Every Friday I post a short story here in its entirety. It stays up for one week and then I post something new. When I do, the old one is taken down. So please enjoy the story of the week while it lasts.
The thread slid over Ashanti’s fingers, softer than baby’s hair, finer than a spider web.
Weaving a new marriage for two people was a heavy task but one Ashanti took on with joy. Her stitches would shape their lives for decades, transforming separate individuals into a happily married couple.
With two such different individuals weaving a life together took extra thought, effort and sacrifice.
By Meyari McFarland
The thread slid over Ashanti’s fingers, softer than baby’s hair, finer than a spider web. It glimmered purple in the light from the window. Dust motes cast tiny rainbows over it or maybe the light striking the edge of the thread set off the rainbows. Ashanti smiled. Hardly mattered.
She smoothed the thread, carefully holding it up so that the strand spun where it hung from her fingertips. A kink formed halfway, the thread forming a loop that Ashanti carefully smoothed, eased, teased into flatness. Better. A kink like that could start a knot and then she’d lose half the thread as she stitched.
As expensive as it was, Ashanti wouldn’t risk losing even a finger’s breadth of the thread.
The door creaked as Cat pushed his way inside. Ashanti hissed, smacked her free hand against the floor. Cat hissed right back and ran out of the room. She didn’t blame Cat for being annoyed. The sewing room had the widest windows in the house, and the best, softest cushions right underneath. It was a perfect place for stretching out to nap in a puddle of golden sunlight. At least if you were a cat.
But Ashanti couldn’t risk Cat’s fur getting all over the weaving so Cat was banned from the room until she was done. She’d end up with scratches for sure. Cat never did hold back the claws when he was annoyed and being kept from his favorite napping spot was sure to do it.
She shifted on the low stool, nodded at the thread. Nice and straight now. Perfect.
When she started the project for Lord Alexis, second son of the Riva Clan, Ashanti had cleaned out her sewing room. She’d taken down all the other wall hangings, bright embroidery and delicate cloth too distracting against what Lord Alexis had requested. What he’d supplied. She’d removed the blankets covering the stools, swept and mopped the floors, dusted every square inch of the sewing room so that it was as pristine as the day it was built.
How else was she to weave a new life?
Lady Gwynedd, their Lady of Hope, waited. So did Lord Alexis. Neither of them had the skills to weave the new life they would share so it fell to Ashanti to do it. She’d done it before, helping her brother and his wife find their common ground. And several people in the village. Many other people, too. Once for Lady Jocelyn who’d come from three days travel away with her baby daughter and the old painted image of her departed husband.
She’d needed a life for her and her child, a future that would give them hope, charity, love. That had been a tearful project. Instead of sweeping everything away, Ashanti had brought everything into her sewing room. Fabric and Cat and the little puppy from the kitchen that Kamalani had rescued from being sold as a hunting hound. The pup was hip-high now, Kamalani’s constant companion. And Lady Jocelyn’s little girl now sang and danced, bring the Gods’ joy to the earth.
A good life. It brought joy to both Lady Jocelyn and her daughter when their lives had been riven so badly so Ashanti was satisfied. Perhaps when the girl was older she would come back and Ashanti could weave her a life with a spouse, children, blessings overflowing to all around her. That would be good, too.
None of which was here nor there for the weaving she had to do now.
Ashanti hummed a prayer before threading her needle with the gossamer purple thread. The loom sat ready, a blank length of white silk stretched taut between the bars. Three holes on each side, carefully stitched round with the finest white thread to reinforce the edges against tearing, established the nine quarters of the working.
Love grew from the ground up so Ashanti started with the bottom right corner. Her needle slipped through the warp and weft of the silk, letting her draw the purple thread upwards, upwards, always upwards towards the top of the piece. It was just long enough that the slender purple tip drooped over the top edge of the loom, slipped down over the bottom like a fringe.
Ashanti sang softly as she worked threads as delicate as a breath into the silk. Purple and green, red and gold, blue and grey; the threads slowly filled the plain white fabric with color, life, the sort of joy that grew over time.
Just like a marriage should.
When the sun’s light began to fail, her sewing room darkening so that the last thread looked black instead of lustrous blue, Ashanti put her needle down, point carefully slipped into her felt pincushion. Then she draped another blank white piece of silk over the working, bowed, and pressed her hands over her eyebrows to beg the Gods to inspire her for tomorrow’s work.
“Is it good?” Lord Alexis asked the instant Ashanti stepped out of her sewing room. “Did anything go wrong?”
He vibrated on his place by the low, round fire, nerves so taut that he looked as pale as the unadorned silk Ashanti had started with despite the golden glow of his skin in daylight. The fire was low, just embers, which was proper for the first night’s work. He’d wrinkled his special festival wrap during the day. It no longer hung perfect and smooth from his hips. Long creases ran jagged across his hips. Tiny wrinkles marked his knees. Somehow he’d gotten dirt on the hem, darkening the purple fabric to near black.
On the other side of Ashanti’s fire, Lady Gwynedd sat as perfectly clothed as this morning. Well, almost. The tip of her braid, nearly as long as she was tall, was clenched in her hands. Lady Gwynedd’s fingers twisted and turned it as she played with the red silk cord binding the end. The red was blood-bright compared to the black of her hair and her skin. She was a puddle of dark in the shadows. She did not meet Ashanti’s eyes. Instead she stared into the fire as if certain it must have gone poorly.
