When the Miller came to my father and asked for my hand, he promised him that he'd take good care of me. There would be hard work, yes, but regular food, a warm stove, a good life, children.
But men's promises are fickle. We women all know this; if we don't, we learn. Quickly.
I didn't want to marry a man twice my age. An old man of 34 with a bulging belly, missing half his teeth. But my father insisted, and my mother just wept quietly. It was either marry or be cast out. And where was I to go?
Most young men didn't think I was pretty. I had no other suitors. But the Miller looked past my plain features and took a liking to my child-bearing hips and my broad back. He told my father that those hips would surely give him an heir and that I looked strong enough to help around the mill.
Just two weeks after he proposed to my father, the wedding took place on the village green. Everyone came. There was mead, music, dancing and a roasted piglet. All in my honor.
My father and the Millner were merry and drunk. My mother, my sisters and I were solemn and silent.
In the beginning, it was only the nights that were terrible. Oh God, how I dreaded his hands on my body, the musky, floury smell of his hairy body, his sour breath on my face. The grunts that reminded me of the piglet they had slaughtered in my honor. I squeezed my eyes shut and longed for sunrise.
At daybreak, the first villagers would come with their sacks of grain. I could hear their voices as they walked up the forest path. And the sounds made the cold leave my body. With them came news from the village. Laughter and light. Gossip about my friends and family. And while the mill wheel creaked and the two monstrous stone wheels ground the flour, we chatted. Until dusk, I was allowed to forget.
That first summer I worked, I cooked, swept the floor of the mill to pick up the flour that had accumulated on the floorboards, and made sure everyone felt welcome at our door. I know people thought I was happy. Many women were envious of me.
After all, I had married one of the most respected men in the village. He offered me stability and security. Who wouldn't want that? Who cares what a man looks like?
Then winter came. I wasn't prepared for how lonely the mill is in winter. No one comes to visit.
There is no grain to mill, no laughter, no gossip.
The cold and the dark were familiar to me, but the silence out here in the woods is deafening. Nothing but the rustling of the trees and the singing and clanking of the ice on the mill pond as it shifts.
The darkness isn’t my friend. With nothing to do and long dark nights, the Miller increased the frequency of his rutting. With the intention of getting the business with the heir on the way. And he succeeded. For the first three years, he put one of his swarthy babies in my belly every winter.
Millwork ain't easy
Millwork ain't hard
Millwork, it ain't nothing
But an awful boring job
But that was before. Before the miscarriages, before the mill pond swallowed little Henry two weeks after his second birthday. Before the Miller stumbled drunkenly into the pit wheel and broke his back. And before the black plague swept through the village, taking my father and sisters with it.
Now here I am at two and twenty with a cripple, two small children, a mill, and a broken heart to tend to. My mother has moved in with us. She says she wants to help me, but she feels like an additional burden. These days everything feels like a burden.
I look at Rose and Tommy in the faded blue tunics I sewed from the pretty tunic I wore on my wedding day, and all I see is work. Work to clothe and feed them. Work to make sure they have a better life than I do.
I have to keep going and hope that the grain keeps coming. And that my broad back will support us until Tommy is old enough to take over the mill and Rose old enough to marry well.
This is my life now.
About the Creator
Woman in IT, Natural Scientist, Life Coach, Speaker, Podcaster, Writer, Founder
Host of the “Women in Technology Spotlight” https://bit.ly/3rXvHvG
Creator of "The Queen Bee Hive" https://thequeenbeehive.net/en/
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