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The village was tense as they prepared for the harvest festival, the mothers and the unwed daughters holding themselves as if afraid to hope, the fathers and sons and young children hating the helpless feeling, rattling around slamming into things like an animal gone mad, all of them trying to hard not to remember, not to think about it, not to worry, not to show what they were feeling.
It made fingers tremble, as they hung the garlands. It made hands shake, as they wove the wreaths, twisting grapevines and roses together. It made smiles tense and sharp, and greetings unpleasantly perfunctory.
Orna, weaving the wreaths in the town square, remembered when it had been a joyous occasion, not a tense one. She remembered when the crown with the thorns had been considered a blessing, the Autumn Queen, the charmed one, not a potential death sentence. She remembered when she had worn it, and when she had gone down to the river, all smiles, and received the unicorn’s blessing.
Now, she knew that there would be three crowns with red roses and thorns, three wreaths that would send their wearer down to the river, lip-bitten and trying not to cry. There would be three that she wove that could lead in death, or in a small child with no father to name…
…and one of those crowns could land on her granddaughter’s head. She bit her own lip and did what needed to be done, as they all did, and thought about happier times, when their wreaths had meant a bit of naughty pleasure and nothing more.
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