Githa’s dowry gets an airing

May 5, 1067

Githa listened with only one ear to her parents' conversation.

Githa listened with only one ear to her parents’ conversation, caring little whether she appeared rude or distracted. She did not feel like an obedient daughter that day, nor gentle nor patient. Especially not patient.

Still, she could not miss the sound of her own name.

“What are those things, Githa?” her father asked. “I don’t recognize them.”

'What are those things, Githa?'

Githa let go of the cord she had pulled down to clothes-​pinning height. It sprang up and bounced, making the pretty, painstakingly embroidered cloths flap like festive flags. Not that there would ever be anything to celebrate.

“Some things from my dowry chest,” she answered. “They need airing.”

Her father slapped his hand on the arm of his chair. “Ha! No wonder I didn’t recognize them! Your dowry, eh? I’m surprised they’re not eaten through by moths!”

Githa bit her tongue and tossed another cloth over the line.

Githa bit her tongue.

Her mother scolded, “Oh, Brinstan…”

“Oh, oh!” her father countered. “How old is she? Twenty-​five! A quarter century! I wager that towel there—” Githa imagined him behind her, pointing up at one of the fluttering cloths. “—is from the grandparents of the sheep whose wool you’re spinning this year! And speaking of grandparents, Githa, when are you expecting to make me one? I’m not going to live forever, you know.”

“Leave her be,” her mother said, smoothing his ruffled feathers as she alone knew how. “You know you’ll cry into your soup every night when she’s gone. She’ll marry when she’s good and ready. It isn’t as if nobody is asking for her.”

“They won’t ask forever if the answer is always No. And if she’s waiting for a certain someone to ask her, she’ll be drying her tears on the wool of our sheep for years to come. He’ll never scrounge up the courage to do it. He’s all broth and no beans, that one!”

“Now, you like Theobald,” her mother soothed.

'Now, you like Theobald.'

“Not to marry!”

“You’re already married, dear. I don’t believe there was ever much chance he would ask you.”

Githa’s father did not have a ready answer to that. Nor did he have time to come up with one, for within the space of an instant the hall became a pandemonium of barking dogs, writhing all over one another in their haste to reach the door.

“What in the abiding name of Mercy?” her father groaned as he heaved himself from his chair.

Githa could not help it: she hoped it was Theobald. Then she remembered that she had resolved not to hope about Theobald any more.

Githa could not help it: she hoped it was Theobald.

A knock sounded at the door, and Githa’s heart beat higher in her chest.

“Come in! Come in!” her father shouted, unable to to reach the door through the welter of dogs.

The door opened, and—Githa’s heart wedged tight in her throat—behind it was Theobald.

“You again!” her father said.

Theobald did not answer at first.

Theobald did not answer at first, being swamped to knee height by a tide of yelping dogs. Tails wagged left and right, and pink tongues flopped around, slinging drool onto his leggings, but Theobald never minded. Some of the men who had called on Githa definitely minded.

“Theobald!” her mother cried behind her. “Here you are again!”

'Here you are again!'

With almost the same words as her father, her mother managed to express far more delight.

Theobald finally looked up at them all as he came wading through the dogs. Githa wondered whether it was only her imagination that his gaze had gone first and last and lingering onto her.

Unlike Githa, who had forgotten all her resolutions and was simply stunned with resurrected hope, her father had the presence of mind to wonder why Theobald had returned that evening after leaving them only that morning.

“Well, what is it?” he barked. “Is anything wrong at home? Didn’t you make it?”

“Oh, no!” Theobald blurted. “All are well at home. It’s just—I need to speak with you, sir.”

'I need to speak with you, sir.'

“Eh? To me?”

“Aye, sir, if you please.”

“Well? If nothing is wrong, why aren’t you greeting your aunt and your cousin first?”

“Oh! Of course.”

Theobald shuffled through the dog pack to the bench where Githa’s mother sat.

Theobald shuffled through the dog pack to the bench where Githa's mother sat.

“Good evening, Aunt,” he said, stooping low to kiss her cheek. “Mother sends her love.”

“It would be more to the point,” Githa’s mother said, smiling up at him, “if she sent me her recipe. Did she?”

Theobald stood up straight, aghast. “I forgot to ask her,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”

Githa’s mother laughed. She took Theobald’s big hand and gave it a pat. “You’ll remember next time. I’m certain you had other things on your mind.”

Still smiling, she passed Theobald’s hand over to Githa. The next thing Githa knew, she was holding it.

Theobald said, “Githa!”


Githa smiled at him, but her heart pounded as if she were frightened, so she decided she must be. She stepped back, nervous and shy, and Theobald, still holding her hand, took a step to follow. He was so tall that the fringe from one of her towels brushed his forehead. He looked up and laughed.

“I remember that towel!”

He remembered! She remembered hemming and embroidering it in this hall, while he sat nearby and talked to her parents, with one eye always on her. At the time she had blushed with the thought that the towel would soon be keeping her husband’s head dry, and that the head would certainly be red. It must have been ten years ago.

But he remembered, and for that moment the ten years did not seem long.

“I’d forgotten it,” her father said sourly. “Well, come with me. I expect we had better get this talk out of the way.”

Theobald’s hand jerked out of Githa’s, and he turned without a second glance. “Aye, sir,” he said shakily, “let’s do.”

Githa clasped one hand in the other and watched them head around the corner into her father’s private room. The dogs swarmed at their feet, following. Githa realized she was still holding a clothespin, and a napkin hung loose above her, forgotten.

Githa clasped one hand in the other and watched them head around the corner.

“Fancy that!” her mother said as the door closed with an ominous bang. “He could scarcely have had time to kiss his mother.”

