A Mother Goes Between

by Rose Lemberg

Darja’s hus­band stood in the door­way, his bulk a black­ness of smoke-smelling furs that obstruct­ed the way back into the warmth. For three years the log-house had been her home, but now the starv­ing wind slashed her, the snow choked her, the heart-heavy dusk smoth­ered her face. 

Dar­ja smelled the teeth rot­ting in her husband’s mouth, drip­ping poi­son down his tongue. “Take your whelp and bury it in snow.”

She pressed the woolen sling clos­er to her painful­ly dis­tend­ed breasts. Inside it, her daugh­ter was qui­et. Not sleep­ing. Alert. Unnatural.

A mon­ster born of sin, the vil­lagers hissed, for Dar­ja had gone between, had lain where the smell of her wolver­ine lover hung heavy in the under­growth, damp fur and fresh kill, pine nee­dle and sweet sap. Young girls and wives, the witch-song went, go not between, for bound­ary babes are bad­ly born. The kin would not accept her child, not once they’d found the babe’s striped face under Darja’s paint and oint­ment. The witch had said so. Darja’s own moth­er had said so, many times. How long do you think you can con­ceal this from your man? 

“Would you lift your hand to a child, hus­band mine?”

He tore his gaze away and spat into the snow, wiped his crooked mouth, and slammed the door against her. 

She screamed after him, “Great Wolver­ine chose me!” Tmu of the sum­mer, fur­nace-breath, had turned his rov­ing eye towards her in desire. But she had brought his seed into the village—evil luck, and drought, and blight, they’d said, and injury upon good children. 

What of my child?

Kill it.

She pulled her furs clos­er, shift­ed the sling to her back. The babe was slight for a nine-month old, small and sound­less, but she wouldn’t let the wrong­ness of it trou­ble her. Blood of her blood. Blood stiff as hoar­frost, cru­el as bit­ter winds. Above her head, the stars tore bright holes in the evening sky.

Feet lead­en, Dar­ja wob­bled on the frozen stones from house to pal­isade. The gar­den gate loomed against white­ness. One more bound­ary to cross, and each cross­ing would take her far­ther from the hearth, from cur­dling milk and mil­let gru­el, the piss-sour smell of her husband’s flesh. Away from the small hearth gods her moth­er had baked for their wed­ding, away from the icons blessed by the priest.

She felt the between from afar, the deep inci­sion in the ground that repelled snow, repelled spring water, sum­mer grass. Between the vil­lage and the taiga. Between the domain of the great kind god and the realm of the spir­its. Once she had gone across it, and now she must go again. 

The gar­den gate screeched, clos­ing behind her. The pup was here again, its brown-and-gray head cocked and round ears perky. It was no dog pup, with its curv­ing back and bushy tail, but it had a puppy’s face and big baby paws; they bal­anced awk­ward­ly, one hind leg lame and drag­ging on the snow. Its eyes were caked shut with blindness. 

Dar­ja pat­ted her par­ka. The pup’s pink tongue lolled as she pulled a buck­wheat blin from her pock­et and tore it, tossed half of it, drip­ping warm but­ter, upon the ground. Only the deformed chil­dren came to her now. Always the vil­lage moth­ers hugged their good chil­dren close against the wrong­ness of her child. “Don’t look, or you’ll become like it. The wind will blow your face off. Steal your voice.”

The pup sniffed the offer­ing and gulped it up. It cocked its ears at her in expec­ta­tion, but Dar­ja shook her head. 

“Later, you lit­tle glutton.”

The pup­py snort­ed, then refo­cused on Dar­ja again, its blind eyes as unread­able as the snow. A voice, thin and sil­very, mak­ing no sound, res­onat­ed inside the bell of her skull.

Do not be afraid on your path. Inside every silence there are ances­tors of words. Snowflakes are preg­nant with sum­mer. The world is made whole upon the between.

“I’m not afraid!” Her hand grasped the long-dag­ger at her hip. The hilt of the weapon, bound in her grandmother’s skin, and her aunt’s, scorched her fin­gers. They all dis­ap­proved of her, even the dead. There was only one way to appease the old gods of men and the spir­its of the for­est, one way to make the world whole upon the between.


