Excerpt from "Child Ballads" Book 1
What bluid’s that on thy coat lap,
Son Davie, son Davie?
What bluid’s that on thy coat lap?
And the truth come tell to me.
From Child Ballad #13A, “Edward”
Diverus’s mother, Imani, was standing at the woodstove making soup when she heard the sound. It was only the clatter of her childrens’ feet on the stair, but it made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. She’d grown accustomed to listening for sounds of danger in the last seven years, and when before the collapse she might have thought that the sound of her two boys scrambling up the steps only meant that they were excited—or at worst that they’d gotten into an argument and a scuffle—she had learned to take such sounds seriously by now. There was so much that could go wrong. So much already had.
Imani paused, letting go of her soupspoon and turning her eyes to the door. A moment later it burst open and there they were: Diverus and Spens. Diverus was nearly fifteen already and so handsome. His tightly curled hair was now cut short and made him look older than he was, and the oversize coat that had once been his father’s was now his. Imani had rolled up the sleeves and sewn them in such a way that they could be let out as he grew taller, and the thick, dark leather had held up well over the years. Close behind Diverus was Spens, but he hung back in the shadows so that Imani couldn’t see his face. Spens’s features were rounder and still faintly childish, though these past seven years had aged him so that he always looked sad and never gave himself over to displays of affection anymore. She could hear both of them wheezing, out of breath from running. She stood still and straight, waiting for it.
Diverus’s voice was choked with emotion. It made Imani move. She left the pot on the stove and went for him.
As she drew closer she saw what she hadn’t been able to see before, which was that the front of Diverus’s coat was heavily spattered with mud. It was on his hands, too—everywhere. His hands, held in front of him, were trembling. She grabbed them, feeling the slickness on his skin. He must have fallen. The poor child. But what had given him such a fright?
“Diverus. What happened?”
Imani attempted to pull her son in for an embrace, but he jerked his hands back out of hers. It was impossible to see him well in the entryway and they were letting in the cold air—they needed to shut the door.
Diverus’s mouth opened and a strange sound escaped it, something halfway between a word and a yell. Whatever it was cut off abruptly and for a second Diverus looked like he really was choking. She put an arm firmly around his back and pulled him inward, toward the glowing light and warmth of the wood stove. He went with her, but slowly. It was like moving a stone. And as she pulled him he shook his head from side to side as if he were having some sort of fit, as if this were a nightmare and each step they took was pulling him deeper into it. She needed to snap him out of it!
“Diverus, now you tell me what’s going on this instant! You hear me?” Imani realized she was clenching her jaw in an attempt to fight her own panic. “Shut that door, Spens!” she snapped, and then she heard the sound of the door closing. “Now.” She lowered her voice. “Tell me…”
But at that moment Imani saw the mud again, and this time she saw that it was not mud. She looked up at Diverus and his expression told her she was correct.
“Diverus.” She fought to gain control of her voice. “Honey. What happened. Who’s blood is this? Quick, now.”