-02- Morning Bread

Thalica eventually returned, this time with two children accompanying her.  The first was her seven year old daughter, dressed in similar clothes to match her mother now, the only difference between them besides their age being that the younger one had a much more vibrant shade of copper in her hair.  The young boy was dressed a bit more plainly, but he had short hair and it was of a dark brown that was much closer to my own.  Both of them entered the kitchen with their mother where they were promptly introduced to me.

“Nefe, Trevor, I’d like you to meet Gardavan. He’ll be working here for a little while as my helper.”

I was towering over them, two small children who clung tightly to their mother. I wasn’t sure what kind of face I was wearing, but I knew I couldn’t afford to not be kind here, to them, lest I find myself back out in the alley nearby once more dying of starvation.

I knelt down and attempted to put on a genuine smile in an attempt to make them less wary of me, a stranger.

“Hello. My name is Gardavan. It’s nice to meet you both.” I greeted them openly.

“Why is that your name?” Came the first reply, from the young girl, Nefetina.

“Well, you see, an angel gave me that name. I certainly couldn’t think of one that was any better, so I decided to use it.”

Her eyes opened wide.

“You met an angel before?”

I nodded with a wide grin.

“Did she have wings?  Was she beautiful like the church people say?  Was she glowing?”

I was immediately flooded with a number of questions, but I thought it might be a bit fun to answer them as vaguely as I could so I didn’t cause any problems just in case they were religious and it was blasphemy to do so. Again, I didn’t want to offend my benefactor.

“Hmm, I didn’t see any wings when I looked, but then I wasn’t in the best of health. You see, she came to save me when I was at my weakest. My eyes were a unfocused at the time I met her, so I couldn’t tell you if she glowed or not, but I didn’t need to see her face to know she was beautiful. Kindness given to a stranger at their lowest point is one of the most beautiful and virtuous deeds, so there’s no way an angel with a good heart inside of them wouldn’t also be beautiful on the outside too, right?”

“Mommy, I want to meet an angel too!” She said with anticipation, tugging on her mother’s skirt.

“But you are my little angel, sweetie. You only need to look in a puddle after it rains to see one.”

“I meant a real angel, mommy.  One with wings! I want them to hold me in their arms and take me flying through the sky!”

Thalica’s hand reached down and gently stroked her daughter’s head.

“Maybe one day you’ll meet an angel who will let you, but for now you’ll have to settle with just being mine.”


She then let go of her mother’s dress and ran out of the kitchen with her arms stretched out at either side, much in the way a child from Earth would pretend they were a plane or something similar.

The young boy however, was not as forthcoming as his older sister.

“You… can’t have that name.”

I looked at him with a smile.

“It's no good?” I asked him.

He shook his head confirming his opinion.

“Hmm, then if you don’t like it, do you want to call me something else?”

“What do you mean, call you something else?”

“I mean if you say I can’t have this name, then what will I do without one?  How will people know who I am?  Your mother seemed to think this name was fitting, but if you don’t want me to have it, then you have to pick one out that you can give me.  Otherwise I can only be a stranger if you take my name away.”

“I have to pick a name?”

I nodded.

“You can take your time if it’s hard to think of one.  Whatever you decide is perfectly fine with me.  You can even call me Mud if you want to.  It just won’t do if I don’t have a name.”

“Mud?  Who wants to be called Mud!” he laughed.

“Hmm. How about Spit, then?”

“Spit!” he laughed harder now, “That’s even worse than Mud!”

“You see, I can’t possibly pick my own name. I’m terrible at it!  Can I count on you then for a good one?”

He shook his head but the smile never left his face.

“Nevermind, you can keep it.   But can I just call you Gard instead?”

“Gard?  Sure. It’s a lot easier to say than Gardavan.  Thanks, Trevorkane.  Can I call you Trev as well?”

“Uh-huh! That’s what mommy calls me!”

“That’s because your mommy has excellent naming sense.”

“Yup!  Mommy’s the bestest!” he clung to her leg, giving her the tightest hug a five year old possibly could.

“Alright, now that you both have met Gardavan, it’s time to get the store ready.” She clapped her hands together while instructing her children.

““Okay!”” came their joint reply, and they both began to help out their mother with opening the store up. They both knew exactly what was expected of them, so it was clear this was part of their daily routine.

The older daughter, Nefe, held on to a husk broom and swept the interior of dirt and soot, sweeping it out the front door. The younger one just ran outside without saying a word. Thalica with the one tool I did see, a long wooden rod with a wide flat end, began loading the raw dough balls into the two ovens.

