Okay…I’ve hit the 1/2 way part of BITTER MOON, and I promised Needletart that I’d use her story of how she learned how to knit in someway, because I was so very enchanted with it.
The religion in the book is based on the three moons of the world–Oueant, god of honor, Dueant, god of Compassion, and Triane, Goddess of joy. The people of Eiran tell ‘Goddess Stories’ in which the gods and the other heavenly bodies are used to illustrate points for the characters in the story itself. This Goddess story is told by Yarri’s Aunt Bethen to Trieste, the current lover of the young man that everyone believes to be Yarri’s ‘moon-destined’ for Yarri herself. At first, Yarri, at eleven, was less then receptive to Torrant’s college sweetheart, but when she learns that Trieste herself is betrothed to an older man she has never met, she relaxes a little, and Auntie Beth has a chance to do what Auntie Beth does best–mother the dispossessed, tell stories, and knit.
The knitting fascinated Trieste—it seemed so very simple, two sticks and some string, but when Bethen offered to show her how it worked, she put her hands behind her back like a guilty child and shook her head.
“No. No. I’m not good at that,” she said with such absolute conviction that Yarri looked up from her own knitting in curiosity. Yarri had been exceptionally quiet after her swim with Torrant, and almost frighteningly gracious as well.
“And how would you know if you’re good at it or not if you’ve never tried it?” Bethen asked with a smile and a raised eyebrow.
Trieste flushed enough to make the swimming hole look suddenly inviting again. “I had nannies…” she said uncertainly.
“Like goats?” Yarri asked in honest surprise, and Trieste laughed, feeling better about the conversation.
“Like baby-sitters who were supposed to teach me,” she explained. “I couldn’t go to Triannon until I was your age, so I had nannies to teach me how to dress and how to read…”
“What about your parents?” Yarri asked, so surprised she’d actually put her knitting down, and for the first time since their fight and the quiet that followed, Trieste actually felt older than her rival.
“You’ve been very lucky, Yarrow Moon,” she said gently. “Not every lord’s daughter gets her first lessons in her father’s study on her mother’s knee.”
Yarri made an indeterminate sound in her throat and Bethen met Trieste’s eyes and smiled, nodding for her to go on.
“Anyway…they kept trying to teach me things…embroidery, sewing, crocheting, tatting, spinning, weaving…I…” she tried to laugh because, after all, she had been younger than Yarri the last time an impersonal pair of hands had tried to guide her stiff fingers along unfamiliar, unwanted pathways. “I wasn’t very good,” she finished, wrapping her arms around her knees at the last. Wistfully she looked out to the swimming hole—Aylan was taking turns with Cwyn and Starren, submerging himself in the water and putting their feet on his shoulders and letting them dive off as he exploded out of the water. Aldam, Roes, Stanny and Torrant were playing monkey in the middle with a hollow wooden ball, and Lane was across the river, toweling off and talking only partly seriously to the man Torrant had told her was the mayor of Eiran—they were probably discussing the Beltane celebration the next day, and whether or not there would be enough food.
A part of her wanted to be out there, with her friends and her lover and his family, but then she heard Bethen’s needle’s click again and she was drawn irresistibly back to the magic with the sticks and the string.
“Do you tell Goddess stories, Trieste?” Bethen asked, giving the fine lavender yarn in her hand a little tug. Bethen’s graying red hair had escaped its band, and it hung in little ringlets in the humidity, and her pleasant, freckled face was set serenely. Only her twinkling, lively eyes betrayed that she had anything in mind.
“I’ve heard Torrant and Aldam tell them,” she responded, staring unabashedly now that Bethen had seemingly changed the subject.
“Well,” Bethen began, peering at Trieste’s rapt expression, “When Triane was young, she was sent from the brothers to learn how to be a lady, did you know that?”
“Mmm-nnn,” Trieste said negatively, watching one stitch become the next, and the next one become the one after that.
“Just like you, she was sent from Auntie Star to Auntie Star—she had seven in all, and each had something to teacher her. One taught her to read, which she liked very much, but then she said, ‘I will teach you to embroider, and it will be your duty to embroider for Oueant and Dueant, because you are the woman,’ and Triane didn’t like this very much at all. Her fingers became as stiff as her lip and her jaw and her thread snarled and the colors knotted together, and soon her embroidery looked like a child’s watercolor where all the colors run to brown. The first Auntie Star got angry, and huffed Triane off to the next Auntie, who taught Triane how to cook. Triane liked cooking very much, but when the same Auntie Star said, ‘You will learn how to sew, because you are the woman and it is your duty to sew,’ Triane’s back grew ramrod straight and her brows drew in and her shirts grew extra arms and flounces where no man should have flounces and a side of shirt that no one, god or human has ever had a side of body before. And this Auntie got impatient too, and shipped her off to the next, and the next one taught her how to sing, which she enjoyed very much, but then she brought out a loom and said, ‘You will weave fine blankets, because you are the girl, and it is your duty to keep your men warm,’ and…do you want to guess?” Bethen cast wicked eyes at Trieste and Trieste laughed back.
