It would have surprised some people to discover that the day Walter Blythe died was only the second worst day of young Una Meredith's life. The worst day was when Walter had bid her farewell at the train station and laid a chaste kiss on his young lover's lips that burned still on her skin. As his train had disappeared beyond Ketter's Hill she had shivered and shook with a terrifying premonition as Dog Monday threw himself after the train, howling a dirge, and Shirley Blythe had flung himself after the dog and restrained the sobbing, loyal creature.

"I can see the Pied Piper coming." Walter had mused the night before his departure, lying on the long grass in Rainbow Valley and chewing on the end of his pen reflectively. He had sat up, eyes aglow with an odd, almost feverish light.

"All my life he has haunted the edges of my vision, barely visible in the moonlight, and I sought him endlessly. Now I go, with no more sidelong glances to the fey, and he marches merrily before me." He sat up, gesturing towards the road leading to the train station. "I thought that he would take me away to my death. The Raven sits on his shoulder, but it is not only the symbol for dying, but also wisdom. Perhaps I shall gain wisdom in the war." Una shivered and grasped the sleeve of his khakis.

"Let's not talk like this," she begged him. He smiled softly at her and the odd glint left his eyes, but lurked in the recesses of his face.

"Una…I would not go, but for the feather…" his lips twisted as he recalled the taunts of "Sissy Blythe" that had been cast at him from his earliest school days until the day he had enlisted in the army. Una nearly wept.

"You are not a coward, never." She told him fiercely and pulled him into her arms. "It is just that you were not made for war, but for inspiring the souls of men." Walter turned his gaze onto the slight woman-child holding him.

"You are so strong, and so small," he murmured, "but can you bear it?" he considered some unknown question within his mind, then dug into his chest pocket and extracted something small.

" Una, when I go, will you wear this for me?" he held out a simple silver circle to her that had tiny slivers of refracted light dancing off the diamond chips embedded in a setting. Una's eyes widened but she did not make a sound, but waited for his clarification.

"I do not know if I shall return or not," he told her pressing the ring into her palm and closing her hand around it.

"String it around your neck, and think of me. If I return, I intend to place it on your finger, but I would not bind you without an assurance of my return, and that I cannot provide."

"Oh, but I don't mind." Una burst out passionately. "Place it on my finger now and let me proudly bear the burden of awaiting my lover's return while I do my part at home to win the War." Una's arms fell away from him as he stood and gazed down at her. Then he reached down and lifted her to her feet. He opened her hand and removed his ring and then sank to a knee and gray met gray as his eyes captured her own.

"Una Meredith; would you do me the honor of promising to be my wedded wife?"
"Forever and a day will I wait for your return," she promised fervently as the cold metal encircled her finger irrevocably. "As long as you live, I am yours."

The train vanished and a heavy chill set over the formerly cheering company. The entire town always gathered to see off the enlistees, whooping and shouting as if to buoy up the fighters with a store of good cheer and intentions. Once the steam engine was gone, however, gloom always set in among the assembled company. Una felt it as strongly as a dash of ice water to the face.

Then came the dark night when Dog Monday broke the silent night with unearthly cries and howls, and the entire village held their collective breath and waited for a dreaded telegram to tell them which child of the Blythes was lost forever.

Anne would have understood, Una reflected bitterly as she sat underneath a weeping willow tree, if she ever found a reason to confide in Walter's mother. But that family was grieving now threefold.

One, for Jem Blythe was lost somewhere over there, in the wide world where the War was being fought.

Two, for Shirley Blythe, who defied the bonds of gravity with an aeroplane, wreaking vengeance upon those who dared to attack the civilized world.

Three, for the dreamy, gentle son of the Blythe family was lying dead far away on those same strange shores. No, Una could not bother the Blythes with her grief when theirs was undoubtedly rawer; she would be kind and stay away until she could offer them her sympathy, instead of requiring comfort herself.

Una turned and clung to the rough bark of the willow tree, seeking solace where she could not seek it out from any living human. No, this grief was hers to bear quietly. And why should she be grieving over Walter Blythe? No one knew of her love for him; it had been a tiny flame coaxed to life within her fragile soul by sideways glances and moments shared over a reading of poetry. Her heart had thrilled to finally be loved by him in return. Walter had loved her she comforted herself. And she would never let his memory die.

