the most important one.

"Father, Sebastian's absence has been very hard on both of us, but I think we will be stronger now that we have learned to face this together."

Adam nodded, his eyes closed, but his expression intent and thoughtful.

"What is the most important thing you ever gave Mother?"

Adam opened one eye, then the other, and he winked, "I suppose you'd have to ask her, son!" he chortled, then caught his breath before he started to cough. "I think it was myself, though."

Catching Peter's puzzled look he added, "It's not anything you say, or do, or give, that matters to the one who loves you. It's being yourself, and sharing that person -- happy or sad, smart or dull -- in the end, it's companionship that matters."

Gilly started toward them with a tray of goodies, a smile on her face and a tear in her eye. Women were so sentimental, thought Peter as he composed himself, and stood to take the tray from her so she could sit next to Adam for a while.

As Peter made his way through the room passing out cookies and little cakes to anyone who didn't have at least two already on their plate, he could feel Adam's gaze following him. Parents, it seemed, cared about their children long past childhood.