“Have you heard the way the master’s wife snaps at Katarina?” Sara asked. “Katarina not only has to listen to her complaints, she has to do all sorts of senseless chores.”

Anna set two mugs on the table in the kitchen of the workers’ house. “I just made some tea. Set yourself a moment.”

Sara crumpled up her soiled apron, threw it in the basket and joined Anna on the bench. “Katarina is not coping well at all. She usually enjoys the run of the house. Who would have thought that Herr Tucher would allow his wife to come out to the farm for such a long stay?”

Anna slid a wooden plate with fresh-baked honey cakes in between the two of them. “The last time Frau Tucher came to visit, she hopped right back into that coach of hers and ordered the driver back to Nuremberg. The fine lady would never live in the country.”

“Tanner said Nuremberg is much too dangerous for her and the children. The city is full of all sorts escaping the war. That’s where she really wants to be.”

“Have you heard the tone the two take when they speak to each other?” Anna asked. “I thought Frau Tucher was sharp with Katarina, but she’s worse with Herr Tucher!”

Sara took a sip of tea. “My husband would never talk to me like that.”

“Tanner’s father says she never wanted to marry Herr Tucher,” Anna said. “He says the only reason she married him was because her father forced her, to secure business ties. She wanted someone with a bit more status, not this dreamer who lives on a farm.”

“Well, Herr Tucher was also a bit of a carouser when he was younger,” Sara said. “When Tanner and I lived in Nuremberg, he was always in the Stork’s Nest tavern. Likes his drink, that one. And, Katarina was the barmaid there. Herr Tucher won her in a dice throw.”

“That’s not what Katarina says,” Anna said. “Katarina acts like they were truly in love. She says they had a proper courtship. I say she forgets who she is. Herr Tucher is a married man!”

“Herr Tucher was always smitten with Katarina,” Sara said. “He hated the way her fiancée treated her.”

“Bjarne said Herr Tucher had the man killed so he could have Katarina.”

Sara laughed and shook her head. “He wished him dead but that’s not how it happened. Don’t listen to Bjarne.”

“Well, Katarina should remember her place here.” Anna poured the rest of the tea. “She’s his maid. She must do what the master’s wife says. Frau Tucher could make her life hell.”

“Katarina knows she’s only his maid but she has been too comfortable,” Sara said. “He gives her too much freedom to speak her mind…”

Sshh! someone’s coming….”

Excerpt from The Soldier’s Return:

“I hate that boy!” Isabeau said, stormed into the kitchen of the workers’ house and shoved the door closed with a fury.

Katarina managed to stop the door with her foot before it hit her in the face. “Isabeau, you almost knocked me over!”

Water spilled out of Katarina’s buckets and onto the front step outside. She kicked the door and it swung open, banging against a chair. Sara and Anna sat at the table, heads together. They stopped their whispering abruptly and looked at Katarina. They had obviously spoken about her.

It had been two weeks since Frau Tucher arrived with the children. Over the years, Isabeau had always been patient with the spoiled Christoph Tucher, who was only a few months younger than she was. When Christoph stayed on the farm without his mother, he was a cordial boy. But Frau Tucher’s influence and the intrusion her indefinite stay posed on Katarina and Isabeau was now apparent. Isabeau was used to being Herr Tucher’s little girl and had all of his attention. She was not coping with her displacement out of Herr Tucher’s daily life any better than Katarina was.

“Would you mind…” Katarina huffed and glared at Isabeau.

“He’s horrible,” Isabeau ranted on. “He spilled wine all over the kitchen floor and when that thin horse woman came in, he blamed it on me!”

“Then stay away from the main house,” Katarina yelled back.

“Herr Tucher called me in,” Isabeau said. “He had a book for me. But his wife took it away and gave it to Christoph. Then they left and Christoph spilled the wine. Not me. Then that thin horse woman came in. I would have gotten the whip if Herr Tucher hadn’t come back down and stopped her.”

“Just stay away from them altogether,” Katarina said and sat down on the bench.

