Boudicca: sample chapter
Just a sample chapter of the book I'll be writing about the commander's life before she met Rautu.
Inspection of Lords
The lords and surrounding nobility of the Tyfirrem farmsteads were called to the MacDaede farm on a matter of some consequence. It was told to them that Jaicobh MacDaede, venerable keeper of their lands and honourable farmer of the highlands, had a daughter of marriageable age. Their family had been connected to the gentry through the mother’s relation and though a few ranks removed from how high they would have preferred her, Boudicca MacDaede was foretold as a prime specimen. A marriage to her would unite any man who wished to convey her to his household with almost every landowner and merchant in Tyfirrem. Jaicobh MacDaede was not an influential man by any means but a bond with his daughter would secure his extensive lands in anyone’s favour.
The lords and sirs of the farmsteads were invited by the girl’s mother who, from having little to do other than be unsupportive to her husband and a nuisance to her daughter, was delighted to parade Boudicca before them. She knew her husband would not abide such pageantry on his daughter’s behalf and therefore postponed the event until her husband had gone to the markets to sell their daily crops to the traders and merchants who were in wait of them. She believed that by making an advantageous marriage for her daughter, she would be constructive in righting all the wrongs that had overcome their farm in the way of fortune and secure payment of the services Boudicca could express as a dutiful wife. She wished to make the flaunting as quick as possible, hoping her reticent and unsociable husband would not return to make his natural objections, and she wished to do so for the girl’s sake, praying that Boudicca’s obstinacy would not prevail upon her for the duration of the short exhibition.
The lords came and gathered by the fence on the far side of the stead. They waited with inquiring looks and folded arms. Some of them observed their golden pocket watches to keep from regarding the corpulent pigs in the cabbage patch and some held their handkerchiefs to their delicate noses to ward off the telling scents of the farm.
Boudicca was in the barn cleaning what the cows decided to leave behind when her mother entered and gasped in horror for the sight of her. She was in her work clothes, her heavy leather boots and overalls, and was spattered in filth from the backlash of the shoveling she had just finished. Her hair, which was always a nest of brambles, was flecked with hay from the bales she had tied in the morning. Her hands were chapped and her palms bled from scrapping them along the wooden handle of the spade for countless hours at a time.
“Boudicca,” her mother cried. “Go inside the house and clean up this instant.”
Boudicca continued shoveling. “I will when I’m finished,” she said, ignoring her mother’s alarm at her state.
“Put that down immediately. The lords are here.”
“And why exactly should this piece of news be of any significance to me?”
Boudicca’s mother had enough of her audacity. She placed a reluctant hand on her daughter’s sullied arm and began pulling her out of the barn. “They want to have a look at you,” she asserted, dragging Boudicca from her work.
“I daresay they won’t find me very appealing,” Boudicca laughed, looking down at herself.
“You did this on purpose,” Mrs. MacDaede accused.
“Having terrible hair and soiled clothing is not exactly something I can avoid as a farmer,” Boudicca smirked, allowing herself to be pulled toward the fence.
Mrs. MacDaede stopped and gave her daughter’s arm a firm jostle. “You listen to me,” she said angrily. “These men have come a very long way just to see you.”
“Yes, three miles is a vexatious journey indeed.”
Mrs. MacDaede flouted her daughter’s snide remarks. “You just have to stand before them and speak to them.”
“And make a spectacle of myself?” Boudicca scoffed.
Mrs. MacDaede’s attempts to secure her daughter a husband would be spurned no longer. Boudicca’s ill manner and self-satisfied countenance had done for her. She raised her hand and struck her daughter across the mouth to quiet her and relieve her own frustration. Her daughter’s reaction was not one of astonishment or resentment for having been assaulted but it was one of complacency. Mrs. MacDaede pulled on Boudicca’s arm once more and led her toward the outer fence without another word of opposition to grace their struggling march.
The lords and sirs of Tyfirrem Greater looked at Boudicca with abhorrence and at her mother with bemusement. There were many questions made to Mrs. MacDaede on the subject of the wretched creature before them. They asked if there was a mistake made, if this was the woman indeed they were to be appraising, and if she were a woman at all beneath the layers of hay and filth. They grimaced at her rough and bleeding hands, they frowned at her plain features and dark eyes, and they were repulsed by her lack of cleanliness. They remarked her large endowments and shapely hips, feeling that perhaps there was something to be salvaged under her coarse exterior, but even a pair of ripened breasts and a healthy glow in her cheeks could not save the remainder.
