This page contains:
- Body transformation
- Sexism/gender discrimination
Lys was often alone in the woods, hunting wood pigeons and boar, and took note of the crows when no one else did. At dinner once, she said, “The crows are awfully strange.” Her family didn’t know what she meant. Her elder sister, Ines, catching their mother’s hesitance, called her stupid. Lys smiled and said, “Honey, you mustn’t be so harsh. People criticize others for their own flaws.”
The crows were strange, though.
There were hundreds on the mountain. When she was younger, Lys assumed the woods were theirs, though she didn’t know where she got the idea. At the center of the woods, the shadows were a damp earth-green, and the crows filled the canopy like a council, everyone wearing shadows on their feet and veils over their eyes. They turned their heads very sharply when Lys stepped too loud. Perhaps they didn’t want her there. If it’d been her family, she would’ve walked louder. Louder and calmly, like she’d always walked that way and they were the ones being too sensitive. But she didn’t like to offend the crows. They seemed to know a great deal she didn’t.
So, at the edge of the forest, she would throw down rice and say, “Crows, can I come in, please?” Sometimes, if she found something interesting in the gutter in Getsmoth in the Valley like a tarnished button or a glass bead, she’d put that down too. Her mother caught her eventually, and, to Lys’s horror, thought it was cute. At least Lys didn’t pretend she’d only somehow accidentally spilled rice from her pocket, but stood straight and calm and let her think what she wanted. She threw the rice casually after that, as though she didn’t care who knew, and that was alright because when Ines teased her, Lys smiled secretly so that Ines thought there was something very important she didn’t know. But later her mother decided it was childish, and Lys had to put off throwing rice without even a fight.
As Lys grew older, she learned that people didn’t take interest in the crows or linger in the woods, not even other hunters. She learned that they didn’t pick up feathers and buttons and broken stones and keep them in their rooms. She learned that although Ines talked too much about her garden and laughed too much and missed most of the jokes, she seemed to have figured out what people did. Lys had not. No one told Ines how to work in her garden like they tried to tell Lys where to find boar and what traps to use and how to flush pigeons.
At family gatherings, when her aunts and uncles boasted of future weddings and touched Lys’s left ring finger, she didn’t laugh, big-bellied, and bellow of some hoped-for spouse. She blinked at them in such confusion that for a moment each thought they must’ve just imagined the age-old gestures.
They’d never touched Ines’s left ring finger. Maybe she was too plain, or too clumsy. Maybe they thought Lys needed the help and Ines was beyond it. It must’ve made Ines horribly sad and angry, but Lys was so jealous of her. And it was so much worse because Lys knew Ines would get married anyway. One day Ines’d bring home one of the boys or girls she’d enchanted by loving her garden more than the moon and stars, and their family would be confused and awkward because they hadn’t been paying attention, and Ines would be in love, and Lys would still be giving people surprised looks when they touched her left ring finger so they felt as stupid as she did, and she wouldn’t even enjoy it. She just didn’t know what else to do.
So much the worse for her, that Lys noticed these things. Because of course that’s exactly what happened.
After Ines suddenly told their mother she was going to marry the goat-herd Jinny from up the mountain, all the relatives thought they needed to be at the house all the time. They seemed rather befuddled, Lys thought, like they were only there because that’s what you did before someone got married. Someone who wasn’t Ines.
Lys missed being in the house with just Ines. Ines had a clumsy tongue and clumsier feet, but there was something about how she rattled restlessly around the house, thumping into corners and swearing, humming songs Lys’d never heard before, and losing forks under the lip of her plate. But now, even though everyone was here for her, Ines was always out pulling weeds and trimming vegetables.
So Lys spent more time away.
Traveling around the mountain, Lys heard stories of crows that came as men in feather cloaks and told secrets to young brides so they’d run away into the woods, and peregrines that came as nursemaids in blue dresses and stole their charges away into the sky, and goldfinches that came as youngsters with flaxen hair and taught children to fly from roofs instead of doing chores.
