An introduction to Holly, a farm girl, who is part of my Nine Points universe.
| Sweat dripped irregularly into the earth as the hoe bit into it. Holly dragged a tattered sleeve across her brow in a futile attempt to keep her eyes clear. Any other day and she would have taken a rest or gone to do chores in the shade. But not today, the scorching sun could never stand in the way of a last chance planting.
Last chance, she should say so. Dark monsoon clouds hung heavy in the western sky. They had been looming for nearly the past week, and growing. The rain would start at night most likely, though everyone on the farm hoped it would hold off as many hours as possible. They needed time to make sure the freshly tilled topsoil would not be washed away.
“Holly, Mama said you need a rest,” a sweet voice called from the shade of the field edge. Ena, her youngest sister of 4, had a large jug of lemon water and a ceramic cup. She was holding the jug pouring into the cup sitting in the tree’s roots. Holly ruffled Ena’s hair when she finished pouring.
“Aren’t you a bit scrawny to be hefting and pouring that big thing?” Holly teased. Ena stuck her tongue out and yelped when Holly’s dusty fingers grabbed hold of the tip.
“Blaaa!” Ena made a show of her unhappiness with faces and sounds of disgust.
“Mama warned you. Keep your tongue in your mouth or who knows what can happen to it!” Holly always teased her littlest sister most, but loved her and taught her the most too. For youngest she wasn’t the typical brat. Farm life affords no spoiling or unfair treatment. Ena had chores from the time she could walk, just like the rest of the children. Still, Ena handled responsibility better then the other sisters when they were her age.
Holly was the oldest of the girls and second born of all 6 children. Her mother expected help bathing, changing and feeding from Holly. Holly never minded much until Ena, and then she nearly took over. Ena had a similar effect on nearly everyone.
Ena took Holly’s empty cup and wiped out the inside with her apron. “I have to go see everyone else. If you need more water tie your red scarf in your hair so I can see it.” Ena hefted the water and marched off to re-hydrate the other field workers.
Holly watched the little figure totter away to bring her refreshment to the others. She wished Ena could get off the farm for a better life. Holly sighed and wiped her brow. No rest for a farm girl.
A few hours later her skirt pocket was out of seeds and she was headed to the tool shed. She could see a few of the hired men heading the same way. They had worked all the hours they would be paid for and only her father, brothers and uncles would be in the field still.
“How the fields look, Qwend?” she said when they were all at the shed.
“Everything’s fully planted except the pumpkins. You’re men folk will be done with that soon enough. Rain should hold off for an hour. How did your planting go?”
“The carrot patch went easy enough but the herb garden is new. There were enough rocks I set up a stone border. I just hope the topsoil holds.” Holly put her tools away and sighed. She looked at the approaching darkness. Qwend understood her apprehension. The past six seasons had been irregular and crops were suffering for it. If they lost too much topsoil at the beginning of the growing season…
“Ena, sweetheart,” Holly called. “Help me and Turik with the horses.” Turik was Holly’s older brother. He was in charge of the animals of the farm. He doted on them like no one else Holly knew, talking to them as if they understood while he cleaned or fed them. Holly liked helping Turik with the animals, partly because it got her away from the younger siblings and partly because she and Turik were so close.
Turik was leading out the last horse when Holly and Ena walked in the barn. The first three were tethered outside the door. Ena trotted up to Turik and took the lead line of the huge draft horse. It lowered its head as she reached up to scratch his nose. She led him outside and set to brushing all the horses with the step stool Turik left for her.
“I have to talk to you Holly,” Turik said seriously. Holly stopped raking out the stall she was in and looked up, concerned. “Keep working, but listen. Father wont say anything to you because you’re a girl, but I think you should know. Uncle Buhen got himself in a debt and Mother thinks Setia (the oldest girl after Holly) is getting a limp. The family might be in trouble if this crop doesn’t come up well.”
Holly let the information sink in while she finished cleaning out the stall. Turik took the full cart out to the compost pile and Holly set down fresh bedding. Turik came back in and they each started cleaning out another stall.
