A Tale of Two Mothers


Brigid Doyle

Disclaimers - characters are not mine but the ideas are! No sex, no violence, a bit of sadness, a lot of thought

Thanks to Mom and especially to Grandma (cuz I know she can hear my thoughts)


The woman sat solemnly in the wagon gently swaying as the rough vehicle sagged from side to side through the muddy streets. Her husband seated next to her drove the team forward. Neither spoke. Neither looked toward the other. Each concentrated on the activities surrounding them and the listened only to the thoughts within their hearts.

The woman noticed a small girl crying as two larger boys teased her unmercifully tossing a rag doll back and forth over her blonde head. She reached and tugged at the larger children's clothing but could not retrieve her possession. A slightly taller little girl kicked and clawed at the other boy, her dark pigtails swinging wildly. A bedraggled woman, probably someone's mother poked her head out of a small hut hearing the juvenile fracas, then charged out shooing the boys away with a broom as the little girl snatched her dolly from the dirt and hugged it to her chest. Her smile revealed a missing tooth. The wagon moved on and the woman swallowed back a flood of tearful memories.

The market place was brimming with excitement, everyone hustling and bustling to sell or buy their wares. Two young girls whispered and giggled, alternately leaning close to each other then glancing back over their shoulders at the two young men that followed behind feigning disinterest. A single tear escaped and rolled over the woman's cheek. She brushed it away quickly; fearing her husband might catch her in her moment of weakness.

He pulled the wagon to a halt and stepped down from his seat pausing for just a moment to secure the team before helping his wife to the ground. He nodded toward the Inn and she understood. They parted company without a sound both regretting immediately the lack of conversation between them. They had said little, if anything at all, during the last part of their journey. Lately it seemed their words had always lead them down the same path and ended with one or both of them brimming with anger. It was an old argument, one neither would ever win, but still they clearly felt the pain and the topic was always dropped unsolved into complete silence. There it would lie until their words once again brought it back to the forefront.

The woman traveler entered the tavern blinking to adjust her eyes to the dim interior. The late afternoon crowd was large and loud. It was the beginning of the trading season and many had come to this large village in hopes of making many sales or fine trade. In the farthest corner was a single empty table and the woman made her way there without notice. She dropped into the seat and was content to be alone in the dark corner with her painful memories. She knew her husband would be sometime securing the sale of his goods and seeing to his team so in his absence, with this small bit of freedom she finally allowed release to her tears.

The tavern owner hustled to keep the crowd well fed and made sure the extra village girls were kept busy serving food and drinks, and nothing else. The tavern owner had seen many travelers pass through her establishment, she had listened to many stories both joyous and tragic. It was not long before she noticed the forlorn stranger seated away from the boisterous crowd. The traveler was a woman probably but a few years younger than she was. She seemed a bit taller, a bit leaner probably from the much harder life of those that work the land. The woman's hair had that silver shine that hinted it might have shone soft blonde in the summer sunshine. The tavern owner reached behind her bar snatching a clean rag and a large mug. Something drew her toward the weeping woman in the dark corner. Even over the noise, the heart of one mother sought out the heartbreak of another. She, quietly and inconspicuously, made her way to the far table. She set a mug of sweet cold mead before the weeping woman, half startling the younger woman and half surprising her with a sudden presence.

"Would you like to talk about it?" The dark-haired tavern owner asked quietly with a small smile. Her pale blue eyes sparkled in the dim light of the tavern.

The woman sniffed back a few tears, tried to speak and then shook her head slowly averting her eyes to the wooden tabletop.

"Oh, come on dear, it will help…" The tavern owner lowered herself into the chair across from the silver-haired grieving mother, "…well, at least it can't make it worse." She handed the cloth across the table to the tearful woman, gently squeezing her hand as she took it.

The woman smiled weakly and used the cloth to dry the last of the tears from her swollen eyes. She looked across the table into the warm steel blue eyes of her benefactor. "I…I don't know why this happened…just an old woman being a bit foolish…my own mother used to call it the middling year memories…" Her voice trailed off as the tears fell again.

The tavern owner again reached across the table and squeezed the fair woman's cold hand covering it with her warmth. "I know the feeling…my mother called it weeping sickness…" She smiled a small smile.