Lys often returned home late, and it was on such a wet autumn night that someone knocked on their door. Her leather coat hung dripping in the entryway, and she’d made a game of chasing the leaks in the roof with tin mugs and iron pots. She wouldn’t have done it if anyone was awake. She didn’t want to explain the lovely plink of the water on metal, or the delight of darting into the kitchen for more dishware, or the talon-like click of her shoes as she went.
When the tapping started, it was so quiet that she didn’t hear it the first time. Maybe not the second or third either. She didn’t know how long he tapped on the door before she heard and, frustrated, threw down a mug and went to see who it was.
The man outside looked so harried, she thought a boar had gone after him, and she let him in before she really saw him. Water tracked on the floor from his great big coat, which she thought at the time was bearskin. He hunched like the door was half his height, and the ceiling too, and Lys thought he was a wizened old man until he perched on a stool. He could’ve looked mean, like a hard winter wind, with the cut of his jaw and the hungry hollowness of his chest, but then he put his feet on the rungs so his knees were up around his ears, and he seemed so uncertain about it that Lys would’ve laughed if she’d known him better.
Mostly he just struck her as mottled, like the leaves on the ground in autumn, and precarious. His coat engulfed him, rounding out his shoulders and stinking of animal. It gave the impression that he could pull his coat over his head and all she’d find was a pile of feathers.
Ines had left the oatmeal over the cooling hearth with mutton and onions, so Lys spooned it out into a bowl without him asking. She didn’t take comfort in strangers around her hearth as many people on the mountain did, but food was always taken when visiting. He smiled, strained and distracted and not looking at her, with a curious bobbing to his head. He kept adjusting his shoulders and hips like he was going to fall.
“I don’t think you keep sheep up here, or I’d know your face,” she said as she shook the bowl at him.
He didn’t answer.
“Was it a boar?” she asked. “Or,” teasing, “the baron’s men? I heard he put up an exhibition of his books, and he’s very nervous someone will take one.”
The man unfolded his hands from his coat and held out two damp, little bags. She took them in one hand and they fell open on her palm. The first was full of uncooked rice, the second full of beads: cobalt and fat as berries, isabelline like hazy spring mornings, murky like beryl sea glass, veined as if with tulip roots.
She stared, uncomprehending, and couldn’t get her tongue around, I think you have me confused with a crow, or, Well, nice to meet you too. Oh, my name?, or even, angrily, Yes, that’s very funny, but my mother’s with her brother tonight and my sister is asleep in the other room, so there’s no one to laugh with you. So she said nothing at all and stood there like a fowl about to fall over as he took the bowl of oatmeal like they’d agreed to some kind of trade.
She clutched the bags of rice and beads and watched him eat until he put the bowl on the stool and left.
And then she dropped the bags on the floor and ran out after him.
“Wait!” she cried as she flung the door open. “What did you mean by that?”
But it was well after sunset, and the clouds had caught up the stars in a wooly bag, and the rain was coming down hard. She could see nothing at all. If he heard her, he didn’t answer, and she stood, shivering, in the rain. When she went in, she sat in front of the fire, chewing on the knuckle of her middle finger, while the mugs and pots overflowed.
In the morning, when Ines came humming into the kitchen in a scarf because it was already cold, Lys was waiting at the kitchen table. She lifted the bag of beads and said, “Can you make these into a necklace?”
Lys hoped Ines would ask what they were and lean in curiously, so Lys could close her hands around the bags. Then it would sound like a secret when she didn’t answer.
Ines’s face was buried in the scarf up to her nose, and she raised a disbelieving eyebrow. It looked so like one of Lys’s expressions that Lys nearly laughed.
“No,” Ines said.
“Are you too busy?”
“I’m busy. And I don’t want to help you.”
Lys raised her shoulders defensively. “I can help in the garden.” It was silly, to care enough to offer. Why did she care enough to offer?