He had loved her. Not Faith; her beautiful, boisterous sister with a shock of brilliant hair that every man on the Island thrilled to see whirl about as she spun, dancing light as a fairy. He had been in love with little, quiet Una. This was cold consolation but it was enough to salve the broken, bleeding wounds inside her soul just enough that she was able to dry her damp cheeks and follow the one track road through the woods back to the parsonage.

"Una's awful pale-like and thin, Mrs Dr Dear." Susan observed to Anne Blythe as the former chopped potatoes with a vengeance on the porch. "Sort of pinched and pained-looking." Anne's brow creased as she leaned forward to gaze more intently at the slight form of Una Meredith walking briskly on the road past Ingleside's drive. Her keen gaze detected unusual hesitation in the girl's movement that denoted some pain inside. Pain, or weakness.

"We are all suffering in one form or another at this time, Susan." Anne sighed, her heart contracting painfully as she considered her three lost sons; Jem, missing in action: presumed dead. Walter; confirmed dead. Shirley; her baby boy who was constantly in danger as he flew in the defense of his nation.

"You are right about Una, though; she is so young and sensitive, and wears Walter's ring still. I fear for her." Susan did not pause in mutilating the potatoes as Anne continued to speak; it was comforting to her at these times to pretend that the hapless roots were instead the heads of their foes.

"Her stepmother ought to be the most concerned about her." Susan opinioned wisely with years of old maidenly experience behind her words. "Mrs Meredith knows her best." Anne did not respond but gazed after Una's disappearing form with something like sympathy in her clear eyes.

Rosemary Meredith paused outside Una's small garret room with a hand raised to knock. It had been several moments since she took this pose, and still could not bring herself to disturb the child. Young lady, she corrected herself. Una had been engaged; this clearly marked her entrance into adulthood. It was silent inside Una's room, and Rosemary made the decision to not awaken her stepdaughter; she would let her sleep—all the way through church if the girl would rest that long. Too many nights had Rosemary heard quiet pacing steps coming from Una's room ceaselessly through the night. The girl was pale and white, and grew more so every day. It was fashionable now to be thin, but Una was approaching a look that was somewhat akin to deathly.

But yesterday Una had smiled and met Rosemary's gaze clearly when asked how she was feeling and that had done a little to put her at ease. It had been a month since the telegram had arrived at Ingleside that brought the dreaded news, and a month before that when Dog Monday had frightened the stationmaster with his howls in the night, leading the Blythe clan had concluded that one of their sons had fallen. Surely she had at least begun to heal? The young heal very quickly from their wounds, whether they are physical or spiritual.

Rosemary Meredith quietly picked her way downstairs again and set a plate of breakfast aside for her stepdaughter, whenever she arose.

Upstairs, Una lay quietly and gazed at the ceiling, tracing the whorls and knots in the grain of the white pine wood that made up the underside of the old parsonage. She heard gentle footsteps coming up the stairs, down the hall, and stop outside her door. Rosemary's footsteps; she could identify every member of the house by the fall of their step on any surface. She was grateful when her stepmother moved on without knocking. She would have had to respond, and get up for church, and she had grown to despise being around people. She twisted Walter's ring around her finger. They would not stop staring. Every eye fell first on her wasted, ugly little face then fell to the ring and the looks in their eyes said it all. She read it as clearly as day.

"Such a plain little thing, made hideous by her grief."

"And she still wears the ring he gave her. Grieves still when they were engaged only a day before he left, and a scant handful of months before he was killed. So many of us have lost sons, brothers, nephews, cousins; all she has lost is a lover she only had for a day. But we mustn't blame her; she has always been a pitiful thing. It is in her nature to cling tightly to the first creature that shows her affection."

