The Six Swans -The Toast

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Once there was a little girl who tried very hard not to be born. Her father the king and her mother the king’s wife had six children already – all sons. Together they were happy.

As the boys grew and took their first steps from the school-room to the field, the king realized that they would someday turn into men. Six sons were one thing. Six men were quite another. A king could love his little children; what could he do with deep-voiced, straight-backed men? And what could a kingdom do with six kings? (He was thinking, perhaps, of his own brothers.)

So one day, the king said to his wife, “If the next child you bear me is a girl, then let the six others die, so that our wealth need not be divided, and that she alone may inherit the kingdom.” And he tousled the hair of their youngest son, who was called Ilyas, and who always sat near him, as he said it.

And the king’s wife said, “It shall be as you say,” because it always was.

“Had my own brothers lived,” the king said, “they should certainly have tried to harm our own children and stifle our peace.” His own brothers, however, had not lived. It was a necessary part of kingship, determining when brothers and sons were no longer necessary.

And his wife said it was true, what he said, because it was.

The king ordered six small coffins to be made of yew by the city’s finest carpenters, and fitted each with a fine goose-down pillow, and clean-smelling wood shavings. Even dead, they would still be king’s sons, and he was unwilling to spare any expense.

And he ordered that the boy-coffins be placed all in a line in a high-off room distant from all other rooms in the castle. He ordered the door locked, and the only key given to his wife, whose chief employment was the production and maintenance of any of the king’s children, living or dead.

“Cheer up,” the king told his wife. “You may bear me another son yet, and then we won’t need the key after all.” She smiled, and said nothing.

After this, at every meal, the king’s wife turned aside her plate for the king’s dogs. At night she took to walking the halls of the castle in her slippers, so that no one could hear her footsteps, absently fingering the iron key at the bottom of her dressing-gown pocket and whispering to the not-yet child, curved like a scythe inside of her. Don’t be born, please. Go back, if you can. There is no welcome here; find another door. Don’t be born. I cannot mother you, so please don’t be born. I would make it up to you, if I could, but I can’t, so don’t be born. Not-born, not-born. If you love me, as a child should, don’t ask me to birth you.

“The king’s wife looks drawn and pale,” the king announced over supper, looking at her carefully “and not at all well.”

“I feel fine,” the king’s wife said. She tore off the crust from her bread and put it in her mouth. It had been so long since she had chewed and swallowed that it lay dead and heavy in her mouth. She smiled with her lips closed. “I feel very well.”

“But your health is not only your own now,” the king reminded her. “It is our child’s, and mine.” His wife, his child, his health, his dinner, his jacket, his house, his floor, his dogs, his servants, his plans. “A queen,” he reminded everyone at table, “is what a king uses to build the future.”

The king’s wife was thereafter served all of her meals in her room, under the king’s jolly supervision. “Eat up, my love,” he said, hands folded behind his head. “Check her pockets,” he instructed the steward. “Check her napkin, and under the table. We’ll make sure she fills out yet. My daughter” – not yours yet, nor yet a daughter neither, thought the king’s wife – “my daughter must have plenty to eat. She is a king’s daughter, and must be afforded the care a king’s daughter merits.”

The king’s wife had never been a king’s daughter. She was outranked by her belly.

One day, as the king’s wife sat outside the locked door on a little stool, her youngest son said to her, “What is in this room?”

“Your father is making new beds for you and your brothers,” his mother said brightly. “Lovely new beds, for grown-up boys.”

“Then why are you crying?” he asked.

“That,” his mother said, “I cannot tell you.”

But he would give her no peace until she told him. At last she took the key from her pocket and unlocked the door, showing him the six coffins in a row, well-glossed and warm to the touch, already filled with sweet-smelling pine shavings.

First she had to explain death to him. Then she explained the rest. “If this child is a girl, you will all be killed and buried together in here.”

“Could you try not to have a girl?” Ilyas asked.

“I cannot help it,” she said.

“Could you try not to have it at all?”

“I have tried,” she said. “It is a hard thing to stop, once it has started.”

“Could I help you stop it?” he asked, and she fell about his neck and wept for the sweetness of him.

Then he begged her to lay off crying. “We will take care of ourselves,” he promised her. “If the child comes, we will run away, and find something less dangerous to be than king’s sons.”

