The bite of the early morning had given way to a gentle warmth as the autumn day progressed. The sun shining in the cloudless sky had turned the silver of the frost to warm droplets on the lush grass of the water mead. The couple held hands as they sat on the bridge that crossed the water mill's weir. The young man ran his thumb over the girl's small hand. She looked at him and smiled. His thoughts, however, were elsewhere and the caress was almost absent minded.
Eventually, he pulled himself around and turned his attention to the maid by his side. He squeezed her hand and stood, pulling her up with him. Together, they crossed the bridge and followed the path toward the hedged holding on the other bank of the river, leaving the rushing sound of the fast flowing water behind, as it both crashed over the weir and fell from the turning water wheel.
On impulse, the young man stopped and turned back to look at the river. His tall, gangling build contrasted with the small and tidy frame of the girl holding his hand. He bent and kissed her head, his golden hair mingling with her chestnut brown. She snuggled to his side and leaned against him.
"Come, we should go. My mother will be upset if I am late for this last meal at home before I leave." He let go of her hand and put his arm around her slim shoulder. As one unit, they left the peace and sanctity of the river Wandle and headed toward the noise and bustle of the farm yard.
"Don't look now, but your mother is watching." The girl tossed her head slightly, causing her shiny, chestnut hair to dance over her shoulders. The young man tried not to look, but after a few moments of hesitation, he snuck a quick glance.
"She'll notice," he whispered, as he dipped his spoon back into the bowl of thick broth. "Eve, please." The girl looked quizzically at the young man. "She'll notice," he added.
"She never has in the past." The girl smiled serenely at the older woman sitting at the other end of the table in the hall. She blew on the steaming broth before she sucked the contents into her mouth. Closing her eyes dreamily, she let out a pleasurable sigh as she eased the now empty spoon out. "Wonderful, so creamy."
The young man gave a slight gasp and his eyes opened wide.
"Godfrew? Are you all right?" the older woman asked.
"Ah, it's just a bit hot, mother." Godfrew blinked, then lowered his face to the dish and its steamy contents. Eve removed her left hand from Godfrew's britches and let it rejoin her right hand in her lap.
"Eve. Have you finished already, child?" Godfrew's mother asked, already stretching across the waxed wooden table toward the ladle sitting in the earthenware dish containing the broth. "For such a wee thing, you have a good appetite."
"Thank you, mother-in-law, but I have finished at present." Eve gently put her hand on Godfrew's. "I am sure you have finished, Frew. Come, let's go outside. With you soon leaving to join King Harold's gathering, we should spend as much time together as we can."
"Yes, go Godfrew. Your wife is right. Enjoy each other's company while you may. It could be some time before the problems are over and you are with each other again." The woman re-filled her own bowl whilst the youngsters left the hall.
"Rosemund, you spoil the boy. He won't get that well fed on campaign, as well I know." The older man pursed his lips disapprovingly. "Now ... when I was with Harold in Wales ..."
"You spent your time organising the storage train and getting fat on its contents, Alfred ... and well you know it!" Rosemund ate some of the broth, then looked at the spoon. "Funny, it's not that hot ... certainly not hot enough to have got that sort of reaction out of the boy."
"Boy? He is a man now, woman. In fact, he is a warrior-the thane for our holding-with his own shield bearer and five men to back him." Alfred used his toes to stir the big deer hound asleep at his foot. As the animal rolled over, he caressed its belly with his foot. "Too protective by far, you are. Would you have been so if his younger twin brothers had lived?"
"Don't, Alfred. Just don't go there. You know it hurts. Even after all these years, it still hurts." Rosemund blinked away a small tear and busied herself eating the now cold broth.
"Yes ... well, sorry my love, but the boy has to perform his duties for the holding. We have the five hides. We must put up a sword thane." The hound rolled onto its back and started kicking Alfred with its front paw to ensure that the foot rubbing continued.
"You could have hired someone. He is all we have. If anything happens to him, I would die. So would your line, Alfred. Did you think of that when you gave him the long axe and helmet to go and play soldier?"
"It had to be done. You women just do not understand the value of pride. My father was given this land by ..."
"Knute. I know the story." Rosemund put her bowl down and stood up. She sighed sadly before leaning across and lifting the earthenware dish of broth off of its iron stand in the middle of the table. "Pride, Alfred? Of pride, I know ... but if Godfrew does not come back from these campaigns of the king's ... what then? Of what value is pride when you have no son ... when you, Alfred of Garratt, have no heir?"
"I am sure that the king knows what he is about. He is a brilliant general." Alfred had stopped stroking the hound. It stood up and shook, shaking the table as it did so. "But you are right. We need to secure the holding. The boy should look for a wife. That young hand-fast maid of his is sweet. I like the child, but he will have to look for better stock to breed with ... something with a better pedigree."
"The way our son and his little maid carry on, I wouldn't be surprised if she isn't with child by the time Godfrew leaves for the north."
"With child? Pregnant?" Alfred flicked the ears of his deer hound. It had sat down and started shuffling toward its master, crowding him from the edge of the table. "Stop it, Grendal. Stop it now and I'll fuss over you in a moment." The hound lowered its enormous head and gazed sadly at the plump, bald man on the stool in front of him. "I know the boy has declared himself hand-fast bound to the girl, but she is just a child ... and so innocent."
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