Iona Pringle perched in her seat at the oak
rectangular tableâfar left to accommodate eating with her left
handâhovering over a plate of steaming corn cakes and scowling. Her
father Giles, sitting opposite her, no longer bothered to inquire
of her discomfort. Each day brought a new answer, another wheedling
request to dismiss their manservant, Boone.
The man in questionâa wiry man of
thirty-five with light brown hair and sun browned skin, water blue
eyes, strong jaw, and a slightly hawkish nose with which he looked
down upon nobodyâstood with his back to the approaching family,
quietly preparing the remainder of the cornmeal batter. He had
developed immunity to Ionaâs tantrums long ago, and lobbied every
interrogative demand this morning with a benign voice.
âDonât we have any butter
for these corn cakes, Boone? Theyâre dry.â
âI used the last of the
butter to make them. I had to grease the pan so they would not
âHow could you have let
our butter supply get so low in the first place that you only had
enough for the pan? You know thereâs a ration on, and that we
depend upon what we make here.â
Giles coughed. âWe,â in this sense, did very
little to provide the household with goods. Boone handled
everythingâcooking, cleaning, tailoring, and gardeningâand had done
so for the Pringle family practically since he learned to walk.
Giles shifted in his chair to steal a glance at the man cooking
breakfast, the sleeves of his grease-spattered shirt rolled past
his elbows. Those strong, brown arms had churned a fair amount of
butter over the years, though their current need of a milk cow had
forced Boone to trade his own goods for what had become a commodity
in the Pringle house.
âI am aware of the
rationing, which would explain the addition to the garden,â said
Boone. âI wasnât aware butter was in such high demand in this
household, Miss Iona, seeing as Iâm the only one who has use for it
on a daily basis, and I try not to use too much.â
Iona huffed, ignoring her fatherâs chuckling
into his mug. âI canât eat these dry,â she insisted. âDo we have
any honey, at least?â
Boone offered an obligatory peek out the
kitchen window to the backyard, into his private garden. The bee
houses kept there showed no sign of life. âWe have none available.
I will not be able to check until later, when the morning chores
Iona banged her fist. Silverware clattered,
coffee spilled. âWhat do you do around here all day that we donât
have what we need? How difficult is it to keep a simple vial of
honey in the house?â
âFor an answer to that,
Miss Iona, I suspect youâll have to ask the bees. I donât assign
their schedules.â Boone set a short stack before the governor, who
did not complain about lack of condiments as he devoured his
Iona pushed aside her plate in disgust.
âMaybe you can enjoy dry cornmeal,â she said to her father, âbut I
know of at least twenty other households that would welcome me this
morning, and serve me my heartâs desire.â
Giles did not need to turn around to know
what Boone was doing. He would be wiping his hands on a cloth
towel, biting into his lower lip to prevent a smile from escaping.
That Boone might likely vent his rage over a pint at the local pub
later this evening did not concern Giles. As a manservant he proved
faithful and efficient, having kept the Pringle household in clean
environs and good food even in the darkest of times, since Gilesâ
wife Giannaâs untimely death, and throughout his tenure as
âYou know,â Giles said,
unable to resist baiting his middle child, âthe sooner you agree to
a husband the sooner I can grant you a tract of land. The sooner
youâll be out of here and away from Booneâs miserable offerings.â
He waited for Booneâs light snicker to subside, then, âI understand
Piro has been coming around quite a bit the last few
âPiro,â Iona spat. âPiro
is a bore, and more than likely he comes to see only Trina. Just
the thought of those spindly hands touching meâ¦â
âPiroâs father is
corresponding secretary for the prime minister,â Giles reminded
her. âYou could be living in the capital if Piro takes his place,
if perhaps you offered the young boy a hint of interest. Not
everyone fancies Trina, you know.â
âIt wouldnât be worth
sharing Piroâs bed,â Iona said firmly. âIf he were more like Cor,
now, Iâd consider it.â
A clay dish wobbled on the counter behind
him, startling Giles. Boone was not normally so clumsy.
âIona,â Giles said
quietly, âyou know Cor will not make himself available.â Cor
Winter, son of one of the more prosperous families of the capital
city of Cerillia, pursued Nattie, to the knowledge of everyone in
Cozelle and to Gilesâs chagrin. Despite rumors of womanizing, Cor
remained by virtue of his familyâs name a suitable match for his
youngest, if Nattie agreed to his overtures and decided upon making
her own proposal. Though, he was not the ideal choice, in her
That, however, was out of his hands. He had
raised his daughters to be independent thinkers, free to pursue
their wills in life. Today Nattie might decide to leave The Grange,
married or not, with the only consolation being that Giles could
grant her an adjacent tract of the ancestral property. Perhaps she
would keep the land, and stay close.
