Finally, her father came home. The chickens who'd escaped their pen announced his arrival one day and her mother staggered out of the house like a baby taking its first steps. He had gotten down off his exhausted 'stag and caught her in his arms.
Islinn rounded the corner of the house in time to see the tears that coursed down his cheeks. She froze in her tracks. She'd never seen him cry. Didn't even know he could. The tears erupted from him like a flood out of control, raging up and out. He choked as he sobbed and clung to her mother. Islinn had taken a step back. She had wanted to run and hide away from this apparition. This stranger that had ridden down some dark road ready once again to place his shoes under her mother's bed.
He was different. There was no other word to describe him. The other men had returned as well. They wore tired, triumphant smiles and the tavern in Borea was filled with stories of how the Tribe had been slaughtered as easily as crushing a blade of grass underfoot.
Her mother became her mother again. Her chatter once again filled the house and why not? The man she loved had returned. Brede had answered her prayers. She ignored the gossip that said her husband "had come back not right" and neatly picked her life back up. Islinn saw things differently.
Her mother's love was an obscurity easily resumed through routine. The Crusade had been a minor glitch in her book. A sudden pause for air and nothing more. Things were the way they'd been before the Crusade but Islinn's love was more complicated and coated with a strange reluctance she couldn't explain.
But hers was a love with a sight so keen it could see well into the dark and she was afraid now of this man whose hands shook as he rolled his tobacco and whose sobbing late at night kept her up long after she should have been asleep.
As she lay in bed late at night, covers pulled to her chin, she came to the horrible realization that her father hadn't come back. He'd died somewhere out there. Died before she had a chance to show him what all she could do. Now she had to find a way to mourn someone she'd never known. Someone elusive yet someone who possessed all the power needed to snap her eleven-year-old heart in two as easily as a dry twig.
But what she didn't understand...what ate away at her long after her father quieted down and the fire in the hearth burned low...was how come her mother's prayers had been answered but not her own? She'd done all the work. All the sweating and slaving and buckling down. She'd been good; she'd been pious. It had gotten her nothing.
She'd mulled over this for several days until the answer revealed itself to her late one night as she lay,sleepless. It was a haunting thought with an echo that would follow her for the rest of her days.
Maybe her father had prayed to come home to her mother with a love so strong it had reached out over the miles and grasped those clenched hands on the window sill and smoothed away the lines on her tearful face as she peered anxiously through the glass.
And Islinn couldn't compete with that.
This brutal honesty caused her to bury her hot forehead against her pillow and burst into miserable tears. How could she have been so stupid as to think she could of earned what had never been offered?
It took two winters for The Twiceborn to surface. Some claimed she wasn't real. That she was a ghost risen from the ashes of the slain Tribe. All of Borea had laughed uneasily over that one and called the claim preposturous.
Islinn hadn't laughed. She knew it was possible for ghosts to return. She lived with one.
The rumors and gossip had stolen away what little dignity she'd tried to give her father. With the advent of The Twiceborn, her father's strangeness had no base. He was an embarrassment no longer cloaked in the honor of a successful Crusade. And there was no doubt in either her or her mother's mind that he knew he no longer had that lifeline to cling to.
So he slipped away, caught up in a current that took him down to a place where old hurts and regrets are kept and pulled out to be chewed on but never swallowed. The rumor of The Twiceborn became fact and stories trickled down about people who were willing to pay for her help. Buy a little piece of the devil for themselves and how 'bout that? Anyone could stand and pull the strings of Fate. Peek in on the dead whose souls hadn't begun to rot. Anybody could for a price and this thought, above all else, brought a thin,bitter smile to her father's lips.
Islinn didn't escape the fields when he returned. If anything,she had more to do. She stayed busy so she wouldn't have to look into his strange, random eyes. Every night he would build a fire in the hearth and would stoke it until the image of flames danced on the stone walls. He'd sit cross-legged on the floor and make shadows of horses, some with riders, and some without. His hands would move with an eerie,flitting ease as he went about his task and Islinn would watch from the doorway, barely able to breathe in the sweltering smoky air.
The shadowhorses marched across the wall like uneasy souls and her father would stare, his hands moving. Always moving. He'd gone wild and mean inside but his surface was calm. His eyes turned inward and scanned black deserts. He'd lost all interest in everyday things but the shadows held him enthralled, long after Islinn and her mother crept off to bed.
Her father's madness had been a long dark road. The flickering shades of horses and fire had marked it well in Islinn's mind. She had traveled that road all the way to its bitter end, yet here it was again, rising up before her. It waited to be walked again and oh how she had underestimated the power of the past and how strong its hold was on those who never forgot. And how all paths came back around.
Here was madness and fear. And there was so much of it left to feel. Because now Islinn was with the dark god that had taken her father away.