“I will tell the story just as my great grandmama Marina told it to me. She was very old, some said she was over a hundred when she passed away. I met her when I was very young, and she told me this story.
Marina scrabbled to the top of a rock outcropping above their home and sat on the sun warmed rock as great waves of sadness swept over her.”
“That’s the rock where the gr’tun live. Isn’t Grandpapa?” Gregor interrupted in his eagerness to hear the family history.
Grandpapa nodded and patted his lap for Gregor to come sit on his lap. Once Gregor settled himself, Grandpapa began again. “Marina’s sister, Sabrina, was two months pregnant, while she had once again encountered the cramping and red stains that heralded her emptiness. She couldn’t blame Hau. He’d tried to give her a baby. She smiled through her tears as she remembered how hard they had worked at making a baby.
She jumped, startled as a small furry animal, a gr’tun, stopped by her hand. She hated gr’tun. They got into the grain fields and broke down the heads ruining what they didn’t eat. This late in the year, the grain was harvested, but they came into the house and fouled the grain stored there. Without thinking, Marina took a rock and smashed the head of the gr’tun. She didn’t want to look at the dead animal, so she stroked its soft fur once and tossed it behind her.
Marina knew that nobody blamed her for not being with child. After all she was exactly like her sister. Still Marina wondered if they had only one womb between them and her twin had gotten it. A tear slid down her cheek. Thwap, she crushed the head of another gr’tun with her rock.
She had learned in the convent that feeling sorry for oneself was a sin. She snorted again and thought that in the convent everything was a sin except for beating the young girls who worked there. This time when she hit another gr’tun with her rock, she felt a certain satisfaction in the action. She wondered if the beatings from the nuns had broken something inside her, so she couldn’t have babies. She broke down and sobbed and clobbered a couple more gr’tuns.
Long shadows from the setting sun crept across the valley when Hau found Marina on the rock. “Marina, what are you going to do with so many gr’tun?”
Marina jumped and immediately felt guilty for having spent the day loitering when everybody needed to work if they were to survive the winter. She turned and smiled up at her husband behind her, then looked at the pile of dead animals behind her. She felt a little sad over taking her frustration out on so many of the soft furry thieves. “Oh, the gr’tun, I don’t like when they come inside.” She looked at the pile of dead animals and a memory came back to her. “In the city, women came to Mass wearing shawls made from such fur. If I made such a shawl, we could trade it for things we don’t grow. We will need blankets for Marina’s baby and other things.”
Hau helped his wife to stand. “And, we will need to be more prosperous when it is time for you and me to have a baby. I will help you make this shawl thing, and we will go to the city and sell it.” Hau had long been eager to see the city, so he grew excited over the excuse his wife gave him to have an adventure. He picked up an armload of dead animals and handed them to his wife while he picked up the rest. “I will clean these tonight and Rau can help me cure them.”
That night Papa and his wife joined the rest of the family as they cleaned and scraped the small skins of soft fur. The next day, Sabrina gathered the herbs needed to cure the skins and Papa S’TO climbed the rock to find more gr’tuns.
At the end of two weeks, Marina, Sabrina and Mama S’TO sat in a circle carefully stitching the skins together using thorn needles and fiber from a thistle plant. They chatted about when Marina and Hau would go to the city, and how they would get there. Marina and Sabrina speculated about their parents and wondered if their sisters were married. When they finished the first garment, it fit around the Marina’s shoulders like a cape. The tails of the gr’tuns hung down forming a fringe around her elbows.
They made a second cape of black and white gr’tuns and laughed over the animals that would not eat their grain this winter. They agreed the second cape turned out more elegant than the first, brown cape. Marina and Sabrina wore the furs around their shoulders and walked back and forth pretending to be the great ladies they’d seen at Mass.
