Effa plunged her hands into the warm water, grimacing at the slide of grease beneath her fingertips, the bits of food skimming the surface along with the dingy suds. Laughter rang out from the common room, sharp bursts from loud men convinced their conversation enlightened all and sundry, along with the clink of glass and silverware and the occasional scrape of wood on wood as guests shoved their chairs back.
Not a scrap of honour in the whole room, Effa would bet, and she scrubbed angrily at a stubborn splotch of sauce that refused to budge from rim of a dented bowl. Brawlers and braggarts and brigands and who knew what else, and the whores they brought in with them who giggled and claimed to be sisters or cousins even as they sprawled across the men’s laps and leaned back to let their bosoms heave in the firelight.
Disgusting, all of them, but Father said coin didn’t care who held it and neither should they. “Folks with honour and class don’t stay at little inns like this,” he told her when Effa protested having to chip dried vomit from the floorboards after the guests staggered up to bed. “We do what we must to survive, my girl. You’ll learn that well enough.”
A bead of sweat trickled, stinging, into Effa’s eye, followed by a damp strand of hair fallen loose from her braid. She tossed her head but no use, and with her hands trapped wrist-deep in soap scum she raised her shoulder and hunched awkwardly to the side, doing her best to wipe her forehead with her sleeve.
Do what we must to survive, Effa thought sourly, gnashing the words in her mind like a dog with a scrap of rotting meat. If this was all survival meant — smiling when some oaf slid a large, clumsy hand around her bottom because it meant a copper coin left under the mug when he left, Father shaking his head when Effa asked to keep her tips so she might apprentice herself to someone in town and learn a trade — then what was the point? What did surviving matter she never moved past to living?
The bell over the kitchen entryway jangled, signalling a visitor at the front door. Father glanced out at the new arrivals, then popped back in and gestured at Effa with a jerk of his thumb. “See to it, will you? They look like they’d appreciate your face more than mine.”
Lovely. More wandering hands and toothy grins behind unkempt beards and eyes that glittered and did their best to pierce through her homespun bodice. Effa glared, but Father had already sidled out with a mug of ale to refuel their existing guests, and if he’d felt her look he didn’t show it. Effa wrenched her hands out of the sink and dried them on a worn-out towel that did more to spread the moisture up her arms than soak it in. In a fit of temper she flung the towel at the far wall, where it hit with a damp thud and slid down to the floor and did nothing to assuage her mood.
Effa stared at her hands, her fingertips wrinkled from the dishwater, knuckles red and cracked from hours and hours each day working with cheap lye soap. Not the hands of a lady, these, or a tradeswoman or a warrior or anything of merit and value. Even a peasant or a farmer would have good, honest soil ground into the lines of the palm and under the fingernails, working to wrest life from the earth and feed the hungry all across the nation. Not this, working until the last guest stumbled up the stairs and rising before even the cold grey light of pre-dawn, with no one to recognize her service and not one ounce of glory in all her sixteen years so far and little chance of any in the years to come.
No stories here. No songs would be sung of Effa, mistress of the ale and heir to a rundown tavern home to the lowest dregs of society — at least, none that she ever wanted to hear. Effa had caught more than a few snatches of drunken rhyme about her finer attributes ever since her body started its inexorable trudge toward womanhood at twelve. Father always plastered a thin smile on his face to avoid causing trouble by taking offence while Effa gripped the tankard handle hard enough her fingers ached and hoped the furious burning in her cheeks came off looking like a girlish blush.
“Effa!” Father called out from the front room, pleasant enough on the surface but with an edge underneath that meant she’d regret it later if she didn’t hurry now. “These gentleman look thirsty!”
Effa untied her apron and tossed it on the counter in another violent, fruitless gesture, pinched her cheeks and swept out through the entryway with a fresh tankard and a painted-on smile. “Gentlemen,” she said, smiling, smiling, smiling. “Have a seat by the fire and rest with our compliments. What would you like for dinner?”
Effa didn’t like the look of any groups who came into their establishment, but this one gave her a low prickle of warning right from the start. Warrior bands often had a handful of women in the complement, so too the traders and travelling merchants, but this was nothing but men, men with one hand on their drinks and the other on their weapons and smiles as sharp as the latter.