So his mother gave her son this advice: “Go to the woods with your brothers, and find the highest tree you can. Climb it, and keep a watch on this tower every day. When the child comes, I’ll contrive to raise a flag out the window – white, if it is a boy, and safe for you to return. Red, if it is a girl. And if you see a white flag, I pray you would come home to me, and I could hold you again. But if you see a red flag, run as fast as you can, and stop for nothing, and I will pray for you.”

“And – I hope” – she began – “that you would never be too hot in summer, nor too cold in winter, that the sun would not burn your faces, nor the wind tear at your clothes – that if I could not see you again, that you would not be lost from one another, that harm would not find you, and that death would not learn your names.”

So her sons left with her blessing, and fled into the woods. Each day, another of them would climb the highest tree and keep watch on the tower, but no flag appeared. On the eighteenth day, Ilyas climbed the tree and saw a white hand thrust a trembling flag through the topmost window of the castle.

“I see a flag,” he shouted down to his brothers.

“The color,” they called back. “Name the color of it, brother.”

“I see a red flag,” he said. He knew it meant death, and he knew what death was, for his mother had told him.

One of his elder brothers spat in the dirt by his feet. “And we are to be turned out into the woods, and even die, for the sake of a girl?”

“The first girl I see,” said another, “I’ll kill it.”

The white hand and the red flag vanished back inside the window, and Ilyas came down the tree. “We’ll move deeper into the woods,” he said, “where none of us can be found, and none of us will be killed. We’ll go so deep in the woods we’ll never have to see a girl, nor kill her.” And the brothers agreed with his plan, and set off in the direction where the oldest and tallest trees grew thickly together, where the only sunlight was filtered green and vanished early.

Here they built a house, a crudely-hewn boy’s house. The first winter they did not know to chink up the cracks with mud and straw, and were bitterly cold. They did not know how to tell bad water from sweet, and were sick for days. They did not know how to build a fire so that the smoke does not roil and blacken the ceiling, coating the whole house with soot. They did not know to follow deer to find salt for their meat. In short, they suffered.

“All this for a girl,” they said to one another in those times, and they swore to kill the first girl they met. The next winter, they daubed the corners of their house to keep the wind out, and dug a well where clear water gushed up from the earth. And in this manner twelve years passed.

Now the king’s wife had given birth to a king’s daughter, and he named the girl himself. Her hair and her eyes and her brows were brown-black, her voice was as clear as the waves breaking on the shore, and she was as lovely a king’s daughter as anyone could wish. She ate from a little golden dish and drank from a little golden cup that he had made specially for her and placed right next to his own seat at table.

The king’s wife again turned her plate out for the king’s dogs, but now that she was not growing a daughter, nobody minded.

The king her father loved his daughter with all the ease and joy with which he had once loved his sons, and then some – he simply transferred the love he had felt before to her, and added that which she merited through her own goodness to it. The king’s wife, her mother, loved the girl in spite of herself, and her love carried with it six times its weight in grief.

The girl knew she grieved her mother, and tried to be less than she was, so as to lighten her mother’s burden.

Once she chanced down a small corridor and saw six small rooms, with six small beds, and six small pairs of shoes arranged neatly in them. She asked her mother, “Whose are these rooms?”

And her mother told her the story of her birth, and took her up to the locked room, and showed her the six coffins with the goose-down pillows.

Then the girl said, “Then I should never have been born.”

“I love you, dear child,” her mother said, which was not a contradiction.

The girl said, “My father the king loves me without goodness. You love me without joy. I will go and find my brothers, and it may be we will be happy together.”

And so it was that the king lost all his children, and whether or not he got any more from this wife or any other woman, I cannot say.

Then the girl who should not have been born took what few belongings she could carry and went out into the forest, not knowing that her brothers hated her with all their hearts. The woods were green and grey, and filled with currents of cold air that carried no scent to it. She walked all day and into the night, and her shoes were flimsy and full of stones. (But she had suffered as yet only a day.) When night was drawing to a close, she came to the little house.

She went inside, and found a young man, who looked frightened to see her. Being a king’s daughter, she was used to the look of fear, and was not surprised by it. “Where do you come from?” the young man asked her. “Who are you, and where are you going?”

“I am looking for my brothers the king’s sons,” she said, “to apologize for being born.”

“And you have found them,” he said, for it was Ilyas her youngest brother, and they embraced one another with glad hearts.

