Home > Chosen by Swift

Chosen by Swift
Author: Lolita Lopez


Chapter One

Quietly, so as not to wake her younger siblings, Alys finished braiding her hair and tiptoed out of the bedroom with her shoes dangling from her fingertips. She moved stealthily down the dark hall, passing by the rooms of her brothers and sister. She stopped outside the door Brandon and Clive shared and rapped her knuckles against it. When she heard rustling inside, she moved along down the hall. At the top of the stairs, she made sure to skip the first step that creaked before descending the rest.

The lamps in the kitchen had been doused when her brothers went to bed, but the soft glow from banked coals in the hearth gave enough light for her to see what she was doing. Not that she needed it. Waking first and starting the day before her parents and siblings had been her responsibility for more than ten years now. She could have gone through her morning routine completely blindfolded.

After starting the fire in the hearth, she warmed her hands for a few moments. The slight chill in the air promised a cooler than usual day, even for autumn. She was glad she had put Darby and Davie into their warm footed pajamas last night. Huddled together in their shared bed, they would stay warm and sleep until sunrise or later. Please, she prayed silently. With so much work to be done before the wedding tomorrow, she couldn’t lose a minute of her time this morning to grumpy little ones.

Ignoring the ache in her right shoulder, she grabbed her apron from its peg and slipped into it. She winced as she tied the strings behind her back. A full day of washing laundry for nine people had left her body sore and inflamed. Normally, she would share the burden with her mother, but with her health so poor lately, Alys had been carrying more and more of the family’s housekeeping load. If it wasn’t for her eldest brother’s wife helping when she could, Alys would have collapsed with exhaustion.

By the time she had the stove piping hot and water on to boil, Brandon and Clive had finished dressing for the day. “Morning,” she greeted brightly, putting on a happy face for her younger brothers.

Younger but not smaller, she noted wryly. Brandon was only fifteen, but he was bigger than their father and looked every bit a grown man like their elder brothers Jack and Adam. Clive wasn’t far behind. At thirteen, he was hitting his growth spurt and would likely be eye-to-eye with Brandon before next summer.

“Morning,” Brandon replied and grabbed his boots from the tray by the door. He picked up Clive’s as well and handed them over. “Here.”

“When you’re done with your chores, I’ll have breakfast hot and ready,” she promised, the same way she did every morning. She handed each of them a cup of tea and a thick slice of bread slathered with their home-churned butter and the jam she had made earlier in the summer. “To tide you over.”

“Your hands,” Brandon said with a grimace as he took his cup of tea from her.

Alys glanced down at the chapped, raw skin. The agonizing burn had stopped earlier in the night. Now, only an annoying sting remained. With a shrug, she said, “Laundry.”

“You should have asked for help.” Clive grabbed her hand and inspected it. “It’s not right that you’re doing all this work while Bonnie lazes about the house.”

“She can’t wash laundry before her wedding.” Alys tugged her hand back. She couldn’t say what she really wanted to say about their sister. Besides, her brothers already knew. They felt the same way she did. “Everything has to be perfect for tomorrow, including Bonnie’s hands.”

“I don’t see why,” Clive grumbled. “We’ve already paid them to take her. Who cares if her hands are gross?”

“She cares,” Alys said, shooting him a look. “Which means we’ll all have to hear about it. And don’t say that about the dowry, Clive. That’s ugly.”

“It’s true,” he insisted. “What we paid for Bonnie to marry that big, dumb jerk could have built a house for Adam or paid for Brandon to go to The City and study.”

Alys caught Brandon’s eye, but he glanced away quickly. His feelings were still hurt over the choices their father had made to get Bonnie married so quickly. Adam couldn’t marry his sweetheart until he had a house, and Brandon had no chance of leaving the farm and flying off to the colonies if he couldn’t learn a specialized skill.

“Besides, you’re the one who should have been married first! You’re older than Bonnie!”

Alys ignored the pang of embarrassment at Clive’s assertion. He was still too young to understand the truth of her situation. Smiling, she ruffled his hair. “It’s not fair to make Bonnie wait to marry Graham. They’re in love.”

Clive blew a noisy raspberry. “She’s in love with his money and his family name.”

“I’m sure she loves him for him,” Alys said even though she was anything but sure. Bonnie had always been clear that she would never be a simple farmer’s wife like their mother. She wasn’t going to wash her own laundry or cook her own meals or sew her own clothes. She wasn’t going to milk cows, gather eggs or harvest potatoes.

Not that she did any of that now. As soon as she was born, Bonnie had wrapped their father around her little finger. She was his absolute favorite, loved even more than Jack who was his spitting image and a well-respected and good man. She got away with anything and everything, and she had never done a full day’s work.

That beautiful face and sweet countenance had won over Graham Harclay in one single dance at last year’s harvest festival. By tomorrow night, she would be his wife and move to town and into his big house with all their servants. Alys might not like her sister very much, but she respected her and was proud of her for getting what she wanted. Life was hard for girls, and Bonnie had used her assets to make sure her life would be a little easier than most.

“You best get going.” Alys shooed them toward the door. “If Father comes down, and you’re not out in the barn, he’ll get the strap.”

That warning was all it took to get them moving. Even at twenty-three, Alys still feared their father’s temper. In this house, his word was law. One step out of line, and he would knock you right back into place with the back of his hand. Break a rule? You would soon feel the sting of the strap on your backside and thighs.

Knowing her father was already in a bad mood because of the wedding stress, she hurried to the larder to pull together all the ingredients for breakfast. As she worked, she went over the mental lists of all the tasks she had to accomplish by tomorrow morning. There were so many things to be done on top of her normal responsibilities. It left her feeling anxious and tense.

While a pot of water came to a boil behind her, Alys kneaded dough for biscuits and silently repeated her morning prayers. These quiet moments in the kitchen were the ones she gave to her daily devotionals. There simply wasn’t any other time in the day. She prayed for her mother especially, consumed by worry that her latest pregnancy was too risky and dangerous.

A deep cough interrupted her thoughts, and she glanced up to find Adam walking into the kitchen. Seeing him in the kitchen brought a smile to her face. He had been living in the nearby town for years, working first as an apprentice at the forge and now a journeyman blacksmith. Alys didn’t know much about that kind of work, but from what she gathered, Adam had proven a talent for it.

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