“And her wrists were suddenly limp and moving in several hundred different ways, and before she was done with the weaving loom she had managed to weave in her dress, her hair, and the tail of an unfortunate cat.”
Yarri spit laughter hard enough that she had to put down her knitting and hold her hand up to her mouth. “Did you really?” She asked, gasping, and Trieste found her first real smile for the girl blossoming on her face.
“My hair and my dress, yes—the cat barely escaped.”
Yarri laughed some more, and then Bethen picked up the narrative thread as easily as she picked up her next stitch. “And so it went,” she continued, “From Auntie Star to Auntie Star—one taught her to paint, but failed to teach her crochet, one taught her figures, but failed to teach her to tat, and so on until the seventh Auntie Star. Now by this time, poor Triane was over and done with the routine. She was tired of learning beautiful things only to be told that things that should be beautiful were her duty. She was very grumpy with this Auntie Star. ‘So, what duty are you going to try to teach me now?’ she asked. ‘I warn you, I’m awful at everything—I’m a spiteful, disobedient girl and Oueant and Dueant will never love me.’
“Now, this seventh Auntie was very wise, and she just nodded her head and tended to her knitting and said, ‘I don’t want to teach you anything, my darling. Just sit at my knee while I make you your sweater, and we will talk of all your days, and all the things you can do to make Honor and Compassion happy.’
“Triane was very surprised at this—in fact, she was so surprised that her legs went right out from under her, and she found herself sitting at her Auntie’s feet and pouring out the sadness of having fingers that were stiff and wrists that were floppy and brows that were drawn so tight against her head that they hurt. And Auntie Star the seventh stroked her night and sea dark hair and continued to knit. Eventually Triane looked up and asked,”
“What are you knitting?” Trieste supplied to Bethen’s nod.
“Well, I am knitting a lace shawl for someone who will look spectacular in lavender,”
“Not me!” Yarri rolled her eyes.
“But Auntie Star was knitting the most brilliant silver gold cloak. And she looked at Triane and said ‘I am making you a gift, dear heart. Anyone who has tried so very hard as you have to make other people happy—you deserve to be loved.’
“And Triane began to cry, because she hadn’t been trying very hard to make other people happy at all, but the cloak was so very pretty. It was perfect for her prettiest time, in the early summer and late spring, when her face is golden/silver on the sea. And she tried on the cloak, and it was lovely, and when her Auntie Seventh Star wasn’t looking, she picked up the needles and, after watching her Auntie for so very long, she found that when she wanted to cast-on, her fingers found a way. When she wanted to knit, her wrists stayed right where they should be. And when she needed to purl, her brows relaxed after a couple of successful tries. The next day, Auntie Seventh Star came to her…no no, dear, knitting is from front to back—that’s right…and said, what are you knitting, my darling? And Triane said…” Bethen, who had moved closer to Trieste as she talked so that she could show her what to do with needles and yarn, looked at her new pupil to finish the story.
“And she said, ‘I am making a bag for my lovely Auntie Seventh Star, so that she doesn’t have to put her needles in one pocket and her yarn in another when she goes to the swimming hole to teach silly young women how to knit.’”
Bethen smiled from ear to ear. “Darling, that would be a wonderful project—we can find the yarn for you when we get back to the house. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to go swim with all the young people now?”
“In a minute,” Trieste murmured, looking down at her hands, “After one more stitch.”
Yarri stood and stretched. “Well, I’m going to swim—I’m tired of sweat running down my armpits.” She bent and kissed Bethen on the cheek. “That was one of your best, Auntie Beth.”
As Yarri left, Trieste looked up to where she’d sat knitting, and the dark blue tube she’d been working on, that was now decorated with bright orange/yellow gold as well.
“What is she knitting?” She asked curiously.
“Fingerless mittens,” Bethen said serenely. “She heard they’re all the rage in courts this year.”
“Really?” Trieste gave Bethen back her work gratefully—it was lace fine, and she thought that maybe stouter yarn would be easier to work with. “What’s that it says across the back?”
Bethen laughed. “If I’m not mistaken, it says ‘Trieste’. Now go swim, my dear, I’ll be with you all in a moment.”