Anna quieted Elsbeth’s fussing baby by putting her finger in the baby’s mouth. “Just keep your head down, do what they say,” she said to Isabeau.

Elsbeth’s girl Hannah sat at the table and sucked her thumb, her face lethargic, gray and sunken. Sara poured Katarina a mug of tea and turned away.

“Yesterday Christoph wanted to play Executioner again,” Isabeau said. “He wants me to kneel down and beg for my soul. He says he’s Meister Franz. He said I’m no better than a dirty wench.”

Sara fingered the white cap on the table, her face almost pitying. She set the cap on her head and pushed a few of the loose strands of hair back under it. Suddenly her face sparked up as she got an idea.

“Katarina, it’s going to be a lovely day.” Sara pushed one of the baskets on the table towards Katarina. “Bjarne needs help with the sheep up at the pasture beyond the North Hill. And he needs his lunch. He could use some company, too. Take his bread to him for me. And a bit of meat, too. Get out and get some air.”

Sara stood, grabbed a huge knife and sliced a hunk of bread from the round loaf. “Isabeau will stay here. She can go with Albin and help him find some tinder.”

“I want to go out with my horse!” Isabeau said, her face red and shiny.

“You have work to do, young lady,” Sara said.

Isabeau tried to stomp away but Sara caught her by the elbow and spun her around. Dragging Isabeau behind her, she opened the door and whistled. Albin appeared within a moment. She grabbed the other basket from the table, handed it to Albin, whispered to the two and they ran off.

“That settles that!” Sara smiled, satisfied with herself.

Sara set a thin slab of dried meat on the table and Katarina packed that and the bread into the basket. She filled a jug with beer and Katarina packed that as well. Anna, still holding the baby, grabbed Hannah by the hand and disappeared behind the wood stove into Sara’s room. Katarina lifted the basket and headed for the door. She looked back at Sara, who absently brushed some bread crumbs from the table into her hand. Sara’s smile was gone and the pitying expression was on her face again. Katarina felt an instant pang of anger.

“What’s that look supposed to mean?” Katarina moved back to the table.

“Oh, I’m just so sorry. I know you’re upset.”

“I can’t believe he’s doing this to me.”

“But she’s his wife,” Sara said. “You’ve always known this could happen.”

“But why now?” Katarina said. “After all these years.”

“Don’t act so surprised. You…”

“But that’s my house!”

“It is not,” Sara said. “You’re just his…”

“Say it.” Katarina slammed the basket on the table. “Just say it. I’m his mistress. I’m his whore. What else do you think I am?”

“You’re his maid, Katarina!”

Katarina closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“Do you love him?” Sara said.

“Hmpff,” Katarina said.

“Do you?” Sara said.

“Do you love Tanner?”

“Of course, I do. He’s the father of my children. He’s my husband!”

Katarina grabbed the basket. She walked back to the open doorway and hesitated. She turned back to Sara, wishing Sara would make this all right again, the way she settled fights between children. Sara just whispered an apology and turned away.

Katarina made towards the North Hill, taking the time she normally didn’t have to appreciate the spring day. She had no reason to rush. No one was waiting for her. The day was cool and the birds were twittering and flying about. Pale blue sky struggled to show itself from behind stubborn clouds. Katarina strolled along the path up the North Hill observing the changes spring had made. Tiny green shoots peeked through the compressed earth. She picked a twig from a willow tree and rubbed the furry catkin on her cheek. A slight breeze fluttered through the dried leaves that had refused to fall from the trees.

Her heart pounded empty, heavy beats. Of course Katarina loved him! She loved him more than she could allow herself to feel. Her love for him encompassed her and overwhelmed her and the thought of being away from him even for the afternoon made her sick. Now she wanted to wretch. She felt like her best friend had died. Maybe, in a way, he had.

The Soldier’s Return Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/XZ_lVzMYqXE

The Soldier’s Return is book 2 in the Heaven’s Pond trilogy.

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