by Etienne Suarven Lorneau, in Dark
Part I: The brightest star
A melody of coal and silver
"Mom, where is dad? He said he would come for dinner tonight..." Young Ela's voice clearly showed her sleepiness and sadness.
"Probably in the castle, sweet..."
"Why does he have to stay there so long? He never comes home..."
"Your father is a minister of the kingdom, sweet. He must work hard to make our land better."
"But our land is good enough, mom..."
"Yes, sweet. I have no idea either what he works so much on. But I am sure he will be back by morning, so what do you say about going to bed now and waiting until tomorrow to see him?"
"But I wanted to see him today..."
"Me too, Ela. But it is late, all the servants are already sleeping, you should go to bed too. Come, I will take you."
"Will you wait there until I sleep, mom?"
"Of course, sweet."
Fania reached out to the candle over the table, noticing a piece of parchment her daughter had been drawing on. Posing before some trees, holding the hands of her parents, the six years old coal outlined child had a smile on her face. She left the parchment and took the candle, heading to the girl's bedroom with Ela holding tightly her mother's dress.
A few minutes later Fania was back into the dining room. "Poor Ela, she was pretty tired," was what crossed her mind the moment she laid the candle back on the table, where it cast its light upon the utopian, coal made family of the drawing. The mother let out a soft, ironic smile, and, leaving the candle in that place, walked to the front door.
"The stars are bright tonight."
A silver sphere shined in the sky, surround by hundreds of thousands little lights, all much alike, yet so different in brightness. Fania sat on a nearby bench, under one of the lamps that illuminated the front garden of the villa. She pointed to one of the static shining dots and said, as if someone was beside her:
"That star. The one that shines brighter than the others. See how its color is different too? The stormy night when I first met him, that was the only star in the sky. It was under that star that he promised to love me forever. And it is now under that same star that I sit, alone..."
Fania leant against the bench, holding her knees to protect herself from the cold, and kept observing those static fireflies until they decided to move, and flew all around her. The moon, in her silvery glory, came down to greet her. The soft, kind breeze composed her a melody, having the leaves and petals as instruments. She closed her eyes and listened to the harmony of her garden's orchestra, feeling the warmth of the moon next to her. Completely carried away, her mind somewhere above the cold mountains of Suomi, she showed no fear or surprise when her face was gently caressed by the most soft fingers she had been touched by.
Slowly opening her eyes, she saw whose hand that was. A beautiful woman, with clothes to match, sat next to where she laid, gaze fixed on her own. Fania placed her hand over the woman's, gently holding it against her face.
"Who are you?"
The woman smiled. "Look inside your heart, Fania. Who am I?"
Fania understood. Sitting next to her, holding her hand, was Glioca, the Goddess of Love. The simple vision of this lovely lady was enough to fill Fania with joy. Yet she did not quite understand what was going on.
"Why are you here?"
"Because you needed me."
Surprised, Fania sat up.
"I... needed you?"
The Goddess raised her right hand to the height of her eyes. A beautiful light sparkled around it, and something appeared.
"You needed me," Glioca repeated, handing Fania what she now held.
"What is this?"
Without waiting for an answer, Fania took a little rolled piece of parchment from Glioca's hand, and unrolled it. Ela's smile was the first familiar thing she noticed, followed by the trees and finally herself and her husband. Without a doubt, that was her daughter's coal drawing. She set her eyes on the image of her husband. Her joyful expression was replaced by one of sorrow, as she admitted...
"Yes, I need you..."
Glioca stood up. "Follow me, please, Fania."
Fania put herself on her feet, removing some petals from her dress. "Where are we going?"
"To the castle."
"The castle? At this time? It is too far, and the way is dark!"
"Worry not, Fania. Just come with me."
Of all colors, blue
Somewhat afraid, Fania followed Glioca to the front gate.
"There are no more lamps from here, it is too dangerous!"
"That should be no problem."
The Goddess raised her hands. A second later, a million lights were lit as far as the eyesight could reach. The little spots then begun flying. A marvelous waltz was taking place, waves of brightness danced around the two, first all in white, then slowly changing their colors. Cyan, pink, green, an enchanting ocean of beauty flowed as far as one could see.
"That is... is beautiful! I have never seen anything like this before! What are all these little lights?"
