Friday, January 21, 2011

Afton, part 9

Wido’s steps were heavy as he led the ox home. Afton scampered ahead of him, happily splashing her slim legs and tunic in the rutted road’s muddy puddles. How could such a child find a home in Lord Perceval’s castle? Why had Endeline not chosen one of his sons? He had five sons, fine sons, but only one daughter!

Wido was not a man of learning or sophistication, but he had the good sense to prize the few rare treasures life had sent his way. Corba was one treasure, more beautiful and gentle than the rough village girls he had known as a young man. He had been honored and humbled when she consented to become his wife. And Afton was like her mother, all golden hair and sensitive spirit.

The ox snorted behind him, anxious to be back in the community pen, and Wido considered what his neighbors would say. “You are fortunate to lose her,” the men would agree, “for what is a girl child but an obligation to pay a dowry?” Sons were strong and valuable, and Wido was particularly blessed with sons.

But there was something about the sprite that had been born to him first. Endeline had recognized it; even Bodo, wretch that he was, had desired it. Wido could not define the quality that made Afton unique, he only knew she had always unsettled him. Perhaps it was God’s will the girl leave. He had never felt she belonged to him.

Afton sprinted toward the cottage, and the ox quickened his pace now that its pen was it sight. Wido dreaded breaking the news to Corba. He led the ox into the pen, fastened the gate, and stooped to affectionately rub the tousled heads of Matthew and Kier, who were spinning their wooden tops on the impacted earth. Was it only a few days ago he felt like a king of the earth with a beautiful wife, five sons, a daughter, and a sheep? Now he knew full well that he was not a king.

Corba was waiting in the doorway. “Lady Endeline was here,” she said stiffly, a broom in her hand. “We are to lose one of our children in place of the sheep that died.”

“I know,” Wido answered, patting her shoulder as he passed. He settled onto a stool near the table. “The annual rents are to be paid next month instead of at Michaelmas.”

“So soon?” Corba’s hands flexed instinctively over her unborn child. “The babe will not yet be born.”

“It’s not the babe she wants,” Wido said, trying to keep his voice calm. He reached for the round loaf of brown bread on the rough table and broke off a generous hunk. “She wants the girl.”

Corba abruptly drew in her breath and sat down. In the corner of the room a chicken clucked, a sure sign their best laying hen had laid yet another egg.

“Nothing else will do?” Corba asked, her voice strangled.

“Nothing else,” Wido answered, chewing his bread. The dark rye bread seemed tasteless in his mouth, and he swallowed it with great effort. “It would not be wise to argue, in any case.”

Corba straightened her shoulders. “Then there will be one less mouth to feed and a dowry we may not have to pay, if all goes well,” she said, her eyes dark and wide. “If the girl minds her manners, she may stay as a handmaid for many years. It will be good for us.”

“Aye.” Wido agreed. He muttered the words Corba wanted to hear even though he did not believe them: “This is a good thing.”

The family ate supper together as they always did, the children scrambling for bread and scooping thick pottage from their wooden bowls. Wido found his eyes irresistibly drawn to Afton. She ate with her usual concentration, but once she looked up and frowned. “Mama,” she asked, one eyebrow raised delicately, “can’t we get some pomegranates for supper? They were delicious.”

By all the saints, perhaps it was a good thing she was leaving.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful story, Angie! And I'm loving your photos. Thank you so much. Can you tell us where the photos were taken?

Mary Kay

Angela said...

Thanks, Mary Kay. And I took most of the photos on one of my Ireland trips. :-)

I like Ireland. I have curly hair there. :-)