Continued from here.
Maggie ran, her feet hardly seeming to touch the snow that lay thick on the ground. She didn’t run in any particular direction, just away from the village and deeper into the mountains where the only sound was the night hunting owls and the shift and slump of snow slipping from branches. Finally, she knew not how far away, she threw herself against the twisted trunk of an oak tree and slumped beneath it pressing her hot, embarrassed face into the cold snow.
“You’re a foolish girl, Maggie Lynwood.” She said into the snow. “Falling for that harpie’s tricks!” She pounded her fists into the snow and sat up, shaking the flakes from her face and leaning against the trunk.
Two sparrows looked down her her, their heads tilted. She held her hands out at them and they flittered down. She hadn’t seen them much since she’d come to Falun, assuming that Odnar’s mother wouldn’t like having birds flying through the house. Some people thought a sparrow in the house was bad luck.
She rubbed their heads and down their wings. They chipped at her and then turned abruptly and fluttered back up to the trees. Maggie heard it, too, the sound of feet approaching.
Now Maggie, unlike the sisters, was quite at home in the woods in winter, so they cannot be blamed if they walked right past her without seeing her. Nor can they be blamed if they did not hear her on silent feet whisking through the woods after them, listening.
“Where could she have gone?” Petronella asked. She looked around, as if doubting that the trail ended at the oak tree, though in the snow it was obvious that it did.
Dagmar stomped through the snow and looked behind the Oak and peered up into the branches where the two sparrows chittered down at her. Maggie, so light on her feet that now her toes didn’t so much as scrape the snow, slipped from one tree to the next, staying out of sight. “Maybe we missed a place where she turned?”
“We have to find her,” said Solveig, “and finish this quick before someone catches us out.”
“Nobody is going to catch us.” Petronella said, tossing her hair. “It’ll look like an accident.”
“She went into a tunnel and didn’t know there was a snake there. She doesn’t know our ways. She wouldn’t know the markings.” Dagmar said, though she sounded more as if she were trying to reassure herself that this was true.
“And won’t we all look so pretty and sorrowful when we carry her back. Mr. Tenk will need proper comforting.” Petronella smiled at Dagmar.
Maggie slipped a dagger from her garland and stepped around the tree and called out, “Sweet maids a’milking run to your home, no good will come of hunting a girl in her forest.”
The three sisters, turned, startled. Maggie smiled and raised her dagger, “Now which of ye will pay the price for being three vain, proud, and scheming girls?”
You’re a fine one to speak of being a vain, proud, scheming girl!” Petronella said hotly. “All who see you can tell you’re leading both our dear uncle and Mr. Tenk on! And when it’s clear you favor Mr. Tenk over Uncle Odnar!”
“You daft silly girls! Favor Tenk?” Maggie laughed, the two birds above her twittering a reply at the sound.
“Aye! You seek his favor while teasing our poor uncle!” Dagmar shouted, almost stamping her foot.
Maggie tossed her dagger from one hand to the next, considering each girl in turn. “Were I to marry Tenk it would be me death within the span o’ a year, d’ye ken nothing of the wooded ways?”
The two older girls harumphed, disbelieving, but Dagmar seemed to hesitate. “Is that true? Why?”
“On account o’…” Maggie’s mouth moved but no sound came out. She tilted her head, curiously and tried to speak again before chuckling. “S’not me secret to tell, it seems.”
Dagmar turned to her sisters. “I believe her.”
Petronella and Solveig snorted in disgust. “You always were a stupid girl, Dagmar.” Petronella hissed. “We can take care of her on our own then.”
The two advanced on Maggie.
Odnar and Tenk, each on shaggy ponies, burst into the little clearing where Maggie and the two ladies danced around each other. On their appearance Solveig startled, looking up at them, and caught a rough hook to her right eye from Maggie’s balled-up fist that made her yelp and fall flat-out on her back in the snow.
Petronella took advantage of Maggie’s attention being on the other sister to leap on Maggie’s back and drag her, wrestling, down into the snow.
Odnar and Tenk were both shouting for them to stop, but their voices were drowned by the shrieks of dismay coming from Dagmar and the whining wail that Solveig was producing as she clutched her bruised eye.
Maggie got the upperhand, pinning Petronella face-down in the snow. She grabbed hold of Petronella’s long, shining braid and wrapped it around her wrist, yanking up hard on the woman’s head. She raised her dagger. Tenk shouted, “Maggie, no!” But it was too late, she sliced the blade home, both girls screaming in horror at the sight.
(posting for maggie)
With Petronella’s braid wrapped tight around her wrist Maggie yanked up so the braid was taught and cut as close to the scalp as she dared, the gleaming length coming away quite easily. She shouted in triumph, standing up and holding aloft the heavy, severed braid of hair.
Petronella was screaming, rolling over in the snow, rubbing her hands in disbelief over her hair and making it stand out in all directions, unevenly cut as it was.
“Maggie!” Tenk admonished as Maggie crowed and danced about, trailing the cut hair like ribbon.
Maggie grinned as the two men jumped from their horses. Odnar going to help Petronella up from the snow, to make sure that there wasn’t any physical harm done after-all.
“Well, look at the two lords-a-leaping to the rescue!” Maggie said with a laugh.
