River ice is never safe to cross. This, Elfriede knows. But in late spring, when the evergreens begin to shed their snowy coats, the river feeding into Mayfair's harbor awakens. Cracking ice is a sound that bespeaks fear. The Yule log's long since burned, the new year's no longer quite so new, the hours of light grow longer. Days turn into fortnights turn into the ice breaking up.
The longships are coming, and all winter the whetstone sounded a slick snick-snick as she marked off the days. The barbarians have hair the color of the torches they carry, and their eyes glisten with the fires of battle. They don't stay, but they always return; she was counting on that.
A fortnight before Yule, her sister was delivered of a baby with carrot-hued hair and no breath. Cursed, the midwife said, but her sister's beloved would hear none of it and the betrothal held fast -- light against the darkness. Elfriede's not rightly sure of what the gods may want, but she knows her mission now.
She hastens her steps, arms full of scrolls from the Mayfair Library, heading away from her dead niece's father and his ilk. They bring with them fire and blood; she's got a knife at her belt for the latter, but the former's fatal to parchment. Saving knowledge is her revenge.
Clouds chase across an achingly blue sky. The newborn lambs wobble and fall, trying out their spindly legs in the high pastures. The ewes block the wind with their bulk (now considerably less, since their shorn wool's in the basket at Liesel's feet).
Carding wool is slow and time-consuming, but Liesel has nothing but time. She takes a break and nibbles a carefully-sectioned apple, walking over to watch the sea glint crystaline and perfect, far below the high cliffs. She licks her lips, counting lambs under her breath, before sitting back on the felled tree near her basket.
Liesel's hands move through the familiar rhythms of their own accord. Her mind follows an imagined skein of yarn twining down the craggy path between their settlement and Kosmos. The very word is magical, evoking the city she's not allowed to visit alone, that port to the far-away which gathers up raw materials and transforms them into fancy cloth. Her little brother's homespun tunic and trousers (which he's outgrown, making them fair game!) can't compare to what their weavers can put out. Her family's sheep will live on long past their muttony fate, heading across the sea as trade goods.
The wealth of distant lands leaves her cold, but the people across the sea intrigue Liesel with the temptation of the unknown. An impulse seizes her, and she lifts her eating knife. It's dull and takes some hacking to achieve the desired result, but in a few moments her braid lands in the basket with the wool.
She won't pass close inspection, but she's as slender as a boy, and the village menfolk have been abuzz with the word that those ships need crew. She's grateful for her lanolin-stained garb in its simple cut; she could be, will be, anyone at all.
The midsummer sun radiates onto fields unwaving; the wind hides from the unrelenting heat. Roswitha would follow suit, but grain requires water, and the rains haven't been obliging. Buckets dropping to the ground, she gratefully slides the shoulder yoke off and lets it fall. One bucket of water seems light in comparison as she pours it into the irrigation canal.
The ashes from the Yule log have produced the promised increase in yield, but they seem to encourage weeds as much as more desirable plants. This needs correcting; the neighboring city-state fields many hungry knights, and their lord urges ever-more production of grain for trade.
Her missing step-daughter sent word; she must have found some sailor with his letters. Rudolph thought Liesel's scrawled note said something about pirates and treasure. Perhaps so, as it came with well-wrapped coins; they'll spend the money on day-laborers to replace the girl rather than pay a scholar in the village to discern her full meaning.
In the silence of her own mind, Roswitha's grateful that her own son Hans isn't the adventurous sort his half-sister proved to be. Rudolph needs help with the sheep, with harvest, with clearing land. Roswitha has her eye on some village girls; given the proper incentive, Hans will farm with his father all his days.
Liesel would have left soon enough; all daughters do. This way, she and Rudolph don't have to worry about a dowry for a plain-faced dreamer uninterested in the womanly arts. Roswitha welcomes raised eyebrows and whispers if they mean she doesn't have to negotiate with someone to unburden them of that girl.
The crisp air of fall is a warning of cold days to come; Theda shivers under her cloak. The longest road on the island wends its way along the edge of the desert from the port city of Mayfair to the newly-constructed settlements in the foothills. Without timber to shore it up and hard-packed clay as a surface, the route would be far more treacherous, but it's uneven enough to jar her teeth and make her long for the smooth stone surfaces back in the city.
Jürgen puts one arm around her and drives the team with the other. She nestles into the comfort of his warmth. They should be to his parents' -- his mother's -- before dark. Thank all the gods, Jürgen doesn't plan to follow his father into the mines. Brickmaking builds where ore destroys.
The rolling plains and foothills of the hinterlands stand in sharp contrast to home, with its bluffs and breaking surf. The sound of the sea no longer haunts Theda's days, though she hears it in her dreams, reproaching, threatening.
There's no river here, just lakes. They camped alongside one last night, and after she bathed, Jürgen laughed as he pulled the leeches off her legs. She didn't know lakes harbored such creatures, and he didn't think to tell her, but his mirth was infectious and she found laughter for the first time since the birth.
Things would have been different if her baby girl had lived; she's just not sure if they would have been better. Jürgen had kissed her under mistletoe, defying the talk of the elders. Would he have embraced a barbarian's whelp? She's not sure she wants to know; even thinking about it makes her heart ache in bewilderment. She'll miss her sister and parents, but at least in Jürgen's village nobody will make signs against the evil eye.
The wind gusts outside Margit's cottage, snow drifting high. Margit twists the dishrag, wringing every drop of water out of it. Her mother always said that washing dishes required a view, but all Margit can see outside is white on white, bare trees swaying like a ghostly shadow cast in the pale winter sun.
Jürgen's pale, quiet bride sews by the fire. Her son is out hunting; Margit's hoping for plump pheasant for dinner. The rabbits aren't appearing in her snares as frequently now that it's so much colder; they're hiding underground.
Her liege lord boasts the largest army. The knights wear metal wrested from the ground by her Klaus. Her husband fought for Catan as much as any mighty knight (may the gods recognize that, and let him feast with the warriors). When the mine collapsed, those in power forgot about him. Not Margit.
Lines on her face, spots on her hands, but she's not too old to be a revolutionary. The robbers who raid out of the desert aren't acting alone. She glances at Theda, quiet and damaged, and wonders why the girl lost faith with the city of her birth. Margit's nobody's fool, and she thinks Theda just might be interested in changing the rules of the game.