It was time. Her younger brother was dead. Nothing tied her to the farmstead, not anymore. Kari paused at the top of the hill and glanced back at what had been her home her entire life.
“Kari, you do not need to leave.” Her sister-in-law, a matron with greying temples, wiped her rough hands on her apron. “We still have plenty of things for you to do here.”
As an old maid, to wipe the noses of other people’s children, and ignore the whispers behind her back. No music, and no love. The unspoken words hung between them. Kari pretended she did not hear the undertones of the offer.
“I will be fine, thank you Charlotta.” She shifte d the bag on her shoulder. By the house, her oldest brother, her father’s sole heir, stood. Tall and broad, with his thumbs in the armholes of the vest. Barely acknowledging her. Kari straightened and fought against hot tears. “God be with you.”
“And with you.”
Kari felt Charlotta’s glare burn into her back as she wandered down the grassy hill and away. As the gravelled road twisted and turned, and the farm disappeared among tall firs, relief flooded her senses. The scent of honeysuckle, mixed with grass and ocean salt, teased her, and the sun warmed her lined face.
“I am free,” she murmured. Bird song springing from hidden perches in trees and crevices filled her chest with joy, fear, love, pleasure. The emotions swirled inside her in chaotic courtship until they burst through her lips in a shout that danced over the land. “I am free.” Echoes called her triumph back, and she tried to shackle her jubilation. “You are too old for—”
The violin’s song in the distance cut her chiding short. Apprehension chilled her bones even as anticipation quickened her blood. Her feet and heart knew the trail that wound into the ancient forest. The forest’s sweet breath picked up fallen leaves and stole hers; she allowed the song and the wind to lure her, as they had once before. Kicking off her clogs, she savored the grass and lichen against calloused soles.
Her linen skirt flitted in the wind, and her body beat the rhythm to the distant fiddle’s melody. The wild dance brought red to her cheeks and flung her along the path forgotten by all.
By all except the little ones peeking through holes under rocks and in trees. Her chest heaved as she spun in place, and she laughed deliriously at the chiffchaffs and fieldfares trying to drown the other out. With the sun—filtered through the oaken leaves and fir needles—warming her aging limbs, she forgot about being a disappointment to all. About scorn and mockery.
“You forgot this. When you left me.”
Kari froze mid-twirl, her striped skirt falling limply around her legs. The scent of earth and moss mingled with the freshness of the autumn day. Finishing the move slowly, she met bark-brown eyes in an elfin face. Green strands of hair wreathed her sun-kissed shoulders.
“I am back now.” Kari wet her lips, though the voice had driven away her apprehension. Her skin tingled with the dreams of more than a thousand nights, and she pulled off her scarf to release her hair. The forest hushed. The veiled sun illuminated the woman and the sprite, and they became reality.
Gossamer shrouded the enchanted being, and her features were as youthful as they had been in their spring, with no wrinkles or traces of silver. Kari’s shoulders slumped, and stones filled her belly. While her hair had been raven in her spring, now it was touched by the early frost.
The faery, with a worn fiddle in her hands, held her gaze. In it Kari read no disdain over wrinkles or callouses or fat.
“I did not forget it.” She took the violin gingerly. Plucking at it she tuned it, string by string. Each tone pierced her soul and took her further away from her life as a farmer’s daughter, then a farmer’s spinster sister. Once she drew her bow over the strings in a trembling note the world returned.
“Are you back?” The fay caressed Kari’s cheek. “Are you really?”
Kari kissed the long fingers before lowering the fiddle.
Her hand caught the forest being’s ethereal one and she leaned closer. The breath was warm against her lips, and she drew heady draughts of the scents she had dreaded and longed for.
With a kiss she sealed her fate.