For the third time I was nearly bowled off of my feet by someone running through the narrow streets that made up the village market place. While I ate the fruit pasty that Gid had purchased I looked yet again at my surroundings. The buildings on either side of the street were so close together they seemed to lean towards each other and keep all but the highest sun from reaching the area below. Wooden areas attached to the buildings that I knew were called balconies created even more shade. Laundry strung between the second and third stories flapped in the breeze like flags or banners.
I knew about markets. If you added up all the hours I’d been forced to follow Aunt around the stalls of the various Buy n’ Sells, trade posts, rendezvous, and tables set up in the lee of a village palisade it could have been measured in years. Her men always brought money or influence in of some type but Aunt always had a scheme or game going herself. She said she did it to stay sharp to make sure no one could ever steal her blind like the family of her first husband had. Aunt knew the value of her silver and copper and ran a hard bargain. And she expected those that worked for her to know how to as well in case she sent you on an errand or sent you to scope out a market or particular vendor.
It took me very little time to pick out the cheats who put an unnecessary finger on the scale or those that were careless and spilled what by rights should have gone into the bag. I also saw some that thought too much of their goods and a few that thought too little of them. When Gid would go to stop at a booth that raised my suspicions I would try and direct him to a different one that had the same or better goods for a better price. He caught on but when I tried to direct him away from a booth that held strings of beads he wouldn’t budge.
When he was through haggling he placed a thong of polished beads made of green jasper around my neck. “There. They match your eyes.”
I didn’t know what to say. I’d never had anything like it and certainly was unused to receiving such things. I was almost afraid to touch them. “Gid … you … you …”
He smiled and told me, “Just say thank you.”
I swallowed and shyly said, “Thank you.”
That was the only bit of wasted coin that he spent that day. That and the bit he insisted on spending on a shared noon day meal of meat threaded and cooked on thin sticks of apple wood, a packet of roasted roots, and a piece of fried dough drizzled with honey. I was unused to eating so much, especially food so rich, but he laughed it away when I told him I would become fat and indolent if he did not stop trying to stuff me full. “You can stand a bit of added weight. It surprises me every time I pick you up. I have to watch my strength or I’ll wind up tossing you over the wagon instead of in it.”
When he came to the end of his list and was satisfied with his purchases as well as the arrangement to have delivered what we couldn’t carry ourselves he turned us back towards the corral where his horse waited. “If you don’t mind walking we’ll load Rook with the packages.”
“You sure you’re not tired?”
“I’m fine. Aunt walked further and faster plenty of times at the big Buy n’ Sells and I had to keep up and carry her purchases.”
He snorted. “I don’t want it to be the way it was for you.”
I put my hand on his arm and said, “It’s not.”
He gave me a slow grin then we headed away from the market that was almost as noisy as the block house had been. As we walked he talked. “I have most of the needed tools stored at the cabin. They were Uncle Fid’s and are still in good shape. I’ve used them plenty over the years. I’ve got the seeds for the spring crops and garden as well. I was there right before we headed out on the barter road; the structure is sound but it could use a little cleaning.”
Something in his voice had me glancing at him. Catching me staring he said, “Ok, a lot of cleaning.” I just kept looking. “Alright … it hasn’t had a woman living there regularly since my grandmother’s oldest aunt and her husband farmed the land back in the Dark Days and even then Uncle Fid said that it’s normal look was messy from what he could remember. I got rid of all the hay ticks and rotted furniture that was falling apart and burned them. I had to throw all of the rugs on the same pile. The only thing covering most of the windows are the shutters. Glass for the panes that are empty will have to wait until I’m sure I can bring in enough with crops. But the furniture that is left is sturdy. There’s some things in the attic you might like … some are strange looking and probably old enough to be salvage pieces from right after the Great War, or maybe even before. And there’s books, nearly a whole wall in one of the bedrooms.”
I tripped over my own feet in surprise. He chuckled. “Ha, thought that would get your attention. And during the winter when the snow flies there’ll even be time to read them.”
“Truly?” I asked, stunned at the very idea.
“Truly,” he answered, seeming quite pleased with himself.
I nodded, afraid to put effort into believing that I’d really be seeing that many books in one place again. Surely he had to be exaggerating.
“The one good thing my uncle did was to bring in large clay pots with sound lids. We can store our pantry goods down in them and not have to worry about mice spoiling them. I’m owed two milch cows from the village herd and we’ll be taking one with us. Tad will keep an eye on the other and then bring it and a bull up next summer when I have a pasture fixed. It makes no sense for me to take any other horse but Rook here who is used to his freedom as well and would be miserable closed up in the village. I’ve a team of ox that will pull the wagon and be more fit to pull a plow than anything else would be.”
“What are you thinking?”
“That you bought enough food to feed three large raider groups the whole year ‘round.”
He said, “We aren’t coming back to the village any time soon Yulee. We need to be prepared for the weather to fail us or for the crops to fail.”
I nodded. “I understand that, but do you plan on me helping at all?” I hadn’t meant to sound complaining but then it came out. “You buy all of this … with real coin no less. Just like you bought me. If you don’t need me to help get food, is … is a bed warmer the only thing you need me for?”
I could have slapped myself when the words escaped my mouth. I waited for … well, not the hit as Gid said he would never do that but I was sure a good tongue lashing was in store. Instead Gid put his arm around me and asked, “So you want to help? With the cabin and food and such?”
I felt ashamed for losing control. I’d promised myself that I’d behave better and give Gid my complete obedience for rescuing me from my other fate. And instead here he was putting up with nothing but noise from me.
“Hey, you’re really upset.”
“I … I’m sorry Gid. My mouth got away from me. Don’t … don’t … sell me away.”
He stopped so quickly that Rook ran into us both and snorted his displeasure. Gid jerked me around and said, “Now let’s get one thing straight. You’re mine. I ain’t sharing you with anyone and I ain’t letting anyone take you away. Got it?” All I could do was look at him in shock. “I said got it?” When all I did was continue to stare at him he shook his head and swear. “Come here.” He practically dragged me into an alley. He swung me around to face him and said, “It’s not my way to be rough with females but if that aunt of yours was here right now, big buffalo that she is, I’d still put her to the lash. Now listen up.” He put his hands on either side of my face but it was gentle. “You’re mine. It ain’t the silvers that says so. It ain’t that skin that says so. It’s me … I say so. And that ain’t gonna change. I know it hasn’t been hardly any time since I took you out of that cage. I know it ain’t even been a day since … well since I had you for the first time. But time don’t seem to mean nothing for some reason. I know you’ve had it bad, but I’ll fix that. You … you just need to not be so afraid. Oh I know most folks wouldn’t guess you are but I’ve held you in the dark and felt you shiver when you don’t think I notice. I’ve felt your heart hammer when something happens you can’t control. It never shows in your face or voice or manner but I’ve still felt it coursing through you.” He pulled me into an embrace. “It’ll be ok Yulee. We’ll work on it. By the time spring comes all the fear and such will be a distant memory.”
No one had ever talked to me this way. Everyone had always expected me to be strong, to show no fear, to show no worry. There shouldn’t have been any if I was truly relying on God. I’d prayed time and again for help in being strong enough but it always felt like I was falling short. And then came Gid. I still wasn’t sure what to make of it. My brain felt like it had been caught in a wild torrent. But I knew he was waiting for something. I didn’t have any words to give him. But what I did do was slowly ease my arms around his lean waist and embrace him back.
Quietly he repeated, “You’ll see Yulee. You’ll see.”