It is hard to forget where I was when the bells started clanging: in the village market, a basket of potatoes over my arm, Gerda’s small hand hiding in mine.
At the first ring, all movement stopped. As the bells rang louder and louder, pealing from one steeple to the next, everyone came out into the street. Mouths agape, men stopped in the middle of tasks: the smith with his hammer overhead, the stockmen on their horses, the baker with his pastry bag dripping pastry dough into the dust.
“The queen is dead!” whispered small children to their blanched mothers. The small ones did not yet understand.
Gerda hid further into my skirts. I felt her quaking, so I turned and squatted down to face her. “Davos is going nowhere yet. This was not the call to battle.”
Her solemn eyes filled and she nodded. “I know. Not yet.”
We turned and ran for home, forgetting the rest of our errands. Mama was standing behind the gate, her face ashen, lips drawn tight. When she saw us approach, she flung the gate wide. We fell into her arms.
“Davos? Mama, where is Davos?” I begged.
“He is here, but not for long. I expect to hear the call soon.” She spoke calmly only with great effort, her voice a rusty hinge.
Gerda began to cry. Mama scooped her onto a hip and strode to the house. I followed closely, the basket of potatoes clumsily hitting my leg with every step.
Inside, we found Davos praying, his back toward us. His shoulders were pulled close to his ears and he shook, ever-so-slightly. Upon hearing Gerda, he exhaled determinedly and stood to face us.
“Gerda, chickpea, all is well. Yes, Sibylle?”
Unsure of how to respond, I shrugged a bit.
“We knew this was going to happen – the queen has no heir. I will go to battle in father’s stead.”
Mama moaned. “You are barely a man, just fourteen. You are exempt, you must be!”
“Mama, I am not.”
“Your father, rest his soul, would forbid it. He would not want you to –“
“Mama! I am the man of this household. I am going to defend our land – our home – when the call sounds.”
Mama dropped to her knees, weeping into Gerda’s little shoulder.
I looked at Davos, he looked back at me. He may say the words of a man, but I see the heart of a boy. I threw a potato at him, hard, “You made Mama cry!”
The potato surprised him. Too late, he put his hands up but the potato glanced off his shoulder and rolled under the table.
“Davos, what will we do? How will we keep the farm? What if you…” my questions trailed off, unanswered.
Davos took my hands, pulled me so that our foreheads touched.
“Sibylle, you are strong as an ox. All will be well. You are the man of the family, now.”
The call sounded, ricocheting off the mountains. We closed our eyes.