Author’s note: Before anyone goes panicking over the title, (re)familiarize yourself with this.
Radenth 5, 1014
“An’ this,” said Torben, bending to pick up the wriggling puppy, “is Yvanette.”
“Yvanette?” asked Wulf. “Hi, puppy!” He scratched her behind the ears, and Yvanette yipped, her tail wagging. “How come ye called her Yvanette?”
“I dunno. It were Anja’s turn ter name the pups.” He rubbed Yvanette’s tummy. “She said that Eldaron an’ Yvanette were the best names fer Rona’s pups that she could think of … so that’s why we named ’em that. But Erich says it don’t matter. Whatever nobles we sell ’em ter are jest gonna name ’em somethin’ different.”
Torben barely peeked through his bangs at Wulf. But Wulf was, at the moment, too busy patting Yvanette’s head and and tickling her tummy to notice. And that was good.
Torben tried not to sigh. He’d mentioned the nobles because he didn’t want Wulf to ask if maybe he could have one of the puppies. Other boys, Torben knew, often got to give away puppies when their bitches whelped. But not Torben. His papa had explained it a lot back in Glasonland: they weren’t really raising the dogs for them. They were raising them for the nobles, the lords. The nobles would pay Papa lots of money to have good hunting dogs. And because of that, Papa could keep the family happy and comfortable.
“How come the nobles would give her a different name?” asked Wulf. Torben almost sighed in relief.
But he had to answer with something. “Ye know, I dunno.” He shrugged. “But nobles is funny like that. They go an’ make things different just ’cause they can, I think, sometimes.”
“Huh,” murmured Wulf.
“What?” asked Torben.
“I dunno … jest … well, my mama always says it does no good ter think about nobles like they ain’t Sims like the rest o’ us. She says it don’t matter how different we look on the outside, once ye peel all the layers away, we’re all the same inside.”
“Peel the layers away?” asked Torben.
“She says it’s kinda like an onion. An’ that most Sims are a lot like onions.”
“What — they make ye cry if ye cut ’em?”
Wulf laughed. “Aye! If they’re bigger an’ stronger than ye are, they will!”
Torben chuckled — and then Yvanette started to yip and wriggle. “Uh oh. I think she wants down.” He set her onto the grass.
Yvanette instantly started circling the pair of them, sniffing the dirt, tripping over her oversized paws. Then, having sniffed her fill, she flung herself at Torben’s feet and fell asleep.
“Is she snorin’?” asked Wulf, gasping at the dog.
“Probably. She snores real loud. I woke up one night with her on me pillow –”
“How’d she get up there? I know cats’ll jump, but puppies can’t jump that high!”
“I dunno!” Torben agreed. “Back in Glasonland it were easy ter see how she could’ve done that, ’cause Matthias an’ I shared the trundle bed underneath Papa an’ Mama’s bed, but I dunno how she climbed up here! But I woke up ’cause I thought there were a thunderstorm goin’ on — an’ there were Yvanette, snorin’ in me ear!
“But at least it weren’t Darry,” Torben continued. “Yvanette jest snores. Darry farts.”
Wulf giggled. “Oh! That must be fun, havin’ puppies! Whenever ye fart, ye can jest say it were the dog!”
Torben stared. “Huh?”
“Well … don’t yer papa give ye a funny look when ye fart an’ don’t say ‘excuse me’ right away?” asked Wulf.
“No …” Torben murmured. His papa never really cared much one way or the other about farts. “But I guess …”
Wulf tilted his head, a mute invitation to continue.
“Well, when Matthias an’ me would start a fartin’ contest, Mama would always yell at us ter go do that outside, ’cause she didn’t want us stinkin’ up her house.” Torben didn’t sigh, but part of him wanted to. He never thought he’d miss his mama’s yelling, but sometimes … he did.
Sometimes was a lot of the time.
But Wulf’s eyes were wide. “Wow! Fartin’ contests? That sounds awful fun!”