They didn’t sing about Effa, didn’t grab her arm and shower her with terrible, inebriated snatches of poetry while she fantasized about smashing them over the head with a serving tray, but she almost wished they did. Drunken blathering might irritate her to the heavens and back but it was harmless enough; these men watched her with the quiet intent of hunters and their prey, and Effa took their orders and fled to the kitchen as soon as she could.
Father must have noticed, too, because for once he didn’t urge her to come out and be friendly, and when the cook announced their food was ready Father took the tray with the hunks of bread and steaming bowls of soup and carried it out to the tables instead of deputizing Effa and her pretty eyes. Effa cleaned every dish in the kitchen and scrubbed down the counters, listening the whole while for conversation from the far table with her hackles raised but hearing nothing. If they chatted they did so low enough that their voices didn’t carry, and normally Effa would be grateful but tonight she swallowed the bitter tang of unease.
The rest of the guests paid their way and headed out into the night, singing, or gathered up their latest till-morning love and made their way up the creaking stairs, but the group in the corner stayed put. When the last of the occupants had gone, Father put on his best apron, spread his hands in apologetic managerial style and made his way out to deliver the news of closing.
“It’s only my daughter and myself here,” he said in his patented blend of wheedling and determination. “The kitchen is closed and the cook has gone to bed. If you’d like to stay tonight, I can give you my best rooms until we reopen in the morning.”
Their leader, clad in leather armour with a nasty short sword at his side, nodded in a parody of a gentleman’s gesture. “Of course, noble innkeeper,” he said, and smiled in a way that made Effa flinch and duck back behind the kitchen wall. “But first, let us say goodnight to your lovely daughter. You tried to hide her from us, I see, but she made quite the impression.”
“Oh,” Father said. Effa imagined the gears churning furiously in his mind as he fought to resolve the issue without losing the custom of men who had drunk the entire night and not yet paid. “Oh, it’s quite late and my daughter is tired —“
“Bring her out,” said the leader, raising his voice, “or must we come and fetch her?”
On impulse, Effa reached for the butcher’s knife on the counter and slipped it into her pocket before stepping out. Her hands shook, and she folded them under the apron to hide her weakness, splaying her fingers to stop herself from twisting them in the fabric. Her heart pounded heavily in her chest, the blood rushing in her temples, and each step she took reverberated until she hoped the walls might collapse and save them, but no such luck.
“Say goodnight to our guests, Effa,” Father said, still hoping to salvage the situation. “They’ve been very generous with their time this evening.”
Effa curtseyed, careful not to bend too far and jostle the knife free. With any luck her clumsy attempt would look like a charming lack of breeding rather than suspicious.
“Very nice,” the man said. His teeth gleamed in the firelight, and he raised his head to survey her with eyes that left Effa feeling as unclean as if a dozen hands had had their way with her. “Listen, old man, you go up for the night and have a rest. I’m sure your daughter can make good on your hospitality without you.”
Effa froze, afraid to look at Father in case the movement caught their attention further, afraid of what she might see on his face. “Oh,” Father said again, his voice scaling high and thin with panic. “Oh, that’s not necessary. Effa, you go upstairs and I’ll settle the bill for these gentlemen —“
“I don’t think you understand.” The leader stood, and the rest of his men followed suit, filing out around him in an intimidating semi-circle that blocked the exit. Effa’s breath stuck hard in her throat, and again she thought of the knife and tried to imagine how she might use it. She’d never cut anything more dangerous than an overcooked haunch of pork. “We’re going to have our fun and get our money’s worth, so I suggest you go upstairs, unless you want to watch.”
The man nearest Effa grabbed her arm, yanking her toward him. Effa’s mind blanked, nothing but a bright, screaming whiteness that filled her vision and blotted out her thoughts. The knife sat in her pocket but she couldn’t make herself reach for it, couldn’t remember how to make a fist or tear herself free. She could only stand there, frozen, looking at Father with wide eyes.
The last of Father’s laboured politeness cracked. “Please,” he begged. “Please, not my daughter, she’s all I have and she’ll be ruined, please don’t. Look, there’s — the box, behind the counter, that has all our earnings, you can take that and as much ale and food as you can carry, whatever you want, only leave my daughter be. Please!”
A long silence followed as the men glanced at each other. The leader stuck his thumbs in his belt and rolled back on his heels, thoughtfully. “On your knees, old man,” he drawled, and as Effa watched, sickened, Father obeyed, kneeling with his head bowed. “Borden, the innkeeper looks thirsty, why don’t you help him out?”
