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Sweet as Honey
    by Bradley P. Beaulieu
Sweet as Honey
Artwork by Nick Greenwood

All was silent as I lay in the rooftop garden above my home. I could remember neither the reason I'd come nor the duration of my stay. I couldn't, in fact, remember anything. My mind was so caught in the fugue of slumber that it seemed determined to hide the answers from me, and my body was so leaden it refused all calls to action.

I did after some effort manage to flutter my eyes open. Spread above me was a cloudy, cream-colored sky. The sigh of the Inland Sea returned soon after, and with it, the drone of my honey bees.

What a welcome sound. What a welcome sound, indeed.

Footsteps thudded toward me. A moment later Joseph Winslow was staring down at me, his woolen hat crumpled in one fist, his ragged face concerned. "You all right, Susanna?"

I wanted to answer him. I did. But I was helpless. My mind seemed unable to focus on anything but the world around me: the air, which smelled of brine and seaweed and smoking fish; the breeze, which chilled my skin; the ground, which rocked to and fro as if I were lying on the deck of a creaky old galley. Then, like an approaching storm, flesh and bone demanded their due consideration. My head ached, perhaps from the fall. My thumb was sore, and it seemed to be growing worse by the moment. My breathing, shallow only moments ago, was beginning to deepen, bringing with it a feeling of suffocation.

Joseph's voice became insistent. "Susanna, are you all right?"

I sat up, coughing. Joseph helped me to my feet, but it wasn't until I had removed my hat and pulled the bee keeper's veil from around my head and neck that my breathing came easier.

Everything around me seemed new. There was a partially filled beehive sitting on the ground nearby. Several of its frames already held bees; the rest were empty. For the life of me I couldn't figure out what it was doing there. I wasn't planning to work on the new colony until tomorrow --

I frowned at the painful red welt that glowered on the meat of my thumb. A tiny black stinger rested in the center of it. One of my bees . . .

Yes. The venom would have robbed me of a day's memory, perhaps more, but my mind had bridged the distance so completely it was hard to believe I'd been stung. There was no gap, as one feels upon waking, no sense of the passage of time. There were only yesterday's memories followed immediately by today's. I remembered my ankles hurting something terrible in the morning -- which would have been yesterday morning. I had gone to prayers and vaguely recalled coming home again -- yes, Giles Billington had rowed me home himself -- but that was all before waking up here with the bees.

"Did you see what happened?" I asked Joseph.

He nodded. "You reached into your smock, then you pulled your hand to your mouth and tipped over, quick as you please."

In the front pocket of my smock I found a recipe for cod in pastry shell.

"I don't know if you remember," Joseph said. "I was going to make that for you tonight. Well, I was going to try, anyway."

I smiled to hide my embarrassment. "I'm sorry, I don't."

He paused awkwardly and then motioned to his home. "Why don't you come on over? I still have that ointment you gave me a few years back."

"Now why would I use yours when I have a perfectly good supply of my own?"

"For the company, Sue. Purely for the company." Joseph's smile seemed forced, and I had to wonder why. Joseph wasn't the sort of man to overreact.

"I'll be fine." The bees were becoming animated in the rising heat. "Just watch yourself. They might want more now that they'd feasted on these old bones."

I shooed him off to his own garden on the houseboat next to mine and returned to my hive. It was important to find the ointment, but I didn't feel right leaving the hives open to the elements with the work half-done, so I replaced my hat and veil and took out several empty frames from the new colony. Then I stood before the other hive -- my main, the one filled with thousands of bees moving slowly over the tops of the exposed frames. A loud buzzing came from deep inside the hive -- the piping of the unborn queen, still inside her cell. Swarming season was nearly here, and I would have to act quickly when the virgin queen emerged. She was needed in the new colony, and any delay might force a battle to the death with the old, mated queen.

I rested my hands above the moving mass, allowing them to dance over the bare skin of my hands and the tight cuffs of my white shirt. A wise woman might be afraid of another sting, which, so close after the first, would rob me of much more than one day's memory, but I had always found comfort in my bees, in their selfless will to work for the good of the hive.

