My son is making me do this. There he sits now, his arms crossed and looking as if he knows what is best for me. He looks just like his father, the exact same scowl.
I told him I was all right, and that he did not have to worry about my sanity. However, the words went in one ear and out the other. He says he knows I have been crying in my sleep, sometimes screaming ever since my husband passed away. He thinks putting the nightmares and memories that haunt me onto parchment and physically putting them away will ease my mind. He acts like it is a way to forget them.
I love my son, and I know he loves me. He seems to think it is his responsibility to make sure I am in perfect health until the day I die. Perhaps it is.
I write this not for my sake, but for his. It will put his mind at ease, at least.
Chapter 1 Promises
My name is Magnolia, though I prefer to be called Maggie. Before my adventures I lived in the small village of Uz, which so happened to be in the middle of the foreboding Betach Mountain Range of the land of Ischuros.
Those mountains stood guard over my home and crossing them was perilous. Very little outside news reached my village and treacherous events, such as murders and wars were rarely heard of, except when traders dared to appear. Even during the winter months, when every rooftop was dripping with sharp icicles, Uz was a very quiet and safe sort of place.
My father first told me I was beautiful when I became thirteen years old. I did not believe him at first. My freckled face, long and dark auburn hair, and skinny figure were hardly captivating. The only things about myself that I considered pretty were my eyes. If sunshine filled the sky and my soul with bliss, my eyes sparkled and danced like the waves of the green sea, so my father said.
Any other physical attribute I possessed did not hold a candle to the delicate and rosy-faced girls of our village. With their cute dimples, curly ringlets, and pink complexions, they would walk down the road fawning over the handsome young men who held them close in their arms. Though I was expected to want the love of a man - and I most certainly did - I was not jealous of those women who eagerly gave away their hearts. The men who watched them with lustful eyes and stole kisses never caught my fancy. When I turned sixteen and was expected to marry, I could not even tell one man I loved him.
When it became apparent that I would not be a wife any time soon, my father, who had been a milkman for over ten years, passed the job to me while he became a full-time farmer. If I still did not marry by the time I turned twenty, I would be branded as an old-maid and would become a school teacher, as is tradition in Uz. During that time I would spend my days scolding and teaching children. Then when I became too old to teach, I would live alone and crochet blankets for the rest of my life.
I was not keen with this path of life. When I complained to Elder Liam while serving him milk, he suggested out of jest, “Well, if you do not like it here, you could travel through the Betach Mountains and die that way. This is what you have, this is what you take.” He did not know that the idea of travel and adventure appealed to me. I began to dream of life away from Uz and beyond the Betach Mountains. There I could possibly find adventure, excitement, and even love.
As my sixteenth morphed into my seventeenth year, my life remained the same as before. My hopes and dreams receded into fantasies and wishful thoughts. My future students began to appear, and my parents stopped searching for suitors. My fate seemed set in its path till Peter Frederickson intervened.
It was bitterly cold that winter morning. Snow shone on our undefeated mountains like crystal diadems. Puddles of silver ice spotted the ground. Little diamonds of frozen water glinted and shimmered in the grass. Next to the wooden cottages that made up my village, I could see miles of bare fields waiting for the planting season. When I looked the other direction, my eyes met a wild forest of deep green fir trees that weathered the biting frost. My surroundings were lovely, but the cold was horribly uncomfortable. It pricked my skin like needles and the wind rushed through my two petticoats, wool dress and mittens like an icy ghost. The two buckets of milk that hung on a yoke, which rested on my shoulders, only augmented my discomfort.
As I ladled milk into the old iron smith's jug at the doorstep of the second cottage that morning, I heard somebody whistling a light and happy tune. Out of curiosity I glanced up and gazed into the hazel eyes of the most handsome young man I had ever seen. His cropped hair was redder than the sunset, and his clean-shaven face was sharp and defined. He smiled, revealing a row of flashing white teeth.
The iron smith barked angrily at me. “Oy!” While I had been staring at the man in a stupor I spilt milk all over my customer’s boots. Embarrassed, I apologized, wiped up the mess with a cloth I kept with me, and filled his jug. I glanced back at the road but the man had disappeared.
“Clumsy cow.” I scolded myself as I lifted the yoke on to my shoulders and walked towards the next cottage.
After a few steps I became aware someone was following me quite closely. As he stepped into my view, my heart skipped a beat.
“May I offer my help?” the young man asked. “They seem heavy.” He gestured towards the buckets of milk.
In my mind, I could hear my father warning me about giving milk to people with no visible money. No money no milk is what he would constantly say. “I can handle this.” I said as I tried to pass him by.
“Perhaps I can take them for a little ways.” He said with a breathtaking smile as he stepped in my way. As if he read my mind, he addressed my concern. “Oh, perhaps you are afraid I will steal the milk from you.”
