SINGING IN SUMMER
By Catherine Mintz
The grass smelled like hay, although the season for cutting winter feed was still months away on this hot June evening. Peregrine stopped and wiped the sweat from face, then ran on, lightly and easily. He wanted to be far away from the folk who knew him by sundown. It was more exciting to be part of the midsummer festivities among people who did not know you and to have the chance to be chosen by a girl you knew nothing about.
Peregrine was handsome, and it often took a little maneuvering to be sure he got one of the girls he favored, but practice makes perfect and his midsummer’s nights had been a delight from the first time he had been confident enough to leave the valleys and ridges he knew and cross into the unknown. This year he had come the farthest he had ever come before. Even the lay of the land had changed, flat and green with bushes that were not far from being trees.
Things were different the tree-country. He paused, looking back at the heights from which he had descended, uncertain for the first time that day that what he was doing was what he wanted. It had been so easy to run down and down, the smooth trail growing wider and clearer as he crossed the shoulders of vast hills and looping to the fords that crossed the icy streams.
He squared his shoulders. He had come, not just for a night’s sun worship and fun, but for a tale to tell around the fire as the older men did. A story people would ask for in the long, dark nights. Something that might, perhaps, give him a second name, although he was young for such a distinction. Peregrine ran on, toward the dark line that was the trees.
#The girl, whose face he could examine closely for the first time in the pale pre-dawn light, was beautiful, with long, white limbs and long, flowing hair that was still untangled, for all their frenzied passion of the night before. He had never seen eyes so dark before — his own were the pale blue of mountain skies, like those of all his folk. Now hers were closed as if she slept and yet he felt she was aware that he was looking at her.
Peregrine embraced her again, coaxing, for the shortest night of midsummer had passed and it was now her choice whether she would have him or not: He had already said he was willing. It had been a rash promise, perhaps, for his skills lay with caring for sheep and in gathering the herbs and bright stones that his folk’s traders took to meets that the people might have salt and grain for the long winters of the heights, but his proposal had been sincere.
He was young, whatever it was needful he learn, he would, just to sit and look at such beauty by his hearth-fire, and to see the children she would bear, dark-eyed — he hoped — and gentle-voiced like their mother. He could tell them the story of how he had come down from the mountains to this green, sweet smelling land and found their mother. He kissed her cool cheek, but she did not stir. He stood and walked a little way from their trysting place, thinking of the right things to say. It would be up to him: She had been a very quiet girl, who was a woman now.
Peregrine looked up at the heights, slowly flushing with sun-gold, though the sun had not yet risen here in the darkness beneath the trees. He heard the wind sigh past him, into the heart of the wood, and he shivered, thinking how seldom he would be able to go back and see the world turn blue and purple beneath him at sunset. He rubbed his arms, watching the light come closer, thinking of the girl, who slept, or seemed to, still, behind him.
When the sunlight reached him, he turned around to see her wake, and found her gone. A slim, white tree stood, leaves rippling like hair in the wind from the mountains. Birch. That had been her name. Now she was gone, his proposal silently refused. And Peregrine, hiding his relief from himself, was left alone with the tale he had come to get. He would not have to tell what he had, for one night, hoped. That, he would keep to himself. Peregrine went on his way, never glancing back at the trees, heading for home, where they would be singing in summer.