Glioca smiled. "Fireflies, Light in its smallest and most alive shape. They shall guide us through the darkness."
"Wonderful! Do you control them all?"
"Control? No, I only ask them for help. If they want to, they do it."
Fania was too busy watching the waves of colorful lights to think of anything else to say. Glioca continued.
"Come, we have a long way to go. They will follow us, you will have plenty of time to watch them."
"Y... Yes, or course."
Still mesmerized, Fania continued to walk by Glioca's side.
"So, Fania," Glioca said after a few minutes of silent walk, "what worries you?"
"Worries me? Nothing, I believe..."
"Do not try to hide it, Fania, you only make things worse this way. I know something is wrong, I can feel it, and I know you need someone to talk to about it. So, please, open your heart to me, all I want is your well-being."
Fania's expression changed to one of grief. "My... husband..."
"I think he... does not love me anymore..."
"And why do you think so?"
"I am not sure, it is just... suspicion, he spends days and nights away, and only says he was doing his work... I even fear he might... might..."
Fania's eyes were suddenly flooded by tears. Noticing it, Glioca dried her face.
"Do not cry, try being strong."
"Yes, I... Sorry, this is..." Fania tried to complete the sentence while halting the flow of her tears. "I fear he... might have another woman... but..."
"I hope I am wrong..."
"You hope he is not betraying you."
"No, not exactly..."
"It is hard to explain. If it is indeed happening, then all the promises were worthless. Then my love was worthless..."
"Love is never worthless, Fania."
"But I could not love him anymore if he did this to me. We have a daughter..."
"Your daughter is a beautiful child."
"Yes, I know. People say she has my husband's eyes..."
...and her smile vanished. The Goddess went on walking, looking at the fireflies around them.
"Our daughter is the only thing that is really ours, of us both. We share nothing else anymore..."
"Do you think, then, that the only thing keeping you two together is Ela?"
Fania sighed. "No, I... Perhaps, but... I still have hopes, maybe it is just a busy period at the castle..."
Avoiding showing her sorrow, Fania started to play with the nearby lights, as she noticed a piece of the sky could be seen clearly, in an area no fireflies were flying around.
"Why is there a hole in there...?"
"A hole? Ah, yes, I see it. The fireflies want you to see something, I believe. Try looking with more attention."
Fania stopped, observing the hole. The Goddess stopped beside her.
"The star, is it not?"
"I wish I could be glad by looking at it, but I cannot..."
The walls of light began turning all into a single color, a pale shade of blue. Glioca's question took Fania by surprise.
"Fania, do you still love your husband?"
A sob was the only answer, as Fania hid her face between her hands.
Part II: Empty battle
Bureaucracy and fire
"Enough! Stop this useless babbling, counselor, I am leaving."
Counselor Siperon had been discoursing for over an hour when Jorg finally ran out of patience and stood up in protest.
"Minister Jorg, would you please remain in your place until the end of my speech?"
"I am truly sorry, Siperon" replied Jorg, "but I have better things to do than sit here and listen to you speaking of how much the counselors deserve a better salary. No matter what you say, the kingdom will not approve it. You know it, so just give up. Good night!"
"Jorg, if you leave this room I will..." The slamming of the door behind the minister did not allow the counselor to finish his sentence.
"Jorg is right, gentlemen." Count Eswin stood up. "We are wasting our time here, let us call this a day and go home."
"Wait, you cannot go. No, wait!"
"Would anyone join me in a drink before we leave?" Duke Torfa, a landlord invited to the royal council for his power among the villagers of the region, seemed to appreciate the castle's wine cellar.
"Of course. Nothing better than some wine to clear the mind of all this." Eswin was also a wine appreciator. And judging by the smiles of the whole room, they would not be alone in this drink.
"The king will get to know it! I promise! The king will hear of it!"
Siperon's threats proved unsuccessful, as in less than a minute the room
was empty. Alone, he sighed. "No raise, I guess..."
In their way to the wine cellar, the well paid group came across Jorg, who was preparing to leave. Duke Torfa could not keep his compliments to himself.
"Good work in there, Jorg. We all need to go home, listening to that fool Siperon is a waste of time."
"You are going home, I am still going to work." Jorg's face had a malicious grin on it.
"Jorg!... You have a wife and a daughter, remember that!" Despite his undeniable addiction to wine, Count Eswin was loyal to the familiar values.