“But sister,” Ilyas said, pulling back from her, “my brothers hold a murderous grudge against all women, and have sworn to put an end to any girl we meet.”

“Oh,” his sister said, as she had not expected that.

“They would not do it, I think,” he said, “if they saw you, for then they would love you, and wish to make you happy, as I do. You are lucky they left before dawn this morning to go hunting. But hide yourself under this wash-tub, and I will endeavor to set things right between us.”

“Someday, I think,” she said, her voice muffled under the tub, “I would like to meet someone I have not caused any pain.”

“Be quiet,” Ilyas said. “I hear someone coming.”

The door of the house swung open and in poured the brothers, now men all, carrying with them all manner of game; red-throated grouse tied together in fat clutches by the feet, bundled packs of snowcock, field-dressed barking deer and ibex still gleaming with blood. They threw their boots, crusted with game-blood and dirt, into the corner, and turned their catches over onto the table, so you could hardly see the wood beneath it.

“Little brother,” one of them said, clapping Ilyas on the shoulder, “this is a cold welcome! Where is the kettle? Where is the fire? What have you been doing with yourself, while we were out hunting?”

Ilyas said, “Know you nothing?”

And his brother answered, “Nothing more than to find game, and to track it, and to hunt it.”

“You have gone hunting, and I have stayed at home, but I know more than you,” Ilyas said. And his brothers smiled, for they loved a good riddle. One of them started a red fire on the stove himself, not begrudging Ilyas the making of it.

“We made a promise to each other once,” Ilyas said to them, “that the first girl we saw, we would kill. Will you break that promise, if I ask you to do it?”

“Hungry men will break any promise,” his eldest brother shouted. “Tell us, Ilyas, but for God’s sake feed us after the telling.”

It had been many years since any of them had thought about the red flag, or the promise they had made when they spat in the dirt and ceased to be king’s sons.

“We’ll harm no one you’ve put under your protection, little brother,” one of them said.

“As for me, I am too weak from hunger to harm anything but dinner,” said another. “Tell us, and have done, and pass me a crust of bread so that I may live to hear Ilyas’s news.”

Then Ilyas lifted up the wash-tub and out of it crawled their sister, with her black hair and her sorry eyes. “Here is the sister for whose sake we took to these woods,” he said. “She is here to love us and be loved by us, if we will have her.”

Her brothers stared in amazement, til at last the tallest among them, red-haired, brown-cheeked and merry-eyed, clasped her by the waist and lifted her bodily above him. “What a plague you’ve been to us, little murderer” he said, but his voice was full of joy.

“What a mess you are,” said another, smiling at her dark and curling hair. “Did you crawl through the woods on your hands and knees to find us, or are you unusually slovenly?”

“A waste, entirely,” said a third, taking her in his arms and embracing her. “Shall we send her back to the king, brothers?”

“Surely,” said one of her brothers leaning still in the doorway, tears standing in his eyes. “She’ll be nothing but a burden to us.”

“A terrible burden,” the last said. “She shall have my bed, until I can build her one of her own. Though I’ve no doubt I’ll catch my death of cold, sleeping on the floor.”

“Put her by the fire,” her oldest brother insisted, over the clamor. “She’s weak as a calf, no doubt, and we’ll have to coddle her exceedingly, though it cost us our own health.”

And their sister beamed and wept through it all, though she could not bring herself to return their jokes.

“That’s me you’re hugging,” Ilyas shouted. “Put me down.”

After this, every day passed by in swift and perfect happiness. Ilyas and his sister stayed at home and between the two of them made quick work of housekeeping. The other five went hunting roe-deer and ptarmigan and snowcock every morning, while Ilyas and their sister chopped wood for the fire, drew water for the cooking, and tended to the garden, so their table would not always depend on the luck of the hunters.

In the garden by their little house there were six white lilies growing in a row. Wanting to bring some cheer into the house, she plucked them from their stems, gathering them into a basket. But in that same instant, her brothers were transformed into six bone-white swans, circled the sun overhead three times, and were gone.

She clapped her hand to her mouth and wept bitterly, for now she had lost her brothers twice, and this time from her own fault more than the first. She scanned the sky for a sign of her brothers until her eyes were red and weak, and she fell to the ground, sore exhausted from weeping, and fell asleep. And in her dream she saw her own mother, looking older and more grieved than she had ever before.

