Harndall’s heart is tangled

31st October 1103

Harndall knelt behind Valeriya, trying to think of the best way to approach the task before him. To Harndall, it seemed her hair was held in place by an interminable number of pins; he did not wish to hurt her by pulling the wrong one.

The fine hair that curled at the base of her skull was plastered to the back of her neck, the soft skin there, ruddy with a touch of sunburn. It had been a long hard day, the last of the harvest finally brought in before winter curled its way through the fields, turning everything brittle and icy.

Harndall was completely exhausted, every part of his body aching so that his fingers were trembling as he pulled out the pins from Valeriya’s carefully braided hair. He had never worked so hard in his life. The meager tasks of churchlife had certainly not prepared him for the backbreaking work of a farmhand.

Each evening he lay, utterly spent, Valeriya’s weary body slumped against him, warm and supple; he listened to sounds of Arran and Igrayne’s hushed lovemaking and closer, the gentle snuffling of Hannah’s breathing as she slept.

He was happy. He was more happy than he had ever though possible.

“Better yew be careful there lad, yew don’t want to be pulling Val’s pretty hair. She won’t thank yew kindly fer it,” Arran drawled.

He and Igrayne were slumped on Harndall and Valeriya’s makeshift bed, warming themselves before the hot coals of the fire. Outside the night was dark, eerie clouds scudding in front of the moon and muting its wan light. All Hallows Eve.

It had grown cold quickly at the end of the day, the shadows stalking across the fields, leaving a chill in their wake. Harndall was glad to be inside, happy in their small circle of light and warmth. It was Arran’s birthday and he felt honoured to be part of their quiet celebration.

“He’s doing fine,” Valeriya murmured, stretching her shoulders as Harndall struggled with a difficult pin.

Her hair suddenly uncoiled in a golden wave, the curls still damp. Harndall breathed in the scent, an intoxicating mix of sweat from the days work and the lavender water the girls like to wash their hair in. A bolt of desire throbbed through his tired body.

“I certainly ain’t letting Arran anywhere near my hair with his big old hairy hands,” Igrayne added with a wicked smile, “be like letting a mousey scrabble round in there, I’d be ending up with a birds nest.”

Igrayne had brushed out her own hair and now it hung in a sleek braid down her shoulder.

“Yew’ll be getting no arguments from me Graney,” Arran chuckled, “I wouldn’t be knowing where to begin.”

Harndall felt a little sorry for Arran that he was not allowed what was one of the best parts of Harndall’s day. Valeriya’s body leaned up against his knees, her head drooping slightly on her neck as he worked his fingers through the warm mass of curls.

He gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.

“All done,” he murmured.

“He does alright he does Arran,” Igrayne crowed, “Perhaps yew need to be taking a few lessons from that one.”

“An how do yew propose we go about that Graney,” Arran shot back, “ braid each other’s hair in the gloom of the pigsty when nobody be looking.”

Igrayne giggled at that and Harndall thought he saw the faint hint of a smile on Valeriya’s face.

He helped her up and they went to sit beside Arran and Igrayne on the bed. On the way Harndall peeked in at Hannah to check she was still sleeping.

Her body was sprawled amongst the cushions like a fat little grub, thumb in her mouth, sucking gently in her sleep. Dark curls were beginning to cover her head, growing wispy soft over her skull. He liked to kiss her there, feeling the silky strands against his lips and breathing deep her baby scent. At those times he was astonished that he could feel so much, that he could love someone as completely as he loved his daughter.

He knew that he should love God most, but he did not, could not. His heart was all tangled up in the curls of his two great loves; it made its dwelling here on the mortal plane.

“I think you’re hair would be better for braiding Arran, Harndall’s isn’t long enough,” Valeriya said softly.

Harndall liked to think she said it with a smile. In the time he had known her she seldom smiled, but these last months it was happening more and more. It was as though, while Hannah was learning to smile in her babyish way, her mother was also was finding this skill. It was so beautiful to see Harndall thought his heart might simply crack in two, evenly split between them.

