This short story is part 2 of the Daughter of the Goddess Series. You can read part 1 here.
“Now, now, little tot, don’tcha be a-crying now. You trust Mistress Howl. I’ll be a-fixing this.” Warm hands lead her inside and guide her to the wooden table. Patches peeks about at the room—it’s safe to do so, for the woman has moved on to the other side of the kitchen. A few people are mixing and a-baking, but when they look at her, she casts her eyes down. She wants them to know she’ll be a good girl. So they won’t throw her out. Mum always said that when she goes to the goddess, she’d better be useful or they won’t want her.
“Do you like butter and honey with your biscuits, lovey?” The voice is so gentle. Like the trees. It makes her think of a soft breeze, blowing through her hair, drying her tears, cooling the sting of a slap on her face.
Patches doesn’t know what to say. She was never allowed to ask for anything. She was given her gruel and expected to eat it. If the bread was stale and the apples turned to mush, they were tossed her way. “I’m not hungry,” she whispers.
Two arms pick her up, set her on a lap, and hold her close. “Now don’t you be a-lying to me, angel. Nothing but a bag of bones, you are. So let Mistress Howl feed you something yummy.” Patches can barely see the hand offering the biscuit through the tears in her eyes. “Here is a bite, little bird. You don’t have to take it. Just open your mouth.” The hands move across her face and hair, pushing the hair out of her face and wiping away the tears. A piece of biscuit, warm and soft with something sweet, is put in her mouth by that gentle hand.
“What’s yer name, love?”
Patches shakes her head.
“What do they call you?”
She leans her head close and whispers. “Once a man—” She blushes. She was never allowed to speak of Mum’s visitors. She wasn’t even supposed to be seen by them. She’d gotten whipped real bad for that. “—called me Patches.”
Patches looks down at her dirty, little feet and shakes her head. “It’s unlucky to name someone who’s gonna die,” she whispers. It’s the most she’s ever said. She glances up at the woman to see if she’s in trouble. All those little creases and furrows are standing out on her brow. Patches quickly looks back down at her feet. If she’s a-frowning, does that mean she’s gonna hit her?
The hand gently strokes her hair, pushing it behind her hair. “Let me tell you something, little peaches. We’re all gonna die someday,” she says. The hand moves to her chin and lifts her face. “And lucky it is that I get to name such a pretty little girl like you.” The woman smiles. “My, such blue eyes. Clear as a summer day.”
Looking the woman in the face, Patches swallows the lump in her throat. Her little hands shake, and she tries to pull away. But those hands hold her firmly. “Peaches.” The woman nods. “Yes, you are as sweet as a little peach pie.”
Peaches? Her name is Peaches? She doesn’t really know what a peach is, but she likes the way it sounds when the woman says it. It kinda rolls off her mouth like the something sweet. Like the honey biscuit she just ate. She glances down at the woman’s hand, which are now empty. Peaches’ stomach growls. “Are you still hungry, Peaches? Carly, another biscuit please, and don’t ye be shy with the butter. This’un needs some fat on her bones.”
Peaches forgets to watch her feet as she looks about the kitchen. The cooks bustle about. Some singing. Some whistling. And everyone smiling. At her. And their eyes sparkle. Like sunlight glinting on the stream. They seem to promise her joy, just as her childhood friend had sang to her. She smiles back. It is just a little tug on the corners of her mouth. And then she ducks her head into the crook of the woman’s arm.
“There, there, Peaches. Just a wave of shyness, have ye?” The hand strokes the back of her head. It makes Peaches feel safe. That little smile is growing inside her. She can feel it. It’s as soft and warm, just as the woman is. It makes her want to cry. Soft tears. Gentle ones. The kind she had when the trees sang her to sleep.
“Here ye go, mistress.”
Peaches hears the sound of a plate being set on the table. She peeks over the woman’s shoulder. Never before had she seen a plate so full—at least, not one set for her. The butter was melting into the biscuits, and honey swirled across the top. And those strong, comforting arms lift her up and set her on the bench. “Don’tcha be shy now. It’s all for you.”
Peaches picks up one of the biscuits, so soft it crumbles in her hand. She puts the piece in her mouth and looks up at the woman with a smile. A full smile, one that shows all her little teeth. And a tear trickles down her face. The woman smiles and wipes the tear away.
“How old are ye, lovey?”
“Five harvests.” That’s what she remembers Mum saying. When she was five harvests, she’d go to the goddess. So that must be how old she is.
“My, my, you’re that old? But so tiny.”
Peaches is confused. Was that a question? Is she supposed to say something? If so, what does the woman want her to say? She glances up. The brow is smooth now. But tears—lots of them—fall down her face. They drip down her chin and onto the woman’s lap. She wants to ask why the woman is a-crying, but that’d be asking fer trouble. She looks down at her dirty little feet and remembers that gentle hand wiping away her own tears.
She, her little hands a-shaking, reaches over to wipe the tears. But stops. She feels frozen, stiff as a tree. Her little heart beats like a wild drum. And her stomach clenches into awful knots. “Can I wipe your tears?” she whispers.
The woman nods. And Peaches reaches up, wiping the woman’s face, and says, “There. It’ll be just fine. You’ll see.”
You can read part 3 here.