Screams come from the cottage down the road. Sarah runs to the living room, grabbing the window sill. Standing on her tip toes, she pulls back the corner of the orange curtain, and looks through the window. Shadows fleet past the far away candle lit windows. More screams. Sarah jumps. Her father tells her and her mother to stay home. He goes to help. Sarah watches her father run across the clearing, jump over the fence, and step through the neighbor’s door. His shadow goes past the windows. The candles flicker. A faint crashing rings out. Three men flee from the cottage into the woods. Her father runs after them. He stops. With three swift reaches, he hits them with his arrows. They fall to the ground, unmoving. Sarah continues to watch as her father goes back into the house for a moment. Her father walks out the front door with a small child. As they get closer cottage, Sarah lets the curtain drop. She runs to her mother at the dining room table. Her father and the child walk through her back door. Her father bloody. The boy, silent, clings to her father’s leg. Sarah’s mother walks over to the boy with a rag and tries to clean him. The boy flinches at first, but takes her extended hand. Sarah’s mother gives him a bath. Sarah’s father washes his hands as best he can. They all sit down for supper. The boy, still silent, stuffs his face with a chunk of bread.
Sarah’s father brings a fork full of roast to his mouth, stopping when he sees the boy over eating on bread. “Now, now, don’t choke yourself their son.”
Sarah’s father tilts his head back, away from his upheld fork. The boy stops what he is doing and stares at Sarah’s father. Sarah’s father clears his throat and looks between the table and the boy.
Sarah’s mother shoots her head up at Sarah’s father. “Luke, I don’t think it’s best to call him son.” Sarah’s mother sets her hand on Luke’s arm, pats it, and smiles.
Sarah’s father clears his throat. “Yes, well, don’t eat so much at once. We don’t want you choking.”
Sarah’s father continues to eat his roast, not looking at the boy or saying another word. Sarah sits there, silent, stealing glances at the boy. Short, wavy caramel hair covers a face riddled with freckles. His crystal blue eyes, with a dark blue outer ring, stare down at his plate. They all eat in the looming silence, save the clanking of forks on plates, and the familiar squishing that comes with chewing.
They finish eating. Sarah’s mom leads the boy to Sarah’s room. Afterwards, she pulls Sarah aside.
Putting her hands on Sarah’s shoulders, Sarah’s mother whispers to her. “Sarah, he is going to share your room tonight. Make sure he’s comfortable.” Her thick black hair falls over her shoulders as her green eyes stare into Sarah’s.
Sarah nods, thick, black, curls escape her braid and shake all over. “Okay, I’ll make him a spot on the floor.”
Sarah turns to go to her room, but her mother stops her. Sarah turns. Her thick braid slings to her chest. Sarah’s mother grabs her by her right wrist. Her hand slides down, holding Sarah’s fingers.
Sarah’s mother shakes her head, loose curls swinging in front of her eyes. “No, Sarah, he will share your bed.” She raises her eyebrows, looking down at Sarah, and tilts her head to the right.
Sarah’s bright green eyes widen. “Mother, no! I don’t even know his name. I don’t want to share a bed with him.” She looks back at her bedroom door, then at her mother. “He could have head bugs or worse, he could be a bed wetter!” She stomps her foot, huffing, and looks at the floor; tugging her hand away. “No! I won’t!”
Sarah’s mother’s grip tightens She tugs hard enough that Sarah makes eye contact. “Sarah, you will do as I say. Now go get ready for bed.” She points to Sarah’s room, the bangles on her wrist clanging. She taps her foot, staring at the door.
Sarah looks at the floor, muddling her words. “Yes ma’am.”
With slumped shoulders, Sarah walks to her room to wash up. The boy is already in her bed. He lies there in one of Sarah’s night gowns, and on her side no less. Sarah huffs and washes her face. Wiping off, she over hears her parents talking in the living room. She walks to her door, watching and listening through the crack.
Luke sits in the worn arm chair in the living room. He runs his fingers through his short blonde curls, looking at the floor. “It was horrible Gloria. I haven’t seen such unnecessary bloodshed since I served. The house was torn to pieces, and their bodies were left on the floor, covered in blood.” He sighs, and closes his eyes. “I wasn’t there in time to save them. I found the boy under the floor crying. He had heard the whole thing. I tried to shield him, but he saw them when I brought him out.” Luke shakes his head, looking at the floor. “I told him to close his eyes, but he refused.” He sighs again as he puts his head in his hands.