“Not-born,” her mother said, “what have you done? Why could you not leave the lilies growing where they were? They were the only protection I could have afforded my sons, and now they have been transformed into swans forever. The only comfort I can take is that he who kills a swan will surely die himself, and at least they are safe from that end.”

“I am sorry,” wept the girl.

“You were born sorry,” her mother said. “I am sorry too, and have been ever since the day I first saw you.”

“Is there nothing I can do to help them, Mother?” she asked.

“No,” she said. “There is one way, but it is so arduous, so solitary, that I know you cannot accomplish it, you who cannot even leave a garden alone without tearing it up. You have murdered my sons’ hopes twice, and my heart with them, and there will be no mending of it.”

“Tell me what it is and I will do it,” the girl said.

“You must suffer for them, as they have suffered for you,” her mother said.

“I am not afraid to suffer,” she said.

“Of course you are not afraid to suffer,” said her mother. “The worst that has happened to you is a night full of stones in your shoes, and you do not know what there is to be afraid of.”

“Nevertheless I am willing,” said the girl. “I know I can do it. They toiled for twelve years on my account; I will do no less for them.”

“You owe them each a year of silence,” her mother told her. “You will never be able to do it. Six years – plus one for yourself – must pass before you can let a word or a laugh cross your lips. You may not sing, nor hum, nor whisper, not one word, or all your good work will be undone; not even a single minute before the seven years are up, for your brothers will surely die the moment you utter it.”

“I will do it,” the girl said.

“There is more,” her mother said. “See you the stinging nettle I hold here in my hand? Gather as many as you can, grasping them firmly, notwithstanding any scaldings or blisters. Grind them to pieces under your feet and turn them into flax. Spin it, and weave out of it six coats for your brothers to wear, and throw it over them, and they will take their homely forms again.”

“I will do it,” the girl said.

“Remember their lives depend on your silence,” her mother said. “You must not speak again from the moment you begin the work until it is finished. And I pray that you will not cause me more heartbreak than you have already. How God could send me so much pain in one so small, I cannot guess.”

I will do it,” the girl said, “and as much as you and my brothers have suffered, I will see to it that you know twice as much joy hereafter.”

“We shall see about that promise,” her mother said. “You could have saved them with labor far less troublesome than this.”

“What is that?” the girl asked.

“You could have not been born when I asked you to,” her mother said, and was gone. The girl awoke to find herself alone. There was a frilled and sticky patch of stinging nettles nearby, and slowly she began to gather them.

At sunset her brothers returned to the house in a clot of beating wings. She looked up from her work and smiled to show her joy, but said nothing. There was blood on the floor.

Her mother had not lied to her about the nature of suffering, and the girl found that one did not grow accustomed to pain with time, as one did with pleasure. Each new blister, each new pocket where her skin sloughed off and left a raw and oozing throb behind, each sting that worked its way into her bare feet, was as fresh and startling as the first had been. But while these pricks and gashes did not decrease with time, she became slowly better able to bear it, or at the least began to divide her day in terms of less and more pain. If she could last until the sun cleared the garden wall, then she could make it until noon, and by noon the day was half-over. Every night she was glad to be rid of another day, and in the evening she had her brothers for company, if not companionship.

At any rate, she had been born for suffering, and it was time to get acquainted with it.

When three years had passed, she had completed three and a half of her brother’s shirts (she had spoilt the first one with her clumsy work, and lost several days to weeping and gnashing her teeth in silent fury), and had grown as accustomed to this life as to any other. She was working one afternoon in solitude, her red hands flying about her, when she heard the sound of a huntsman’s horn. It had been a long time since she had heard a sound made by anyone but herself, and it filled her with as much dread as if she had been a roe deer. Quick as she could, she gathered up the nettles in her apron and stuffed her brother’s shirts into her girdle. She slipped out through the back door and found a tall tree, where she climbed to the top, and found herself a seat among the branches, and made herself as small as possible. There she sat and span while below her the winding of the hunting-horn and the cries of the stag-hounds drifted ever closer.

She waited for the sounds to pass, and when she looked down again she saw a man looking back at her. He smiled. She closed her eyes.

“What is your name, sweet child?” the man asked. She said nothing. “You must not fear to speak to me – I am the king of this country, and no harm will come to you as long as you are in it.”

