Morning sunlight flooded the room through the open door. Raeanne hummed along with the robin’s birdsong, a haunting melody of loss and dying.
“Come, gentle death, and end my grief;
Ye pretty birds ring forth my knell;
Let robin redbreast be the chief
To bury me, and so farewell.”*
It was a glorious day. The last of the snow was melting and fuzzy, white buds dotted every tree limb. Bright yellow crocus, swaying gently in the sweet, spring breeze, decorated the edge of Raeanne’s well-tended lawn like the tatted fringe on her never worn wedding dress. A small mound of fresh-turned dirt the only blemish on the field of green.
Hoyt was an impulsive man, but he wasn’t the marrying kind. It was easy enough to seduce him, to deceive his seed. She needed a baby, and he was merely the instrument to that end. Once achieved, just as a praying mantis dispatches her mate, Raeanne released Hoyt from his obligations and his life.
Unlike the murderess insect consort who killed without compunction, Raeanne ensured Hoyt went into the frigid afterlife with a smile on his face, and heat in his loins.
Born during the coldest winter the valley had seen in generations, their son, Cade, was colicky and frail. The fire Raeanne laid was never able to break the chill in the cabin. No number of quilts nor incantations warmed the small boy, and he died with the first cracking of the river ice.
Sitting alone in the quiet cabin, awash in light and renewing warmth, Raeanne rolled a smooth river rock in her palm. Found last fall while harvesting mayapples, the stone was to be a gift for Cade, a small memento of his father. She carried it when she dug up the roots of the same plants after their spring bloom.
A steaming mug of tea cooled on the rough-hewn table, a tincture of mandrake root and sassafras. The same potion she brewed for Hoyt.
Granny won’t understand. She said love dulls the wits, and no draoi should fall under its spell. Love of a man, or child, it didn’t matter, granny said. But, it did matter. Raeanne felt the loss, and mourned that something was missing from her life.
The birdsong stopped when a robin hopped through her cabin door. With practiced, measured movements, she laid the stone on the floor as an offering to the harbinger of death. Cupping the still warm mug from the table in her hands, she slowly drank the toxic tea.
She crawled into her bed, and pulled the blankets up to her chin, the same hand-sewn quilts that could not save her son. Closing her eyes, she felt the bed shudder when the robin hopped onto the headboard and began singing again.
A funeral dirge this time, the song echoed in the empty cabin as Raeanne drifted to sleep.
*“The Soldier’s Repentance,” 1584 ballad