The uncan­ny pup limped away from the knife, became a shad­ow, melt­ed into the faith­less dusk. 

Darja’s hand slid off the hilt. I’m sor­ry, child. I didn’t mean to scare you.

She remem­bered the last month of her preg­nan­cy, when, sweaty with her bur­den, she had watched as her hus­band chis­eled the cra­dle from a fall­en oak. He’d bit­ten his lip in con­cen­tra­tion, his fore­head and eyes warm with hope. 

Great Tmu, you sired this child. You should have been here. For me. For her. Oh Wolver­ine, they say you’re not like peo­ple. But do you not feel what a father feels?

This wail­ing. The wind
Knows not where to burrow
I wel­comed it inside my cunt

Across the between Dar­ja went, into the taiga blue with pines and des­o­late with blis­ter­ing snow. The bun­dle pressed her back, and Dar­ja thought she felt her daughter’s breath­ing, faint as a flick­er­ing can­dle, as it shiv­ered warmth through her lungs. Alive.

She walked among the pines, among the oaks that had shed their sum­mer might to clothe them­selves in frost. Her mot­tled furs were not half-soft or warm as theirs. Beneath this for­est, bears lay smoth­ered by their dreams, and slugs and hedge­hogs slept among the roots of oaks. The for­est cov­ered up its chil­dren, safe from harm.

What of my child?

In front of her, the shad­ow fell. 

Tmu wore his man-shape, but he loomed larg­er than any man, beard­ed, his skin the col­or of soot, his mas­sive fore­arms fur-cov­ered. He went unclothed, here in his domain. The long sweet pain grew inside Darja’s bones, the desire for him, thaw­ing her into tears. She snif­fled them away, wished for a face of frozen steel, a mask of pine-nee­dles. There was nothing. 

She unbound the sling and low­ered the blan­ket gen­tly to the ground. Swad­dled in sable and home­spun, the babe was still, her striped face expres­sion­less, wild eyes focused on noth­ing. Dar­ja sank to her knees, clutched her hands to her bel­ly in sup­pli­ca­tion to what pow­ers she knew not. 

He did not move.

She found her voice at last, a starv­ing stray inside her throat. “Behold our child. She makes no sound. She does not look at me. My lying peo­ple say she has no soul.” Her daugh­ter may be lost, but she was there, the fleet­ing warmth of her—soon to die, Darja’s moth­er had soothed.

She spoke again. “They will not suf­fer her. You take us, Tmu. Pro­tect her. Please. She is your blood.”

His mouth gaped wide. Inhu­man, red and spi­ral­ing inward upon itself, a fall with­out return. She’d kissed—but it had been in sum­mer­time. Now the bit­ter wind strength­ened her, the cold—an armor of gran­ite, affix­ing her to winter. 

“My kin don’t mate for life,” he said. “A week or two at most, mold­ed togeth­er upon the swel­ter­ing earth.” The dry twigs dig­ging at her back, she thought, the musk of him, the mad­ly sway­ing leaves against the sum­mer sky. All buried.

“And the babe,” he said. “It is unnat­ur­al for our two kinds to bring a birth. A bound­ary babe is bad­ly born, we say. You should have dropped, like I told you.”

“I went to the swamp,” he said, “Belly-deep in the murk, I plucked the marsh blos­som under a full moon for you.” His voice scraped her ears like a beast in a snare. “Drink of this draught, I said, and the seed will be flushed from your womb.”

“How could I kill my own child?” Dar­ja cried. Below, on the blan­ket, the babe stirred, set­tled, one cheek pressed to the undyed home­spun. Nine months now, but this child of hers could not yet sit, could not even raise her head or roll over onto her bel­ly. Oh, my lit­tle one. If only I could hide you again in my womb.

“Help her!”

Tmu spoke, his voice like falling crows. “No.”

She said, “Do you not feel what a father feels?”

A small shad­ow came from behind, limped around her. The pup. Uncan­ny warmth, unsee­ing eyes the col­or of home­spun. It pant­ed, every breath puff­ing the gray and brown fur on its sides. It bent its striped face over the blan­ket to lick her babe’s striped face. 

