The rosy fingers of dawn were just caressing the eastern sky as Eric left his little stone hut.
He stood silent, gazing out at the sunrise before panning slowly to look at his small flock of goats.
Bjorn had promised that they would be looked after, but Eric still felt uneasy about leaving them.
He had raised every goat in his little flock from birth, and he felt more comfortable in their presence than he did with most people.
With a sudden shake of his head, Eric hefted the rucksack that held most of his worldly goods. He turned his back on his home and started for the town.
Few were out and about when Eric entered the town. With nothing to do, he slipped into the Thirsty Dragon and sat by the fire. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the warmth.
A smile spread slowly across his face as he heard stealthy little footfalls behind him.
Eric carefully smoothed his face, putting on a mask of complete innocence as a small pair of hands circled his head and clapped over his eyes.
He let out a small yelp of surprise to complete the act.
“Er—ic” The melodic voice stretched his name out nearly into two words. “Guess who?”
“Ummm, is it… Elder Bjorn?”
A wild giggle erupted behind him and he fought the smile that threatened to spread across his face.
“No, silly, guess again!”
“Hmmm, it must be… Gunnar the blacksmith!”
The peal of laughter was innocent and childlike, but Eric could hear the trace of madness as well. The little hands released his eyes and he turned, his eyes wide as he played along.
Tatyana danced about the great room, the cacophony of colored rags and ribbons tied to her dress whirling around her, sheathing her in a kaleidoscopic aura.
She spun and skipped about the room, her feet striking the ground to the rhythm of a song only she could hear.
Sadness crept into Eric’s smile as he watched her whirl around the room. Though a girl of sixteen winters, Tatyana possessed the mind of a youngling of only three or four winters.
A touch of madness shone in her eyes, one blue as a clear sky, the other as verdant as the green sprouts of spring.
The girl did not have a drop of wickedness or guile in her; she gave love to everyone she met and loved nothing more than to dance and play music.
As if she could read his mind, Tatyana leapt across the room and lifted a small fiddle as carefully as a mother might lift a newborn babe.
She laid the fiddle against her shoulder and caressed it with her cheek as she whispered to her instrument.
Her hand lifted the bow to the strings, and she was dancing as the first note pierced the morning air.
As she spun, her hair flew around her, catching the firelight and forming a halo around her head the color of sunlight passing through a bottle of mead.
Tatyana turned her face to the heavens and laughed.
Eric watched her in wonder, once again rendered speechless by the pure, innocent joy that radiated when Tatyana played and danced.
It took him several minutes to notice Sonya standing on the stairs watching her sister dance and play.
Fierce pride and happiness blazed in her eyes as she smiled at the girl that was slowly becoming more like her daughter than her sister.
Tatyana stopped dancing and playing as suddenly as she had begun. She looked up at Sonya.
“Good good. My people are all awake. Can we have griddle cakes? With jam?” she added hopefully.
Sonya shook her head, but her widening smile betrayed her. “Oh, I suppose so.” She shuffled into the kitchen, still shaking her head and smiling.
Tatyana whirled back to face Eric. “Did you like my song-dance?”
Eric nodded his head solemnly. “It was beautiful.”
Tatyana wrinkled her nose at him. “Really really?”
“I don’t think the fairies could song-dance as beautifully as you just did.”
Tatyana beamed at him, and pranced off to the kitchen.
Eric sat by the fire for just a few more minutes before Tatyana skipped back into the great room and plopped herself into a chair at one of the tables.
The front door creaked open and Bjorn entered the inn, leaning heavily on his staff. Tatyana bounced in her seat as she glimpsed him. “Born born!” she squealed.
Bjorn smiled at her. “How is my little Yana this morning?”
“Good good” Tatyana clapped her hands. “Sonya’s making griddle cakes! With jam!”
Bjorn settled himself into the chair next to Tatyana. “That sounds delicious!” He beckoned for Eric to join them at the table.
No sooner had Eric settled himself at the table than Sonya bustled out of the kitchen carrying a giant tray laden with steaming food.
She quickly laid a massive platter of griddle cakes in the middle of the table, adding a crock of butter, a bowl of blackberry jam and a plate covered with thick slices of sizzling bacon.
Sonya hurried off, returning with plates, utensils, cups and a tea kettle. Eric caught himself staring at her, at the auburn hair tumbling over her shoulders.
He jerked his gaze away when her crystal blue eyes shifted in his direction, hurriedly slathering his griddle cakes with butter.
Sonya plucked a few strips of bacon from the pile and placed them on Tatyana’s plate as well as her own. She grabbed the rest of the bacon and piled it on Bjorn and Eric’s plates.
“Eat up you two. You especially Eric.”
They ate in silence, the griddle cakes and bacon too delicious to allow conversation. Bjorn leaned back and heaved a sigh. “That was delicious Sonya, you’re a fine cook.” He glanced at Eric.
“We’d better get over to the town square.” He rose and started for the door. Eric swallowed his last bite of bacon and griddle cake and stood to follow.
He stopped halfway to the door and tried to summon his courage and rehearsed what he wanted to say.
Taking a deep breath, he turned and found Sonya standing before him, regarding him with a serious expression.
“Sonya… I… I… I…” His courage deserted him, and he flushed from neck to scalp. His eyes darted to the floor, avoiding her gaze. “That was… really good… thank you…” He fled for the door.
Tatyana looked up at her sister as the door swung closed. “Why does Eric talk funny to you?”
Sonya turned to her sister in surprise. “What do you mean Yana?”
“Eric talks to me and to lots of people. But when he talks to you he talks slow and looks at the ground a lot.” She giggled. “And his face gets red like a tomato."
Tatyana jumped up from the table and skipped off, forgetting that she had asked a question. She didn’t see the pleased smile that spread across her sister’s face.