Flint came home from the graveyard knowing that her life was finally going to change. Her father’s death set things in motion that had been stagnant for far too long. The house was somber with the whispered condolences of her neighbors. She laid out a meal for them taken from the winter stores that she had spent the summer putting up. She could be generous because she knew she wouldn’t need them. There was no reason to stay here anymore.
Only four of her six brothers were present. Steel, the oldest, was a soldier for the King and too far away to return for something as paltry as the death of a father who had disowned him. Flint had sent Steel a warning as soon as she saw her father’s spirit fire dim. Her brother understood what was about to happen. A few weeks later, a bundle of sturdy woolen cloth arrived for her with a handful of silvers hidden inside. She hadn’t seen Steel in years. It was more than she’d expected and a kindness that lightened her burdens.
Granite, the other missing brother, was in the lockup again, probably for another bar fight. He’d been given that name in the hopes that he would be persistent. Instead, he was stubborn and blockheaded. She knew he cared even less than Steel about their father, but she’d have to find him.
“I’m sorry to intrude at a time like this,” said a stocky man in threadbare clothes.
Flint knew he wasn’t the least bit sorry and wondered if he’d had to borrow those clothes to present such an impoverished aspect. “Good day, Mortar,” she said civilly.
“I’m wondering about the bills.”
She knew this was coming. Her father owned money to a lot of people. “I promised you’d be paid. It’ll take a bit of time to sort it all out, but everyone will be paid.”
He scrutinized her with a sour look. She held her head high. There was nothing for her to be ashamed of. The debts weren’t hers. But she had promised everyone in town that they would be paid. Mortar finally came to the conclusion that pestering wouldn’t advance his cause and slunk away. She let out a soft breath of relief.
Her other brothers stood awkwardly by the hearth, heads hanging, brows furrowed. Not a one of them mourned. Their father had been a hard man, unfair and selfish. It was a relief that he had finally passed, and yet it was still hard to lose a parent. He had been a larger than life figure, ordering her about for her entire life. She would miss him in a fashion, but she didn’t mourn him either.
Coal glanced at her. She knew he’d be the first to speak. “What do you need?” he asked. Second oldest son and seventeen years her elder. He still treated her like a child when she’d already passed marrying age, but she knew it was out of love and forgave him.
“Can you handle the sale of the farm?” she asked, knowing it was a burden. Coal was a blacksmith in a town on the western edge of the barrens. It was a good three-day ride to come back here.
Coal shrugged. “You think he’ll sell it?”
In a fit of pique, their father had disowned Clay, the oldest, and left everything to Granite, his fifth son. Flint thought it was because with his drinking and fighting, that was the son most like their father. “He’ll want the coin more than the land.” She knew in her heart that he would never come back here. Granite wouldn’t know what to do with the land. The house would fall down and the fields go to weeds unless someone else made things happen.
Her brawny brother fidgeted, dropping his eyes away from her. “Who will ask him?”
“I will.” Flint was the only family member that could talk to Granite without putting him into a fury. She’d been thinking about the proper phrasing since the moment her father’s health had started to fail. She’d asked around and found a buyer for the land. When her father became bedridden, she’d sent the livestock to her brothers Clay and Basalt. They had a farm of their own up north near the Icy River. None of her neighbors questioned it. A sick man couldn’t take care of his animals. She still had her brother Marl at home, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was another one that shouldn’t be forced to work the land. He was across the room speaking with the Servants of the Lady of Shadows. She knew that when they left, Marl would go with them.
“I don’t need any of it,” Coal said, bringing her back to the issue at hand.
“Nor do we,” Clay said, joining the conversation.
Basalt made a face. He never could keep his emotions hidden. “You gave us the animals, I guess that’s fair.”
“It’s more than fair,” Clay snapped at him. “How much do you think someone would pay for this place?”
Flint stepped between them. “Most of it’ll go to pay Pa’s debts.”
Basalt grunted his understanding. He was almost as hard-headed as Granite but had a much sweeter nature. Flint knew that he was thinking of his betrothed and the house that they were building.
As soon as the conversation had started, the rest of the neighbors had slipped away. It was just family now. Flint sent her brothers to the table while she fetched the parcels she’d made up. They were quiet as she handed them out. For Marl, youngest son but still six years older than she, a warm shirt she’d sown from the fabric Steel had sent. She gave him the things he might need while in service and sent him off to find the Servants.
“Soft-hearted boy,” Basalt grumbled fondly.
“It’s where he belongs,” Flint said. She wasn’t sure when she had become the de facto head of this family. It had come about like an icicle forming from a single drop of water. The day her mother died, that drop had started and even though she was the youngest, she’d taken it all on.
“Not a calling I’d choose for anyone,” Coal mumbled.
“He’s kind and honest,” Flint said. “That’s who I want to hold my hand when I’m dying.”
Her brothers grumbled their agreement uneasily. She wasn’t sure if it was the topic of death in general or her death that had them so discomfited. She knew that she was the only thread left that kept them a family. If she raveled away, they would all trundle along in their separate lives without expending the energy to stay connected.
She gave Coal a shirt also. This one she’d spent a lot of time thinking about. Coal didn’t need money. He was a skilled blacksmith and had built a good business for himself. What he needed was a woman in his life. So she’d made a shirt that showed off his broad shoulders and deep chest. She’d done some fine handwork on the collar and cuffs. The buttons were shiny brass from their father’s old uniform.
Coal recognized them. She could tell by the way his eyes got misty. He was old enough to remember how their father was before the drink turned him dark. Something she’d only heard about, but never experienced for herself.
“Thank you. This is a fine shirt,” Coal said
For Basalt and Clay, she gave them the few useful items from the house and all the tools from the shed. “But what about you?” Clay asked. “Don’t you need…,” He waved at the yard unable to finish the sentence.
“I’m leaving,” Flint said.