I was left at the moment with nothing to do. As I’m not an idle person when working for a wage, I asked what else I could do while waiting for the bread to bake.

“Do you know how to change coins?”

Unfortunately, I had to shake my head.

“Sorry, I have no idea what the denominations are here.”

She walked over to the nearby counter, and underneath was a wooden drawer which slid out. In it there was a small amount of two types of coins.

“We sell bread at two loaves for a copper. There’s twelve copper to a silver, and eight silver to gold. You’ll probably never see a gold coin pass through here, so you don’t need to concern yourself too much about making change for that.”

“Do people ever order just one loaf?” I asked.

“Maybe at some of the fancier bakeries they have bigger loaves that expensive, but this is how we do it here.  Two loaves a copper.”

“I understand.”

I looked around the store, not all that interested in coins now, considering my whole day’s wage would only be worth four loaves of bread. But, it was better than nothing.

“This is presumptuous of me to ask, I know, but will any bread I eat be taken from my pay?”

“That depends. Are you planning on eating me out of a business?”

I smiled.

“I just meant will a single loaf of bread be included as part of my day’s wage, or deducted?”

“Are you saying you’re still hungry?”

She walked over to what looked like a wooden trunk and pulled out a loaf of bread, lobbing it over to me. I nearly fumbled catching it, noting also that it was a bit firmer than the one I ate yesterday, but not yet rock solid.

“Eat.” She said. “Did you think I wouldn’t feed you while you were working for me?”

“I didn’t want to presume anything. If you told me I’d be charged for the bread, then I’d pay. I am here at both your grace and your mercy, ma’am.”

“I’m not that cold a woman that I would take you in and offer you a wage only to take it back in return for meals and lodging.   It certainly isn't something a certain someone without wings, who doesn’t glow due to another's poor eyesight, and has a kind heart indicative of her outer beauty would do, does it?”

She got me there.

“Bakeries tend to open early in the morning and close shortly after mid-day. It’s a busy and hectic affair while we’re open. After we close, that’s when I sit down with the children and we sup. Then they play for a while and we have a second meal around sundown. It would be courteous of you to help out during those times as well.”

“It would be my privilege.”

She offered me a loose grin. 

“Good. Now, follow me and I’ll show you when it’s the right time to pull the bread and to put in the next batch.”


Consequently, I also learned that the day-old unsold bread Thalica gave me to eat was something she usually donated to the local church who then distributed it to an orphanage in the city. She didn’t explain any strong meaning behind why she did so, and it ended up with me believing it was just another proof of her kindness.

My first day working here was definitely on-the-job training. Thalica could touch the bread right out of the oven after it was done baking, whereas for me it was too hot to handle. Trevorkane who bolted out of the bakery earlier had done so as to collect orders from nearby clients who had longstanding deals with Thalica for fresh bread to be delivered each morning. That was the real reason why she made so much dough in the morning.

The actual foot traffic into the store was minimal.  A few housewives coming inside to buy a couple loaves of bread and gossip with Thalica for a bit at first was all there was. It went without saying that I was an instant topic of interest to them. When her son returned after our second batch of breads were done baking and a third put in to begin, having hearing what the orders were that he collected, we began sorting the orders out to be delivered into a number of small sacks that he also collected each morning.

I don’t know how popular this bakery is, but it does seem to have regular clientele and stability of sales. I thought back to a few supermarket bakeries I’d been to, and I wondered why only plain brown bread was being sold here when there were so many different varieties that existed.

Part of the answer I received was related to operational costs. People bought bread as a supplement to their meals, or sometimes as their only meal if they were truly poor, but in the end, it was only bread. There was no bread revolution here. Maybe at a bakery that catered to the nobility there were different varieties to choose from, but that was out of the scope of this small business.

With the orders filled, her son Trevorkane was accompanied by the daugher, Nefetina, to deliver the goods. This was something they did daily. When I asked about things like the children’s schooling, Thalica only shook her head.

“It would be nice if they could get tutored, but I simply can’t afford it. Neither of them are illiterate, just lacking scholarly education.”

There weren’t exactly public schools for the children in this city. Instead, there were individual teachers who took on students who could pay a tuition fee.  According to Thalica, both of her children knew their letters and could read simple things easily enough.  Nefetina showed promise with numbers and could make change and count as high as ten-thousand. Trevorkane still needed a bit of work in the math department, which is why Nefe accompanied him on the deliveries.

With the kids out delivering bread and no customers entering the storefor a while, Thalica took a short rest on a wooden stool.

“You are an inquisitive person, Gardavan.”

“Do you think so? I’m not plotting anything if that’s what you’re wondering. I just think it’s wise to know what I should and shouldn’t do to offend my benefactor.”