Giles sighed into his mug. Odd were the
customs of his land, he mused, where men determined matters of
government and women ruled the heart. Men strapped on armor to
defend their beliefs as preached in their templesâ¦wherein they
housed their Goddesses.
âNattie doesnât want him,â
Iona said, breaking his reverie.
He looked up. âYou know this for
âWell,â Iona faltered,
frowning. âItâs not like she jumps for joy whenever he visits.
Sheâs always so blasÃ© around him. Nothing he does or brings her
âThatâs just how Nattie
is, Iona.â Giles finished his last corn cake. âIf she was as
passionate as you, would there be any furniture or ceramic left in
âIâm going into town for
breakfast,â Iona announced with a finality that silenced the
kitchen. With one deep scrape of her chair against the floor she
Giles sighed. âBoone, I suppose weâll leave
these for Trina and Nattie.â He tapped at the plate of untouched
âMiss Trina has already
eaten,â Boone informed him, which surprised Giles. Trina was not
known to rise so early. âShe didnât say much this morning, but I
suspect her early start might have coincided with todayâs rugby
match against Astor.â
Giles nodded. Tully, Piroâs brother, served
as team captain. Iona once had eyes for Tully, who had eyes for
Trina. Lately, however, it seemed Iona didnât want for much in
terms of companionship.
Boone bent forward and spoke into the oven.
âIâve not seen her yet.â
Giles finally turned in his chair. The
manservant appeared to adjust a cake pan. A blast of sweet aroma
escaped before he could shut the door. Gilesâs stomach fluttered in
appreciation. âWell,â he said, âI suppose youâll have to join me
for breakfast then, friend.â
âThat would be nice,â
Boone said with a shy smile, and took Ionaâs vacated
Their conversation continued in a stilted
manner, with fits and spurts of words over coffee and in between
bites. They talked of the weather, Booneâs garden, and speculation
of when the rationing of food and supplies, brought on by recent
crop failures, would be lifted, that Iona would be able to soak
herself in butter and honey if she so desired. As governor of the
principality, Giles enjoyed a bit of leeway with Booneâs garden and
bees; what they harvested they were allowed to keep. However Giles,
too, had been aware of shortages in his household, and knew that
much of what Boone culled went elsewhere, to the needier in the
Boone kept his head bowed and ate
methodically. Not an uncommon sight to Giles, but today the
manservant appeared distracted. He cast frequent glances toward the
oven, then the shining, metal-encased icebox, presumably to catch a
newcomer from behind him.
So it was no surprise when Boone tensed at
the exact moment Nattie glided into the kitchen and kissed her
fatherâs forehead. Giles had not intended to ignore the gesture,
but Boone intrigued him too much to respond. The only reason for
his odd behavior this morning could have been related to Nattieâs
birthday, a thought Giles quickly dismissed. For days Nattie had
explicitly instructed everyone not to make a fuss.
She was still dressed in her ankle-length
nightgown, colored a deep blue patterned with small white flowers,
tight at the bodice. No shoes, as she rarely wore them around the
house, and her short hair tucked behind her ears. She wore a dreamy
expression, her eyes half-closed, as if still fighting sleep.
âYouâre not at the rugby
match,â she noted to her father.
âYou arenât either, child.
Your sister Trina is, we suspect. This entire household has turned
odd. Besides, Iâve too much to do today to carouse,â Giles
âOn a Saturday? Donât be
ridiculous.â Nattie took her seat beside him. âEverybody takes the
day off for sporting events.â
âA grand day it would be
if that were possible, Nattie.â
âI suspect Boone would be
there if you didnât work him so hard,â Nattie said with a
fluttering smile at the manservant.
Boone sprang from his chair, as though
fueled by anxiety. âIâll get your breakfast.â
âOh, Boone.â Nattie rose
to join him. âYou were sitting, Iâll help myself.â
A pleading glance, however, eased her back.
Boone stood already at the oven, again setting free that sweet,
âItâs not a problem. Iâve
kept it warm for you.â
He brought forth a warm pan filled with what
looked like the rest of the corn cake batter, baked to a golden
brown with a glaze that caught the morningâs light from the window.
He cautioned her not yet to touch the sides of the pan, offering a
slight red welt along his wrist as evidence.
âYou should run that under
some cold water before it blisters,â Giles advised him.
