Chapter 2 Singing and Supper
The next morning and for the first time in my life, I picked up the plank with a smile on my face. Yet, the inside of my stomach fluttered like butterflies. What if he changed his mind? What if he found another girl? Dulcina would undoubtedly be grooming herself this morning for any possible suitors. What if she caught his eye? What if he did not like our game yesterday? What was he going to make me promise?
I stepped out into the cold and walked rather briskly to the weaver’s cottage. The milk sloshed around in the buckets, causing them to swing back and forth. Before I reached my destination, Peter spoke from behind me. “Good morrow Lady Maggie.”
I whirled to face him. He reached over and lifted the yoke. “I will carry it again, if you do not mind.”
“I…I am not sure how pleased my mother will be. She was not completely pleased about it yesterday. She said it was a distraction from my chore.”
“What was? Is it me or the game?”
“Both I think.”
He chuckled. “How about we take turns?”
I smiled. “I suppose so.” When he smiled in return, I inadvertently sighed and warmth spread through my cheeks. How could a man this handsome be so nice, and taking such an interest in me? I was hardly anything compared to Dulcina, with her perfect ringlets and all.
“Very well,” he said as he shouldered the weight. “I thought of a promise I want you to make.”
“For the time we are together, you will sing to me every song you know.”
I giggled in surprised embarrassment. “You have never heard me sing.”
“You are not going to want to.”
“Why not? I will not know until I hear you.”
I shifted uncomfortably in thought. My singing while delivering milk would not end happily; I was sure of it. If I refuse him, he may cease his attentions to me, I argued with myself. He kept his promise yesterday. I could not refuse. “Very well.”
“Raise your right hand and repeat after me. I Maggie.”
“Promise to remain beautiful throughout our time together.”
I blushed and giggled again. “Sorry…promise to remain beautiful throughout our time together.”
“Promise to sing the best I can.”
I repeated without complaining.
“And know I will sound beautiful.”
“I cannot promise that. I know I will not sound beautiful.” He raised his eyebrows and I relented. “Very well, I will sound beautiful.”
“Perfect. Let’s begin.”
As we walked down the icy road and completed the morning task, I sang to his heart’s content. I received many confused glances, cocked eyebrows, and awkward smiles from the villagers. It was embarrassing, but every time I ended a song Peter applauded and immediately asked for the next one. It was not too long before I began running out of ditties to sing.
Finally, as we left the last house, I finished singing a silly children’s song. “And the Babbity Rabbit went hopping away, till the very next day.”
Peter laughed. “Beautiful Maggie, that was beautiful.”
“Thank you.” I relieved him of the now weightless yoke. “The morrow then?”
“The morrow,” he confirmed.
“And it is my turn.” I smiled mischievously.
He groaned dramatically. “I can imagine what you will do so I will prepare.”
“Very well. Good day Peter.”
I walked home with my pails empty and my heart full of everything wonderful. I entered the house with a song still on my lips. “And the cow said to the chicken one day, how do those wings go flap flap flap…Am I late again?”
“Almost,” my mother stood in front of the fireplace. “Go fetch the eggs.”
She turned and raised her eyebrows. “You are in a good mood. Did you see ...what is his name?”
“Yes, I saw Peter again.” My voice was soft and dreamy. “He was waiting for me.”
“He carried the milk, no doubt.”
“Yes…oh…I forgot we were supposed to take turns. Oh dear. Why did he not tell me?”
“I am impressed with that man’s intentness,” was her comment.
I rolled my eyes and went out to gather the eggs.
My father came in from the fields for the noon meal when I returned from the coop. He was a burly man. His auburn beard went down to his chest and his voice boomed whenever in a pleasant bass timbre. “Ground is still frozen. I cannot even put a shovel through it.” As he looked at my mother and me, his green eyes sparkled. I smiled and embraced him. “Hello, daughter.” He forced a frown. “I heard you were with that stranger again.”
“Who told you, Mother or Hillaria?”
“Never mind who…”
“Everybody is such a busybody.”
“Never mind.” He said again. “He carried the milk.” He cocked an eyebrow.
“We had planned to switch, but I forgot.”
“It was a part of a game. He made me promise to sing every song I know. The morrow I am going to make him sing every song he knows.”
“Maybe that will give you a clue to where he is from. Hillaria says they are tight-lipped. Now where is luncheon?”
My mother and I placed potatoes, bread, gravy, and winter greens on the table. My mouth watered and my stomach grumbled as we all took our seats and began to eat.
“Speaking of which,” my father said in between bites, “I met that young man’s father. I have invited them to supper this evening.”
