The morning came, and with it, now familiar eyes of sapphire blue.
“Time to rise, Gardavan.”
I woke to see Thalica dressed lightly in pajamas. I vaguely remembered that at some point she was in my bedding last night, warming herself against my body. However, that was yesterday, after the work was done. This was today, and there was now new work which must be attended to.
There was no morning kiss or touch, something I wouldn’t have objected to, but also something I had no right to expect. I had merely fulfilled a role she wished me to, and as they say; yesterday is in the past.
So I clambered out of the bedding and quickly gathered it up.
Instead of accepting it herself, Mrs. Thalica told me to take it upstairs to her room and deposit it on her bed myself. I had no reason to refuse doing so. When I returned she asked me to get started with the morning dough, and that she would return after changing.
It was still dark, but the sensual nature of seeing her wearing pajamas tugged at my bestial instincts. How had I survived the night not committing a crime when she was dressed so?
Once she was out of view, I shook my head free of it’s delusion and slapped my cheeks with hands covered in flour.
“Get a grip, Gardavan. Yesterday was an accident. That’s all it was.”
I lied to myself as best I could, and put my heart into making the morning dough quickly. I was soon rejoined by Mrs. Thalica and aside from a pleasant smile passed from her to I and back again, we mixed dough quietly together, the awkward atmosphere I expected to exist, nowhere to be found at all.
For the next few days, it was like this.
Nothing had happened. I did the work she offered me to do diligently, I had pleasant meals together with her and her children, finally one with meat at last. It was duck, most likely, as the meat was quite oily after being roasted in the oven for over an hour. As she had two growing children, I kept the portion offered me to half the amount. I wasn’t doing so much labor that I needed that much caloric intake.
It was after sup that day, that the residence had it’s first after-hours visitor. It was a man dressed gaudily, with a wispy moustache and pointed beard.
“Hello, Thalica, my sweet. You’re looking vibrant today!”
“Thank you. Have you just come back from your trip?”
“Indeed I have…”
The man looked over to the table where the children and I were still seated and eating.
Her hands immediately covered his mouth. I thought it suspicious, but her private business is not my own. I am merely her employee, and she, my benefactor. They had taken their conversation into hushed whispers for a moment before she brought the man over to introduce him to me.
“I’d like to introduce you to Zedron Goldfinger. He’s a merchant who travels far and wide collecting rare and unusual spices. He’s also a… family friend.”
“Hello, Unca Zed!” Trevorkane said cheerily while waving to the gaudily dressed man.
“Hello Teek. You’ve gotten taller since the last time I saw you!”
“Uh-huh! That’s because I’m five now!”
“Oh, five already? And what about my beautiful little princess, Nefe?”
“Hello, uncle. I’m seven now.”
“Seven! And here I thought you were a lovely thirteen, I dare say my breath catches when I look upon your beauty!”
Nefetina giggled at the exaggerated compliment.
“Pretty soon you’ll be prettier than your mother, and she’ll be throwing hard and stale loves of bread like rocks at all the suitors after your hand!”
She giggled further.
“I don’t want a suitor yet, uncle. Not unless they are an angel and can take me flying in the sky.”
“Hoh, an angel you say?”
“Uhuh! With big pretty wings, and who glows at night so I don’t have to be afraid of the night goblins.”
He looked quickly to Thalica as if to receive confirmation about something. Thalica only nodded.
“Hmm, night goblins giving you trouble still, I see. I have something that might help you if that’s the case.”
“I do. There’s a city far, far away from Avonstar, and it’s home to people who eat bad dreams.”
“Dream eaters, but–it is only the bad dreams they eat, the good ones don’t taste good to them, so they pass on eating those. They are a strange bunch, with even stranger tastes! Why, they enjoy sucking on fallen tree branches, saying it’s a delicacy.”
Both the children were giggling at the absurdity. I myself was finding it rather amusing.
“I’ll bring it by later on, but it’s a special net. If you put it under your pillow, or above your bed where your head rests, it’s said to capture the bad dreams while you sleep, so that you can eat them later. Of course, I don’t expect you to eat any bad dreams, so all you need to do is take it outside and shake it out once in a while to get rid of them.”
“Oh, mommy, can I have it? Pleeeeeeeeease!”