Una stifled a sob and buried her face into her pillow. These were the same people that ridiculed Walter Blythe for his dreaminess, his poetry, his lack of perceived manliness. And now he was revered because he had died for their ideals, and she was the object of pity. Una may have been tender hearted, but she possessed a backbone of steel. Pity was not an emotion she could accept being directed towards her. Having realized this, she considered death too weak a choice and determined to live out the duration of the war. Live it out brilliantly. She would do it for Walter, and he would be proud. When her allotted days were gone, then perhaps she would be permitted to see the Pied Piper dance down the road, and follow his gay music and grim silhouette to find her lost lover.

Una sat up and dried her tears. In secret she may grieve and allow her face to turn gray and sorrowful, but never again would she be an object of pity for the town. She made this a vow to herself, and then dressed for church.

Walter's ring remained on her finger.

The Red Cross meeting was going well. Una was taking the minutes for Faith, while the various young ladies sorted out their knitting needles, scraps of cloth, and other war-related projects. Faith eyed Una out of the corner of her eye while dictating a bit of information for next month's meeting. They had just heard that the front lines needed more socks, but they weren't done with the mufflers yet, which were desperately needed, so the Allied Forces would have to make do with the socks they already had for another thirty days.

But really, Una did not look well. The last six months she had grown steadily more wraith-like until she nearly seemed invisible. Her spirits always seemed good, stronger than they were even before Walter had died, but Una seemed to be fading away even as her efforts to support the War increased. Faith suddenly feared for her little sister's life, and twisted her own ring around her finger in a fit of anxiety. What if Jem were to die? Would she fade away slowly like Una was?

But Faith loved life, whereas Una had always seemed to view life as an event she was to flit along the edges of; never truly stepping into the sunlight. Little, pale, black haired and gray eyed Una was a sprite of Winter; brilliant for a time and beautiful while she lived, but fading away fast to make way for the other seasons. Faith was a child of sunshine and plenty. Una lived for the delicate, crystal-like beautiful moments in life that she was so like. Here one moment, gone the next. Too fragile to exist for long in a world filled with harshness.

Faith shuddered suddenly and shook off her unusually philosophical thoughts. There was a War to be won, and the mufflers weren't getting knitted. TheMacAllister girls were distracting the Red Cross again with their incessant chatter. Faithe swooped down on them and corrected stiches, scolded loudly, and bossed everyone into an orderly, harmonious whole.

Rosemary Meredith wrapped her shawl more tightly about her shoulders as she stepped out of her warm home into the thick fog of a September morning. John Meredith looked out of his study briefly to see where the draft was coming from, and noticed his wife disappearing from the parsonage into the chill fall air. He worried about his ladies. All of them were drawn and pale, Una most of all. Faith was the one brilliant, shining exception. She did not love the war, but she thrived as an authority among her peers. Organizing and creating a new Red Cross chapter, preparing her own hope chest, and still managing to be the social belle; Faith was made to overcome adversity. John tried to think of a way to fit the concept into next week's sermon without making it look like he was bragging on his eldest daughter. He kicked the study door closed and bent over his sheet of paper.

It was not far to Ingleside, but Rosemary feared that if she allowed herself to be chilled that it would be spring before the cold of it left her bones. Her purpose for the visit, however, was important, and she felt that a conversation with Anne Blythe was worth braving the chill. She stepped out in a brisk walk and arrived at Ingleside red-cheeked and glowing with exercise. Susan opened the door from her with an exclamation.

"Goodness, the fog is thick enough to cut, and you walked with only that shawl!" Susan muttered something about the Mrs. Dr. Dear apparently not being the only lady with no sensible tendencies and hustled Rosemary into a chair by the fire. Anne herself appeared in the staircase moments later and joined her. The two china dogs kept the ladies company as they exchanged greetings and solicitudes before Rosemary breached the real reason for her visit.

"Una is not well, and I fear for her health" she said bluntly, in response to Anne's query as to the nature of her unexpected visit.

"I would ask Miss Cornelia's advice, but likely she would merely say that it was just like a man to go and die on his fiancée, and then tell me some recipe for a foul-smelling and worse-tasting cure all." Anne laughed briefly, and then subsided into a contemplative silence.