I thought I did not hear him right, but it was true. I would be seeing Peter again and meeting his family tonight! Mother acquired a strange gleam in her eyes and her mouth twitched as if she wanted to smile, but she kept her voice calm. “Well,” she said slowly. “I am sure we can manage. I could bring in a few preserves from the cellar. Perhaps a cherry pie would be appropriate.” If it was possible for my mouth to water while already eating, it was at the mention of a warm, syrupy, cherry pie. It was a rare delicacy and only used for special occasions.
“That sounds delicious.” Father said.
“You will like Peter.” I stated confidently. “He is very charming. His manners are exquisite. I could almost call him a prince, except he has a sense of humor.”
“You do not think princes have senses of humor?” Father asked.
“Not with what they have to face. Wars, plagues, trading, thousands of people depending on your rule, it must be difficult.”
“I suppose it could dampen their wits, but there is no telling. We do not have a prince.” As he said this his face darkened. “What would I not give to have one in this blasted country. Then maybe somebody could throw off those…leaders we have.”
I shrugged and did not comment about our leaders. I never felt bothered by them, even when I heard strange horror stories of monsters and magic. Some people claimed when our country was invaded our new leaders brought in wizards and creatures who always watched and waited to devour us, but I did not believe there were such things. In my opinion, it was all superstition. “But you will like Peter,” I said again after I swallowed. “He is wonderful.”
That evening Peter and his family arrived perfectly on time. They were so exact in their punctuality, that the food was not completely ready. My mother was rather embarrassed but she did not complain as she quickly prepared the meal.
I had expected his parents to be similar to him, but I was surprised. His father, Frederick, was a quiet man and careful with his words. His face was somber and his voice was deep and commanding. His eyes were as blue as an azure sky and enclosed a weary gaze. He walked slightly slumped as if he had many burdens weighing on his shoulders.
Peter’s mother, Anna, was also a quiet woman, but she was eager to help and slightly stubborn. She insisted she assist my mother finish preparing the meal and refused to take 'no' for an answer. She grabbed a handful of dried cilantro and crumpled it into the stew, despite my mother's protests. She was also one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. Her hair was as silver as the moon. Her eyes sparkled like rippling water. Her movements were graceful and gentle; I suspected that she used to be a dancer.
Peter and I glanced at each other often. I wished I could join the men in their conversation. Sadly, it was custom that the women prepare the meal and the men talk business.
“So,” my mother said as she chopped. “Where are you from?”
“We are travelers,” Anna said. “We lived in Tipharah for a period of time though.”
“The city Tipharah!” my mother cried. “I have always wanted to go there. I hear it is beautiful, the palaces, the gardens!”
“It is most lovely.” Anna agreed. “But it is not the same as it once was.”
“It is difficult to explain. It was the...”
“The invasion! Of course! You were there?” My mother's outburst brought the whole house to silence.
“No!” Anna said. “No, we left before the invasion even began. It was a beautiful city, but it did not fit our needs.”
“Oh, why not?”
Anna shifted her eyes ever so slightly. “We are travelers. There is so much more adventure in travel.”
“How pleasant.” My mother pried further. “Were you rich in the city?”
“Some would call us rich, but others would call us poor.”
It was apparent my mother thought her answer was confusing. Before she could request her meaning, Anna took the opportunity of the awkward pause and steered the conversation away from her and her family. She asked about my father and what he did. She asked about me, my age, and she asked me directly what I liked to do. “My son says you are a very beautiful singer. Perhaps you will sing for us someday.”
I blushed. “I believe your son is biased, but I am glad he enjoyed it.”
“If I may speak quite candidly,” my mother said, “he has been overzealous in his attentions to my daughter, carrying the milk for her and all.”
Anna laughed. “Indeed! I am glad he has finally found someone he fancies! I was becoming worried.”
Mother raised her eyebrows skeptically. She opened her mouth to comment when the pot began to clank and jiggle. “Ah! The stew is ready!”
The supper, consisting of chicken and winter green stew with cherry pie for dessert was finally placed on the table. I sat across from Peter but we both remained silent as our parents ate and talked. My parents would ask pointed questions about their past life a time or two, but each time Frederick and Anna danced around them with their words. They never gave a satisfactory answer. Finally, my father spoke to Peter, “So what do you plan to do here Peter? Will you pick up a trade?”
“No, I plan to farm with my father.” Peter stated frankly.
“That is good. But if you ever change your mind, I know of an iron smith who is in need of an apprentice. You seem to be a good age.” He paused. “How old are you?”
“Good, and you seem to be strong, if what my daughter says is true.” I blushed. “It might be a good fit, if you ever consider it.”
