Rose's story begins in Aysgarth, by the river.
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"Little Witch!" A slap always followed the malediction. "Dost thou stare?"
This was my father. He did not like children whose opinions showed in their eyes. Large dark eyes I had—my mother's eyes—and when I displeased him, he was not slow to punish the unbroken will he saw.
I was born at the village of Aysgarth in the house of a stark yeoman farmer, Master Whitby. He was not pleased when my mother gave him a daughter, and then another and another, as if by the force of her own contrary will.
Master Whitby acknowledged me, however, as he acknowledged my sisters. I was written down in the book at the Church of Our Lady as "Rosalba Whitby, legitimate, born to Master Raymond Whitby and his espoused wife, Roseanne."
When I was old enough to hear the tale, my mother very kindly let me know matters stood otherwise. To learn I had been conceived in liberty and was not the get of that humorless, ham-fisted tyrant fills me, to this day, with satisfaction.
Aysgarth lies on Wenslydale, north and west of the great Keep of Middleham. Here our peasant houses grew from the ground like mushrooms. The poorest were of turf, but the best homes, like the one in which I was born, rose upon a costly timber frame.
Those hard packed earthen floors! In the East Wind time, rain slanted through the central smoke hole and pelted the fire of our hearth. I remember huddling close, thinking how the flames were like serpents, lowering their fiery heads and hissing whenever the drops landed. During the worst weather, the entire family, including Master Whitby's curly-pelted white cattle, sheltered with us.
Our village was linked by a single, rutted path. Beyond the stone fences lay fields, wild water and wind. The river went down rapids and over the falls, on and on until it reached the stormy eastern sea through the Great Wash.
My mother kept a garden behind the house. Well-manured with the leavings of our animals, tended by my hands and those of my older half-brothers, it flourished. Here mother grew turnips, mangels, carrots, parsnips and greens, food for us and for our animals. In a raised patch, she also grew herbs, for she was Aysgarth's midwife...
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