I shivered, realizing I'd been staring at the bees for quite some time. It was a trick the venom sometimes played.

The ointment, I told myself. I've got to find the ointment.

I carefully moved several more frames to the nuc and replaced them with empties. Then I took the stairs down to the boardwalk that connected my shop with the village's inner and outer rings. Beyond the boardwalk's railing was the sea itself, channeled by the network of canals that neatly segmented the village. My rowboat, lashed nearby, knocked hollowly against the boardwalk in time with the waves licking their way along the canal.

I headed in through the side door and rummaged through my desk until I'd found a pair of tweezers. The stinger was buried deep, but I took extra care given the nature of the sting and eventually managed to remove it intact. Then I set to finding my ointment.

I dug through the bottom drawer of the pine desk, through several wooden bins my husband had left behind when he'd died. There were still nails and twine and miscellaneous tools among my spools of thread and scissors and needlepoint. I checked my writing desk, the kitchen cupboards, my basket of yarn. I even considered taking a fresh tin from the shelves, but that had never been my way, so I chewed on the problem until I remembered my old hope chest beneath my bed. I pulled it out and rummaged underneath the baby blanket I'd knitted when I was sixteen, and there it was: the first tin of royal jelly ointment I'd ever created, dented, rusted on the outside, and still only half used.

I was just about to close the lid when a lock of hair tied with faded purple ribbon caught my eye. The hair was long -- several years' growth easily -- and strawberry blond, nearly the same color as my own. I had no recollection of it -- none at all -- but then again, I hadn't remembered putting the ointment in the chest, either.

I sat on my bed, on the quilt my mother had made as my wedding present, and applied the ointment. It hurt something awful as I rubbed it into my swollen skin, but moments later, the pain dulled.

The motion of rubbing the ointment, though . . . It brought a sense of déjà vu so strong I was sure I'd been in this exact situation before, rubbing the ointment, wondering about the lock of hair. Yet in the way of these things, the more I tried to pin the memory down, the more slippery it became.

I left the bedroom, taking the ointment with me. I would need it, for if I didn't continue its use, I would forget the simplest of things at the most inconvenient of times.

Fresh and Smoked Fish, Whale Meat

Spermaceti Lamp Oil, Whalebone Stays

Many more products of the sea.

Hook and Net, Outer Ring, Docks Central

That night I dreamed I was in my nightgown, standing before a door in an empty room filling with frigid water. The water rose to my ankles before I realized the key that would open the door hung from a leather cord around my neck. As the numbing water licked my ankles and the tops of my feet, I removed the key, only to find that the key didn't open the lock. Nearby sat a heavy, ironbound chest. I quickly tried the key as the water tickled my shins -- dear God, it was cold -- and inside was another key. My fingers shook so badly I could hardly fit the new key into the door. This didn't work either. Behind me, another ironbound chest had appeared. I worked frantically, opening chest after chest, each of the keys failing to open the door; all the while the water crept up my thighs and hips and stomach, until I was forced to duck my head under water in order to try the door or open the new chests.

I woke with a gasp and a body-heaving jerk.

The sun had yet to rise. I was cold and sweaty despite the warmth of the blankets.

Close enough to dawn, I thought, while shivering at the memory of the dream.

I swept the shop and dusted the honey jars. Joseph ducked in shortly after dawn to let me know that two ships had come early to trade. He remained in the doorway, looking at me as if I were a cracked china doll ready to fall to pieces. I shooed him out and fussed over the shop one last time.

Years ago ships wouldn't have left harbor until the village floated close enough to make it a day's sail or less, but the wares of Crucialis had built a keen reputation, and merchants wanted to cherry pick the goods before the common man could get their hands on them.

More to the village's favor, I thought.

I opened the shop door and sat with a cup of blackberry tea and my needlepoint, waiting for buyers to wander along the boardwalk.

I took the ointment and rubbed it into the bee sting. My thoughts wandered, and a vision of holding the hand of a child breezed through my mind. It was a momentary glimpse, like a twinkling of the sun through the verdant leaves of a maple. The child's wrist was marked by a mole. I bore no such mark myself, so I tried to think through the many Sundays at the village square where I would sit and watch the children play on the lawn. But I couldn't remember any of them having a mole. Then again, why would I? I'd never bothered to look for such a thing.