Gloria walks to him, putting her honey tanned arms around him. “Dear, it will be alright. You saved the boy, and you stopped the bandits from coming over here. That is all that matters now.” She lays her head on his shoulder, squeezing. “I just hope the boy will soon open up to us.” She rubs his arms with her hands and squeezes, sliding up to his chest.
Luke looks over his shoulder at her. “I’m sure he will.” Luke puts his hand on Gloria’s, rubbing it, and gets up.
Sarah moves away from the door, hoping they didn’t see her. Guilt and shame was over her. Pity joins her bath of emotions. Looking at the boy, she puts her towel down and slips into bed.
Rolling over towards him, she whispers. “My name is Sarah. I hope we can be friends one day.” She rolls over, her back to his, closes her eyes, and drifts to sleep.
The next morning, Luke goes over to the boy’s house. He buries the boy’s parents in their backyard, leaving the bandits to rot amongst the trash. The boy’s home is small compared to Sarah’s. Standing in the back of her family farm, is a medium barn; allowing for four horses and a few pigs, goats, chickens, and cows. They have a story and a half cottage; the upstairs being all storage. Luke takes pride in their small lot of vegetables and the appearance of their whole plot of land. Peter’s family had nothing more than one horse, a few pigs and cows, and what looked like a one story home. Luke brings the animals over to their barn. Once he is finished, he begins his chores.
Gloria has Sarah sweeping the kitchen. The boy sits in the corner, quiet and looks at Sarah’s dolls. Sarah watches him, acting as if she is still sweeping. He sets them on the floor, face down in the corner.
Sarah walks over to him and picks them up. “You don’t put them on the floor silly, look.” She holds up the girl doll and fixes her dress, then picks up the boy doll and makes them hold hands and dance. “See, that’s how you play with dolls.” She holds them back out to the boy.
He just stares at her. Before she can react, he snatches the dolls from her hands. He throws them across the room. Crossing his arms, he turns into the corner. Sarah looks at him, eyebrows furrowed and stomps over to pick them up. She looks back at him as he begins to whimper. Gloria walks up to the kitchen door, stops, and watches them.
Sarah sits in front of him on her knees, holding the dolls. “They remind you of your parents don’t they? It’s ok you can talk to me.”
Sarah moves towards him on her knees with her hands outstretched. He looks at her with teary eyes and nods his head. Before Sarah can move, he throws himself at her; hugging her and sobbing. She strokes his head like her mother always does when she’s sad.
Sarah pulls away from him, holding his shoulders. “What is your name?”
He is quiet for a long moment, then looks at the floor, sniffling. “Peter.”
Sarah smiles at him, letting go of his shoulders. “How old are you Peter?” She wipes his tears from his cheeks with her thumbs, still smiling at him.
Peter looks her in the eyes, and sniffs. “Seven.” He wipes his nose with the back of his hand and sits back. “How old are you Sarah?” He pulls at his dirty sleeves.
Sarah puts her left hand to her chest, sitting with her legs to her right. “I am seven too!” Their faces light up and they smile at each other. “Peter, will you be my friend?”
Peter sniffs, nods, and picks up the dolls.
Luke leads Peter to his and Gloria’s bedroom, Sarah on their heels. The sun shines in through the windows, dust dancing in the rays.
Luke sighs. “Alright Peter, you’re fifteen now. It is time you learn to fight for real. No more of that wooden sword mess you and Sarah do.” Luke kneels down in front of a large mahogany trunk. Gold surrounds all four corner of the lid, and the gold lock clanks when he opens it. “These were my father’s and his father’s and so on. The most valuable, and now, the only heirlooms I own besides Sarah’s books.”
Luke pulls out two old swords and several daggers putting them on the edge of the bed. He takes one of the swords, untying the golden leather strap. He opens the flap of the leather sheathe, pulling out a long steel blade. The silver handle is inlaid with gold swirls. The handle’s end is flat and circular. Etched into the blade is a phrase. ‘A man’s sword is only as strong as his heart.’ A swirling design surrounds it. The sword takes Sarah’s breath. The other sword is a practice one, the metal tinged with a dulled finish; but the edges just as sharp. Six daggers sit on the bed in individual sheathes made for strapping to different parts of the body.
Sarah stands beside Peter at the left end of the trunk, and looks at Luke. “Father, why haven’t you told me about these?” She takes a dagger and looks it over; putting her finger on the sharp tip.