Boudicca stood without affectation. She allowed them to look for the more they looked the more they were revolted and the more she was pleased. She knew they were not interested in her intellect or shrewdness and with such a paltry list of female accomplishments, she knew she owned nothing to excite them beyond her thick thighs and upright figure. She observed them turn away in disgust and disinterest and she leered with the gratification of knowing that her mother’s designs on making her a wealthy wife were failing.
One of the lords, an older man of stout form and weathered complexion stepped forward and gave hope to Mrs. MacDaede, giving some anxiety to Boudicca. He began to ask many questions on Boudicca’s ability to housekeep. He had intended her for a maid rather than a wife, as he commented he could not be bothered to wed and share his fortune but he could be bothered to enjoy a fulsome woman in his home.
“Can you cook, girl?” the lord asked, sneering down at the filthy woman.
“I can. However I doubt you require my service in that regard,” Boudicca said, motioning toward his opulence.
The lord ignored her. “Can you clean, girl?”
Boudicca was amazed by his resolve to treat her as a subservient member of his household and wiped the healthy mix of blood and dirt from her hands. “If my state is any indication of my abilities in the area, then no.”
The lord was displeased with her sagacious character and was gone from the farm moments later. The rest of the noble party followed, all of them in appalling humour for Mrs. MacDaede having wasted their time with an unsightly woman who could not hold her tongue.
Boudicca found the sirs just as unseemly and hideous as they supposed her to be and she obtained consolation from the unscrupulous affair by returning to her work. She bore many slighting words from her mother as she trudged back toward the barn but she was proficient in ignoring any cruelty toward herself and lifted her shovel to continue her duties in the vegetable yards. She was called ungrateful, unaccommodating and a multitude of other more offensive phrases she knew not to be true, but it was only when her mother unearthed the matter of her father’s hard work falling to ruin over her pride that she was at last distressed. She was told she would be the destructor of their family, her refusal to bear a child and do what was proper would induce the downfall of everything her father had worked to achieve. His rank as chief landowner, his position as the most highly respected farmer in Tyfirrem and his esteem with the traders and merchants in the markets were all a legacy that would be given to no one if she refused to continue their family.
The accusation of being hideous in her mother’s estimation, the conjectures of her being self-interested and the charge of being useless she could have borne but the indictment of ruining her father’s work was one she could not endure. She had broken under the weight of such a claim and Boudicca was silent in reply. It was implied that she was acting with impudence by discounting her mother’s statements, but she was listening. A small ache of remorse made itself known to Boudicca and turning her face away, engrossing herself in her work, she surrendered to her ruefulness and cried.
Mrs. MacDaede felt a small satisfaction in hearing the sniffles of her repentant child. She marched back toward their small house only to be met with a disapproving look from her husband. He had seen the parade of lords leaving their farmstead and when he asked why the nobility of Tyfirrem Greater should think it sensible to visit his farm, the reply he received from his wife was not one he enjoyed.
“Where is Boudicca?” Jaicobh asked, terrified that his daughter had been purchased in the short time he was gone.
“In the yard where she always is,” was Mrs. MacDaede’s angry reply.
Jaicobh loomed over his wife and shook his head at her. “Maddie, don’t punish her for wantin’ to help me,” he said firmly, allowing the fullness of his accent to appear in his nascent irritation. “I didn’t raise her to be one of those ladies. You can’t expect her to act like somethin’ she knows nothin’ about. If you want to blame someone then blame me. I know my girl. She’s a smart one and she won’t just do somethin’ because you tell her so. She doesn’t deserve to be yelled at for nothin’, Maddie, you hear me?”
“She’s a selfish child,” she viciously contended. “Any one of the men who came to look at her today could have given us enough money to live on for the next few years and she would have been given security in exchange.”
“But they didn’t, did they?”
“Of course not. Who would take her the way she is with her bleeding hands and unbearable manners?”
