Chapter 4: Tunic’s Valley

I, of course, had no idea where Tunic was leading me. I suppose I could have been frightened. It was not as though I really knew him. That he lived on his own in the woods should have made him grounds for suspicion, but there was something trustworthy about him. Or, perhaps, I just felt apologetic for not having defending him and wanted a reason to prove my silence right.

We walked for about five minutes until we came to the bank of Glass River. I had no idea we were that close to the river. He stopped at the shore and looked to me. I fixed him a look of consternation. Did he expect something of me?

His expression changed to one of indecision. Was he perhaps embarrassed to say something? Then his hands circled his face and I understood. He’d brought me to the river to wash the mud off. I looked down at myself and suddenly understood how dirty I was. I removed my kerchief from my pocket and wet it in the cool water. The mud I managed to rinse off my dress and body clouded the normally pellucid river. When I was finished, he led me back into the trees. I believe we were heading southwest, but even with the river as a guiding point, I would not want to give a definite answer.

At first, I fancied he wished me to remain as quiet as him, but I continually forgot about my endeavour for silence. I suppose I had been spoiled always having Ladd around. He had always been a willing listener (too willing, in my opinion). However, after a few blunders followed by apologies for interrupting the silence I asked him if my talking bothered him. He shook his head, “No.”

“Do you, perhaps, actually enjoy conversation?”

He nodded his head, “Yes.”

“Am I supposed to infer from that look that it should have been obvious to me?”

He did not justify that final comment with any form of reply.

“Fine,” I frowned, “Don’t respond. Maybe I shall remain silent the remainder of the day.”

That brought a chuckle to him and I was offended.

“Are you saying I can’t remain silent?” I knew it to be true, but my pride wouldn’t let such an abuse go unchallenged. “If you truly believe that, then I guess I shall just have to…” I was going to say, be silent. But I knew I couldn’t do that. “Talk the whole rest of the day. And then you will be sorry you said I could never be silent.”

His eyebrow rose, not quite believing me. He shook his head and then I proceeded to fill the silence with words. Half the time I didn’t know what I was talking about, describing this and that.

“See Tunic, I told you that you would regret telling me I can’t be silent. Although, I suppose I could forgive you. After all, I have only spoken to you at the shop, where I have to keep myself in check. You probably did not know what sort of a wretch I really am. A person who drives her closest and oldest friend away all because he was afraid you were hurt by Cade’s mockery. He didn’t even want to scold me, just point out the hypocrisy of my own words. And I had to go and say the worst thing I possibly could. Now I feel a fool for burdening all this on you. I’m sorry Tunic… I…”

I gaped.

I couldn’t believe I had said it.

I’d called him Tunic.

I felt terrible.

Here I was confessing that I’d ruined one relationship because of my inability to hold my tongue, and I’d just done the same thing. Calling that poor fellow by the horrible ekename the Rafferty family had bestowed upon him.

“I am so sorry.” I tried to remember his name. Ladd had said it just yesterday. My hands covered my mouth as if trying to hide my terror. “I didn’t mean to… I…” I couldn’t look at him. I wanted to flee again.

“Bram…” I stopped. Did that sound right? “Bramwell,” I corrected myself. “I am so sorry… Bramwell.” The name was foreign to me. It caught on my tongue, twisting it in a knot. “I didn’t mean to call you that. I just… It’s just…” I had to face the truth. I was going to hurt someone else if I didn’t stifle my damn pride and admit I was wrong. “There’s no excuse,” I muttered.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I lifted my eyes from the ground until Tunic’s face was in my sight.

His face was sour, not pleased with what I’d said. “I’m sorry,” I begged his forgiveness. “I didn’t mean it… Bramwell.”

Tunic pulled off his hat and scratched his head. He let out a deep breath as though pondering the words to say.

“Please forgive me Bramwell.” I said it without hesitation this time and he still wasn’t pleased. I suppose I had ruined the relationship.

He approached me, holding out his hands to stop my words. I suppose he didn’t want to hear me anymore. I didn’t want to hear myself anymore.

“I’ll just leave,” I told him. Once again, I knew this was a miserable idea. I had no idea where we were. It was a long way off though. We’d been walking at least forty minutes. We both knew it was a foolish notion. He waited for me to say something less ignorant.

“Look, Bramwell– “ I started to say something but he abruptly clenched his fists. I grew a bit frightened. Realising that he’d scared me, he stepped back. He ran his hands through his hair again, looking forever like he wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words.

I had many words, so I tried to offer some. “Do you want me to go?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Are you angry at me for calling you that horrible name, Tunic?”

He shook his head.

“Are you angry at me for another reason?”

He pursed his lips as though decided yes or no.

“Whatever it is, I’m sorry Bramwell.”

He pointed at me as if identifying my offense.

“Are you mad because I am apologizing so much?”

He clenched his fists as if to cry “No!”

“Then what did I do Bramwell?”

He pointed again.