Finally, the day came for Hau and Marina to go to the city. They left early in the morning with instructions on how to reach their cousin’s house before breakfast. Hau carried a pack on his back with the precious fur capes. Marina carried a one handed basket with five pottery plates she and Sabrina made from the white clay in the creek bank. The plates were gifts for the cousins.
After breakfast, they set out from our cousins’ house. They’d left the plates behind but now carried a large cheese, 10 bean cakes and two large wooden spoons.
Marina’s welcome in her parents home seemed a bit chilly until Marina explained that, no, her husband had not sent her back. They had gifts for the family. Finally, Hau convinced his in-laws that he felt very pleased with his wife and had only stopped to visit on his way to take her shopping in the city. After the bean cakes and cheese were displayed, Marina’s parents found themselves quite happy to see their daughter and could inquire after Sabrina and her father-in-law. They spent the night with Marina’s family, sleeping on a bed of straw in the hut where her father’s pottery was packed.
In the morning, Hau and Marina set out before sunrise to walk to the city. Marina remembered where to find a store that might trade for the capes. The shopkeeper didn’t look at them when they entered wearing country rags. Hau waited patiently for the shopkeeper to finish with a customer before he demanded. “Do you have the authority to buy a fine piece of goods, or must I speak to the owner?”
“I am the owner.” The shopkeeper replied as he started to turn away.
Marina hissed at the shopkeeper. “Do not judge us by our appearance. We were afraid of bandits because of what we carry.”
When the shopkeeper turned back to look at her, Marina knew he felt curious. She pulled the brown cape from Hau’s pack.
Before she could hand the cape to the shopkeeper, Hau took it from her hands and wrapped it around her shoulders, “See how fine it fits. See the fine work in shaping it to fit over the shoulders.”
Marina hadn’t thought her husband noticed her long discussions with her sister and step-mother-in-law over how to shape the skins to fit. She pranced and spun about to show off the beautiful garment.
The shopkeeper stared.
Hau didn’t quite know how to go about the negotiations or how to get a fair price for the cape. He tried, “Now, we have no use for money. What say we set the cape here and put the things we want in trade over there. When you think it is a fair trade, we will bargain from there.”
The shopkeeper nodded. His eyes gleamed and his fingers twitched to hold the soft cape. He had no doubt he could sell something so beautiful for a great sum.
Neither Hau nor Marina had any idea of how to shop in a store, so they began to stroll about and look at things. Marina saw bolts of cloth and pointed them out, “Look at the different colors. We can get blue for Sabrina, and I like that green. What color should we get for Mama S’TO?”
They agreed on the brown for their step-mother. Sabrina fingered some white fabric and remembered the white underskirts she’d seen girls showing off in Mass. Hau carried the green and blue fabric to the place where he agreed to place his purchases and went back for the brown. He saw Marina’s eyes looking lovingly at the white. He took that too.
The shopkeeper didn’t know what to make of the young couple. His wife watched the young woman so she couldn’t steal anything. After all, where did poor people get that cape? Marina picked up scissors, needles and thread. She smiled at the shopkeeper’s wife assuming the older woman hovered over her to be helpful. “Oh, I used to love to embroider in the convent school.” She ran her fingers over a package of multicolored silks. She handed the silks to the shopkeeper’s wife, to take to the counter. The older woman whispered to her husband, “Do you really think she went to the convent school? Her parents would have to be very rich.”
At this moment, Marina approached the front counter carrying several books and calling for Hau to come see. Mother Abbess came through the door and scowled at Marina. “You! Miss Sabrina, how dare you show your face in this town after you ran off? I have half a notion to drag you back to the convent by your hair, you shameless, ungrateful girl.”
“I wouldn’t like that.” Hau drawled. He seemed unaware that the axe he held in his hand might be intimidating. “By the way, that is Marina, my wife. You are lucky it isn’t Sabrina because my brother is married to her. He has no respect for your vocation or the scars on his wife’s back.”
Mother Abbess fled.
Hau took the books and added them to the stack of fabric, notions and his new axe.