Jaicobh sighed. He felt all the indignity the situation could afford on his daughter’s behalf. She was unsuccessful in impressing the affected gentry and was subject to debase herself before them as if to beg to be taken in as a wife. “She’s got feelin’s, Maddie,” Jaicobh shouted, gesturing toward his daughter’s projected place. “I know Bou’s a tough one but you can’t treat her like cattle.” He paused and calmed his riled rage. He waited for a word of apology or explanation but he received none. He paced back and forth and finally threw his gloves down at the ground in anger. “Making her feel terrible for nothin’,” he shouted, stabbing a finger toward his willful wife. “I’m ashamed of you, Maddie. That’s our daughter. You may not love our girl the way she is but I do and that’s all that matters to me. I won’t let you hurt her because you’re worried about what’s goin’ to be in the next little while. Don’t bother with supper. I’ve lost what appetite I had.”
Mrs. MacDaede chuffed and refused to look at her husband as he left their home. She continued with her duties in the house regardless of what was to be said outside, as she believed her reasons for degrading her offspring were just and due.
Jaicobh hastened to the yard to find Boudicca toiling among the rows in the vegetable crops. She was kneeling down to clip the wild vines that had grown along the plant beds but her work was not being performed in the usual style. Her motions were hurried and careless where they were regularly vigilant. She was disconcerted and he was sorry for it. He drew near to her and when his large shadow overcame her, she stood to greet him with low eyes and an inclined head. Her customary cheerfulness and sharp temper had gone from her and she remained obedient and quiet. The red in her cheeks and her small snuffling sounds told him of her immense unhappiness, not for the fortune of not being chosen by such objectionable men but for the misfortune of being told that her efforts and attempts to assist him were worthless. He was horrified to see his defiant daughter so low and conquered, and he quickly caught her up in his massive arms and, in all her filth and misery, held her close to him.
“My good girl,” he whispered, kissing the side of his daughter’s head. “I don’t care what was said. You don’t believe a word of it, you understand me?”
“I’m sorry, father,” Boudicca muttered into the bend of her father’s arm. She pulled away from him to take a deep breath and wipe the renewed tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry that I can only do this,” she said, motioning toward the work at her feet she had not yet done. “I’m sorry that I should not be more desirable.”
Jaicobh observed Boudicca’s fretful features and though it was natural for many parents to believe their own children at the most beautiful of any, he believed there was no other who could compare to her. She was hearty and clever, and though she had little knowledge of what young women her age ought to know in the ways of being more pleasing to a man, she understood well the importance of compromise and duty. These were two qualities enough to recommend her as the most honourable and endearing creature in the world. Jaicobh was vanquished by his sentiment for his considerate child. He gripped her wide shoulders and crushed her beneath his warm embrace. “You have nothin’ to be sorry for, bhean kin,” he said quietly.
“I’m sorry that I can only help you by farming,” Boudicca continued. “I’m sorry that you’re tired. I’m sorry I cannot be a marriageable woman.”
“Bou, listen to me, girl,” he said, holding his daughter’s chin in his hand. “I couldn’t have asked for a better daughter.”
She sighed in gratitude for her father’s constancy and nodded in answer of his ardent declaration. “I feel more of a son than I do a daughter,” she mused, wiping her nose on her sleeve. “I feel more at home on the fields than I ever could in a dress. I am just so uninterested in finery. I only wish to make a difference for our family without having to imprison myself by marriage.”
“Is bhean lhómrah,” Jaicobh crooned at his daughter in Old Frewyn. “Every man should be so lucky to have a daughter like this.”
Boudicca smiled though her tears. Her father’s humble and affectionate manner had soothed her and she felt well enough again to return to making her mordant annotations. “I suppose I cry like a woman,” she muttered.
Jaicobh looked down at his daughter’s countenance and sighed with relief to see she was unharmed by the event and only wounded by her own sense of obligation. “Ah, bhean kin,” he said, marveling at his child. “Come, girl. We’ll fix somethin’ to eat in the barn.”
“I don’t believe the cows are quite prepared to meet their end,” Boudicca said with a half-smile. “However, if my mother has promised you something for your palate, I believe we are safer eating what the pigs have left behind in the trough.”
Jaicobh succumbed to a hardy laughter and ruffled his daughter’s hayed hair. “Ah, kin, you make me laugh,” he said smilingly. He walked with Boudicca to the barn and was glad to see her rude and pleasant spirits had not dampened in the least.