-01- Dead on Arrival

The last thing I remember, was the kind face of the woman who had given me a piece of small brown bread that didn’t threaten to chip my teeth when I had bitten into it. It was framed with a dull, rust colored hair that curled near the ends which reached just below her shoulders. She wore traditional commoner’s clothes, a long tan skirt and blouse having shoes that looked like they needed repair long ago.

My voice was weak, but I managed to give my thanks to her.

How long had it been since I’d last eaten… about five days or so?  Though I don’t remember much about how I got here, or even what my name was, I knew for sure that whatever this place was, it’s not the Earth that I had been living in up until recently.

It all started about a week ago, if weeks are even a correct measurement here. I woke up at night in a strange forest with only the clothes I was wearing and covered in blood. As a stranger to outdoor survival, I carefully tread through the overgrown trees and foliage constantly looking over my shoulder in fear of being ambushed by a predator, walking for over a full day before finally stumbling upon on a stream clean enough to drink from to sate my thirst and clean what blood I could from my clothes, arms, and face.

Thankful that the tall leafy canopy blocked out most of the sun’s oppressive heat, it didn’t change the fact that I had no idea where I was currently, or where I was heading. I hoped to find some signs of civilization soon, as I didn’t want to die in this forest. I was already hungry, but one thing I somehow recollected was that it was dangerous to forage wild berries and mushrooms because without proper knowledge, I could ingest something poisonous and die in great pain.

I had walked for almost two full days before finally reaching the edge of the forest, at which point it opened up into a wide plain, and I was able to spy a singular dirt road which went beyond my line of sight. There was no sign anywhere nearby which offered to point me in the right direction, so I closed my eyes and spun in a circle until I was dizzy then stopped to see which direction I faced.

I had no idea which of the cardinal directions it was that I faced, but I followed that road without fail. It was well over another day and a half before I was able to see something that appeared to be large gray stone walls and a portcullis where the road finished it’s journey.

I was tired and hungry, but I had nowhere else to go. I was hoping there was some kind of police or social service there that could help me, but I wasn’t holding on to much hope anymore. My legs were weak and my body was exhausted, but still I trudged on.

When I arrived, there were two guards holding pikes in their hands who scrutinized me, but neither said or did anything to me as I passed through the gate and entered into what was now, most assuredly, a city of some kind.

As if out of some role playing game, there were houses made of wood and stone, some with roofs made of thatch, and the public sanitation of the place was a far cry from acceptable to me.

The most immediate problem wasn’t that I couldn’t understand people, because I could do that much. But when I finally found something that looked like writing, it was nothing I could make sense of. The letters I saw consisted entirely of lines and squares, and was completely illegible to me.

I was covered in dust from all the walking I did, wearing clothes that didn’t match anyone around me, and had to have looked haggard. I attempted to ask if there was anywhere someone could go to for help, but of the few people who would even acknowledge me when I felt like they wouldn’t blow me off entirely when I went to ask them, all said the same thing.

“Visit the guardhouse.”

At best, the guardhouse they spoke of was something like a police substation. A building of fair size that housed burly men all carrying weapons and outfitted in metal armor. I tried to approach one of the so-called guardsmen who were posted outside and explained that I had woken up in a forest a few days walk away and had no recollection of my name, or anything about this place, but that I just needed directions to some place where I could get a meal and figure things out.

I was met with hostility.

It seems by asking for help, I was immediately branded as some kind of useless person and told to go back to the slum I crawled out from. When I tried to explain further, I had a spear pointed at me. I got the clue quick enough and left, but with nowhere to go, I just let my feet drag until I found a shady alley between some buildings that looked clean enough to sit down and take a rest in.

That was two days ago.

My legs had given out, and I had toppled over. A few people passed by, all filthy like I probably was, but after taking a closer look at me, they neither helped me or marked me as a target worth being robbed.

I was left alone.

No, I was abandoned.

That is, until moments ago when this beautiful woman gave me a piece of soft bread to eat. It was the first act of kindness I had received in this harsh medieval-like world. I ate it hastily and with gratitude, thanking her profusely, and promising if I somehow manage to survive, that I wouldn’t forget her generosity.

She looked a me with a stern gaze.

“What’s your name?”

I shrugged, quickly recounting my loss of memory regarding my identity after waking up alone in a forest a few days away, and how there was no help to be found from the guardsmen at the guard post.

“Then, are you able-bodied enough to work?”

“If you mean providing physical labor, I can try my best. This was the first morsel of food I’d eaten in five days, so I might not be at my best in terms of physical ability. However if it’s enough to repay you for it…”

“Are you a criminal?” She cut into my reply.

I shook my head strongly from side to side.

