Content Warning: Discussion of rape
She looked from one to the other—from Mave’s grim resolve to Lavena’s controlled wretchedness—and swallowed the lump that blossomed in her throat at seeing their courage. Still, she could not bring herself to pronounce their doom, and at last Mave drew her knife from its sheath at her hip and rammed it into the wooden table point-first. With the echoes of the stroke still reverberating about the tiny kitchen, she began to drag the blade across the boards in short, practiced strokes, forming a symbol the others recognized before she had even finished.
“You have never understood that story aright,” she said to Mave, with the glimmer of a smile.
“I understand that you received it,” said Mave. “May we not do as much in defense of what we hold dear?”
“Regardless of our sacrifices, or whatever we do to call upon the gods,” she answered, with deliberation, “the more of them who must die, the more of us who must die.”
At last, she rose, looking at Mave. “You are stern and warlike, daughter. You will rouse our people to defend themselves and their land.”
Crossing over to where Lavena sat, her face a mask of mingled humiliation and determination, she sat down beside her and kissed her forehead, holding her daughter’s face close to her own. “I will ask something more difficult of you. Will you go with your sister to summon all our our tribesmen, wearing this dress? Will you show your shame to them, and know it is not your shame at all? When they know how you have been wounded, they will know what’s at stake.”
Lavena’s eyes glistened as they stared into hers, but the younger woman nodded at last.
“But what will you do?” asked Mave. “You are our queen.”
Holding Lavena’s hands between her own, she looked up at Mave and smiled. “I will offer the sacrifices.”
Night was falling as the two younger women rode away together on a single old mare—the army had stolen the best of their horses—and she watched them disappear into the gathering twilight before turning back toward the barn that stood behind the house. The moon had waned to only a faint sickle, so she groped along the wall until she came to the hooks that held the rope. One long coil still remained, and she slung it over her shoulder before stumbling back out into the dim moonlight.
“Breecs,” she muttered as she looked out across the fields. “Why is everything a skirt?”
Drawing the knife from her leg, she sawed away the skirt of her tunic at mid-thigh level and discarded the leftover fabric. Then, setting her sights on the hills at the edge of the horizon, she began to run.