Mid-morning sunlight began to peak through the trees as the day inched over a little hut on the edge of the forest. The rest of the village had begun its day several hours ago, but the hut remained still and silent. Eventually, Barnama emerged from its darkened interior and stood in the doorway. His fire was getting low, and the kill from his latest hunt needed to be cooked soon. He could hear the buzz of the village, but it was only a faint murmur. About half a mile away was a little row of white-washed brick houses that faced away from him. Barnama’s hut, on the other hand, was a deteriorated disaster. It was made mostly from dirt and sticks that were ripe with rot. He didn’t bother to update it with bricks, or even to reinforce it. Those plans faded long ago.
The haggard man pushed back a piece hair from his face and got to work chopping his next stash of firewood. Little veins popped up in his arms as he made a steady beat into the wood. Chop, chop, chop.
The sun was well on the other side of the sky when he finished. He threw his axe into the side of his hut and took a deep breath. His jet black hair was pulled back into what once was a braid, but now was a long mat of hair that stretched just past his shoulders. As for his clothes, he was down to his black trousers and boots; his once-white tunic had come off earlier because the sweat made it stick to his body.
“Excuse me,” said a male voice. Barnama turned to see a young man in his twenties standing a few yards away. He was wearing a brown cloak over a white tunic and brown trousers, with short brown hair and a well-trimmed beard. “Barnama Godfrey? I’m Charles Wolsey,” he gave a slight bow. “I’ve come to make a proposition.” Barnama stared at the man for a few moments, but Wolsey didn’t move. He grunted and turned to walk back to his hut. “It concerns your daughter.” Barnama stopped and turned back to him.
“What do you want with my daughter?” said Barnama.
“Let me come inside, and I’ll tell you,” said Wolsey with a smile. “I think it will benefit the both of you.” Barnama grunted again and gestured with his head for Wolsey to follow him.
The inside of Barnama’s hut was an example of simple disarray. The walls looked like they were ready to cave in, and the sun poked through the roof in little dapples. A small fire pit was dug in the center of the dirt floor, where a few embers were still burning. The back half of the hut looked like it was separated by what once what a wall, but it had deteriorated so much that only a few sticks remained in the ground, and a large piece of brown cloth was thrown over them. Barnama sat down in front of the fire pit and prodded the embers with a nearby stick while Wolsey stood in the doorway.
“I understand that your daughter is contracted in the castle to be a ladies maid,” said Wolsey.
“Yes,” said Barnama. He continued to prod the fire without looking up.
“When is her contract set to expire?”
“When she turns 18 next month.”
“Oh, that’s so perfect!” Wolsey smiled and clapped his hands together before taking a few steps inside. “I myself am a temporary manservant brought from a nearby estate to serve your lord for only a few more days. I have a special bond with my lord back at my home estate, and he has given me great prospects of wealth that could make any–” He was interrupted when Barnama threw the prodding stick into the wall with such a thud that dust fell from the remnants of the ceiling.
“What’s that got to do with my daughter?” he yelled.
“I apologize,” Wolsey said with a slight bow. “I only thought you might want to know more about me based on what I want to ask you, but I’ll get to the point. I saw your daughter at the summer festival a few weeks ago, and I was most entranced by her. When I realized that I was going to be in this estate for a few more days, I couldn’t wrap my head around leaving. I came, dear sir, to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage. I could stay here for another month to make the necessary preparations, and I will take her with me back to my home estate. She will have comfort and safety for the rest of her life.” Barnama grunted and got up the get the prodding stick. He sat back down and started to tend the fire again.
“Did a horse kick you in the head on the way over here? She does not have a dowry for a life of comfort,” he said without looking up.
“Don’t worry about that. I have more than enough for both of us. My lord will make sure that we are taken care of. And what would your plan be if Aurora were not to marry? Would she come back to live with you, or continue serving? Surely you have discussed that with her?” Barnama drew in a sharp breath at the sound of Aurora’s name. He stared at the dying fire and said nothing.
“Then good fortune has smiled upon both of you!” said Wolsey. “Your daughter will be taken to a place where she will live like the ladies that she serves.”
“How much money do you receive from your lord per year? I’m sure you know I’m not a good father, but I want her safe.” Wolsey smiled and produced a small fabric bag that was full to bursting from under his cloak. He threw it over the fire toward Barnama, who caught it between his hands with a loud jingling sound. He opened the bag to see over a hundred gold coins.
