The Wistful and the Good
Granny Hunith, was an elderly woman. Edith had been her last child and she was well past her sixtieth year, though no one seemed to remember when she was born, and if she knew herself, she was not telling. Hunith and Kendra had disputed for several years over which of them was the elder, for it was some distinction to be the oldest woman in the village. Kendra’s impending death would secure Hunith her supremacy, an event she looked on with a mixture of triumph and regret.
She was sitting on a bench outside her hut, a spindle busy in her hands while she watched several small children—offspring of Elswyth’s Welisc cousins—playing in the dirt at her feet. She was dressed in rough-spun brown like a slave, though underneath she wore fine-spun linen, so as not to itch from the wool. She had the face of an aging well-tanned cherub, framed with long grey hair that her various daughters and granddaughters, noble and slave alike, kept immaculately combed for her.
The children leapt up and ran to attach themselves to Elswyth’s skirts when they saw her coming, begging for the nuts or apples that Elswyth usually had with her when she came to visit Granny. But today she had forgotten to bring anything, so she kissed each of them on the cheek and sent them away.
“Hello, Granny,” she said as they approached. She and Leif were hand in hand, though neither had consciously offered a hand to the other.
“So you’ve brought your swain to see me at last, Elsy,” Hunith said.
“No, Granny, this is Leif.”
“Help me up, young man,” Hunith said.
Leif offered her his hand and she pulled herself to her feet. She did not let go of his hand, however, but held him with one hand while she inspected him with the other, testing the muscle in his arm and forcing open his mouth so she could inspect his teeth. She lifted the corner of his bandage and made him bend over so that she could smell the wound.
“It’s fresh, Granny,” Elswyth said. “It wouldn’t smell yet. I bound it with honey so it would not fester.”
Hunith nodded. “Well, he’s fit,” she said, when she had completed her inspection. “Very tall. Tall men are good in battle, but it can be hard work birthing their babies. Big babies could get stuck inside a wee thing like you.”
“I’m not having his babies, Granny.”
“Waiting till the wedding, then? You are taking her on faith, young man? Don’t worry, we’re a fertile lot, and we birth easy.”
“I’m not marrying him, Granny. I’m marrying Drefan. Don’t you remember? This is Leif, the captain of the Norsk ship on the beach.”
“Norsk? You still remember the old gods, young man?”
“We honor Odin, Thor, and Ran.”
“And what of the Christ, then?”
“I will give no offence to your Christ, in his own country.”
“Good lad. Will you be taking Elsy back to Norway, when you marry?”
“I am not marrying your granddaughter, Lady.”
“Lady? You’re not in the hall now, young man. I’m not an Anglish lady, and I won’t hear it said. You heed me?”
“You should call me Granny, since you are marrying Elsy.”
“He’s not marrying me, Granny. I’m marrying Drefan. You would have met him several times already, if only you would come to the hall when he visits.”
“I’ll not go to the hall, and Drefan of Bamburgh will not come down to the slave huts to visit me. But this young jarl of yours, he comes to see me when you ask him to. He regards the whole of you, not the half. He will make you a good husband.”
“But I’m not marrying him, Granny. Stop being dense. I know you’re not really.”
“She has a temper, this one,” Hunith said, still holding on to Leif’s hand. “But she has a good heart. Do not beat her. She will disobey you sometimes, but she will be sorry for it. She has a good heart, and beating would only turn her sour.”
“I would never beat her,” Leif said.
“You will be a good husband. She will be a good wife. She can’t sew, but she will entertain your guests and take good care of your children.”
“You may tell your mother I approve the match,” Hunith said, dropping Leif’s hand and taking both of Elswyth’s hands in her own. Then she pulled Elswyth close and whispered. “Come to me before your wedding night. I have a salve that will make things easy for you, and herbs to put in his food, and a charm for under the pillow.”
“I’m sorry, Leif,” Elswyth said. “Sometimes she’s lucid as a bishop and sometimes she’s just dotty. This must be a dotty day. Let’s go and see if the monk has finished his prayers.
Elswyth kissed her grandmother goodbye. Leif bowed to her and thanked her for receiving him. They turned and walked back toward the hall, her hand falling into his again, without either of them noticing.
Hunith sat back on her bench, picked up her spindle, and watched them go, a contented smile on her face. She could always tell when the weather was changing, long before other people noticed the sun come out or the clouds roll in.
Here’s the blurb:
The mighty are undone by pride, the bold by folly, and the good by wistfulness.
Elswyth’s mother was a slave, but her father is a thegn, and Drefan, the man she is to marry, is an ealdorman’s son. But though Elswyth is content with the match, and waits only for Drefan to notice that she has come to womanhood, still she finds herself gazing seaward, full of wistful longing.
From the sea come Norse traders, bringing wealth, friendship, and tales of distant lands. But in this year of grace 793 the sea has brought a great Viking raid that has devastated the rich monastery of Lindisfarne. Norse are suddenly not welcome in Northumbria, and when Elswyth spots a Norse ship approaching the beach in her village of Twyford, her father fears a Viking raid.
But the ship brings trouble of a different kind. Leif has visited Twyford many times as a boy, accompanying his father on his voyages. But now he returns in command of his father’s ship and desperate to raise his father’s ransom by selling a cargo of Christian holy books. Elswyth is fascinated by the books and the pictures they contain of warm and distant lands.
But when Drefan arrives, investigating reports of the sighting of a Norse ship, Elswyth must try to keep the peace between Drefan and Leif, and tame the wistfulness of her restless heart.
Meet the author
G. M. Baker has been a newspaper reporter, managing editor, freelance writer, magazine contributor, PhD candidate, seminarian, teacher, desktop publisher, programmer, technical writer, department manager, communications director, non-fiction author, speaker, consultant, and grandfather. He has published stories in The Atlantic Advocate, Fantasy Book, New England’s Coastal Journal, Our Family, Storyteller, Solander, and Dappled Things. There was nothing much left to do but become a novelist.
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