The house felt empty now, to the middle-aged woman who sat knitting in the rocking chair. Her skin hung upon her face with a tired grasp, that of a single-parent mother. She had a dark brown bun of hair, tied by bridgetree rots in the traditional custom of Bottom Bridge.
A plaid pattern wove its way together between the devout ministrations of her hands. Measured complexity. Strong, warm fibers.
The house creaked. She knew it would remain emptier than usual for much time to come. This realization was evident in the shaking of her hands and the gentle way she bit her lower lip.
And thus 'twas surprising to hear familiar breathing at the door. It was a man she knew well, yet not the raspy breathing of the man she regrettably loved more.
Intuition was in her nature. She knew why he was here.
"I'm sorry you had to learn the truth in such a way, Grisham," she told him.
"A child of mine would not wander so," said the man. "Were Williard a son of mine, he would be content with a life of milling grain. I knew sooner, yet I denied it." Two firm steps, and he passed through the door frame. With fists clenched, Grisham Millerson had entered the house of his wife.
"I wanted to love you, Gris, I really did. That's why I pretended for so long," she told him. And the needles never stopped knitting.
"Will's birth wasn't premature, was it, Karena?" Grisham realized. There was restrained hostility in the lines of his face and the one hand that clutched the graying blond hairs that remained around his bald spot, in the likeness of a poor harvest of grain.
She knew what he was getting at: infidelity. Closing her eyes, she pictured her son.
Williard's hair was a dark brown so dark it was almost black. Even his eyes were brown, rather than green like his apparent father's or blue like his mother's. And he was tall and slender, without the barrel chested reminiscence of Grisham the Miller.
Will was the first in a long line of Millerson firstborn male that would never adhere to the trade of milling. They both knew it.
"Tell me it wasn't Wolfram!" he yelled.
Miss Millerson just smiled. Two feathers hung from her copper earrings, their colour too dark to discern. The black feathers of a raven.
To devote one's life to milling was to devote one's life to flour. Nearly as pure and white as the sacred Light. It was an honourable living, more profitable than most among the peasantry. And so, it was ironic temptation that met Karena Millerson's heart sixteen and a half years ago, for Vellomeer lived a life of darkness.
He was, after all, Gifted with the semblance of a raven.
That came with it the occasional fondness of raw meat, and an immunity to sickness that had left him quite able to please Karena while her husband had been bedridden long ago.
At first, she had thought she was doing it for her husband. From experience, and the troubles of conceiving Williard's older half-sister two years prior, Karena had become desperate for another child by any means.
It had been a quiet night like most others in the Slipshod Inn. Karena had been seated at the old harpsichord, trying to express a melody from within her head though the instrument had not been tuned in over a dozen years.
And when he had come over to the bench and added a much-needed bass line, as if he had known exactly where her fingers were headed, she had found herself captivated by Vellomeer's dark features and unseemly charisma.
Karena Millerson did not know that the vagrant man, who so romantically took her mind to new places, was one of the Gifted. And she did not find out for six months, long after he had deserted her, when she began to manifest her own Gift. It had come about as a result of the love she had once consummated with him.
And as shame filled her, she vowed never to use her Gift.
That involved burying her feelings. Becoming cold and inexpressive. Seldom ever did she hug her son. And soon whatever affection she bore for Grisham dwindled away.
Karena Millerson had repressed her Gift, fearing that both her power and its stigma might destroy her.
Now that the truth was out, Miss Millerson looked across the one-room house, at the angry face of her husband, and allowed a wince to break her smile. Her face contorted first with a frown and then a scrunching of her lips and tilting of her jaw.
The door slammed shut, knocking Grisham off his feet and onto the floor.
And all around them, as she rocked patiently in her rocking chair, the house began to burn. Fire crept up the walls and immolated the bookshelf, the windowsill and the old painting of the bridge for which the town was named.
Then she lit his clothes, as he fiddled with the doorknob only to feel the metal singe his hands. He yelled and cursed, and tried to throw a chair at her only to see it bounce off the flashing glare of a glassy barrier.
The supports caved and the roof fell.
And when all that was left was a charred skeleton, Karena Millerson put her earrings on either side of her husband's skull. Then, she lit them. Thus was left the remnants of two copper earrings to falsely identify the body as herself.
In town, they would see the smoke and come with a carriage full of water. But it would be too late. Karena sought a new life as she walked off towards the Combs Wood, the plaid skirt still threading together between her busy needles.
Karena Millerson had been ignoring the voices in her head for much too long.