âI suppose I will, now
that everybody is settled for the morning.â Boone cast a worried
glance at his workspace, piled with dishes and opened drawers. âI
donât think the world will stop turning if I take just a few
âBoone,â Nattie chided the
manservant, âreally, you shouldnât have gone to the trouble. Now
Giles felt the guilt in his daughterâs voice
cast an awkward pall in the kitchen. Yet Boone weathered it with
another shy smile, the glow of pride visible in his eyes as he
looked down upon Nattie. For all her insistence of not making a
fuss, she was very poor at masking her excitement over the special
âI assure you, it was no
trouble,â he said. âHappy birthday, Miss Natalie.â With that Boone
shuffled outside toward the detached quarters where he
Nattie and Giles watched his hurried gait
through the window. âWhy doesnât he use the sink here for his
burn?â she wondered aloud, and tucked into the cake.
âPerhaps he has a salve
for this sort of thing,â Giles suggested. âI imagine thereâs quite
a bit he does with the beeswax he collects.â
Nattie was not listening, but moaning with
delight over the inaugural bite of breakfast. âTry this, Father.â
She cupped one hand under Gilesâs drooping chin as she spooned a
heaping bite into his mouth with the other. âIâve never tasted
anything so good. Itâs sweet without being sickeningly so, you
know? Booneâs too modest to admit he didnât go through any trouble.
Donât you think?â
âI think,â Giles began,
chewing, âI think I know where the last of the honey and butter
There then came a pang in his heart as the
mysteries of the morning, perhaps those minor ones of the past
several years as wellâodd tics Giles had previously attributed to
Boone just being Booneâwere revealed in that still-scorched
Boone loved her. Boone was in love with her.
And, aware that Nattie had come of age, being more serious than her
sisters in her search for a husband, Boone had no choice but accept
her eventual departure and the painful knowledge of another man in
her bed. No such pleasure awaited a manservant of Cozelle, not even
one as skilled and well liked as Boone.
Nattieâs hand encircled her fatherâs cooler,
aged one and squeezed.
âIâm glad weâre alone,â
she said. The cake was nearly gone. âI wanted you to be the first
to know that I have made a choice. I would like to marry as soon as
possible, if the man I have in mind will accept me.â
Giles tried to remain staid. âSo soon?â he
asked, his voice betraying him. âYouâve not been eighteen for a few
Nattie laughed softly. âYou know, Iâve been
thinking about this for a long time. Itâs difficult not to, with
the many sons of the elder lines trying to encourage me to expedite
Giles nodded with a wary glance down the
hall to the foyer. How long before Cor came crashing through the
front door in anticipation of Nattieâs proposal?
âIt is not Cor, Father,â
Nattie said with some worry. âPlease donât be
âEh?â Giles looked at his
daughter; her eyes veiled with a glassy sheen, belying the joy
swelling in her bosom, creasing her face. In those eyes he saw her
mother, another soul who stood against the grain, if her decision
to unite with Giles was any proof.
He saw something more, though; he sensed something.
And as Nattie leaned forward and whispered a name in his ear, there
came a feeling that gripped him by the heart and drained him of
âOh, dear,â he whispered,
eyes cast downward. âAre you sure?â
Nattie nodded. âHe is the most logical
âBut, is he the best
choice?â Giles pondered aloud.
âI think in time,â Nattie
said, âpeople will come to realize it.â
âHe wonât agree if you
donât love him, daughter. He has his pride.â
Nattie idly tapped her fork against the
empty cake pan. âI donât think that will be a problem, because I do
Giles sighed. In matters of the heart,
women rule. It did not matter that he held the Pringlesâ purse.
Blasted customs. âWeâll have to notify the priestess to call a
quorum,â he began.
His eyes widened. The girl was serious about
âLast night. Two others in
the village intend to take husbands today as well. I saw no reason
why Siddron should hold two separate joining
âTrue, she does have a
full plate these days, catering to last rites.â Theyâd lost so many
this past winter, no thanks to the frost and food shortage. âAnd
yourâ¦betrothed? You have notified him?â
She cast her gaze downward, blushing. âNot
âI daresay you shouldnât
wait too long. Another maid might snatch him up.â
âI donât anticipate that,â
she said quickly, leering back at him. âYou donât,
âI donât. I just didnât
expect this before I had ample time to digest
Nattie leaned forward and kissed her
fatherâs forehead. âSiddron will call for a quorum in the town
square after the match. You know itâs permissible to wait until the
ceremony to proposition the groom.â
âI know itâs a rare
tradition these days. Few men care for surprises,â Giles countered.
âItâs not an event Iâve seen since the last girl who called out a
suitor was turned away.â He surmised women equally disliked it when
âThat wonât happen today.â
Nattie stood and floated out of the room as gracefully as she had
entered. âHe wouldnât refuse.â
No, Giles thought, staring down at
the empty dishes. If anything, nobody would consider the man Nattie
loved a fool.
A husband, however? Giles shook his head and
willed away the ill feeling in his gut.