(Part 4 of Jerra and the Ravers. Part 3 is here: Masica fever)
True to Buranga tradition, Jerra and her family consecrated her mother’s body to the gods at sundown, the very day she died. Her pyre was strung with garlands of early autumn flowers and fallen leaves. Gifts of food, beads, feathers and furs were set around the base of her funeral bower, left by the villagers at the garden gate.
Funerals, in Buranga, were private affairs, with anonymous gifts left for the dead and solitude for the grieving family. Jerra and Ander were especially grateful for the isolation a death-fire begat.
Ander was near inconsolable. He and Ambra had loved deeply, for many, many years. Jerra knew that her father would never marry again, even if there were no fears about someone finding out his children’s half-blood status. Ambra had been the love of his lifetime, no one stood a chance at filling the hole her death had caused.
When the fire had flamed itself down to cinders, the younger girls already deeply asleep in their goose-down bed, Ander roused himself from his grief and went searching for his oldest child.
He found his red-headed, green-eyed daughter in the barn, roughly chopping her maiden’s braids from her head, an outdated but still accepted form of mourning in Buranga. Tears poured unchecked from her eyes as she sawed a leather knife’s blade through her thick locks.
“Child,” he whispered, his voice thick and gruff with his tears, “here, let me help you. That knife won’t do. Try this.”
Ander held forth his own knife, sharpened and strong, for his daughter to take.
Jerra’s hands fell from her head, the tanning knife falling loose from her grip. Her shoulders hunched and her body began to shake with her enormous sobs. The large, solid form of her father was suddenly at her back, his strong arms wrapping themselves around her, holding her tightly, while his tears mingled with hers in their shared anguish.
When they had both cried themselves dry, Ander gently finished cutting Jerra’s luxurious hair, trimming the ends so that, even in mourning, her hair was properly kempt. He watched his daughter, who looked so much like his beloved, carefully pick up the hacked off pieces of her hair and place them all into a white handkerchief. Then she tied the ends together and slipped the package into her pocket.
Jerra nodded at her father, answering his question without words of her own. She was afraid she’d begin to cry all over again if she dared to open her mouth. She took the hand Ander held out to her and together they walked from the barn, separate in their loneliness.
Ander stopped just before the pair reached the safety of their well-built wooden house and said, “Your mother… she left something for you. I didn’t want her to give it to you. We argued, yes, while she was ill, and I’m sorry for it, but, at the time, I thought it was best. Now, seeing you in your grief, I believe I may have been wrong.”
Jerra’s deep green eyes glistened with tears. “What is it? And why do you think you were wrong?”
“Jerra,” her father whispered in the dark, “look at yourself.”
Stunned, the girl realized that, in her angst, she’d forgotten to maintain the hold on her Buranga appearance. Her limbs were longer than they should have been. She was also taller than her father, who at 6’1 stood taller than most of the other men in the village.
“Papa… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… What if someone had seen,” Jerra’s voice faltered, bewilderment, grief, and anxiety all jumbled together in her tone.
Ander patted his daughter’s long-fingered hands. “Don’t fret, girl, it’s dark, it’s a death-day, you’re fine. But, it does make me certain that, once again, your mother was right. Come, let me give you her book.”
With that, the father and daughter entered their darkened house. Ander sat his daughter in the rocking chair near the fireplace and retrieved her mother’s book.
“I believe it’s all the magic she knew. All the tricks and spells, all the information she had gathered from both her time in the city, and her time here. It will help keep you safe. You, and your sisters.”
Jerra nodded her thanks, giving her father a weak smile, and flipped open the book. Ander quietly made his way to his empty bed, where he cried himself to sleep.