“Gid!” I sputtered when I came up from under the water.
He just laughed. “Well, there’s no sense in wasting the opportunity a tub full of hot water presents us with. We can wash each other’s backs in a bit. First though …”
I had been wrapped in a drying sheet waiting my turn in the tub while my clothes soaked in another tub to get the blood out of them where it had soaked through the old leather apron I was wearing. With both of us working we managed to cut the two deer all into good strips for smoking and hang them in a sturdy stone shed built for the job. Gid was even bloodier than I since he did most of the butchering. I heated water for his bath and after he got in he’d claimed the water chilly. I had just poured in another bucket of warm water when without warning he’d snatched off the sheet I was wearing and pulled me into the tub with him. I was mortified but he wouldn’t let me stay that way. In short order he had me distracted and we were in danger of dumping water on the floor.
After a bit I shivered despite the wash water still being warm. He pulled me closer if possible and it only made me shiver more. Playing with an errant curl that had escaped the twist I had put my braid in he said, “You’ll get used to me Yulee. I’m just a man with appetites. Runs in the family on my father’s side. Thought I was more like Uncle Fid but I’m learning that I just didn’t have the right scope – or incentive,” he said with a toothy grin at me. “To explore that part of myself. Now I’ve got you … well … “ Then he left me shivering some more and by the time he’d finished the water had grown cold and we were both shivering for real.
In the night I woke up crying. “Are you sick Yulee? Did I hurt you?”
I shook my head and wiped at the wet tracks on my face mystified at their presence. “I haven’t shed a tear since the plague. Not even when …”
I shook my head and tried to apologize and tell him to go back to sleep. “We both will but there’s a story here and I’ll have it out of you. Now.”
When Gid took that tone I knew it would be easier on us both if I simply told it. “I didn’t even cry when the angels took Jubal or Old Annie. Aunt Giselle said if I did that she’d simply leave their bodies for the carrion eaters. I know they weren’t in those shells but I … I …”
Angrily Gid snapped, “More I hear about that evil heifer …” He pulled me to him and laid us both down. “You don’t have anything to fear from her anymore. Maybe your dreams know that even if your waking self can’t believe it yet and they are letting you do what you missed out on. Even if that’s not it though, don’t keep it locked away from me. If you really think God sent me to rescue you, don’t you think he means for me to do a proper job of it?” I wasn’t sure how to respond to that but I didn’t need to as he was turning me so that we fit together like spoons in the utensil box and soon enough we were both asleep once again.
I was embarrassed in the morning to wake up only to find him easing back into bed. “Oh! Gid! I swear I’ll have your morning meal …”
“Already grabbed a mug of broth off them beans you set to cook last night on the coals in the fireplace. Milk has been strained and put in the pantry and when we get up I want to see you drink a goodly bit of that before you take the cream out of it.” He startled a sharp breath from me when he ran his hands over me and said, “I can fill the sharp edges of your bones.” Then he moved his hands again then growled in my ear, “I want to see you soft and round like these bits here.”
I just held on and let him have his way. In truth it brought me comfort to know he found pleasure in me and wanted … something though I wasn’t sure what to name it. But that comfort in his pleasuring brought me guilt. I was glad that Gid hadn’t asked me what my dream had been about during the night. I didn’t know how to lie to him and didn’t want to learn how.
At some point I’d been gliding in the air. It’s the kind of feeling that tells you it’s just a dream but the telling isn’t enough to wake you up so you set out to enjoy the sensation expecting just to fall back to sleep all the way. But I didn’t and the dream took over and then I started to wonder if it was really just a plain dream or one of those waking ones I sometimes had that told me things I didn’t always want to know.
I realized I was gliding because a great black bird had me. I could feel his talons digging into my shoulders but all I could do was hang there limply because any time I moved he or his mate would peck me. Each peck grew harder and I knew if I wasn’t still they’d use their beaks to take my eyes and tongue the way Aunt Giselle had always threatened. Then we were plummeting to the ground and the giant bird released me and I fell the rest of the way, rolled, and fetched up against a pitted and scarred stone monolith of some unknown purpose left over from before the Dark Days.