Torben knit his brows. Sometimes he never knew quite what to make of Wulf. Wulf was always up for anything, always a lot fun — but sometimes he didn’t seem to know the first thing about being a boy. He said “excuse me” when he burped and most of the time wiped his nose a bit of rag he kept in his pocket instead of a handkerchief. And even though he was good at fishing, he didn’t know much about hunting or going through the woods.
When that happened, Torben tried to think of him like he thought of Dieter back home. Dieter had been the youngest of six children — all girls except for him. And so, even though he liked to have fun like the other boys, he sometimes didn’t know what he was supposed to do or how he was supposed to play.
Torben wondered what had happened to Dieter. Last he had seen Dieter …
He didn’t want to think about that.
“W-well,” Torben answered, trying to get his mind away from Dieter — and from anyone else in his old village, for that matter — “sometimes it ain’t all fun an’ games …”
“Huh? How come not?”
“Well — Matthias tends ter win.” He paused before admitting, “A lot.”
“He wins?” Wulf’s eyes bugged. “But he’s littler than ye!”
“I know …” Torben sighed.
“An’ he’s got the skinniest arse on a little kid that I ever saw!” Wulf continued.
Torben gasped. “I KNOW!” He stomped once and threw his hands into the air. “Where do it all come from? That’s what I want ter know!”
“I dunno!” Wulf laughed. Then he glanced over his shoulder. “Torben?” he asked.
“How come Erich don’t get inter the contests with ye?” he asked with the envy of one watching another throw away a golden opportunity.
Torben followed Wulf’s gaze to where Erich was mercilessly slaughtering what weeds had dared to spring up in their garden.
He considered his response carefully — for about a second. “‘Cause he’s a borin’ stick-in-the-mud, mostly. Back in Glasonland, he often weren’t there — Papa was takin’ him out an’ teachin’ him ter be a hunter, an’ Mama said we were too little, so we had ter stay home. But now …”
“Well, Papa usually takes us all three out,” Torben said. “Which means we’re all three home. An’ Erich could. He used to,” he spat, “when he were home an’ Matthias an’ I would have a contest. Sometimes he’d even beat Matthias! But now …”
We don’t have time fer stupid kids’ games like that, Erich would say. We got ter weed the garden. Or, We got ter clean the dishes. Or, We got ter clean up the mess Darry or Yvanette jest made on the floor.
He was no fun anymore.
“I hate growin’ up,” Torben spat.
Wulf blinked. “Why? Grown-ups get ter have all the fun!”
“No, they don’t!” Torben answered. “Here … I’ll prove it ter ye! Ye ever seen a grown-up …”
He turned around, trotted a few feet away from Wulf, and dove into a perfect headstand. “Do this?”
And while he was still on his head, his jaw dropped — or rather, rose.
In the few seconds it took to go from facing Wulf to going upside down, they had become no longer alone.
“Wow! Torben, how d’ye do that?” Wulf clapped. “I ain’t never done nothin’ like that before!”
“Uh …” Torben answered. He tried to smile at Widow Shepherd but settled for kicking his legs down and standing up again.
“That’s ’cause ye’ve got a pretty head, Wulfie, an’ I’d hate ter see ye break it,” answered Widow Shepherd for him.
Torben hadn’t turned around yet, but he could imagine from Wulf’s gasp just what he was doing. He was smiling. And he would spin around, and shout —
He always sounded so happy to see her … had Torben ever sounded so happy to see his Mama, back when he could see her?
He’d be awfully happy to see her now …
Torben slowly turned around to see Widow Shepherd hugging Wulf. But lest Torben think there was something wrong with his friend, Wulf suddenly let go with a gasp. “Aww, Mama — does this mean we gotta go?”
“Well, sonny, ye knew that I said ye could play with Torben at his house until I came back home. An’ now I’m comin’ back home.”
“Aww, man!” pouted Wulf.
“Ye’ll see Torben tomorrow at school,” Widow Shepherd promised. Then she turned to Torben. “An’ ye, young man …”
Torben swallowed and tried to smile.
