Time to Learn

Learning started as soon as they walked back through the front door of the cottage, Sarah directing her through the steps of full breakfast preparation.

Sorting through one cupboard for plates and mugs, Anaria happened upon a couple of dishes that were either small bowls or large mugs without handles. She pulled them out with a puzzled frown and Sarah laughed.

“Oh I really ought to put them into storage, or pass them on to another family but I’m being sentimental. Those are the children’s porridge bowls.”

She paused, then in true Sarah fashion, read Anaria’s mind, “Oh, both our children are fine, alive and well, they’re just at an age now where they’re going out into the wider world and have been lucky enough to apprentice at the castle. Gwen is fourteen and learning to be a seamstress and well, Tam is a mite young to be gone, he’s only ten, but he’s a page boy to Her Grace and is treated like family. He’s hoping to be a courier when he grows.”

“So that’s why you have the spare room.”

“That’s right, and very glad I am to have someone in it too. Now, on a change of subject. Oh, the blue mugs are better, they hold heat longer than the brown ones, they’re a little thin. What was I saying?”

She beckoned Anaria over to show her the correct way to prepare a teapot and measure tea, then continued, “What was Maggie chatting to you about as we left the bath house this morning?”

“You mean the lady who told Martha off inside?”

“That’s the one.”

“She wanted me to come and visit her.”

“Well that’s quite a compliment, well done! We have laundry today I’m afraid, so we’ll be rather busy, but let’s see if we can find some time tomorrow afternoon. Aside from anything else, she’s our finest spinner and weaver and, with Gwen now gone, she has no patience to teach the other girls. She says they’re too impatient and rough.”

John and Liam appeared and the door, staving off the need for a now anxious Anaria to reply.

John ruffled Anaria’s hair as he passed. She froze, then giggled. She couldn’t remember ever having that done to her, even as a small child.

“So, all introduced now lass?”

“Well I met everyone I think, but I’d have trouble telling you who was who.”

Sarah chimed in, “She befriended Tilly, put Martha in her place, charmed Martha’s mother and got herself properly into Maggie’s good books.”

John nodded, impressed, “A good morning’s work for all the sun’s barely up.”

Liam was standing at her shoulder, “I’d give you a hug for such a good start town girl, but I’m filthy from the stable and you’re all fresh and clean.”

Anaria gave him a look, “Well make sure you remember it for this evening then, I’ll start keeping a tally.”

They sat down to breakfast amidst general chuckling.

The rest of the day wasn’t so amusing and the promise of that hug was often the only thing that kept Anaria from bursting into tears and storming away in frustration.

It started with the bread. Anaria worked beside Sarah, each with their own batch. She followed the directions and measurements (such as they were) but her dough came out sticky and then too dry and refused to rise. No amount of kneading seemed to help and when it finally came out of the oven, even the optimistic Sarah had to admit defeat. Of course her loaves were perfect, so at least there was something to eat with dinner and for breakfast the next morning.

In between the episodes of the bread disaster, Anaria had dropped a mug – thankfully a brown one – and had spent the rest of the morning finding more chips of it in various parts of the room.

Sarah had asked her to go out into the garden and pick some tomatoes for lunch. Anaria had returned for information three times before coming back in with a handful. Of those, two where over-ripe and one had been eaten by something, so Sarah had come out with her and shown her what to look for.

Then, in the afternoon as they lugged sheets, clothes and cloths to the bath house for laundry, she managed to drop two loads in the mud. One on the way there and, worse, one on the way back.

Anaria thought Sarah must be sick of her apologies and marvelled at her patience and unwavering good temper. Although it was stretched by the sight of the clean, dry sheets, sitting in that muddy puddle.

“Sarah, you take those clean things back home and I’ll get these back in the washing water.”

At least they’d opted to do the laundry straight after lunch, there was probably just enough time to re-do these sheets before dinner.

Maggie appeared next to them, and patted Sarah on the shoulder, “Do just that my dear, I’ll help Anaria with this and she can help with my washing in turn. I could use a second pair of hands.”

Sarah gave her a grateful smile, took the other bundles and made her way carefully back to the cottage.

Anaria stood with the dirty sheets bundled up in her arms, “Thank you Maggie, I’m sorely trying Sarah’s patience today.”

Maggie waved her back towards the bath house and walked alongside, her own bundle neatly under one arm.

“We all have to start somewhere, and since you’re starting rather later than most, you’re having to deal with more and much faster. The children start helping with the work from very young, but only one or two chores a day, that get bigger and harder as they learn and grow older.”

Anaria saw the truth of this as they re-entered the building. Children of various sizes were bringing the soap, or sorting clothes into piles, and in the case of one particularly enthusiastic girl, jumping up and down on items in a tub to clean them.

Maggie followed Anaria’s gaze, “That’s Patty, always looking for new and better ways to do things. Takes after her grandpa.”

She gestured around the bath house.

The child’s enthusiasm made Anaria smile, “So she’s the village scientist then?”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way, I’ll mention it to her. I think that will tickle her pink.”

The other women had noticed Anaria’s return and were looking over curiously. She sighed, admission time.

“I managed to drop the clean sheets into mud. Maggie is kindly giving Sarah a rest from me while I get them re-washed.”

Instead of the eye-rolls and snickers she expected, commiserations and advice flowed over her.

It turned out to be a common occurrence and one of the reasons laundry was done earlier rather than later.

“If worst comes to worst, we toss it in with the children when it comes to their bathing time. Drying’s a problem but home by the fire tends to finish it in time for bed.”

That statement, coming from somewhere in the middle of the chatter, made Anaria smile. Her face fell again though, when she dropped the sheets in a tub and saw the state of her dress, or more accurately, Sarah’s spare apron and parts of her dress.

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