"You should not give your time and money to that girl, Jorg. You might lose your wife this way." completed one of the other wine appreciators.
"Bah, nothing to worry about, gentlemen! I can take care of myself and my family. Coachman! Get the coach ready, I will be leaving to the village. Until tomorrow, gentlemen!"
"To your villa, minister?" The coachman wanted to make sure about his orders.
"To the village, coachman! Village! You know what I mean, now get moving!"
Alone in the back of the coach, the castle already lost in the dark horizon behind, Jorg cursed the counselor for taking so much time from him, time he could have been spending with his concubine. "Ah, Lavaska, you are the only thing worth putting my time and money on."
"Are you sure?"
A warrior was sitting beside Jorg in the coach, his gaze lost out the small window, arms crossed over his chest, the gold armor shining brightly against the candles.
"W-Who are you!? How did you get in here!?"
"With some difficult, I must say! One used to war chariots finds it troublesome to accommodate himself inside a coach like this. Specially wearing this armor!"
"H-How... Why... Who..."
"Talk like a man, you idiot! You want to know who I am and what I am doing in here, is it not?"
Jorg opened his mouth, but no sound could he make. He nodded.
"Well, I will tell you after I get out of this ridiculous coach. Stop it!"
Suddenly, the coach stopped. There were no more sounds from the outside. The warrior opened the door and, again with some difficult, stepped down. Puzzled, Jorg followed him.
"Much better now. How can you travel in this thing?"
"W-Where are the horses!?"
"The horses are all you can think of? Look around you, the coachman is also gone."
Jorg was scared, confused. All he wanted was to wake up from this absurd nightmare. "By the gods, what is going on..."
"What you just said, 'by the gods'. Are you dense?"
The insult angered the minister, giving him some courage; he recomposed.
"I warn you, I do not like foolish wizards! Stop this illusion at once or I will have you arrested!"
"My, my, we have a furious type here. Who do you think I am?"
"I do not care who you are, I just want you to put an end to this madness or you will pay for it, I swear to the gods!"
"Even against your will, then, I shall introduce myself. I am Ceannlaidir, the best warrior of Aosda. And you are Jorg, the worst minister of Loures."
Jorg nearly fell on his back. "The God of War?"
"So they call me. Still want to arrest me? Go ahead."
"No, I... Pardon me, God Ceannlaidir, I knew it not! Forgive me, forgive me!" The minister begged, humiliating himself by the god's feet.
"Stand up, you fool! We have a long way to go, and not much time."
"We have a long way to go? You want me to walk with you?"
"Is it that hard to understand? You would never reach the position of general in my army. A wonder you are a minister..."
"What could Ceannlaidir possibly want with me!?"
"If you would collaborate, I could say. Now come!"
"I am not going to walk anywhere in this darkness!"
Jorg got closer to the coach and the pale light provided by the candles inside. Ceannlaidir sighed.
"You are such an annoyance..." The God of War opened his arms, and a thousand fireflies began flying around him, in different shades of red. The minister stepped inside the coach, afraid. Suddenly they split, going each half to one side of the road. "Come outside and watch, I think you might like it".
Following the God's order, minister Jorg again stepped down the coach, just in time to see the red fireflies hit the grass on both sides of the road, immediately setting it on fire. But much to Jorg's surprise, there was no smoke, not even the smell of burning green grass.
The fire was first red and small, just like the insects, but in a few seconds began to grow and change color. The flames reached two, three, four meters, and went from yellow to red, sometimes passing through odd shades of blue Jorg had never seen in any candle or fireplace.
"Can we start walking now, or are you afraid of the fire too?"
"Are we going to just leave the coach here? And what about the coachman and the horses, where are they?"
Ceannlaidir replied in a single breath, "Yes, we are going to leave the coach there, the coachman will wake up tomorrow sure he delivered you to your villa, and the horses will be there to prove he arrived in peace. Now come!"
As the two walked, the fireflies continued their way by the side of
the road, putting fire to the vegetation nearby, always producing no smoke.
The fire would diminish after the two passed, completely vanishing as they
were about a hundred steps ahead. Jorg could not say exactly, from this
distance, if the fire had indeed consumed the vegetation; he believed otherwise,
No one to return to
"Where are we going, God of War? I do not recognize this path."