Shadows darkened my doorway, and an older couple entered. I clapped the lid back on the tin of ointment and waited as they wandered, inspecting my wares, adjusting like land lubbers as the shop creaked and swayed in time with the waves. The woman smoothed her earthy green dress while inspecting the honey. The man stood with hands shoved deeply into his pockets, looking at nothing in particular while pointedly ignoring both his wife and me.

They weren't here for dried flowers, I knew, nor flax thread, nor honey. They were here for my candles.

"May I help you?" I asked.

They traded uncomfortable glances. Then the man cleared his throat. "I heard word that you have bees . . ."

The woman stepped forward. "That you can help a man forget."

I smiled as kindly as I could. "You heard right." And I waited. I had to hear the story.

It was the woman who spoke. "You see, my father . . . My mother died a few months back. Fifty years they were married, and now that she's gone he's lost the will to live. He sits home, stares at the ceiling, doesn't want to eat. He's wasting away, and we just thought . . ."

I shrugged. "The candles can help, but there's a steep price to pay. You have to understand what his mind will do. It's a resilient thing, and when it finds a gap, it will bridge it. He'll no longer recognize you as his daughter --" I turned to the man "-- nor you as his son-in-law."

The woman seemed shocked; nearly everyone did when they learned the truth. "But he's my father . . ."

"Don't worry, dear. He'll remember. Your mother will simply be missing. He'll think of you as a close friend, like a daughter but not quite so. You'll see the changes in little ways. He'll be distant from you. Cordial. He'll ask after your children, but more out of politeness than true interest. He'll come to your house for holiday dinners, but might not invite you to his."

I waited for the words to sink in. The husband stood now at the entrance to the shop, his face troubled. The wife, however, smiled, a fleeting thing, and nodded to me.

"I require one hair from your mother, the longer the better."

The woman pulled a small linen bag from her purse and held it out. "It's the longest I could find."

"You know the price?"

"We do," she said.

I accepted the bag with the hair in it. "Come back in three hours."

The couple were the only unusual customers that day, but I still sold a sizable amount of honey and boot polish.

I set the beeswax to melting, and in between customers carefully braided the hair the woman had left into a flaxen wick. Then I dipped the wick into the melted wax over and over, slowly building its layers until the candle was complete.

When the couple returned, I told them to make sure her father was alone while the candle was burning; leaving it in his room while he slept would be best.

They gave me their money and took the candle. Neither of them thanked me.

WARM and COLD HERBED and SALTED Baths

SHAMPOOING, Shaves, and Haircuts Given

Purity Bath & Barber, Outer Ring, Due West, Adjoining the Guiding Light Hotel

After the ships left, I walked along the canals to the Childress's. Rose was the village's midwife; if anyone would know about a child with a mole, it would be her.

We sat in rocking chairs as the sun touched the horizon, sipping hot toddies from porcelain cups and watching the wind play among the flowering cucumber and cantaloupe. Rose wore a calico dress -- pretty fabric, but she sewed her dresses too tight, and the neckline was altogether too revealing. She was staring at the knitted shawl I'd just given her.

"Do you like it?" I asked.

Rose gave a half-hearted smile. "I can't think of what I've done to deserve it."

I didn't return the smile. We both knew I'd given it to her because of the cut of her dress. "You'd like them if you only gave them half a chance."

Rose folded the shawl and set it on the grass near her feet. "Let's not start that again."

"It's for your own good."

"Susanna, I'm asking nicely."

I stared at Rose, my blood rising, but I stopped myself. Rose never responded to directness. I'd make her a different type of shawl, perhaps a nice cornflower blue.

After the sun had set -- and my temper had cooled -- I broached the subject of my bee sting and the events that had followed.

"A mole?" Rose asked.

"Yes, here." I pointed to my wrist, spilling a bit of my drink in the process. Perhaps I should have stopped at one.

Rose laughed. She had a heavy laugh, like a man. "That's all you have is a mole?"

"I'm afraid so."

Rose shook her head. "No, dear, I don't recall."

