And that was the last anyone heard of Jan, till she showed up with the first winter storm two years later, thin and sickly and miserable looking, and out to here with child. Of course Nimertha took her back in, nursed her back to health, and delivered the babe when the time came. Even under Nimertha’s care, Janaice never did regain the glow of youth. She looked aged and tired beyond the two years she had been gone. When spring came, she kept to Nimertha’s garden and cottage just outside the village. And when the village women went to visit Dear Nim, Jan never even gave a body so much as a how do.
Janaice stayed with her sister and her newborn child through the summer and through the next long winter, but the following spring, when the trader wagons rolled again, Jan was gone. This time, there would be no return of the prodigal child.
Aimee rubs her fingers together briskly. The days were still quite warm, but the evening air was cooler now. Both the mist from the lake and her own private thoughts have chilled the girl. She was not her mother. Was not. Aimee didn’t want to go find a rich husband so that she could live a wealthy life. Aimee just wanted…. Well, she just wanted some answers. She wanted to know what had happened to her grandmother. She wanted to know who her father was. She wanted to know where it was her Aunt Nim went for a few days every month, taking the pony and the two wheeled cart while Aimee stayed with various village women in turn. (There was, Aimee knew, a way to answer that question, if only she could work up the courage to do it. But Aunt Nim would be furious, furious and disappointed, if Aimee slipped away and tried to follow her. And Aunt Nim’s disappointment would be far worse for Aimee to shoulder than her anger.)
Aimee took a deep breath. What was it she most wanted? She wanted to know if her mother was still alive somewhere, and if so, why hadn’t she come back for Aimee? And if not, what had happened to her? What had her life been like for the two years she was gone? What had her life been like after she had left for the last time? What was out there, that had been more important to her than her little girl?
Standing, Aimee begins to carefully make her way back across the small outcropping of rocks to reach the small path back to the village. The sun was low in the west, and the last thing Aimee needed to do was worry her aunt before she broached this topic with her. Feet safe in the dirt of the trail, Aimee continued to mull over her thoughts on her way home. She wanted, she just wanted, to prove herself. To show that she wasn’t her mother, and, ironically, she needed to leave to do that. Because, in Aimee’s mind, it wasn’t in leaving Kissingersee that her mother had erred. It was in expecting her dreams to just be handed to her. As far as Aimee could learn, her mother had left with no real skills and no real plan.
Aimee, on the other hand, had a plan. She had a job and a mentor and would be taken on as an apprentice. She would not be heading blindly out into the world hoping to land in the lap of luxury. Aimee would be traveling under the protection and tutelage of an experienced minstrel, and would in time learn his craft. And while she knew the villagers did not hold the small troupe of traveling performers in the highest of regards, for all that they had flocked to their show, Aimee could barely contain her excitement when she thought of joining them.
At a forking in the narrow trail, Aimee turns aside from the route that would lead her down into the village proper. Instead, she climbs the small grassy hill that hid her Aunt’s cottage from the worst of the winds off the great lake. Topping the small crest, she is relieved to see she has made it home before Aunt Nim had lit the window candles. The houses in the village only placed lit candles in the windows on sacred nights, but each window in Aunt Nim’s cottage always had a candle burning. Women who came to Aunt Nim for herbs or advice always brought her a candle or two as part of their payment. Aimee was certain, was more than certain, that the candles placed in the windows never burned as quickly as the one they used on their table. When she asked her Aunt why this was so, Aunt Nim always answered “just in case.” And when Aimee pressed and asked, in case what? Aunt Nim would smile and reply that the candle was a symbol that warmth and safe shelter was nearby. And when Aimee asked why those candles burned so much more slowly than the others, Aunt Nim would only answer that the candles in the windows were for those who were in true need. Which wasn’t an answer at all.
Aimee lifts the latch and pushes open the low wooden gate. The gate was too low to keep any person or large animal out, and the gap underneath the gate was too high to keep any small animal out. But there the gate was nonetheless. Outside the garden fence, tall grasses and wildflowers rambled in the sun. Inside the garden gate was a wide path to the cottage’s front door and several narrow paths that crisscrossed the many garden beds and all around was an abundance of vegetables and herbs that grew so thickly they made the wild grasses outside look tame. Aimee takes the time to chase a straggling chicken back to the coop in a back corner of the garden. She makes sure the door of coop is firmly shut for the night. How had Aunt Nim missed one of her chickens? And, more importantly, should Aimee mention the magic the minstrel had showed Aimee after the rest of the audience had departed?