Ines walked past with her hands in her pockets. “No.”
Lys followed her outside, clutching the stupid little bag in her hand as Ines slid into shoes with frost on the toes. There was a girl coming down the mountain with a goat on a string, probably Jinny.
“Why not?” Lys asked.
“The other night when I dropped a bucket of water on the floor, you said, ‘You don’t need to water the wood, it’s already dead.’”
Lys huffed. “You call me stupid all the time.”
Ines gathered up her rusted trowel and shears and a bucket with cracked sides. “It doesn’t bother you as much.”
Lys stopped, still holding the bag against her chest, as Ines settled heavily on the ground like a bear, pressing her thumb and the trowel into the hard earth around a plant shriveled by the frost. It could’ve been knapweed or spinach or a daisy for all Lys knew.
“How do you know?” Lys finally managed, disliking her uncertainty.
Ines shrugged, and Lys saw that she disliked her uncertainty too.
She could make Ines take it back. All she had to do was say it wasn’t true and Ines was very mean for ignoring her feelings. Ines must think herself very special for getting married, and that was just mean pride. But Lys didn’t have the heart for it, and Jinny was almost there, waving to Ines over the garden. So she went inside.
Lys spent the morning in the top window with Ines’s sewing kit, trying to string the beads onto twine. She could hear people talking downstairs. She heard Ines once, laughing, and felt silly for being stuffed up in a window, but she didn’t go down. Her fingers were clumsy with the twine, and when she gave up after stringing only five beads—blue and copper and chestnut—she’d broken three beads and the pad of her left ring finger throbbed where she’d stabbed it with the needle. Frustrated, she tied off the string and shoved the kit away.
Downstairs, which she couldn’t avoid, the cousins and aunts and uncles and all the rest caught her up like a fisherman’s net. Lys, your mother says you’re not around enough. Lys, the woods will gobble you up one day. Lys, where’s your betrothed? Lys, I’ll tell you how to keep from spooking deer. Lys, you’re bringing your best catch for the wedding, right? Lys, you have to bring young rabbits, not gamey pigeons. Lys, why are you standing there?
Past them all, Lys saw Ines sitting comfortably at the table, her hand around a mug of tea, smirking as Lys tried not to shrink into a corner. So then of course, horribly and wickedly betrayed, Lys had to sit down at the table too instead of rushing away.
“Too cold outside?” Lys said sweetly to Ines, sweeping into her seat the way she’d seen city people do in Getsmoth in the Valley.
“No,” Ines said, oblivious.
Lys leaned back, tapping her fingers on the table.
“What did you do with your beads?” Ines asked.
Lys’s fingers stilled as she realized her mistake in telling Ines about the beads. Ines didn’t even have the decency to bring it up on purpose, to be mean.
Immediately, a cousin leaned over. “Are you still collecting beads from Getsmoth in the Valley for the birds? Auntie told me about that.” He showed all his teeth when he laughed.
“At least it wasn’t worms,” Lys said, but he kept laughing.
Her mother went up on her toes from where she was standing by the back door to see over the people between them. “Did you bring something back from Getsmoth in the Valley?”
“I haven’t been to Getsmoth in the Valley for a month,” Lys said.
“I thought not.” Her mother stepped over to the table, and Lys would’ve glared at Ines if Ines would’ve understood and all the cousins wouldn’t have noticed immediately. “Why, what did you get?”
Lys stared up at her mother, who wore fur over her shoulders and twisted her fingers aimlessly in front of her. Her face was always softer when relatives were here, and she must be so proud that her daughter was getting married, even if it wasn’t the right one. Lys took a little breath and crumpled her brow. “Well, the crow gave me some beads, of course. He said it was a harvest gift and everyone was getting one. Don’t you have yours?”
Her mother, who could sometimes tell when Lys was making fun of her, rolled her eyes and walked away. Her cousin kept laughing. But across the table, Ines frowned lightly.
