It wasn’t unusual for Trisha Elric’s house to be quiet. Two young boys could certainly make more than their share of racket, but in good weather like today, they took their racket to the fields. They were good boys, and smart, and she trusted them to stay mostly out of trouble.
There was that time with the beehive...but they certainly learned their lesson from that one. And sometimes they fought, but they never really hurt each other. They were always so curious, so energetic and vibrant, and Trisha was so tired. More and more often, she found herself too drained to chase after them, and sometimes it frightened her. But Resembool was a small, safe little town, the sort of place where everybody knew everybody else; though there had always been whispers about Miss Elric and her sons and the vanished lover she had never married, there were also always watchful eyes to track village children wherever they might roam, and Ed and Al were no exception.
She was hanging laundry, sheets and pillow covers and the throw from the back of the living room couch. The weather was just right for it—only the whitest, most benign clouds skimming across the blue, sun high and bright and palpably hot everywhere it touched her skin. Fragrant meadowsweet was blooming in clusters all over the yard and the fields beyond, and the breeze wafted their scent through the lines of hung cotton. Trisha felt good today, and the outdoors seemed to agree.
They say a mother knows her own child’s cry and hears it above all other sounds. Trisha hadn’t given this wives’ tale much thought—but she did turn to find the source of the sound when Alphonse’s shout hit her ears. Edward’s scream a second later was all she needed to hone in on them, two little towheaded figures just on the other side of the Nedobecks’ pasture fence.
For a fraction of a second, she was angry. How many times had she told them not to play around over there? Small children, especially with Den yipping at their heels, did not belong in a pasture with cattle no matter how docile. And then she registered the huge shape bearing down on the boys, a horn curved forward and another slightly up, the distant glint of a ring in its nose.
The next moment, she was running without remembering she’d even begun to move.
“New stud bull coming in on the afternoon train,” Mr. Nedobeck had told her only yesterday. “Got ‘im from Lucille’s cousin next town over. Real spitfire, too!”
She felt her legs moving, barely, but didn’t register the distance; her voice was stuck, molasses-thick in her throat. Alphonse scrambled backward toward the fence awkwardly, clutching his ankle. Edward stood between his brother and the bull, arms spread as though his tiny frame could make a difference to those pawing hooves. The animal danced, circled, uncertain but aggravated, but the boys could not run, and the fence was still some yards behind them, and Trisha was still too far, endlessly far away.
Then a black and white blur, a puppy’s high warning barks, and the bull snorted and took off after this new intruder. Trisha hit the fence running, scrambled over; when her dress caught, she tore the skirt free with a wordless curse and left a chunk of it behind. All that mattered was Ed, trying to carry his brother but struggling under his weight, and Al, who caught sight of her and screamed out, face crumpling into petrified tears. A moment more and she could reach them, touch them, scoop Alphonse up into her arms and grab Edward by the hand, run with them without a breath left for words.
She didn’t dare look behind her, just fell to her knees beside the fence, pushed them through the bottom gap and started to scrabble back over herself, Ed staring past her with saucer eyes. “Den!” he called, high and urgent. “Come on, Den, come here, girl!”
As Trisha climbed over, she tried to read the scene in her sons’ expressions, listened as the thudding of hooves grew louder, lost her grip and tumbled the rest of the way to the ground when the puppy’s high, pained yelp sounded behind her.
By the time she turned to look, Ed and Al were clinging to her, trembling and sniffling; the bull, satisfied, had circled off around the pasture. It was simple enough to tug off her apron, reach through and scoop the bloodied dog carefully into it. “Ed,” she said, finding her voice, “are you okay?”
“Uh huh,” he warbled, high and thick with tears.
“Then you have to run and get Granny Pinako, can you do that? We’ll follow along behind you.”
“O-o-okay,” he hiccupped, and took off at top speed through the grass.
Al clung to her, eyes uncertain. “Mom? Is Den gonna be okay?”
Trisha tried not to look too hard at the crushed leg, splinters of bone poking through skin and fur, tried not to hear the pitiful whining. “Let’s bring her to Granny, okay? Can you get up on my back and hold on while I carry Den?”
“Uh huh,” and she felt shaky arms wrap around her neck, quick heaving lungs and racing heart against her back.
“Good boy,” she murmured to her son, and gingerly got to her feet. Den whimpered again, tail thumping weakly against her arm. “Good girl. That’s a good girl.”
And she was tired now, she felt it creeping up in her chest and her limbs, and the little boy on her back and the puppy in her arms just weighed her down. But Ed was racing out ahead of her screaming for Pinako, and the puppy had a trusting dark eye trained on her face, and Alphonse snuffled miserably into her hair, in one piece, alive. She took a steadying breath and started walking.