Heida had always loved stories. Some of her earliest and fondest memories involved listening as her mother wove a tale for her family to hear. Heida did not care what the story was about, she liked everything. Epics about knights and fair princesses; myths about the Three Divines; popular tales every child grew up knowing, even personal anecdotes. As long as her mother told it, Heida was never disappointed, for her mother possessed the gift and skill of a wondrous storyteller, always knowing when to raise and lower her tone; she could captivate an audience with a tale told dozens of times just as easily as with a tale told never before.
Everyone in their little village could recognize her gift; many a time Heida could remember someone jokingly tell her mother, “Heldra, you’re wasting your talent here as a fisherman’s wife. You could be out making a pretty penny as as travelling performer. ” And mother would simply laugh and tut at them, but there would always be a pleased little smile on her lips as she did so, and a hint of blush in her cheeks.
Every night of Heida’s childhood, in the brief time slot before bed, mother and father would sit with Heida and her twin brother Elmer by the cottage’s fireplace, and mother would begin the tale of the night, and tell it through to the end. It was a tradition that occurred without fail every night, even if the day that had preceded had been hectic. It even proceeded as more members were added to the family; Heida and her brother were five when their sister Lillith was born.
Two years after that came Gregory, two more years brought forth Robin, and finally, three years later came the last sibling, Illa. But even when the house had become full to the rafters with children, mother never missed a night. Until one night, she did. It was the summer of Heida’s sixteenth year, and the day had gone normally enough. All the males of the house save Elmer had been down at the beach, fishing. Elmer had been at the market, selling the fish the family didn’t eat.
The females of the family had been at the cottage, taking care of the daily chores, save Heida, who spent the day going in between these three locations as a messenger and, if needed, a temporary helper. It was the regular setup, and Heida knew it like the back of her hand. Looking back, Heida should have seen what was coming. Mother had started the day pale and peaked looking, odd for a woman who, considering her work and the time of year, by all means should have looked robust and healthy. But she had smiled when father had asked her if she was alright, replying that she felt perfectly fine.
The family relaxed, if any of them had been tense at all, and went back to their own thoughts; for Heida, this was thinking of the boy who lived on the other side of the village, a boy named Artie; he had begun courting her and while he was sweet, (and had recently become her first kiss,) she wasn’t sure if she liked him as a potential sweetheart. She didn’t notice, same as everyone else, that mother winced in pain as soon as everyone went back to their breakfasts. Later that day found Heida running from the market back to the cottage; she was running late, as she had happened upon
Artie at his parent’s vegetable stand and lost track of time talking to him. She pushed in the door of her cottage, stumbling to a stop as she breathlessly said, “Sorry, sorry! I… ” She stopped in her tracks to see mother, doubled over, face a bright purple, coughing and wheezing. Her sister Lillith was hovering over her, unsure of what to do; she looked at Heida with a confused, pleading look. Heida rushed to mother, putting her arms around her. “Mother! Mother, what’s wrong? ” Unsure of what to do, she led her mother to a chair, noting that her skin was burning hot as she did so.
But just as quickly as the coughing had started, it was over. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” Mother gasped, waving Heida away. Her face was still tinged purple and drenched in a dewy sheen of sweat, and unlike at breakfast, Heida didn’t believe her. “Mother, you’re not, you’re obviously ill,” Heida replied, trying to appear calm while her mind ran with worry. She turned to her sister, trying to think of what to do. “Lillith, you stay here, get her some water and a wet rag for her face. I’m going to go get Father. ” Lillith nodded, and Mother, too weak to argue, closed her eyes, head lulling to the side.
Heida backed away, before turning heel and running for the beach. Her mind felt cloudy, and she tried to stay rational, but it was hard; everyone knew no one got sick in the summer, unless… but Heida wouldn’t think of that, she wouldn’t. She luckily found Father at the dock; he and her little brothers had just brought in a fresh catch from the boat. Father saw her, and smiled kindly, if confusedly. “Heida, what are you doing here? It’s early, I’d have thought you’d still be at the cottage, helping your mother. ”
Winded from her sprint, she breathlessly said, “Father, something’s wrong with Mother… her skin is hot to the touch, she just had a violent coughing fit, and she was too weak to stand or even speak after… ” Father’s face darkened as if a storm cloud had passed over the sun. His lips tightened with worry, and Heida knew he was thinking about what she had earlier. Was it possible? Could Mother have the dreadful summer fever? “Take your brothers to the market and meet with Elmer there. I’ll send Lillith and Illa after you when I get to the cottage.
Once they meet you, close the stall and go to your grandmother’s cottage; I’ll send news to you as I have it. ” Heida knew then that he must think the worst; Grandmother was father’s mother, and was an old, cranky, near blind woman they rarely visited on account of her temper and apparent hatred of mother. Father wouldn’t tell them to stay with her unless he thought the situation grim. Heida stared at him. “Father… Mother’s going to be alright, isn’t she? ” Her voice cracked a bit. Father put his hand on her shoulder and said, simply, “Be brave, Heida. “