That evening at sunset the village gathered again at the tavern to haggle over the belongings of the witch/not witch.
“Is that all?” Jeslynn asked as Wulfgit and I brought in the last item – the stuffed chair. I nodded. Wulfgit made a show of hefting the chair by himself and almost knocked me off my feet in the process. I eyed him askance.
Elder Ponmay had all of the books and the map spread out on the largest of my tables. She looked down her nose at me when I moved closer to check out the contents of the chest, so I moved behind the bar and started to pour drinks. Divvying up belongings always seemed to be a greedy tradition, but I suppose it allowed the community members to have a tangible item to spark, hopefully happy, memories.
My sister and Som’s sister sat at the end of the bar, quietly gossiping. I offered them cider and Dasta favored me with a smile – the first one of the day it seemed.
“Did you know, Gestin,” my sister said in an off-hand manner that didn’t fool me – She wanted something, “that Dasta here is Tiria’s niece?”
Surprised, I almost spilled her cider.
“It’s true,” Dasta said with a toss of her blonde braid, “She was my uncle’s second wife.”
“The miller was your uncle. Oh, I knew that.”
Jeslynn patted my hand, “Yes, you knew that.”
I pulled my hand out of her reach.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said, not thinking.
Dasta frowned and almost threw my brew back at me.
“You ass,” Jeslynn hissed.
The Elder cleared her throat.
I apologized, lowering my voice.
They both pretended to be offended for a moment longer, then Jeslynn gestured for me to come closer.
“Did you put new flowers in Tiria’s flower vase?”
“No, why would I do that?”
We kept our voices down because it was bad form to choose before one’s turn, even though everyone did it.
“They look so fresh.”
“You want me to get the vase for you.”
“Why doesn’t Dasta do it? She’s going before either of us.”
The Elder tapped her staff loudly and we collectively hunched our shoulders.
“Dasta is getting The chair.” No need to ask which chair that was. Dasta fluttered her eyelashes at me.
“I’ll think about it.”
They both gifted me wide smiles.
Som called me over and I poured him a beer.
“My sister trying to get you do to something?”
“My sister, rather. I’m sorry Som. I don’t know where my head’s been.”
He shrugged. “It’s okay. We’re all looking for reasons for that fire, I guess. Easier to blame it on a strange old woman than the weather gods.” He leaned in closer. “Do you want me to choose the map for you?”
“Oh gods no, Som. This is your aunt. Get what you want.”
He nodded. “What does your sister want?”
“The flower vase.”
He rubbed his chin for a moment, and opened his mouth to say something when Wulfgit interrupted us.
“Hey Gestin,” he whispered loudly. I glanced at the Elder who rolled her eyes skyward and turned her back on us.
“The lamp we found in the book room. Do you think yer sister would like that?”
“My wha – why?” The sudden questions about my sister’s wants made me edgy.
“It’s been a year. You think she’d like a fox pelt instead?”
My world tilted for a moment and I grabbed the bar. Som handed me his beer and I took a quick sip.
“You want to court my sister?” I sputtered.
“Oh aye, that’s right. Courtin’. I tried to court yer witch, you know, but she died before I could get anywhere. Yer sister’s the only available female of age about these days.”
Oh storm god help me.
I went back behind the bar, refilled Som’s pint, poured one for myself and Wulfgit.
Som gave me a sheepish look. “I was actually going to talk to you about that myself.”
“No. Just no.”
The Elder gave me a sharp look.
I looked over at Jeslynn, chatting with Som’s sister. I doubt she knew about her new ‘most eligible’ status.
Elder Ponmay called for attention and we gathered around.
“Som, you may choose first.”
Som picked his aunt’s gardening tools. Dasta picked The chair, and the rest of us had to wait our turn – as chosen by the Elder. When it came to my turn, I couldn’t decide between the books and the map. I guess I took too long at it, so the Elder made my decision for me.
“As these both are desirable to you, Gestin Hospitlar, yet you had no kind words for the owner, I offer this to you.”
I waited, hoping she wasn’t going to do something rash like make me burn them as a forgiveness offering.
“These books shall belong to the community and reside here in the tavern for all to read at their leisure.”
I could live with that, so I nodded.
“This map shall remain in my possession until such time as you have shown compassion for Tiria.”
Defeated, I nodded and went back to my beer.
The Elder called a few others and then my sister, who got the flower vase after all.