In which a trip to market is followed by . . . in-laws-to-be.
“Father?” Donton sounded worried. Tarno picked him up and held him on his lap where he sat by the fire early the next morning.
“Will we still be your sons if Mistress Urla has boys?”
Tarno held him closer. “Yes, you will. You and Kyle are my first children, and you will be first in my heart. I will talk to Mistress Urla about that, and will make certain that it is in our marriage contract.” All children, if they were blessed with more, would get a share of his movable estate, but Kyle and Donton would get a larger portion, as his oldest sons. If they lived longer than he did.
Kyle leaned against him. “Tad says that the children of a second wife get more of their father’s care, and estate.”
“Tad speaks true, if the marriage contract says so, or the father acts unjustly. Raadmar turns the wheel, and Donwah washes away the wealth of a man who favors his new children in that way.” Unless there was good reason, like Rand Graber’s father disinheriting and then disowning his oldest son and bodily throwing him outside of the city walls entirely. The young man had not survived long after being declared outside of the law. None of the salters would speak of what had caused so drastic an act. Tarno had a few ideas, starting with abusing blood kin and getting worse from there.
“Now. I need to visit the market, and you need to do your chores.” Kyle straightened up, and Donton slid off Tarno’s lap, landing with a firm thud. “Donton, please don’t be outgrowin’ your clothes before I come home.”
Donton smiled, showing all his teeth. He trotted after his older brother, both aiming for the back garden. Tarno smiled. He half-recalled having as much energy as the boys, perhaps. He put on his shoes and left the house, walking quickly up the street. Women swept their door-steps and the bit of street before their houses, or hurried out with baskets and bags in arms. The women of the salters district tended to be up with their men and worked just as hard. But then did most all women. Tarno dodged an overladen apprentice and did not lift a loaf off of the nearly overflowing mound. He considered it, but doing so before asking a young woman born for Gember to confirm her desire to wed? He was many things, but not that foolish!
Tarno purchased sweet buns and two large loaves of fine bread, then returned to the house. The boys had finished most of their work. “No, not yet,” he warned Kyle when the boy started easing toward the bread basket. “When Goodman Erbstman and his family arrive, then you may have a bun. Now you need to go help Aunt Cila bring the other things from her house to ours.” He’d bought the food and she had cooked it, since he lacked the skills for festival fare, and the boys . . . They tried, Gember and Yoorst knew, tried very hard. Effort did not always balance a lack of experience and age, however.
As he had hoped, Tarno met Goodman Erbstman, his lady wife, Urla, and Hepsha as they entered the great market square. “We have business,” Erbstman said. “Urla, go with Master Tarno on yer business, and meet us in the market hall, clothworkers’ end.”
“Market hall, yes, sir,” Urla said. She wore the same skirt and blouse as before, with a heavy, green and brown plaid shawl on her shoulders. Her braid hung down her back, loose but out of the way as befitted a young unmarried woman. Tarno gestured, and allowed her to lead the way to Donwah’s temple in the salters district. When they reached the small temple, he opened the door for her. She hesitated, giving him a puzzled look, then entered ahead of him. Was she used to following her father and mother? She curtsied low to the Goddess as he bowed.
A rustling sound came from the half-hidden doorway leading to the priests’ chambers. A veiled form moved, cleaning along the far wall of the temple, watching them without obviously watching them, and easing closer. Tarno nodded to himself, and turned to Urla.
His heart beat sped, as if he cut wood or stirred too-thick brine. “Mistress Urla, Donwah as witness, do you of your own free will agree to marry me?” If she said no . . .
She tipped her head a little to the right, as if considering him and his words. “Yes, Master Tarno. Donwah as my witness, I agree to marry you of my own free will. I have heard naught against you or your sons, and my father and mother have not pushed me toward marriage.” Her lips curved up into a small smile. “If anything, they have urged caution, and said that should I feel compelled to break the betrothal, they will not hold it against me.”
He did not sag with relief. Nor did he act surprised or excited. Instead he smiled in turn and nodded. “Thank you, Mistress Urla. I would not and will not marry a woman against her will.” Some couples did wed against the will, and some of those eventually grew to love each other, but most shared grudging respect and a marriage bed, nothing more.
A woman spoke from behind him, her voice low and flowing. “So sworn and witnessed, and it shall be made known, Mistress Urla Erbstman and Master Tarno Halson.” He turned, moved to stand beside Urla, and bowed. The priestess raised her broom-free hand in blessing. “Go with the blessing of the Lady of the Waters, and return after the Scavenger’s feast to be handfast.” As she spoke, Tarno swallowed hard. Fine blue, white, and silver embroidery and needlework decorated her robe and the edges of her veil. No ordinary priestess but Donwah’s Daughter herself had witnessed their words. He bowed again. When he looked up from the smooth stone floor, the Daughter had disappeared into the shadows. The loud gulp at his left suggested that Urla shared his surprise. Neither one spoke until they had honored the goddess once more and departed, each leaving a small gift.