“But you always gave the crows things,” Ines said.
“I guess they decided to return the favor.”
Her cousin moved closer and took Lys’s left ring finger between his, which she nearly hit him for. “I heard that if you don’t put a ring on that finger, it’ll shrivel up.” He was still young enough to find such things funny.
She snapped her hand out of his and waggled the offending finger in his face. “Then I’ll be the crone of the mountain, and I’ll fill the shriveled husk up with woods magic. And when I do, you better worry.”
He smiled, but he didn’t laugh.
The boy’s mother leaned over him and pinched his own ring finger. “You better hope your own finger doesn’t shrivel up, chickadee.”
Everyone laughed, and even though he looked a little upset, he didn’t look nearly so upset as Lys felt. She stood to go, but her aunt leaned over warmly and said, “Haven’t you found anyone nice?”
“No, only the rotten ones,” Lys said.
“She’s got someone in Getsmoth in the Valley,” one of her uncles said from where he was sitting by the hearth. “Just isn’t telling us. That’s why she visits so much.”
Her aunt’s eyes lit up. “Do you?”
“Oh, of course.” Lys smiled back at her aunt.
“You are delightfully fun; you’ll have no trouble finding someone someday.” There was a little twinkle in her aunt’s eyes, and Lys suspected she was being mocked.
Lys took up a handful of rice from the green-glazed pot she’d bought from Getsmoth in the Valley because it was so pretty, even if it was too expensive, and pushed her way out.
She pulled on her great leather coat and nearly toppled over as she hauled on her boots. She stomped her feet and ruffled her shoulders, and then had to pretend to be only adjusting her coat when the door opened. But it was just Ines.
“Did the crows really bring you those beads?” Ines said.
Lys turned away, clutching the rice harder. “I have to go check the traps.”
It was grey and clammy, the sky pale like watered milk. She trudged to the woods with the necklace in her pocket and the rice in her palm. She’d lost most of the rice by the time she reached the woods, and the rest stuck to her hand. When she awkwardly thrust it out in front of her, almost nothing fell onto the ground. Pressing her teeth together, she brushed off the rest and said, strained, “Can I come in?” And then, “Please.”
There was, as there always had been, no answer.
The trunks were damp with rain and the leaves popped as water cascaded across them. The shadows fell deep and earthy over the underbrush, ferns and ivy lost to the umber-green. At home, she’d taken up the city-folks’ artless amble, but in the woods her gait was bow-legged and squat, and she never fell.
At the center of the woods where the council of crows gathered, she found a rotten trunk blooming with dun and butterscotch conks and oyster mushrooms. She threw the necklace, childish and stupid on its tawny twine, onto the trunk, and left. She didn’t check her traps, even though she’d meant to.
She wasn’t sure why she’d done it. She hadn’t even talked to him, all russet and fallow and woad, all woods and bramble and very little man at all, probably. But he’d given her beads and not asked any questions she couldn’t answer properly. It was a courtship, wasn’t it? To give beads and necklaces. But it was a woody courtship, to make something out of what was given and give it back. Ines would give Jinny dandelions and spinach and sage, and then Jinny would give Ines goat cheese and a mohair rug, not dandelion and sage soup.
But in the stories the crows didn’t court; they stole. The crows charmed, tempted, took. They didn’t awkwardly eat a bowl of oatmeal and go without a word.
She felt stupid thinking about it. She felt stupid leaving the necklace.
Lys was a long time getting home, and everyone was gone when she got there. She set out the tin mugs and iron pots under the leaks and sat gloomily at the center of the room, still wearing her coat. When Ines came in from the garden, Lys was still there. Lys wouldn’t have said anything if Ines had tried to pat her shoulder or plaintively wondered, “What’s wrong?” or done any of the things their mother did to cheer her up, when she did anything at all. Ines sat by the hearth and, when she’d finished chopping onions and leeks and mutton into the pot, handed Lys a bowl.
