by M.K. Hutchins
Being near Ingrid was the only good thing about living in a God-neglected frozen
wasteland. Her face was round as the moon -- a soft, pleasant face that suggested
her cooking encouraged second helpings. Her face didn't lie: light rye breads,
sweet poached fruit, elk and wild onion stew that made my beard grow. Well, the
bit of a beard I had. Ingrid always laughed and teased when she caught me finger-combing the handful of hairs sticking from my face. Her laugh -- that was pure
silver. For too long, she'd slaved away under Arbiter Elof's guardianship. The day
I signed a contract with Elof and became Ingrid's betrothed was the happiest day
of my life.
The next day was the worst.
I clambered down the loft, picking bits of straw from my clothes. Grandma stirred
something on the hearth. "Breakfast for you? Your folks are already off preparing
"Rob's helping them?" Other than Grandma and me, my family's one-room house
She smiled fondly. "No. He woke early and asked me some questions about my
days in the Confederate Ithena. He left before anyone else woke up. Don't think
your folks realize he's not still sleeping in the loft."
I groaned inside. Grandma had traveled with the merchant caravans before she
married Grandpa -- she was one of the rare people who'd chosen to live in
Ogynan's frozen lands. "Your stories bring out the worst in Rob. I wish you'd
"The worst?" She raised an eyebrow, pulling a trail of wrinkles with it. "He's a
curious boy. No harm in that."
"Curious is an understatement," I muttered.
Grandma dropped some wild rye berries into her pot. "And worst seemed like an
exaggeration. We're even."
"Where's Rob?" I asked again, already tired.
Grandma shrugged. "Why not leave him alone?"
"Because it'll lead to more quarreling." My parents had spent all of dinner last
night chastising Rob for shirking chores, but lecturing Rob was like lecturing a
glacier. He never seemed to hear. Then Grandma chided them for being so harsh
on him. Everyone went to bed cross.
Well, everyone except Rob. He went to bed oblivious.