Soul of the Wild Wood
By Brenna Hanson
Date: August 1, 2021
Ch. 66

How is that? I asked.

Until then, she signed, I had been patting dough for bread flat with my hands. The pin rolled it smooth in half the time. He showed me that he understood my love of baking and my frustration with the way I had been doing things. He spent the time and effort to provide me with a tool that he felt would help. I still use it today and women from other villages look at it longingly. After Black Fox lost his leg to a misplaced step and an angry snake, he was able to make the pins for trade and continue providing for our family.

Women give gifts to their men as well, of course, Bright Eyes signed. The first gift I gave my Black Fox was a shirt. I spent a month sewing it and decorating the sleeves and hem.

I looked horrified and signed, I don’t have skills like that!

Bright Eyes laughed and River joined her. Bright Eyes signed, It was three sizes too big for him.

River added, He loved it because he thought she saw him as a bigger man. He never stopped to consider that she just had no idea how to make a proper shirt.

Most of the decorations fell off when he tried it on, Bright Eyes signed. It was truly horrible. He still has it. It is folded to keep the remaining beads safe and stored at the bottom of our trunk.

Her gifts got better, River signed. Still, I think that was his favorite.

Just as your first gift has already proven to delight King Ember, Bright Eyes signed.

But I have given him no gift, I signed confused. I didn’t even know that I should until now!

Both women laughed.

You greeted him in his own language, Your Majesty, Bright Eyes signed. What greater first gift could he desire?

When she put it that way, it did sound wonderful.

You’ll have a job of it to find a better one for the second, River signed. I have a bet that you will, though.

You bet on these things? I signed with a laugh.

Of course! signed Bright Eyes. Courting couples shouldn’t have all the fun. Besides, with the community involved, the couple gets more support to help form the foundation of a long marriage.

We can talk more about this later, River signed after a glance out the window. For now, Bright Eyes must help you get ready for tonight’s funeral and feast. I will instruct you in your duties as she does. We’ll use your words to make everything as clear as possible.

“Will it be difficult?” I asked. I stood so Bright Eyes could help me change clothes. She had already laid a gown of light wool dyed deep green upon the bed. When Nettle came in a few minutes later, she gently added an outer robe of net that sported soft black feathers tied to each knot.

Nettle pulled her mother aside with a concerned look. With her back to me, I could not see what she said. Bright Eyes looked concerned as well and motioned that she would be back. Nettle wouldn’t answer when River and I asked the reason.

Someone nailed a dead raven to the door of the Great Hall, Bright Eyes signed when she returned.

What does that mean? I asked when River hung her head.

It means that King Ember will have to increase the guard tonight, River said.

It was a threat to your life, Your Majesty, Bright Eyes clarified. For the ceremony tonight, the queen represents the raven that carries the dead king’s spirit beyond this life.

A dead raven says that you are not worthy to carry his spirit, River added. This is far more troubling than the rock thrown earlier.

But everyone here has been so kind to me, I signed. I don’t understand.

I don’t believe it is someone that you have met, Bright Eyes signed. Cowards like to hide in shadows. If they come into your light, they have to rethink their ways. Cowards do not like to be made to swallow their misplaced hatreds.

When we left for the ceremony we found a group of warriors standing by the door to escort me to the king. Their searching eyes sent a shiver up my spine but I kept my bearing outwardly calm. Those who accepted me would expect no less of their queen and I would not let them down.


The dead king’s bones had been de-fleshed and cleaned before they were brought back to the village. While his skeleton, dressed in finery and sporting tiny pinecones where his eyes had once been, was disconcerting, I was thankful for the process as it greatly reduced the smell of decay. The crown of lavender flowers and pine resting upon his gleaming skull and sprigs of each tucked around his bones reduced it more.

I took a more active part in the funeral than I had hoped would be the case. It was difficult to stand for the man who had killed my own father and countless numbers of my people. As the wife of the newly raised king, however, there were expectations to meet in spite of my less than loving heart. I stood beside King Ember at the head of the funerary platform. When the time came, I pulled the sharp dagger from between our clasped hands causing our blood to join and flow. We walked down the sides of the platform, drops of blood from our clasped hands dripping over the old king’s remains. At the bony feet, I curtseyed low, resting my bloody palm upon the board as I had been shown. When I rose, I left behind a red handprint. King Ember’s print marked the other side of the board. Together, they represented our dedication to upholding King Fern’s legacy.

“But, to me, that legacy is war,” I complained to River during her instructions earlier. “I do not want to uphold war. I want a future of peace and prosperity.”

“The cost of that peace was the blood spilled,” River answered. “I wish you could have known King Fern in another time. Too many will remember him through the red haze of blood and battle. They will forget that he built grain houses to feed the nation when the growing season failed. They will not recall that he started The Healer’s School so that every village could benefit from the combined knowledge and fine training of its students. They will even forget that he was only following the demands of prophecy when he set his people against those of your father’s lands. They will never mention how many nights he went sleepless in a quest to find another way. In the end, King Fern will always be remembered in loss. It is a sad destiny for one who gave so much for his people.”

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