As the sun set, Corba bedded the children on their mattresses while Wido stirred the coals on the hearth in the center of the house. A fire was hardly necessary, the weather was so warm, but the glowing red embers comforted him.
Wido watched the coals until he heard the regular breathing of sleeping children, then he joined Corba in their bed. Her back was to him, and when he touched her, her body convulsed in soundless sobbing. He held her until she lay exhausted from crying.
The moon was shining through their open window when she spoke. “I never thought of us as poor,” she said, her voice remarkably clear. “We have each other, we have a home, we have children.”
“We are not poor,” Wido said. “Even when my poor crops have failed, the lord’s generosity has sustained us.”
“I have never counted that as charity,” Corba said, wiping her face with the light woolen blanket that covered them. “We give Perceval his due as lord, and he gives us our due as his villeins. It is a partnership.”
“Aye,” Wido answered.
“But today has taught me what poverty is. It is not that we lack clothing or furs, for we have what we need and no more.”
Wido lightened his voice. “You have to agree, dear wife, that we could find use for a cow.”
“No.” Corba’s voice was emphatic, and she gazed steadily into his eyes. “We are poor because we have no power. We have no voice. If we had twenty cows, we would still own nothing. All that we call ours is the property of Lord Perceval. We do not even own the children we and God have created.”
Wido was silent, thinking. “The voice of God is our voice,” he said, finally, “And He has sent us another child to replace the one we will lose to Perceval. God is our judge, as He is Perceval’s. Father Odoric tells me so, and I do not believe a priest can lie.”
“Aye, but will God comfort Afton when she is flogged for making a mistake in the castle? Will He teach her when she grows wise to the ways of women? Will He defend her chastity when a knight desires to have her?”
Wido felt a slow burn begin in his stomach. “I will make it so,” he said slowly.