Four Elements


Wrapped in groundsheet and blanket under the fallen spruce, she watches a small pyramid of deadwood burn itself to embers at the mouth of her den. Fire is a chancy friend, her teacher said. Kept too close, it smothers; too distant, it pleases only itself—treated too generously, it gossips, but too stingily, and it writes its discontent in smoke for all the world to see.

A proper fire is the size of your fist, her teacher said. Twice, before and after rapping her knuckles for inattention (will she never learn stray kittens can keep?). The size of your heart.


She sits in the tub, breasts half-covered by liquid even her numb flesh can tell has gone tepid. It's the first time she's bathed since—she pulls her knees toward her chin—since the last time, when she wallowed from side to side while Sig washed her back, mimicking the movements she felt beneath her heart ...

Her skin drags against the side of the bath as she sinks lower. Water fills her ears without stopping them, just as grief does her mind, and she drums her fingers on the wooden slats in time to the litany of her failure.


She walks with Sig to the lakeshore at dusk and looks across at Yock Island. When the wind is in the right quarter, it may bring the sounds of battle to her quick ears: the commotion in the brush that presages a flock of birds taking indignant flight, or even the high-pitched war cries of her two would-be apprentices.

But tonight, all is quiet. The air is sullen, threatening rain, and uncooperative. Frowning, she ponders convection and potential vorticity while heat lightning silhouettes the island's canopy.

"They all right?" Sig asks.

"Of course!" she answers, and turns away.


The long road home is dry as well as lonely; each step raises enough dust to coat her feet to the ankles. She coughs carefully to avoid overstimulating her lungs. If she must faint into the ditch, she'd rather her husband were at hand to haul her out again.

Or, better, join her.

She grins, bending to brush her shoes momentarily clean. One day earth will have her in a bed two paces long and half as wide, but till then she'll keep her favors for a lover whose embrace sweeps her off her feet, not the other way around.