It was hot on Lys’s palms and smelled of bay leaves. “I didn’t know you noticed,” Lys said. “That I wasn’t upset. That,” and she shrugged because it sounded stupid, “you were upset.”
“I hadn’t,” Ines said, her hands around her own bowl, the soil not quite scrubbed out from under her nails. “I told Jinny about what you said, and her eyes got big and sad. She said it sounded awful and wasn’t I upset? I said of course I wasn’t upset, and I told her what I said about you, and she said you didn’t sound very upset.”
Well, how could Lys be upset by her sister’s clumsy attempts to insult her? They were obvious and trite, and usually didn’t go beyond Ines just calling her stupid.
“Very observant,” was all Lys said.
That night, after Ines had gone to bed and the rain was coming down heavy again, Lys heard the knocking. She heard it the first time, and she was at the door embarrassingly fast. She hadn’t been listening for it, exactly. She’d just hoped it would come.
He was the same as before, stumbling and bedraggled. He came right to the stool and Lys was already ladling out soup like they’d been doing this for years. Under his coat, she could see the twine of her stupid necklace. Maddeningly, it gave her a small pleasure to see it there. It made her think of the crones who strung the tree branches with seeds and dried herbs and braids of reeds in the spring. When she held out the soup, he held out his hand and dropped something into her free palm.
It was a ring. A ring of some bright grey metal, not silver, but well-polished and undecorated. There wasn’t even a maker’s mark on the inside. But it reminded her of the streams that ran under the ice and the purple crocuses that grew between the black river stones. It reminded her of the autumn sky between bare branches when the clouds were a sort of grey and she couldn’t guess if it would rain.
She thought of all the young people on the mountain who boasted of their lovers, or lovers they hoped for. People said that to find the right person, you had to go stand in your attic or up in the sheepfold or on your knees in bed and shout their name as loud as you could. If you were loud enough, they’d hear you and drop a ring in your hand. The farther they came, the more they meant it. But Lys had never shouted anyone’s name. And even if she had known this man’s name, she wasn’t sure she would shout it.
She looked at the man, who watched her with that tilt of his head, buried in his great dark coat. Coarse stubble covered his chin and cheeks, though it wasn’t long, and his eyes were quite black, as of course they must be. She thought again of the old men’s stories and might have said, You’ve come too early. I’m not a bride. There’s no wedding tomorrow to make me shake like stones coming down the mountain, and hope I will shake the house apart so there’ll be no cherry cake or binding in red ribbon or eternal promises exchanged between tongues. I haven’t even a half-promise for you and I to break together. You can’t steal me from anyone with your secrets.
And she thought of the woods, the damp jade leaves and spongy moss, the green and brown smell of the underbrush, the little shadowed secrets under the leaves and in the loam. She thought about curling up in that green and brown and not coming out again.
She closed her hand over the ring, and he reached out and took the soup.
The leaks slowed and then stopped while the man ate, slower this time, as if he had nowhere to go. Lys watched him, her fingers over her chin, as if she expected to see a talon when he raised his hand. She imagined eating with him, or meeting him in the woods, exchanging white grouse feathers and pointing to where the pigeons nested and boars wintered. He wouldn’t say, And you hunt like this, and she wouldn’t say, And you must do this. She imagined seeing him every day, under the trees, and it was somehow more familiar than the room they sat in.
By the time the man set his bowl aside and silently went, the rain had turned to snow. It was already halfway up to Lys’s knees. When she closed the door behind him, she couldn’t quite place the colors in the room, as if the umbers were stranger than the blue-black outside. The shadows in the corners made the walls seem as tall as trees, the silence and faint chill like the autumn nights when she’d gone too far searching for deer and slept in the crooks of pine trees.
That night she dreamed of crows.
They waited in a tangle of branches, garlanded in dark holly leaves and red berries, rampant like heraldic beasts with their talons up. A bird with raised sable wings, a girdle of holly about its stomach, turned its head.