"You do not recognize it because you have not seen it in a very long time."
Ceannlaidir's answer only made Jorg more curious. The warrior continued.
"This is the path that goes straight from the castle to what you used to call 'home', without passing through any small village."
Jorg, for the first time in the night, felt slightly guilty, as the word "home" reminded him of Ela. On the other hand, the word "village" brought to his mind Lavaska, his concubine, as the strange pride he carried for his infidelity replaced the thought of his family.
"It is a long way, but shorter than to a village and then to where you live. It will take a while by foot."
"Then why did we have to leave the coach behind...?"
"The little wooden box stuffed with leather you call transportation? That is no vehicle for a man... uh, a warrior!" The minister certainly did not like Ceannlaidir's comment.
"Why not come with one of your glorious chariots of war, then?" The irony in Jorg's intonation could be noticed by a cow. The God of War would not let that go unpunished.
"For two reasons. First, it would be too fast, and, even if I do not like it, we must have a conversation longer than the travel time. And second, because you are far from worthy of entering one of my glorious chariots of war. Satisfied?"
Something barely audible and hardly comprehensible was Jorg's answer. Ceannlaidir decided to neglect it for the sake of his (short) temper. After a few more steps in silence, the minister spoke again.
"So, this is not a dream. You have put me in an absurd situation I have no control of, and no idea how to escape from. Go ahead and tell your tale, all I want now is to get home and fall on my bed, all this is much more than I expected in a single day."
"You want to fall on your bed, I see. Is that what your home is all about, a place to rest from the pressures of your days... and nights?"
"Why... What is this all about!? Where are you trying to get? Look, you are a god, the God of War, you could destroy me right here and now, you know much more than I do and is probably much more respected than me. But that does not give you the right to come judge my ways!"
Ceannlaidir reached for his sword. "You dare to!..." Fortunately for Jorg, he changed his mind. "Listen, you grand fool. I do not like being here at all, so please collaborate or I will leave you here in the darkness without a way to get anywhere!"
Drops of cold sweat covered Jorg's forehead. "Well... What can I say?" The half-hearted smile in the minister's lips was enough to guarantee his collaboration.
"Very good. Now, I want to hear the exact truth loud and clear. Why do you completely neglect your wife, and nearly completely your daughter?"
A big question mark took over the disloyal man's face. "How am I supposed to answer that!?"
"I see. Let me rephrase the question." Ceannlaidir was having a hard time keeping the low tone of his voice. "Why are you so proud in maintaining a concubine, visiting her nearly every day... um, night, while your real family you hardly see twice a week?"
"I take care of all my family's needs!"
"Ah, you do?"
"But of course! Few families have all the luxuries mine can boast of. My wife and daughter live in the best house in the land, wear the most expensive clothes, count with the cares of many servants, eat the best food in the kingdom. Only the Royal Family of Loures has a life more pleasant than the one I give mine!"
"The Royal Family of Loures always has all its members around the dining table for the meals."
"Ahn... Yes, I agree that I am not the best father and husband in the world, but..."
"Not the best father and husband in the world. Truly not! How many times have you seen your daughter this month? Three? What was the last time you told your wife you loved her?"
Jorg stood tall, holding on to his ideals, strangely not afraid of the God of War.
"It does not matter! My family is there, they have all they need. But I did not have all I need in there, so I had to look for it elsewhere. You are a man, you should know it!"
The minister's last sentence was followed by the blink of one of his eyes. It did not, however, stop the God from throwing him to the ground with a fast, furious arm movement. Jorg was taken by surprise, and could do nothing but listen to what Ceannlaidir, now posed in front of him, impeding his attempts to stand up, had to say, what he did with a voice more thunderous than usual.
"So that is what being a man means to you, arrogant fool! When a soldier leaves for battle, what does he fight for? His life? His kingdom? His king? His land? No! He fights for the safety of the family he left behind, the wife and children he said 'I will be back as soon as it is over' to when leaving his home, carrying great doubts about his return. And even when the odds are against him, he will go on fighting, because he has a purpose, he has his pride and honor, he has a place to return to if he wins, and people he loves and who love him back home. His family is what pushes him forward, impels him to keep trying, to go on fighting, seeking the victory!"
Ceannlaidir lowered the tone of his voice and eased the pressure on his fists.