The win­ter thawed from Tmu’s eyes. “Come away, Kytgy,” he said to the blind pup. 

It turned to Tmu, and the voice in Darja’s head sound­ed gen­tle as snowflakes rub­bing against each oth­er. Heal her. Make her whole.

“I can­not, son,” he said.

The pup­py sneezed, then rubbed his nose with an over­sized paw. Do not be afraid to make right. The spir­it flows inside the blood. A shaman’s spir­it can­not die.

“I can­not, child,” Tmu said again. “I can­not raise my hand to the deed.” He picked his pup up. Kyt­gy let out a con­tent­ed sigh, curled up in the cra­dle of his father’s arms. A child both lame and blind, but it nev­er had to beg its place, its life. Not like her child. 

She heard the voice again, a stream of tiny bells in the log-house of her soul. 

I’m not that blind. I see the spir­its in all things. Inside the burn­ing of the snow I see the pine nee­dles, and inside them the ances­tors of sap. The night churns out spir­its to inhab­it stars. Inside my sis­ter I see myself.

A wail­ing white­ness blind­ed Dar­ja, freez­ing the tears to bridge her eyes and cheeks. She thought then she heard the creak of foot­steps. “Tmu!” She yelled, “Where are you going, Tmu! Give her a name at least! A name! You are her father!”

There was no answer. Darja’s hands shook at the folds of the blan­ket, wrap­ping her babe against unwieldy frost. Tmu was gone when she straight­ened under her bur­den. The orphaned for­est was still. 

Shut it, you
moth­ers of hale babes. Mine
rus­tles under­foot. Mine
harms no one,
except in your stories

Dar­ja edged back into the vil­lage, unher­ald­ed even by dogs. The dark­ness pressed itself upon the earth, upon the log-hous­es of her sleep­ing kin. Even the snow aban­doned her—underfoot, its white­ness had bled into slush. Dar­ja pressed the sling close to her bel­ly, fear­ing her daugh­ter too would lose her firm­ness, become soft, ooze to the ground like mud. 

Nowhere to go, unless per­haps her moth­er would take them.

She pulled her glove off, shoved a hand inside the bun­dle. The babe’s tongue licked along her fin­ger, a tiny warmth to Darja’s frost—she hadn’t noticed how cold her limbs had grown, her bel­ly emp­ty and rumbling. 

Dar­ja wove between the hous­es, beg­gar-like inside her too-gen­er­ous skin. Please shel­ter me, moth­er, for I have gone between, and now I return. I return. Do you not feel what a moth­er feels?

She drew her hand out of the sling and turned around and around, dizzy, dis­ori­ent­ed. The for­est echoed to her left, spilling Tmu’s shad­ow over the vil­lage. There was no sound—the pigs and geese lay cold inside the barns, and peo­ple sprawled unmov­ing on their beds. She smelled the sleep­ing vil­lagers behind their bolt­ed doors. Her husband’s sour whiskey breath. The sharp ammo­ni­ac odor of the witch. The gag­ging scent of rose water, the priest. In win­ter, so they say, the dead are oppressed by the stench of the liv­ing, and come out of their graves to kill. 

Anoth­er door. At last. 

She knew it to be paint­ed blue to ward off Tmu’s eye, but it shone pale white now, as if it had absorbed all sick­ness from the snow. She shouldn’t trust—but mem­o­ries of hap­pi­ness, of cher­ry dumplings, sum­mer winds, betrayed her. Dar­ja pushed and entered.

Her moth­er was awake, kneel­ing on the ancient, scrubbed floor­boards to gut fish before the open fire. She wiped the knife on her apron and ges­tured the avert against Dar­ja, but her lips moved sound­less­ly, the ancient curse unspo­ken. “He threw you out at last. I told you so.”

Dar­ja didn’t know what to say. Why had she come back here? Her moth­er thought Dar­ja a sin­ner. She’d gone to the priest. To puri­fy my girl with holy icons, she had begged, To burn the evil seed from her with the iron cross. And yet Dar­ja had come back. 

