When she finally reached her home, Rossa pulled her cloak off and went to share a hug with her father, who was doing some metalwork in the workshop on the back.
“You are pale,” he noted kissing her brow. His strong hand passed over her forehead. “Did you have any trouble on the road?”
“No,” she lied. “I am just a little tired, that’s all.”
“I see. Make sure to go tell your mother then. And next time I will carry provisions to your grandma.”
“No, no I can do that, no problem,” she insisted. “There was no trouble at all, I just need to hit the bed for a bit.”
He tossed her a sceptical look, but in the end he smiled.
“I am sure you can. Just know you can rely on us for everything.”
“I will.” She squeezed his hands and left for her room, which was mostly packed with books, carefully folding her cloak and picking up her notes on the forest and the voices that one might hear at times.
The woods were full of dangers, and not all of them were visible. Through the pages she found descriptions of hidden creatures who could imitate animal calls or noises, but most would not have the wit to articulate a phrase like that. Sitting on her bed with her books open in a circle around her, Rossa, thought about the encounter.
Could it really show her the mysteries of the woods? A lie, for sure. She wouldn’t just break the covenant of her town for just a glimpse of truth, of course.
Especially because if the books told the truth (and they usually did), the thing that whispered to her couldn’t be anything as mindless as an Eerie.
No, it had to be an actual Fae, the things that mankind had fought during the Eldritch war.
She hesitated to turn the page that showed a sketch of those things. Memories of getting nightmares out of those stirred in her stomach. But she was a grown-up woman now, wasn’t she?
She knew better.
She turned the page to peek at the drawings – she did not uncover them in their entirety, only enough to show a tall and gaunt figure, its body seemingly made out of sticks and roots, its snarling head turned on itself, displaying a look of burning hate in its beady eyes and teeth like needles. Between the wide horns curling on the back of its head danced strings and candle-flames.
There was aa knock at the door. She started on the bed, shutting the book at once.
“May I come in?”
“Sure,” she quickly put the book atop the others. For some reason, she did not want to make him suspicious. Suspicious of what? She did not do anything bad, did she?
He came in and sat with her on her bed, making it creak. He still smelled like burnt iron and soot.
“I am finding you a bit troubled. You did not even go to your mother.”
Rossa blushed. He was right, she did not even think about going to see her and she had just jumped into her books.
“I spoke with her and I think it might be a good thing for you take a break from going into the forest. At least for a while.”
“But…” Rossa’s hands hesitated. She wanted to reach out to her father to teel him he was wrong and that they could definitely trust her, if only…
She was not listening to the voice! She was ignoring it, just as she was supposed to do. She just wanted to learn a little more about it.
“No buts, please. We trust you, but I am getting a little worried. You are always thinking about what’s out there, but what’s out there is dead. It has been for decades.” His eyes moved to the piles of books around her. “It’s fine to be absorbed by what used to be. I did the same when I was your age, but it’s time to grow up and grow out of these fantasies. Nobody is coming to save the world.”
His eyes were kind, but his stern voice cut right through her chest.
“I just want to understand.”
“The first thing to understand is that this is beyond what you or I can do. We fought in the Eldritch War and we lost. Mankind lost. There is no recovering from that, but we are lucky enough to enjoy a small measure of peace. All the boys and girls your age have understood this. I think you should…”
“I’m not like them,” she sighed turning her gaze away from her father. “I can’t just be like them. I want to make you proud,” she wanted to make everyone praise her, and even if those words did come from the Fae, they were true. She had wanted people to look at her with a smile and a tinkle in her eyes, and not laugh behind her back just because she was reading too often, or because she did not feel like finding a mate this soon.
She did enjoy looking at boys her age, but she still deemed them as they were: boys. And her father would not allow her to talk with older men, especially the woodsman, who he regarded as dangerous and a little crazy, living like that all by himself.
Rossa thought he was brave and admired his skills (and his wide shoulders, to be fair). Meeting him on her way had been the high point of her trip to grandma.
When would she be able to see him again? If ever?
“But we are,” he assured her pulling her in another hug. “We are proud of who you are.”
Rossa pursed her lips, but her father’s hug was warm enough for her to believe him. Maybe he was right, maybe she should just…
“And we will be proud of you when you find the right boy to start a family with. We will always be proud of you.”
A numbing cold spread form her chest outwards, prickling against her skin.
Oh. So that was it. They would only be proud of her as long as she did play her part.
Her eyes shifted from her father’s back to the piles of books – to the walls and to the forest beyond.
She would never make them proud the way she was.
“I see. Thank you.”
And, even if her father tightened his embrace, she did not mean any of that.
Author’s Notes: This was a little harder to write than most. It was the Emperor Arcana and it was not easy to find the right symbolism. Thanks for reading!”