She Swears an Oath - Part 4

When he woke again, she kissed him and, in her most cheerful voice, said, “Come, we are going to the market!”

His face brightened at once, and he leaped from the bed. “What, now?” he asked, as if she might take it back.

“Yes, now,” she said, standing up. “Pick up one of the pelts, and I’ll take the rest. We are going to trade.”

She laughed for joy, forgetting her fear, as he seized two of the pelts, nearly twice his size, and marched out the door with them. Throwing the rest over her shoulder, she followed him outside, pausing to pick up her weapon before she closed the cottage door.

The sun was shimmering on the leaves again as they walked through the woods, keeping up a fast pace, as the boy was nearly running in his eagerness. Gradually, his energy wore away, and he contented himself with walking at her side, although he seemed determined still to bear both pelts in his own arms. She did not try to dissuade him, even though he was clearly struggling, but watched whether he would persevere or eventually give up. After nearly an hour’s walking, she glimpsed a gap in the trees far ahead, with a few small houses showing through it.

Almost at once, the boy called out, “There is the town, Mama!”

“Yes, there it is,” she said, smiling. “But remember, Walter, now that we are going where other people are, you must not call me Mama, but Papa. You remember?”

“Yes, sorry, M—Papa,” said Walter. “I forgot.”

They walked a few more steps in silence, then Walter asked, “Why must I call you Papa when we go into town?”

“Because I am not like other women,” she said, keeping her explanation as minimal as possible. One day his inquiries would grow more persistent, but so far she had always kept his curiosity at bay. “I want to do what men do.”

“Oh,” said Walter. Then, after another short silence, “Papa, why do you not use a windlass? Other men use them. I’ve seen them, last time we were here.”

“I don’t need a windlass,” she said. “I’m too strong.”

“One day, will I be too strong?”

“No,” she said. “You will be like your father. You will be like other men.”

The ship pitched starboard, throwing her across the deck, and the pain and surprise forced her back into the present. The wind had risen, stirring up the waves to toss the small craft to and fro. Rain was falling from the blackened sky, drenching her hair and clothes, and as she rolled back toward the port side, a huge wave crashed over the gunwale, soaking her completely. The ship rocked back toward starboard, and she heard the crew cry out in alarm. They yawed to the left again, and she heard a horrible scraping sound, accompanied by a twist back toward the right, and she knew that they had struck one of the many outcroppings of rock that made the lake so hazardous in a storm.

Someone flung himself down beside her, and she felt a hand on her shoulder, holding it down. Looking up, she saw one of the Vogt’s soldiers with a knife in his hand.