"But when a man has no family waiting back home for him, he has nothing more to fight for. He is simply a tool in the hands of the kingdom, a number in an army, an expendable piece in the board. It does not matter if he wins or loses. Victory only puts him in another empty battle, another fight for no one. Defeat takes his soul to the underworld sooner than it should. But it makes no difference..."
The God of War lowered his gaze to the ground, and stepped aside. Jorg was reluctant about standing up for a few moments, but finally did.
"I... have a family to return to."
"Fania? Or Lavaska?"
Jorg took a few seconds to answer, "Fania, and Ela."
With a sigh, the warrior concluded, "Then you are about to lose it,
unless you do the right thing."
Part III: Trial and error
"I wish I could just say 'yes, of course'... but my fears do not let me."
Glioca put one of her hands on Fania's shoulder, and with the other once again dried her tears. "I understand. Sorry for asking it. But come, we still must walk a little more."
The lady recomposed and stood on her feet. "A little more? But the castle is still a long way ahead..."
"Yes, it is. But we are not going all the way to the castle."
"No? Then where are we going?"
"You will see when we get there." Glioca answered with a smile.
"Lose it? What must I do then?"
Walking ahead of Jorg, Ceannlaidir remained quiet.
"Tell me what I must do!"
"We are almost there."
"Almost where? I live at least another hour walking from here."
"We are not going to your home. Now stop asking questions, you have
made me lose my patience."
"What is happening there!?" Fania's surprise was clearly showed by her tone.
"That is where we are going."
"Wait! The road after that is on fire! We must not continue, it might get here!"
"It will get here, and that is why we are here."
"Is this really the road, or some sort of strange dimension you gods live in?" Despite all the warnings, Jorg continued to show less respect than expected from a minister.
"This is really the road, and what you probably confused for something of another dimension is where we are going to."
"Well, the road did not use to have a... thing constantly shifting its color and form in the middle of it, followed by a long tunnel of colored light."
"No, and I hope this is the last time we must take you to see that."
Fania could only deviate her attention from the absurd forms of black, white and gray when she saw someone coming out of the flames. "Jorg!"
At the same time, Jorg noticed two people come out of the bright tunnel of light. "Fania!?"
"Good night, lady Fania and minister Jorg." A disharmonic chorus of voices filled the air, coming from the inconstant presence between the four.
"May I present you, Fania... Deoch!" Jorg could clearly hear Glioca's introduction, and asked Ceannlaidir...
"Yes, you fool. And in case you still have not recognized, the lov... the lady with your wife is the beauti... um, is Glioca."
"Come closer, all of you." The chorus again echoed in the woods. The two gods approached, followed by their travel companions.
"Stay here, Fania." Glioca stepped beside Deoch...
"Dare going anywhere." ...followed by Ceannlaidir, who stood by the other side of the third god. Fania and Jorg were left together in front of them, but did not look at each other.
"What is this all about?" The minister, despite being now completely puzzled, remained somewhat talkative.
"We are here to put an end to the suffering of you." Deoch's indefinite and inconstant form remained gray while the chorus answered.
"The love of you has come to a point where I can do nothing by myself to help. That is why the three of us came together in your aid." Glioca completed Deoch's explanation.
"Despite my protests, I must say." Ceannlaidir added his own observation. Glioca lanced him a cold gaze, and Deoch's color began going from white to black and back to white much faster than before. The warrior tried to fix it. "But I knew I could not let anyone down, so I came."
"You said... put an end to our suffering...?" Fania let out slightly more than a whisper.
"What suffering?", completed Jorg in much less than a whisper, turning his head to the side.
"I believe we will not accomplish our goal...", said Glioca to herself.
"I did my best. Honest!"
"No one is blaming you, Ceannlaidir." The Goddess of Love pointed to Jorg. "It is you who is wrong."
"You have forsaken your family, abandoned your child, betrayed your wife. And now you deny your guilt." Black was Deoch as the chorus accused the minister.
"Then it was true..." Fania fell on her knees, covering, with her hands, her face.
Jorg stood motionless, the three Gods consulted among themselves. Standing up again, tears flowing freely, Fania was eloquent.
"Why are you putting me through this!? I did nothing wrong, I asked for no truth, I wanted no more sadness! If the gods want to judge my husband, then go ahead!, just let me keep the little portion of life I still have..."
