Bryn paused in her ladling.
“That’s the one you considered before we moved here, isn’t it? Four years is a long time for a position to remain open. What’s wrong with it?”
“The position is fine. The pay is slightly more than I make now,” he assured us.
I watched my sisters’ eyes glimmer with excitement, but I felt wary.
“Why didn’t you take it four years ago, then?” I asked.
Bryn passed the soup around. It filled the void in my stomach and warmed my blood.
He gave me a slight, sad smile.
“The cottage is not fit for a family of four.” Before my sisters could ask how he meant for us to live there if there wasn’t enough room for all of us, he added, “But now you are of an age to marry.”
Blye clapped her hands with a huge smile.
“You’ve accepted the baker’s request for Benella, then?”
My stomach dropped, and the soup I’d recently eaten soured in it. Surely, he wouldn’t force me to wed the Baker after what I’d told him.
“Benella is still too young to wed, just as you were too young in my mind four years ago.”
Blye’s face turned to stone. “Surely, you don’t expect one of us to wed the baker.”
“I will not force a groom onto you if you have no care for him. That said, are there any you care for?”
“I’d accept Tennen if he asked,” Bryn said demurely.
“I’m afraid that match wouldn’t suit you, dearest. The Coalre family is as out of coin as the rest of us, and I would not have you going into a marriage with false ideas or hopes,” he said calmly between sips of broth.
I stayed focused on my own meal, but from the corner of my eye saw my sister’s face flush at Father’s blunt words. Part of me wanted to cheer him in his softly worded criticism of her shallow nature, but I squelched that part, knowing it unkind to Bryn. As Father stated, she did work hard, most of the time, to keep the cottage a home. What would happen when she and Blye both wed? Who would mend for Father and cook for him? I could do a fair job at a meal if a person didn’t mind a lack of variety. Mending bored me to tears, but I could sew a straight line. I’d never have the skill of either Bryn or Blye, though. Unless my future husband was a tailor, I didn’t see that my lack of skill would matter.
“If you have no preferences, I’d like to announce your intent to marry and see what offers we receive,” Father said into the silence.
“How soon?” Bryn whispered.
“In the morning, I’ll talk to the baker. By evening, the rest of the village should know.”
* * * *
A flat-faced sheep farmer from the south came to offer for Blye after Father returned home. The short, muscled man spoke plainly of his need for someone who could weave and sew well and promised himself to be a soft-spoken, gentle man. Given his propensity to gaze at the ground when speaking to Blye instead of meeting her gaze, I agreed with his self-assessment. After listening to his offer, Blye kindly declined.
Bryn consoled Blye after the man left, saying at least someone had come for her. Though Father had discounted Tennen, I felt sure Bryn still held out some small hope that he would appear and offer for her nonetheless. She quietly served another dinner of vegetable soup; and I knew, dress or no, I needed to attempt to set traps the following day.
* * * *
I crept from bed during the twilight hour when the birds sang gustily before the dawn. Shaking out my dress, I frowned at its dingy, pale blue color. It needed a washing desperately, but I put it on anyway and hustled out the door before Father rose from bed. The cool air prickled my skin; and I set out toward the estate, carefully placing traps on my way, to check the enchanted dirt that spilled from the wall.
When I reached the rough patch of soil, I wasn’t disappointed by barren earth. A single line of turnips thinly dotted the expanse, starting from the edge to lead toward the tumbled rock. The row didn’t stop there but continued with uprooted turnips lying on their sides over the rocks and into the darkened woods within, a blatant invitation that struck me as very wrong. I stared at the roots while biting on my lower lip. My stomach growled. I wanted the food, no doubt about it, but I wasn’t willing to fall into some sort of trap, which was how it appeared to me. I recalled all of the other times I’d harvested there and walked the boundary, looking to pluck any bounty I could find.