“I will consider it.” Peter said thoughtfully. “We will see what Adonay has planned for me.”
Who is Adonay? I wondered. Some rich uncle? To my surprise, both my and his parents stiffened. Do they know him? I glanced at Peter curiously. He was pretending to not notice the sudden change in atmosphere by eating his food, but he shifted his eyes nervously.
Frederick changed the subject. “A wonderful stew! It is perfectly balanced. I think, my dear Anna, you must request the recipe.”
“Indeed.” Anna responded coldly. “Perhaps you will finally stop complaining about my cooking.”
After the meal, our guests helped us clean, thanked us for our hospitality, and took their leave. Before he went out the door Peter leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “Meet me next to your cellar. I will be waiting.” I smiled as a feeling of anticipation soared through my soul again.
I waited for my parents to become settled in their rocking chairs. Following their nightly routines, Father leaned back and lit his pipe while Mother picked up one of his shirts for sewing. “They seem like a nice family.” She stated.
“Yes,” Father agreed. “That was a strange thing their son said.”
My mother frowned. “I am not exactly sure what to think about it. We better hope they are not one of those people. That could cause problems.”
I tilted my head. “How so?”
“They will try to convert us to the old beliefs of Tipharah.”
“Uz was formed by citizens of Tipharah who decided to break away. The dismemberment of that religion is probably the only good thing that came from the invasion.” She shrugged. “Good riddance is what I say. I hope our neighbors are not of that belief.”
“What was so bad about it?” I asked.
“It is nothing you need to know. It is in the past now.”
I decided I did not care to talk with them any longer, but my curiosity was nearly overflowing. Peter undoubtedly knows about this. “I am going out.” I stated as I stood up and left. I was thankful when they did not ask where I was going.
Though the air was biting cold, I felt like I was still next to a roaring fire. I quickened my pace and headed towards the tree. Peter was there, casually leaning against it. “Hello.” He smiled.
“Hello.” I said a little awkwardly. “Did you enjoy yourself?
He chuckled. “I did. I enjoyed being with you."
Heat rushed to my cheeks. I took a step closer to him, hoping that he would steal a kiss. I would not mind now. "I enjoy being with you too." I was close enough. All he had to do was lean down.
Perhaps I was going too far in my advances, or maybe he could read my thoughts. His smile faded. "Maggie, do you have the feeling that we may be...going too quick?"
It took me a moment to comprehend what he was asking. I covered my mouth to smother my giggle. "What a funny question!"
"We hardly know each other."
"I think I know you well enough by now."
He shook his head and backed away. "No, you do not."
I felt a sharp pang at his sudden rejection, but I was not willing to give up yet. I played along. "Perhaps you have a shady past."
"Perhaps I do."
"You could be one of those con men they warn me about."
"I could be."
I paused, waiting to see if he would say more. When he did not speak, I stated confidently, "But you are not."
He sighed. "I have a feeling it would not matter to you if I was."
"Do not be so quick to assume my character. I pride myself in having good judgment of people."
"Indeed." A small smile tugged at his lips.
"You are more of a mystery than most, I admit." I tilted my head. "Are you hiding something? Do you have a shady past?"
"Not...not exactly." My smile faded, and I urged him to tell me. "Maggie, we are...we are not criminals in any way, and it has been so many years now since that whole thing occurred."
"What occurred?" I pressed. "You can trust me Peter. I will not tell anyone, no matter what it is. I am not a busybody. If this is weighing you down, I can help. I can listen. I promise." I raised my right hand. "I will solemnly swear."
It was some time before he answered. He glared at the ground while pressing his lips into a firm line as he struggled. Finally, he looked up at me, and I did my best to appear sincere.
“Very well, repeat after me. I Maggie,”
“I Maggie,” I repeated.
“Promise to not reveal any of the information I am about to be told.” There was no joking glint in his eyes. I repeated just as solemnly.
“Will swear it will not pass my lips.”
Again I repeated.
“Until I am released from the promise.”
After I finished my vow I let my hand down. “I am all ears." I smiled.
"Good...do you know about the invasion?"
"Of Tipharah?" I shrugged. "A little, we never took it seriously though. We heard about it through the traders."
"What do you know about it?"
"It...occurred about two years ago, or that is when we heard about it. We used to have a king, but he left the throne a long time ago, which is why the invasion occurred in the first place. Some of the traders said he went a little mad in the mind. That is all I have paid any attention to. Everything else sounds like silly superstition."
He took in a deep breath and sighed. "There was much more that happened, and it took place ten years ago."