Arran laughed at that, running his fingers through his greasy hair. It was starting to grow long and he had taken to tying it back with a leather cord. Harndall thought of the boy he had comforted, that awful night when his first wife had been killed; Arran was a timid creature with wide, green eyes who hid behind his hair. That frightened boy was scarcely to be found any more in the growing confidence of the man before him, a man who was not afraid to bare his face to the world. Harndall thought Igrayne had something to do with that.

“Oh I’m certain it would. Yew think yew could do me a pretty braid Harndall? Perhaps make me a flower chain to wind in my hair?” Arran grinned at him.

Harndall chuckled, “Wouldn’t you look lovely then chasing after the pigs, your braids flying in the breeze.”

Valeriya plumped up a cushion for a pillow and lay herself down amongst the bedding. She looked tired and, Harndall thought, a little ill. She had seemed that way for weeks now and Harndall couldn’t even begin to confront the fear that was starting to grow. He had almost lost her once, he couldn’t do it again.

“Bit tired there Val?” Arran asked, “the first harvest is always the hardest. Yew both did well today.”

Poor Valeriya, she had been wilting by the afternoon. Perhaps they had worked her too hard, he had seen her rushing off behind the barn and he thought he smelled sick on her breath when she returned, her face flushed. What if she were really ill? Would God punish him for his sins by taking her away? It was too awful a thought.

Then, Igrayne hadn’t seemed to well either. Perhaps it was just the hard work. They were delicate creatures after all. In fact, they had both seemed under the weather this last month.

“Noticed yew looked a bit green around the gills today Val,” Arran continued with a sly grin.

“Perhaps it was just the stench of the pigsty,” Valeriya replied.

Harndall thought he saw a slight smile playing over her plump lips.

“Perhaps,” Arran said with a knowing smile.

“Though,” he continued, reaching over to pinch his wife on the hip, “ I noticed Graney’s not faring too well lately either. Particularly in the mornings. That seems to be the worst. Don’t think Harndall and I haven’t noticed yew both running outside at the first smell of gruel on the stove.”

“I’ve never been fond of gruel,” Igrayne replied mysteriously.

“An’ I suppose Val isn’t either,” Arran grinned.

Harndall suddenly began to understand what they were saying. But, surely not. He gazed at Valeriya, suddenly remembering how tender and swollen her breasts had been when they last made love, how ill she had seemed the past weeks. He had thought her a little fatter, her belly slightly rounder, but then she had been so thin and miserable before he thought just having a proper meal and someone to look after her had made all the difference.

Could it really be? He stared at her, trying to distinguish some sign, some hint to confirm his growing suspicion.

She unconsciously placed her hand protectively over her belly, “No, it has not been my favourite dish.”

Harndall hadn’t thought it possible to be any happier, and yet here he was, immersed in the euphoria of an almost incandescent joy.

“It seems we might be getting quite a bit more crowded in here soon,” he said slyly.

“That we may, soon the whole floor is going to be a bed,” Arran laughed, “mayhap we need to be building yew folks yer own little cottage when the cold passes.”

“Happy birthday I guess,” Igrayne said blushing.

“I couldn’t be askin’ fer a finer present,” Arran replied, his face split in a goofy grin.

Harndall was pretty sure he was wearing the same smile.

Barran, Moraghdu, The Church

One response to “Harndall’s heart is tangled”

  1. Van says:

    That hair conversation cracked me up! I’m sure Arran would look lovely indeed! 😆

    More babies! I’m particularly happy for Igrayne, since I seem to recall her angsting a bit about not being pregnant the last time we saw her (though I hope that she still has other sources of self-worth, ones that derive from her as a person rather than her ability to make more people). I hope Valeriya’s heightened illness is more Harndall’s looking-for-punishment lens than anything else, though I hope he ditches that view soon.

    Here’s to two healthy pregnancies, and two smooth, safe labours!

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