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Border Town by Ricard Siyi HE


by Rowan Paton

Ludovica had not seen Mother Freya since the day before. She had searched the estate from grounds to roof, excluding all the places young girls were not supposed to linger. Perhaps her caretaker had fallen ill? The thought brought fear rippling into her feeble stomach. The winter was harsh that year, even for the normally pleasant Caer. It was the first year in her life she had seen snow fall over her local shores.

"Ludovica had watched with eagerness as the delicate icy shavings dissolved upon contact with the roaring waves."

          A few days prior, Mother Freya had taken her down to the oceanside. Bundled in thick layers of lavender wools, they had wandered along the beach together. Ludovica had watched with eagerness as the delicate icy shavings dissolved upon contact with the roaring waves. She had sat down by Mother Freya’s side for hours, leaning against the woman’s shoulder as she wrote of the snow’s elegance. Mother Freya sat and drew with blue-toned ink. She drew Ludovica sitting on the beach, and she drew images of shells rising beneath the waves. Accompanied by the humming of the stinging winter winds, they created together.

          The woman had helped the girl dress the previous evening. She had brought Ludovica a supper of warm broth with roasted meat and rose tea. After, she had tucked Ludovica into bed, singing her a lullaby. But she had not even stayed to wait for the girl to sleep. The next morning, she did not return.

          Ludovica refused to ask her mother or Maurine about Mother Freya. The girl did not want her to get in trouble for her absence. She was intelligent for a twelve-year-old girl, and she noticed the gashes and black eyes hidden on the necks of the servants who slipped up. She had not even dared ask her father. Instinct told the girl to hold her tongue no matter how her anxiety festered. Mother Freya was never late. Mother Freya was never ill. Mother Freya would never desert her without bidding goodbye.

          In a final moment of desperation, Ludovica found herself wandering about the veins of the estate. This was the name bestowed upon the servants’ passageways, the tunnels connecting secret doors dispersed throughout the building. She heard Mother Freya mention the veins on a few speckled occasions, yet Ludovica had never dared venture within them.

          She knew the layout of her home well enough to understand the flow of the passageways. Many times, she had studied the sketches of the estate’s composition, in which the veins were clearly detailed. She hoped to be able to find the servants’ quarters, even though she knew Mother Freya never slept in them. She could only hope the other servants could provide some assistance. Mother Freya was well-liked among them, and she hoped her reputation was enough to spare her from loose tongues.

          She wandered for more than three candlemarks, stranded in the veins. She never lost hope, silently sticking her head into each room she passed in hope of finding the woman. Every room she found was empty, housing only silence. Though she tried not to panic, she felt herself beginning to lose hope. Her mind flickered to Hekate. No, she thought. Hekate would be in school.

          Just as the girl began to lose hope, she tripped over a loose brick protruding from the floor. She shrieked as she fell, skidding roughly to a halt. She begun to shake. Her hands were bleeding raw, and she held them awkwardly in front of her. Maurine would have her head if she got blood on her dress. Using her elbows and the support of the wall, she took a trembling stand, fighting back tears.

          She gave into the pain, sinking until she sat on her knees, leaning against the wall. She scarcely noticed the light footsteps approaching her, lithe as those of a cat. She lifted her gaze, squinting through the dim to behold the figure before her.

          “Oh, Dov, my sweet child,” a melodic voice uttered, welling with sadness. “What are you doing in here?”

          Ludovica wiped her tears away, unaware that she had smeared blood over her cheeks. She squinted up at the figure, now leaning down beside her. She grinned at the voice of Mother Freya. “I was looking for you,” she stuttered, still shaking from the sting of aching flesh. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come. I know I’m not supposed to…”

          Mother Freya pulled her into a tender embrace, holding the girl against her chest. Her long, elegant lock of braided hair fell over Ludovica’s shoulder, smelling faintly of ash and soot. “Quiet, my child,” the woman whispered, her gaze planted firmly ahead. “I don’t have much time.”

          “What?” Ludovica mumbled, her heart skipping a beat. She clung to the woman’s clothes, yearning to never let go. “How do you mean?”

          The woman did not respond. She gently freed herself from the child’s grasp, tenderly holding Ludovica’s hands before her. “Ludovica,” she whispered. “What have you done to yourself?” She smoothly lifted the small hands to her lips, placing a soft kiss on each of Ludovica’s bleeding palms. “All better,” she hummed, still holding them.

          Ludovica gasped in wonder as the pain melted away, leaving her fingers blessed with a warm prickle across her skin. “Where are you going?” she questioned, closing her eyes as Mother Freya gently rubbed her hands. The woman did not respond, but as they stood there, Ludovica felt even her fear begin to dissolve as if by magic. She was left only with the warmth and the serenity of that moment, the serenity of Mother Freya’s spirit.

          “Don’t worry, Dov,” the woman told her, her voice as placid as a lullaby. She raised Ludovica’s hands and placed them on her face, allowing the child to see without light.

          Ludovica closed her eyes and felt Mother Freya’s face, feeling from her jaw and her lips to her nose and her prominent cheeks. As her fingers rose, she found a feature which was foreign to her, and she felt Mother Freya exhale. Ludovica felt a bandage across the woman’s eyes, dampened and chillingly warm. She wrenched her hands away in horror, sinking to her knees once again. She gazed up at the woman who had raised her to that moment, only able to see an outline of the woman she was.

          Mother Freya sighed, verbalizing the weight of her heavy heart. “Goodbye, Ludovica,” she whispered, backing away from the child. In a flash of a moment, she was gone, engulphed by the shadows from which she had wandered. And Ludovica was left, her healed hands resting in her lap and bearing the burden of Mother Freya’s blood.


About the Writer...

Rowan Paton (they/them) is a young, queer writer from Florida. Currently, they are working for Élan Literary Magazine as their Junior Fiction Editor. Outside of Élan, they are in the process of compiling a collection of gothic short stories, tentatively titled "Angel Anatomy."

About the Artist...

Richard Siyi HE is currently a junior at Beijing No. 4 High School. His passion lies in biology, and he have a particular fondness for painting and writing about nature.

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