It’s here, the final installment of Aleda’s Story! I suggest grabbing a tissue before you read, and if you really want to rip your heart open you can listen to “Do Not Hang Your Head” by Elizabeth and the Catapult, which is the song I wrote this scene to. When you’re done, and you’ve dried your tears, please let me know if you’d like me to keep going with the children, or if you are ready for something new
Catch up on the story here
Carrick lifted his head and coughed at the dust and ash thick in the air. The children were crying in the distance, from fear or injury he didn’t know.
“Lea, are you okay?”
He looked down at her face, still and gray with ash. “Lea?” He put a hand to her cheek. Warm. “Aleda?” He bent over, ear on her chest, but it didn’t rise. There was no sound.
“No, Lea. Please. Don’t leave me yet. I can’t do this without you.”
He wiped her face clean of ash and saw the blood, still seeping from the wound in her back. He tried to lift her, to cradle her and rock her, but her hand was stuck under a boulder. Claimed by Mountain.
“Give her back!” Carrick screamed. “Give her back to me. Please.” He broke down, collapsing on top of her and crying until he heard Lisel calling for them and the cries of the children getting closer.
They couldn’t see her like this. They couldn’t see her. They…there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t move her, couldn’t hide her, couldn’t even clean the blood away. The children would see the wrath of Mountain.
Alaric got there first. He froze when he saw his mother, and Lisel arrived right behind him, Gissy still in her arms. “Oh no,” she breathed.
“She’s…I can’t…” Carrick swallowed as Lisel put Gisel on the ground and came over to kneel next to him. Her eyes swept the scene and Carrick finally found his voice. “Her hand is trapped.”
“What do we do?”
He didn’t know. Aleda would have known what to do. She always knew what to do. He bit down on his lip until it began to bleed and the pain brought him around. “We’ll have a pyre.”
Lisel nodded. “That seems appropriate.” They looked in the direction of Mountain, but the ash in the sky hid Him from view.
“Momma?” Alaric had crept forward and was standing behind Carrick. “Is she okay?”
Carrick pulled him into his lap and hugged his son hard. He didn’t know how to answer that. Alaric pulled away. “Is the man dead too?”
Carrick followed his son’s gaze and saw Coyle, face-down on the ground, the back of his head caved in. “Yes. The man is dead too.”
“Did he kill Momma?”
He looked down at the blood soaking the ash-covered ground. “Yes. He killed your mother.”
“Because we stole his babe?”
Carrick shook his head. “No, Ally. He was an angry man. He wanted to kill Mountain and your mother was the closest he could come.”
Alaric looked up into his eyes and spoke very quietly. “Is Momma is a God too? Like Mountain?”
Why not? Aleda had always seemed a goddess to Carrick. In those final moments she seemed to command Mountain, rather than Him commanding her. He had claimed her for Himself, and they would give her a funeral pyre, to send her ashes up into the sky to join His.
“Yes, Ally,” Carrick whispered into his hair and held him close. “Your mother was a goddess. She was the Mother Goddess Aleda.”
He held his son as Lisel checked on her daughter and the other children. Gisel was alive, but hadn’t woken up yet, and Elise busied the other children with collecting wood. Carrick and Alaric placed the wood over Aleda’s body, covering her until she could no longer be seen, and at nightfall Carrick lit the fire.
It was the longest night of his life, standing by the fire, one hand on his son’s shoulder and the other gripped tightly in Lisel’s, watching his wife turn to ash and join Mountain in the sky. Carrick’s throat tightened as he thought of his life with her.
Playing as children in the water. The first time she looked at him with a different light in her eyes, then ran giggling back to her friends. When he finally got up the nerve to kiss her, and how soft she had been. Their wedding ceremony. The joy on her face when she told him she was pregnant with Alaric. The fear when Mountain first exploded and the pregnant women began to die while giving birth to the changelings. Listening to her screams from outside the hut and knowing he would lose her. His joy when he heard the babe cry and her voice asking for him after she miraculously survived. The steadiness when she first stood up to Coyle and the others who wanted to kill the children. The terror when they finally ran. And her constant presence through the past seven summers on the mountainside, finding their way together. Raising children that no one else wanted, but she was willing to die for.
A loud crack echoed through the mountainside as the wood of the pyre fell in on itself, sending up a furl of sparks that lit the sky. Tears fell from Carrick’s eyes at the knowledge that her body was gone, even if her spirit stayed with him always. His Mother Goddess.