“What’s the rest of it Turik?” Holly could tell he had more to say. He was terrible at keeping a secret from Holly, which was the main reason he never tried to.
“I haven’t decided anything, remember that. And because I haven’t set my mind you aren’t to breathe a word of this to anyone.” Holly made a fist and tapped it to her chest twice, a sign that meant she promised. Turik smiled and continued. “Heath is old enough to take over caring for the animals; he has you and Ena to help him too. I think I could make enough money being a hired hand to make up for my absence. I’ve talked to a couple hired hands and they agree I could find work with the larger farms working with the animals. Most places will put you up in the stable and still pay enough I could send home a few marks every moon. I don’t mind eating porridge from horse grain and I’m handy enough to make my own repairs. I might even be able to sell carvings at a local faire, provided they let me use the scrap wood.”
Holly knew Turik had already set his mind, he just didn’t realize it. Caught up in thinking of all the consequences of his leaving, she didn’t even notice that Turik had left the barn. When she snapped to she went looking for him. He was sitting with Nipper, the family dog. She sat down beside him and held him lovingly.
Several minutes later Holly turned him towards her. “This is what we’re going to do. You and I will work an extra hour every day. We’ll make extra bread, cheese, butter and jam. I’ll save up all the wood I find large enough for your carving. You save all the scrap cloth you find I can turn into lace. After the monsoons we can see how the fields are doing and decide what to do then. No one is hiring until the rains pass so leaving home before then will just hurt the family.”
Turik smiled brightly. He hugged her tight and kissed her forehead. They headed back into the barn and finished readying the stalls. Ena led the horses back in and all three distributed the hay and feed. They walked outside under the eaves. The rains had started. Ena stood between her older siblings and held their hands tight.
“One! Two! Three!” she shouted. They ran as fast as they could to the shelter of the back porch. The outer layer of their clothing was fairly wet but it was nothing close to the drenching they would face tomorrow.
Holly sat in the girls’ bedroom in the big rocking chair with the basket of lace in her lap. She had always loved to make lace in her special way; unweaving scraps of cloth and turning the fibers into threads and the threads into lace. It wasn’t fancy lace, but the ladies from surrounding farms occasionally traded for it. She was in the process of taking apart a rag that she had been eying for the past week. She watched Setia as her hands did their job.
“Holly my leg’s sore,” Setia complained.
“The doctor said you got to keep up exercises to make the limp better.”
“I know, but I’m tired. If it hurts more wont I walk worse?” Holly set down the thread she was working on and got up.
“Sit down Setia, I want to check your leg for myself.”
“What will that do?” Setia made a face even as she obeyed. “The doctor already said it was poison bugs that did it.” Holly ignored the last statement. She couldn’t explain it but she never trusted the doctor fully. Too many problems were from poison bugs, spirits and goblins. She held her hands firmly around her sister’s leg, squeezing at the top and working her way down. She felt something just below the knee.
“Setia, did the doctor feel here? Just behind your knee?” Setia thought for a moment.
“Uh… yeah, but he just went and talked to Mama after.”
“Ok, that’s good.” Holly smiled while she lied. “I’m going to go talk to Mama too.” What followed was a discussion Holly regretted having. She’d never gotten her mother so upset or heard her say some of the words she heard that day. Turik found Holly crying in the barn an hour later. She was tucked in an empty stall full of hay bales. Turik sat down beside her and rubbed her back.
“You meant well Holly, you just went about it the wrong way. And Mama isn’t mad at you, she’s scared for Setia and she wants the doctor to be right so he can fix it. If the doctor is wrong…” He stopped. Holly had stopped crying and was looking severely determined. “Holly, don’t do anything rash.”
“Turik, if you have to hire out at a stable I’m going to apprentice for a nurse in the town. Don’t you dare tell me not to. I’ve helped the midwife with Mama twice. I’ve stitched up every one of the hired hands, you, Papa, and all the uncles. I know the flu from a cold from food poisoning from faking.” Holly stood up and turned to look at Turik defiantly.
“Holly, sweat pea, you’ll make a fine nurse.”