It was Ailineighdaeth in Frewyn and there was the usual holiday revelry about the Tyferrim square. There was song from the Church, traditional dancing at the assembly hall, fare and festivity to be shared, blessings to be given, lights to be lit and stars to be observed. It was during the carousing of the early evening that Jaicobh MacDaede, who made his rare appearance in the square for the time of year, noticed a young woman of upright figure and long, dark hair walking with six boys trailing behind her and one baby girl nested in her arms. He recognized the woman as one of his tenants who lived on a small farmstead in the east of Tyferrim, and though the land she was given was fair and fit for plantation Jaicobh had recently heard of an illness prevailing her husband, leaving her to tend the lands on her own. He was conscious of the illness being a small fever that was circulating the farms and it was certain to be nothing that would keep him from his work for a few days, but seeing the woman in town with her flock of children crowded about her concerned the thoughtful landowner.
The husband was not present, which could be explained by his need to catch up on work after a small period of much needed rest, but Jaicobh thought it advisable to approach his tenant and ask how she and her family did. He smiled and neared her, immediately catching her eye with his tall stature and immense presence as he loomed over her many children.
The woman stopped and stepped back, looking at him with some surprise and apprehension. She clung to her blanketed baby girl and bid her boys to say hello to Jaicobh. Her children answered in a droning unison and she inclined her head toward the soaring man before her. "Mr MacDaede," she said nervously.
Jaicobh sighed with smile on forthcoming features. "Calleen," he said to the woman in a tender voice, "Jaicobh is just fine, darlin'. You don't have to be so formal and all."
The woman gave Jaicobh fleeting smiles and she nearly lost her breath as he drew close to remark her boys.
"Sure, they've grown up now," Jaicobh said, looking at the two eldest twins. He looked down to find one of the two adolescent boys was missing his small finger on his left hand. "Well, I suppose most of you has grown, boy."
The twin with ten fingers laughed and the twin with nine did not.
Jaicobh passed a few considerate glances to the other children and nodded at them with an impressed expression. "They're all fine ones, Calleen," Jaicobh hummed. "And who's this babe?"
"This is my Martje," the woman said with some anxiety toward the enormous man standing in front of her, smiling down at the child in her arms.
Jaicobh leaned to regard her and placed his large finger to her mouth. The child took it immediately and began attempting to gnaw it but her toothless gums and tiny features would not permit her to succeed.
"This girl likes eatin'," Jaicobh observed with a temperate chuckle. "Aah, makes me wish I had young-uns of my own."
The woman was forced to smile and then in a lower voice said, "I suppose you'll be wantin' your money, Mr MacDaede."
Jaicobh stared at her with bemusement. "Money? What are you talkin' about, darlin?"
"My man's been ill and he hasn't been able to pay for the land in a month," she reminded him, keeping her voice away from the ears of her children.
Jaicobh's supposition to her husband's infirmity had been unfortunately correct and his confusion at seeing the woman so fearful of him turned to concern when he observed the threadbare state of some of the boys' garments. "Forget that now," Jaicobh said in a severe hush. "It's holiday. I don't remember business on holiday."
The woman's apprehension soon faded and was replaced with a grateful smile. "Sure, and you're good to my family, Mr MacDaede. The things you sent us yesterday were kept for this evenin'"
"You don't have to save it, Calleen. There's plenty more where that came from."
His tenderness was beguiling and in a moment, the woman was drawn to the caring look in his clear, blue eyes. There was ingenuous compassion in his tone and though there were many who would have been terrified of the towering Jaicobh MacDaede, he had never given her reason to doubt his generosity or his kindliness.
"Tell me your man is doin' better," he pleaded with her.
The woman looked away with a pained countenance.
"Aw, Calleen," Jaicobh sighed disappointedly. "You need to tell me these things, darlin'."
"I can manage," she murmured. "Just sometimes with a new baby and a sick man needs takin' care of, it ain't easy."
Jaicobh gave her a firm look. "How old are your oldest boys?"
"Sure they'll be sixteen soon," she timidly replied. She thought perhaps he had meant to put them to work in the fields in place of her husband and she began to dread for some cruel phrase to be repeated in front of her children. Her qualms, however, were unfounded.
Jaicobh gazed at the twins with staunch consideration. "They look seventeen to me," he said, giving the woman a warm and mindful look.
The woman gathered his intimation and stood close with her landlord as she rocked the girl in her arms. "Jaicobh," she said in a terrible hush, "You know I can't be askin' no favours-"
"You're not askin', Calleen," he said, silencing her with the force of his sincerity. "I'm offerin'. Those two are seventeen, you hear? I know one of the farmers in Sethshire who's lookin' for two workers. I'll tell him he has two on the way if you can spare them."
The woman first thought to cry and then thought to praise him for his gracious desire to assist her. "You don't have to do this, Jaicobh," she said, restraining her budding tears.
Jaicobh placed a hand on her back to fix her falling shawl and looked down at the newborn girl in the woman's arms. "Yes. I do." He smiled at her reassuringly and then added, "I'll be over at sunrise to help you with those fields."
Her lips parted to speak but there was nothing she could say that would refute him or approbate him with any semblance of victory. She had heard of their being a discrepancy of the landlord tameness in the past but this was all conjuration that could be done away. His munificence and subtlety was obliging and she could only nod her thanks, as speaking any word of appreciation would have induced her to conduct that she did not think sensible in front of her children.
Jaicobh noted the tears welling in her dark eyes and placed a hand around her chin. "You don't say nothin' to your man about me helpin'," he purred at her. "I don't want him thinkin' I'm off to sell his fields."
Before she could say anything to refute his ardent claims, Jaicobh was wishing her flock of children good tiding for the day. He asked them the usual questions of how many teeth they had lost, if they had all been good to their mother, and who was fighting with whom when there was work to be done on the farm. They were answered him with all the eagerness six spirited boys could convey when one of the holiday purveyors came beside them and asked them if they would like any of the candied apples he had in his cart.
The children looked to their mother for permission and the mother looked back in disallowance. She said she could not at the moment and reminded them of their promises not to ask for anything if they should go to town for the festival. They remembered with awes of disenchantment and said no more on the subject.
Their spirits soon brightened, however, when their hands were graced with a candied apple for each of them. The large, work-worn hand and wide smile belonging to the man who gave them their prizes asked that they take them to honour the day and always remember to be good to their mother who worked long and hard to ensure their wellbeing.
This act of simple kindness and forbearance to her plight was enough to break the woman's threshold of resolve and she was compelled to turn away from her happy children and weep into the bend of her arm.
Jaicobh turned his back to the children, allowing them to enjoy their gifts, and sidled the woman, taking her into his open arms and grazing his fingers through her long, unkempt hair. "Calleen," he whispered to her, "don't be afirad to ask me for somethin'. We all need help sometimes."
The woman would not look up and endeavored to regain her self-governance as much as her roused sensibilities could allow.
"Come, now." He lifted her chin and wiped her tears. "Don't let the boys see their mother cry. It's holiday today. Don't cry today. Cry tomorrow when there's no one around but me to see it."
She inhaled and gazed up at him in earnest astonishment for his compassionate remarks.
Jaicobh smirked at her. "At least have the decency to cry when there's no one around you," he said with a wink.
The woman succumbed to moderate laughter and nodded as she smiled through her tears.
"Come, we'll take the young-uns through town so they can see the lights," he softly bid her. "No need to weep on the babe."
The woman looked down at her giggling girl and then returned the favor to the benevolent creature at her side. "All right, Jaicobh," she submitted. "But tomorrow, at least let me give you a breakfast before you start workin' on lands you own."
Jaicobh agreed to her offer, knowing she would remonstrate if he refused, and called for the children to follow as they walked through the square together, marveling at the glinting decoration and exchanging blithe expressions as they enjoyed holiday in comfort, remarking the landlord's slow and scuffling gait.