Luke stands tall, bowing his chest with a long sigh. “Because dear, you’re a young lady. When you married, I was going to give them to your son seeing as you don’t have a brother.” He puts his left hand on Peter’s shoulder, patting and rubbing it. “But with Peter here, I thought it best he has them.” Luke takes the dagger from Sarah, putting it back in its sheathe.
Sarah looks Luke in the eyes, a sense of hope sending her heartbeat into a frenzy. “Well then, am I to learn, too?” She puts her hands in front of her and stares at Luke.
Luke sighs, putting his right hand on the nape of his neck, and looks at the floor. “No daughter.” He looks up at her, eyebrows raised. “You are to keep learning how to knit and sew. It’s enough I let you wear pants, and have taught you to hunt and use a bow, but fighting is different.” He walks over to her, brushing her cheek with is calloused fingers. “And I don’t want my little girl getting hurt.” He leans down, kissing her forehead, then puts a stray hair behind her ear. “Besides, you need to act more like a lady and less like a boy. How else will we find you find a proper husband by the time you’re eighteen?”
Luke puts his rough hands on her cheeks and smiles. He kisses her forehead again, taking the swords, and walks to the door with Peter behind him.
Sarah takes a few steps with her hand out to him. “But father, I think I –.” She stops, putting her fingers to her lips.
Luke stands straight again, and looks at her. “It is decided. Go into the kitchen to learn.” He grunts, nodding, and turns away; Peter following.
Sarah walks to the door, looking at Peter. Peter turns to her, apologizing with squinted eyes and a shrugged frown. She gives him a saddened grin and walks behind them to the kitchen. Gloria waits for her next to the spinning wheel. Gloria hands Sarah a thimble while she shows Sarah how to cross stitch and patch holes. Gloria sits her down at the spinning wheel, showing her how to press the petal and how to control the speed. While Gloria is showing her how to control the thread, Sarah looks out the window at Peter. She watches him spin with the blade and slice the straw dummy Luke made. Peter’s breath puffs in front of him as he huffs. His boots leave many prints in the snow. Luke shows Peter what he has done wrong. Peter nods and tries again. Gloria puts a hand on Sarah’s shoulder and pulls her back to sewing. Sarah wishes she was with Peter and her father. She wishes she could use that sword.
The sun has sunk below the horizon. Peter and Sarah sit on their beds. Peter sits with his arms on his knees, left hand over the right.
Sarah hugs her knees, her chin resting on them and looks at Peter. “How were your fighting lessons? Fun?” She lets her legs down, crossing her ankles.
Peter shakes his head, standing up, and puts out his left hand with his right in the pocket of his pants. “It was nothing special Sarah. Actually, it’s a lot of work, fighting.” He scratches the back of his head, moving his fingers through his curls with the last stroke. “You have to know where to be, what to do when you’re there.” He shrugs, letting his hand fall to his leg. “You have to think where the attack will fall and what to do to counter act it, it’s exhausting.” He cuts his eyes at her, betraying himself with a smile.
Sarah looks at the floor, shrugging, and licks her teeth. “It looked fun to me.” Jealousy seeps into her tone as she imagines him out there with that sword. She crosses her arms, shrugging, and looks at her brown cotton blanket. “I almost feel bad you got hurt.” She picks at the blanket for a moment, then looks back at him and grins.
Peter stands tall, crossing his arms. “Almost?” A smile tugs at his lips, and he laughs. “Yea, it’s just a scratch.” He shrugs, sniffs, and wipes his mouth with a smirk; looking at his left bicep.
Sarah’s eyebrows raise, and she smirks. “Just a scratch? Peter you had blood running from your shoulder down your arm.” She points from his shoulder and down, letting her hand hit her leg.
Peter puts his fingers in his pockets and shrugs, tilting his head to the right. “Yea, a pinky long scratch, nothing over done.” He holds out his pinky to her, throwing out his hand, and smirks.
Sarah rolls her eyes and looks at the floor. “If you say so.”
Sarah props herself up on her right hand, putting her feet on the edge of the bed frame, and picks at the blanket some more.
Peter walks over and sits beside her. “So how was sewing?” He leans his shoulder into hers, nudging with his elbow.
Sarah looks at him, eyebrow arched. “It was just as much fun as your lessons were to you. If they were as exhausting as you say.” She leans her shoulder into his and looks at the floor. “I pricked so many fingers, mother had to give me all her thimbles. I looked like I had metal fingertips.” She looks down at her fingers. “And they still hurt.”
They giggle and chuckle as she holds out her swollen and purple fingers. Peter takes them in his hands and kisses each one of them. Sarah’s face reddens. Peter lets go, clearing his throat and looking away.