“Perhaps you will. I have never seen you before, and for all I know, you are a thief.”
“Would it help if I gave a solemn promise that I will not steal, drink, or even look at your milk?” There was a teasing glint in his eye, but I decided to take up his offer.
“A solemn promise?”
“Very well,” I lifted the yoke from my shoulders and laid it on the ground. “Raise your right hand.” He smiled and did as I said. “What is your name?”
“Very well Peter, repeat after me. I Peter…”
“Solemnly swear that I will not steal, drink, nor even look at your milk.”
He tried and failed to adopt a solemn countenance as he repeated my words. “Will remain faithful through this walk together.” He raised eyebrows as he again repeated my words. Seeing this, I could not help but tease him a little more. “Will be as charming as I am now for the rest of the walk and will not look at any other woman until I give you the jugs of milk back.” He burst in laughter and through his chortles he completed his oath. Satisfied, I stepped aside and he placed the yoke onto his shoulders.
By the end of the morning he had kept every part of his promise. He took certain precautions that kept him from looking at the milk, such as turning the other way while I ladled the creamy liquid for the many customers. When I saw one of the rosy-faced girls sauntering down the street, I gave him a small favor by warning him. “Here comes Miss Dulcina, daughter of Allistar.” As she approached and began to take interest in the handsome young man accompanying me, he closed his eyes and completely ignored her as she passed by. I had a little bit of pleasure seeing the offense in her brown eyes and disappointment reflected on her heart-shaped face. I was certain that she had taken extra time to curl her raven, black hair that morning.
The game brought about trouble when Hillaria, our middle-aged heavy-set town crier, saw the two of us walking down the street. As she stalked towards us, her shifty blue eyes gleamed in excitement. “Oh dear.” I said. “Here comes Hillaria.”
“Well, good morrow Miss Magnolia.” She said lightly. “How are you today?” Without waiting for an answer, she continued. “I see you are being escorted. What is your name, young man?” He did not respond and kept his gaze toward the ground. She huffed in offense. “Are you hard of hearing?”
Failing to stifle my giggles, I released Peter from his promise for a short while and explained our little game. He introduced himself to her, but it was apparent that she had enough information for juicy gossip. She glanced at us suspiciously as she hastily walked away.
After I finished giving the last of the milk, I faced Peter and lifted the yoke off his back. “There now, you have kept the deal well. You may drink all the milk you wish and chase any woman that catches your eye.”
He laughed. “I must say, I actually enjoyed that.”
“Oh please, I forced you to offend every woman in the village.” Feeling a little guilty, I added, “I apologize for that.”
“No need. As I said, I enjoyed it.”
“Offending every woman?”
“No, keeping my promise to you.”
“Oh,” I smiled teasingly. “Perhaps it was not challenging enough. I better think of something more wicked.”
He shook his head. “The morrow is my turn.”
“You will make me a promise in the morning.”
I tilted my head and tapped my chin with my finger, but only for show. Inside my heart leapt. He wants to see me again! “Indeed, it seems only fair. Very well, what shall I promise?”
“Oh no, you have to wait.” He bowed. “Until the morrow Lady…”
“Magnolia, but call me Maggie.”
“Dear Lady Maggie, until we meet again.” As he walked away I lifted the plank over my shoulders and sauntered home. Though the temperature had not increased, I felt as if the ghost of summer was touching my spirit. The sun was shining in my soul and warming the coldest corners of my heart. It filled me with exhilaration and anticipation.
My wooden cottage home was situated on the North end of the village. It was not the prettiest place, having been sloppily built by my father. It had a slanted thatched roof, the walls were different in length, and there were plenty of holes to keep us busy. Every autumn my mother and I would stuff the cracks with old cloth and mud and board up the windows to keep out the coming cold. I do not believe my mother ever forgave my father for not being accurate with his measurements when he built our home. Nonetheless, it still protected us from the wind, rain, and snow and kept us warm inside. In front it had a wooden fence that separated our plot from the rest of the land. Right behind the cottage was a small barn that kept two cows and twelve chickens; on the East side was a cellar dug and built by not only my father, but the iron smith as well. Therefore, it was a much better quality than our cottage.
I was still soaring with anticipation when I crossed over the threshold. The fire crackled in the fireplace, reminding me it was still winter. My hands were frozen and an aching knot in the middle of my back was bothering me, despite the help I had that morning. I quickly set the plank down in the corner, which to an extent relieved the knot. As I placed my hands closer to the fire, my mother entered the room carrying a basket full of eggs.
“Well, you took longer than usual.” She said tiredly. She tucked a loose strand of chocolate brown hair away from her weary wrinkled face. In my father’s opinion she was the prettiest woman in all of Uz. In my opinion, she was nicer looking than other mothers. “I had to do a lot of your chores for you.”
