He hadn’t even left a letter. There was merely an absence where he was, a hollow where he and their marriage vows might have been. She had heard it from other people, and eventually from her father. If the story was true, it was improbable.
“He had broken his nose, you see, and they say he was weak and prone when the menace found him…”
Folka did not see how a broken nose could be so debilitating as to cause an end of life. If he had run away from this town and their future together, he should have been able to run from the brigands just as easily.
Either way, he was not coming back, and the story seemed to hurt more than the reality of it all. She forgot all but the parts that stung, and kept those inside and quiet. There was work to do.
Father was not so old, but years of cold hardship had weathered him like the trees he cut down. Folka, being of sturdier build, was accustomed to her share of the work, whether it was felling or transport of the lumber, or the things in the house that needed to be done. They ate the same food almost every night, because it was easy enough to acquire and prepare, and neither of them had much in the ways of cooking. Her calloused hands held the wooden utensils, the caricatures of better-crafted cutlery made with the limited skill of a family who had rarely encountered any. She wondered if their crude manners were the real reason there were not more people at the table with them each night. Her hair was tucked primly, with the memory of her mother and sister in every braid. Her arms preferred the bite of chill air and the scrapes of bark. Did her lover’s resolve fall like a branch from under the power of her swing?
If only hearts were as strong as trees, she thought, they could weather the cold all alone. Her axe tore through the pulp, one after the other. She would stay warm somehow.
On the third night when her father had not come back, Folka was not worried.
On the fifth night, she stopped preparing meals to share.
On the tenth night, they told her how peaceful her father had looked.
On the eleventh night, Folka prepared to do the next delivery, because a livelihood is not easily gained or upkept.
He had gone peacefully, they said, and she grimaced away her thoughts into a knot of coarse rope. The wagon was overfilled but the yox was trusty and Folka wasn’t riding, she walked. More room for the wood. Snowflakes disguised the tears on her cheeks. She would stay warm somehow, and she would buy a ribbon like her late mother’s, and she would be all the family she had left.
The town was a day’s trip away, and it was time she sorely needed.