She closed her eyes even tighter, then opened them again. Now he was scaling the tree. She stuffed the rest of the nettles into her apron pocket before he could see them.

“How did you get up here?” he asked, throwing down his hat to the men waiting below. He ascended to her seat and took her hand from her lap. “Never have I seen anyone so beautiful,” he told her. Her hand felt dead and alien in his, and she said nothing. The man tore off his cloak and swept it round her shoulders. “You are too beautiful to remain here in these woods all alone,” he declared, as if annexing her. “You will return with me, and I will see to it that you are dressed and honored as befits your station, because as surely as I am a king, you are a king’s daughter.”

Being beautiful had never prevented her from remaining in the woods alone before, but there was nothing she could do about it. Beauty was for public consumption. It was not private property. It gave him the right to talk to her as if they had been introduced, and take her hand, and make her wear his cloak, and take him from her tree and to his home.

She could not help herself from crying, just a little bit, at the ridiculousness of it all. “Believe me, maiden,” he told her, “the day will come when you will thank me as your deliverer, and if you are as obedient and good as you are beautiful, I will make you my queen.” It was remarkable, the things he was willing to give her, although she had not asked for them. And if his men thought his behavior odd, they could keep their thoughts to themselves.

The king seated her on his own horse, just behind himself, and together they rode away. When next she opened her eyes, she saw in the sky a wedge of swans following them at a distance, and she smiled in her heart. One of the king’s archers rose in his seat to take aim at them, but she grew so distressed, and her eyes so full of tears, that the king ordered him to leave off. She was so relieved she fell asleep right there in the saddle

She awoke to find herself riding through the gates of a great city, greater than the city her father had ruled, with great buildings, and golden cupolas, and fountains, and gardens with walls thirty ells high. The sun swept low and red over all of it.

They dismounted at the gates of a great marble building, the floors of which were covered in carpets richer and more sumptuous to the touch than her bruised feet could have hoped for. The walls, too, were hung with tapestries dazzling to the eye, but she did not see them for her tears. She could not understand how she was here, when she had never said Yes to being taken. How could a girl who could not speak agree to any of this?

She was beginning to learn the danger of silence, and that someone who wishes to hear a Yes will not go out of his way to listen for a No.

The king clapped his hands, and women rushed to attend her, to bathe her red and raw limbs in milk and wine and water, to dress her hair and massage sweet oils into her temples, to take from her the clothes she wore and dress her in courtly robes. At this she flew into a fright, and would not allow them to come near her until they left her apron and girdle folded on the floor before her. She swept them up in her arms and held them gently against her. The king laughed. “My silent tyrant,” he said to his men. “She will have her own way. It is lucky she looks so pretty when she does.”

When the women had finished dressing her, the entire court bowed low in admiration of her beauty. “Do you see?” she heard the king exclaim to someone he was evidently proud of besting. “I will marry no one other.”

“Majesty,” said the man carefully, “she is beautiful, I cannot argue that –”

“And if you did, I’d call you a fool and worse,” the king said.

“But we know nothing of her. All she has done is cry in front of us. What kind of a king’s wife will she be?”

“All women cry,” the king said. “Another woman would not look so beautiful doing it, and trouble me all the more by adding speech to it.” And before the man – blessed enemy that he was, she hoped he would compile a list of infamies against her – could say another word about it, the king called for music and dancing.

So it was that they were married, and as it turned out, getting married required as much speech from her as had leaving her home. Afterwards the king led her through marble halls and fragrant gardens, but she neither spoke nor smiled. She wondered how he could love such a silent, sad companion. The king opened the door of a little green chamber, on the floor of which he had placed her spinning-things and a bundle of nettles. “Since nothing else seems to give you pleasure here,” said the king, “in spite of all I do for you, here you may dream you are back in your old tree-house, and perhaps it will amuse you now, if all my kingdom does not.”

She began to see how dangerous it was to be unhappy when he did not want her to be, and smiled at him. He smiled back at her, and ran his hands through her hair, and she stayed very still, so as not to upset him by shuddering. She wished now for the pain she had known in the woods, and would gladly have taken another seven years of blisters and stings and aching joints over these interminable caresses, but she had promised to suffer without distinction.

