C: Tell them they are late and to sit down and eat First they neglect to join your feast and now they only seek to disrupt it? Unacceptable. You follow your husband from your seat at the head of the table and duck under his arm to stand in front of him. You hold your head high and remind yourself of the look your grandmothers used to pin their sons to the ground when they were acting up. There was a slight narrowing to the eyes and a tension in the mouth, a silent promise of a whip like tongue that would crack the air at any moment.
The rumbling, slurred muttering grinds to a halt. Your brother shoulders his way to the front of the crowd and opens his mouth to speak but you cut him off before he can even begin.
“You are late!” your words practically make them recoil. You know the tone to use, the biting cut of the word late that makes you bare your teeth. You see them fill with wavering uncertainty. Their eyes dart between yourself and your husband. They had fired one another up for violence and justice and it had suddenly been put out by the heel of your foot.
“Mari s’not serious is it? It’s a mistake and…and we’re here now…” Your brother’s slurring starts up again, but this time he hides the club by his side while he speaks, “We’re going to sort him out. We’ve sent word and all…”
“There’s no sorting out to be done. I’m fine.”
When you assert yourself again you see the crowd begin to shift their attention elsewhere. The long table stacked with food is a good distraction. Some good bread and hearty roasted vegetables to sit with their liquid courage. They had come to save you from your distress but having found none they aren’t sure what to do with themselves. Your anger softens.
“Sit down. Eat.” You gesture to the table. Your brother stands there longer than the others that are discarding their clubs and sticks and settling down on the benches. He stares at your husband who just tilts his head, observing the exchange.
“I heard you!”
With a clatter of wood your brother discards his own club and sits himself near the head of the long table. You settle yourself in your seat, beckoning your husband to sit with you. After he sits he stares out along the hall, body tense. You reach out and squeeze his hand and his shoulders relax, his feathers shifting. It reminds you a little of an old woman adjusting her shawl.
After that initial outburst more people begin to filter into the hall. There is a glint of bright shame in their eyes as they duck their heads as they enter. You can’t bring yourself to any more anger today. Not on your wedding day.
While people talk and eat there is no singing. Your husband’s scrutiny of the proceedings amuses you because it discomforts your guests. A part of you feels they deserve it for putting you at his right hand.
The day draws on and the evening rolls in without much fanfare. Low oil lamps are lit and Cat finds you again, curling up in your lap. She lays her head in your palm and watches sleepy eyed at the hall, looking content with her lot. You stroke her head and wish you could say the same.
When the guests have eaten, they start to file out of the hall. You look to your husband who explains that he will take you home in the morning. His home. Your home now. As you think on what to take with you the fluttering of wings fills the hall again. The other guests descend on the scrap laden table.
They are much merrier than your previous guests but they lack common manners. They step over plates and cups, jeering and shrieking at one another as they snatch what they want. A frenzy of joyous consumption. You hear your husband laugh again over all the din and excuse yourself.
You don’t speak to anyone when you go home. They avoid your gaze regardless. You pack your bag and try to sleep. You’re not sure how far you will be travelling tomorrow.
Cat wakes you in the morning. It’s just after dawn and you feel like you wont be able to sleep much more. There’s a tension in your jaw and a prickling in your eyes that a splash of water from the basin doesn’t rinse away.
Your husband is waiting for you outside. You can see him on the path, sitting back on his haunches, mask half hidden behind dark feathers. When you come to the door with a bag on your back and Cat on your shoulder he rises up. It’s still a height you’re unused to, one that makes your neck ache as you speak to him.
“Are you ready?” You ask him. He spreads out his hands and rolls his shoulders. Something clicks and creaks like branches clattering against one another in a high wind.
Something shudders on his back and you watch as two tremendous wings unfold from him. It shouldn’t surprise you but you feel your eyes grow wide. The display catches more than your attention and your husband twitches one wing back to his body as a bolt lands in the ground by his feet with a solid crack.
“Get back girl!” A man barks at you. He tucks the crossbow back onto his belt and waves at you with his free hand in a dismissive gesture. He looks like an etching from a book, dressed in leathers and chain. There’s a blade on his belt and sturdy gloves on his hands that match in rugged, dusky colour. Made from the same material no doubt. You don’t think it’s leather, you’re not sure what it is.
“No-no we are just leaving!” You try to explain but you can almost see your words not reaching him, bouncing off his gorget, beneath his notice.
“Don’t worry. I’m here now.” He seems to swell with self important pride, inflating like an amorous toad. With a firm grip he takes your upper arm and tugs you towards him, “I’m Gunnar, hunter for hire. I’ve dealt with all sorts of beasts in my time and your family has paid a pretty penny to assure your safety.”
It takes a moment to absorb this information. Before you can say anything to dissuade this hunter his blade is drawn from his side. It slices the air past you and points at your husband in one smooth motion.
- A: Let the hunter do his job
- B: Tell your husband to run
- C: Kick the hunter in the groin
- D: Take the hunter’s crossbow