One of the others strode over to stand behind Father, where he unbuckled his belt, pulled out his prick and pissed all the way down Father’s back. The stink of it filled the room, and Father closed his eyes and balled his hands into fists on his knees but didn’t protest, even as the warm liquid seeped through his shirt and stuck it to his skin.
The leader snorted. “Pathetic,” he said. “All right men, you heard him. Load up and let’s get out of here. We’ll find us a place to stay that’s got more sport.”
Effa’s companion kept a solid grip on her arm, fingers digging in hard through the sleeve of her blouse. Father didn’t move, remaining in the puddle of the brigand’s piss without raising his head, as the men moved about the lower floor, dumping the coin into sacks and shoving food into their pockets. Effa willed herself to do something, anything — the knife still sat hidden in her pocket, within reach if she shifted a little — but the thought of what would happen if she failed to subdue seven men with a kitchen knife only added to the fear that held her captive.
At last they finished. The leader reached over and gripped Effa’s chin, then bent down and pressed a hard kiss to her mouth. His beard scratched her cheeks and his tongue pressed hot and wet against her closed lips, and he laughed when he pulled back and thumbed her nose like he might a child.
“My thanks for a pleasant evening,” he said, waving one arm in a grand gesture, and at last his man released Effa and they filed out of the inn.
An eternity of silence stretched before the door slammed shut loud enough that Effa jumped, and the noise broke the spell. She burst into tears as her entire body broke out into a series of wild trembling, and she groped backward for a chair before collapsing into it and burying her face in her hands. The knife weighed against her leg, a heavy reminder of her failure, as Father slowly climbed to his feet and stripped off his apron.
“If we start cleaning up now we’ll be able to snatch a few hours of sleep before opening,” he said, his voice gruff and gravelled. “Stop crying, wipe your face and get the spare tin from up in the chimney, maybe we’ll be able to buy enough to feed these guests in the morning.”
His shirt had begun to dry, a large yellow stain wrinkled across his back, and at once a rage filled Effa with such force that she thought it might burn her from the inside. “What was that?” she demanded. “You gave them everything we have! A few coins in the fireplace isn’t going to get us through the winter!”
Father stared at her, eyes dull and mouth grim. “And what should I have done, daughter? Given you over to those men to have their way with you?”
The thought slid over her like a spider’s web in a dark stairwell, and Effa shivered. “No! No, but you could have fought them, you might have tried to stop them like a man, not begged for your life like a weakling! A warrior would have —”
Father sighed, and he pinched his nose and took a long, deep breath. “Effa, my girl, life is not a storybook, and it’s not a bard’s tale, or anything else you fill your head with. This is what life is. It’s letting men like that piss on your back and steal your money so they won’t lay hands on your daughter, and it’s smiling while they do it so they don’t try anything more. That’s life, girl, and you’ll learn soon enough.”
He turned and disappeared into the kitchen, but Effa stayed in place, stuck in the chair with the knife in her pocket and a rock in her throat and the awful, sickening knowledge that Father was right. There was nothing else he could have done, no way to fight them but to make himself so unworthy that it would debase them to use him as a target. He’d saved her with his humiliation, but when Effa thought back to their laughter and scoffs of disgust she almost started weeping all over again.
In the end Effa did as Father said, sweeping up shards of shattered plates and scraping a smashed tomato from a crack in the wall. She knelt with a bucket of soapy water and a cloth and scrubbed the piss from the floorboards, and when she finished she threw the rag in the fire rather than try to clean it. It filled the room with a terrible stench, thick and choking, and Effa struggled to open the windows and air everything out before she fainted.
They finished a few hours before dawn, and Father instructed Effa to get some sleep while he took what little they had left and went to beg enough food to serve their guests in the morning. Effa closed herself up in her room, stretched out on the small, hard cot and dug her knee into a lump into the mattress to stop her leg from slipping. But no matter how hard she clenched her eyes, she couldn’t stop the replay of the night’s events behind her lids.