“I’m a law-abiding citizen,” I replied, “I’m also a hard working man, it just so happens to be that I ended up in an unfortunate situation I can’t see any way out of at the moment.”

“Are you married?”

“Never had the time.”

“What about any children?”

“My sister has some, I’d play games with them from time to time when I was invited over.”

She seemed to scrutinize that response with her eyes.

“Have you any skills worth mentioning?”

“Many, though I’m not sure what you’d find useful from me. I’m educated, but in nothing highly vocational like construction or engineering.”

She a momentary puzzled look came over her face when I said that last word.

“Are you a fallen noble, perhaps?”

“There’s no such thing as nobility where I’m from.” I replied.

“And where do you come from?”

I sighed. The question that would make me seem like a lunatic.

“Somewhere far away, I imagine. To the point this place is like a whole different world to me.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“Are you a gentleman?”

“I’d like to think so.  But the manners, common sense, and general sensibilities I was raised to know might differ from whatever they are here.” I responded as honestly as I could. “Still, I believe in giving women the same respect a man would deserve, and not overstepping my bounds on any charity offered.”

“Have you ever baked bread before?”

“Not bread specifically, but other things made with flour and dough, sure.  But, as bread is made from dough, I don’t see an issue being able to answer that as most likely, provided I be given a quick lesson on how to do so.”

“Would you like a job, then?  I can’t offer much in terms of wage, but if you are capable of assisting me with bread making, I can offer you two copper a day and a place to sleep indoors.”

“I would be grateful for the opportunity, ma’am.” I said, slowly rising to my feet.

“My name is Thalica," She introduced herself, "I run a bakery not too far away.”

“I don’t have a name to offer you that I can recall," I replied shamefully, "so you can call me whatever you wish.”

She crossed her arms, a hint of humor on her face.  But only a hint.

“Then, I will call you Gardavan.”

I bowed lightly towards her, having been given a name to use.

“I will do my best in whatever you ask of me in repayment for your generosity.”

“I should hope so.  Now, you may accompany me to on the trip back to my bakery, and where you will be staying.”

“Yes ma’am. Thank you very much.”

That place was not too far away, exactly as she said. It was a wide building with multiple chimneys, and a proper wooden roof. It was two stories tall, and the upstairs section was where she lived. I was asked to remain downstairs, and given some bedding to use.  Anything was better than being picked at by flies and bugs in the forest, on the long dirt road, and in the alley, so I was truly grateful from the bottom of my heart for indoor lodging.  I was also offered something to drink, a kind of watered down beer, and afterwards I was bid good-night, and made my bed in the coolest corner of the first floor that I could find.

I had fallen asleep quite easily now that I had something for my body to work on digesting.  My sleep was little restful, but enough to begin being useful when I was awoken early the following morning.


My eyes opened up when she shook my arm.


“Gardavan, wake up. It’s time to begin our work.”

“Ah, right. One moment.”

I got up as quickly as I could and neatly folded the bedding she had allowed me to use. She took it back upstairs and returned immediately after. I only noticed now that the clothes she wore were covered in many flour stains as she called me over behind the counter to a large rectangular table.

“You said you’ve made dough before?” She pressed.

“Yes, ma’am.” I affirmed once again.

As the bottom floor of this building was a kitchen from a time long before the modern era on Earth, there were no such conveniences as an electric dough mixer or refrigerator. There were many tens of sacks of granulated flour stacked nearby, and other such necessities as eggs, yeast, sugar, anise, ginger, and butter were simply left out in the open, though covered. There were also plenty of clay bowls and white… doilies?

“Pardon me, ma’am. What are these used for?” I held up a brown-stained doily and asked.

“Used for covering the dough while it rises. I thought you said you’ve made dough before?”

“I have, it’s just that we never covered it with something like this while waiting for it to proof.”


“Ah, a word used to describe the process of the leaving the dough to rise due to the yeast.”

“Right.  Well, we use them here so the flies don’t get stuck in the dough before they get baked, so get used to using them quickly.”

“Makes sense. Thank you for clarifying that for me.”

She pulled out two very large bowls which would be used to mix the flour, and further bowls containing eggs, sugar, and butter.

“Don’t use too much sugar, it’s expensive.” She explained, “It’s cheaper here than in other places, but still expensive!”


“Good. Then, shall we get started?”

I looked around for a moment before daring to ask. “Where are your measuring cups?”

“Hah? What are measuring cups?”

I took a moment to explain.

“Why are you overcomplicating breadmaking, Gardavan? Flour is measured by hand, water added to be half the amount of flour, sugar hardly more than a pinch, and for every hand of flour is three eggs for lift. It’s a recipe older than my mother’s gran.”

“I- I see… Then, I’ll give it the old college try.”

“Then fetch a sack from over there and bring it.” She ordered, pointing to one of the many tightly woven bags containing the grain. I hefted it with relative ease and deposited it on the table.