Tarno cleared his throat. “The Market Hall, Mistress Urla?”
She nodded. “Yes, sir. The clothworkers’ end.” That would be the end to the south, away from the salters’ stall. She followed behind him at his left hand. When they married she’d shift to the right as befitted the honor of a matron. A few carts and wagons trundled up the street, despite the earliness of the day, but not as many as in mid-summer or at the quarter-year market. The later sunrise and gate-opening, plus harvest, made this one of the quieter market dates. A chill breeze brushed the back of his neck, easing under his bound-back hair to find the gap between hair and collar.
Trrwiss! Clatterclatterclatter! Tarno lunged back, grabbed Urla’s shoulder, and pulled her toward the right side of the road. She caught her skirts in both hands and walked very fast, as did everyone else. “Loose cart! Clear the way!” A two-bird cart clattered toward them, great haulers hissing and calling as they jogged.
The birds’ crests remained up a finger or two. They had not panicked—yet. Three men ran after the cart. A loose guide rope flapped in the wind of the birds’ passing, the likely cause of the run. Men and women snatched up children and goods and made themselves thin against the walls and in doorways. No one ran or yelled, lest the birds panic and turn a run-away into a disaster. The light weight, ocher-red cart seemed to dance behind the grey-brown birds as it hit worn or proud places on the road.
Two baskets and a bundle of something bounced out of the cart, landing hard on the stones of the road. A chorus of groans rose from onlookers as the contents of great hauler eggs whitened both basket and ground. The day-worker beside Tarno spat, then murmured, “Ah, Yoorst and Korvaal heard but did nae understan’. Tis’ th’ wrong yolk for m’ needs.” The big man slapped his worn and oft-mended shoulder yoke. Tarno bit his tongue to keep from chuckling, and Urla covered her mouth with one hand. He could see laughter in her eyes even so. Only after birds and owners had passed well down the way did people begin moving away from shelter.
A woman in much-patched skirt and blouse stopped in the road and crouched, resting one hand on the bundle. “I speak for Goodman Algam and watch until he returns.” Tarno and at least three others called back—quietly—and vouched for her claim. No one would bother the goods until their owner returned. Not that anyone with sense wanted to deal with the mess of broken great hauler eggs.
“I hope they stop before they reach the river,” Urla ventured as the road widened into the market square.
“Yoorst willing, they should. There’s a hard bend in the way where the old wall once stood, and most birds slow there.” They couldn’t see that the road turned. Perhaps that was why the houses had built there, as a precaution against runaways? Tarno had never considered the idea. The road just bent and that was all.
He and Urla stayed close to the eastern side of the market, where the shops and inns stood, along with a very small chapel for the Scavenger. Priests only stood duty there on market days, to confirm or deny claims of Scavenger’s Toll. Indeed, a black shadow moved in the morning shadow, and a staff-butt clicked against the threshold stone just after Tarno and Urla passed. Tarno looked as far to the south as he could see, then to the north, searching for more great haulers. The way seemed safe, and he stepped into the open.
Voices rose from the short row of booths marking the pottery and metal workers section of the market. Then a loud voice indeed bellowed, “And I say quiet!” Tarno ducked despite being nowhere near the market master. The men and women closest to him flinched as well, and two women made the Horns in the direction of the trouble. “I care not who began th’ strife, it ends now or ye’ll both feel my staff on yer backs.” The very stones seemed to shiver at the roar, and those not doing business made haste to depart, lest they attract Master Richten’s attention. Tarno glanced to Urla. She didn’t quite tip-toe, but moved with great care indeed. They crept into the protection of the shadows at the end of the market hall.
“. . . And that’s why nae man of good sense does trade with him, lessen they have nae choice,” one of the cloth-sellers informed a stranger. “He’s a gifted potter, but will nae let go of a slight lessen th’ Scavenger an’ Waldher themselves give t’ command.”
That explained the problem, and Master Richten’s wrath. He’d cautioned that craftsman before, and the potters’ confraternity had warned the man as well. The stubborn fool might have his table overturned and his sales space closed this day. Tarno heard tongue clucking and saw several people making the Horns. Did they fear Radmar or the market master more? Not a good question to ask. Radmar likely turned His wheel faster than the market master forgot stupidity or bad dealings.
Goodman Erbstman stood back as his wife finished her bargain. “I call fair dealin’,” the yarn-buyer called. Three people repeated his words, and he and Goodwife Erbstman touched palms on the agreement. The yarn-buyer handed the matron four market tokens. That made good sense, and gave her more value for her yarn than pure coin would. Silver for trade, gold for ornament, and market tokens for food, or so the proverb went. But not for taxes, which had occasioned much grumbling in the confraternity’s last business council.
