Enslaved by Fiona Knightley
Iain held out his arm and felt the wind of Flynn’s wings brush his hair. Flynn settled down on his hand and looked at him.
“No luck yet today, eh?” Iain asked. He looked around the hill for rabbits or other small game. There was nothing to be found. Well, they still had enough food at home for a few days. It wasn’t time to start worrying yet. The thing was, he liked to keep extra meat around home--rabbit especially--for Anna. Rabbit was her favourite, and she needed to keep her strength up. It was his duty as her older brother to look after her, to make sure that she wanted for nothing. With their parents gone and Callum living at the monastery, there was no one else to look out for Anna.
Today, though, Abigall had been kind enough to come look after Anna. Iain was sure that it was because Abigall missed his mother, Wyolet. They had been best friends since girlhood, and Abigall had taken Wyolet’s death almost as hard as the children had. Maybe harder than Callum had, Iain thought with a grimace. He loved his brother, but it was an endless source of irritation that Callum couldn’t seem to express the same sorrow that Iain and Anna had since their parents’ passing. Well, that was in the past, and Iain could do nothing to change it. Now, what he had to do was look after Anna. It was better to focus on that duty than on the past.
Sensing his irritation, Flynn flapped his wings.
“Easy, easy,” Iain said. Still, Flynn had been stuck inside far too much lately while Iain cared for Anna, and he needed a chance to stretch his wings. Iain let Flynn fly. Maybe he would have luck finding some game this time.
Standing at the top of a hill, Iain watched Flynn. Then his eyes wandered back to his home. It wasn’t more than a mile off. He never got too far away from home these days, with Anna the way she was. She had been through rough patches before, and she had pulled through, but Iain liked to stay close to be there for her. It was hard fighting through sickness on your own, and she was still just a child, barely eight years old.
Several minutes later, Flynn still hadn’t found anything. Iain sighed. Maybe they had over-hunted this area and driven all the rabbits away. He would have to find another place to take Flynn for a while until the game here had a chance to return.
Movement caught Iain’s eye--a rabbit, finally?!--and then his breath caught.
His sister stood just a few feet away, grinning at him. Only, she stood tall and straight, and her skin wasn’t alarmingly pale as it had been the past few days. Her golden hair was braided the complicated way she liked it, which Iain’s clumsy fingers hadn’t been able to learn without Mother there to show him, and her blue eyes shone. She was happier than he had seen her in days.
"Anna? How did ye get out here?" Iain asked. She had hardly been able to stand the past few days. There was no way she could walk all of the way out here on her own.
She tilted her head and looked at him, her expression suddenly sombre, and he knew. The wind didn't touch her dress--her favourite shade of blue.
The strength seeped from him, and a jolt ran through his body as he fell to his knees. Not Anna, too. Anna, his sweet little sister who loved harmless pranks. Anna, who loved animals so much. Anna, who couldn’t stand to see anyone or anything hurting.
“Anna, no, Anna,” he whispered.
“Iain,” Anna said.
On his knees, Iain looked up.
She smiled at him, eyes bright and happy, and held out a hand to him. He reached for her hand. Just as his hand should have touched hers, she vanished.
Iain didn’t know how long he stayed there on his knees, his hand outstretched to meet Anna’s. He didn’t know what to feel. There was a deep ache in his gut. Anna was gone, and he wouldn’t see her again. Wouldn’t hear her laugh ever again. But at the same time, there was a warmth inside him. A light. Anna’s light. She had come to bid him a final farewell.
Alone where there was no one to see or hear, Iain let himself weep. He only let himself go for a few minutes, but it was a relief to let go of the hurt and the stress, even for that short a time. Then he stood, called Flynn to him, and walked down the hill towards home.
It was nearly dark by the time he reached home, and Abigall met him at the door. Her eyes were red and puffy, her hair a mess.
“Iain--” she started brokenly.
"Ah ken," he said softly and hugged her.
She fell against him, sobbing. “Ah’m sorry, Iain. Ah sent for the physician, but there was nothin’ he could do. We tried.”
“Ah ken,” Iain said again. “It’s all right, Abigall. She’s not hurtin’ anymore.”
He held Abigall and held back his tears while she cried. He had already had his turn, and now it was time to be a man and comfort the others.
The physician and the undertaker took Anna.
“When do ye plan to put her to rest?” the undertaker asked in hushed, too-gentle tones.
Iain thought for a moment. Today was Friday. “We’ll do it on the Sabbath. Ah’ll need to go talk to ma brother at the monastery tomorrow, and Ah’m sure he can prepare whitever is needful by the Sabbath.”
The undertaker nodded. “Ah’ll be back tomorrow to speak to ye about any further arrangements.”
The physician and the undertaker left.
“Ah’m sorry,” Abigall said again.
“It’s none of yer doin’. Anyway, she’s not hurtin’ anymore. Ye need to go home and get some rest, Abigall, and Ah do, too. Thank ye fer lookin’ out fer Anna.”
She gave him a quick hug, and then she left, still wiping away tears. Looking out the door, Iain could see her husband, Ulchel, waiting for her. He always came to walk home with her if she left after dusk.
Iain came back in and closed the door. The little house felt so empty. He made sure that Flynn was settled on his perch. Abigall had taken Anna’s bedding, insisting that she would wash it for him. Iain looked at Anna’s few dolls and her clothing. What in the world would he do with those? Maybe Abigall could use them for her girls. No sense wasting them. He would speak to her about it tomorrow.
With a long day ahead, he had to get some rest. He lay down on his bed and closed his eyes, but exhausted as he was, sleep never came.