I pondered this. “Bramwell? Is that not your name?”

He reluctantly nodded.

This thoroughly confused me. “Do you not want me to call you that?”

He smirked. I guess I had figured it out.

“You don’t want to be called by your name?”

He shrugged playfully.

“What do you want me to call you?”

He grabbed the shoulder of his tunic and plucked it.

“Tunic?” I questioned. “You actually want me to call you Tunic?”

He smirked as though it were some inside joke.

I gasped horrified. “Did you know we called you that?”

He rolled his eyes as if to say, “Of course.”

I bit my lip in embarrassment. “That’s so rude of us. I had no idea.”

He shrugged.

“You can’t seriously like that nickname.” I shook my head in disbelief.

He chuckled. Whatever his reasons were, I doubt I’d ever understand.

“Alright Tunic, I don’t know what to say now.”

It didn’t matter though. He gestured me to follow him around a bend and as we turned, I sighted a small cottage at the bottom of a valley.

“This is your home?”

He smiled, proud of his modest dwelling. Chickens wandered about without a fence. A cow complained of the afternoon heat. There was a shed, already full of wood for the winter. We wandered down a well-worn path to the house. The horse, still following behind us, trotted towards the creek running parallel the building. Tunic opened the door for me and I entered his home.

It was the homeliest cottage I had ever set foot in. It was a single room, with a bed in the far corner and kitchen opposite to it. To the immediate left was the tub and across the room was a small library and chair. I wandered to the middle of the room and spun around, basking in its quaintness.

I was about to compliment him on the room, but he gestured that he’d be right back. He closed the door as he returned outside. I went to the window and watched as he led the horse to the shed. He pulled the wolf corpse from its back and I didn’t care to see what he was going to do next with it. I walked towards the library, reading the titles. He had peculiar taste; each book seemed so unlike the next. It was as though he lacked a preference and simply read whatever. Next, I toured the kitchen, even daring to peep into the cupboards. There was the salt packet I prepared for him only yesterday along with several others. He was obviously storing for some bigger game. I wondered why he never asked for larger quantities of the stock, but I suppose I never had given him the time.

I walked towards the bed and touched the soft furs. Something caught my eye. “It couldn’t be,” I muttered. I peeled back the fur, revealing the bed cover. He had made it from kerchiefs. After four years sitting on our shelf, Father had finally realised that the ugly kerchiefs would never sell (not with the Rafferty’s making such beautiful ones anyways) so he had required I use them to wrap small parcels, instead of using paper bags. I had to learn to wrap all sorts of merchandise in the ugly kerchiefs.

The door opened and Tunic emerged, drying his hands on his trousers. I pointed to the bed cover. “Clever,” I complemented him. He chuckled as I replaced the fur.

I continued my tour of his home, checking out the tub. It was an ancient basin. Tunic seemed quite comfortable with me inspecting his home. After hanging his bow and quiver, he went into the kitchen and poured a glass of milk for each of us. He gestured for me to sit in the large chair in the library area as he carried the kitchen stool over. While I made myself comfortable, he amassed an assortment of food from the pantry. There were nuts and apples, dried meat and berries.

“Thanks,” I replied though it was not the fare I was accustomed to. He grabbed a single apple and seemed contented with it. I felt a tad guilty sitting in the large chair, covered in soft furs while he had to contend with only a stool, but I doubted he would let me trade places.

“You have a great place,” I commented.

He blushed and I found it adorable.

“Do you ever get lonely though?”

He shrugged and I didn’t know if that meant it didn’t matter or there was nothing he could do about it.

“You could come live in Kennbridge you know. I am sure even Cade will eventually learn to like you. We’d help you build a house and…” I could see the idea was not enticing at all. “You prefer it here, eh?”

We talked for a while, or rather, I talked at him. I would have thought it would be tiresome being the only conversant, but I managed just fine. After a while though he looked out the window and, realising the hour, excused himself. I followed him outside, but he was only going to milk his cow. I supposed it was about time for me to return. If I stayed much longer, he would not be able to return home before dark. My stomach turned at the idea of leaving this mini paradise and returning to the mess that was my life.

I determined I had better not think about it until he was finished with his chores so I returned to the house and pulled a book from his shelf. It was a random book, the first one my hand fell on, but it intrigued me more than I imagined. I doubt I even read the title, just flipped it open, and found an essay on faeries.

As a child, I had always been curious about faeries and mermaids. But, as I grew older and unwilling to travel to the Marin Sea to find mermaids or other such creatures, I had lost interest in them. For now though, I was content to curl up in Tunic’s chair and read travellers’ tales about faerie encounters.

I must have drifted to sleep for the next thing I knew, I was sprawled on Tunic’s bed. A voice startled me awake and I blinked away the fuzziness in my mind.

“Oh thank the heavens,” my father’s voice called out. “And thank you Bramwell for looking after her.”

I stretched, not certain if I was pleased to see my father or not.

