Islinn was beyond help. In spite of all the good she'd tried to do in her life, the night had finally come for her. It had slithered up on its belly from behind and she was now living the worst moment of the worst day of her life.
She knew all about the Tribe of the Dark Moon and The Twiceborn because her father used to sit on the edge of her bed at night and tell her stories. At first, she hadn't listened. She'd only stare at this man, this stranger who rarely spoke to her in the course of a day. This man who sat by himself outside in the evening, back against the barn,and smoked. Islinn would watch him study the sky and she imagined he thought about his fields, the day's planning,and how much coin they had.
And maybe...oh,just maybe...why he couldn't have had a son instead of a daughter.
But at night he'd sit on her bed, smelling of sweat and tobacco, and tell her if she were good... if she were pious... Brede had great things in store for her. She'd breathe him in,and commit to memory the sound of his voice, those words, his nearness.
She still thought she saw him at times. A man standing in the market,or working the fields. A man alongside the road hitching a horse. As far as she was concerned her father was the sole owner of that peculiar earthy scent and a one-hip-cocked stance and to see these attributes in strangers would always break her heart, just a little.
But at night he'd tuck her in, sit on her bed and talk to her and she'd look up at him with a love so fierce it would physically hurt inside. His stories though weren't designed to help her drift off into dreamless sleep. They were filled with what was good. And what was evil.
She'd learned that the Tribe of the Dark Moon was more complex than the Night Hags and their familiars, spells,and sabbats. The Night Hags had a righteous fear of Brede and even though they danced at dusk and cast their spells in the shadows of the forest they bowed down when faced with The One Worshipped Over All Others.
Not so with the Tribe of the Dark Moon. And here her father's face would tighten and draw up into a ominous mask as the flood of moonlight would peek through the window and into her room. The Tribe believed themselves to be equal in the great scheme of things. That Brede might even be less than them. Nothing but a bullshitter elevated to the ninth degree.
And,because of this contempuous familiarity, all things that crawled, slithered, and slouched their way through the UnderRealms begged to serve the Tribe.
Islinn had been the one to get everything ready for him to ride in the Crusade. Her and her mother had stayed up the night before, with all the other daughters and wives of the parish, and lit the juniper fires that burned until dawn. Islinn had gathered up as much of the cold ash as she could carry and ran back to their croft so she could reverently pour it into each of his boots.
The ash would protect him against any spells held in the tainted ground if he happened to dismount in the Tribe's camp. She refused to think of the possibility of him being thrown.
The night before, she'd watched him sleep. As the beginning fingers of dawn stole away the shadows that lay across his sleeping face she was overwhelmed by her love for him. A lot of the men had been afraid to ride against the Tribe. But not her father.
He'd told the other men that some things just had to be done and being afraid didn't make those things any better. The extent he was willing to go to to protect her and her mother made her ache to be whatever it was he wanted her to be. She disappointed him so often. She'd do anything to be worth such devotion.
So Islinn had saddled his briar-scarred 'stag, honed his sword, mended his clothing, and recited all her litanies in the proper sequence. She'd held her mother's hand with a white-knuckled grip as she waved good-bye.
After he left,her mother put everything on hold. She could barely rise from her bed each morning and, when she did, she'd sit at the window and stare out. Her lips moved in endless, whispered prayer. The small croft though was unaware of any kind of limbo and Islinn suddenly found herself saddled with her own chores and her parents'. At eleven-years-old she'd been left up to her own say so and she was, quite plainly, spooked.
She soon realized she didn't have a whole lot of time for panic which was a queer sort of blessing in itself. She also discovered she didn't have much time to spare for eating, sleeping, or standing still long enough to take a deep breath.
Her father had left at planting time. Islinn would roll off her cornshuck mattress long before the sun planned an appearance. Her head would already ache at the thought of what all needed to be done. She would wash up, dress, and stumble out into the cool stillness to gather eggs. The sharp pecks on her hands from broody hens always succeeded in waking her more thoroughly than her hurried wash up and, by the time, she moved on to her chores in the barn she was more alert.
She milked Wilma with one eye cocked towards the business end. She'd fallen asleep once with her head against the cow's flank and gotten slapped in the face with a wet, pissy tail. Afterwards, there was Casper, the work mule to contend with. She cleaned his stall and fed him but he belonged to her father and he never let her forget it.
When she was done in the barn she went back in to cook breakfast. Sometimes she'd have to dress her mother and lead her to the table. Fear had pulled Islinn's mother in close binding her with the possibility her husband might not return. Islinn knew her mother could not think beyond that. Islinn watched her mother sit for endless hours in prayer. She knew her mother felt Brede would not deny her simply based on the force and power of her devotion. But Islinn wasn't so sure.