“And a gentleman such as yourself is worried he will offend me?”

“I’d rather not find myself back in that alley starving. Call it a precautious approach.”

She smirked.

“Are your arms still aching from earlier, Gardavan?”

“Not right now, though I imagine I’ll feel the soreness later on. I wouldn’t dare look down on the intensity of the labor involved in breadmaking.”

“Good, then you can assist me with something.”

She took a ribbon out from somewhere unseen and tied up her hair.

“Consider what I’m asking you as payment for the bread you ate earlier.” She tapped her shoulders and asked me to give them a rub. Having little right to refuse being taken advantage of by a beautiful woman, I did as she asked.

“Mmh… right there…”

She was vocal when I massaged the right spot. “The kids just don’t have the strength to do it right.”

That caused a bit of a chuckle on my end, and her to inquire further about me.

“So, you can’t remember your name, or where you’re from. You can clearly speak the language here, and you appear to have some sensibilities. Tell me, what exactly do you remember?”

Not just the neck, I also moved my hands to massage her around the balls of her shoulders. She twisted her neck just enough for an audible pop to be heard.

“I’m not unwilling to tell you what I can remember, but it’s highly likely you may think I am not entirely sane if I do.”

She chortled. 

“You will tell me then that you lived in a land amongst Dragons and Phoenixes, perhaps?”

“Much the opposite.  A land much more advanced than this one, dozens of generations of progress ahead.”

“Would there advancements related to baking bread involved in all of that progress you speak of?”

“Plenty. Rooms as vast as this building where temperatures can be maintained by the power contained within a bolt of lightning, both extremes of sweltering heat and chilling coldness easily achieved.  A metal cauldron of which overhangs a large metal arm that mixes dough without the need to be attended to, so one can do other things with their valuable time.  A small box that can be held with one hand which has two iron rods that spin inwards at each other like two specially hewn millstones that allow one to mix softer and wetter dough together to make variations of bread full of sweetness that taste exquisite when baked.  Ovens which are made of solid metal and are sealed so that no heat may escape, and yet contain no living flame.”

A mirthful laugh had me quit recanting what I knew in a way she could understand.

“So instead of Dragons and Phoenixes, it’s a land which commands thunder to tame the heat of the sun, and harvest the chill of the far north, and uses Golems as labor?”

“You say it more poetically than I, but yes, that is essentially what the place I am from is like, and those advancements are but a few made simply for the bakers. In that land I had a name, a mother, a father, and a sister with a husband of her own and two children not unlike yourself.”

“Not unlike myself, you say?”

“She also sacrificed much for the sake of giving her children a bright future, but I think no matter what lands you are in, you can never escape debt, taxation, and the eventual final breath all who live must inevitably draw.”

“That is a grim outlook for a land with many generations of advancement, Gardavan.”

“I think the grim outlook you mention is merely the cynic filtration of what I have seen and experienced there. Public order and welfare is much more advanced, yet I am happy that here it is so terrible.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because without that being so, I would not have met my kind benefactor yesterday.”

“Your words dare to dance the line between flattery and flirtation.”

“Then I beg your pardon for the words which bring offence, though I assure you that none are spoken with devious intent. I am certainly a gentleman who values your trust over all else.”

“If it is trust you value the most, then why, when I have asked you to massage my shoulders are your hands creeping lower down my arms?”

Indeed, my hands were working their way down past her triceps and approaching her elbows, where her bare skin was exposed. I removed my hands, and apologized for my indiscretion.

She stuck out her arms to the sides of her body, and rotated them in small circles.

“I shan’t take offense this time, for the massage was well done and the stiffness is abated.”

“Then, I am glad I could be of service to you, ma’am.”

A light flirtation aside, Thalica stood up from her stool and we began tidying up the store for the next few hours, properly stacking against the designated wall the empty bowls which had been used as vessels for the bread to bake in. I took hold of the husk broom afterwards and began to sweep the flour which had fallen to the floor caked or otherwise from the mixing of dough earlier in the morning. I also took some water from barrel underneath the table, adding it to a clean bowl and wrung a rag out, using water alone to clean the worktable as best I could, conscious all the while of the glaring lack of sanitary supplies used to combat germs.

Was alcohol not intended for drinking readily available in this place?

I cleaned what I could, and while doing so, the loaves of bread which went unsold, not a large amount–which spoke well of this small bakery, were added to the brown chest with the other loaves from the day before.

The children went out to play, and I was left with a pleasant thought. I happened to think the nape of her neck was quite lovely with her hair up.

“Gardavan, come. Shall we begin making sup?”