"Send her over here," Anne said finally, "and I'll speak with her. Knowing our Una, she has quite intuitively come to a conclusion that although is partially true, is making her thoroughly miserable. We must," Anne added with an old, ghostly pain in her eyes, "ensure that our Una is not too prematurely aged by this grief."

"To souls such as Una, no grief is ordinary, but a terrible and yawning chasm." Rosemary said quietly, and assented to Anne's instructions.

Susan came bolting out of the kitchen, pale, hectic color on her cheeks and hair flying as she rounded the corner into the living room, limbs all akimbo. "We've done it, we've done it!" she exclaimed wildly. Anne dropped her sewing.

"For goodness sakes, done what, Susan? Did the bread fall?" Susan shook her head and the color in her cheeks rose more and tears fell out of the corners of her eyes.

"The Allied Forces have won; Germany has surrendered, and Kaiser Bill has fled to the Netherlands." Anne rose to her feet slowly, hands at her mouth which was open in a little O of astonishment.

"Praise be…Shirley will be coming home!"

"Jem may come too," Susan said stoutly, but her heart leaped at the mention of Shirley. Her little brown boy that she herself had nursed and raised through Anne's terrible illness after his birth, the little boy she loved so dearly. The boy that claimed both Anne and Susan as his mothers, the youngest; her little brown boy Shirley. More tears collected in her eyes.

"Praise be…" she echoed.

Una was present when a letter from Jem appeared from land of the dead, making the surprising announcement that he had never been a citizen of that dreary country. Faith cried, then hugged every member of the family and packed a bag. She left the next week to fly to Paris where he was recovering in a hospital. Her first letter back was cheerful and upbeat full of tales of her new job as a nurse and happy news about Jem's recovery.

Carl was the next to return, quietly and with little hubbub, at least until the stationmaster telephoned the operator and told her that a war hero had returned. The news was then quickly spread to every member of the Glen St Mary. To be sure, he'd had to give up an eye as a bribe to the Lord of the Dead to retain his citizenship as a living person, but he counted that as small payment.

"I can still look at bugs and stuff with one eye," he told Bruce cheerfully, who was rapturously bounding around the veranda where he was seated with Rosemary sitting in a chair next to him, holding his hand and nearly crying, while John held her other hand and had an arm across his shoulder. Una stood a bit to the side, weeping for joy and sorrow; she knew not which emotion was stronger in her heart. Her brother had returned and her heart was nearly breaking from the happiness of it. Walter would not come back from the dead; his corpse had been found and duly buried. Her brother, however, had returned home. Una fled the family circle; understanding the girl's pain, Rosemary stopped her brothers and father from following.

Una sank, breathless, down onto a log in Rainbow Valley and wished for death to claim her soon as she was wracked with heaving sobs. The dryads in the trees that Walter had named and told the stories of watched over her in her sorrow.

Far off in the distance, a form appeared with a raven on its shoulder, and a great billowing cloak. A weird, high tune accompanied it, tugging all the pale souls toward it that longed for death and whose bodies were weak enough to soon oblige their wishes.

In a small valley, scarcely large enough to warrant the name, a pale, tear-streaked face turned upwards, with a queer expression on its face, as if trying very hard to listen to music that was not quite loud enough to truly be heard, but was still most certainly there.

Anne smiled kindly at Una as they kneaded dough in the kitchen of Ingleside. "I so appreciate your help today, Una," she told the girl. "I would not have had a chance to finish everything that needed to be done without you. Susan would have stayed, I suppose, but it is her day off and she truly needed it." A tiny smile stole over Una's lips and her shoulders straightened.

"Any time you need help, Mrs Blythe, I'll help if I can," she promised, and stifled a cough in her shoulder that shook her small frame mercilessly. Anne's expression became troubled.

"How long have you had that cough?" she inquired. Una attempted to straighten all the way.

"I will be all right," she said, sidestepping the question, but Anne was not to be deterred.

"Una Meredith, I do not intend to let you leave my house without Gilbert's assurance that you do not, in fact, have walking pneumonia, which is exactly what that cough sounds like." Una waved her thin hand in what was doubtlessly intended to be an airy gesture.