“Crow-wife,” it said.
“Not yet,” she said.
“What of your children? Will there be eggs, marbled smoky blue and foliage-green, and little birds inside with black feathers like pins? Or will they be bright and brown with hooked noses and incisors to tear magpie meat?”
Lys raised her chin. “I’ll not have children. I decided as a child myself.”
“Then what do you want from the council of crows?”
Lys considered. “I want your permission. Permission should be asked when your betrothed’s kind don’t know you. I want permission to sit beneath your council and catch your feathers. I want to hear the crows speak.”
“What of the man?”
“What man? He’s mostly woods, bark and leaves and wind.” Lys lifted her head. “Do I have your permission?”
The crow screeched, rough and distant.
Lys went early to check the traps, bulky with too many sweaters and her high boots laced above the knee. It was her own fault that she hadn’t checked the day before. She had some halfway hope that someone or something would be waiting for her once she crossed under the trees. But there was only the snow, falling softly into the brook like a vein of blue spinel, trimming the branches and last orange leaves like midwinter garlands. The man’s tracks were long buried, and what crows she saw paid her no mind, clearing the trees of their last red berries and waiting high up where the leaves had all fallen. Occasionally she heard their echoing kraw, kraw like bark under fingers.
When she came back home, only a few relatives had braved the snow, and they sat with Ines and her mother in an uneven circle around the table and the fire. Ines was weaving one of her mats, slowly, as she did, forgetting it often and then remembering and doing a dozen rows at once.
Lys hung up the frozen wood pigeons inside the door. Her mother smiled vaguely and offered a cup of tea, which Lys took because her fingers were too cold to unbend, and then her mother waved her to sit with them, which Lys did because she couldn’t come up with an excuse fast enough. She sat at the table by the window, even though it was colder, and watched Ines weave.
Lys had hung the grey ring around her neck, covered by her high collar, dyed the color of lupine and fastened with copper buttons from Getsmoth in the Valley. She found herself occasionally running her thumb along the ridge under the cloth.
Ines spoke occasionally, and Lys not at all. Lys wanted everyone to go away and not speak to her or ask her questions she didn’t want to answer, or assume anything about her. She didn’t want to talk about the wedding or be told she was already getting it wrong. The room was too close and the people too few for her to slip away and vanish, and so she looked out at the woods, where she couldn’t even see the deer picking their way between the trees. But when people spoke to her, she smiled and smiled, and once they were finally gone, Lys wanted to put her head between her hands and sleep.
When their mother was gone to bed, Lys took down the birds and Ines cut up onions and carrots and celery.
“How are you going to avoid everyone now that the snow’s here and you can’t go out into the garden?” Lys asked, setting the feathers on an old swatch of wool. They were dark blue and black and grey, like the sky that evening when the sun had just set and the ice was gathering on the window.
Ines paused, the heel of her hand balanced on the edge of the knife. “What?” A little lamp burned between them and turned everything brown like tea. The cutting board looked nearly golden.
Lys wanted to make it a joke between them. “How are you going to get out of the house?”
Ines shrugged and returned to her knife and cutting board. “I don’t mind.”
“Yes,” Lys insisted, “but don’t you mind,” she waved a hand, “that everyone minds you?”
Ines turned to put the onions in the pot so Lys couldn’t see her face. “I had a nice time yesterday and today. Yesterday, Mother said I couldn’t spend the whole time in the garden, and I should come in for a little while even if I was putting the garden to bed. I had a nice time.”
Lys tilted her head. “No one said anything?”
“Everyone always says things,” Ines snapped. “They’re always saying everything, there are so many of them. But because everyone’s always talking, if one of them is not saying things I like, I talk to someone else.”
“It’s my wedding.”
Lys arched her back. She turned sharply and hunched over a bird. She cut it open, right below its belly, and with three fingers pulled out its yellow lungs and black liver and little red heart. She’d not thought Ines might enjoy everyone else’s company when she didn’t. She’d not thought the wedding plans could be going well. “Will you stay here when you marry? Or if you go away, will you visit?”
