Snordwich Chronicles, XIX: Aelfgiva

The inhabitants of Plumville see in the first day of summer with a meal on the village green.

Some of the children play catch together. Aelfgiva easily outruns Ralf and Hugh.

When it is Tephna’s turn to be chased, Aelfgiva catches up with her before either of the boys.

The day is full of games, good food and laughter. When the sun starts to sink low in the sky it is time for the parents to take their children home. With her mother, father, and baby sister Rikilde, Aelfgiva walks back to the little cottage where the family lives.

They all sleep in the one room, with Robert and Elvina in the bed, Rikidle in her crib, and Aelfgiva in the corner by the hearth.

Whenever Rikilde cries in the night, she wakes everyone up.

Aelfgiva does not mind so much, but the broken sleep always seems to try their mother’s patience. Elvina’s relationship with her elder daughter is no less strained.

Elvina feels that she has always done her best to see to her girls’ material needs, braiding their hair, hand-crafting their cribs, and sewing their clothes with every care. Last winter she carved them each a wooden sheep. But she has quite never reconciled herself to the mess and disruption that the girls have brought into her life.

To avoid her mother’s scolding, Aelfgiva stays as quiet and well-behaved as she can when she helps around the house. But any time she thinks herself out of earshot she explains her frustrations to the chickens.

Her father is less strict, and always has an exciting tale to tell. The little girl’s favourite part of every morning is his return from the garden, arms full of cabbages—spoils from his defeat of the cabbage patch giant, he says.

This Tuesday, he has cucumbers too, the season’s first. Elvina shows her daughter how to chop them into perfect little circles and flavour them with mint and vinegar.

Most days, they take their lunch over to the neighbouring cottage, in which John and Juliana live with their three children: Hugh, Emma, and Peter.

In the afternoons, Elvina is only to happy to take on some of the household cleaning, while Juliana washes the little ones and teaches Aelfgiva how to sew.

Aelfgiva and Rikidle share their flock of sheep with Emma, whose funny faces make Aelfgiva laugh.

Aelfgiva likes to play with Hugh too, and to boast about how much faster than him she can run.

But Hugh does not always stay at home after lunch. When the weather is fair, their fathers sometimes rent a boat and take the boy out onto the river to learn to fish. Robert enjoys their trips, although he could do without John’s off-key singing.

Wednesday is exhortation day, with the blesssing of the autumn crops followed by prayer and fasting; but by Thursday eggs are once again permitted. Jaclyn comes early to the cottage to buy some for her mother.

It is the Fowlers’ turn to bring the bread to lunch that day, so Elvina sends her daughter out with some dough for the baker’s oven. Jaclyn walks with her so far as the bakery; Aelfgiva offers to race her there, but the older girl would rather gossip along the way.

Aelfgiva pays Geoffrey for the use of his oven.

Tephna is busy working and her little sister Oriel is asleep, so while the bread bakes Aelfgiva wanders over to the river for a quick swim.

Her mother scolds her when she sees wet hair hanging loose about her shoulders.

But it is easily tied up again in time for lunch.

Aelfgiva spends the next two days working hard to make amends for swimming without permission.

When Sunday comes, her parents reward her good behaviour by letting her pick the first of the season’s strawberries for a riverside picnic.

Over by the river, she sees the brewer twins. Richard is already in the water and Ralf is playing with a beetle.

Aelfgiva swims out to Richard and races him to the bridge. It is neck and neck all the way.

Each is impressed with the other’s swimming.

When the return to Ralf, they find him crying. He has released his pet beetle back into the wild, and is already regretting it.

But his face soon fills with delight when he sees the strawberries Aelfgiva has to share.

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