"It seemed so real . . ."

Rose winked. "Dreams have a way of doing that, don't they?"

I smiled, trying not to look at Rose's disgraceful hemline, which was practically up to her armpits. "I know it's foolish, but I can't shake the feeling that it really happened, that it wasn't a dream at all."

"Then look this Sunday. If you find a match, you can put the mystery to rest."

I nodded. Church would be a good place to look, indeed.

I avoided the ointment for several days, dearly hoping the dreams would stop -- hoping, in fact, that the visions would stop as well. It seemed to work, for I couldn't remember my dreams after I woke each morning. I did, however, have an undefined, anxious feeling that sat at the base of my gut and stewed all day, as well as feelings of yearning and loneliness I'd never experienced before.

I started to forget things now and again. This was to be expected, and I made up for it by writing the important things in a journal. I usually remembered where the journal was.

Pastor David was in rare form that Sunday -- his voice was resonant, his words vengeful -- but my mind was so scattered that I couldn't focus on any of it. I kept studying the mothers around the hall, especially Jane Skolfield with her two daughters, Mary and Alice. Mary had just turned eleven; she was bouncing in the pew, praying the sermon would end so the celebration on the village green could begin. Jane, every so often, would shush Mary, but a moment later she would absently smooth her daughter's hair down.

That simple gesture nearly made me cry.

After prayers I attended the party. It gave me a perfect opportunity to inspect the girls' wrists. The green was actually a ring of barges around the church, each lashed to the next in the chain. Rock and soil and grass filled their interiors. Thirteen girls, ranging from five to seventeen, wove colorful ribbons around the maypole set into the barge on the backside of the church. I sat on a wooden bench, watching them. As the ribbons wound their way ever lower, a feeling of discomfort grew within me, especially when I was watching the older girls.

I made a fool of myself going up to every girl, casually inspecting their wrists while trying to keep the conversation with their parents light. I wondered if Joseph had talked, because the mothers seemed to be choosing their words carefully, and they sent furtive glances my way when they thought I wasn't watching. But whatever Joseph had or hadn't done, none of the girls bore a mark that matched my dreams.

I returned home to my garden, glad to be alone.

I sat in a hanging chair Joseph had built for me, the one I used to watch the sunsets and my bees. They were active, flitting about the flax and blackberry bushes. I bid several of them to fly nearer. It was something I'd found I could do from time to time, when the feeling was right. It was a secret I'd kept from everyone, and it was immensely comforting, the fact that it had returned so soon after the taxing experience on the green.

The summoned bees traced patterns in the air above my lap. They looked like a herd of porpoises, leaping and diving among the waves. One landed on my knee, and I placed my hand next to it, feeling bad that one of its brood mates had died in stinging me. It crawled onto the back of my hand, tickling my skin. The feeling of control, so strong a moment ago, faded like a comforting breeze that would soon be forgotten. The bee lifted from my hand and circled the air near my head before following the others back toward the blue flowers of the flax plants.

Near sunset, over eight hours later, the piping of the unborn queen -- brrr-rap -- brought me out of my inexplicable feelings of self-loathing. I was sitting in the same chair, staring blankly at the bees. My heart sped up when it struck me how low the sun was. I stared at the bee sting, wincing as I probed the swelling around it. It was getting bad. Visions or no visions, I was coming dangerously close to losing myself to the venom.

I returned to my home and immediately applied more of the ointment. The dreams returned that same night.

BRIGHTEN THOSE BOOTS, MAN!

I've tried, sir, but the shine never lasts.

THEN GET YOU TO CARVER'S SUNDRIES!

Fine Boot and Leather Polish Made from the Purest Beeswax

Candles, Honey, Flax Thread, Slumgum Firestarter

Carver's Honey & Sundries, Inner Ring, SSW

The dreams varied wildly save for the feeling of powerlessness in all of them. Wednesday was the worst. I was in a cramped, bare room. A cockroach issued from a small hole in the floor. I crawled toward it, looking down into the darkness as another cockroach crawled out. I took a hammer and a scrap of wood and nailed it over the hole, but as I struck the third and final nail, the hammer punched through the floor, leaving a gaping wound.

