1. Her Grangran
’His bones are tubes of bronze;
His limbs are bars of iron.’
Her eyes snapped open as she sat bolt upright all in one motion. Her chest was heavy as it heaved up and down with each deep breath. Her first thought was of the fleeting dream she had. The dream consisted or was all about those words ringing in her ears, until they faded.
“Where am I, who am I?”
She sat there trying to calm her breathing, while puzzling over her own riddle. She must have known the answer once. It was there in a vague haze. All she could do was sit in silence until the memories emerged from the mists of her mind.
“Bryn. My name is Bryn. I belong to the Balaur family. I am eighteen years of age. I have four siblings, both my parents, and my grangran.”
Knowing those facts comforted her a little.
Bryn swung her legs over the small bed frame letting her bare feet dangle over the tiled floor. Within that motion, she paused, a thought attracting her.
“Grangran,” Bryn whispered and then coughed. Speaking tickled her dry throat.
That was what she was missing. She was not with her parents or siblings. Her parents had taken her other siblings to travel north for a work opportunity. Bryn had separated from them to stay with her grandmother until further notice.
For the first time Bryn looked around at the room. Almost directly she knew it was an inn accommodation. The flower pattern on the covers of the bed, on the drapes and on the small window were tacky indicators. The room was square and the only other attached space was a simple bathing room.
Bryn stayed in her seated position while she continued to think. She did not remember getting a room. The last thing she could recall was visiting a distant relative, talking about the good old days when dragons were still around.
The more Bryn thought about it, the more confused and frustrated she became. So instead she looked for what she did know, for things that she had. She glanced at what she was wearing. She had on her pale brown dress. It had weaving patterns sewed along the seams. Over top was her worn, pull over yellow sweater that was loose around her shoulders. She also saw by the foot of the bed, where her stained lace up boots, her handstitched bag, her priceless, dust brown, dragon leather jacket, and resting on top of the jacket, attached to the holster and belt, was her double-action pistol, with a fat barrel.
Bryn did not realize that she had stood and was pacing the room to glance at everything, her thoughts wandering back to her situation at hand. She stopped in front of a full body mirror with a carven frame. She stared right at her own reflection with criticism, typical of any human being.
She was not very tall, but her big shoulders and sturdy legs made up for it. She was as solid as they come. Her dark brown, thick, curly hair that swayed against her shoulder blades was stuck out on one side. She quickly patted it down and brushed it around her rounded face. She had deep, small eyes and a small nose to match. She had a normal mouth, with nicely straight teeth. She was an attractive young woman, and very confident which added to her looks.
She stared into her own face, hoping to see something that could help her find her answers. When nothing came to her, frustration took hold. In such a haughty state, Bryn slammed herself back on the bed and grabbed at her socks and boots, slamming them on. Missing a few loops, she laced them up. Once finished, she bent over to snatch up her jacket before moving to the door and down the hallway. She practically marched to the stairs and made her way to the front desk that was in the small front entrance.
At the desk was an elderly clerk, with his clean shaven face, that showed off his deep set wrinkles. He was occupied with some letters he was sorting on the desk. Before Bryn could address the man, he poked his eyes upward, noticing Bryn approaching the counter, he addressed her first.
“Miss Bryn, I am glad to see you come down. Did you have a pleasant rest? Did it relieve that headache,” He did not wait for a response, “A letter was delivered here for you this morning, along with a note from Doctor Filip about your grandmother. I was about to take them both up to you. I hope there is good news in each,” While he spoke he handed her a crumpled envelope. Bryn recognized the handwriting on the letter as her mother’s. He then placed a ruffled piece of folded paper in Bryn’s awkwardly shifting hand.
The clerk knew Bryn, but Bryn did not recognize him. Instead of questioning him; letting her amnesia be known, Bryn focused on the two articles in her hand. As soon as the clerk said ‘grandmother’ and ‘Doctor Filip’, she was filled with curiosity and anxiety. She snapped open the folded note and tried to comprehend the sentences. The handwriting looked more like scratches and gibberish that children jot down. It took Bryn longer than she cared to admit to decipher. What was contained in the message when she could read it was this:
For Miss Bryn,
I’m sorry to say that this day, the 22n d, of the third and last month of spring, at dawn’s early light, near five in the morn, your grandmother, Lady Shelta Balaur has passed peacefully. The cause was from the flu she had been suffering from. She slipped away in her sleep with no pain.
