A HORRIBLE CRY—her own cry—frightened her out of a troubled dream. Slapping her right hand over her chest, Bettina’s eyes brimmed over. Her breathing was rapid and shallow. In the glum predawn light, her body quivered like a mouse pup separated from its mother’s warmth. The horrible vision played in her mind even while she knew her eyes to be open.
“Oh, Momma!” she wept. “Oh, Momma. What is happening?”
It had been years since Bettina felt this sense of utter and crushing hopelessness. It was a feeling she’d never wanted to feel again. The death of her father in the waning days of the war had delivered such a cruel blow to the family.
Knowing that only a handful of weeks remained before their father’s return, Bettina and Paign had eagerly helped their mother begin preparations for his arrival. Although Paign was big for his age and exceptionally strong like their father, Bettina’s view of the world was practical: Paign needed help from his older sister, or some things just wouldn’t get done. So, she’d done them. This wasn’t uncommon in recent years, since so many families in the Honellaken Valley also had missing fathers and brothers. For too many, their menfolk would never return.
Still, Paign had great difficulty in accepting help from anyone, especially his sister. There’d been hard feelings. Sometimes, even harder words. In spite of their good intentions, even in their efforts to help their mother prepare for their father’s return, a lot of strain had grown between the children.
Then came the dreadful news: their father had been killed. Besides dealing with her own grief and heartbreak, Bettina watched helplessly as her mother grew quiet and remote, aging before her very eyes.
Her closeness to her brother had already suffered during their time of preparations. Now the siblings, too, were distant and cold. Paign began spending all of his free time with his cousin Anders at the Knutsons’ farm. In some ways, Bettina was pleased for him, grateful that the boy had a close companion his own age who understood the loss of a father, since Mr. Knutson was also never coming home again.
But with the emotional withdrawal of her mother and the physical retreat of her only sibling, Bettina had been on her own to resolve her grief. And the grief shattered her.
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