Anaria’s astonished response was drowned by the yells of the village children as they finally tracked down their new favourite adult. The pair were swarmed as the children, fresh from the bath house, clamoured for stories.

Anaria checked what preparations Sarah had intended for dinner, then promptly traded two stories for the group’s help in shelling peas (with no snacking) and peeling potatoes (older ones only).

The negotiation had Sarah in stitches but soon they were all settled just outside the cottage door, Patty in charge of the peelers and the younger ones happily showing Anaria how to pop the rows of peas out of their little cases and into the waiting bowl.

The two stories were all her audience had hoped for. She told them of the time the mayor fell off the stage at the Summoning Spring dance and then started on what would become a popular serial epic of the trip to Outer Hyram.

A number of adults had gathered by the time she was finished. They smiled and nodded, then collected their children for their dinners.

Ingrid was part of the group, “We might have to see if you can make this a regular thing. A bit of quiet and the children keeping clean after their baths is quite a boon.”

Anaria smiled shyly and went to stand up, Ingrid darting forward in time to catch the bowl of peas as she stumbled. It was a good thing the children had been enthusiastic shellers, as quite a few spilled across the ground.

“You’ve been sitting still for a while and it’s getting colder, the stiffness can be quite bad.”

Thanks to the earlier work in the garden, on top of yesterday’s laundry work, the stiffness was more than quite bad. Anaria was hobbling like an old woman and her back, arms and legs were protesting every twitch.

Sarah came to the door and rescued both bowls of vegetables as Anaria shuffled her way indoors. She displayed two loaves of bread that were just possibly edible and resumed the role of benevolent general.

“Back by the fire young lady and none of that drooping from yesterday. You did well then and you did well today, so just be a little kind to yourself for a change.”

It had been a better day, even if she hadn’t had the chance to thank Martha for her lovely bread, but the memory of her mother came chasing back again now she was quiet and Anaria fought down an agonising wave of homesickness.

The men walked through the door a short time later and Sarah pointed her wooden spoon at Liam.

“You, over there and take care of Anaria. She’s all adrift and needs those hugs you failed to deliver yesterday. By my count she’s up to at least ten.”

Liam looked over at the pale, drawn face staring hard at the fire, appearing to have not noticed their entrance, then back at Sarah in concern.

“Homesickness. It hit her hard at lunch, that she’ll never see her mother again and I think it’s back.”

“But she’s angry with me.”

“No she’s not, and even if she was, it doesn’t matter, get over there now.”

Even John blinked at Sarah’s vehemence. Liam went.

“Ana?”, He tentatively put an arm around her, “What amazing things has my town girl been doing that’s earned a whole ten hugs.”

Anaria looked around at that and shook her head, “Failing, trying people’s patience, distracting children, breaking things, ruining bread, making sure my mother would disown me all over again if she saw my hands.”

Liam took hold of her hands, examining them carefully.

Anaria shrugged, “Mother was very fussy about soft hands. They’re not an asset here though.”

“Gardening”, Sarah put in, “I didn’t even think I’m afraid.”

Liam carefully put her hands back in her lap, then wrapped his arms around her and tucked her head under his chin.

“Don’t be nice. If you’re nice, I’ll cry again and I’m sick of crying.”

“Well I’m not about to be nasty, so you’re going to have to cry.”

Anaria half-heartedly smacked his chest, “Ow.”

Liam grinned, “The blisters will heal soon and I want to hear all the things Sarah and the others have been talking about. Sounds like you’ve made some impressive conquests.”

Anaria humphed. She was slowly relaxing, slowing warming up and she didn’t want to talk. She turned her face into Liam’s neck and took hold of his tunic, “Ow.”

“Sarah, can you please tell us the news? My town girl’s not talking.”

“I’m not surprised. She’s been all talked out with telling stories to the village children and between me and Maggie, she’s been all worked out as well.”


“Had her over this afternoon, carding wool. Wants her any afternoon I don’t have laundry.”

John was impressed, “Well done lass! Maggie’s not one to judge work softly. Would be a marvellous thing if she were to think of taking you on as her apprentice.”

“That’s if the children will let her. She had them, and half the adults if I’m honest, completely spellbound by some story of her travels this afternoon. And managed to get them helping with making our dinner in trade.”

Liam murmured, “That doesn’t sound like failing to me.”

Anaria sighed and started to recite, “Dropped clean sheets in the mud, couldn’t pick tomatoes, got blisters when I tried to garden, nearly spilled all the peas this afternoon and my bread is horrible.”

The list had been grumbled into Liam’s chest, so Anaria missed the gleam of mischief entering Sarah’s eye.

John saw it though, “What did you get up to love?”

“Nothing at all, I simply remembered that, while Anaria was with Maggie, I happened to bump into Martha. I made very sure to compliment her on the lovely bread Anaria was kind enough to share with me this morning.”

Anaria smiled and sat up a little straighter, “Thank you Sarah, for everything.”

Liam looked confused, she kissed him on the cheek, “Don’t worry about it. And maybe we could take that day off in a few day’s time, once I have a better understanding of the routines of the village.”

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