Feb. 7th, 2013

Five

Feb. 7th, 2013 12:21 pm
The bread tastes nearly as good as it smells, which is an accomplishment. Bread is like coffee: best when fresh, but never as good as it smells. This bread is warm and rich and coarse, though not gritty, and leavened slightly with garlic, garlands of which hang from hooks among the other baking supplies.

“You like it, then?” she asks. “Not everybody cares for the garlic… it’s just something new I’ve been trying. My mother always said garlic was healthsome..”

“It’s fabulous,” I say. “Your mother was obviously very wise.”

“Yes,” the baker says. “Where’d you come from, then?”

“Up the road,” I tell her.

“Where are you heading?”

“Further down it, eventually,” I say.

“We don’t get many travelers on foot,” she says.

“Do you get any on horses?”

“Not through town,” she says. “Not any more. They give us a wide berth… word gets around.”

“What word is that?”

“Haven’t you heard?”

“Oh… well, you know, I don’t really pay attention to local gossip.”

“Then why are you so curious now?”

“Because sometimes it’s not just gossip.”

The baker leans down over the counter and crooks a finger for me to lean in, as well.

“Is this a terrible secret?” I ask.

“It’s terrible, but everyone knows,” she says quietly. “Still, some things are just too ridiculous to say out loud in the full light of the morning sun. Some things make me feel silly just thinking about them, much less repeating them.”

“Something’s happening in this town, and I don’t think it’s silly at all,” I say.

“You’re right,” the baker says. Even so, her voice drops into a whisper. “Horses… won’t drink our water.”
“Oh, well, you know the saying,” I say.

“What saying is that?” the baker asks.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make ‘em drink.”

“You can’t even lead them to ours,” she says. “They won’t go near the well, and they’ll bolt if you try to bring water from it to them.”

“That can’t be good for business,” I say.

“It isn’t,” she says. “We’re a market town. Everyone here still needs bread, but we can’t survive long just doing business with each other. People still travel through, sometimes, but they don’t stop if they don’t have to. They can water their horses at the crossing.”

Since it seems unnecessary for her to say which crossing, I don’t ask. It’s not likely to be relevant, and there’s no sense rubbing her nose in the fact that I haven’t come by the usual road.

“What’s your name?” I ask instead.

“Bel, the Baker’s Daughter.”

She’s alone in the shop. The same fine dusting of flour that has settled over everything else clings to her brown skin.

“The Baker’s Daughter?” I say. An eyebrow might arch itself as I say this, or possibly it’s only my vain imagination that it does so. One the day when we meet in person, dear reader, you shall have to tell me if my command of my facial expressions is as great as I would believe it to be. “Why not Bel the Baker?”

“Well, my father’s been in the grave seven years now, but I was Bel the Baker’s Daughter for twice that length of time before,” she says. “You know how it goes. And my father was a good man, if I have to be a daughter I’m glad to be his. Anyway, who would you be, then?”

“They call me Wander,” I say.

“Who does?” she says.

“Everyone I introduce myself to.”

Seven

Feb. 7th, 2013 11:22 pm
Bel the Baker’s Daughter laughs, probably more at me myself than at my feeble wit. But I don’t mind, because I’ve succeeded in putting her at her ease.

“The horses are afraid of the water,” I say. “What are the children afraid of?”

“What have you heard?” she asks.

“Not much, I just got here,” I say. “But I know what happy children sound like.”

“The heart’s gone out of them,” she says.

“I know what that sounds like, too,” I say. “What else has gone wrong?”

“Nothing, yet,” she says. “It’s like I said. We can’t survive without trade, we can’t get trade without horse traffic. The elders are worried, the children know it. As above, so below.” She shrugs. “It’s only been a few months, but we’re past the point where we can pretend it’s just a passing fluke.”

“Do you drink the water from the well?”

She flinches, but turns it into another shrug.

“It was good enough for groundwater before the trouble,” she says. “Spring-fed, they say. Even with the local ideas of sanitation, it’s cleaner than the river by a good sight. Since then? Well, we try to avoid it, but there’s only so much beer to be had, and the water for that has to come from somewhere. And I need water for my baking, and we have to cook, and we have to clean. No one’s taken sick. It smells clean and tastes wholesome.”

“You don’t like drinking it, though.”

“No, I don’t,” she says. “I don’t like thinking about it, either. Can’t get away from it, but I don’t like drinking it. I boil it and say it’s for the tea, but there’s something wrong with it, no matter what the Select say.”

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