“It is begun,” Ashanti said, smiling at them both. “The first lines of joy have been woven in. All the colors you gave me blend together beautifully. At this stage it reminds me of the mountains in spring after the first blush of the flowers has passed and the new leaves work to reach their full size. The bits of gold, red and grey bring lovely movement to it. It is rare that I have leave to weave a life so rich in color, in promise. I am honored to weave this life for the two of you.”
That, thankfully, seemed to calm Lord Alexis. He smiled brightly, turned to Lady Gwynedd, and then his shoulders curled inwards when she did not smile, meet his eyes or otherwise acknowledge the good news.
Hmm. A difficult weaving then. Ashanti put fresh wood on the fire, small bits of kindling that sparked and flamed at the edges. As they curled into fiery hot embers she added bigger sticks, then one nicely large log that would take at least an hour to burn. More than she would have normally given how empty all of their bellies had to be but this was her duty as the weaver of their life.
“I have used the thread given to me,” Ashanti said, following the old, old rituals she’d learned from her mother and grandmother, her aunt and cousins. “What tales do you have to weave in tomorrow?”
She turned to Lady Gwynedd first, not because it was tradition but because she needed more from her. Something was wrong there so more time would be needed to make things right. Lady Gwynedd gestured towards Lord Alexis with the tip of her braid but Ashanti shook her head no. Lord Alexis fidgeted as if more than willing to start the tales though he did stay silent as required.
“I only… had one tale come to mind,” Lady Gwynedd said, still without looking at them.
“Please,” Ashanti entreated with her eyes, a beaconing hand and a little bow that put smoke into her eyes for a moment.
“It’s a butterfly tale.” Lady Gwynedd winced at Lord Alexis’ bright smile. “Ah. The butterfly and the sparrow, I’m afraid.”
“Hmm. Are you the butterfly or the sparrow?”
The question, couched in the least judgmental tone that Ashanti had, still prompted a horrified gasp from Lord Alexis. Lady Gwynedd cringed, eyes locked very firmly on the silk cord tying her braid.
“Butterfly,” Lady Gwynedd whispered.
“I see,” Ashanti said.
She turned to Lord Alexis whose mouth had dropped open in horror or perhaps in shock. He stared at Lady Gwynedd as though he saw her for the first time. Perhaps he did. They had not truly met or spent any time together before Ashanti began her weaving. This day’s work was the first they had spent alone, the first of nine days. She suspected that neither of them had addressed the other directly all day.
“And you, Lord Alexis?” Ashanti asked. “What story do you bring to the weaving?”
“I’m even worse,” Lord Alexis admitted with enough embarrassment that Lady Gwynedd looked at him. “I spent the whole day thinking about the old tales my Mam, my great-grandmother, used to tell me when I was a tiny child, long before I chose my gender. Before I was allowed into sarong, honestly.”
Ashanti couldn’t help a laugh at that. The man was adorable in his earnestness. There might be a chance for this weaving after all, if only she could find a way to balance his openness with her fears.
“Which tales, then?” Ashanti pressed, deliberately waving her hand in front of her face to fan away any shame that might head Lord Alexis’ way from her laughter.
“The baby mushroom stories,” Lord Alexis groaned, immediately burying his face in his hands.
As well he might for Lady Gwynedd burst into startled laughter and giggles erupted out of Ashanti’s mouth. She patted his head as fondly as if he was the toddler still wearing his apron. The baby mushroom stories were all about family and home and hearth, the deepest lessons of making a home and being kind to one’s family. As well as laughter and joy and the love of parents who held and cared for you.
“That’s one of the better choices I’ve ever had, Lord Alexis,” Ashanti said once her giggles settled into giggles. “Home and love and the desire to belong. Very appropriate. Your story is not inappropriate either, Lady Gwynedd. The Butterfly and the Sparrow is all about change, transformation, growing past the limitations of your childhood into a new form. One that, while different, perhaps fragile, is still beautiful.”
“The butterfly dies,” Lady Gwynedd protested.
She was startled enough by Ashanti’s approval that she looked up, met Ashanti’s eyes. Her hands went still on the braid. They had more strength than Ashanti would have expected, with wide knuckles, strong long fingers and nails clipped quite short for a lady of her stature. Now that the fire burned well, Ashanti could see muscles in Lady Gwynedd’s arms, powerful ones.
“In some stories, yes,” Ashanti agreed. “And in others it is clever and tricks the sparrow into singing. Other stories say that it is poison and the sparrow dies before it can eat the butterfly. There are many versions of the story, many paths it takes. Either way, it is a story of transformation and growth which is truly quite appropriate to the weaving.”
She settled back onto her heels, shifting so that she was comfortable for sitting for a long time. There were songs to sing and assignments for tomorrow’s weaving to give. Ashanti smiled at the fire and then nodded.
“For tomorrow,” she said without meeting either of their eyes as she should, “I require that which is the opposite of you, of your soul. Bring me things to weave that are not you, not your soul or your life or your plans or your family’s vision of you. That is what I will require.”
Ashanti bowed to the fire and then held up her hands before they could question the choice. She began to sing the oldest, longest prayer, the one that would last as long as it took for the fire to burn down. Questions would only bring more doubt at this stage. It was her duty to guide them in the weaving until they found a place, a way, that could bring them together in a life of joy.
Lord Alexis joined her, hesitant and untrained, in the singing. His voice was wobbling and awkward but enthusiastic. He was a bit rough on the low notes but it did not look as though he minded sounding as though he’d never sung before. It took nearly half the song before Lady Gwynedd began to pat the edge of the fire pit as if drumming for them. Ashanti smiled.
Progress was progress, no matter how small or slow.
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