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The Fox

The Fox - Arlene Radasky – www.radasky.com
4
was long and straight, the colors of autumn, amber laced with gold and red. Her brother
Beathan’s hair was similar. Hers smelled of herbs when she washed it. She wore it loose. Mine
was black as a raven’s-wing and never where I wanted it. I wore mine tied back. Her eyes were
blue as clear snow water, mine the color of mistletoe leaves with oak splinters. She reached
Beathan’s chin, and my head came to his lower chest. Smiles were rare on her solemn face, and I
seemed not to know how to be serious. She blended into our family, the village, the clan. I was
like none of them. She told me I was like my father, a trader from the south. I wished I had
known my father.
Beathan sliced another large piece of cheese and stuffed it into his mouth. My stomach
groaned. Chewing, he continued. “However, Cerdic. You do have a rich farm. You will be able
to provide your son with sheep and pigs to start his own family. And he will inherit your land
one day, goddess willing.” He drank long from his cup of mead.
Cerdic was a small man with arms strong enough to lift one of his sheep out of a ravine
and shoulders broad enough to carry lambs. Harailt, like his mother, grew tall, thin and quiet. His
shorter father looked up to him but Harailt heeded his father’s wishes.
Blankets and pieces of clothing were strewn all over my uncle’s home. Bridles and parts
of his chariot lay on the table in the midst of repair. His hunting dogs laid asleep on his bed, or at
his feet, gnawing on the remnants of last night’s dinner. In the gloom of the room, we had to be
careful not to trip over whatever was on the floor. My aunt used to straighten after him, but she
died two planting seasons ago.
“And Jahna.”
I looked straight at him. Shards of light reflected in his sky blue eyes. I shivered.
“You have seen sixteen harvests,” he said.
I knew I was past the age of marrying. Most girls younger than me were married and had
several children hanging onto their skirts. I had foolishly thought Uncle and Mother would let me
choose my mate.
“It is time for you to start having babies of your own. You will marry. I will hand-fast
you to Harailt at Samhainn, to be blessed by the gods. Now go! I am still hungry. Girl! Mead!”
He belched. Drista dashed in, balancing an overflowing mug and more cheese.
Stunned, I hung on to my mother’s arm. As we left his lodge, Uncle Beathan’s words
rang in my ears.
“But Mother,” I said. “I have watched Braden for a long time. It was him I hoped to
marry. I was waiting for him to ask Uncle for our hand-fasting. Now, I have to marry
that—that—farmer.”
“Shush, girl,” my mother said.
I did not care if Harailt heard me. I had known him all my life; we played as children, but
I had never thought of marrying him.
I did not know if the tears in my eyes were caused by the sun or disappointment.
I overheard Cerdic as Harailt and his father walked away.
“It is too bad you could not have married Sileas. Her hands are callused from hard work.
Her father taught her well. Jahna does not know how to work the land. She has lived with her
mother, weaving, and her hands are soft. She will not like to work outside in the fields.”
Yes, I thought, I weave cloth. My hands did not have the grime of the fields on them, but
they were still strong hands. Would Harailt only want to marry someone with dirty hands?
“We must do what Beathan decrees,” my mother said. “He is the ceann-cinnidh.”
I glanced over and saw Harailt’s shoulders slump.
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