Dozens of cockroaches streamed from the darkness, skittering over the floor and up my dress. I took another, larger scrap and slammed it over the gap. The floor broke again, and again, until a river of black insects poured from the bucket-sized hole and flooded over me.

I woke, my breath coming in great gasps. It was still the middle of the night. I refused to go back to sleep -- I doubted I could have anyway -- and it was a long, long wait until the sun finally broke the waves to the east.

A vision of the girl reappeared that morning. I could see more of her now: a wrist, a delicate hand, a swath of beautiful strawberry blond hair. It felt like me, not some girl I'd held hands with. But the perspective was bizarre, like I was also myself, separate from this girl. The sensation struck me in the chest, in the throat, and for a time I had difficulty swallowing. It was only when I felt warm tears falling onto my hands that I realized I was crying.

After composing myself, I went up to my garden and gratefully found Joseph already in his.

He stood and waved when he saw me. "Morning," he called. His smile was a good sight to see.

I returned the wave. "Morning."

"Something wrong?"

"Mind if I come over?" I asked.

The concern on his face was plain as he waved his assent. I crossed the narrow wooden walkway between our homes and confessed everything. Near the end, I stopped, unable to continue under his stare. "I can see the pity in your eyes, Joseph."

He ducked his head until the brim of his wool hat hid his eyes. "Sorry, Sue."

"You've been hiding something from me."

He pulled himself up straighter. When he met my eyes, he was resolute. "I think it'd be better if you remembered on your own."

The moment he said it, a memory struck me, clear and true, one I'd been unwilling to admit to myself. The girl. That mole. That beautiful hair.

"I had a child . . ."

Images took shape: rubbing the soft skin of my daughter's cheek as she moaned herself to sleep; tickling her along the ribs, the only place that would produce a wholly satisfying and uncontrollable laugh; chasing her through the paths of the garden and around the bee hive; swaths of green over my daughter's cheeks as she fought her dinner of mashed peas.

"I had a child," I said. There could be no doubt. But her name . . . Her name lay just beyond reach. Lena. Elena.

"Where is she?" I asked.

Joseph shook his head. "Just let it be."

Why was Joseph being so tight-mouthed? It didn't make sense.

But then another realization struck like a tidal wave. I must have done this to myself. I must have used one of my own candles to mask the memories of my daughter. What in the name of all that's holy could I have done that would make me think that forgetting my own daughter was the best solution?

"Is she dead, Joseph? Did I kill her?"

Joseph stood there, a silent mountain in faded blue overalls.

"Damn you! Did I kill her?"

When Joseph said nothing, the festering emotions that'd been stirring inside me since the bee sting boiled over and I slapped him full across the face. It stung my hand and I know it stung him.

He recovered, his eyes angry and hot, but he remained silent as the moon, his expression more pitying.

I stalked off, leaving him to rot in his silence.

I returned home and applied more ointment, horror-struck with the knowledge that most of the village knew of my self-imposed infirmity. They'd conspired against me, and worse -- I'd asked them to do it. I thought back to the women on the green. They knew . . . They knew of my awakening memories and would act just like Joseph, hiding my past from me. The urge to hide, to run, was nearly overwhelming, but I couldn't, not now, not when I needed to know so much more.

I rushed across the village to the Childress's, taking the lesser-used walkways, thankfully crossing the path of no one.

"Please," I said after Rose had opened the door and allowed me in. "You have to tell me the truth. My daughter. What happened to her?"

Rose's expression softened.

My hands shook. "I don't need your pity! Tell me what happened!"

"Susanna. Dear." Rose sat in an upholstered chair, leaning on her elbows over her knees, worrying the hem of her blue dress, exposing her slim legs all the way up to the knees. "Please listen to me," Rose said. "I'll answer your questions, because I know how you can be, but I'm going to ask you a favor -- for both our sakes -- after I'm done. All right?"

I drew in a deep breath -- ignoring Rose's smug tone -- and released it slowly. "How did she die?"

"She's not dead. She left twelve years ago."

My head jerked back. I blinked. "She left?"

Rose nodded.

"Twelve years ago?"

"Nearly thirteen."