I was cut up pretty bad and could barely sit up. When I finally managed it I saw shadows all around me. When I looked up and saw what the shadows belonged to I nearly screamed. It was the Sisters … all those that had died. Their faces were pock marked and oozing just like they had been before they were carted off to the dying room where from what I heard it became even worse. Each Sister had a stone and on each stone was written an evil thought I’d had for the murdering I’d had in my heart. They took those stones and threw them at my feet. “Guardsdaughter, why do you betray your upbringing. Did we not teach you better than this?”
“God took me away from those,” I cried. “He sent Gid to save me.”
“Not those,” they said pointing to the stones. “These.” Then they hefted stone tablets that somehow showed scenes of Gid and I.
I shook my head. “It wasn’t like that! Those pictures are wrong!”
“Are you saying you have not engaged in temptations of the flesh?!”
“No. I mean yes. But not like it shows in … not that … that debauchery! It wasn’t like that! Gid means to keep me! He does!! He even talks of babes!”
But it was like they didn’t hear me. Then one of the Sisters - and for some strange reason I couldn’t recognize her - grabbed me by the hair and forced me to watch as the pictures on the stones changed and grew worse and worse. And then they started showing pictures of Father and Mam all pocked and oozing and noisome and pointing at me saying it was my fault that they’d died. Pictures of me cutting Jubal out of Mam’s body only instead of crying I was cackling like a mad woman. Pictures of Jubal staring sightlessly while rain fell into his unblinking eyes and … stuff … oozed from the back of his head yet I could hear his baby voice screaming from someplace that I should have been there to stop it from happening. Pictures of Old Annie wreathing in pain as the poison took her, swelled her up, turned her black until she gasped for each breath, and with each breath she told me she’d always known I’d be the death of the family, that I’d been born with a caul over my face as an evil omen. Pictures of Aunt Giselle refusing to give me my pack so that I could not even ease Old Annie’s passing or hurry it up. Pictures of me cutting myself because if I didn’t I was going to cut Aunt Giselle’s throat and the blood that welled up from the cuts was like black ichor, poisonous to all it touched. All the while the pictures played across the tablets the Sisters called me horrible, vile names.
That’s when Gid woke me. I know the difference between a nightmare and a waking dream and what I had was a nightmare … but it was different from a regular nightmare. It was like something was attacking me. And Gid had rescued me again by waking me up when I couldn’t wake myself up.
But for all I was learning to trust him that was a dream that I could not share … not with him, not with anyone. To voice it was to give it more power. So I took it to God and he eased me so that I could sleep. But in the light of day and with Gid … well doing as Gid pleased … I caught myself turning the dream over and thinking on it once again.
Gid looked at me afterwards and asked, “Yulee, why does your mind go so far away? Do you … do you dislike my touch?”
He was running his hands gently over places that liked it. “No,” I told him honestly.
“If you don’t dislike it … then … is it … does it not … pleasure you?”
I shivered. “You ask so many questions.”
“And I like to have the ones I ask answered.”
There was a bit of steel running through those words and I shivered again. “Gid may I ask you … may I ask you …”
“Spit it out woman. And none of that cringing either.”
I sighed. “I’m confused Gid. I … I know you bought me because you needed a woman.” I felt him start to stiffen up. “Please Gid, let me get this all out before I … before I fall to cowardliness.”
