The Soldier's Return by Laura Libricz
Publication Date: September 15, 2017
eBook & Paperback
Series: Heaven's Pond Trilogy, Book Two
Genre: Historical Fiction
Katarina poked at the fire and threw two logs on the embers. Sparks sailed up the flue and the flames revived. Twice last night she’d been to the kitchen to keep this fire burning. Fire was the sustainer of life, the taker as well. She lit a tallow lamp, opened the door to the low-vaulted stable adjoining the kitchen and hung the lamp on a hook rammed into the sandstone. The two cows lowed and her goat yawned. Their water was empty, the troughs too. She crossed the hay-strewn stone stable floor and opened the door leading out to the paddock. Bleating sheep, more than the paddock could accommodate, threatened to break through the wooden fencing.
Strange rumblings groaned and swelled underground, traveling towards the Sichardtshof farm along the Aisch River. Katarina imagined some heavy, tethered beasts grumbling while pulling slow-rolling burdens. She brushed aside the memories of the last visits from the mercenaries like she was clearing sticky cobwebs from the rafters. The past was not to be relived, Herr Tucher told her. Rise above it or it will destroy you, he said.
She took her overcoat down from the peg on the wall, shrugged into it, grabbed a bucket and hurried back through the kitchen and up the few steps to the house’s main entrance. She pulled on one of the double doors. In the winter the wood door swelled and stuck in the frame, squealing on the stone floor as she pulled it open.
She rushed past the half-timbered barn and the adjoining stable that dominated the other outbuildings forming the oval farmyard. A lamp burned somewhere inside. Tanner the Elder was awake, tending the horses. Distinctive sounds rose above the rumblings now: men’s shouts and whistles, the clank of chains from animals’ harnesses. Katarina startled as a flock of waterfowl squawked into flight from the ponds that lined the lowest point of the hollow called the Edelgraben. The water reflected the eerie, pink light of the dawn. The hills that protected the farm on either side of the hollow were shrouded in mist. But the hills never stopped the soldiers from coming before. The men knew the Sichardtshof farm was here and what it had to offer.
It was too early in the year for soldiers to be traveling. The nights were still frozen and dark. Friert’s am 40-Ritter-Tag, so kommen noch 40 Fröste nach. Because there was frost today, March 10, the day of Forty Martyrs, the farmers said forty more days of frost would fall upon the land. But Katarina smelled a slight turn in the air, as if the emerging vegetation let off a scent to attract and entice—a lush, green smell. Buds developed on the low bushes surrounding the square stone well and when the leaves filled in, the bushes made a good hiding place for the children. After such a long, cold, dark winter, these inklings of spring should afford some comfort. But Katarina took more comfort in the fact that in the winter, the soldiers moved into winter quarters and stayed away. This past winter was peaceful and Katarina had almost forgotten the rest of the world, the troubled world beyond the farm.
Katarina’s trembling hand grabbed time and time again for the rope and finally pulled the bucket up out of the well, craning her neck to look over the bushes back to the crooked little workers’ house. Covered in bramble bushes, she could just make out the glow of a fire through the tiny kitchen window. A figure passed by inside. The Tanner family and the other workers must be awake too. Katarina set the full bucket down by a small surplus of buckets next to the well and ran back to the house. Brambles snagged on her trousers as she softly rapped on the door.
“Who is it?” a man’s voice growled.
“It’s me, Tanner, let me in.”
The door to the workers’ house creaked open. Tanner’s large frame filled out the doorway. Behind him, ceramic mugs clinked, water boiled, a baby cried, men spoke in low tones and a woman coughed. Tanner looked over Katarina’s head and sighed, running a hand through his short, dark-blond hair. His cheeks were flushed with the heat of the fire.
“Listen,” Katarina said.
He nodded, understanding. “Wake the master.”