The shopkeeper and his wife looked at each other in confusion. They realized the woman, at least, was well known to the Abbess. They had no idea Marina had been a lowly scullery maid. They eyed the books she set on the counter with no way to tell that they were only alphabet books such as a child might use to learn their letters. They whispered to each other, “Perhaps the girl had run from the convent to marry her lover.” Good. The shopkeeper knew the Abbess tried to cheat his wife, and treated trades people as unclean. The shopkeeper eyed Marina. He could not cheat someone the Abbess disliked so thoroughly. Truth be told, he felt half afraid to cheat Marina because he didn’t know which powerful family she might be associated with.
Hau added two shovels to the pile of goods, but before Marina could add a big black cooking pot, the shopkeeper said, “That is enough. I think I’ve been generous, but I cannot afford more for the cape.”
Hau stood and surveyed the goods with a pick in one hand, then he looked at his wife. “Where is the black and white cape? Didn’t you show it to him?” He felt quite proud of himself for how he tricked the shopkeeper into showing him what one cape was worth.
Marina pulled the soft garment out of Hau’s backpack, and Hau draped it over her shoulders. She stroked the soft fur and rubbed her cheek against the softness. “But this one is so fine, it is a shame to sell it, and we have too much to carry as it is.” In truth, Marina had already spotted the solution to this problem.
The shopkeeper knew quality when he saw it. He’d fingered the brown cape, and now, he must have the black and white one too. Thus, he ran to the back of the store to produce a barrow to wheel their goods home. The shopkeeper’s wife took Marina off to show her shoes and hats.
Marina had no idea what one would do with shoes or a hat, but she confided that her sister was with child, and they would want things for the baby.
The older woman watched Marina as they found fabric for the baby’s necessaries and a pretty blanket. “I think you might like a baby too?” The wise older woman ventured.
Marina nodded and looked away.
“Come, I have just the thing. The midwife traded for this. It is a special honey. You are to take a teaspoon of this every day. Next month or the next, you will have a baby, providing that handsome husband of yours does his duty.”
Marina blushed and giggled and added the honey to the wheelbarrow. Next, she added a set of spoons.
By the time Marina and Hau left the city pushing their cart full of tools, kitchen wares, shirts for the men, hair ribbons and fabric they were very proud of themselves.
They left behind a shopkeeper who hugged his wife and danced over his good fortune. The next day, the shopkeeper and his wife closed the store and took the capes all the way to Sherife’s Women’s Store in the capital. The shopkeeper thought he drove a hard bargain and left the capital with more goods and money than he’d dared to dream possible.
Mr. Sherife himself placed the two capes for sale in the window of his store. After a couple days, the emperor’s daughters insisted that their papa buy them the beautiful furs. The emperor grumbled and growled over the outrageous expense and felt very proud of himself for being rich enough to buy something so fine for his daughters.
It is seldom in the course of human events that some one thing makes so many people happy. Our family felt wealthy beyond measure with the goods they bought with the capes. The shopkeeper later confided that he congratulated himself for being such a sharp trader, and Mr. Sherif gloated over the unexpected coins from the sale. The emperor was happy with showing off his wealth. The emperor’s daughters paraded their finery and had no way of knowing that grandpapa S’TO sat on a rock smashing the heads of gr’tuns so that his daughters could be dressed equally fine.
Sabrina did eat the royal jelly every day, and just as the shopkeeper’s wife said, she became pregnant within the next month.”
Again Gregor squirmed and asked, “Can we see the capes? Will Grandmama show us the capes?”
The capes that Grandpapa S’TO made for his daughters were brought out for the family to see and stroke and comment upon how fine they were. Marianne surprised her new family. “And I have seen two others almost like these, a black and white one and a brown. They are in the The Compound museum, a gift from the first emperor. You must all come to the capital and see them. I had no idea they were part of Ruben’s history, but then we really are all one big family in this country.”