|Image source: Wikimedia Commons|
The better part of himself spoke up immediately. You know better, ya lout. Reacher women plow when they have to. Two years you’ve been a Matriarchy man now, you shouldn’t think like that anymore.
He looked across the field, where his wife Liana plowed with the other ox. And she’s plenty able to do it, a third part of him thought, with mixed admiration and desire. Chakan had always found sturdy women more attractive than either the willowy Reacher standard, or the round soft kind favored in Westmarch and the Alliance cities. They would be married a year, come the autumn equinox, and Chakan often thought how lucky he was, to—
The plow lurched, nearly jerking out of Chakan’s hands. His surprised “Hoy!” did not cover the scraping of the plow blade dragging across a rock. “Hold up, ya lump!” he yelled at the ox.
“What happened?” Liana called from her side of the field. They had each taken half to plow, and now they were close together. Closer than Chakan had thought; they were nearly finished.
“We found another paver, like as not.”
“That’s good. We need a few more to finish the walkway.”
“Maybe that’s why the Crown granted us this patch,” said Chakan. “We’ll never find the end of clearing it.”
“Every time I think about it, I marvel at how vast Old Stolevan must have been. You can hear legends of Camac and Stolevan carrying a million folk each until your ears fall off, but to think this was part of the city…” Liana trailed off, looking toward Queensport, visible to the southeast. “Its boundaries stretched clear out to here and beyond. Well, mark the spot and we’ll dig it up after lunch.” She gave him a wicked grin. “But not right after lunch, mind you.”
“How much longer?” Chakan asked, somewhat later, lying in bed with his wife. This was their favorite dessert after any meal.
“Oh, the Healer said not to worry about it right away. I’m not even showing yet.” Liana had kindled two months ago, to their mutual delight. “If all goes well, we might not have to stop.”
“That’s good to know.” He rolled onto his side, draping an arm across his wife.
“Will you love a daughter as much as a son?” she asked.
“Of course. She won’t be the only one we have.”
Liana stroked his hip, then slid her fingers down. “Good. Hoy… I think you’re ready for more.”
It was mid-afternoon before they pushed themselves grumbling out of bed. But Liana was right; they needed a few more pavers. They had dug up many cut stones last fall and laid them between their house and the barn—a tiny barn by the standards Chakan had grown up with, big enough to house their oxen and what little hay they needed for a southern winter. They were plowing two months before farmers would in the Northern Reach, and needed far less hay to keep their livestock fed through the winter. Still, what they called “winter” along the southern coast was wet, and the paving stones helped them stay out of the mud.
They took shovels, a pick, and rope from the barn, then trudged across the field toward the stick that Chakan had used to mark the spot.
“Maybe this one will be a chest full of octagons,” Liana quipped, getting to work.
“Aye. And maybe we’ll get a winter without snow,” Chakan laughed, digging next to her.
“Oh, aye. A Reacher saying. The land up there is still covered with it, and here we are getting ready to plant.”
“No, love.” Liana tossed another shovel of dirt aside. “What is snow?”
“You don’t—of course you don’t know about snow, if ya grew up in Queensport. Well…” Chakan stopped to think. “It’s like rain, but it’s frozen before it falls from the sky. Instead of drops, it comes down in tiny little flakes. Enough to bury the land, sometimes as high as me.”
“Ah, I’ve seen that a time or two. Enough to cover the ground, sometimes, but…” Liana grounded the shovel. “Tell me true, Chakan. Is that a tall tale you tell about it covering the land?”
“Tell ya true, Liana. The ground around the warm springs stays clear, but everywhere else? Snow as far as ya can see.”
“No wonder you moved south,” she grinned.
“Nay, nay. I moved here…” he stopped, realizing she was teasing him. But the warmer climate was the least of his reasons to leave his old home for this strange nation where women ruled. As a younger son, he had little to inherit. In his youth, he learned he was not cut out for the military. The one girl he fancied took up with a boy with better prospects. He hired himself out as a roustabout, a freelance farm hand, and found he liked the work. But that desire for one’s own land, one’s own place, was in the Northerner blood. The Matriarchy’s embassy promised land to those who would emigrate and embrace their customs…
“Hoy, ya lazy lout, stop woolgathering!” Liana laughed. “I think I just hit it.”
“Eh? Sorry.” Chakan put his back into it, and soon they looked at the corner of a stone.
“That might be enough to finish the walkway,” Liana mused. “Depends on how deep it goes.”
“Only one way to find out,” Chakan grinned, and began digging around it.
A few minutes later, they stopped. “Eh,” Liana grumbled. “Looks like a block. ‘Twould make a fine cornerstone for a tavern, but it ain’t much good for us.”
“We could always hire a stonecutter to split it,” Chakan pointed out. “That’s enough stone to finish the walkway, and give us a good start on a walk to the road.”
“If she don’t shatter the thing. No telling how long that block has been buried. Well, fetch an ox, husband. We’ll get this out of the field, then we’ll decide what to do with it.”
to be continued…