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Copyright C.M.

Cipriani 2011

The winter had been so cold. The coldest anyone along the entire stretch of islands called The Barrens could remember. Snow had fallen in thick white sheets that covered the hills in a glorious blanket of fluffed sugar. White wool steaming with heat emanating from the ruminant bodies snuggled beneath was tipped with silver crystals of ice, glittering in the early morning sun as blunt teeth ground dry hay. The children thought it delightful, a magical wonderland created just for their enjoyment. As far south as the island of Enduay was, they had never before seen snow. They spent many hours next to the roaring hearth soaking up as much warmth as possible before donning layers of their thickest coats and waddling out into the frigid winter land for as many minutes as their summer hearty bodies could stand, then running back inside, pink nosed and shivering just to do it all over again. They didnt notice the strain in the adult eyes around them. They didnt hear the reports of cattle and crop losses. Or the deaths of those too old to prepare fully for the world shattering winter. They giggled and laughed and threw balls of snow, built forts and figures and relished the hot brae cider that always awaited them at the door after their frozen adventures. For too many weeks the heavy gray sky poured flecks of frozen white rain down on The Barrens. Though it lessened at times it never relented. It never gave those ten southern islands a chance to thaw, even a little bit.

Copyright C.M. Cipriani 2011

It was the worst winter in the living memory or oral history of those small island nations. And even worse for the Island of Enduay. In February, just as the last of the snows were falling and springtime looked as though it had finally decided to make an appearance, Gheri Koroi started to cough. At first the matriarch of the Koroi household, the Chiefwife of the Enduay tribe, shrugged off the persistent tickle in the back of her throat. She had things to do, eleven children to care for, a husband to tend and a household to run. She was the one that oversaw the planning of meals, the rationing of their foodstores and conducting necessary trades with other islands to make sure those eleven always-hungry mouths had warm mutton and sweet cakes to fill them. So, she did what any mother does; she ignored her health for just a little while. Just until the snows stopped, she told herself, then shed take a rest. As soon as the larder was full again, then shed sit down. As soon as darling little Ellices new coat was finished, then shed visit Mhargret for a draft to soothe her constantly bothersome throat. But the tickle didnt go away and her cough turned into fits that had her choking on words and bracing herself along stone hallways lest she fall to a writhing heap on the floor. The only ones that saw the trouble were her servants -her children occupied with the snow, her husband Olonzos head full of worry for his tribe as bands of pirates were callously stealing their