“That should be enough to tell you that I receive plenty per year,” said Wolsey. “And it’s yours. You can move wherever you wish and build a new hut. Let me marry your daughter, and you too can have a new beginning.” Barnama stared at the gold in his hands, then looked up at Wolsey in disbelief.
“You have my consent,” said Barnama at last.
“Excellent, I will make the official announcement tomorrow! I promise I will make your daughter happy.” He gave Barnama a low bow and practically ran out of the hut back to the village square, where he slowed to a brisk walk. “Let the plan begin!” he thought to himself.
Aurora and Christopher peered outside the end of an alley among the houses that faced away from Barnama’s hut just as Wolsey returned to the castle square. Christopher had his back to a wall with his hand on Aurora’s shoulder, while Aurora stood in front of him with her hands folded underneath her chin.
“That’s really where he lives?” said Aurora.
“That’s what Eric told me,” said Christopher.
“It looks terrible, I don’t know how it’s still standing.” She hovered next to Christopher for a moment, while her long wavy hair fluttered in the breeze. “I don’t think I can do this, not today, I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright,” said Christopher. “You’ll do it when you’re ready.” He gave her shoulder a light squeeze.
“Can we stay here for a few minutes? I want to get used to the idea of being near him.”
They stayed on the edge of the alley for another minute or two, until Aurora decided it was time to head back. They strolled around the edge of the castle grounds before going their separate ways.
Barnama went about his usual routine that night, including the sudden realization that he is sitting outside his doorway in the darkness of early morning. The sun would be peaking over the horizon any minute now. He has his head in his hands, and his black hair is just long enough to fall in front of his face. He remembers that Eeva has been screaming for hours in their little bedroom.
“Oh no, not this again.”
He doesn’t hear a shriek for some time, so he jumps up to go inside. Maybe it was finally over. He opens the door and almost runs into a midwife. She leads him inside to see Eeva laying in their bed holding a healthy baby girl wrapped in white cloth. She is so still and silent; a perfect angel. He smiles and kneels down to kiss his wife’s forehead. Eeva herself has a brown cloth wrapped around her shoulders, and her blonde hair is stuck to her body in long wet waves. Her face is red with perspiration, and her eyes gaze off at nothing while she pants slightly from all the work.
“She’s beautiful,” he says.
“Yes,” says Eeva. “She’s our bright little sun.” Her head tilts back and her eyes close a bit before she jolts back to reality. “Why are you here with me? I don’t need any help taking care of things now! My head doesn’t hurt anymore. You need to go help with the harvest.”
“It’s summer, Eeva,” he says.
“Oh yes, it’s so hot this year,” she reaches out to stroke his head. “It’s so hot, the sun must be coming for a visit.”
“Here it comes.”
“Why don’t you–” Eeva suddenly stops and draws in a sharp breath.
“What is it?” Barnama jumps up. The midwife runs back into the room and tells him something inaudible. She takes the girl from Eeva’s arms and puts her in a pile of straw nearby before running back to the bed.
Eeva hyperventilates and grabs her head while screaming “I can’t breathe! I’m so dizzy!” Her words turn into shrieks for help as she slaps the mattress and convulses. The midwife tries to restrain her and talk her through it, but the convulsions are so morbidly strong that she is repeatedly thrown off the bed. How long this goes on, Barnama doesn’t know. All he does is slowly back into the corner of the room while the words “Dangerous Father Disease!” run through his head over and over. The convulsions eventually calm down to twitches, and Eeva’s shrieks are reduced to small gasps for air. Her skin turns from peach to blue to white, and the midwife slowly stands up from the bed and bows her head. There is nothing to be done.
Barnama runs out of the room and throws open the door. The blinding light of the rising sun barrels through the doorway, and he stands there in a blind stupor before falling to his knees. Eeva is gone. He beloved wife is gone.
Now comes the part that wakes him up every time. As he looks back up at the rising sun, he hears a faint cry of a newborn baby. He tries to turn around to go back inside, but his surroundings start to turn into a blur of spinning color while the sound of the baby’s cries grow deafening.
Barnama woke up gasping for air while sweat rolled off his body. He looked around his hut to reassure himself of where he was. The walls were still rotting, and the his bed was still a pile of straw and cloth next to the fire. He lay back down and let out a heavy sigh. That dream always seemed stronger around the anniversary of that horrible day.
“Oh Eeva, I’m so sorry,” he thought. A tear rolled down his cheek and disappeared into the ground.