The first leg of his journey took him to his wife’s ancestral home. As his feet carried him up the long path to the rambling house dug into the hillside, he remembered his wife. She’d been gone many years—taken by the fever. He thought about the sons she left him. Rau had her eyes and Hau had her laugh. He smiled. Maybe he could find cousins here that would be suitable for his boys, then he wouldn’t have to walk so far.
When he reached the fence around the house a young boy about ten stepped into the path. “Who are you and why are you here.”
“You, go tell Uncle Mim that Cousin S’TO has come to call.”
The lad took off at a run calling out his news at the top of his lungs so that cousins, aunts, and uncles came pouring out of the many doors of the house. Uncle Mim greeted his sister’s husband warmly insisting he come and sit at their table for breakfast.
Over a breakfast of goat cheese and bean cakes The Old Man told his in-laws about his need for wives for his sons. “They get wild ideas about going to the city. I don’t blame them. The house has its demands, and the fields have their demands. It is time the boys had wives, and the house had babies."
By the time the family were picking up the last crumbs of cheese and bean cake, they were in full debate about how to solve the problem of purchasing two wives.
Young Cousin Stout’s wife had the best suggestion. “In my village there is a family named E’KuN. They have seven unmarried daughters. Uncle E’KuN is a potter but does not have enough good land to feed his family. They should be willing to part with two of the girls for your beans and a bit more.”
“I don’t got more.”
Uncle Mim shushed any financial worries Old Man S’TO might have voiced. “I will help purchase wives for my nephews.” He puffed out his chest as he declared, “For I am a wealthy man.”
Thus it was agreed that in addition to the bags of beans, the girls’ parents would be given two heads of cheese, two chickens and a sack of cabbages. Young Ruben and Young Isak would accompany Old Man S’TO to help carry the chickens and cabbage. “Now what if the girls decide they like you before they get a chance to see my sons.”
The young men laughed and assured their old cousin that they had other ideas for wives. Little Marissa giggled and sang, “Isak loves Belinda. Isak loves Belinda.”
Isak just laughed, “You bet I do.”
Little Marissa then dug into her pocket and pulled out two ribbons that were mostly clean. “These are for my new cousins. I made them myself. They will want hair ribbons. See how I braided mine?” She turned to show the old man her braid.
Touched, The Old Man could only nod and say, “That’s real thoughtful of you.”
So the three men set off for the E’KuN holding. Old Man S’TO felt thankful in his heart for the guidance of his young cousins. He acknowledged that he would have been frightfully lost this far from home.
When they arrived at the E’KuN holding, Isak sent the young girl standing guard beside the path to fetch her father. The potter came to greet his guests while still wiping clay from his hands on his apron. His eyes grew round as he took in the bags of beans, cabbages and the chickens and other bundles carried by the three men. He bowed low to hide the overwhelming joy at the prospect before him.
Uncle E’KuN gave Old Man S’TO the place of honor in front of his hearth, a bench made out of a log. Old Man S’TO opened the negotiations. “I’ve walked a fair bit today. The fields here-about seem a bit dry. Have you been short of rain?”
“Oh aye, we are always short of rain this time of year, but this is not farming soil. We make pottery. See this fine cup my oldest daughter made?”
Old Man S’TO thought he’d never seen such an ugly cup. A scrawny girl carrying a plate of bread followed the presentation of the cup. The bread was followed by a somewhat better-looking girl carrying fresh herbs to lay on the coals of the fire. The Old Man managed to comment, “This plate is very fine. Is it some of your work?”
The second daughter shook her head. “No I don’t work in the clay. Papa made that plate.” She’d no more finished speaking than two buxom girls alike as a reflection in a glass sidled into the room followed by their mother’s voice hissing at them to stand up straight.
Old Man S’TO turned to his cousins, “Where have our manners gone. Bring in some of that cheese to have with our bread.”
“Let me help you.” A younger woman, too young, in the old man’s opinion, rushed out of the room behind Ruben and Isak.
When the young men returned with the cheese, another girl and the child who’d met them at the path came in with them. “If you do not farm near here, is there a village where a man might trade for goods nearby?” He cast his eyes toward the door.
“No. No village. It is too far. I can go only occasionally then I spend the night with my brother who sells my pottery. I can buy such as we need then walk all day home.”
The young women stood around the edges of the room looking frightened while their father craftily tried to convince the wealthy trader to take one of his girls. They tried not to stare at the young men. Finally, the two girls who looked alike put their foreheads together and giggled. The older girls scowled at the frivolity.
Finally, the old man acknowledged the girls in the room. “An which of you is the oldest and the next.” He knew they’d come in oldest first but the two who came in together looked so much a like that he couldn’t see which was older. Finally, he asked, “And you two. You look much alike. Which is oldest?”
Here their mother broke into the conversation. “We don’t know which is the oldest. They came into the world so close together and the midwife was so flustered that she put them both in the same cradle and within the minute we had no idea which came first.”
The old man nodded and enquired after the younger girls, but the birds were singing in his head. He thought he knew a thing or two about animals and birthing and goats that have twins. He also thought about who would do chores at home and how his wife had been happy to live away from her family because her aunt had been bossy. He nodded as he chatted about the process of making pottery then followed the potter out to see his kiln and wheel.
Thinking to drive down the price, Old Man S’TO said, “Well, I was going to get village girls who can read and write for my sons, but since you say it is so far to the village. I might be willing to take two of your girls.
The potter drooled. “But Marina and Sabrina can both read and write. They went to a convent school. Brought up proper they are. Now the others are good workers. They know how to keep house right fine.”
“Reading and writing are good. We don’t have much for schools in our valley. Mostly, the mothers teach the children. ‘Course after the missus passed I had to teach my boys.” The old man lied through his teeth. “Now let me get this straight, Marina and Sabrina are the twins who look alike. If they can read and write, why aren’t they married?”
The potter narrowed his eyes then sighed. “I see you are shrewd. The neighbors saw that the girls are the same and called them possessed. The priest took them to the convent to keep the villagers from stoning them. They have been home for a year now, but nobody is ever allowed to see them. No man will have their sisters because of them.”
“I will take them with me, then maybe someone will take their sisters. My neighbors are not so superstitious. ” Inside the old man was delighted that one son could not say the other got a more beautiful wife. Neither son could complain about his wife being younger. He’d watched how the girls talked to each other with their eyes. They would be happy in the same house.
When the party now including the two girls left the E’KuN holding, the old man reached into his money bag and pulled out the two ribbons. “These are gifts from your young cousin, Marissa to welcome you to our family. You might want to braid them into your hair to please her before we arrive there for dinner. After we have eaten, we will continue on to my home while I tell you about my sons.
The girls nodded and praised the hair ribbons, but never having owned such a luxury were uncertain how to braid the ribbons. They worked together to meet this challenge while Old Man S’TO congratulated himself on finding two pretty girls to cook and clean and they could even read and write.
If the girls’ father had exaggerated their academic abilities, the S’TO men were in no position to discover the falsehood.