“Mama, I…” She hes­i­tat­ed. “I’m not angry any­more. About the priest.”

The old woman closed her eyes and swayed in front of the fire, caress­ing the hilt of the par­ing knife. “Not angry any­more? And what about me, child? I begged the holy man for you, and you refused. ” She leaned clos­er to Dar­ja, eyes still shut. “I begged the witch then, do you know, to teach me what to do.”

Oh yes, and you went, Dar­ja thought. You and Tmu. Did you not see each oth­er, in the swamp, wait­ing for the bloom­ing of my child’s death?

“I went bare­foot to the marsh­es, unguard­ed, bit­ten by insects, stung by net­tles. Under the full moon, I wait­ed ankle-deep in ice water, wait­ed all night for the marsh blos­som to bloom.” Her mother’s eyes opened, blood­shot, laced with tears. “You threw the elixir away.”

The old woman looked into Darja’s face final­ly, eyes kind like sum­mer after­noons full of laugh­ter and slices of but­tery bread. “Oh, lit­tle heart. I know how hard it is for you. You car­ried it beneath your heart. But it’s not a real child. It will not live long. Inside, it is rot­ten. It is dying. And as it dies it eats your life. You look so drained. It’s wrong, all wrong. Let the old woman kill it for you.”

Dar­ja recoiled, bile in her mouth mix­ing with the mem­o­ry of her mother’s bread. “I want­ed a baby girl,” she whis­pered, “Like you had me. She’s not so dif­fer­ent, from when I was little.”

“What do you say to me? My girl was per­fect. With­out a blem­ish. No, you were noth­ing like that.” The old woman strug­gled to her feet, eyes dark, deter­mined. “I’ll do it for your sake.”

“No!” Her moth­er wouldn’t change. Why had she come here, then? She was between now, place­less. No mat­ter where she went, the mias­ma of bound­ary places oozed from her, cor­rupt­ed all she touched; but like the rest­less dead that scrape the win­dows of their kin, so Dar­ja craved to touch—her lover, her child, even her hus­band, any­one. Any­one, against this cold.

“I hoped you’d shel­ter me, shel­ter her, mama, please…” Don’t all daugh­ters crave their mother’s embrace, warmer than a lover’s, safer than any man’s? “Do you not feel what a moth­er feels?”

“Oh, yes. I love you so much.” The old woman straight­ened, pressed her­self to Darja’s body, care­less of the bun­dle between them. The child jerked inside, and Dar­ja sensed the wicked­ness of the par­ing knife in her mother’s hand.

“Forgive me! For­give me!” Dar­ja grabbed the door han­dle and pushed her­self out, into the wail­ing of the new snow. She ran away stum­bling, clutch­ing at the sling, not look­ing back. You love me, yes. So much that you would kill my child for me. 

She whis­pered to her daugh­ter, “Little one, they have it wrong, my kin and the Wolver­ine. You’re per­fect. You too will learn to look at me, learn how to speak. You are so soft, and your per­fect lit­tle face—I don’t care how striped it is. Nobody wants you. Not a peo­ple. Not a kin.

“But I.

“I’ll be your peo­ple, daugh­ter mine, and the between your home.” Darja’s heart flut­tered, too big for her chest, a black, clum­sy thing. They would not sur­vive long, in the bound­ary places, but her lit­tle one was safe with mama, always, always.

Was her daugh­ter still breath­ing? She couldn’t tell. 

At the very edge of the for­est she stopped, wait­ing for a sound, a rus­tle, but there was only the wind break­ing chunks of ice off the pines. 

Dar­ja dropped to her knees upon the path, unwound the sling with des­per­ate hands. The lit­tle girl’s chest still rose and fell, thank the great kind god on the iron cross, thank the ances­tors, thank—but the babe’s eyes glazed, and her breath­ing came in short whistling sobs. Her daugh­ter was mak­ing a sound. The won­der of it stopped Darja’s hands in mid-lurch, but then her heart cur­dled like milk cur­dles. On the babe’s right-hand side, the woolens had soaked up mois­ture. She pat­ted the swad­dle, pray­ing for piss, but the babe’s legs felt dry. Dar­ja pressed a gen­tle fin­ger to the stain next, put it to her tongue. Tast­ed iron.

