“What is the meaning of this?” the village leaders pushed their way through the crowd to where Aria lay on the grass, her chest rising and falling softly, like one who is in a deep sleep.
“How did she do that?” Mandar, the oldest, demanded of Carolina.
“I do not know.” she replied as she smoothed Aria‘s hair back from her pale face.
“What do you mean you don’t know?! She is your daughter is she not?” he growled, not at all expecting the answer he received.
“No Mandar, she is not my daughter.” Carolina sounded sad as she spoke.
The crowd erupted into a mass of gasps and whispering and Carolina silenced them all with a glance.
“Her mother came to me when I was pregnant on my fourth child. She told me and Ganth that she foresaw a tragedy. Two weeks later, just five days off my due date, our daughter Eleanor was born, but she was already dead.”
Several more gasps erupted from the crowd, but these were from women who had experienced that same hardship and criticised Carolina for not having had to go through such pain as it had appeared that all her children were born healthy.
“The woman came to me that day again, and she told me that she could help me, if I would help her. I naturally was curious, how could she help me? Had I not just lost the daughter I had so longed for?”
Carolina ignored the crowd and stared at Mandar as she continued her story.
“She pulled aside her cloak and there, nestled in her arm, was a sleeping baby. She begged me to take her as my daughter and not to tell anyone of it until such a time when it could not be avoided. I wondered at this woman’s heart, giving up her newborn child, to strangers, but nevertheless, I agreed, as did Ganth. For some strange reason this woman seemed so pitiful. The only thing she asked us, was that we give Aria the pendant she now wears on her seventeenth birthday, and then, when the time was right, she told us we could open the letter she left at the bottom of the baby basket.
Ganth and I opened that letter the day that Aria turned fourteen because we believed that the time was right.”
Carolina’s voice caught in her throat as the memory of this filled her mind. A curious expression flitted across her face and she shivered slightly in the warm summer air, as though ghosts of the past were running their fingers along her spine.
Mandar filled the silence by shifting from one heavy booted foot to the other. “And?” he prompted as Carolina failed yet again to speak.
“She is not at all who one would expect her to be.” she croaked out, tears dripping down her face.
“Who is she?” Mandar demanded, taking a step forward, hammer gripped tight in his hand.
Carolina remained silent as she tried to mouth the words.
"Who IS she?" Mandar looked threatening now as he towered over them.