"W-why? Why would she leave?"

"She couldn't bear it here. With you."

Couldn't bear it? And then it struck me.

Eleanor . . . Her name was Eleanor, and the taste of it was sweet as honey.

Memories began to slip into place like the torn pieces of a quilt that were now being sewed anew. I remembered having these same doubts, remembered years ago Mr. Billington, the village's records keeper, recording Eleanor under the list of souls that had permanently left Crucialis.

I sat speechless, my mind racing. "I can't believe it's been that long . . ." There was something that was bothering me, though, the way Rose and Joseph had been acting . . . They had been too accepting, too nonchalant, for this to have been the first time. "How many times have I done this?"

"Five," Rose replied.

I swallowed. My fingers felt cold and the brown wool carpeting lost focus for a moment. Five times? I'd done this over and over again?

"I know this is painful," Rose continued. "But I'm hoping you'll just go home and make another candle. Unwelcome shawls and comments about my hems aside, you're really a much nicer person without Eleanor. Some of us aren't meant to have children. There's nothing wrong with that. She's gone for good anyway. Just leave her be and live out the rest of your life in peace."

I couldn't believe my ears. My first reaction was outright anger, but I began to grow wary. Had I fought before? Had Rose and Joseph forced the issue? Had the village elders condoned it?

I managed to lift myself up and walk toward the door as memories flooded through my mind.

"Susanna?"

I opened the door and ran for home, heedless of the danger of running along the uneven boardwalks. I had to be alone, had to sort through the river of thoughts pouring down my throat.

I reached my garden as the sun slipped behind a thick bank of clouds. The piping of the queen came, much louder and clearer than it had the last time I'd heard her. She was free of her cell, and she was challenging the old, mated queen for supremacy. I stepped toward the hive, my brood, and removed the wooden lid. Their collective buzz saturated the air, infusing me with a sense of belonging I'd so often been without this last week. Bees landed on my hands, my face, my hair; they flew under the hem of my dress, tickled my ankles, my shins, my thighs. The threat of a sting was deliciously present, and I made no move to prevent it. They could sting me if they wished.

With the sense of oneness that overtook me, memories began to play in an orderly fashion like the careful construction of a hive.

Eleanor had grown into a fine young woman. She had been bright and beautiful, the apple of every young man's eye. I had tried to keep a tight leash, more so as Eleanor's bosom filled in and her hips spread and her eye returned the hungry glances sent her way ever more easily.

Eleanor had asked permission to be courted, but it couldn't be allowed. She couldn't throw her virtue to the first boy that caught her eye like I had. It had ruined me, and I wasn't about to let that happen to my own daughter.

Eleanor became willful, began slipping out from beneath my watchful eye for clandestine meetings. I locked her in. I had the leathersmith fit Eleanor for a chastity belt. Eleanor became incensed. I'd never seen my daughter so angry. But it was for her own good. She needed a strong hand, not like my own mother, who had known and done nothing.

I caught Eleanor one more time, without her belt, with the Millers' boy, thankfully before the act had been consummated. She looked like a filthy dock whore -- hair tangled, dress undone, stockings crumpled in a heap at the foot of the bed. I beat Eleanor that night, and it was then that she had spat her promise through bloodied lips. You can't keep me from leaving, she'd said. I don't care how long it takes, how many beatings you give me. You'll never see me again, and you'll never know the joy of holding your grandchildren.

I shivered, for I heard the resolve in her words. But I wrote it off as the bluster of youth. I would find a good young man in Crucialis that would treat her with respect, that would court her properly, that would give her a decent station in life.

But within a fortnight, Eleanor was gone.

More and more details came rushing back to me -- childbirth, breastfeeding, tantrums, Eleanor's voracious appetite for the satirical pamphlets that were smuggled aboard Crucialis from one source or another no matter how hard the village worked to stamp them out -- but these memories warred with the manufactured history my mind had created to replace them.

It was disorienting, confusing, dizzying, and eventually overwhelming. I screamed, clasping my hands over my head, pleading for the memories to stop, even for a moment, so I could find myself once more. But they didn't. They came faster and stronger, and soon the towering waves of memories had driven me beneath the surf.

