The rain continued, and Boudicca watched her footprints drown with eyes low and heart sinking. The sound of heavy footfalls neared, the shuffling of scudding heels stopped beside her, there wassidelong glance, and the worn workboots and stained overalls told her who had approached. The chair in the corner of the porch creaked as it moved, and someone exhaled as they sat down. A large form slumped into the seat, and the chair groaned as it craned backward, a head leaning back on the rest, the force from well-planted and heavy thighs holding it in place.
There was a pause. The soft scroop of hands rubbing against overalls reached her ear above the incessant lumming. Someone tapped their feet.
“What’s all this bein’ long in the mouth for, darlin’?”
Boudicca’s shoulders withered, and she sighed. “I know I have said so before,” she began, with chest low and voice solemn, “but people really are atrocious, father.” She stared at the puddles beside her feet. “They do and say things completely without conscience.”
“Talkin’ about the tall lad with the mare’s legs?”
“No,” said Boudicca, with a hint in a smile, “not him, father. We are rather friends now that I’ve relieved him of his back teeth.”
“Aye, well,” Jaicobh sniffed, “good friendships gotta start somehow. Near gave yer Uncle Shayne a wallopin’ first time I met him. Had to just to bring him home from the Seidh Maith. It’s good for a friendship, getting’ all the fightin’ out in one go.”
A pause here, and Boudicca’s smiles faded.
“I was talking more about the selfishness and discourtesy of some,” she continued. “The ingratitude we just witnessed was worse than any I had ever received from rival farmers in town.”
“Well, not everyone’s from Tyfferim, darlin’.” Jaicobh lounged with his hands behind his head and gave a shrug. “Sure, we got it hard with all the work we gotta do durin’ the year, but we like it that way, ‘cause we’re all workin’ hard together. We’re farmers, darlin’. We’re all lookin’ after one another. If one of us is doin’ poorly or taken bad, we’re all sufferin’.”
“That is certainly very true,” Boudicca quietly conceded.
“But some folk in other towns got it hard, and they’re all alone. They don’t know how to accept help ‘cause nobody they know is lookin’ to give it, and they act ungrateful ‘cause they probably think we’re expectin’ somethin’ in return they don’t wanna give up. Some folk just don’t know how to be helped.”
“The rudeness is really insufferable. I absolutely cannot understand it. We saved them from being murdered by marauders, and they refused to part with rations that were promised us days ago. I would expect that type of treatment from our enemies—“
“Who’s our enemy, darlin’?” Jaicobh interposed, glancing at her. “The Galleisians? Ask a farmer and he’ll tell you we got bigger enemies than a few lads from across the way. We got floodin’, black leaf, carrot fly—those are real enemies, the ones you can’t fight. You can spray the milk and water on all yer crops, and they still might get the blight, and there’s nothin’ do but cut the stalk and pull the roots. There’re enemies everywhere, darlin’, and some you just can’t fight.”
Boudicca hummed and sighed and wondered whether it was worth helping anybody.
“Some folk ain’t so bad, darlin’,” said Jaicobh, with a conscious smile.“Yer Uncle Shayne can sure do my head in when he wants to. Sure put me in a way the other day, takin’ himself off to the Seidh Maith for one too many pints.” Here was a shrug. “But I just shake my head, call him a dunnard, and drag him home. Sure he sulks a bit and blodders like a trod cabbage, but it passes and he’s himself again.”
Boudicca could not but laugh. “As much as I appreciate your sympathies, father, Shayne is not an entire village.”
“Well, maybe they all need a bit o’ draggin’ through the rows to show ‘em whose lookin’ after ‘em.” Jaicobh sat up in his chair and spied his daughter with a glint in his eye. “Folk don’t change much, darlin’,” said he feelingly. “Most are gonna be the way they are. If yer helpin’ ‘em and they’re makin’ a song and dance out of it, you just gotta remember that they’re angry ‘cause they don’t want you to see all that sad they’re hidin’. Let em kick about in a circle like a gelding. They'll hush up eventually. You just keep doin’ what’s right and do on ignorin’ what bad they do.”
“I suppose I simply cannot understand the mentality of isolation,” Boudicca conteded, shaking her head. “I have never been told to leave a village I just saved.”
“Ach,” Jaicobh scoffed, waving a dismissive hand at the rain. “Some folk’ll hollar at anythin’ just to make a noise. Nothin’ for it darlin’. Think of the pigs. We feed ‘em everythin’ we got and there's no thanks in it for us.”
Boudicca raised a brow. “We do eat them later.”
“They don’t know that, and I sure ain’t gonna tell ‘em.”
“Are you comparing ungrateful villagers to pigs, father?”
“Seems about right.”
She bowed her head and laughed heartily to herself, and the spark in Jaicobh’s eye scintillated.
“You just keep helpin’ others, darlin’,” said Jaicobh, with an affectionate look. “Not everyone you save is gonna thank you for it.”
“Can I simply resolve never to help anyone again?”
“Sure, if you want to, but that don’t do no good to anyone. It only hurts those who would appreciate what you’re doin’.”
Boudicca stared at the ground and shuffled the mud around with her boots. “There are decidedly few of those.”
“There are a lot more of ‘em than you think,” said Jaicobh seriously.
Here was a penetrating look, and they exchanged a conscious understanding, each meeting the other in silent conversation, bespeaking a commiseration that both must acknowledge but neither was willing to admit.
“War does bad by everybody, darlin’,” said Jaicobh, in a desperate hue. “Folk get all wheelbarrows and spoiled milk ‘cause they get afraid about survivin’, and when you take away all the other things that they think are botherin’ em’, fear is what’s left under all that show.” He paused, and one corner of his mouth curled in a smile. “Really oughta blame yerself, darlin’.”
“And why is that, father?” Boudicca asked, half amused.
“You ain’t afraid of anythin’.”
Her instant response of “That’s not true” was lost under the severity and constancy of father’s expression. His familiar features, his proud jaw, wide cheekbones, and knowing smile, silenced all immediate replies, but the blue eyes, the amiable person, and quiet countenance served to quell any lingering qualms. She was always perfectly easy around him; the experience of many years, betrayed by the lirks around his eyes and wikes about the mouth, always advised her to what was best, but his assumption of her not being afraid of anything was not exactly right. She was afraid of something, but it has already come to pass. The worst thing in the world had happened, and it had taken her from her father’s house and brought her into the forces: she had lost her father. A small raiding part from Gallei had razed their house, ruined their land, and murdered the one person she was afraid of being without. All the trepidation and anxiety she had left had gone in that moment, and as she sat on the stile and reveled under her father’s admiration of her, a sudden sensation prevailed.