Cast of Characters:
Shonnin: a thin nervous boy
Feitur: a chubby boy-called Fette by his friends
Mirandior: a girl with no front teeth
Sigrid: Mother to all three
Shonnin’s Father: A kind patient soul
The Tutor: A keeper of secrets
Place: A castle in winter time
She watched the three of them walking up the frozen hill; it was the third time she had been out to look and it was almost dark.
They made such a comical little group that she didn’t have the heart to be angry. Seven years old now without a full set of front teeth between them, it was all she could do not to laugh.
The girl was leading as usual, with the boys tagging behind. They were all filthy. Mirandior was worse than the boys. She should be learning to sew and weave and to sit still for five minutes, preparation for being the lady she would one day become. That would be a challenge, but it wasn’t going to be hers. Mirandior was to have a stepmother and that dubious joy would belong to her.
She looked at the boys, her own son and her adopted one. Shonnin had a large tear in his tunic. Still it could be mended and it wasn’t as if he grew out of much. Small and skinny he never sat still and he could run like the wind.
Then there was her own son. Until this past summer he had been a chubby barrel of a child, her little Feitur. Now he was growing out of everything and she strongly suspected that she was raising another ox just like his father.
She had waited almost 20 years for a child of her own. When they had given up all hope the Gods had finally smiled upon her and upon two of her friends as well.
They were younger, but within a year one of them had gone – and within five she was mothering all three babes.
Feitur was puffing and trying to keep up. Mirandior looked defiant: the boys looked guilty. Whatever it was they had done, this time it would just have to wait.
“Come inside,” she said, “it’s almost dark and there are wolves out there, hungry ones. Mirandior, run along to your nurse, put on a clean dress when you have washed because your father wants to see you.”
The girl gave them a reproachful look over her shoulder; the boys looked smug.
“I don’t know what you two are looking so pleased about. It’s supper, into the tub and bed for both of you.” They both looked sulky. “None of that,” she said, “if you are good and quick you can both choose a story.”
“And Feitur,” she said as he stomped off, “if you don’t want the nurse to wash behind your ears, do it properly yourself this time. I don’t want to hear any more complaints.”
Shonnin hung back. He was a nervous child who sometimes found it difficult to say what he wanted.
“What is it?” she said kindly. “Tell me”
“It happened again,” he said quietly. “That’s why Fette is so cross. I don’t think he can help it. A wolf chased us, it was old and I think it was sick and hungry.”
“I suppose he swore you to secrecy?” she said.
He nodded, tears about to fall. He was not generally a tattle tale, but he had been badly frightened and the need to ease his little soul had obviously triumphed over his loyalty to Feitur, this time.
“Well you did the right thing,” she said, “now run along and get your supper before your brother eats it all.”
She sighed. It was high time for some important lessons to begin…
When she looked in later they were both fast asleep, worn out by the days adventures. Curled up like kittens. Feitur as usual had his mouth open, he had no front teeth and he snored. Usually Shonnin twitched and figeted but tonight he was peaceful, a thumb stuck firmly into his mouth.
Each had a favourite toy tucked in beside him, Feitur had his beloved brown bear now missing an eye and an ear where he twiddled it. Shonnin had a horse, one leg barely hanging on because of the way he dragged it around. His mother had sewn it by the fire during the long winter she was expecting him and it was all he had to remember her by.
She tucked a little night shirted backside under the furs and pulled the curtain around the boy’s sleeping place, then she blew out the lamp. Feitur was still afraid of the dark but he was getting better. She had overheard Shonnin tell him that if a wolf or a great black dog came to eat them in the night they would fight it together.
Sigrid smiled to herself, they were still just babies flung into this great cold world, but for now they had each other and would not face the darkness alone. She went back to the hall when Shonnin’s father was waiting with the chess board by the fire. She considered herself lucky that he considered her a worthy opponent and did not object to being bested by a woman. Her own man would have crushed the pieces between his huge fingers, but he had no objections to watching her beat the breeches off one of his friends!