“Might I say that that was a mighty impressive bit o’ head-standin’ ye did there?”
Torben gasped and puffed up like a robin redbreast. “Really, Widow Shepherd?”
“Really, he axes?” Widow Shepherd raised an eyebrow at Wulf. “Wulf, ye been tellin’ Torben here that yer mama is a liar?”
If Torben’s mama had ever asked him that, he would have frowned and shouted, NO! But Wulf just laughed. “Not me, Mama!”
“Well! Then, Torben, I must say that ye ain’t gettin’ near enough compliments from pretty girls if a compliment from an old lady –”
“Ye ain’t old, Mama!” Wulf chimed in.
“Thanks, lad — but as I were sayin’, Torben, if ye ain’t even gonna believe me … well!” She put her hands on her hips and clucked her tongue at him. “Those girls at yer school are passin’ over a real treasure, they are!”
“That’s all right,” Torben shrugged. “Girls are gross anyway.”
“Torben Jager!” Widow Shepherd gasped and put her hand over her heart. “I’m a girl!”
Uh oh …
“Ye’re in trouble now, Torben!” laughed Wulf as he scooted closer to his mama.
“Aye, how are ye gonna get yerself out o’ this one, laddie?” asked Widow Shepherd, her hands on her hips, eyebrows raised.
“Um … er …”
“He’s gonna quit while he’s ahead, he is,” answered Torben’s papa. “Like the smart lad I know I raised. Ain’t that right, Torben?”
“Papa!” Torben called out. The last time he had been this relieved to see his Papa walking up to him …
Had he ever been this relieved to see his papa walking up to him?
But Widow Shepherd wasn’t going to let him — or them — off that easily. “Why, what’s all this, Goodman Jager?” she asked, turning around with those hands on her hips and that eyebrow raised at Torben’s papa. “Not lettin’ yer son fight his own battles?”
“It’s a pa’s responsibility ter protect his kids, it is,” answered Papa. “That means not lettin’ ’em fight no battles they ain’t got a prayer o’ winnin’ in.”
“Why, Goodman Jager — hearin’ that, some folks might say ye were coddlin’ yer kids,” laughed Widow Shepherd in a … funny way. Not ha-ha funny, but funny like something was … not wrong. But off.
Wulf had wandered closer to Torben, and Torben took another step back to more closely watch how his papa and Wulf’s mama were talking.
Mamas and papas usually didn’t talk and laugh like that … except …
With each other … Torben realized as Widow Shepherd leaned in to kiss Papa on both cheeks, the way the nobles did. An she didn’t let go right away, either.
His mama used to do that when Papa came home. She wouldn’t kiss him on the cheek — she’d do it right on the mouth — but sometimes, when Papa had just walked in the door, Mama would grab his arms and kiss him, and then she’d take a step back (but not let go) and smile up at Papa. And Papa would smile down at her. They’d stay that way for … well, it wouldn’t be long before Erich said something or Matthias or Gretchen started to cry or Torben knocked something over. But sometimes, he wondered if it seemed to take a long time to Mama and Papa, or if it was as short for then as it was for everybody else.
Torben elbowed Wulf. “Ye see that?”
“See what?” asked Wulf.
Torben almost gaped at him — then he remembered that this was Wulf. Wulf had never had a papa — his mama always said that Goodman Shepherd had died before Wulf was born. So he hadn’t been able to observe papas and mamas together the way Torben had.
Still … even if Torben thought he knew what was going on … it would have been nice to have some confirmation … “How yer mama is actin’ with me papa,” Torben whispered.
They were very close now, and Torben’s papa was saying something in a soft, low voice to Wulf’s mama. Torben couldn’t hear and wasn’t sure he wanted to. He and Matthias had spied on Anja and her George once when they were sure the lovebirds weren’t paying attention. It had been the most boring spying session of Torben’s life, made worse by just how long the two of them held hands and just sat under the shade of the old oak tree.
“Uh …” murmured Wulf.
