“Ofeig, give your poor ol’ mother a hand, would ye? My bones are brittle from the strain of carryin’ such a big dunderheaded lunk like ye are, I’m so tiredafter all m’day’s exertions – ohhh what a cruel world ’tis, breakin’ down a poor ol’ maid an’ turnin’ her into no better’n a tavern wench – och, boy, you stink like birds again, m’lord’s been puttin’ ye t’th’mews too much – by Stendarr’s boney left knee, ye’ll make the whole house smell, ye will! Och, what a cruel, cruel world it is!”
The shabbily clad youngster ducked his head, straining beneath his mother’s considerable girth as he helped hoist her from the chair where she’d been churning butter. She wobbled on her feet, which poked out like two sausages beneath her wide skirts, bare and filthy as his own, and one ham-like hand raised to her brow, ever dramatic.
“Oh come on now, ma, it’s not so bad – you’ll see – I’ll dunk meself in the trough before I come home, I will, cheer up, hmm?” His voice was soft, a bit cajoling – the same warm tones he used as he worked with the birds and tended to the horses and hounds. She was right, of course; he did stink like the mews, with a fine veneer of horse droppings – it was inevitable, he had bare feet after all. Still, he wished she wouldn’t complain so much.
They didn’t have it all that bad, not really – they had enough to eat, they were clothed and had a roof… surely there were worse ways to live?
But Hildegrun would hear none of it as she bawled to the heavens, managing to conjure fat tears of despair as she leaned heavily on the boy’s bony shoulders. “Och, the day I met your father was the day I was cursed! Ye took me good looks an’ ye ruined me, ye did! And fer what-? Ye can clean the stables and train the birds, what are ye even good for – ye cannot take care of your ma, oh no! I doubt if you’ll ever find a girl willin’ to overlook the smell o’ ye, and yer face is afflicted with the spots, it is – ye look like ye’ve got the pox, oh! The Divines cursed me, they did, the day I ripened with that man’s seed – why couldn’t ye have been the fine hunter’s son? Or that tasty courier, eh?? No, no doubt ye’re the spawn of the drunk man – and here I only ever did me level headed best t’serve the gods as well I could! Ohhhh I am cursed! Woe! Woe!”
By now, the portly milkmatron’s cries could be heard across the field as she wept and wailed; Ofeig felt his cheeks burn quite red, and stifled a groan as Bridged stuck her freckled face outside the Blacksmith’s door, staring with startled blue eyes. Ofeig ducked his head and felt his heart shrink inside him as he tried to sooth his hysterical mother, who was bawling his lack of proper parentage for all the hold to hear.
… sometimes, it was hard to be a stableboy.