“I suppose I should see what you know then. Go ahead and make a batch on your own.”

Underneath the table was a barrel with a lid, the inside of it was full of water. Having no measuring tools to do this cleanly, I began with opening up the sack of flour and finding it not the white color I was somehow expecting. From the texture, and brownish coloring, I was able to deduce that this was whole grain flour and not the enriched bleached flour I almost always used back on Earth.

I added about two heavy handfuls and then had to eye by hand what I figured was the appropriate level of water. Afterwards I took three eggs and separated the yolks from the whites in-shell and then added them to the mix, and finally afterwards, a generous pinch of yeast and sugar. Seeing as there was no mixing tool, my hand had further work to do.

Scoop, push, scoop, push, scoop, push…

Kneading dough by hand is a muscularly intensive activity. Just making this one ball of dough was taxing the hell out of my arm, however I managed it and then showed it off to Thalica.

She took hold of the ball of dough I presented to her, stretching and kneading it herself until she was satisfied. She then pulled it apart until it was divided into three equal portions and then deposited them into three clay bowls, covering them up with the stained doilies.

“That dough was passable. Continue to make it like that, though a bit faster if you will. We have to fill all of these in the next hour.”

She pointed to the side wall nearby in which there had to be at least a hundred clay bowls.

“All of them?”

“Is it too difficult a task for you?”

“I’ll do my best not to disappoint you. Not to complain here, but making dough by hand is a new experience for me, and a lot more exhausting than I thought it would be.”

She laughed.

“You sound like my son.”

“Oh, you have a child?” I asked, curious about my benefactor.

“Two, actually. My daughter Nefetina who is the older, and my son Trevorkane who was born a year after her, after the war.”

That raised in me, a little concern which I felt needed addressing.

“Is it okay then, to bring a stranger like me here to stay?”

“Why wouldn’t it be? You attested that you were a gentleman, did you not?”

“I did.  I am!  I would certainly never do anything untoward to you or them. I should probably also greet your husband as well so there isn’t a question of your virtue at stake.”

She laughed savagely.

“My husband? Yes, please do greet him. He was conscripted to fight in the Salvonica war, and was sent to the front lines to fight. That was five years ago…  I do believe if you dug around the fields there and perhaps brought back his femur after speaking with him, it would make for an excellent tool for you to mix the dough with.”

Her words were bitter on her tongue as she spoke them. Did she hold anger in her heard for her husband’s death on the battlefield, leaving her to raise two children on her own?

“Might I ask how old your children are, ma’am?”

“Nefetina will be seven this year, and Trevorkane, five. Both of them will be down later to help out when it’s time to open.”

I quietly nodded. I was socially equipped enough to know this was a serious landmine I had unintentionally stepped on. So, I devoted myself to the task at hand––making dough. I tried my best to work at a reasonably fast pace, but I was no match for the lady. I presumed she had been doing this task daily for years, and her arms were no less powerful than a cultivators when it came to mixing and kneading.

While I couldn’t hurry faster than I was, there was no admonishment from her. I simply did as she did, dividing each ball of brown dough I made and divided it into thirds and placed them into each bowl. The bowls stacked neatly on top of each other, so once the task was mostly finished she moved to fire up the oven.

I wasn’t aware of it at first, but it was still quite early in the morning. The sun had not yet risen, and we were operating by way of a light which hung above the table we worked at. There was no electricity and it didn’t look like a candle was in there. I wondered if it was gas or oil which powered it?

A short while later, a little girl with long vibrant ginger-red hair came into the kitchen dressed in a white pajama-type gown that went down to her ankles. Halfway down, there was a wet discoloration on it. She was rubbing her eyes, clear signs that she had been crying.

“Mama? I…” she sniffled as she spoke, “I wet the bed again… waaaaaaah!

Thalica immediately stopped stoking the fire in the oven and rushed over to her daughter, kneeling down and wrapping her arms protectively around the small child. Her hands caked in dough, she cared not about dirtying the small child more than she cared about showing her a mother’s compassion.

“Hush now Nefe, it’s fine. Did the night goblins come and scare you again?”

The little girl wept in small spasms and nodded. Thalica whispered softly to comfort her daughter and coax her tears away. I thought it was rather heartwarming. Though I can’t remember any names, I know back on Earth I have a sister who is married and she too has two children who I doted on as well. But try as I might, in my memories there is no one I could call a lover or a child who may be responsible for giving me any of my own.

Without saying a word, she took her child by the hand and led her back upstairs while I remained in the kitchen. With nothing else to do, I just kept an eye on the fire, hoping that the building wouldn’t burn down, wondering the entire time she was gone, exactly how much two copper coins were worth in this strange place.