“Of course, sweetie.”
“Right. If course I also have something for the little master as well, but I’d rather not spoil the surprise of what it is until later. You can be patient, right, Teek?”
“Right! ‘cuz I’m five!” He answered with a toothy grin, sure of himself.
“Good lad, and now, sir… I don’t believe I caught your name?”
He finally turned his attention to me. I thought I might have a little fun as well, exaggerating who I was.
“A pleasure to meet you, Master Merchant Zedron, I am but a humble rogue, employed by the benevolent Mrs. Thalica. You may call me… Mud.”
Trevorkane immediately began giggling aloud.
“Mud! That’s not right!”
I snapped my fingers as I let my arm swing.
“It’s not… I could have sworn–Ah! That’s right. I remember now. It was Spit!”
“PFFFFTTT! I told you already, no one goes by Spit!”
I rubbed my chin, pretending to be perplexed. Then I made a eureka face, and stuck my index finger upwards.
“Now I remember. I completely remember my name. It’s… Roach!”
Trev nearly fell off his stool from laughter. Even Nefetina joined in on the laughing as well.
“Roach! Mommy won’t like that! She squishes roaches whenever one tries to come inside.”
“Right. I look forward to being squished later, Mrs. Thalica.” I joked. Even she covered her mouth a little to chuckle. However I stopped there with the name games.
“Right. So, Mister… Roach, is it?”
I bowed lightly.
“I am not particular about a name, as I’m not that memorable a person to begin with.”
“Thalica mentioned a moment ago that you were knowledgeable of many different spices and cuisines. Have you traveled the continent as well?”
I could only shrug.
“It’s not something I’m proud of, but many of my memories of this place, and even the way back to my homeland have been lost. Even my own name… To say whether I’ve traveled the continent, is something even I do not know. But if it’s about how to cook, then I can say I have a fundamental knowledge of some things.”
“Zedron and his family run a trading house here in the city. So if you have something you want to purchase, such as peppercorns, he may be able to help subsidize the cost, if you can show him it’s worth his while to do so.” Thalica added.
“That’s right. Not just spices, but all kinds of foodstuffs from the width and breadth of the continent. If it exists, I probably have it somewhere in the warehouse.”
That put a smile on my face. Not just spices, but other foodstuffs as well.
“Would you have cinnamon and raisins by chance?”
“Yes, plenty of both.”
“How about oats?”
“Yes, plenty of that as well.”
“I wonder… Mrs. Thalica, have you ever considered selling more than one type of bread?”
“I have, but you have to think of the customers we have. Two loaves a copper. I can survive because what I bake is affordable. Why?”
“I was just thinking of a number of things that could be made if we had two types. Not just the bread themselves, but other thing which could decorate the slices. A taste so amazing, a copper just for a small piece wouldn’t be outrageous in asking, and the profits should outweigh the costs if it were to become popular.”
“Hmm.” Zedron hummed after listening to my small monologue.
“For the record, they aren’t all breads, just that they are made in a similar fashion. I can even make special cakes and muffins as well without needing anything extra.”
“Not all breads you say?”
“Yes, with the addition of butter, milk, and a few other things, I can make an assortment of different treats that would draw people to the bakery. I don’t think you would lose anything from the investment, master merchant, and depending on how it goes, you might even make a hand-over-fist profit if your have a network to people with money looking for delicious food.”
“The latter is something I have in spades.” He acknowledged. “If you find yourself with some time, come with Thalica and we’ll talk further about what you need and what you can offer in return.”
We shook hands on the matter, and the gaudy merchant called Zadron saw himself out along with Mrs. Thalica waving goodbye to him at the door. She returned to the table afterward and we continued Sup. I felt the need to apologize, as she most likely knew better than I about her profit margins and what is most likely saleable to her clientele.
“I’m not upset, Gardavan. If what you say is true, it’s something to look forward to. My experience making sweeter bread was just something that ended in failure. Perhaps you can succeed where I could not.”
“If it will help subsidize some of the risk…” I pulled out all the copper coins she had given me thus far. However she shook her head at the gesture.
“We’ll see how it goes first. My children should see what it is to try new things, whether it ends in success or failure.”
