• The baby cooed softly as she drank from her mother's breast. Her mother, a farmer's wife, sighed as she looked into the face of her child, almost the spitting image of her husband. She had her fathers slightly pointed ears, button nose, and round pouty lips. Even their smiles were alike, slightly crooked and never giving too much away.
    The name of the child had not been decided yet, although there were many choices. David, the husband's, side of the family prefered Ariana, or Danika, while the mother's side prefered Alma, or Gretal, as the baby's grandmother was called.
    Yet the mother didnt care about any of this. She was proud the god's allowed her to have such a perfect child, with no health problems, who would make it to her first birthday. These were the things the mother cared about. The well being and safety of her child.
    Suddenly, the mother jumped up from her chair. There were loud voices coming from just outside the house. Sensing trouble, the mother wrapped her baby in her own wool sweater and stuck the cooing child into her cradle near the fire.
    "Shh," she whispered to her baby, kissing her on one of her rosy cheeks, "I'll be right back."
    The wife opened the door to the family's small cottage greeted by emperial guards on horseback, standing near the village entrance. Her husband, along with all of the village's men were standing in a cluster in front of the guards holding bags full of fruits, vegetables, and other valuables.
    The wife longed to hear what was going on and what the men were discussing so privately. However, she knew her place. It was shameful to "be one of the boys." The women kept to themselves, cooking, cleaning, and minding the children, while the men went to work, and maintained their fields. Women were never to infere on matters that did not concern them.
    The mother noticed, Lucas, the village mayor, step up to the head guard and read something off a scroll. What ever he said, the guard laughed at and stuck out one of his big greedy palms.
    "Pay to the king of Elzibar what you owe!" Even from her place on the doorstep she could hear the obnoxious sneering voice. She winced as she seen one man who couldnt pay beaten with a stick. "Come now you, beggars! We dont have all day!" The guard yelled.
    With haste, the men one by one approached the guard and offered what they had. Their products were put on a scale and weighed for merit.
    Then it was David's turn. David walked, shoulders squared, eyes focused, on the guard. He bowed before him and presented their spring crop.
    The wife sighed with relief as she seen her husband's pay accepted.

    The men talked with the guards, mostly taking orders like giving they and their horses water, and foot to eat on the journey onto the next village. The men complied to the best of their abilities and the soldiers went on their way.
    The wife sat in the cottage, making bread for supper. Her husband had not yet returned home and she was starting to feel a bit anxious. She stirred the pea soup and had another peek at the bread baking in the oven before sitting down to rest her swollen feet.
    After two hours, when the bread was done baking, and dinner was done, David came home. The wife, overjoyed to see him, waited as he kissed their baby and took his shoes off. She knew how lucky she was to have a husband like him. He came home every night, never left them without food, and was incredibly handsome. Only twenty-one years old, David was once the top bachelor of the village. Tall and lean, standing about six feet, eight inches, David towered over most of the village's men. He wasnt hard on the eyes either, his own soft and grey. His face was ruddy and dirty from tilling crops all day and he smelled of fresh soil. The good husband kissed his wife's face and sat in his seat at the head of their table.
    After David had eaten his first plate and was taking seconds, his wife mustered up the courage to talk to him of the day's events.
    "Please," she said spooning him another heaping bowl of soup, "what was all that mess today?"
    David bit a piece off of his bread and chewed slowly. "That is how the new king wants taxes done around here."
    The mother pondered this for a moment. Since when did any king accept crops in lieu of gold? When she asked the husband this he just shrugged.
    "I dont know what the king plans on doing with all that food, all I know is we're lucky to have been able to pay. Look what happened to poor Lazarus."
    Its true, she had heard.
    She overheard her neighbor Alice talking to Lucas' wife, talking about what had happened to the poor man while she swept the front stoop.
    "I heard the poor man was beaten to death just outside the village gates. Then the guards took up his clothes leaving him with nothing.
    The wife listened trying to bite her tongue to keep unsaid all of her burning questions. Plus, she was much younger than most of the village woman, and most of the woman resented her for that.
    "Martha," David said grabbing his wife's hand in his. "Everything is going to be fine."