"But today…today just seemed so much worse…it was a day much like this one, when the days were cold and crisp…that I lost my sweet child…" The woman's words dissolved into barely a whisper, she swallowed and took a deep breath unsuccessfully trying to quell her tears. "I…I thought I had come to terms with that, but…"

The older woman immediately understood the pain of her customer. She had felt the same pain, so many years before. "You can never overcome such a loss, my dear. To lose a child, to have your little one cross to the other side before you is…"

"No…no…my child hasn't died." The woman traveler stopped the tavern owner. "No…no she… This is much worse. She walked away from her home, from her life, from her family, from me. If she were dead I would know she was safe in the Elysian Fields, but as it is she is lost to me…gone from my life…" The traveler broke down for a moment unable to continue. When she did, she had carefully taken her train of thought to other memories. "She was the sweetest baby, the kindest little child…" She stopped for a moment to collect herself and seemed lost in thought. "Oh…oh, I love both of my children, but each of them differently. This little one was so easy to love, such a pleasant child never a bit of…" She laughed despite her tears. "Well that is really not true, she was a stubborn little thing and much too curious for her own good, and adventurous as well. Gave us a fright more than once with her little escapades. But her smile, her innocence was usually her salvation." The traveler actually smiled to herself and laughed a little laugh before continuing with a sigh. "I believed for a time that perhaps the gods were punishing me for loving her too much."

"I don't think it is possible to love a child too much and I don't think the gods would punish you for loving her." The tavern owner replied solemnly suddenly remembering her own small raven-haired toddler. "I only wish that I had loved my own child more. She left me as well, taken by evil, vengeance and greed."

The traveler thought for a moment then continued, suddenly feeling quite comfortable with this dark-haired tavern owner. "My little one left me for adventure, for excitement, to find what our own little village could not give her. There was a time when I believed she was taken, stolen away from me perhaps…" She paused and shuddered, "even left for dead by the darkest evil that had ever dared to cross our lives…but now, now I find myself not so sure. I hated the person who was responsible for my daughter's leaving. I wished her dead with every beat of my heart. My nightmares were full of the horrors she was putting my sweet, innocent child through. And then…what I thought was evil incarnate…I learned was the greatest force of good in my child's life. I have seen it now with my own eyes and still have to force my heart to believe it. It has been the cause of so many arguments for my husband and myself…but I just cannot see my child's friend as evil…not any longer."

The tavern owner nodded. "Sometimes it is very hard to see the truth, especially when it involves our children, especially when it is the opposite of what we want to see. You see I know that my child had been swallowed by darkness. I know that she was capable of such horror and that she felt no guilt for the sins of her past. I convinced myself my child had no heart, no soul, no light to guide her back to me. My nightmares were full of the horrors she wrought on the rest of mankind. There were so many nights I convinced myself it was because I did not love her enough. She was always so independent, so adamant about standing on her own and taking care of herself." The darker woman brushed away a tear and swallowed hard. "Then…then when she tried to return to me I turned my back on her. Were it not for a stranger…some poor skinny child, I would now be mourning her death. That child stood up to an incensed mob and protected my own blood while I walked away. She came to apologize, to tell me she wanted to change to redeem herself and I didn't want to hear her voice. Once again I pushed away my child's heart. But that little girl would not turn away, she held fast to my big strong stoic daughter." The tavern owner wiped her own tear quickly from the corner of her eye and wondered to herself why she felt so open with this woman she had not met until today. "I think at that moment I realized that my child did in fact have a light to guide her back to her own heart, and help show me the way as well."

The fair woman who had traveled so far to finally have someone listen to her story absorbed this and understood. She felt the need to share her recent reunion with the tavern owner. "It was only a short time ago I thought my child had returned to me, only to find out it was a cruel imposter bent on destroying what was left of my family. I was so…so blinded by my need to have my sweet daughter back in my arms I failed to see it was not real. Were it not for my child's dark friend I would not sit here today. It was she who recognized the evil in the imposter and through her courage saved not only one of my children but both of them. I now honestly believe it was the love of this strange strong woman that brought my sweet child back to me if only for a brief time." Even through her tears the fair woman managed a small smile remembering the short visit she had shared with her daughter. She lifted the mug in front of her to her lips and tasted the sweet liquid, shivering as its warm chill tickled her throat. "I hoped my daughter would stay, she seemed so…troubled at first…but I saw the desperation in her friend's eyes after…after it was all over… Then I saw the love in my child's eyes, the trust, the devotion and I knew before she told me that she had come back to say goodbye." The fair traveler sniffed back a new flood of tears.

