Coffee Break Read – Tani

“Don’t go you by the Castell Blighe
And if you go by, run!
Don’t go you by light of the moons
Go by light of the sun.
Don’t listen to the voices there,
Don’t hear what they do say,
Or you will find you stay behind
Until your hair turns grey.”

The four girls chanted and clapped, stepping to the side and swapping places in the familiar ritual of the rhyme. Tani, the youngest and smallest, squealed with delight as the other three scooped her up and turned her half upside-down at the end. She could see her own long hair escaping from under a bonnet, trailing on the grass and glinting copper-bright in the thin rays of the late springtime sun.

“Tani!”

The other girls set her back on her feet and they all turned as the man strode into the sunny meadow, he looked almost cross, coming right over to the group and grabbing Tani’s hand.

“We was just playing, Uncle,” one of the other girls protested.

The man’s face lost its hard expression for a moment and he gave the girls a brief smile, but it looked too tight. Tani felt her heart sink. Her Da was carrying his big pack and the bow, unstrung, like a stave. He would be going hunting again up in the Heights and she would be left alone, staying with her cousins for a moon at the least. Every spring, when the ice broke and the streams ran free, the whole village would move up to the summer pastures so the flocks could eat the new grass. But even the very highest of the pastures were well below the Heights.

“I know – I’m sorry. But I need Tani,” her Da was saying, stooping down beside her, one hand gently brushing her hair back and straightening the bonnet. Voice low, he spoke so only she could hear him: “We need to go, Little Chick – right away – to the Heights. Those bad men I told you of? They are coming – looking for us.”

He had told her last night after he tucked her in bed. There were stories from down the mountain, he said, men asking after him by name and even offering coins if any had word to sell. But, he said, the Folk would never sell their own, they were not like the Lowlanders. And so, he said, the Little Chick could sleep safe in her bed.

But something must have happened because there was that sadness in his eyes again. 

The sadness she had not seen in Da’s eyes since the winter before last, when Ma and her new baby brother went away and he told her they would not come back. Tani had been very small then, not even seven summers old, now she was in her ninth summer, much more grown up and she knew her Ma was dead.

Her Da was still looking at her so she nodded, hoping that was enough to show she understood. He smiled after a moment and squeezed her shoulder with his hand.

“That’s my brave Little Chick,” he said and straightened up, looking over her head to the other girls. “Tani has to come with me now, and you should all be for home – your Ma asked for me to tell you that.”

The start of the story Changeling Child by E.M. Swift-Hook, a Fortunes Fools story from the Inklings Press anthology Tales of Wonder

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