Lydia worked for almost an entire week, stopping only when absolutely necessary to sleep a little, or eat something—a bit of bread, a piece of apple, just enough to keep her going—all the while resenting even small moments away from her loom. Her hair was pulled up in a bun on top of her head. Strands of warm gold fell about her face and neck, catching the light which streamed from the open window and fell upon her canvas.
She could not stop until her greatest work was done. She could feel it in the life force that ran through her veins. After all these years… First as an apprentice under her dear grandmother’s careful tutelage, then as a much sought-after craftswoman in-her-own right who always had more requests for work than there was time to complete them. But all that had come before mattered only because it brought her to this moment. She was finally creating her masterpiece.
Inspiration flowed from her mind and heart through her frenzied fingertips directly into the threads she which wove into the tapestry that seemed to unveil itself before her. It was beautiful, this new cloth.
If only she could go faster. She pushed herself harder, increasing the pace until her weary hands were a blur of flurried motion. It was in her head, the images and patterns. She wanted to get the story the pictures would tell onto the loom right now. She needed to see it complete and true.
The impetus for this project had been the new materials. They served as her muse. She had never worked with such fine, perfectly colored and textured threads and fibers. They had life in them!
The dark claret color had been her first stimulus. When used as a dye it had made a rich, earthy red she hadn’t seen before. And the other vibrant, natural fibers she had acquired—when woven in and out with the thread every now and then, they added fire and strength to the weave.
If only she’d thought of it before now. Her past tapestries would have the distinct brilliance of this one. It was due to the glistening copper fibers. They added that exceptional sheen to her work. Unfortunately, though she still had mounds of the rich, scarlet thread stacked around her, she had less of these bright fibers. She would need more.
Two days passed. Lydia slept only four hours between them and had berated herself for her weakness, mourning the time lost. But now she was at an end. Not the end of her work, the end of the red. She needed more dye and more of the fibers too. It would not do to have one without the other.
Lydia looked about the great room for the first time in days, registering its utter disarray. He had yelled at her for salt, before flinging the heavy pot past her head. The stew, which had splashed across the stones of the east wall where the black wolf’s head was mounted, now congealed in small pools on the floor. Bread, bruised apples and broken dishes were scattered about. Lines of ants marched steadily to and from the food. The cumbersome plank table lay on its side, one corner charred black. It had fallen too near the hearth and smoldered until the fire went out.
Lydia wrapped her arms about herself for warmth. She hadn’t noticed the cold until now. Rolling up her sleeves, she began to set the room to order again. When that was done she took note of her own disheveled state. If she was to go to the village to get more dye, she would need to look respectable.
With flint and tinder she re-lit the fire to heat water for bathing, and then drew water from the well—a much more trying task than usual. While it came to a boil, Lydia undressed. Letting her long, wavy hair down she brushed until it was free of tangles. Curious, she placed the brush on the table and crept over to the small looking glass he had given her on their wedding day.
The bruises on her body had almost faded, even the ones by her eyes and on the left side of her torso, which had been the worst. The cuts along her cheekbone and above her right eye were nearly mended as well. A hopeful sense of freedom and relief began to form. She took a deep breath, which caught for a moment. She winced at the sharp pain. A few of her ribs were still knitting. They would take longer to heal.
But they would heal.
After a long bath in steaming water and the rose scented oil she had been saving for a special occasion, she dried and arranged her hair. Then she cut an old skirt from the rag bin up into strips and carefully bound her torso to protect her ribs.
As she dressed she calmly took stock of her situation. There was still the problem in her bedroom. Her nose wrinkled in distaste. She’d become aware that it was beginning to stink.
That will draw the wolves. It’s surprising the rankness has not done so already.
Then it dawned on her that this problem could also be a solution. With a grimace of pain, she took a deep breath and held it, then entered the room. Barely glancing at the large, still form on the floor, she opened both sets of windows wide, throwing back the shutters.
She wished she was strong enough to drag him to the window and roll him out. But in her present condition…well, that couldn’t be helped. These windows were low enough to the ground outside. It would have to do.
She patiently pulled at his overshirt in short, painful tugs. When it was free of him, she took it to the open window, draping it across the sill where the wind would carry the scent. Here in the sunlight she admired the spot where she had pressed the knife in. The red, which had run thick and fast across the fabric was now a russet bloom.
There, that should do the trick.
As she left the room she closed the door behind her, making certain the latch he had installed on the outside of it clicked firmly into place. With any luck, what was left of him would be drug off in to the woods by the time she came back.
Maybe you aren’t as slow-witted as he was fond of telling you.
From the pantry she gathered her favorite basket into which she placed pots with tight lids to hold the dye and a sharp knife. She also placed in the basket a large cloth to hold the bright fibers she would need and some rags, just in case.
By the door, she donned a worn, hooded cloak her grandmother had made for her years ago. It had faded to a vague brownish rose, but she needed to feel her grandmother’s love about her, so that was the one she choose. Closing the front door she turned the key then tucked it into her bodice. Lydia started down the hill away from the woods.
While she walked along she began to wonder where she could gather her materials from, and shortly came up with a solution.
The baker—he would be the best choice.
The village baker was a course, lascivious man who as a youth bore a reputation for taking full advantage of unsuspecting servant girls. When he’d married his ways did not change. He’d put his wife to work from morning ‘till night, which gave him adequate time for drinking as well as to continue to indulge in his favorite pastime. He didn’t care if those he took at his whim were exactly willing. And as was standard form in such matters, the village counsel turned a blind eye to the baker’s roving one.
His wife, who frequently bore the marks of his anger, was a capable woman. Lydia had come to respect her during the years they had known each other. She would like to do her this small favor, particularly since it served both their purposes. Minerva would be able run the shop much more efficiently without him in the way.
And I know she would do better without his blows.
Besides, the baker’s hair, long bright strands of it, matched that of her own husband. Being brothers, their mercilessness, as well as their flame orange locks, ran in the family.
Now that the decision was made, she was free to relax and enjoy the rest of her stroll to the village. Lydia lowered the faded red hood and lifted her face to the sun, taking in a deep cleansing breath. She began to whistle along with the birds that sang her story to the trees, enjoying a breeze which played with her newly washed hair. All about the meadows beautiful wildflowers grew, a riot of colors tempting her to pick them. But she kept to the path, her basket swinging on her arm.
Melissa Rasmussen is a writer and artist living in Utah. Her short works have appeared in Desert Wanderings,The Day After, Intersections, and other journals. She has had staged productions of theatrical writings, including Fast Food. Her art journals were shown in the 2016 Art Access Gallery show “Fat Phobia." Her poem “Single American Daughter” was recently published in When She Speaks I Hear the Revolution and short story on the letter Z, "Silver Anniversary" is forthcoming in a Murder by the Letters anthology. You can connect with her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/alotusprincess and Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alotusprincess/