Copyright C.M. Cipriani 2011

precious cows- and she swore them all to secrecy. It was just a cough, get her some water, shell be fine. It was then, during one of her relentless fits that she realized perhaps that trip to Mhargret shouldnt have been delayed for quite so long. When her prettily embroidered handkerchief, the one with the tiny ivy around the edges, a gift from her mother on her wedding day all those decades ago, pulled away from her mouth streaked red with blood. Quietly, as to not start a panic in others or herself, Gheri called her ladys maid to her side and pleasantly requested her to visit the healers small cottage for something to aid her bothersome cough. While the young maid was slowly traveling though the wicked hills built of snow, the cough turned for worse and Gheri fell into fever. Olonzo was called from the great hall, her children were kept inside under the care of their nursemaid out of the way from the scare of rumors currently circulating from the servants and the threat of infection from their mother. Mhargret was immediately sent for. The delirium of fever encapsulated poor Gheri throwing screaming nightmares before her unfocused eyes. For twenty-five years Olonzo had been enthralled by his sea-nymph wife. She wasnt truly one of the wee-folk but her small frame and delicate features enraptured him from the moment he first saw her standing on the dock overlooking the turbulent northern sea. He had fallen in love, right there on the spot, the sun shone down bright upon them emblazoning the
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memory into his mind for all times. Within a week they were married and since had never been parted for more than that. Within the first year she had given him not one but two children, twin boy and girl, and in the following twelve years delivered nine more healthy babes into their home. He had never strayed and she never gave him reason to. He gave her his heart that day on the dock and she gave hers to replace it. Their love was something people spoke of with revered voices in wishful tones. Never had anyone been loved more than Gheri or Olonzo. If anyone had any question, they only needed to look at the twenty-two eyes in every shade between Olonzos dark blue to Gheris light, to see the answer. There is nothing I can do. Mhargret said quietly. Keep her warm, give her spoonfuls of bone broth and the medicine at every meal. It will keep the pain away, keep her comfortable. If only I had known earlier Her voice trailed off as tears trailed down her weathered cheeks. It isnt your fault. Olonzo replied, his own cheeks stained with tears, his deep blue eyes rimmed red. The medicine will make her sleepy, relax her so she coughs much less but its not a cure. The infection is too deep in her lungs. With nothing more to do or say the old woman swept silently from the room leaving him alone with his dying wife. Oh, Gee-gee, he reached for her hand, the one that held the delicately carved silver ring he had given her oh, so long ago. It felt so small and frail in his large calloused one. When had she grown old? When had he?
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What can I do for you to wake? What do the Gods want me to give them to restore you? Ill give it to them, my love, Id carve out my own heart and hand it to them if only you would get better. They can take my land, my money, my home. Anything, anything for you to come back to me. He waited silent knowing they wouldnt answer him but still his heart lurched when there was no Heavenly response. Blood trickled out of her mouth and he absently dabbed it away as he had been doing for many days past. The children are worried. The older ones at least suspect there is something wrong. God, I dont think I could keep anything from Cyra if I tried. Her eyes see through me if I ever try and lie to her, I swear. He chuckled a little despite himself, Cyra was a hellcat and his first born. He swore she pushed her brother Vonn out of the way in the womb just to be first, just to hold her older age over him later. And damn if she didnt look exactly like her mother with golden hair and sky blue eyes, strong and tall and headstrong. The little ones are merely upset they arent allowed to play outside anymore. They are storming about the castle, stomping their spoiled little feet, casting evil eyes at anyone that dares to look at them. But then, it seems, we could never make a silent, obedient child could we Gee-gee? Oh, my love, What am I going to do without you? He broken into wild, uncontrolled sobs, resting his head on the quilt by his wifes hand. He cried and cried until his stomach felt sick and his face was crusted with salt. He hadnt noticed the hand upon his head, stroking the thinning blond hair held at a queue at his nape. He had cried so hard he
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hadnt heard the soft, barely audible really, humming that had soothed every one of his children any time they had a nightmare. Olonzo bolted upright and his wifes weak arm fell back to the bed. Her eyes were open, clear and she was smiling softly at him. Youre awake! Are you in pain? Let me call Mhargret. Do you need a drink? Are you chilled? She shook her head and grasped his hand as tightly as she could in her own which Olonzo knew was pathetically weak. Lonzo, there is nothing more for you to do except listen to me. My time is near. Sshhh. She silenced him as he opened his mouth to protest. Oh, he looked so weary! Lines creased his handsome face, his eyes puffed and red, his strong jaw thickly dappled with coarse blond hair. She wished she could scoot over and let him rest with her, let whatever strength his powerful body had seep into her, but she didnt have the energy. Her chest burned fire and her arms and legs were freezing. Everything looked slightly foggy. Gheri blinked constantly to try and clear her vision but it wouldnt improve. I have loved you with everything I have inside of me and some extra I think I borrowed from Heaven. And you have loved me in kind, I know that. I could not have asked for more in this life, just perhaps that it was a little longer. But Heaven is asking for my debt to be paid and I cannot refuse. She paused to cough, the blood flowed freely from her mouth but it didnt hurt as much now. Not as much as the pain in her dear husbands eyes as she spoke. I want you to promise me you will not shun love after I am gone. I want to leave here knowing that you will be open to finding someone
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to love again. You have so many years left, I dont want you to be alone. He stood mute but she saw the stubbornness in his eyes. Gheri tried to give him her best angry look, the one she used when her lovely husband was being an ass or her children had crossed the line. She was sure it was a poor imitation but he nodded anyway. Now, I want you to call Cyra to me and tell her to bring her parchment and pen, I have letters to dictate. Then, I want you to spend time with your children as I call them to me one by one to say goodbye. Do not refuse me this, Olonzo, dont argue with me or with God. Just please do as I ask and know that I will hold on until I am finished so that we may have one last moment together. The children left the nursery and returned, one by one just as she asked, silent and weeping falling into the large strong arms of their father. He rocked them and kissed them and cuddled them, agreed with them that it wasnt fair. Even his adult children sought his comfort, until at last, little Ellice had returned and after a time gently he lay her in the embrace of her tearful siblings to cry out her anger and sadness. The door to their chamber, the one that he entered through so many times eager and happy at what lay on the other side, was now transformed into the entrance of Hell. He knew once he lifted the latch and walked inside that he would never again enter and be greeted by his wife. That the room would always hold her ghost, the one that, even now, played in the corner of his eye as his mind remembered his sweet little Gee-gee scurrying around the castle as busy as a bee in spring. She had touched
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everything in his home, in his life, in his heart and mind and soul and soon she would leave him bereft. For a moment he was angry with her. How could she ignore her illness? How could she have allowed it to progress to this severity? Damn her! Damn him, for being so preoccupied he didnt see the love of his life dying right in front of him. The scent of herbs, smoke and death assailed him as he entered the once happy room. Everything seemed dull except the shocking blue of her sunken eyes and the golden spray of hair on her pillow. How he was going to miss her! He choked back his tears, demanding that he not mark these last moments with anything but love and happiness. They had had a good life, she was right. He could mourn after she passed, he would drink in every second she held breath in her ruined bloody lungs, absorb it into his soul and keep it close to him on the nights he wasnt sure if he could survive without her lavender scent in his nose and the weight of her body next to him on the bed. Gently, he laid his massive body down next to her so he could feel it one last time. She had grown so terribly thin as if she were already a pale, withering corpse. She had lost those womanly curves that had so attracted him to her to begin with. He imagined her plump and full with child, a pink healthy glow radiating from her pretty face, they had had a good life, so much love, and he weakly smiled. She smiled back but it didnt quite reach her eyes. Now, Lonzo, my love, I have one last request.
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