She should have done something — Father should have done something — except that nothing could be done. They had no power, no might, nothing to bargain with, and no knowledge or skills to defend themselves. If another group arrived tomorrow and tried the same tack, without a coffer to appease them Father would have nothing to bargain with. The next time —
Shaking, Effa pushed herself up out of bed. She pulled on her clothes, hastily shoved her feet into her boots and wrapped a shawl around her shoulders. She hesitated for a moment, one hand hovering over the lantern, before she shook her head and left it. She knew the town well enough, even if she’d never travelled anywhere after dark, and better not to draw attention to herself.
She did take the knife, and this time Effa swore that if she needed to, she would use it.
This time of night the streets stretched out open and empty in front of her, moonlight glinting on the cobbles, and Effa tugged the shawl tighter and hugged the buildings to avoid slipping out from the shadows. The men had not announced their destination but they would not have left town at this hour, and given their pronouncement Effa could guess where they might have headed.
Madame Baudelaire’s kept its doors open at all hours and thus maintained an aura of respectability by doing business by daylight as well as in the dead of night. Effa had little cause to go there but Father and Madame got on well enough, as she sent her girls to the inn when their customers wished for a drink and that got him a decent spread of business. If any of Madame’s girls saw her, hopefully they would recognize Effa as a business partner and not kick up a fuss.
The men had hauledd away far more than Effa would guess anyone would like to carry on foot, and sure enough she spotted a group of horses tied out back behind Madame’s, their saddlebags stuffed with her kitchen’s bread and vegetables and poorly wrapped cuts of meat. Careless, but then again, what did it matter if a sneak thief spirited away some of their goods when they could turn around and clear out any home they choose? They stole for sport and not survival. Effa ground her teeth but kept her silence, and she looped her shawl around in front of her and fashioned a makeshift pouch, which she quickly stuffed with the twice-pilfered goods.
They had taken enough money for a raucous evening inside with them, but Effa still found a few handfuls of coin at the bottom of their bags, and she tossed them in amongst the food and — absurdly — the candlesticks from above the fireplace. Her hands shook but she forced herself to keep moving, all the while keeping an eye on the front door in case a customer exited unexpectedly.
At last Effa had collected as much from the saddlebags as she could carry with her and not impede her walking speed, but the injustice still burned deep inside her chest. The sounds of merriment and pleasure wafted out through the windows of Madame’s establishment, and something inside Effa snapped. She withdrew the knife from its hiding place and sawed through the reins that tied their horses to the hitching post, and with a few sharp slaps she urged them off down the street, hooves clattering and stirrups swinging empty.
Effa had a few seconds to admire her handiwork before a hand closed over her shoulder, hard and rough, and spun her around. Not the leader of the band but one of his men, shirt untucked and trousers barely hitched around his waist, and he stared at her with unbridled fury. “So, back for more, are you?” he snarled, and he tore the knot in Effa’s shawl loose and sent the goods crashing to the ground. “And look at that, she’s a thief besides. What do you think we do with thieves, missy?”
Terror crashed into her like a wave, but instead of letting herself be swept away, Effa found solid ground and planted herself firm. “Invite me to join your band?” she shot back. She curled her fingers around the knife, hidden by her sleeve. “That’s what you are, after all.”
“There’s a difference between stealing with us and stealing from us,” the man said, wrenching Effa’s arm hard enough that her shoulder twinged in protest and she had to bite down on a cry of pain. “Well guess what, little miss, you’re going to pay me back for what you stole, and then we’re going inside and you’ll do the same for the rest of us!”
The fear reached out, ready to grip her and hold her frozen again, but before it could catch hold Effa struck out with her free arm and swiped the man across the face with her blade. He staggered back, blood spurting from his cheek, but then his rage overtook the pain and it hit Effa just how stupid and foolish she’d been.
He lunged, and Effa pedalled backward, but she tripped on a loaf of bread that skidded her foot out from under her and sent her crashing to the ground. She held the knife up in front of her but the man grabbed her wrist and twisted it, and the jab of pain loosened her fingers and sent the knife skittering away.
“You little —“ the man growled, but before he could finish the sound of hooves on cobblestone cut through the silent street, and a handsome chestnut horse galloped into the square and pulled up to a stop with a deafening whinny. “This ain’t your business,” the man said, one hand still closed around Effa’s wrist and the other clapped to the gash on his face. “Just keep riding.”
“I believe this is my business,” said the rider in a clear, strong voice that knocked the last of the breath from Effa’s chest. The rider — a woman, tall and beautiful with flowing hair pulled back from her face and chiselled features bathed in moonlight — swung from her horse and dropped to the ground on solid feet, naked sword at the ready. “Leave the girl alone.”
