The family of Fingate Farm were having a meeting, all of them seated around their communal table. The oldest generation were Ester and Olrin, the only surviving members of their marriage. Technically Ester was the farm’s sole owner these days but as they weren’t considering the sale of land, that wasn’t an issue. The three sons of their marriage were there, along with their sister-wives: Halanda sitting thigh by thigh with Brond; Junery and Chloe with Steen between them on the bench seat; and Phil sitting at the far corner from all of them looking, when he looked at the others, as if he’d arranged everything. Then there were the boys, all seven of them, ranging in age from eighteen to twenty-seven. That was the problem.
“Really,” pointed out Ester, “there should be two marriages between you, but the farm simply doesn’t do well enough to support that.”
“I’m happy to be left out, if that helps,” volunteered Rafe the soldier. “I support myself, after all.”
“And send money home,” noted Phil approvingly, “but I imagine you’ll probably want to retire here. It would best if you have an acknowledged interest when that time comes.”
“True.” Rafe conceded the point gracefully.
“To further limit your options,” pressed on Ester, “our neighbours not only have a shrewd idea of our position, but most of them don’t have unmarried daughters. Those that do aren’t prepared to agree to an unbalanced agreement.”
“But?” Unsloe, the second eldest spoke up while Bast, the toffee-haired youngest brother, looked confused beside him. “I hear a ‘but’ in there.”
“Midridge Farm over to Joltholp, the ones that own that detached strip on the other side of our creek, have one daughter. Her brothers are getting married and their brides want her out and settled before their wedding.” Brond grinned. “Seems they’re worried they’ll have a spinster sister-in-law in the house for all eternity if they don’t insist now. They’ll gift her with that detached strip as part of her dower.”
“Seven of us and one of her?” Rafe sounded concerned. “We could hurt her if we’re not careful.”
“How?” That was Bast, finding something else to be confused about.
“I’ll explain it to you later,” Rafe promised him.
“When do we meet her?” Tim was the eldest. “I can’t remember her being at anything we’ve been to – I don’t even know her name.”
“Borophy,” supplied Steen. “Midridge does their socialising around Joltholp so it’s not surprising we haven’t seen her. We’ve arranged for her to visit in the afternoon of the day after tomorrow, to meet you and see the place.”
“Boys,” added Olrin grimly, “she’s the only girl for you.”
Mead, the second youngest brother summed it up. “I think we have some tidying to do.”