Dagmar and Solveig were horrified, cooing over their sister. “You just wait until we tell grandmother!”
Maggie glared at them, holding up the braid. “You just wait until I tell yer grandmother wot mischief ye’ve been up to! And on a feast day! Oughter be ashamed, ye ought!”
“Mother is not happy that you three burned the goose.” Odnar said.
“Or that you’ve upset the family dinner.” Tenk added.
“Oh aye? I cannae wait to tell her ye were planning to feed me to some sort o’ snake in the tunnels.”
Odnar’s face looked shocked and he stepped away from Petronella, leaving off his comforting of her. “The tunnel snake!”
“It was Petra’s idea!” Solveig said hastily.
“We weren’t really going to do it!” Dagmar added.
“Oh! Weren’t ye just!” Maggie began to advance on the two girls. “Wot liars we have here! Need lessons taught, they do they do!”
Before she could go two more steps though Tenk leaped on Maggie, tackling her into the snow and yanking from her head the garland that she wore. He jumped away from her, holding it up.
Maggie came up with a cry, holding both hands out at him. “Give it back!”
“Promise you won’t hurt the girls.”
Maggie kicked at the snow. “I won’t hurt the girls.” Tenk held the garland out at her and she snatched at it, clutching it to her chest.
It didn’t take very many pints before Petronella was in the corner with the other young women of the town fluffing her short hair and making the best of it. Maggie, Odnar, and Tenk were at their own table on the other side of the tavern, and had been joined by Odnar’s youngest sister who was taking a break from the boisterous dancing to the twelve drummers drumming.
The long chinned waitress came over with a fresh pitcher and a plate of raw oysters. “With compliments,” she winked, before loosing herself back in the bustle of the tavern.
“Oysters!” exclaimed Tenk.
Odnar lifted a finger to his eye to wipe a tear forming on his eye. “Maggie!” He started. “Ye’ve made me so happy!”
Maggie looked at the plate of shellfish and wrinkled her nose skeptically. “Wot are those manky looking things?”
“Owl Harbor oysters. We can’t get them in New Babbage. Our oyster beds died decades ago, but they still refuse to sell them to us. Something about some feud over fishing rights.Only way to get there by land from Babbage is to come over the pass and through here. Or by sea.”
“Well if it wasn’t Maggie…” Odnar looked suddenly at his little sister, his face reddening with anger.
Odnar’s sister’s eyes got wide. She shook her head and quickly rejoined to the dancing at the center of the room. Tenk caught her look at put a calming hand on Odnar’s forearm.
“It wasn’t her,” said Tenk. He looked about the room, casually, but not too casually.
“Wot’s all this about oysters then?” Maggie insisted. “Looks like someone sneezed onna bunch of old barnacles.”
“You see, Maggie, when a woman sends a plate of oysters over, it means…” Tenk continued to scan the room.
Odnar sighed. “You’re right. She’s too young to know. But Tenk, it is right that we should be brothers. She does have eyes for you.”
“She’s very sweet, Odnar, but I can never leave New Babbage. She would be miserable in the city.”
“Then leave the city, cousin. What do you care about them for?”
Tenk’s eye was caught by the motion of a fan closing across the room, revealing a petite woman with wispy curls draping softly from the points of her chin. He pointed to Odnar, the woman shook her head once. He pointed at himself, at which the woman touched the fan to her chin. Tenk smiled at last.
“I think I have a better offer, just for tonight.”
Odnar shook his head and made a show of sadness, then nudged Maggie so that she would notice where Tenk’s attention had gone. Maggie slapped Tenk’s shoulder playfully, then laughed.
“I’ll meet you at the train station in the morning Maggie,” said Tenk, taking the plate of oysters as he got up. “Unless you’ve changed your mind.”
“Can’t change it, can I? Got to check in with the boss.” She took hold of Odnar’s hand and started pulling him from the room. “C’mon old man. Let’s leave the Mayor to his better offer.”
A silence had fallen over the little clearing, broken only by the impatient stamping of the horses and Petronella’s sobbing intakes of breath as she mourned the loss of her beautiful hair.
Through the air there came a sound. Odnar smiled, dusting some snow from his shoulders. “Do you hear that? The pipers are piping. Let’s get back and join the party.”
Tenk put Dagmar onto his pony. “Is it true, what she said, Mr Tenk? That you would be the death of her?” Dagmar asked as Solvieg settled behind her on the saddle.
“I never thought of it that way before, but she might be right. Besides, she already rejected me.” Tenk heard the sisters’ intake of disbelief as he took the pony’s reins over its head to lead it home. “It’s complicated,” he said, giving them both a look that indicated the conversation was over.
Odnar got on his pony and pulled Maggie up behind him and set off, wanting to get some distance between Maggie and his distraught nieces.
“Come on Petra,” said Tenk, calling to the shorn sister, still sobbing over the loss of her hair. “We can’t stay here. It’s too cold. You need to walk.”
“They’re all going to think I’m ugly,” Petronella sobbed, taking her place beside Tenk.
“Why would they say that?”
“My hair!” she bawled.
Tenk shrugged. “So what. Lots of city girls cut their hair short. I rather like it.”
“All the time,” said Tenk.
Some frigging good.