"With death there is always rebirth." And so Deoch was white for a few moments.
Ceannlaidir finally directed his words to Fania. "We are not here to hurt you more, milady. In fact, the reason that brought me by the side of Glioca and Deoch, whose ways I do not fully approve, now sleeps, unaware of all this, in your home."
"Despite being unaware of the truth, however," Glioca took the word, "her wish was to see her family the way it once was."
Deoch suddenly stopped fading in and out of sight and shifting his shape and color, becoming plain and white. Slowly, black lines were drawn, forming an image already known to Fania.
"What is this?" Jorg finally addressed his wife.
"It was the hope of our daughter, and my own. But I have lost it."
The minister dropped his barriers and showed a sign of sadness in his eyes.
"I see, Jorg, that you still have in you something that at least resembles love for your wife."
"Glioca, I... I..."
Ceannlaidir decided the minister was taking too long. "Was a fool! An idiot! And regret this greatly now. Is it not?"
"And you know the only reason Lavaska puts up with you is the money you waste on her!"
"And you would do anything to have the true happiness of a home and family again!"
"Perfect! Can we go now, Glioca, Deoch?"
"You know, Ceannlaidir, despite your short temper and taste for war, you have a heart of gold. I believe there might still be hope for you." Glioca smiled to the warrior, who for a moment thought of smiling back, but was not allowed by his pride. "However, we are not done here yet."
"I hope he is true to what he says, but that is not enough. Both parts must agree." Deoch's color, now gray, and his difficult in maintaining himself in one shape and without fading back and forth from this dimension, made him a transparent being, in both senses.
Glioca spoke again. "It is in your hands, Fania. Will you forgive your husband and give your love another chance?"
"How can I trust him now...? And if I take him back, will Ela not become the only thing keeping me tied to him? How long would it take for another betrayal to take place?"
"Forgive and forget, Fania. We will be watching if he does not remain true to his words. Just ask for our help, and we will come." Ceannlaidir, against his will, made Glioca smile once more.
"I promise, my loved Fania, things will be different this time."
Fania sighed. "Very well then, for the happiness of Ela I shall forgive him. I hope I can love him again someday, but for now, despite my fears that this would happen, Ela will be the only thing keeping us together." She then turned to Jorg, "You have a long way to go before regaining my trust."
"I understand, Fania..."
"It was not exactly what we expected, but I believe we can do nothing but leave Fania's choices to herself. Our work today is done." Deoch's disharmonic chorus put an end to the meeting.
"I will be looking! The lady asks, I will come. So make no foolish movements!", Ceannlaidir warned Jorg.
"May your love grow, Fania. You deserve it.", were Glioca's last words to the lady.
The fire and the tunnel of colors, split until that moment, merged in
one, creating a large wall of pillars around the married couple. When the
fireflies began to land, lightless, and the fire diminish, they were back
in the garden of the villa , the coach parked by the front door. Fania
would need a long time before forgiving her husband. But, for Ela, she
would take it.
Part IV: A look into the future
Deoch 16, Spring
Today is my seventeenth birthday. But I remember this day for another
reason. One year ago, my mother put an end to her life. She left me a note
telling how terrible those last ten years had been, with my disloyal father
by her side. All the suffering, the pain of being hurt day after day. She
explained about the meeting with the gods, and her will to protect me,
to give me a good, happy childhood, even costing her so much. I remember
she telling me that night, in my bed, "You are almost a woman now. I have
looked after you for a long time, doing my best to raise you without any
help, without asking for any other divine intervention. Now I hope the
gods take good care of you. Good night, sweet." She then gave me a soft
kiss and walked away, all I had the chance to say was "good night". The
next morning I went to her bedroom. The cellar was covered with dots of
light, but I paid no attention to them at the time. A knife in one hand,
an old coal drawn parchment in the other, tears all over her face. My father
only arrived at the afternoon, and left a week after the burial. I have
not seen him since, but heard that, a month later, he married Lavaska,
with whom he had wasted most of our economies. The Royal Family was kind
to me, providing a place for me to live when I left the villa. I started
to work in a tavern in Piet, and plan to move there as soon as possible.
>From the gods I will ask no help; like my mother, I will stand on my own.
I do not hate Lavaska, not even my father. In fact, I feel nothing at all
for him. From my past, all I want to carry is the loving image of my mother.