Chapter Nineteen: Salt of the Earth

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Chapter Nineteen:

Salt of the Earth

The memories came slowly at first. Not even bad ones; but ones that I'd forgotten long ago in a whirlwind of pain and a court of savages. I shut my eyes, watching the scenes play out. My hands dug into the soil, burning at bits of iron that lingered among the ashes.

I toddled after my sister as fast as my four-year-old legs could muster. Her long, blond hair streaming out behind her, the ties in her dress half undone, a man's hand in her own. Where were they going? They promised to play with me, didn't they?

I didn't like the man. He smelled of the firewater that the sailors drank when they came into our village, his voice was scratchy from the sticks that hung burning from his mouth. But Ika liked him and Ika was a good judge of character. At least, she was to me.

So I made my strides longer, taking advantage of my height. I was the tallest kid my age in the village, the most agile. And I could see the tracks where my sister and the man had gone.

I found them in a clearing, their lips locked together. My sister squealed in surprise when she saw me and the man's eyes narrowed, but then he laughed. It was a sound that came deep from inside of him.

"Is this the wild little thing I keep hearing about?" he asked.

"Janneke!" Ika was fifteen years old but she sounded like my mother when she scolded me. "What are you doing here?"

"Following you," I said. Wasn't that obvious?

She sighed and pulled me up on her hip. All the women carried babies like that. But I wasn't a baby so I wriggled until she let me go. "How did you follow us? I was sure..."

"You're easy to track." I said.

The man came forward, bending down so he could be at my height. His breath still smelled, but he had a nice smile I hadn't noticed before. Maybe that was why Ika liked him. "You like tracking? Wouldn't you rather be playing with dolls, little one?"

I rose my chin and looked the man in the eyes. "My father says I'm to fulfill the male role. If I am to do it, I'll do it well."

He laughed. "She's very well spoken for her age."

Ika sighed. "Come on Janneke, let's go home."
When we got back, it was dark out and my mother fretted over me. She scolded me, told me never to go into the woods. Bad things were there. I told her I would be a huntress one day and I wasn't scared.

But I still slept curled next to her when the night came, our father in between us. I heard them whispering, but couldn't make out the words from underneath the covers. Their voices sounded worried.

This was where we slept. I was sure of it. The iron in the ashes burned my hands, but it didn't matter. I stood again and continued walking around the field, noticing which spot was which. There was a little whistle lying on the ground, iron again, the only thing that hadn't disappeared completely. In it were the ancient carved letters that meant that someone fancied a girl. Similar to the maypoles erected every summer during courting season; ones I'd never gotten.

"Why do you hate me so much, Bjørn?" I asked, kicking at the sticks in front of me as I walked side-by-side with a towheaded boy. If he could be called a boy. He was beginning to grow taller, lankier, just as I was beginning to grow breasts and bleed. We were the same age—thirteen—and I was often paired with him on hunting missions or lessons. If I had a friend in the village he was the closest thing.

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