“I’ll not!” Snowdhuin set her chin stubbornly and glared back at her father and mother. “Ye’ll not make me marry that buffoon!”

“Ye’ll do as yer told.” Her father’s face was implacable iron, the flames from the grate flickering over it. She knew he had no understanding of his willful daughter, no understanding of why she would want something different from the other lasses her age.

Her mother looked from one to the other, the slight crease between her brows the only sign of her worry. Rendra’s calm was legendary, and a wayward daughter wasn’t going to fracture it. “It will be, and not so bad as ye fear, lass. What yer father has set in place ye must settle yerself to.”

Snowdhuin looked from one to the other, and knew that arguing more would just make them watch her closer. That was not what she wanted right now, not if she was going to leave this place. Arguing with a dwarf like her father, who bent arcanium to his will, was not a productive pastime and she well knew it. She bent her head, and let them think is was submission, while hiding the fire she knew she could not keep from her eyes. She was, after all, their daughter.

It was not long before the Throngtors arrived, the clan her father had determined to ally himself to. They were a strong clan, deep miners that could improve the metals to their family smithy with a joining of the clans. The son, though, was an overgrown oaf who fancied himself a warrior. Ardver sat next to her now, draping a proprietory arm across the back of the bench, not quite around her. His full beard draped down his chest, and with her head still bowed she could see the gravy in one of the braids he wore to either side. It continued down his jerkin, stains still damp from his last meal. He couldn’t even be bothered to clean up for her, and they thought she would take this…this…thing to her bed. Not likely.

Her mother passed tankards of ale around, and the men talked, while Ardver chased her along the bench, a gradual slide as he tried to press his thigh to hers and she shifted farther along. She was torn between laughing, crying, and simply screaming when she finally rose to help her mother refill the men’s drinks just before she ran out of bench. Of course, Ardver managed to run his hand up her arm as she handed him his drink. The portion that landed in his lap wasn’t as much due to nervousness as they all assumed. She doubted it would cool him any, but it was the only thing she could get away with at this point.

It did serve to bring the evening to a close a little more quickly than might otherwise have happened. The guests finally left, and she and her mother tidied up in the dim light that was the norm for them. Snowdhuin wondered just how bright it would be above ground. She had heard the light was fierce, and was glad she would be setting out at night. Surely the light in the morning would grow slowly enough for her eyes to adjust. Her mind ranged far, as it had for days now, while she prepared for bed, following the same routine she had since she was a child, except for a few changes…certain items went in a bag instead of back on their shelves. Her clothes she folded into the pack under her bed, leaving the breaches and jerkin she had stolen from the wash on top to don quickly later tonight.

She had just shoved it out of sight again when her mother entered her room. Her cheeks grew warm, and she knew her mother could see it. Of course, Rendra assumed she blushed at the thoughts of her pending nuptials. “Oh, child. Ye mustna fight it so hard. The lad do be a bit rough around the edges, but that’s what a wife be for. Ye’ll have him trained up proper afor ye know it. Ye’ll have me fer advice, and the other women too. We all have had our problems with our men, Thor knows, but there be ways and ways o’ dealing with ‘em.” Her mother hugged her, sitting there on the bed beside her, and Snowdhuin clung to her, one last time.

She would sorely miss the strength in one of her mother’s hugs, and she carefully stored the sensation away in her mind. She knew she would need it many times in the journey ahead. “Aye, mother, I’ll be all right. I know what I must do. Don’t ye worry for me.” Rendra would remember her words later and understand them. It was the only way she could say goodbye.

“Ye’ll be a good wife, Snowdhuin, and a great healer in your time. The holt can use yer skills. Yer children will be bonny, and will be the balm to yer heart that ye have been to mine. I’m proud of ye, child. ‘Tis a good match ye’ve attracted.” Rendra stroked her hair and Snowdhuin ignored the unintentionally hurtful words to enjoy her mother’s embrace. A light kiss on her temple, Rendra stood. “Sleep well child. We’ve much to do tomorrow.” Then she was gone, and Snowdhuin fought back the tears. It was likely the last time they would see each other.