Please return to my work as soon as you are able, so her burial can be arranged.
My deepest condolences,
Once Bryn had read it over twice, she stared, but did not really see anything. Her first thoughts were that this was some sort of jest planned so that she would look the fool. The latest memory Bryn could recall of her grangran was still as healthy as any seventy-eight year old could be. She had not even had a cough, much less any sort of flu.
Bryn glanced over the note again and this time she noticed the date; ’the third and last month of spring, on the twenty second day’. The last she had known it was still the early days of the second month of spring. She was missing an entire month of memories.
“Is the news unwell, Miss Bryn?”
Bryn’s eyes snapped up to focus on the clerk. Her mind was in a fog that she could not escape. She had to think of something to say, she knew that, but words were not coming to her mind or mouth. “Umm... Well, gahhh.” She shook her head as if that could clear the mists. It did not so she sighed instead, “Umm… no. I mean—I mean, yes. My grangran,” As she was saying it Bryn had a tremendous want to go see her grandmother. “Where… Where’s the doctor’s residence?”
The clerk pulled his chin back in confusion, before his eyes softened and he looked upon her with pity. He probably thought Bryn was disoriented in her grief; which might be true, she did not know.
“Just a moment, miss. I’ll take you there,” He kindly said.
Bryn started to protest the offer, but then thought better of it. She was already dizzy from all this confusion and was slightly afraid she would black out.
While she waited, she considered the possibility that perhaps she was sick and having delusions, or perhaps she was asleep and having a very vivid dream. As she considered these theories she knew they were not true, she just wanted them to be.
After the clerk had locked the front doors to the inn, he led the way down an open street. It was not a very busy day, despite the blue sky and sun smiling down on the warm earth. She could only see a handful of people strolling around the nearby shops.
The town or city, Bryn could not tell at that point, was larger than it looked from a streets point of view. Every time Bryn thought they were drawing near to their destination, they moved on. She wanted to ask what town they were in and where it was located, but she stopped the words from coming out because she did not want to appear ignorant. So, she walked on in silence, gazing at her surroundings, trying to spot something familiar.
They arrived at the doctor’s place of business, which looked to also be his home. The house was on the upper level, while the medical offices were in the lower and under levels. It was a simple building; with brick siding, a slanted roof, and a sign painted on the wall itself, spelling out in bold letters, ‘MEDICAL’.
“Thank you so much, sir. I am capable of handle it from here,” Bryn told the clerk.
“Are you certain you do not want me to accompany you? I am able to stay if you need my assistance. It is a large burden for a young girl to be holding on her shoulders,” The clerk willingly offered.
Bryn was touched by his kindness and concern, and showed it with a little smile. “Thank you, but I do not want to keep you and I can manage. I have very big shoulders.”
He still appeared doubtful, but did not push it any further, “If you insist, I will see you tonight then. I will make sure there is food put aside for you and we will deliver it to your room, with my compliments. You do have one more paid night with us, unless you require more.”
“Thank you,” Bryn could not say that enough. “You are too kind for my own good.”
With one last thank you, she turned and made her way to the building with him gazing fixedly after her. He waited until she had slipped through the front door, before he turned back the way he had come. All the while he wagged his head with the pity of a kind soul.
“Poor girl,” He mumbled to himself, “She’s all alone now, with no one to take care of such a young thing. I do hope she has family or friends nearby.”
Meanwhile, Bryn was immediately greeted at the door by a young woman. Her hair was tied up and hidden under a head scarf. She wore a plain yellow dress with white frills around the scooped neck and a black apron over top. The woman directly had that look in her eye that showed she recognized Bryn.
