Cluain Mhic Nóis, early spring, 1055AD
Étaín peered into the cauldron, sniffed the savory aroma of lamb stew, thyme and dill, and added a pinch of pepper. Just a few more minutes and the pot would be ready to swivel off the hearth fire. She tucked an escaped strand of gray hair behind her ear and stirred the stew with the long wooden spoon. With a practiced hand, she filled a small bowl with cream to set outside for the Faeries, careful to hide it where no one would notice. Then she turned her attention to the oat flatbread. She grew anxious in case her husband, Airtre, returned home before she completed her tasks.
A drip, drip, drip made her turn just as she placed the bread on the cooking hearth. She scanned the thatch of the large roundhouse, searching for the telltale dark spot which might betray the leak. She finally spied the culprit, directly above the eating area. With a muttered curse, she shoved and wrestled the heavy wooden table under the leak.
After wiping the damp from her brow, she climbed and stretched, standing on tiptoes to reach the soaked thatch. Étaín pushed daub into the thatch, but the patch would never hold. Still, the patch should serve until morning. She’d do a proper repair when the rain slowed.
Slowed, not stopped. The rain never seemed to stop in the spring.
The faint odor of char sent panic through her blood and made Étaín scramble down from the table to rescue the bread. She pulled back the cloth and grimaced. Airtre would not be pleased. Still, he hadn’t yet come home from the abbey. The other night he hadn’t even come home until much later, but he’d offered no explanation. Perhaps she had time to make another loaf. She usually kept more dough resting in the cool room. The new loaf would be tarragon rather than chervil, but Airtre liked both.
Étaín dusted her hands on her apron, pulled an oiled hood over her head, and hurried past the herb garden. Several round storage structures ringed the south corner of their courtyard, filled with tools and supplies. She rummaged through her herb supplies and found three turnips to mash as well as her precious salt box. A little sweet cream, butter and sorrel, and those would make a nice dish for the side if the new flatbread didn’t bake in time.
She had just returned to the hearth when she heard the horse outside.
Stones and crows, he’s home early. She scrambled to scrape the burnt bread out of her iron pan, burning her hand on the still-sizzling metal.
Étaín had long since learned not to curse out loud, but a grunt of frustration still escaped her lips, knowing her husband hadn’t come in yet. After closing her eyes tight against the painful burn, she plunged her hand into the cold water bucket by the door.
She concentrated on her heirloom brooch and pulled time back a few moments. While she couldn’t use the magic longer without serious illness, a few moments should be enough. Still, a wave of nausea swept over her as she grabbed a scrap of rag to pull the pan out of the oven and saved her hands this time. A sound at the door made her whirl back to her chores.
When Airtre entered the roundhouse, he shook the rain off his oiled cloak and cursed. “Étaín! Pissmires and spiders, what have you done all day? This place is a mess. Is something burning?”
She turned to him after swallowing her distress, her head bowed. “I apologize, husband. I found a leak…”
He stood with his arms crossed on his stocky chest. “A leak? A leak? I don’t care about a leak! What did you ruin, woman? I swear, for someone reputed to be an excellent cook, you are damned clumsy with food, and wasteful at that.”
She busied herself with cleaning the hearth and putting things right. First, she wrapped the new dough in a burdock leaf and placed the package in the warm coals. Then she shoved the table back into its proper place. She rubbed at the scrapes the legs made on the flagstones, but Airtre was busy changing into a dry léine. Hopefully, he would not notice the damage until they wore away.