Gulp­ing guilty breaths, she leant over the child for shel­ter, tore at the swad­dling woolens. Touched her babe’s skin. A long shal­low gash at one side, not a killing blow, but the wound still seeped. How much blood in a child so small? She pat­ted her par­ka des­per­ate­ly, but there was noth­ing for heal­ing, only the left­over blin in one pocket.

She spread the sling upon the snow to tear it into strips. There was a gash in the mate­r­i­al where the bun­dle had faced out­wards, towards her mother.


Kill, for you.

The snow creaked. A soft­ness hov­ered above, a smell of mouse drop­pings and incense and wolfs­bane. The witch, her face ancient and brown, her frame broad and gaunt as a scarecrow’s, her hands clutch­ing each oth­er inside sleeves of cal­i­co cat fur. “Here you are. Your moth­er said to go after.”

Dar­ja spat bit­ter­ly. “To check if she finished?”

“So she said. Paid me five sable furs, your mother.”

Dar­ja pulled the woolen swad­dle-cloth around her bleed­ing babe, soft body ooz­ing through the sling’s wool to the wound­ed snow. “No clos­er, bitch.” Her hand was on the knife.

The woman shrugged, knelt by her, not too close. Her mouth puffed sweet decay into the air. Under the witch’s tat­tered cat-fur coat, bone hex­es and blue beads rat­tled, wards wrapped in skin, wards made of hol­low round­ed stones, the ones called chick­en gods. Here was one human unafraid of the Wolverine’s eye. 

“I’ll help you.”

Catch­ing Darja’s dis­be­liev­ing gaze, the witch mouthed, “For I too have gone between, into this for­est, long ago, to lie beneath the heav­i­ness of sum­mer pines.”

Dar­ja took her hand off the knife. “Come clos­er, then.”

The witch scoot­ed clos­er. Took rags out, and vials. Unstop­pered some. Cleaned the wound. Ban­daged it. “Shallow. Lucky, but then again, Tmu’s chil­dren are hard kills.”

“How can I repay you?” Dar­ja asked, as she pulled the swad­dling clothes around the babe once more. 

The witch shook her head. “I’ll take the furs your moth­er gave, and lie. You keep qui­et, that’s your payment.”

Dar­ja want­ed to talk more, to argue, but milk ran down her breasts in warm rivulets. She picked her daugh­ter up and opened her par­ka. The lit­tle girl latched, and the des­per­a­tion of her lips around Darja’s nip­ple turned the world upside down with relief. She tilt­ed her head back, catch­ing snowflakes upon her burn­ing face as her daugh­ter drank from her. Still alive.

She heard the witch’s voice then, com­ing, com­ing. “You should kill your lover’s child. Many a cursed babe was restored to hale­ness by drink­ing the blood of its rival sibling.”

Some­thing small was pressed into her hand. A vial, by the feel of it, carved from a nub­by antler. “Rub the snare with this, and Wolverine’s child will come to you.”

Snow fell. Dar­ja didn’t notice when the witch left, trail­ing behind her the odor of incense and ash. Long-nee­dled fir-trees blan­ket­ed her in shad­ows. The babe was qui­et, breath­ing sleep, its lips still brush­ing Darja’s breast.

Do not be afraid.

Rend apart my flesh
child, my heart
drums for you
shaman child, my heart
makes a road

The wolver­ine pup whined qui­et­ly in Darja’s snare, good hind leg bro­ken and bleed­ing, the oth­er twist­ed use­less­ly upon the snow. His tongue lolled, lick­ing the met­al. A damp and slight­ly oily scent rose from the snare, the witch’s con­coc­tion she had rubbed in. 

Dar­ja hadn’t believed he would come. Hadn’t want­ed him to. But here he was.

She knelt by him. The pup licked Darja’s hand, the move­ment of his tongue warm and rough, almost like her daughter’s had been. Kytgy’s voice echoed, dreamy and drugged, inside her head. Mama?

“No, Kyt­gy. I am not your mama.”

