A fair, gentle matron met Taurin in the doorway as he entered the small cottage he called home. “Oh Taurin! Where have you been? You forgot your chores again, and you know—Who is that?”
Britta—Taurin’s mother—stopped when she saw the thin, pale girl in the scandalously short dress (well above her ankles!) peeking from behind her son. Taurin led Melanie forward.
“Mother, this is Melanie. Melanie, allow me to present my mother, Britta. Melanie is from Eenland, Mother. I discovered her in the woods not long ago. She does not have anywhere else to stay. May she stay in the guest room?”
Britta hesitated before opening her arms to Melanie with a hospitable smile. “Welcome, Melanie. Come sit at this table and I will bring you a cold glass of fresh milk.” Melanie sat at the table, which was on the opposite side of the room from the kitchen. Taurin pulled up a stool to sit across from her, but Britta stopped him. “Taurin, would you come with me? I need to speak with you.”
Taurin followed his mother to the small nook near the kitchen that served as their cold storage. She brought out the stone crock of milk, but did not pour it immediately.
“What is it, mother?” Taurin asked.
Britta turned to her son, her face drawn with pain, but before she could speak, a familiar step thumped before the kitchen door.
“SO!” a rough voice barked, “Our little wood-nymph returns, eh? Had enough of your daisy-chains, young grasshopper?”
Taurin turned from his mother to face his father. The rotund farmer’s bright red hair and beard, both streaked with silver, bristled from his face like the quills of a porcupine. He glared at his son, who attempted to hold his ground.
One shove of the shoulders by Marven’s beefy hands sent Taurin reeling back into the middle of the room. “Don’t talk back to me until I’ve finished, you lazy good-for-naught! You frolic among your trees and critters without a care in the world for your poor father who has helped bring this farm literally from the dust! The dust I tell you! I helped my father cultivate this farm in the hopes of one day passing it on to my son, and do I get an ounce of gratefulness? NO! Instead, you are everlastingly running to your forest and filling your head with addle-pated notions of teaching and reading and writing, and that tom-foolish book learning! I’ll not allow it! I’ll ‘learn’ you a thing or two, and I don’t have to know any o’ them books to do it! I’ll—“
Britta’s voice was stern as she stepped between her two men. Marven looked down at his wife.
One could rightly say that young Britta had been the prettiest girl in Nast, and though advancing in years, she had lost little of the charm and beauty she had so plentifully as a young maid. The schoolteacher’s daughter had much refinement and skill to recommend her. Marven was smitten the day he first clapped eyes on her, and no other would satisfy him. Britta alone could withstand the most terrible rages of the “Fiery Farmer,” and she found herself feeling safest with his large, strong arm around her.
Now, as she stared at him with a fire he rarely saw in her eye, Marven was suddenly aware of a new face in the room. “Who is she?” he rumbled to his wife, pointing rudely at the small, pale face staring at him wide-eyed over the table. “This is Melanie,” Britta said.
“I met her in the woods, Father,” Taurin put in.
“She will be staying with us as our guest, as she has nowhere else to go,” Britta finished with a tone of finality.
Marven stared at Melanie for quite some time. “C’mere, girl,” he commanded.
Melanie obeyed meekly. Marven placed his thick, work-worn hands on her shoulders and examined her with an appraising eye.
“Mm . . . yes . . . ah . . .” he murmured as he gazed carefully at her features. His expression smoothed as something in her eyes caught his, Melanie noticed. He stopped and peered at her face intently. “I’ve never had a daughter before,” he said rather quietly for someone his size, “but we will give you what welcome we can, Melanie of Eenland. You may stay with us.”
Taurin seized her hand with a victorious grin, but Marven continued, “Provided that this one does not forget his place on the farm.” He looked severely at his son, who sheepishly dropped Melanie’s hand. “Yes sir,” he said.