Adoption of another sort
Björg watched the light in Unna’s home dim around the shutters as the candles were doused and the fire banked for the night. She was startled to discover a deep ache in her heart. It was surprisingly difficult to give up the babe. Though she’d only known the child a few short hours, it felt as if a huge hole were being ripped in her heart. She wondered if it was the result of sharing her life essence or something else.
The Ælv shook her head to free herself of useless thoughts. There was no point dwelling on it now. She would have an eternity to ponder that question. Right now there were things to be done.
She produced a small wooden flute from a pocket deep inside her cloak. It was a plain instrument, no more than a tube with holes for her fingers. Björg placed her fingertips carefully to form the correct note, brought it to her lips, and blew.
A high, piercing note, warbling with magic and command, left the flute and carried up into the clear winter sky.
For a long time nothing happened. Then a small voice broke the silence.
“What need have you of me?”
The tomte was a small creature, its head barely coming up to Björg’s waist. It sat atop a snow drift, its bright red cap a sharp contrast to the gray of its tunic and the white of its beard. Sharp, beedling dark eyes peered at the Ælv with intense curiosity.
“Your home is abandoned. Its buildings fall into ruin.”
The tomte crossed its arms, a sour expression twisting its features.
“The family died last winter. Caught sick. It wasn’t my fault.”
“No one blames you, good Tomte,” Björg said soothingly.
Though the tomte appeared to relax, it continued to scowl. Björg decided that was the best she was going to get after brining up such a sensitive subject. She gestured to Unna’s home.
“This home has no tomte.”
“Of course it doesn’t. It’s not a farm and none of its residents come from a farm.”
“I would like you to adopt the family in this home.”
The tomte raised one shaggy white eyebrow.
“And why would I do that?”
“Who is left to honor you but the shades and shadows?”
“Someone will claim the farm,” the tomte said, a bit too quickly and defensively. An unspoken “eventually” hung in the air with the fog of his breath. It was Björg’s turn to raise an eyebrow.
“Before you return to the wilds?”
The tomte shuddered visibily. Its kind represented the spirit of nature harnessed and shaped to serve man. If left too long without a family to serve a tomte would eventually dissipate, its essence once again becoming one with the wild nature surrounding him. That was if no one touched the homestead. There were alternative fates for a tomte, but they were even worse to contemplate.
“Setting aside the issue of whether or not you need them, this new little family needs you. The babe is fairy-kissed. I do not yet know what that will mean for the child, but that she will be gifted is a forgone conclusion. She will need a guardian.”
“And you think that guardian should be me, eh? You would have me be a glorified babysitter.”
“For the first few years it will be the easiest job a tomte could ask for.”
The tomte gave an answer by way of a snort.
“Watch over the child. Keep her away from things that might harm her, and alert me as soon as she shows any signs of her gifts.”
“What’s in in for me?”
Rather than answering him, Björg strode towards the little house. She rapped smartly upon the door three times. For several moments there was shuffling and cursing on the other side of the door before at last the portal popped open with a jerk.
Ælv and human stared at each other. Unna’s eyes were round with surprise that might have channeled into fear if not for a subtle touch of Björg’s compulsive power. Deftly the Ælv used her magic to lull the human woman into a suggestive state. Unna’s brown eyes slid to half-mast.
“From this day forward at dusk you will always leave morsel of bread topped with cream and honey upon the sill with a cup of milk.”
“I like berries,” the tomte put in from its perch on the snowdrift. Björg shot it a withering look before continuing her instructions.
“If you have no cream, berries will do. If you have no milk, make a tea, but do not use yarrow. Leave no iron lying about. Put it all away in drawers when not in use. Never use a lock of iron upon your door.”
Unna nodded along with the instructions, her expression dreamy.
“You will forget that you ever saw me. You never rose from your bed this night.”
Still nodding along in her stupor, Unna shut the door. Björg listened quietly for several moments as the human woman stumbled her way back to bed.
“Satisfied?” Björg asked the tomte at last.