"It is only a small cough," she said dismissively, then, "Have you received a letter from Shirley lately?" Anne's face brightened in spite of herself.

"Yes," she responded. "He is well, and is considered a great pilot. It frightens me, to think of my youngest child, high in the sky while we still have enemies, and the ground is so wide and unforgiving…" she shuddered and banished the notion. "Perhaps Shirley will be able to come home soon, so that I need not fear any longer the death of my remaining son." Una's eyes were suddenly very bright and she said

"During this entire War, I prayed every day for the safe return of everyone's sons...and lovers.." her voice caught and she did not continue. Anne impulsively took the fragile girl in her arms.

"And I pray for you," Anne told her fiercely, "that your spirit and body recover that you also may live. It is painful to have the people one knows die, thousands of miles away, but it is worse to see the brightest spirit in the Glen St Mary slowly dim under a crushing load of grief. We all bear it, Una, let us help you carry your load. It isn't so much heavier for us, but it may save you." Una blinked in astonishment then buried her face in the rough apron she wore and keened quietly. Anne held her closely and marveled at the pain the young woman had been holding inside herself, unknowing of a way to grieve without giving way to despair. Una stood in the middle of the kitchen, an entity unto herself, completely absorbed in her grief. Slowly she became aware of Anne's quiet words to her.

"You grieve for my son, and for what his ring signified; for what may have been. I grieve also for the daughter I will never gain, the grandchildren from your union with Walter that I will never hold with awe and love, looking into the silver-gray eyes they would have inherited from both mother and father. I grieve for the memory of my tiny baby; raven haired, dimpled and happy, and yet the quietest of all my infants, born with an otherworldly cast to his gaze. The child that was truly born to see only one season, a winter child, bold and ephemeral as a single crystal of frozen water." Anne's tear drops fell into Una's hair and Una felt something terrible and icy let go of her heart, allowing it to beat once more. The pain of feeling again was agony, yet Una grasped onto the sensation with the air of a drowning swimmer. It meant she was alive. And more than that, it meant that inside, she had not completely wished to die. Una stepped away from Anne and with trembling fingers drew Walter's ring from her finger and thrust it at Anne.

"So I ought not to wear this any longer?" she asked, her voice shaking with emotion, and for the first time in months, she did not try to force it back into a smooth, modulated tone that betrayed nothing. Anne looked into Una's eyes and saw her soul trembling in pain; confused and tormented. She reached out and closed Una's hand around the ring.

"Wear it as long as you feel it belongs on your hand, dear." Anne said gently, and Una, hands trembling even more, slid it back onto its accustomed finger with a sigh of relief. It still belonged there. For the first time she could sense that a time might be coming, in the far future, where she might take it off and face life with a new gaze. As far in the dim future as that may be, Una grasped the vision and held onto it. She might live, might even want to.

Anne perceived the change in the girl and inwardly let out a great sigh of relief. She turned and squarely looked into the eyes of the Piper that had been trailing the girl like his own great black cloak trailed behind him. She met his eyes and looked squarely into the calm depths, matching his confidence with her own.

Go, she thought at him. This girl will live and your presence is no longer needed.

The Piper matched her gaze for several more long seconds, then turned on his heel, raised his pipe to his lips, and began playing his weird, other worldly tune that compels the ready soul to follow, and walked into eternity. Una remained with Anne, the music reaching her ears, but her soul was free of its influence.

The Piper vanished into the far distance, and though his song lingered for long minutes after, it too followed him, and was gone.

This story is the result of the most awful night I've had for insomnia...ever. After going to bed at 11pm, I didn't fall asleep until 6am. In the interim, I wrote. After writing another chapter of my fanfiction The Terebinth Tree, I suddenly could not get another fanfiction that I had read of Rilla of Ingleside out of my head. It just kept sticking with me that it was an awesome fanfic, but I would have taken the story a different way. So I did. And pounded out more than 4,000 words in three hours.

Please review! I'm not totally sure how I like this style of writing; how broken up it is into segments.

21 January 2013: Thank you so much to my reviewers who pointed out all m middle-of-the-night writing mistakes, even if I didn't get around to editing all of them in until now. Thank you!