“If you have finished your trade, I offer you hospitality,” Tarno told Dor Erbstman.
“Thank you, Master Tarno. We are finished, and a bite to break our fast would be welcome indeed.” The farmer smiled a little as several people slowed their steps, looking more closely at the family and their host. For a single man to offer hospitality to those outside his family or confraternity meant only one thing, and word of the betrothal would spread as fast as if sprinting great haulers carried it.
“Please, this way.” Tarno gestured to the south, and the family followed. They collected their sturdy, two-bird wagon and the group made their way to the salters’ quarter. Hepsha handled the lead rope, talking to the birds in a soft voice. The female nodded and stepped quietly, as if she understood the young woman’s request. “She truly is blessed,” Tarno observed.
Her father made Yoorst’s sign. “Aye, Master Tarno. The gods take and give, and perhaps gave more than they took.” A simple second daughter without dowry would never find a good man, like as not. A simple woman with a beast-handler’s touch and gentle way, on the other hand, brought more than a dowry with her.
Once they reached the salters’ district, Tarno showed Hepsha where to leave the wagon. “The way is too small, and the birds might feel confined,” he said, speaking clearly. She turned and murmured to the lead female, then guided the pair and wagon to the proper place. Tarno pumped water for the birds himself. Yoorst favored those who favored His creatures, after all. And Hepsha seemed to be a mistress of her craft in her own right. The birds had not startled or called as they passed the remains of basket and eggs in the road, unlike another passing team.
“This way, please,” Tarno said, guiding them to his house. The men and women out in the street watched without watching, and he imagined that he could feel the rush of air from wagging tongues. Well, who didn’t know that he sought a wife for his household?
The door to his house opened, and Kyle appeared. The boy held out a plate of bread. “Be you welcome, Goodman, goodwife, young mistresses,” he said. Cila must have reminded him of the proper words. The smell of good food flowed out around Kyle.
“Thank you for the welcome, and for the bread. Truly, Gember blesses those who feed the traveler.” Goodman Erbstman took a piece of bread and passed it to his wife, who in turn passed it to Urla. When all four had pieces, they ate, then entered the house. Tarno came last and closed the door.
Indeed, Cila stood beside the hearth. Tarno gestured to her. “My sister, Cila, married to Kalman. Cila Halsdatter, Dor Erbstman, his lady, Mistress Urla, and Mistress Hepsha.”
Cila dipped in a small curtsey. “Be welcome to this house and household, Goodman Erbstman.” She gestured to the food arrayed on the table. “Please, take and eat.”
“Thank you for the food and the welcome,” Erbstman said. He found a plate and began serving himself, followed by his wife. Tarno recognized Cila’s dishes and spoons in with his own. All could eat. Tarno let the boys get food before he did. They had worked hard the past few days.
Cila departed. She had her children to see to, and her husband. Donwah willing, Tarno would not need her help after today. Urla sat quietly, taking in the house and the furnishings as she ate. Kyle and Donton had set out the cooking gear and best linens for the visitors to see and use, along with the spice boxes and salt-barrel. The salt-box sat on the table, its polished dark red wood gleaming. Two lamps also shone, and Tarno sensed Cila’s hand in that. Not only would it reveal more of the inside of the house for his potential in-laws’ inspection, but it showed his prosperity. As cheap as great hauler oil was this season, it did not mean as much as wax candles would have, but those would be prideful. And expensive, and he did not care to spend funds he would need come spring.
Indeed, after he finished eating, Dor stood and studied Tarno’s table and benches, chair, bed, and other goods. He looked at the boys’ loft but did not venture up the ladder. His wife did, then returned and gave a satisfied nod. It passed her scrutiny. Donton showed the Erbstmans the back garden, including the night-soil bucket. Well, town people dealt with night-soil differently than did those living outside the walls.
Dor came back into the house. He too appeared satisfied with everything. “So, Tarno, what date are you considering for the handfasting?”
“The Eighth-Day eve after the Scavenger’s feast, Dor. The priest of Donwah said it was an auspicious day, and that no other couple had spoken for the date yet.” That it allowed time for any serious protests to be verified passed without mention.
“Good. We will have brought the out-flocks back to the home farm and have separated the weaned lambs from their dams. Grain harvest will be over as well.” He extended his right hand and they shook.
By the time the family departed, all had been agreed to. Tarno felt as if he had set down an over-loaded shoulder yoke as the weight left his shoulders. He and the boys would need to strew the floor with rushes for the winter, but nothing more until after Scavenger’s feast.
(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved