Late November 1634 Near the City of Nijmegen, Netherlands

"Innkeeper, we need a wet nurse."

One of Henrich's company—probably his daughter, the timing was right and she looked just like him—had a fever. The stout lass was down and likely would not be getting up. She had been no help with loading the mules for three days and then, unable to walk, she had to be carried the last half day to the inn. Now she was out of her head with fever and out of milk for her child. When she got pregnant Henrich cursed himself as a soft-headed/soft-hearted fool. He never should have taken her on as hostler help. But she had gone ahead loading and unloading the mules through it all with nary a word of complaint or a hint of expecting things to be different. Indeed, when someone started to help her out when her belly was at its biggest, she cursed the lad roundly. Then she gave birth in the night after having done her full share of the work the evening before and she did her full share the morning after. Her boy was now a toddler and could have been weaned already but the mother thought breast-feeding would keep her from getting pregnant. They tried giving him solid food, but he would not eat and now he would not stop crying.

"Yes, there is a wet nurse." The innkeeper named a price.

"I want milk for a bastard," Henrich said. "I don't need a gold-plated tit." They haggled half-heartedly and settled.

The company sat for two days while Henrich's daughter finished dying.

"Innkeeper, can we leave the child with the nurse?"

"No!" The innkeeper was adamant. "But you can take the nurse with the child!" he added quickly.

"You would have her leave her home?"

"This is not her home. Her man died in that corner . . . " The innkeeper pointed with his chin at a spot in the front room. " . . . over there. We buried him in the churchyard. It is damned good the Irish are all Catholics. The priest was not about to let any but Catholics be buried there."

"Irish, you say?" Henrich's mind began to turn over, counting the cost, assigning probabilities and weighing the long- and short-term benefits against the liabilities. "What of her children?"

"None. She gave birth in that same corner and buried her man and babe on the same day. I need her gone. She hasn't enough language to wait tables, the regulars are fighting over who gets her, and the other girls are deathly jealous. Here, she's poison. You need a nurse, I need her gone. Take her."

"She will agree?"

The innkeeper snorted. What an odd question, he thought. Who did the merchant think he was dealing with? He had no intention of giving the girl a choice. "Oh, yes. She will be quite agreeable."

****

Once again Maire was off to where she knew not. That was the story of her life since leaving Dromiskin in County Louth with Tadhg. It was all a grand adventure until Tadhg didn't come back from his last battle. Maire found him on the field with his face blown away. She lost his child when it came too early into the world. Ruairi looked after her in her bereavement, but he failed to come back to camp before everyone fled when a battle became a rout. If he lived, he never did find her.

Alexander was next on hand to see to her needs but he caught the wound fever and wasted away. She stayed with him when he could not keep up and the rest of the band moved on. She was delivered of his child the day before he died. Father and son were laid to rest together in the church yard.

Now a traveling merchant had taken her on. Oddly, he saw to it that she slept alone, except for the babe. The merchant fed her often and well, much better than he needed to just to keep her in milk. He was buying meat daily and watching to see that she ate everything on her plate . . . almost as if he wanted to fatten her up. He also insisted that she learn English and a start on being able to read.

"Come, lass, walk with me," Henrich said the first day on the road.

"What did you say?" Maire asked.

Henrich smiled. "The language was English. You need to learn it. I said come walk with me."

"Why do I need to learn English? We are going southeast. England is west of here." After the band left Alexander and Maire, he decided to make for home so he could at least be buried in Eire. They got as far as Nijmegen in the Netherlands. There weren't enough Englishmen in County Louth to call the language at all common. She had heard it a few times in the inn as a child and young girl, but no more than that.

"We are going to Augsburg. When we arrive, there may be a good job for you there. If there is, you will need to speak English."

"They speak English in Augsburg?"

"No." Henrich laughed. "In Augsburg, they speak mostly German, and a miserable strain of German at that. But there is a man there who speaks English and his wife is due any day now. They will want a nurse. If we are lucky, that will be you. It will help if you speak English."

Maire asked no more questions. It did not matter. She was eating well and sleeping warm and dry, and she had a child to care for and love. What else could one ask for in this life?

One night at an inn there was a west-bound merchant with news.

"Henrich, I see you're importing Irish. You're too late. Dietrich passed me several days ago with two in tow."

"Damn!" Henrich said.

"Caspar," a voice called out, "you're peddling old news. Dietrich's Irish were turned down. Dietrich abandoned them at the first inn he came to when he left Augsburg. They were still there when I came through."

Caspar, annoyed at being upstaged, looked across the room. "You're Nicolas, aren't you? How is the dispatch business going?"

"I'm making a living."

"Join us for a beer," Caspar said. "My friend here is buying."

"Don't mind if I do."

"Do you have any idea why Dietrich's Irish were turned down?" Henrich asked.

"Yes, the tale was all over Augsburg. The American insisted that his wife could only hire an Irish nanny with red hair, but when he saw the two Dietrich brought to town he said to Dietrich, 'they look like they were rode hard and put away wet. What are they, camp followers?' Well, the way Dietrich tells it he was pissed at the man's snotty attitude. He claims he said, 'What did you expect, a virgin wet nurse?' Then he claims he walked out. The other version says the American told him to leave and to take his bedraggled guttersnipes with him."

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