“I beg your forgiveness.” I said vaguely. “I was…”
“Caught in the charms of a young stranger?” she finished with her eyebrows raised.
Hillaria was very swift when it came to spreading gossip. “Yes, a man offered to carry the milk for me and…well…I guess we made a game out of it.” Heat rushed to my cheeks.
“You made a game out of his carrying the milk for you?”
I nodded. As I tied an apron around my waist, I proceeded to tell her of our promising challenge.
“That was a very thoughtless game to play.” My mother scolded. She placed the basket on the table. “Undoubtedly it distracted you from your chore as well.”
“I know, but I thought for at least one morning I could have the undivided attention of one handsome man. After all, I am doomed to be an old maid. All the other men here are taken, and are not to my liking.”
“How do you know? What about young Timothy? He is handsome. I thought he expressed interest in you.”
“I do not know why you call him young. Willie is young; being three years old. Timothy, on the other hand, is eight years older than me. He is also very conceited.”
“Conceited!” she exclaimed. “What nonsense! He is a polite man.”
“He has never offered to carry the milk or done anything else for me. I have walked by his home plenty of times and I always see him sitting on his gate, whittling wood.”
My mother sighed but immediately switched tactics. “I wish you did not act so friendly towards strangers. You do not know who this man is, and believe it or not there are dangerous men out there!”
“He seemed nice.” I stated dreamily.
She shook her head, ending the conversation. Out of habit, she reached up and touched a silver pendant that hung on a leather string around her neck, the token of my father’s love for her. It was said that during their courting days, Father accidentally broke two nails while building his cottage. Instead of throwing them away, he kept them till after it was finished. During his spare time he twisted the nails together until they made one, graceful ornament. Then he took half of his savings, traveled to another village and hired a silversmith to cover the iron nails in silver. When he returned he marched up to her cottage, gave her the necklace, and asked for her hand in marriage. I thought it was a very romantic story, but everybody else seemed to think it silly.
A few hours later, as I left the warm house to fetch preserves from the cellar, I saw Hillaria running towards our cottage. Once she entered, I crept over to the doorway, and listened.
“I found out more about that man.” Hillaria was declaring excitedly. “He and his family have just moved into that cottage next to the baker yesterday.”
“He is married then.” My mother said contently. My heart dropped to my feet.
“No, it is his mother, his father, and him. I called on his parents this morning to offer my help. You know I am a very good neighbor and am eager to help.”
The only reason she wants to help is so she could snoop, I thought bitterly. Hillaria raised her hand and whispered. I had to creep a little closer to the doorway to hear her. “They did not accept it, but, oh, I can see why.” My mother leaned forward and tilted her head. “His mother had this dress that she pulled out of one of their packs. She did not know I saw it, so I had a good long look. It was the most beautiful dress I have ever seen. It was undoubtedly satin, and the color! Oh, I wish you could have seen it. It was the darkest purple...I imagine it must have been very expensive.”
“Perhaps they are thieves on the run.”
“I do not know.” She paused. “Would not that be exciting though? Thieves! We have not had heard of anything dangerous since that trader announced that we have been invaded. All fiddlesticks in my opinion.”
“Ferdinand does not think so.” My mother said tiredly, referring to my father. “He believes every word the traders say when they come around. When they came last fall, I never saw him so angry before. He hates the new laws they have been spreading.”
“Limitations on our farming so that more trees could grow, and he was not very fond of all the threats they left us with.”
“True, that was rather strange. But I think all the stories of magic and sorcerers are fables. I have not seen a single soldier to enforce the laws either, and the elders ignore them.”
“Ferdinand is under the impression that it will not stay that way. He believes the sorcerers are real too."
"I am very serious. He believed every word when they told him the sorcerers made a man kill his brother. That is why he bought all those garlic sacks, saying they will protect our minds."
“Well,” Hillaria paused again as she thought over the situation. “What better way of rebellion than to harbor thieves?”
“I do not know, and it is none of our business.”
I sighed irritably. Both my mother and Hillaria were such busybodies. They always had to know everything about everyone, even if the stories were not true. I doubted Peter was a thief and had anything to do with the 'leaders'. He kept his promise and did not steal any milk, though he had the opportunity to. He could have done anything during our time together.
“Maggie!” I jumped at the sound of my mother’s sharp voice. “I hear you out there! Come here now!”
My stomach tightened as I realized I was about to be given a lecture about the evils of eavesdropping. She would most likely blame it on Peter’s influence on me, though I had only met him that morning. But what did it matter? I had met a man who was not only interested in me, but was kind and handsome. I was almost certain I could fall in love with him. I beheld a glimmer of hope for my future.
Hello, I’m new here. I started writing this about five years ago, and I recently rewrote quite a few parts. I’m editing it again, but I’m hoping I’m close to the final draft. Thanks for your time!