I’m sor­ry, Dar­ja thought. Her hand wrapped around the hilt of the knife, fin­gers dug into her grandmother’s skin, and her aunt’s.

Sin upon sin. What right did she have to kill Tmu’s son?

A mother’s right.

Just like her mother’s right, to want to kill her own for her sake.

My daugh­ter has no-one. I promised, I swore to protect.


She stroked his head, fin­gers brush­ing the warm­ness of pup­py-soft fur. He felt hot, fever­ish to the touch. She traced his striped face, combed the strands of gray fur gen­tly away from the brown. “I can­not do this, lit­tle one.”

Kyt­gy licked her hand again. It’s all right. Do not be afraid. His tail curled between his injured hind legs, tap-tap-tap­ping the snow.

“You always came to me at my house, you ate from my hand, fol­lowed me into the for­est, you talked—”

His soft cheek trem­bled against her palm, and the voice in her head wob­bled dizzy with the smells of oil and urine, musk and salt. Please… it hurt­s… The blind eyes no longer looked at her.

You said not to be afraid. I nev­er was, she thought. It was you, always you, my pup, my child. You spoke so to yourself.

I am afraid now. 

She took a breath. The ances­tors, he’d said, in every­thing. Where were they now, who should have pro­tect­ed these chil­dren from harm, who should have thawed the speech inside her lit­tle girl? They were they, silent and invis­i­ble while Kyt­gy lay bro­ken, dying at her hand? In the win­ter, the earth hides its dream­ing below the snow’s heav­i­ness, and even the ances­tors, she thought, steel their hearts against life. 

She low­ered the sling to the ground, unfold­ed the cor­ners. The babe’s heart-shaped face, cir­cled by the fur wraps, blurred in her vision. She wiped her eyes clum­si­ly, watched as her daughter’s eyes wan­dered. The sky above the glade yelled silence.

“Forgive me, lit­tle one.”

She slashed Kytgy’s throat, squeezed the lifeblood into her daughter’s mouth. The babe gulped des­per­ate­ly, gur­gling and chok­ing. The snow around them cur­dled into the earth.

She breathed in, the air slash­ing her lungs like poi­soned knives. The smell of Kytgy’s blood, mixed with witch’s brew, dizzied her. She wait­ed, wait­ed for her daugh­ter to make a sound, a movement—

But the babe’s eyes flut­tered closed, and only her lit­tle chest rose and fell, twinned with Darja’s breath­ing, rose and fell, rose and fell.


And fell.

For many long moments Dar­ja sat motion­less, refus­ing to draw a breath. She picked up the babe, pressed the limp lit­tle body to her with both trem­bling hands, willed her caged heart to beat the air into her daughter’s lungs. The evening stilled around them, and the encroach­ing night dark­ened the trees into fune­re­al war­dens. There were no tears left to cry—behind her eyes there grew an empti­ness unvis­it­ed by sum­mer, dis­owned even by the win­ter wind. 

Dar­ja freed Kytgy’s bro­ken body from the snare, and dug a hole in the bloody snow with her knife and her hands. She curled him gen­tly into the earth, placed the last half of the but­tery blin by his head as a funer­al offer­ing. Take your whelp and bury it in snow. She blan­ket­ed him in white­ness, gen­tly draw­ing hands togeth­er in cir­cles, like a prayer.

That done, she lay down on the ground by Kytgy’s grave, and tucked her daughter’s body close, and spoke to the for­est spir­its to emp­ty her of life. 

In the dream, there is dark­ness. Her heart is the only thing she can hear. Below, a nar­row road into the nar­row empti­ness, unseen but felt. A boy-child of about six years—he’s brown and gray, a wisp against the day­less, night­less path that leads below.

White ani­mals rise as he descends—mouse and otter, lynx and bear. He speaks trans­par­ent words, and one by one the guardians move aside.

Blood makes a beat. Her heart is hard and steady, drum­ming his steps through the worlds.

She opened her eyes to Tmu’s tow­er­ing fig­ure, his dark fur blem­ished with new gray. He crouched on the ground, sniff­ing the con­gealed blood, the shal­low grave. There was no rage in him, only immense sad­ness. “Why did you do this?”

