Saturday, September 17, 2011


There was a whisper in the air. The promise of summer was almost past and the chill of autumn was just about suggested in the little breeze that wafted in the tall grasses. The child herding geese stopped and sniffed at the wind and thought of the long winter to come. For now the memory of warm fires and woolly blankets was pleasurable. No more looking after the geese for a while. There was the small matter of having to do school work but that could be ignored with a little effort. Anyhow the legends of the past were at least interesting unlike the struggle to do the numbers.

The geese straggled out in front of her. They knew the way just as well as she did and sometimes they herded her as much as she herded them. The farm hove into view and she ran to open the thornbrush gate that led into the protected inner yard. There had been no sightings of the wild dog packs for a while but they would doubtless be back when the year got old enough and they got hungry enough. With these thoughts she gave the nearest farm dog an extra pat as she made her way to the enclosure where the geese spent their nights.

There was a mild kerfluffle behind as the goats were also coming in for the night and they were still mostly young and playful. Their elders were lined up ready for the evening milking and there was a promise of dessert flavouring the draft from the kitchen.

"Karianne is that you," her mother called from the kitchen, "Have you any berries for us today?"

"Yes mum." she called back, "There were lots down by the river. Mostly blackberries." She took the satchel off her back and headed to the kitchen with it and thought that life was pretty perfect when there was pudding for dinner.
"Go wash yourself before you come in dear." Her mother took the satchel and Karianne made her way to the pump. She filled a wooden bucket with water and, taking the bar of rough soap and the ragged towel, she washed her face and hands before removing her heavy sandals and scrubbing her feet. She then went to the kitchen door and into the mud room where she left her sandals and took a knitted jersey from a nearby peg. It was getting colder at night now and a little extra covering would be welcome as her summer garb was merely a strip of cloth tied round her waist. The jersey was old and patched but it covered her down past her knees which was a great advantage. She wondered who had been its first owner. With all its patches, it was hard to tell what it originally looked like and its colours were faded away to almost nothing. But clothes were precious and owning such a garment was not to be taken lightly.

In the kitchen, the table was set with wooden platters and horn mugs. There was a large earthenware jug of beer along with vegetable soup and hot baked potatoes with the last of the summer peas and sweet corn. There was a generous amount of cheese and butter and a pile of the usual oatcakes. In the middle of the table standing by itself on a precious pottery platter, was a small loaf of real bread. She stared at it longingly.

"Where did that come from?" she asked finally.

"It was a trade in the village for some scrap metal your brother found whilst minding the goats." said her mother.

"He has all the luck!" She said.

The rest of the family started to drift in through the various doors. First, her father from the gardens along with her eldest brother and his wife with their toddler who was still too young to have a formal name. Then her eldest sister and her grandmother along with two aunts who worked to make cloth for use and for sale. Her brother, the goatherd was next but mother sent him out again to scrub a little more carefully. There were also two farm hands and an elderly cousin who was mostly blind but still spun the finest thread. Missing was her grandfather who was now bedridden and was taken a tray. She would go sit with him later for a short time before bed and he might tell her stories if it was a good day.

Dinner was the most important time in the family because that was when everyone caught up on what had happened during the day. Today was even more special because of the bread. Grain was difficult to grow in this climate because of the changeable weather. She had heard that there were big fields of it waving in the breeze further south but that was beyond what she could imagine. There were oats of course but that didn't make bread like this! Finally the thank you to the earth spirits was said and dinner was begun. The bread was saved to be the last course and each person got one slice to embellish as they pleased with butter or jam or both.

Karianne looked at the slice on her platter. The anticipation was great. Would it live up to her expectations? She spread a little butter on one end and nibbled at it. "Like eating a cloud", she thought, "No substance but melt in your mouth." She spread jam on the rest and ate it slowly.

"Reminds me of that trip I did down south when I was young." said father.
Mother said it reminded her of home. (Father had brought her from the south when he did that trip. They had walked for several weeks to return to the farm). Some said it was like edible white wool only tastier of course. Others just ate and contemplated their own voyages of discovery when it would be their turn to leave and find a partner.

Dinner was finally over when the last crumb had been scooped off the last plate. The younger ones cleared the table and washed up quickly before heading off to their various evening chores. Karianne took her knitting up the stairs to grandfathers room and settled in to keep him company until the light was gone. She enjoyed hearing his impossible tales of carriages that moved by themselves and machines that flew in the air. How unsafe must it feel with only air beneath your feet. She knitted fast and accurately to complete the socks she would need this winter. The wool she had spun was still not as fine as she would like but it would make strong socks that might escape the inevitable darns for some time. Next birthday she would be 10 and allowed to weave on the small loom. That would be a real step up. She could feel almost grown up then although her adult name would still be some years away. Sometimes the waiting just seemed interminable until she turned 15 and joined the adult world.

Hastily she refocused on what he was saying. The story was one of the old ones about the Library. This was supposed to be a vast place bigger than their entire barn and outbuildings combined, just full of books. Thousands of them just waiting to be read. Like pebbles in a riverbed they were and all full of information and stories. There were only a few books at the farm. They filled just one bookcase and were only read by the few who mastered the art of reading. She had read them one by one, carefully. Most were about gardening and farming. One was about herbal medicines and the names of the herbs along with worn pictures of how they looked. One was a book with maps in it and names of places she could only imagine and then there was the one full of stories. That was her favorite. She had read it every chance she got and the thought that somewhere there might still be a library with other such books was like a pain in her heart. Maybe she could search for that when she finally grew up.

Meantime she asked grandfather once again if he had ever seen a library for himself and did he know where it might be. The answer was the same. He had never seen such a thing but his grandfathers grandfather had. It was supposed to be somewhere to the east. With such crumbs she had to be content.

When the light had finally faded too far to knit, she said goodnight to grandfather and made her way to the room she shared with the other single women of the household. There was a platform bed along one wall with woollen mattresses and a good supply of blankets and quilts. As the youngest, her place was near the center and she was usually grateful for this as it meant warmth in colder weather. However it also meant being careful not to wake others in the night and being rather too warm in hot weather.

It was cool enough now for her to enjoy snuggling down into the quilt and sleep came fast. She dreamed of Libraries........


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