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this is the sound of joy

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i. before.

The first time Pelle dreams of a girl is the week after his parents give themselves to the fire. It is a time for dreams, that week, and the young people whose springs are all coming to an end whisper their dream-tales like prophecies, in the hopes that they will be.

But Pelle's dream is different. He dreams of a girl he's never seen before, standing on the ättestupa clifftop. Her face is a blur behind tears and a smile, and blood is dripping from her outstretched hands. Every night, the drops fall closer and closer to where he stands in the dirt, waiting to see what she has to say.

It takes seven days for the blood to land, and when it does, there are three runes in the dirt. Tiwaz sits merkstave atop wunjo, and othala encloses them both.

Pelle kneels, almost of his own volition, and presses his lips to the ground. The soft, comforting weight of the girl's hand rests on his head, holds his mouth against the blood and dirt, and Pelle lets his eyes drift shut, for however long the dream will have him.

*

Maja is sitting at the foot of his bed when the girl finally releases him into wakefulness.

"What do you want?" He asks. His voice is thick with sleep, and the deep red of Maja's hair ripples like blood in the moonlight. He must be hungrier than he'd thought.

"You had one of the true dreams," she says. Pelle can't tell if she's actually looking at him. "I could feel it from all the way across the barn. Bit rude, you know. I was trying to sleep."

He's never had a true dream before, and the exhilaration of it, so soon after his parents left, lodges desperately in his throat. "Who is she?"

Maja shrugs, fluid as the wind. "I can't know that yet. Ask Ylv - Siv." She stutters over the words: a month is not so long a time, when set against the hundred years Ylva led them and the hundred more Siv will have. But a month it's been since the day Ylva stitched ansuz into Siv's skin, a month it's been since Siv drew the last of Ylva's blood between her teeth.

How long, then, until Pelle gets to see the girl who won't let go of his mind?

 

 

ii. now?

When Karin and the other women finally lead her away from the smoldering remains of the fire and begin to unpick the bed of flowers they had so carefully braided her into, it takes a full quarter of the day's sunlight before they reached the ones that rested in Dani's skin.

It takes much less time than that for her to begin to laugh.

As each blossom is lifted from her body her head dips further and further forward, crown heavy as her body lightens. The women do not say what they are giving back to her, what is taking hold within her as the outside falls away. They don't have to: it is the light that Dani has been waiting for since she arrived, the light she hadn't known she had been waiting for.

Karin is laughing with Dani's voice and her eyes are sparkling in the sun when the only flowers that remain are the ones encircling her wrists. "My sister," she says, kissing Dani's left cheek, and the other: "Our Queen."

Dani lets the words blanket her in place of the flowers, and her eyes fall shut.

*

She wakes on the floor in a pile of bodies, her throat dry and her cheeks salt-sticky with the morning's tears. Inside the barn, the light is a pale blue filtering in through the double doors that no one had closed, a soft not-twilight that could be any time in the world.

Someone's hair is soft under her fingertips. Someone's leg is pressed tight against hers, solid under the cool cotton of their dresses.

Dani blinks, and drying flower petals float upwards on the twist of breeze.

She cannot breathe. She is far too loved for that.

Outside, the faint sounds of something that might be music are imploring her to come sit under the open sky. Dani pushes herself up to sitting, surveys the room. The women are still sleeping, their bodies forming the rough shape of two arrowheads slotted together.

Protected in the centre, she has to fight the urge to sleep, to sink down into the light and continue to -

to -

She blinks, and the thought is lost. Outside, the music continues, the loneliest song she's ever in the Harga village. She stands, pushes her hair back. The petals on her feet are bright against the white of her slippers, and don't move as she walks.

*

Pelle sits under the endless sky, fingers moving over the strange instrument in his lap that sounds nothing like the guitar he used to play for them. He's singing in Swedish, every word bright and clear and prickling over her skin - och icke jag annat tyckte än att liket icke dit log -

The meaning hovers just out of reach, the memory of understanding hot on her tongue, but true understanding slips away.

Her feet are nearly silent on the grass, but Pelle pauses, looks up and meets her eyes like he's been waiting for her for a year. Her cheeks burn, but she sits when he pats the ground beside him.

"Dani," he says. "How are you?"

"Good," she says automatically, and then, before she can find out if he believes her, "I heard the music. I woke up."

Pelle smiles. "It's a nyckleharpa. I learned when I was a child. Someone will teach you, if you like."

Because she isn't going back to the states. She doesn't know why the thought surprises her, the sudden articulation of something she thinks she's known since the first moment she set foot in the meadows. "I can do that now."

"Yes," Pelle says, dead serious. "You can do anything you want."

Anything. "Is this a dream?"

Pelle's arm curls around her waist, the nyckleharpa's bow resting in her lap. She lets her head fall onto his shoulder, feels the curl of his hair against her cheek. Real. "Do you want it to be?"

The question feels too important to answer. "My dreams aren't this nice. Usually."

"Well, that's not fair. You deserve only the best of dreams, Dani."

She reaches over, flicks one of the nyckleharpa's keys. The single note is unbearably loud in the twilight field where they're the only two people in the world. "I don't really have the best material to work with."

Pelle lifts her chin with a gentle hand. "I might - I could help. If you dreamed with me. It could bring you into - it could realign your thoughts. To our life. To better things."

She hesitates. The last time she had dreamed the earth had sprung up through her hands, and then she had sunk her old life into the ground.

"No drugs," Pelle reassures her, as if he had read her thoughts. "And only if you want to."

"I want," Dani says, and wonders when the last time she had started a sentence like that. "I want to see something. Dream about. What things look like when they're fine."

She's watching herself speak. Watching Pelle cup her cheeks, press their foreheads together. Watching his lips form the words that only one Dani, the real Dani understand, sov bara sov, åter i stillhet -

Watching herself smile as she slips into Pelle's dream.

...later.

She's never much liked watching herself, but Dani can't take her eyes off the sight of her and Pelle as they sink to the ground. He's reverent, worshipful, and under his calloused hands, her body is a thing transformed.

He runs his tongue across her veins, one by one, and she flees back into her body chasing the sensation. She loses sight of herself as her gaze is filled with his eyes, gleaming solid against the transparent sky above.

Pelle kisses like a gift, like something she'd never known kissing could be. It's summer for the Hårga and it feels like the very first summer Dani's ever been alive.

"You are alive," Pelle says, and the note of wonder in his voice nearly breaks Dani in half. She'd never known she could feel so much. "Dani … you have no idea how long I've wanted this for you."

She used to be angry at him for this sort of thing, Dani remembers. It's somewhere at the edges of her thoughts, the exact words blurred away by the sun and the soft pressure of Pelle's lips against her neck.

"Is this a dream?" Will I lose this again?

"Yes."

"Is this real?"

His teeth are resting against her pulse. "If you want it to be."

She sighs in unfamiliar pleasure as his hands cup her breasts. She thinks about the pale beautiful bitemarks Marta leaves on Karin's arms and wonders what patterns Pelle is going to draw on her neck.

When she'll finally get to drink her own fill.

"I like when it's both. I like when you're here."

She doesn't feel the bite, just the cool trickle of blood down her neck. Pelle licks it away, and Dani closes her eyes as he sets to work.

She can't wait to wake up.

She can't wait for the harvest.