The Guiding Light Hotel Awaits with Open Arms

Private Apartments (en suite.)

Elegantly Furnished Drawing Room

Holy Studies Held Nightly in the Reading Room

Outer Ring, 500 Yards CCW from the Docks

When the chaotic, dreamlike state finally began to recede, it left me exhausted and useless, like flotsam washed upon the shore. I heard the sound of a conversation, but it seemed more like the beat of a kettledrum than a coherent string of words. I was inside my shop near the potbelly stove, my wrists tied to the arms of a rocking chair. The voices were coming from the boardwalk, somewhere beyond the door to my shop.

Silence came, then creaking, and finally Rose swept through the shop as if she owned it and seated herself at the kitchen table. She must have thought I was still in my trance -- indeed, I could hardly keep my eyes open -- for she ignored me as she picked up three coarse flaxen threads and began forming them into a braid with clumsy, unpracticed hands.

I noticed among the threads a single human hair, long and strawberry blond. Eleanor's. The lock of hair, still bound by the purple ribbon, sat on the table so near to me that I swear I could smell Eleanor's scent.

On the stove was a cast iron pot with liquid wax inside. Rose was forming a candle, I vaguely realized, and when it was complete, they would light it and leave me to forget everything I had fought so hard to remember. It was that thought more than anything that helped my mind to clear.

"Don't do this, Rose."

Rose glanced over, the surprise in her eyes betraying her. "Relax, dear. This is for your own good."

"Don't do this."

"You should have seen yourself on the green. The same as when Eleanor left. Weak. Crumbling. Bordering on hysterical. Forgive me for saying so, dear, but you're a much better person without her. Perhaps you can try for another child. You're young yet, and Joseph's been waiting long enough for a son. Hopefully you can take better care this time."

"Please."

Rose set down the braid and met my gaze. "So you can what, go chasing after Eleanor?"

I was wholly awake now, ready to fight for my daughter. "Yes."

"You're a selfish woman, Sue. Eleanor's gone. Gone for good. But that's no reason the village should let you go, too. How many customers would Crucialis lose if your wax and candles were gone?"

The wick was nearly complete.

"She's my daughter."

Rose looked down at Eleanor's hair. "Something you saw fit to overlook five times already. But this time will be the last." She finished the wick and stood, taking the lock of hair with her. "This time nothing will be left behind that you could stumble across." And with that she opened the door of the stove and threw the hair inside.

"No!" I cried, the scent of scorched hair making me sick.

The piping of the queen came to me. Brrrr, rap, rap rap.

Rose, her face grim, hadn't heard, or perhaps she was hiding the fact that she had. She began dipping the wick into the pot of wax.

Again the sound came, long and triumphant. The new queen had won her challenge, and by now she would have killed off not only the old queen but her brood-mates as well.

The door jingled and in stepped Joseph, hat held tightly in one hand. He walked through the aisles of the store and entered the kitchen.

"They've agreed?" Rose asked.

Joseph stared into my eyes. "It doesn't sit well with Pastor David, but yes, they've agreed."

The moment I heard Joseph's voice, the last of my memories fell into place. I had been promised to Joseph when I was fifteen, but I had railed against the decision. I had loved someone else -- a deckhand on one of the ships that came to the village often. The very night I heard the news, I had stolen away on his ship, hoping to leave Crucialis for good.

I'd had one night with my lover -- dear God, I couldn't remember his name -- but the next morning I was discovered and the captain had immediately turned the ship around, afraid of angering the village elders and losing his ship's berth. My mother had beaten me senseless, and I'd been married to Joseph within the week. The signs of my pregnancy came quickly thereafter. Joseph had bedded me several times, but we both knew the child wasn't his. Yet he surprised me. He never once spoke of his suspicions, and he raised Eleanor as his own.

Until trouble struck. Then, it was as if Eleanor had never been his.

Nearby, Joseph was watching Rose as the layers of the candle built.

I whispered, "This isn't right, Joseph."

"It is. She doesn't need you anymore, Sue. And you don't need her."

"I do need her."