“They’re actin’ like … like married folks,” Torben replied. “Only … worse …” he realized as he spoke. This wasn’t like Papa and Mama. This was more like Anja and George.
“Worse?” asked Wulf, staring at Torben like he’d sprouted a second head.
“Aye! Aye! It’s — it’s like how me sister acts with her beau!” Torben shuddered. “It’s scary!”
“Scary how?” asked Wulf. “I seen the big boys an’ girls pairin’ off, Torben. There ain’t nothin’ scary there …” He turned his head and looked again at Widow Shepherd and Papa. “Maybe somethin’ real borin’ … but not scary …”
“Says ye. I think it’s scary.”
“Well — what if they keep on goin’? If things keep on goin’ like this … they might …”
Get married …
Torben didn’t want to think about that. Not when it hadn’t been so long ago that his papa was married to his mama. And while Widow Shepherd was … all right … he liked her, and it would be great to see Wulf all the time and have somebody to team up with against Erich and Matthias, instead of always having to team up with Matthias all the time. And maybe Wulf would come in last in the farting contests for lack of practice, which would make a nice change for Torben.
But still. If Papa got married to Widow Shepherd, that would mean Torben would have a new mama, and he didn’t want a new mama.
He already had a mama.
“Get married?” asked Wulf, and Torben looked at him with wide eyes.
“Aye!” he whispered.
“Hmm …” Wulf murmured.
They watched Wulf’s mama give Torben’s papa a big hug — which must have meant that Widow Shepherd was almost ready to go.
“I dunno whether that would a good thing or a bad thing,” Wulf finally whispered.
Torben’s eyes widened. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? Because if Wulf was on one side or another, then Torben might have had a clue which way to jump. But if he wasn’t, then maybe Torben could talk Wulf around to his side …
If he had a side yet. Because he knew what the old women in the marketplace — back home in Glasonland and here, too; old women in marketplaces were all alike — like to whisper. That it wasn’t good for a man to be alone. That children needed a mother. That men like Torben’s papa ought to find new wives as soon as possible … and Mama had sometimes said things like that, saying that being lonely was terrible, that she wouldn’t wish that on anybody.
But Torben …
“Come on, Wulfie! Say goodbye ter Torben — we gotta go!” called Widow Shepherd.
Wulf and Torben bid each other farewell, and Wulf trotted to catch up to his mama. Torben’s papa came to stand by his side. But Wulf, as he walked away, couldn’t help but glance back, first at Torben, then at Torben’s papa.
Toben’s papa sighed. Torben looked up. “Papa?”
“Eh? Oh …” Papa ruffled Torben’s hair. “I’m jest thinkin’. I’m glad ye found a friend, lad — ye and Matthias too. Sometimes, I worry about yer sister an’ Erich …” He shook his head. “But I shouldn’t be sayin’ that ter ye.”
“It’s all right, Papa, ye can say it. I don’t mind.”
“Nah — that ain’t fer kids’ ears ter be hearin’.” Papa smiled. “So–”
“Papa?” Torben interrupted. “Can I axe ye a question?”
“Well, ye jest did,” laughed Papa, “but ye can axe me another.”
“Have ye got friends here? Not jest like Goodman Thatcher,” Torben continued, “but like …” He swallowed. “Widow Shepherd?”
Papa blinked. “Widow Shepherd?” He stared after her retreating pink dress. “Aye …” He finally murmured. “We’re friends. Why?” He glanced at Torben.
“No reason …” Torben lied, looking at his boots as they scuffed the dirt.
Maybe Papa didn’t catch the lie. He certainly didn’t ask any more questions about it. “Well, I’m glad that ye’re thinkin’ o’ yer old man — but if he want ter make yer old man real happy, ye know what ye’ll do?”
“What?” Torben asked.
“Ye’ll give yer brother a hand with that weedin’. He’s been out by himself fer too long.”
Still, Torben knew when he was beaten, so he marched with slumping shoulders back to the house. But as he walked, he couldn’t help but wonder …
Did Papa really like Widow Shepherd? And if so … what would that mean for them?