Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Eighty One

Tor had been home for some weeks, living quietly at Adam and Ava's house, and, after that one brief illustration of his feelings about Paul's disappearance, helping Peter and Paul with the usual mid-winter chores.

Ava was happy to have Tor home again, but somewhat concerned as well. He had a habit of turning ordinary events into fiascos and the last time he had been home at mid-winter it had taken nearly two years to put everything to rights again.

Still, she could see that Paul was glad to have him there -- for the comraderie as much as the help. After all, both of them had spent many years wandering, causing the family no end of worrisome days and anxious nights, and both were handy with tools and machines. Peter, though more inclined to responsibility and sober living, brightened up when Tor was about -- even cracking a joke here and there. The three men -- she sometimes still thought of them as the boys they had once been -- were building up a new, stronger bond, and it pleased her.

And she was glad Peter had some encouragement to be part of the family again. Tor had confided to his mother that he was worried about Sebastian, having learned quickly from his contacts with traders and merchants that the bands of recruiters had recently become more aggressive, tending to discard less capable conscripts in strange ports with no recourse for returning home. That, and the inherent danger in sailing, made the family nervous about Sebastian's welfare, and would have tended to drive Peter to isolation.

For by now they were certain he had been taken captive by sailors. A distant cousin in the big port city was sure he had seen Sebastian, around the time he disappeared from the farm, in the company of a disreputable crew known to have since vanished. A large cargo had never showed up in the harbor city-state across the sea, generating no end of diplomatic and economic stress. Even the local village merchants were remarking how goods from that region no longer seemed as easy to come by.

Then again, Ava mused, as she wandered through her housework, Esmeralda had assured her that Sebastian was in fact in no danger. And the doctor was rarely mistaken when she took that tone of voice. Ava was sure it had something to do with Esmeralda's mysterious father's family, but was reluctant to push her cousin too far by probing matters best left alone.

Cathy bustled about, baking, sewing, humming to herself and darting out the door to speak to Gilly every so often. Ava was glad to have her daughters so close -- though she missed the children who were not nearby, the ones who were part of every day formed the foundation for Ava and Adam's lives. And acted as buffers for the storms that often took the family by surprise.

Such as Tor's stormy outbursts, so much like Sebastian's -- tempered only by the years and the weeks and months of his absences. Ava glanced out the window and saw Adam walking home from the village slowly.

Adam never seemed to regain the spring in his step after his arm had been broken. Ava was sure it was not the arm that bothered him, but his heart -- this grandson so like Tor, so unlike Peter and Helena, so volatile. And yet, he had shown insights far deeper and mystical than the other grandchildren.

Except Nan, of course, who daily astounded and amazed the people around her. So wide-eyed and willing to love; so wise about grief; so timid around people but so open...

Ava smiled as Adam came in the door, and helped him off with his jacket, then stoked the fire with his help before bustling off to get the kettle on for tea. She took the small bundle Adam had brought home and put it in the pantry, another gift for a grandchild at mid-winter, a set of spices from far-away lands that Doris had paused over at the market in the summer.

And there was Tor, coming through the back gate, grinning back at someone behind him and waving as the fence obscured the view. He smiled up at his mother in the kitchen window before ducking into the woodshed.

Yes, he was a good son -- worrisome, but thoughtful. Smart, but undependable. Loving, but volatile. A bundle of contradictions and ambiguities. But he was like the peg that holds the wheel to the cart, Ava thought. Without him, things sort of wobbled about. With him, the rest of the family pulled together in a way that other families envied.

The kettle began to groan as the water inside heated up. Tor came through the door, stomping his feet, and muttering, "Yes, yes, yes. I'll sweep up after myself once I have the logs in the cradles."

Ava set out a small nutcake and Tor's voice softened, "Gilly sends her love and do you want Nan and Doris over later to help with cookies? I can take your reply back when I go help Paul reshoe that troublesome donkey."

Tor's laugh sounded suspiciously like he was imitating the braying ass, and Ava giggled. "Go on and spend a few minutes with your father who just came home and won't rest long enough if he doesn't get a visitor. I'll pop over and collect Nan and Doris myself after I bring in your tea."

Tor blushed a little and swept up the trail of clods he had left across the kitchen floor. Ava was suddenly struck by how much he moved like Adam had, so many years ago.

She found him and his father playing a game of stones in front of the fire, kissed Tor quickly and Adam wistfully knowing that time was passing. The tea and the cake wouldn't last long between them, she knew as she drew on a shawl for the quick trip next door.

Funny, she thought, as she closed the door behind her, how every winter seemed to come a little quicker, and every year passed that much faster. In a few days, Polly's betrothal, the big party -- and then ?

Ava shook her head. Not good to look too far ahead. Make each day last, she thought. The last words her own mother had spoken, the words carefully enscribed on their tombstone under the big tree in the fields.

Make each day last...