What did I dream of? It is gone now. He is gone. Beside her, her daughter’s body was ice upon the blan­ket, frozen heart­blood, bereft hopes. Darja’s swollen breasts hurt, but there weren’t any chil­dren left to feed.

“I want­ed my daugh­ter to live,” she whispered.

He licked the salty black snow. Turned away from it at last. “I’ll take the lit­tle girl to the between.”

Of course, she thought, of course, my daugh­ter had no place in the vil­lage, or in the wood. So you will bury her where even the grass refus­es to set­tle. But she didn’t argue when he unwrapped the swad­dling furs, picked the small limp body up and car­ried it to the black inci­sion in the ground. 

“Yes,” he said to her, “I feel what a father feels. I pro­tect­ed my son. It is too late for that now.”

Tmu low­ered his head to lick the child across the eyes, again, again. Then he spoke, in a voice deep as sum­mer stir­ring under frozen earth, in a voice of thaw break­ing rip­ples over her daughter’s unlife. 

“I name you Kunlelo.”

The babe drew a ragged breath. Opened her eyes. For the first time, her gaze focused upon Dar­ja. A voice of bells echoed in her head, pup­py-proud. I jour­neyed under­world, he said. I brought my sister’s spir­it back. Is she not fine? The babe mouthed the words along with the sil­very voice in her ears. 

“Kytgy,” Dar­ja breathed. 

A shaman’s spir­it can­not die.

He’d known. He’d asked his father to heal the babe, and Tmu said he couldn’t raise his hand to the deed. 

“Is my daugh­ter in there now, with you?”

She is here, and whole, but she will nev­er speak. She’ll see for me. I’ll speak for her.

“Kytgy.” Tmu lift­ed the babe, cra­dled it in his arms. Stepped across the between again, so that he stood on the for­est side, she on the vil­lage side just like that first time they’d met, when Tmu’s lips had tast­ed of blood and ripen­ing berries. His face was grim now. “Shaman or not, you didn’t know what he would do, what would hap­pen. You spilled my son’s lifeblood.”

Oh yes. For all the worlds to right them­selves upon this between, the bur­den of her sin was greater than win­ter. Dar­ja drew her hand across her mouth, chok­ing against the dog fur of her parka. 

Tmu said, “We go now.”

“Take me with you,” Dar­ja cried. He turned his face away. She threw her­self after them, but the between rose up, invis­i­ble frost, bit­ing spikes. With­out her child she was but a vil­lager again, to cross at Tmu’s per­mis­sion, or not at all. Beyond the veil of rime, her lit­tle girl twist­ed in Tmu’s arms, and her eyes latched on to her mother’s.

Kun­le­lo sends her love.

She smashed her fists against the bound­ary as the Wolver­ine walked away from her, into the for­est. From a great dis­tance she heard Kytgy’s voice, spo­ken for her, just for her. We’ll come to you one day, in summertime.

She’d wait then. Away from this between. The kin would embrace her now, oh yes, her hus­band, moth­er, even the priest, mas­querad­ing betray­als with rose­wa­ter breath. She wiped her mouth, won­dered if all witch­es had been bound­ary moth­ers. Time enough to find out, while she wait­ed for her chil­dren to return.

Rose Lem­berg is an immi­grant from three coun­tries. She cur­rent­ly works as a pro­fes­sor of Nos­tal­gic and Mar­gin­al Stud­ies some­where in the Mid­west. Rose's short fic­tion has appeared in Strange Hori­zons, Fan­ta­sy Mag­a­zine, and oth­er venues, and was recent­ly reprint­ed in Peo­ple of the Book: A decade of Jew­ish Sci­ence Fic­tion and Fan­ta­sy. Her poet­ry has appeared in Apex, Gob­lin Fruit, GUD, Jab­ber­wocky, and Myth­ic Delir­i­um, among oth­er venues, and has been nom­i­nat­ed for the Rhys­ling Award.  She edits Stone Telling, a new mag­a­zine of bound­ary-cross­ing poet­ry. Rose can be found online at http://roselemberg.net.

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