Drawing a deep breath I tried to say it all. “I know you bought me with a purpose. I thought I … I thought I understood it. I … thought I could live and be grateful for your rescue. But you’ve … you’ve turned … I mean … you say things, things I never expected to hear for my own. You said you bought me but you don’t mean to own me. You … you cared for me after the ants, when I couldn’t breathe. You … you make me feel … oh Gid, you make me feel safe when I’d forgotten what that felt like. And then you bring me to this – your home only you say it is our home. And then yesterday, you spoke of babes as if … as if you really wanted them … wanted them with me; like it was silly for me to ask if you meant with me.” I hugged myself and once again shivered even though the day had warmed and we were still under the covers. “I don’t understand Gid. I … I want to understand … but I’m so afraid only I promised myself I wouldn’t be. I figured it didn’t matter who or what the man was that bought me; that I’d live and do his bidding and be grateful no matter what. And if you’d been … well … not like you are I could have gone right on with my gratefulness and not felt a bit of guilt for any of it because that would have been all it was. Only you are you and … and … and being grateful is hard to live with. ‘Cause … oh Sisters forgive me … ‘cause I want more. I want … I want to believe what you’ve been saying and not … and not be afraid anymore that I’m misunderstanding your words. I want to feel your pleasuring and not … not feel like … like … like I shouldn’t feel what I do.”
I was feeling as out of breath as I had after the ants had bitten me. I wanted to say more. I was desperate to understand and have him understand as well. “Please don’t be mad Gid. I don’t mean to be bad.”
Rather than anger, rather than a tongue lashing for I did trust him not to hit, rather than any other thing he sat us both up and I had to grab the sheet but he took it from me. I was aghast. There we both sat, uncovered as babes.
“Now. There’s nothing between us. Nothing to hide behind. So look at me Yulee. You’ve been treated so rough I knew we’d need to go over this road more than once. Same way you know I need to know you’ll mind me and respect me and you set out to prove it can be so. But this thing … your fear … I’m going to put a period on it. Dig a grave and shove it in and cover it over then set a great big stone over it. I’ve already told you I won’t share you. I’ve already told you that you’re mine. You believe those things?”
I quickly nodded my head.
“Good. But I think your problem is that you don’t understand what I mean when I say you’re mine. First off I’ll kill any man that thinks I’ll share you … or tries to take you from me. It’s just that simple. Second, Creator willing I mean to put a babe in you. I’ve already grown partial to the idea of seeing you with a big belly and knowing I made it happen. I remember my father saying much the same but I never understood it ‘til now. But it doesn’t have to be right this day or even this season. Fact is I don’t mind it being just the two of us here in the beginning. Plus you need to put some roundness back into your body so that carrying a babe in your belly isn’t hurtful. If it is like it was for my father, once I start planting seeds you’ll be harvesting babes every year from here on out til your seasons are done.”
I could feel the heat come over my whole body. For a man he was awful free with his talk of babies and birthing and the things of a woman’s body. “Lastly, I’m gonna do my best to make sure we’re together to watch our children have children. I know that doesn’t always happen but I mean to work on it like I believe it will. I’ve a feeling that we’ve got a good life ahead of us Yulee. I’m not saying there won’t be trying times but … you’ve already eased me woman. I sleep better. I’m eating better. I’m not forever having to battle for a jot of brew or a scrap of food, you fill my plate and mug first as if it is just the way things should be. You make my plans feel possible … things I’ve always wanted. You aren’t a nag. You fell in with my plans to live outside the wall like it was a natural thing to want rather than a perverted one. That most of all is what tells me you’re the woman for me. We fit Yulee. I mean to see that we stay fit to each other and no others. So if you’re afraid of feeling ‘cause you think I’m gonna to send you off or throw you over then you’re loopy. It was too providential me finding you, I ain’t gonna risk having to go through all of that again and likely wind up with something less than I got in my hands right now.”
Maybe his words weren’t Shakespearean but they were words I could understand and believe. I launched myself into his arms with such enthusiasm that I nearly knocked us out of the bed and onto the floor. “Whoa woman!” he laughed in surprise. But he was not averse to using my enthusiasm for something he obviously enjoyed. It was midafternoon before we finally quit the bed and got dressed. There was only enough time to take care of necessary chores and see to the animals. We were both starving by the time I put the evening meal on the table and it was soon consumed. Then after a few last things were taken care of, including tiring the pup and furball out with some play so they would leave us be, we were back to bed; but it wasn’t the desperate and hectic time it had been during the day. As the sun set and coolness enveloped the cabin we simply held each other cementing a mutual bond with a common goal.