“This girl stole from my men and me,” the man said, though his eyes had gone wide and white around the iris. “I’m just taking back what’s mine.”
The woman stepped closer, and with a smooth movement the tip of her sword found his throat and hovered there, less than an inch from his skin. “I think not,” she said calmly. “I am a Paladin of Gird, and by his will I command you to step aside or I will see justice done.”
The man’s mouth twisted into a sneer, but the blade at his throat commanded his better judgement. He released Effa’s wrist and stepped back, hands raised, and while he spat on the stones at Effa’s feet he did not try to touch her again. Instead he turned and stalked back into Madame’s, leaving Effa and her mysterious rescuer alone on the street.
“Come,” said the paladin, sheathing her sword and holding out her hand. “He will be back with his friends soon enough, and while I could fight them, I would rather not shed blood tonight. Tell me where you live and I will take you there.”
“My father is an innkeeper,” Effa stammered. “They stole from us, I only tried to get it back —“
“Hush, child,” the paladin said. “Gather what you must and let us go. I will make sure your home is safe.”
Effa left the food, now far too ruined to serve even the most inebriated guest, to lie on the street for anyone hungry enough to take it, and instead concentrated on retrieving the coin. She filled her pockets, then took the paladin’s hand and let the woman pull her up behind her on the horse, where the paladin instructed Effa to hold onto her waist. Effa obeyed, leaning forward and locking her fingers around her wrists. The movement brought them close together, Effa’s forehead pressed against the paladin’s shoulder blades, and for reasons unknown to Effa a blush sprang up against her cheeks.
They rode in silence, save for the directions to turn here or there that Effa called out, and soon enough they arrived at the inn. The paladin dismounted and helped Effa down with two strong hands at her waist, and Effa smoothed back her hair with nervous gestures and pointed to the door. “This is me,” she said. “I would invite you in for some ale, only —“ She waved back vaguely at the direction of Madame’s.
“No payment is necessary,” the paladin said. “But I will remain out front until morning, if you don’t mind, to ensure there’s no more trouble. I would not want our man to return in force and look to take out his frustration on you and your father.”
“Thank you,” Effa blurted out. “I — I was stupid to go alone, I know it, it’s just that it was wrong, they humiliated Father and they wanted to hurt me and I couldn’t — it wasn’t right, I —“
The paladin laid a hand on Effa’s head. “It’s all right,” she said. “Gird’s fire burns within you, I can see that clearly as the dawn. I will take no payment but this: when you hear his call, and you will know it, all I ask is that you answer.”
Effa swallowed, her throat suddenly raw. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, of course I will. Thank you.”
The paladin smiled, and Effa retreated into the inn, heart thudding and face aflame.
The men did not return that night, and when Effa crept down in the early morning, the paladin had gone. On the counter sat a bag of coins that would keep Father in business through the end of the year, next to a piece of paper with a single word writ in simple, flowing script:
Effa swept the coins into the lockbox under the counter to show Father, but the note she slipped into her pocket, tucked close against her breast.
Two years later, Father dropped dead in the middle of serving dinner, shocking an entire roomful of patrons. His heart, said the surgeon when she examined the body, not surprising in a man his age who’d worked his entire life without a day of rest.
Effa closed the inn for the next three days out of respect, and to try to determine her next move. She buried Father next to Mother, together again after over ten years apart, and for some time she stood in front of the headstone and tried to cry. Her eyes burned from the effort but no tears fell, and instead of sorrow or the crushing exhaustion of grief Effa felt nothing but a strange, hollow emptiness.
She returned to the inn and sat on the stool behind the counter, staring out at the empty room, the chairs stacked on the tables. Father had died in the same spot where the brigand had made him kneel that night, and in all his lifetime he had never seen beyond the town’s borders. Fifty years and never stepped foot in a forest or waded in the ocean, never climbed a mountain or stared up at a sky full of stars not washed out from the lights of town. Fifty years of service to an inn owned by his father and his father’s father, fifty years of ungracious customers and long nights and cold winters and stifling summers, of thieves and cheats and drunkards and liars. Fifty years of labour followed by an ignominious death that would colour the tales of those present for a week or so before falling completely out of memory.
