THE DAY WAS WARM and sunny – the grey clouds moved through the sky quickly and shifted shape so often the young kids couldn't even really cloud watch properly. But for Ohiel's family there was no joy. Their father had gathered them up early in the morning and presided over them as they dressed. Because they didn't have anything formal to wear their father had ordered them all new formal clothing in black. While they weren't proper funeral clothes they would do as that had been the last of their money. The storm that had raged the same day their mother had died destroyed all but two of their fishing boats and that meant they were losing money.
In the past three days they'd had to sell off their store because they could no longer afford to keep it up. Yeniat had a good head for math and had calculated the costs of running the store and keeping a house as well as the two remaining fishing boats – it hadn't looked good so their father had made the difficult choice and sold off the store.
"Besides," their father had said, "there's really no one able to work it at this point since Ohiel is leaving anyways."
At this Aedai had thrown a comforting look at him and Ohiel felt bad. She was his younger sister, and shouldn't be having to look after him. He should be looking after her – after all of them.
Earlier that day he'd offered to not go, "Father," he'd begun, "I don't have to go anymore. You could use me around here still."
His father had glared and snarled at him, "Your mother wanted you to go. She thought that you had a chance – do you want to make her suffer in the Afterlife?"
Ohiel had relented but still felt terrible about leaving his family. He had been quiet the rest of the time barely saying anything at all. His sisters, too, had been subdued and silent, contemplating their chances at getting married now that their mother was no longer alive to make them a match.
The path down to the cemetery outside of town was long and curving, winding this way and that around the marshes and the few hills that dotted the landscape. The dirt that was kicked up from the ground covered their new shoes and turned them a dirty and dull brown. Even the hems of their pants and skirts were turning a dull brown that matched the color of the earth. Ohiel watched a bit out of it as Aedai attempted to make her sisters hike their skirts up a bit higher so that they didn't get dirty to no avail. The younger girls were too fraught with grief to care about getting their skirts dirty now that the reality was hitting them: their mother was dead.
Aedai said, "Duldra – what are we going to do about him?"
Heliattan who was carrying him cradled him close and shook her head, her long hair swaying with the movement. "I don't know. I could see if someone could look after him..."
"That costs money," Yeniat hissed at them as they walked the road, "Besides, we should be grieving right now, not talking about him."
Aedai slapped Yeniat's face sharply. "Shut your mouth, Yeniat. We're all grieving but it a responsible question! If you didn't have to help father I'd enlist you!"
Iasui the quietest spoke up, "I can do it. I can garden and carry him around. It won't be that difficult. I remember when Momma used to carry me around when she worked."
Surprised, Aedai shook her head sharply and twisted away from everybody and dashed up to walk by their stoic father who was setting a hard pace. They saw him wrap an arm around her shoulder and watched Aedai lean into his embrace. Meilyns pushed ahead as well and appeared on their father's other side.
Ohiel watched the few birds that lived in the marshes call back and forth; mother, father and children. A family.
Heliattan's shoulder bumped his as they walked and he held out his arms to Heliattan and whispered, "Helia, give him to me for a little bit, I don't mind carrying him."
Gently Helia placed Duldra in Ohiel's arms and shuffled behind him rubbing her tired arms.
Exhaustion had set into all of their bones and it took all their effort to keep from slumping to their knees and crying where they stood.
They had a duty to be proper and formal, to not cry in front of other mourners. They needed to look strong for everybody else. They could not be weak. Being weak was a sign of "bad blood". And Ohiel's father believed that his family had never had "bad blood". He hadn't cried at his mother and father's funeral, his brother's hadn't cried, his parents hadn't cried at their family's funeral and as far back as he could all the stories said that they had never cried. They were not weak and they did not have "bad blood".
His wife's family was not known for being weak or having "bad blood" either, but they came from a village of Timatand on the opposite coast, and they had different ways.
Ohiel's father had often told the story of their first meeting.
"I went out one afternoon to try and make my way in the world; I thought that by apprenticing myself to another fisherman in another village I would learn more, so I headed to Olaea. At Olaea I found myself working with another young man who also desired to become a legendary fisherman. He had been working for a man named Ocyin. Ocyin was often times a cruel man due to the way he grew up. And because of that he treated us just as cruelly as he had been treated. I stayed there for a while before I realized that my career would not be going anywhere because the other young man would take his place upon his death. After that I moved on to Timatand and began to work there as a minor apprentice. Soon my work began to be noticed by some of the older men. They quickly latched onto me and gave me better work. My work never faltered; I continued to improve but I quickly found that I would never be great at what I did. So instead of trying to do something I would never be good at I started preparing to leave. The man I worked for had a daughter, your mother, and she often would bring food to her father at the docks where we worked. We began to get to know each other over the course of my time there. About the time I was getting ready to leave I decided that I'd like to have her as my wife and so I proposed this idea to her father. He agreed and gave me her hand. By the time I returned here I was married and your mother was pregnant with our first child. We settled down in my parent's old house and I bought a single boat. From there I began to build up my business. And so, that was how your mother and I met."
Ohiel had head this story many, many times over his life and now as he stood in front of his mother's gravestone it was brought back to him in full force.
Their father had chosen a simple engraving,
"Ioly. Mother, Daughter, Sister. Beloved to All. May she Rest in Peace."
He saw the girls grouped together, holding each other's hands in silence. The priest stood behind her grave holding the Book of Days in preparation of reading the soliloquy read after every death. After the priest read the soliloquy their father would move to the front and recite some words in remembrance of her. He would then list her accomplishments of life. The final thing would be to pour a bit of dirt onto the grave and then a song would be sung in closing. When the other mourner's left the family would then be allowed to cry or grieve in any way they liked. The other villagers would be respectful of this and not return to the gravesite for three days. They would also not visit the family or call upon them in any form. Tradition stated that the best anecdote for grief was being alone and time.
Ohiel could not comprehend this; how could time or being alone help anything? But it must because his parents and their parents before them had all gone through the same motions they were now doing.
He looked at the graves near his mother's, on them were the names of all her children who had died before him. So many, he thought, how does one cope with losing so many children? How long did Father grieve? He wondered to himself. Will I too one day grieve for lost children?
The priest began to finish his soliloquy and his father stepped forward to take the helm. He listed her accomplishments of being a good mother, a good wife, a good daughter, a good provider of food, of having many children, of cleanliness and kindness, her compassion for everybody, and her ability to see the good in all.
"She will be dearly missed," he commented at the end of his speech and flung a bit of dirt upon the grave before stepping back as the ending song was sung.
Finally, when all the mourners had left Aedai, Heliattans, Meilyns, and Iasui all sank to their knees and began to cry big, heavy tears. Their pain was clearly written on their faces, while Yeniat and Father stood stoic behind them.
Ohiel sniffled just a bit, but he kept the tears at bay, when he returned home he would cry for her in private.
Once only, because after that he had a journey to make.
A journey that his mother had wished for him, a journey that he hoped would change his life.