Anaria felt Liam leave the bed the next morning and reluctantly decided to follow suit. This was her life and she needed to get on with living it.
She started sorting though her bag for fresh clothes, surprising Liam when he came back through the door moments later with a large jug of water and a washing bowl.
“I didn’t think you’d wake for a while yet.”
Anaria shrugged a shoulder and decided to try a little teasing of her own, “My hot water bottle left.”
Liam looked a little startled, flushed, then grinned, “Definitely better after a night’s sleep.”
He plonked his burden down on a slightly battered chest of drawers, “I’ve brought you some water to wash. Figured you wouldn’t be quite up to the village bath house this morning.”
Anaria looked at him in horror, “A communal bath house?”
“Women in the morning, laundry during the day, then the children, and men in the evening. The households take it in turns to light the fire at the start of the day. We divert water from the river so we’re not lugging buckets. It’s very well set up.”
Anaria sat back down on the bed with a thump.”No privacy, river water, the path is muddy isn’t it. And do I even want to know about the out houses? This is worse than when father dragged us to outer Hyram.”
Liam shuffled and Anaria looked at him, her light mood of moments before fled, “Oh don’t worry, I’ll cope. I’m just not going to like it and, yes, I’ll stay polite.”
He came over and sat by her, “I know it’s not what you’re used to but it’s a good life when you get used to it.”
Anaria humphed and pouted, “I’ll make my own decision on that thank you.”
He was fidgeting, she took a deep breath, “There’s more isn’t there.”
“I’ve been away for four days. There’s work I need to catch up on. It’s likely I won’t be home until gone dark.”
“So you’re just going to abandon me in a primitive village full of complete strangers all ready to sneer and laugh at my complete ignorance. Fine, go, I don’t want to talk with you anyway.”
She flounced over to her bag, pointedly ignoring him and setting out clothes for the day. Thankfully her father’s habit of taking her on trade journeys mean she knew what to pack, if not how to pack it. Everything was a jumble and her clothes hopelessly creased, but she had what she needed.
Liam sighed, “I’ll see you tonight town girl.”
She turned her back so he couldn’t see her lower lip wobble.
After he left, she took a few deep breaths, then a few more, willed the tears back down, washed, brushed and dressed. Two more deep breaths and she opened the door, stepping into the living area.
Sarah looked over from the large table where she was mixing a bowl of dough.
“All well this morning then?”
Anaria summoned a smile, “I slept very well thank you. I hope I can make slightly more sense than I did last night.”
If Sarah noted the non-answer to her question, she gave no sign.
“I rather hope so too as that boy just hared out of here with not a word of that story of yours, so I’m afraid it’s up to you.”
A weak chuckle, “I’ll try.”
Sarah waved her over to a chair at the table and nodded towards some thick slices of bread, and pots of butter and jam, plus a teapot with steam rising from the spout. Anaria thanked her and gathered her breakfast.
She sat, chewing, looking for something to say to break the silence, “What are you making?”
“Today’s batch of bread. Always best to start it early so it has time to rise. A late dough ends up in heavy bread.”
“You poor thing, you look so lost. Why don’t you make a start on that story of yours and I’ll see where we’re best placed to make a start on your learning.”
Anaria nodded, but took another bite of bread to give herself time to order her thoughts.
“As you know, my name is Anaria. My father is a merchant and I grew up in town.”
From there it all came out, the house in the square, the maid, the cook and the handyman, the books and the lessons. Then Sebastian, the dance, the squeezing, pinching boys, the confrontation, the ultimatum and then Liam’s appearance and their departure.
“So you see, I’ve taken horrible advantage of his kindness and now I’m taking advantage of yours.”
“Well now, this is a pretty pickle and you do have your work cut out for you, but taking advantage? I don’t see you had a choice. In plain speaking, ’tis your father who took advantage and thank the forest maidens it was Liam at the door and not some scoundrel.”
Anaria hung her head, “And I’m not very good at people, Liam says I need to be less prickly.”
She glanced up, hurrying on, “Not in so many words of course, he wouldn’t. You survive in town and in trade by always having your guard up. Words are weapons and shields and it’s difficult to put them down, but that’s what he wants me to do.”
Sarah rounded the table to give her a slightly floury hug, “I can see you’ve put them down with me and I appreciate that. I think you may want to still keep them handy though.”
She urged Anaria up and around the table, showing her how to flour her hands and knead the dough.
“I wasn’t sure how to mention it but, forewarned is forearmed. There are a couple of girls around your age in the village. Normally a good thing but one of them, Martha, has been used to thinking of Liam as her especial property. Not with any encouragement from him I might add, he’s all but oblivious to her existence. She’s going to take your appearance here rather badly I think.”
Anaria sighed, “One thing on top of another. Well at least that’s one area I have experience in, for all she’s going to have every other advantage.”
“Hardly. You show your willingness to learn to the others as you have with me, and they’ll be keen to help in no time. Especially when they see the way Liam is with you.”
Anaria looked at her, puzzled.
“He’s so open and affectionate with you. He’s normally very distant until he gets to know a person and even then he’s reserved. I’ve never seen him hug or tease anyone like he did with you last night and I’ve known him for years.”
Anaria, pink, returned to punching the bread dough under Sarah’s direction, then progressed to other simple tasks through the day.
By the time John and Liam returned from the bath house that evening, Anaria had taken a hand in the full process of bread-making, collected wood, learned how to lay and light a fire, how to fold blankets (her specific request) and numerous other little tasks and chores.
Liam came through the door at a near run, pausing when he saw Anaria, a smile lighting up his face.
He wrapped her in a warm hug, “You stayed.”
Anaria leaned back to look at him, “I’m in the middle of a forest, where would I go? And your hair is dripping all over me, you need to dry it right now or I’ll have to learn how to nurse you through pneumonia and I bet you make a terrible patient.”
Sarah laughingly tossed her the cloth they’d used earlier to cover the bread dough, Anaria flipped it over Liam’s head and started rubbing.
“Ow, Ana, that was my ear.”
He was laughing though and didn’t step away from her attentions.
They were interrupted by John’s entry, his booming laugh setting approval on their antics.
“You better get him properly polished for company lass, I’d reckon we’ll have half the village, ‘just dropping by for a chat’ after dinner.”
Sarah looked at him with misgiving, “What did you do.”
“Wasn’t me my love, ’twas our lad here racing through his wash and pelting out the door without drying off because he ‘needed to see Anaria’, and now everyone is agog as to who Anaria is.”
“What did you tell them?”
“Exactly what he told us, that she’s his betrothed and that she arrived with him from town last night.”
He looked over at Anaria, “Liam told me something of your story over work today. I’m not normally one to hold a grudge, but I have to say, if I ever catch that blond boy or your papa in this area, they are going to be taught a very sharp lesson in good manners.”