“Miss Bryn, we were beginning to worry you wouldn’t come. You seemed so distraught and heavy hearted last I saw you. I hope that headache you were nursing has faded,” She did not wait for an answer, “I thought you might be too weak or sick to deal with the news of your grandmother. However, my husband insisted the message be sent to you straight of way.” The woman had a sweet motherly voice. What added to her motherly features was a bump in her stomach. She cradled it as if already cradling a babe. She was a small woman, smaller than Bryn even. She looked so tired and worried that Bryn wanted to pity her instead of letting the woman pity Bryn.
Bryn did not know how to respond, she stopped herself from smiling which was her instinctive response in any awkward or embarrassing situation. Instead she stared at the woman, her mouth opening a few times wanting to say something, but since she was still not thinking straight nothing came out.
“Are you alright,” The woman asked, not knowing what to do. The same pity that the clerk held for her was in this woman’s eyes.
“Where’s my grangran,” Was all Bryn could make come out. She just wanted to see the old woman. She had to be sure this was all real.
The woman’s eyes softened even more (if such kind eyes could look any more kind) when she realized Bryn was in shock.
“This way, please,” The woman took one step to the side before she abruptly stopped as if she had just hit a wall, “Oh dear, before I forget I have a delivery,” She slipped a slender, work worn hand into an invisible pocket attached to her apron. When it emerged again it was gently clasping an envelope that she was handing off, “This is for you. It is your grandmother’s last will and last words she wanted related to specific people. A paragraph is written specifically for you. I transcribed what she dictated. I hope you can read my messy handwriting.”
Bryn accepted it without a word. She hardly even looked at it as she slipped it into her jacket pocket and muttered some sort of thank you.
Bryn followed the woman into another room, an operating room. They passed by so quickly, and Bryn was so distracted, that she did not see a thing that was in the room. In the back was another door that led to a dark staircase. There were no light orbs to guide them down and both women had to use the walls on either side for support. They entered into a dark, cool room that had several light orbs lighting the place. Even with the lights, the room had a darkness shrouding it that only the presence of death could create. In the room were five long, cold tables. Two of them had sheet covered bodies over them.
Bryn knew before the woman approached the body which one was her grandmother’s. Bryn did not move at first, she just stared at the white sheeted form, soaking it in before moving closer.
The woman did not touch the sheet or the body, she just stood beside it. It took Bryn a moment to realize that she was talking.
“… I’ll be upstairs if you need me. Take your time, but we do need to discuss burial arrangements, especially if you want to move her to another location to rest.”
“She can be buried here,” Bryn replied without removing her eyes from her grangran, “It is tradition; we are buried where we die. I will need to speak to a masonry about a very specific headstone.”
The woman said something in reply, but all Bryn heard was the sounds of shoed foot fall and the creaking stairs, as the woman left her alone.
Bryn slowly made her way to the table, and drew the sheet away from the head to see her grandmother’s old, wrinkled, little face. Her thin, white hair was combed back and tied into a neat bun above her head. There was a faint smile on those wrinkled and pale lips.
“Typical,” Bryn muttered without realizing it was out loud, “Grangran, you could always smile at the most inappropriate times. I have half a mind to think you are poking fun somehow.”
After taking in the sight Bryn removed the rest of the sheet. The deceased was still wearing that thick, dark blue dress, with more stains on it than Bryn cared to count. The belt had been removed as well as her boots and heavy coat that made from fur. Bryn scanned the room with her eyes, until she saw in a dark corner another table where the missing belongings were.
Bryn slowly moved around the table towards her grandmother’s worldly treasures. She lifted the belt and examined it, as if she was thinking to purchase it. She searched the belt pouches and found the usual herbs, tools, snacks, and material she was expecting. She was also pleased to see all of her grandmother’s gold pieces and family jewels had not been found or removed from the secret hemmed pockets in the belt. There was nothing inside of the boots either, except that small knife that had its own pouch to store it in the side of the boot. There was not much there, but Bryn did not expect to see anything grand. For generations Bryn’s family and extended family, never had many earthly belongings. Some did own property, and expensive heirlooms. Balaurs put more stalk in people and connections rather than in objects.
Bryn took a deep breath once she had finished. She rested her hands on the table and leaned forward heavily. It had already turned into a long day and it was still morning. All she wanted to do was shut away all her worries, griefs and fears. She did not want to deal with it, but since she was alone, she had no choice.
“Grangran, you are an old faker,” Bryn muttered. She did love her grandmother, which was why tears clouded her eyes as she spoke. Her stupor was finally dissolving into mourning. There was a knot forming in Bryn’s chest as her eyes spilled out the waiting tears.
She tried to calm her nerves before her tears turned to fits. This was no time to cry, she had questions that needed answers. It was then that Bryn remembered that letter the clerk had given her and the will the kind lady had handed her. She immediately began to pat pockets. Right of way she found the doctor’s message crumpled in her dress pocket. Underneath was the letter from her mother and she yanked it out to tear it open. She eyed it intensely as she bore through each word.
My dear Bryn,
How is Grangran? You said in your last letter that she was coming down with the flu. Has she recovered? Please let us know. You made me so worried. You said so little about it that I jumped to conclusions, I know I am being silly, but hurry with news to ease my mind.
My dear, I will abruptly tell you, your papa has decided to traverse farther north. Your papa has found work that pays well as a guide through the Dozen Rivers for several families who have offered to pay us very well. It will be a couple months and of course we will travel with them to the northern coast—not the peak, I do not think I could travel there ever again—where we will sail back to the meeting place. I forget the name of the place at the moment, but you already know, so there is no need for me to worry. It will give you more time with grangran if you wish.
I’m sorry for the short notice of it. Your papa is determined to see this through. If you wish us to wait for you, send a bird or messenger as soon as possible and we will make arrangements. If I do not hear from you within the week we will proceed as planned. I do hope to hear from you however, even if you do not wish to accompany us.
Your siblings are well. Dragos is doing better, by the way, he is not in pain anymore and is used to his deformity, although he said I am not allowed to call it that anymore. It is a gift he says.
Miri asks after you every day. I think she is afraid she will forget what her big sister looks like.
Lidia and Ion send their hellos and wish you and Grangran will return swiftly.
Think before you act unless instinct has already kicked in. Words of wisdom from your mama.
Lots of love from us all.
Bryn could not believe her problems had managed to swell instead of deflate after reading that letter. Not only could her mama not send some sort of hint as to what was happening, they were also leaving farther and farther away, not knowing their eldest child was in distress. It all of a sudden hit Bryn like a bullet. She had no way of contacting her family. She did not know where they currently were. If Bryn had known the meeting place and where to send the emergency letter the day before, it was lost to her now.
Without delay, and with still a grain of hope left in her, Bryn found her grandmother’s papers in her jacket pocket. She ripped it open with a little more ceremony. After all it was a letter from the grave. Bryn could read the kind woman’s hand clearly. Most of it was indeed about what grandmother was to will away, even though it was not much. Her grandmother did own a part of Balaur land and assets. Most of what was written in the document Bryn knew already. Everyone in the family knew who was to inherit what from whom by word of mouth and discussions. Now that it was written down, she had not abandoned any of her promises. At the end of the will, in the last few pages, there were paragraphs of her last words to her loved ones. The first paragraph was for Bryn, and read like this:
I intrust you with my best kept secret. Don’t forget what I told you and hurry to finish what I started. I know you will find the answers and put the words together eventually. You have worked so hard at my side, it is only right that you receive the honour of solving the riddles.
I am glad you are proud to call yourself a Balaur; daughter of dragon men.
I am sorry I am leaving you alone without anyone to look after you, but you know how to reach your family. They will be waiting for you and can perhaps help.
I love you, my girl. Before I babble myself to death I will stop there.
Be selfless, if you can’t be selfless, fake it.
Bryn only scanned the other paragraphs. She determined they had nothing of importance in them that could help her in her plight. She dropped the papers onto her legs as she stared at the opposite wall. The life had drained from her face. At that moment all she wanted to do was huddle into a ball and cry her sorrows away. She did receive half her wish, because the tears began to pour down her cheeks again. This time she could not stop them. She was alone. She was all alone and lost. With no way of reaching out for support she had to stand on her own until she could find someone to lean on. For that moment she bent on the floor, to rock her body back and forth as she relinquished everything through her tears.