“I think I’ll stay here.” Lys thought Ines might be saying it to irritate her. “I can’t take the garden with me.”
Lys raised her head to say something clever, to snap it off her tongue so Ines would go quiet and not talk the rest of the evening. Ines kept chopping, oblivious, the shadows like brown linen over her shoulders.
Lys realized she’d expected her sister’s wedding to be ugly and terrible and uncomfortable because that’s how it would be if it were hers. Because she didn’t want Ines to want it, or have it, when Lys didn’t and couldn’t. But why had Lys assumed the wedding had to be hers anyway? And not just someone else’s? “Are you upset when I tease you? You didn’t say.”
Ines rocked the knife on the cutting board, though there was nothing under it. “I wasn’t, I thought. But I told Jinny and her eyes got big and sad, and I thought, Oh. Oh. Maybe I am. Maybe I really am.” She raised her shoulders, and Lys knew she was waiting to be teased for that too, wishing she’d lied, except that she could hardly lie at all.
Lys cut off the bird’s talons and beak and set it aside. She did a second and a third and said nothing at all, though she could have, and she almost wanted to.
When she cut up the last bird, Ines asked, “Did the crows really give you those beads?”
Lys pressed back her smile. Ines never could let it go. “Yes.” She looked toward the door and felt the ring hanging under her shirt. “I think no one will say terrible things if Jinny is listening, because they’ll learn very quickly that she misses nothing.”
Ines smiled a small, embarrassed smile as she turned back to her pot.
He came that night for the third time, brushing snow off his legs and shoulders before he came inside. She had, if truth be told, been waiting. He smiled, and she gave him soup, and he gave her an old rusted key with a little round bow and a cylindrical stem. It seemed like it should go to some secret nook, long forgotten, except she imagined he’d just thought it was pretty. He stood by the window while he ate, and the glass was dark and reflected the firelight off his jaw. Outside, the snow was getting deeper. It must have been up to Lys’s knee.
“I feel silly for not running away some time ago,” Lys said. “I never thought you could do a thing like that. You just got married someday and somehow everything was the same as it always had been.”
He smiled a little, and perhaps he didn’t understand because the crows didn’t have such problems, but it made her happy anyway.
When he went out, they had to clear the snow away from the door. On the threshold, the wind blowing in blue, he offered Lys his arm. She held her thumb against the ring under her shirt, watched the fire crackle down and turn the floor umber like earth, and thought she would not miss it.
She put on her coat and boots. It was too dark to see outside, but she took his arm, and he seemed to know where he was going. In the woods, the leaves were not yet all gone and it was so cold the snow had become a fine powder. In the clearing where she’d always seen the council of crows gathered, though they were not there now, where she’d left the necklace on the rotting wood, drinking up rain, where there was just enough light to see the bright blush of his face, he reached for the twine around her neck. He hesitated, and there was just enough light to see the question on his face.
She put out her hands and felt his cloak, and she realized then that it wasn’t bearskin but a cloak of feathers, the brown and black and oil-sheen green and blue of crows and grackles and starlings. The hundred, hundred feathers ruffled over her fingers as she put her hands beneath them to feel his skin, thin and soft like a fruit’s.
She wanted the feather cloak around her own shoulders. She wanted to know her way by the branches and fallen trees. She wanted her marriage to be silent, and for no one to see it.
She bent her head, and he undid the knot behind her neck. As he pulled it free, the ring slipped off, and she didn’t see where it went. He put his hand around hers, their skin cold like bone. He held up not her ring finger but the middle one, and the ring slid from his fingers onto hers like water over a stone. She smiled. Perhaps she could be the crone of the mountain after all and fill up her ring finger with magic.
She took his hands as he took hers, and together they went through the snow to where the crows in their councils lived and waited for offerings of beads and coins and uncooked rice.