The first arrived the day Merlin was born. When the nurse brought in the flowers and handed over the card, the envelope jingled. Hunith tipped it out onto her thin hand, unsure what to expect, and nearly stopped breathing at the delicate gold bracelet pooled in her palm.
“Oh, that’s pretty,” the nurse chirped.
A mute Hunith nodded. She was too wrapped up in examining the tiny charm dangling from the center link. A dragon molded in exquisite detail, surprisingly heavy for its size.
Her fingers trembled as she removed the card. It contained a single, handwritten symbol.
Only one man she knew would sign a card with a heart.
She held back the tears until Merlin woke and demanded to be fed. The eyes that tilted up to hers as he nursed at her breast were as old as his father’s.
* * *
But the envelope in the post was unknown, battered from the storms that had raged through the country. The paper was soggy where she tore through the seal, and she had to fish around inside where its contents had lodged in a corner.
A bird in flight, captured in gold. No return address, but now that she looked at it closely, she knew that handwriting, would always know it.
She didn’t cry that day. She longed for him, yes, but knowing he was out there, watching over them, aware of the changes in his son’s life, filled her with enough comfort to keep the pain at bay.
* * *
A heart the day of his very first date.
A book the day he was accepted at Cambridge.
A rainbow the day he came out.
By the time Merlin was twenty-five, the jingling of Hunith’s wrist as the charms collided with one another was a long-running joke between them. He never asked where they came from, and Hunith never volunteered the information. Once, when a courier had delivered an envelope containing a gold horseshoe charm to her the night she’d paced the waiting room while doctors did their best to stitch Merlin up after the car accident that nearly killed him, she’d vowed to tell Merlin everything if he would just wake up.
But he’d reached for her the next afternoon, his face so bruised and bandaged she could barely see him, and curled his long fingers around the bracelet on her wrist. “I like the new one,” he said, his voice a broken rasp.
Her eyes flooded with unshed tears, and she nodded. “I do, too.”
She didn’t have to tell him something he already understood.
* * *
She stood hidden by the front window, watching guests begin to arrive, when a young girl appeared out of nowhere and said Merlin was asking to see her. Hunith followed her up the stairs, hoping there wasn’t a problem at this late time. Her thoughts were rifling through the possibilities as she knocked, then as she stepped inside.
“Please tell me…” Her voice abandoned her. Merlin wasn’t alone.
As the man stood, weathered by time and circumstance, her fingers went automatically to the bracelet. She couldn’t move as he stepped closer, larger with every inch he took away from the distance that separated them, and she couldn’t breathe when he hesitated beyond her reach, his eyes searching hers for some sign of hope.
“I thought you’d want a more personal delivery this time,” Merlin said gently off to the side.
She looked down in time to see the elegant infinity symbol resting on a weathered palm. Wordlessly, she held her own hand out, turning her wrist to expose an open link on the bracelet’s chain.
Scarred fingers fumbled to attach the new charm. “Always.” Balinor’s whisper was more than an echo from their past. She grasped onto it as a promise for a future, the years they could still have now that their son was about to embark on a life of his own.
She finally found the strength to look up and meet the eyes she had never forgotten. Later, when they were alone, she would ask how and why, but neither question was important in the truth of his return.