“Open your eyes when I address myself to you,” the king told her, and pinched her sharply about the neck until she fixed her eyes on him. “How dare you return my generosity with such sullenness, such as befits a kitchen-maid, rather than a king’s daughter and a king’s wife. Would you take all the joy out of my gift?”

She opened her eyes very wide and shook her head very hard.

“Good,” he said. “Do not make me regret being generous to you again.”

After a year of this, the king’s wife knew she was going to have a child. How she wished for her mother then! Here was a third kind of pain. Surely she would be acquainted with every variety of suffering before this could end, and she could at last say she had earned the right to be born. She had completed four of the shirts now, and kept them hidden in a small compartment underneath her bed, for the king had taken away the spinning-room he had given her, and snatched at her hands when he thought she had been working, to check for blisters and for redness.

“You have no right to ruin these hands,” he told her, and tweaked her wrist until she sank to her knees. “Why do you wish to insult me, by marring what I love so dearly?” And then he would kiss her hands until he was on his knees beside her, and gathered her into his arms, and whispered tender words to her.

After that she did her work with gloves, although the wearing of them hindered her progress exceedingly.

One of her serving-women was dearer to her than all the rest, and knew her mind better than the king himself. They were walking arm in arm in the king’s gardens, and the serving-woman said to her, “How long have you carried the king’s child?”

And the queen showed her. “You are not the first woman at court to do it,” the serving-woman said. “This does not shock you?”

The queen smiled, for nothing the king did had the power to shock her now. “I will help you,” the serving-woman said. “Would you like to keep the king’s child, and raise it, and be a mother to his son?”

And the queen shook her head. Six swans followed behind them along one of the king’s pools.

“Would you like to be rid of it now?

And the queen nodded, and her eyes spoke for her.

That night the serving-woman brought an evil-smelling cup to her bedside, and bid her drink it. The next day, the serving-woman told the king that “your wife is unwell, and must not see anybody.” Three days later, the king had no child. It had only been the ordinary kind of suffering, and she was grateful for it.

The next year, after the completion of another shirt, the queen found herself in the same predicament as before. This time, the king’s mother whispered to him that the woman he married was unlucky or worse, but he would not believe it.

“Have I not taught her to treat her hands as if they were my own? She has come to see that we are as one body, and that any crime she committed against herself would be a crime against my own person.”

But the king could not make up his mind to dismiss these charges quite, and when the queen failed to keep his child the third time, he had her drawn up in front of the whole court and accused her. She was unable to speak in her own defense, and unwilling that her serving-woman should suffer alongside her, and she was condemned under the law.

It so happened that the day of her sentence was the last day of her seven years’ silence. All but a single sleeve on the sixth shirt was done. As she was led away to the stake, she arranged the shirts along her arm. The king saw them, and cried out at the sight of her: “Those accursed shirts! The witch was always secreting herself away, spinning and toiling at God-knows-what, and wishes to take her tokens with her – take them from her! Strip her before she burns!”

She closed her eyes and heard the sound of wings. Before one of his men could reach her, the six swans landed in a circle at her feet, and her heart sang for joy. She threw each one of the shirts on them, and the crowd drew back to see what happened next.

All of her brothers stood before her, tall and clear-eyed and beautiful. One of them had grabbed the king by the scruff of the neck and held him near the fire intended for her.

“Sister,” he said, “is it your wish that this man should live? Only say the word, and we will spare him.”

And she said nothing.

“You need not fear to speak now,” Ilyas told her, putting his arm around her. His shirt had lacked only one sleeve, and in place of the other arm, he retained a swan’s wing, which he kept folded at his side. “The seven years are over, and you have suffered beautifully. There is no reason to hold your silence any longer.”

The king struggled in her brother’s grip. “Woman – woman  – use the tongue in your idle head –!” He hurled every invective imaginable at her spite, her obstinacy, her wretched ingratitude, her heartlessness, her lack of womanly affection, her coldness, and she heard them all.

“Perhaps she would rather save her first words for something more deserving,” Ilyas said.

“Sister,” her brother said, “I begin to weary of the tender embraces of this kicking jackass, and I think I know how to address our situation. Say the word if you wish to spare him. Say nothing, and I shall consign him to the flames, and wish him the very best of luck with them.”

She looked at her brother, and was startled into smiling. She smiled at all of her brothers then. She smiled at her husband too. She said nothing.

The flames grew very hot, and very high.

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