“Come Nari, you have imposed on Bramwell long enough.” My father bid me come.

I was not pleased with being summoned as such, but I also felt badly for being such an inconvenience. I rose from the bed and met my father at the door. “Thank you for saving me twice,” I told Tunic. “And for hosting me here.”

He smiled as though I had not ruined his entire day. I supposed he had a bit of a shopkeeper’s smile too.

“Thank you again Bramwell,” My father repeated. “But we really must hurry; her mother is distraught at home.”

Tunic nodded his understanding and waved us on.

I found Catharine, our horse, outside. We saddled quickly and hastily retreated from the peaceful valley. I sighed as we entered the forest for I doubted I was ready to face my mother’s wrath. I had no choice though, so I spent the ride attempting to collect myself. I did not intend to be this weak creature when I returned home.

My father, however, seemed intent to ruin my preparations. “Your mother is worried to death. When she heard you had been missing all day, she feared the worst had happened.”

I said nothing. Mother had a propensity towards hyperbole. Perhaps if she stopped imagining dreadful things, she would not worry so much.

“If it were not for Mrs. Hedda stopping me after she saw you flee into the woods, I would have never known where to look.”

“How did you know I was going to Tunic’s?”

“Don’t call him that distasteful nickname,” My father chastened. “After the courtesy that boy showed you, you owe him respect.”

I should have corrected my father that I had permission to call him Tunic, but I was more curious why my father had searched for me there than I was anxious to justify myself. “Why did you seek out Bramwell’s house to find me?”

“You mistake me,” my father corrected now that I had used Tunic’s given name. “I did not expect to recover you there, only to request Bramwell’s aid in finding you.”

“Hmm?” I would never have expected my father to request aid from Tunic. “Why would you do that?”

“That boy is the greatest woodsman this country has ever known,” My father replied.

“What?” I was confused. Tunic was just an average fellow who did not speak.

“In all your teasing of that man, you never bothered to get to know him, did you?” After the day’s adventure, I knew him to speak the truth. I expected a lecture, but instead my father patiently explained how Tunic had learned tracking and hunting from his grandfather, who was the original owner of the small house.

“Is that how he earns money?” I inquired. It seemed logical enough. Venison sold for a large sum.

“I suppose some of it,” My father conceded. “But I suspect woodcraft is his main trade. He does all the shop’s fletching you know.”

“Really?” I had no idea that Tunic was so talented. Archers travelled a week to purchase our arrows.

“He makes the bows, too. I suspect that if he were to sell them himself, we’d not have had half the success we enjoy now. But, thankfully, he is insistent that he’d rather not do anything but make them.”

“I had no idea,” I commented.

“Exactly,” my father exclaimed. “So next time you decide to start teasing one of our clients or suppliers, you hold your tongue.”

I nodded my head, though my father could not see it. We were almost back to the village and I planned to dismount as soon as he slowed Catharine. There was a lecture waiting for me at home and I wanted to forestall it. He would not do it here, not where someone might overhear, but it was coming. I could hear it in the terseness of his voice.

As I had predicted, he slowed Catharine as we entered Kennbridge. I couldn’t make my escape then, though. Father, as if knowing my plan, told me I must go thank Mrs. Hedda for noting my passing. After I had done the deed, I told father to go on ahead. He was not pleased with the separation, but I told him I needed to cool down before seeing mother. Perhaps he realised I intended to ready myself for peace, because he after I promised to come home without delay. It would only be a ten minute or so walk and he would be waiting. He should have known I would not seek anyone out; there was no one to talk to. And I would not be wandering far, it was dark now and the woods frightened me more than I wanted to admit.

I took the long way home regardless. The perimeter road, which ran to the fields northwest of town, was less travelled at night. I moved as a shadow, gazing into the back gardens of my neighbours’ homes.

I stopped at Ladd’s house, peering into the darkness as if searching for him. It was to him I ought to go first, but I was not ready. I heard a voice from the street in front of the house. “Let me walk you home,” it said in Ladd’s tone.

“What a darling,” I heard a female reply.

“It was a pleasure spending time with you,” Ladd continued in his overly polite voice. I knew his words to be genuine, but tired.

The female voice giggled as only Addie giggled. My stomach turned. I’d driven him right into her arms. “Maybe you can talk to daddy tonight,” she was saying, “I bet he has loads of work for you. Cade’s returning always brings extra strain. Maybe he will even take you on as an apprentice.”

“Yeah…” Ladd replied.

Their voices were growing softer as Ladd escorted Addie to the east bank.

I wish I’d had the courage to wait for him to return.

With my head down, I ambled to my own home.

I had been wrong. There was no lecture waiting for me at home. Mother was too distraught to say anything. She saw me and flashed that horrible look that told me I had hurt her and then she slipped off to bed. Father said nothing as I retreated to my room and slumped into bed.

The next morning I awakened as usual, washed my face, ate breakfast, and went to work as though nothing had happened.

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