Joseph looked up and met my gaze. His gray-blue eyes held a vulnerability I had never seen, but then Rose said, "It's ready," and the look was gone.

Joseph considered her handiwork. "That?"

Glancing sidelong at him, Rose blew along the length of the misshapen candle to set the wax. "It's not pretty, but it'll work."

After pressing the taper into a holder, Rose used the whale oil lamp on the kitchen table to light it. An aromatic smell filled the room. Joseph and Rose left quickly, shutting the door behind them.

I stared at the candle, tears flowing freely. I had used the first candle willingly, and I could still remember that it had felt like sinking slowly into the winter waters of the Inland Sea. It had been a sweet release, made all the sweeter in knowing that I'd never have to deal with the shame of my daughter again. But now it felt as if some vital part of my soul were being ripped away.

The smell of the candle deepened. It wouldn't be long now.

Brrr, rap, rap, rap.

Several bees landed on the table nearby.

"Go," I repeated, all the while trying to remember my daughter's name.

I had a daughter, didn't I?

Dozens of bees flew around the interior of my home, a handful coming dangerously close to the wavering flame. Then one struck it, its wings immediately singing. It fell to the table, buzzing uselessly. It was replaced by three more. They, too, were burned, but a dozen took their place, and finally, in a concerted move, a whole host of them converged on the wick, and the candle was doused.

The buzzing intensified.

The front door opened. "Susanna?"

Joseph's voice.

He stepped inside, and immediately the bees buzzed around him. He shouted, swatting at them before realizing the smarter course was to flee.

I leaned forward in the rocking chair until I managed to leverage myself onto my feet. I dropped my weight onto the chair over and over until it broke and I crumpled to the floor.

I heard Joseph's voice outside, saying, "Susanna, don't do this."

I ignored his calls and picked myself up, pulling at the arms of the chair until my hands were freed. From the cupboard below the counter which divided store from kitchen, I retrieved the small box that held all the money I had. The vast majority of my earnings went to the village's communal reserve, but I had saved enough over the years. It would bring me to Eleanor.

Feeling the thrum of my bees deep within my chest, I strode to the front door and stepped onto the boardwalk. A dozen paces away were Rose and Joseph. Several of the village elders stood behind them, their faces lit in wraithlike relief by the lamps they held.

I considered sending the bees to attack. They would, if I bade them do so. I could make them forget themselves, forget everything they had ever known. At the mere thought, a flight swarmed over their heads, and they huddled in fear, all of them.

All except Joseph. His face was calm. He looked into my eyes with an expression that begged me to stay. Even now, he couldn't find it in himself to say it -- that he loved me, that he'd be lost if I left.

His reasons for urging me to take that first candle and all the others had been for his sake, not mine. But I couldn't stay. Not for him. Not any longer.

I allowed the tightness in my chest to dissipate, and the bees began to disperse. Before they had all returned to the hive, I turned the corner and descended the short ladder to my rowboat. I guided it out toward sea as the last of the bees were swallowed by the dark of the night.

I heard no cry of alarm, no call from the harbor. They were too afraid I would change my mind, or that the bees would simply take it upon themselves to do exactly what everyone feared they would.

And soon, I was out among calm, open sea.

Alone.

I remained close enough to Crucialis to view it on the horizon. It wasn't difficult, caught as I was in the same lazy currents as the village. The most difficult part was the growing feeling that I would have to turn back when my small store of provisions ran out. But then, on my second day at sea, a ship left Crucialis, and I pulled hard on the oars to place myself in its path.

I was taken aboard, and the captain interrogated me for a good long while. He was justifiably afraid of what might happen if he were to harbor a fugitive from Crucialis, but in the end he accepted half of my money to bring me to port and keep silent about it.

As I stood on deck, leaning against the gunwales, I watched the mainland approach. I was scared. I had no idea where Eleanor might have gone, only the name of the city in which she would have landed. I had no idea if I would find her, only that I had to try. And for now, I decided, that was enough.

I felt something tickling my skin and looked down.

A bee, now motionless, on the back of my hand.

I stared, dumbfounded. "And where are you bound?" I asked, slowly lifting my arm.

But then, without warning, it took flight, and was soon lost among the winds.

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