“Yes, that is odd.”

Githa pinned the napkin overhead, but she decided to leave the rest of her creased linens in the basket. The strange impulse that had made her empty her dowry chest in the first place had deserted her. She did not know what she was feeling in its stead.

Her mother asked, “What do you suppose he wants to talk to your father about?”

“His father must have had an important message.”

“Hmm! Perhaps.”

Her mother smoothed her skirts and settled herself squarely before her wool, as if determined to get back to work.

Her mother smoothed her skirts and settled herself squarely before her wool.

“Or,” her mother said, “perhaps Theobald has a message of his own for your father.”

Githa shuffled across the room, afraid to turn and face her mother.

“Or a favor to ask,” her mother continued, relentless.

Githa shuffled across the room.

“Oh, Mother.”

“The sort of favor a man needs an entire lifetime to repay.”


Githa stepped behind the drying rack so she wouldn’t have to look at her mother at all. Her mother was not always so pointed in her remarks. Not any more.

“It is odd, as you say, dear. It isn’t like Theobald to only spend one night.”

“He won’t have, since he’s here. He won’t return home this late.”

'He won't have, since he's here.'

“True,” her mother said, “but he never said he was returning when he left this morning.”

Githa ran a hank of dyed wool through her hand. Almost dry.

She’d formed her own theory about Theobald’s strange behavior in the last day. Theobald had never traveled much, but he’d just spent an entire season in Dyrnemoras: surely he’d met a few fine, fancy knights’ daughters in the lord’s hall there. His feminine universe was no longer limited to his mother, his aunt, and his country cousin.

She said to her mother, “Perhaps he had something to do at home before he was free to visit here.”

'Perhaps he had something to do at home.'

“Yet he never said he was only spending one night when he arrived yesterday. It’s quite odd. As if there was something he needed to do at home, but he never thought of it before he came here.”

Githa shrugged, though her mother never looked up.

Her mother said, “He did seem interested in that new man who is calling himself king in the valley. He was all ears when your father brought that up.”

Githa stared suspiciously through the wool at her mother. “It was you who brought that up,” she said. “Father didn’t even want to talk about it.”

Githa stared suspiciously through the wool at her mother.

“Oh? I don’t remember how that came about. But it is an interesting story, isn’t it? Theobald was always so interested in that valley.”

“He was only interested in the stories.”

“Ah, when he was a boy. Last night he seemed more interested in the settlers and their doings. He has an eye for the land. Even your father says so. His father should have given him land to manage long ago. Think of what he could have done with it by now!”

'Think of what he could have done with it by now!'

Wary, Githa said only, “He would have liked that.”

“He would have. Theobald could feed an army with five hides of land. Or at least a family.”

Githa was too suspicious to say anything at all to that. She ran her fingers through the wool, separating the strands to dry, but she kept one eye on her mother.

After a ponderous silence, her mother finally sat up and sighed impatiently. “Well? Don’t you wonder what they’re talking about in there?”

“Perhaps it’s none of my affair.”

'Perhaps it's none of my affair.'

“I wager it is. You’re up. Aren’t you going to listen at the door?”

“Mother!” Githa stomped around the drying rack.

Her mother lifted her nose. “Do not ‘Mother’ me. If you won’t, I will.”


“I told you not to do that.”

Her mother rose from the bench and strode towards the entry. Githa whispered, “Mother!” as she went by, but her mother only shushed her and stooped to press her ear to the door.

Githa was aghast. And then she was curious.

Githa was aghast.

Her mother turned to whisper excitedly, “They’re talking about the valley!”

Githa did not know what to think of that. Surely it was only a message from Theobald’s father, the Baron. Surely they were only discussing the danger a madman like the so-​called king could represent.

Yet her mother seemed to think that this was good news.

What if… Githa hadn’t even had enough hope left to hope it, but what if the so-​called king took Theobald with him and gave him land? Theobald could feed a family with that. He could feed a family with next to nothing. She had never once doubted that Theobald would know how to care for a family. If only he had a family. If only he had a little more land than nothing.

Her mother turned again and began to whisper, “They’re saying—”

Then her eyes flew wide and she lunged away from the door.

She lunged away from the door.

Githa fluttered in guilty panic, but her mother dashed for the bench, and had sat herself down and straightened her skirts around her legs by the time the door creaked open and dogs began streaming in. Githa wondered how often her mother had practiced that maneuver.

Theobald came in first, sheepish and sweaty, and Githa’s father followed, looking grim but somehow satisfied.

Githa’s heart beat with more hope than it could bear. If her mother had made her guess wrong, she would need all the towels of generations of sheep to dry her tears.

Her mother asked brightly, “Did you finish your chat?”

'Did you finish your chat?'

Theobald answered with a shaky, “Aye,” though he did not take his eyes from Githa.

He had not looked so intently at Githa all morning. He had scarcely spoken to her at breakfast, and had hurried off before they could take their customary after-​breakfast walk. Their favorite path zig-​zagged through the countryside and must have crossed every stile and shaky bridge in the parish, as if to offer him every possibility to hold her hand. But by the time she’d come downstairs in her sturdy boots, she’d found him gone.

In fact, he’d hardly had a moment to spare for anyone that morning… except when he’d gone with her mother to help carry in the drying rack from the barn.

Githa gave her mother a suspicious glance out of the corner of her eye, and then Theobald was before her, and she had eyes only for him.

“Githa,” he said with stunning tenderness, “I missed our walk this morning. It’s not too late, is it?”

Githa was too giddy to speak, but she managed to shake her head No.

She managed to shake her head No.