A precious gift
Unna waved away the women who offered to walk her back to the little house she’d shared with Dag these last ten months. Could it really have been just ten brief months? They were the happiest time of Unna’s life. In some ways it seemed her life hadn’t really began until the day Dag had taken her home as his wife. She hadn’t known him well at the time - their parents had arranged the wedding - but she’d quickly discovered that Dag was about the kindest man any woman could have wished to wed. So what if he was a little slow compared to some? So what if he’d been plain? Dag had become her world and she’d loved him.
And now he was gone.
Unna’s fists clutched at the front of her cloak. Fresh, frustrated tears flooded her eyes. It just didn’t seem real. How could Dag be gone? How could a little scratch from a rusty nail bring low such a big, strong man? It wasn’t right. The gods were playing a cruel joke upon her. They’d given her something beautiful. So beautiful. And now they’d taken it away in the blink of an eye.
She almost stepped on the buddle at her doorstep before she realized it was there. No more than a foot long the object was wrapped in a strange, foreign fabric. Her grief was momentarily pushed to the background of her thoughts as Unna stooped to examine the parcel. Before her hand could grasp the fabric to pull it aside the buddle moved. Then it began to cry.
Hands shaking, Unna pulled aside the fabric and found herself face to face with a startling pair of blue eyes. They were not the usual blue that all infants first show. No, this blue was as clear and crisp as a summer sky. The babe stared up at her, its expression solemn, as if it somehow knew how important this moment was to the directions of both their lives. Unna gently touched the wisps of pale blond hair atop the child’s head.
“Where did you come from, little one?”
The baby gurgled and flailed her arms inside the strange, makeshift blanket. Something hard rested on the child’s belly. Unwilling to expose the baby further to the frigid night air Unna scooped it up and hurried inside. She crossed the single room to the far right corner where a deerskin curtain partitioned off the sleeping space. She hummed a soothing tune as she laid the baby gently in the middle of the furs that kept her warm during the night.
“I’ll be right back, little one.”
In the hearth only low coals remained from the evening’s cook fire. Unna placed a few logs and coaxed a few flames to life. Though she was sick unto death of fire after the long vigil at Dag’s pyre, Unna knew she needed to warm the place for the baby’s sake. She held out her hands to the fire for a moment, warming her icy fingers. Then, satisfied with her work, she turned back to the mystery lying upon her bed.
No clothes were provided in the baby girl’s bundle, but there was a large piece of bark. Unna was the daughter of a pig farmer and the wife of a poor baker and therefore an uneducated woman, but she recognized the markings scratched on the inside of it as writing.
“Come on little one,” Unna said, wrapping the baby back up first in her strange blanket and then in a rabbit fur. “It looks like your adventure isn’t quite over yet.”
It was very late by this time, but Unna found the priest still awake, just returning from Dag’s pyre. He was an old man, and tired. His bushy gray eyebrows pulled together in a scowl when Unna caught up to him. Still, he took the note from her and squinted at it, but no helpful moonlight filtered through the clouds. Unna followed the man back to his home where he begrudgingly held it up to the light of the hearth fire. Unna bounced the fussing baby while the priest read.
“It says, ‘Cherish this gift.’”
Unna’s brow wrinkled in confusion.
“The baby is a gift?”
“So it would seem.” The priest handed her back the note.
“But who gives a child away as a gift?”
A wry smile twisted the old priest’s lips as he ushered Unna back towards the door.
“An elf, perhaps? Who knows? The question is, what will you do with her?”
Unna looked down at the little face that peered back at her from the depths of the rabbit fur.
“Cherish her. What else could I do?”
“What will you name her?”
There was a long moment of silence as Unna pondered the question. She stared down at the child, her expression serious. The child stared right back with eyes just as grave. Finally, Unna smiled and looked up at the priest just before he closed his door.
“Alfiva. My gift from the elves.”