Farmer Flint can shear five sheep in an hour, with nary a nick nor a scratch. He can read in the tint of the dawn sky when the first frost is near, and hear in the timbre of the mother's cry when her calf is ready to drop.

He can no more comprehend his wife of a week than talk to a dragon.


The farm was dark when Flint came in for dinner. It was laundry day: perhaps his wife had fallen behind in her work, what with all the washing to be done. He resolved not to say a word even if his meal wasn't on the table yet. She'd learn soon enough. But there she sat by the cold hearth, damp skirt clinging to her thin legs, fire long extinguished, and she neither looked up nor greeted him when he lit the lamps. His mam's best pickling basin, the one his mam always said was just the colour of the sea on a summer evening, lay in three great pieces on the hearth.

What had she been thinking? A child knew not to put pots straight on the fire! Angry words rose in his gullet. Flint swallowed them down: a good wife was worth ten such bowls—a hundred! (He swallowed too the voice that said a Kargish lass would never make a good wife.)

'Someone in the village will mend it,' she said, coldly. 'Isn't that what your magic is for?'

For all Flint knew the old mage might mend such things with a brush of a fingertip, but Ban would chant till Flint's head ached, and then demand a meal and a drink for his trouble, on top of his fee. And the early onions wanted salting!

He took a deep breath. 'Ivy's a healer,' he said, as mildly as he knew how. 'She hasn't the trick of mending. There's none other.' He patted her shoulder, awkwardly. 'It must wait till Ban the mender comes over the mountain again.'

But the next time he had business in Valmouth, Flint carefully wrapped the three pieces in a rug and took them to Albatross, who passed the work to his prentice, no doubt, though the grasping old sorcerer still charged twice what any mender could command. To show his wife he bore her no grudge, he bought five ells of fine woollen cloth in the market, dyed the crimson the merchants' wives wore. Midsummer was approaching, and the mistress of Oak Farm should not wear homespun for the Long Dance like some labourer's wife.

Flint asked Clearbrook's Shandy to show the mistress where the copper and the soaking tub were stored, and several laundry days passed peaceably enough before Flint noticed that his wife had not yet worn the new red dress. She still went out marketing in the brown homespuns she'd brought from over the mountain.

'Was anything the matter with that cloth I bought?' He bent down to pinch one pale cheek and added shyly, 'Mayhap the red'll put some colour into my little white spider.'

She ducked away from his fingers. 'I've yet to cut it up,' she said.

Even his mam could not have called his wife lazy, not rightly: she cooked and scrubbed in the kitchen, tended to the chickens, dug and weeded in the vegetable patch all the long days without a word. It came to him, as she hung her head so those strange foreign braids of hers fell like a curtain, that she didn't know how.

Shandy would teach her to cut out a dress, if he asked. And surely even Kargish women knew how to sew? Or did the Kargs go about naked as the sparrows?

Midsummer fell in under a week. 'Shandy'll take you to her sister the seamstress,' he said, putting the cost from his thoughts with an effort. 'I'll not see you shamed at the Long Dance.'

But his wife said nothing.