This would be Effa’s life too, and now — selfish as it was, and horrible, and unworthy of a daughter — Effa lowered her head to the countertop and wept.
A knock at the door startled her from her misery, and Effa wiped her eyes on her sleeve, pinched some colour into her cheeks and got up to open the door. “We’re closed,” she said, keeping herself in the gap with her foot wedged solidly behind it to stop any attempt at forceful entry. “Come back tomorrow.”
“No, Effa, I want to talk to you.” It was Roland, the dressmaker’s son, twenty-four and handsome enough, and more to the point, gentle and kind. He doffed his hat and held it against his chest, blond curls ruffling in the breeze. “I’m here to — to make an offer.”
Effa raised her eyebrows, and she should be shocked, perhaps, or angry, or something, but the hollowness in her chest spread outward, swallowing all emotions like the racing shadow of a cloud as it covered the sun. “Do you really think this is the time?”
“No! No it’s not — I mean, it is — but it isn’t — blast.” Roland ran a hand through his hair, blew out a breath, and tried again. “Look, Effa, you can’t run the inn on your own, it’s not safe. You might do if you were a widow but you’re not, you’re young and unmarried and people will think they can take advantage and that’s not right. And I don’t want to be a dressmaker all my life, I want to do better, and I thought — if we married, you could keep the inn and I could keep you safe and it wouldn’t be terrible, would it? I’d be a good husband, I promise.”
Effa stepped back, stunned by the offer. Roland had never been one of the boys who grinned and nudged their elbows when she passed; she’d never seen him call out to a girl on the street or try to lift her skirts with the toe of his boot when a friend directed her attention elsewhere. He looked sincere enough, his eyes big and brown and solemn, and if nothing else Effa understood the chafing under a family legacy and the desire to do something — anything — different.
It would be an easier life, to be sure, to marry Roland and have the protection of a husband against unruly guests who might otherwise take liberties. And yet, dissatisfaction crawled in Effa’s throat like a spider.
She opened her mouth to ask him to come back tomorrow and let her think on it, when Effa caught the glow of the moon rising above the trees and the sharp peaks of the roofs. A silver crescent, bright against the grey-blue sky, and the breeze picked up and waved the branches beneath it. Clouds passed by above and below but none crossed its surface, and a distant memory tickled at Effa’s thoughts until at last it slid into place, sharp and startling like a bone snapping into its socket:
The symbol of Gird. The paladin had worn one the night she rescued Effa, the night Effa made her promise. Effa’s hand found her pocket with hardly a thought, and her fingers closed around the worn slip of paper, the edges fraying and the ink fading after Effa traced the letters night after night.
When you hear his call, the paladin had said, and you will know it, all I ask is that you answer.
A flurry of leaves, caught by the wind, skittered across the street away from the inn. Effa watched them until they disappeared into the night, and she knew without reason but with a dizzying certainty that if she followed, she would find the grange.
“Roland,” Effa said, looking up, and his expression resolved from confusion and worry to relief and anticipation. “That is a handsome offer, and I thank you, but — you can have the inn, I will give you the papers this very night and sign it all over to you and wish you well, but I will not marry you.”
“Miss Effa are you sure?” Roland frowned. “I promise I’d do right by you —“
“I don’t doubt it,” Effa said, and meant it. “But I have another path to follow.”
Roland protested a little longer but not so much that Effa might change her mind. Soon enough he followed her inside, baffled but beaming, and Effa signed the papers Father kept in his lockbox and handed them to Roland. She took with her a satchel with her clothes, a small bag of coins for an offering to the grange, and enough food to last her for a day or two.
“Where are you going?” Roland asked her. “If — you don’t mind me asking.”
Effa raised herself onto her toes and kissed his cheek, and for a second time flickered and she saw herself, settled and content with a passel of children scampering around her feet, but in the next heartbeat the vision faded. She saw the path again, the twirling leaves and the moonlit cobblestones, and a future of glory and battle and swords and blood. She saw herself, sword held high, standing in front of a charging stallion and its mounted rider and never faltering.
“To greatness,” Effa said, enjoying his confusion, and shouldered her pack. She left Roland scratching his head, keys and the deed in hand, and stepped out onto the road.
“In Gird I place my faith,” she said aloud. “I hear his call and remember.” The wind kissed her cheeks and the moon shone down on the road ahead, and Effa laughed merrily and left her life of safety and mediocrity behind.