A few moments later, after they know Gloria and Luke are asleep, they sneak out of their room. They climb out the window and onto the roof. Staring at the stars, they talk nonsense for what feels like hours before going back inside to sleep.
Sarah puts her hand under her pillow, turning to Peter. “Good night Peter. Sweet dreams.” She looks at him, only a few feet away, and sighs.
Peter props up on his left elbow, looking at her. “Good night to you Sarah and sweet dreams as well.”
He smiles at her, then rolls over facing the wall. Sarah rolls to face her window, counting the stars until she falls asleep.
The next morning, they awaken to crashing in the kitchen. Peter and Sarah both jump out of bed and run into the kitchen. Gloria stands on a chair holding her tan cotton skirts in one hand, broom in the other.
Gloria squeals, beating the floor with the broom in a panic. “There is a rat in this room! Those useless cats I swear!” Her words are earsplitting. “I don’t care if they’re everywhere all the time. I don’t care if their supposed to be sacred, either. I hate them, and want the scoundrel out!”
Gloria beats the floor a few more times, breaking bits of straw from the broom. Sarah and Peter look at each other, bursting into laughter. Luke finally comes running through the front door with a farm scythe.
Luke looks around the room, scythe at the ready. “What is all the crashing?”
Sarah can’t control her laughter. “Don’t worry father- Mother seems - to have stumbled - onto a rat’s nest that - the cats missed.” Sarah tries to catch her breath as she holds her stomach with her left hand.
Luke sighs, relaxing. He rolls his eyes, chuckling, and looks for the rat. He holds out a hand to Gloria. She refuses until someone kills the rat. It takes all three of them to catch the rodent. Luke takes it out into the woods away from Gloria and her broom. Peter and Sarah get dressed and greet the day with a smile. Peter walks outside to start his chores with Luke. Sarah sits down in the kitchen with Gloria to begin new lessons on knitting. She still hasn’t figured out how to hold those infernal knitting needles the right way.
Later on that afternoon, after all her chores are done, Sarah sneaks off into the woods. She takes her old wooden play sword along. Using a tree as an opponent, she tries her best to imitate the fighting style her father showed Peter. She twirls and strikes the tree just as Peter had. Little bits of bark fall to the ground, but it doesn’t feel the way she thought it would. With slumped shoulders, she leans against the tree and slides down. Her arms hang on her knees. She leans her head back, closing her eyes in defeat. A snap startles her. She jumps to her feet, holding the wooden sword at the ready. She puts a hand to her chest when Peter walks from behind the tree.
Peter puts his hands out in front of him. “Whoa now, I don’t want you to hurt me with the big bad wooden sword!” He falls to his knees, hands clasped together in front of him. “No, please spare me!”
Sarah drops her sword and relaxes, letting out a long sigh. Walking over to him, she punches him in the shoulder. He laughs. Peter takes her into a head lock. She elbows him in the gut. He lets go. They laugh, pushing each other, and sit on a snow barren log. Sarah loves that their birthdays fall in the winter. She enjoys being out in the brisk weather. The snow is just beautiful, and it never fails to amaze her.
Sarah looks at Peter, chin on her right shoulder. “You almost got hurt you know?” Her mouth curves into a smile, and she leans her shoulder into his.
Peter looks over his shoulder and throws a thumb behind him. “Yea, I was afraid for my life back there. That wooden sword was menacing!” He pushes her shoulder. She pushes back, laughing, and sighs.
Peter leans over with his elbows on his knees and looks at her. “You really want to learn don’t you?” He watches her nod. She stares at the ground, drawing circles in the snow with the sword. Turning, Peter puts his left hand on the log. Resting his right arm on his left leg, he looks at her. “Tell you what, one day I’ll teach you for real.” He leans back, crossing his hands and throwing them to the side. “No play swords, and one day when your father won’t protest.” He smiles at her widening eyes.
Sarah looks into Peter’s blue eyes, grinning. “That would be wonderful.”
Sarah keeps grinning until Peter takes her in another headlock and rubs her hair with his fist. They stop when Luke calls for them. Getting up, they race back to the cottage. When they get there, Gloria has supper prepared, and they must wash before eating.
Luke looks at Sarah. “So, dear, how are your lessons coming?”
Sarah grins as she grabs her knitting from the rocking chair in the corner of the kitchen. She shows off her newest pair of socks. Luke nods with a grin, taking a huge bite of meat. They finish supper in a fork clanking silence, and then head off to bed.