"It is hard to let them go, I know." The dark tavern owner agreed. "My child left again as well. She had made a decision to…correct some mistakes she has made. I wished that she had stayed, there was so much I wanted to say…so much I wanted to make up for. I accepted her decision, forgave her for so much and asked her forgiveness as well. I thought, then, that it would be the last time I would see her, but it was just last harvest that she passed this way, she was dreadfully…" The tavern owner thought for a moment, "sick…and nothing I did seemed to help her. In fact I seemed to make things worse, I was almost ready to give up, but her little friend refused to let go. I never would have suspected my child to befriend such a little imp, certainly was never her style. She always seemed to find friends that were less than trustworthy. Were it not for the quick wit and wise words from that youngster again, I would not be here today. I am sure my daughter would not have survived either." The tavern owner grinned, "the girl has quite a way with words."

For a moment the woman said nothing but stared toward the tavern door, slowly she looked back at the tavern owner lowering her voice. "If my husband were to hear any of this he would become quite furious. He still has not forgiven my child, nor her friend for leaving us so hastily…again. You see he will never see our daughter as a woman, to him she is a little girl. His little girl. I am sure your husband feels the same."

The tavern owner paused for a long moment gathering her thoughts, "my husband…left us when my children were quite small."

"I'm sorry."

"It was a bad time. I do believe he loved the children once, but things happened…bad things…things that changed him, changed us forever…" The tavern owner swallowed the horrid memory and pushed the nightmare back into the deepest corners of her mind. She had sacrificed a great deal to keep her child alive on that rainy night, it was a secret she guarded closely and a horror only she could imagine.

The woman traveler covered the tavern owner's hand with her own and patted gently.

"It was a long time ago…a time best forgotten." The tavern owner shook off the pain and brought herself back to the present.

"I don't know why I carry on so." The fairer woman continued, "perhaps I am being selfish. I know now how happy my child is. I've seen her friend in a much different light. Once I thought she would be the death of my sweet one, now I know it is her strength and courage that keeps my child alive. I've seen them together and know that their friendship was meant to be. I would never tell my younger daughter, but they seem closer than she and her sister had ever been. The love they share is so perfect, so pure…so innocent."

"You know we bring our children into this world and raise them the best we can, but in the end they are only loaned to us. We give them families but sometimes they find families of their own and sometimes they find the love there that somehow got lost here." The tavern owner smiled tearfully at the woman. For a moment neither said a word. The fair woman's gray green eyes smiled back into the pale blue of the dark tavern keeper and in that moment each shared a hint of recognition, a glimmer of something familiar yet far away.

The door to the tavern opened allowing the late afternoon autumn sun to brighten the room. A tall man stepped inside weary from travel and long hours at work delivering sacks of milled flour to merchants in the market place. He searched the room for a familiar face, stopping when he recognized his spouse seated in the farthest corner. The tavern owner sensed his approach by the look on her companion's face. She rose slowly giving the woman's hand one final squeeze.

"You and your husband will need a room for the night. I'll see to it you have my best."

"No…no we could never afford such…"

The tavern owner held up a hand silencing the woman. "It is the least I can do for…for someone who shares my pain…my pride, and my joy."

"But my husband will not allow…"

"He does not have to know. As far as he is concerned it is the special of the day. He gave you the dinars for the accommodations?" The woman nodded. "Keep them for now and use them to treat yourselves as you travel home." The tavern owner smiled as she turned to see the woman's husband working his way through the crowd toward the table. "I will see to it you have a fine meal as well. Something tells me at least one of you has a hearty appetite."

The woman smiled as the last of her tears disappeared. "And something tells me that you are not a woman to argue with. Thank you." She stood and approached the tavern owner taking her in a tight embrace. Her husband approached stopping a few feet from the scene and wondering just whom his wife knew so well in this town so far from their home. He scratched his head and shuffled his feet a bit embarrassed by the scene, why did women always have to be so emotional.

"Your daughter is a savior to my child, never regret her choice. She is wise beyond her years. It is only her love that saved my child from eternal darkness. Thank you." The tavern owner whispered into the woman's ear.

The woman closed her eyes tightly, stifling one last sob. "And it is your daughter who brought joy and happiness to my child. She brought her back from the darkness and protects her with her very life."

The women stepped away from each other smiling in that secret way that only mothers understand. They parted; returning to their separate lives yet somehow an empty space in each heart had been filled. Each took away with them a bit of her child's life that had been a mystery and allowed the warmth of that knowledge to become a great comfort.

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