“Then, I’ll showcase tonight one of the things I can make with what we have on hand. I do think it will be a treat for everyone.”
The children went outside to play, while she and I cleaned up the bakery. Afterwards, while finishing the last of the dishes, she had come along side me, her shoulder pressing against my own.
“Was sup to your liking, Gardavan?”
“It was delicious, Mrs. Thalica. Everything you cook is.”
“You looked quite happy to finally have meat with your stew, but you looked lost in thought for a little while as you ate. What were you thinking of?”
“I was trying not to be jealous and angry.” I answered.
“I thought about how nice it is that there was a man who had such a woman to make him delicious food, and have his children, is kind and beautiful… and he’s not here to appreciate it.”
“That explains the anger… but why the jealousy?”
I shook my head.
“Because I also am a man, Mrs. Thalica. I don’t think I’ve ever had enough time in my life until now to think about how important such things are. I understand I’m being incredibly insensitive saying this, but it’s how I felt at the time… also, I thought your stew would be perfect as a pie.”
“A stew… pie?”
“Yes. It’s another common dish of my homeland. We use a thin layer of dough, flour the inside of a bowl, put the dough inside, fill it with a fair amount of stew, mostly vegetables and some meat, then top it with more dough, score the top layer of dough with a knife, butter the crust afterwards, and then bake it all together. It’s quite delicious, and yet another reason why I’d love to get hold of some ground peppercorn.”
“There is still some meat, if you’d like to make some?”
“I can, if you’d like.”
“I would.” She said, while resting her head on my shoulder. “I also happen to enjoy eating your creations, Gar. It’s always something new and entertaining and it’s like it was always there, but yet no one had thought to do it, until you.”
She reached out and took hold of my hands.
“Even Nefe and Trevor… enjoy it as well.”
Her words were warmly received.
“Well, children are easy to please, most of the time. If you can make something fun for them, it wouldn’t matter if it was chores or learning. But since eating is something you have to do anyway, it’s just that much easier.”
“And what about you. What do you find fun to do?”
I was pretty addicted to my smartphone, playing games and reading news articles most of the time when I wasn’t busy with work. Since the only thing I had when I woke up in the forest were the clothes I was wearing, I hadn’t had much time to think about having fun, when I was just trying to make it to civilization, and now that I’m employed by Mrs. Thalica… I’ve kept myself busy with work to the point of distraction.
“What I used to use to keep myself amused was lost along with part of my memories. But I’m sure if I think about it, I could recreate a few things to entertain myself with.”
“I can think of something entertaining to do.”
“Oh yeah, like wh–“
With no one around, and for the first time since that night she let her children spend the night elsewhere, I found our lips rejoined once again.
I had tried to put it out of my mind. That is was just years of being pent up, and an accident entirely what happened that late afternoon and evening… but now, I was really confused.
That didn’t stop me one bit from enjoying the kiss she initiated. I wasn’t vulgar, reaching for what I shouldn’t. I simply accepted what was offered. A tender and playful kiss. My hand was soon around her waist, but going only that far south, and neither of us could stop what we were doing with our mouths.
How could I explain this kiss?
It was lonely kiss.
A kiss that sought a partner.
My hand trailed lower.
Lower… until I cupped something fabulous full in it.
I gently squeezed it, and her tongue thrust wildly into my mouth. A soft moan echoed inside me and stirred up the reasoning I had always tried to keep in check. Our breathing slowly became panting, as we savored each other’s loneliness.
And then the cooling period came.
What would I feel now?
What would she feel now?
Would it be shame? Longing? Disappointment? Fear?
The answer was surprising.
“Gar… it’s been cooler these nights, and I was wondering… if you would like to share your warmth in my bed tonight?”
“Mrs. Thalica… I…”
“Please don’t… refuse.”
Her face was like a statue on a cliff overlooking the sea, a monument to a woman waiting for a love who had set sail and not returned at the promised time. A woman waiting longingly for a love who would never return…
I was conflicted.
But, she’s my benefactor.
“I’m… not deserving enough.”
She held either side of my face, her eyes boring into me with sincerity, speaking firmly to me, and no one else. “I’ll be the one… to decide that.”
There is a saying that there is no rudeness so profound that a man can bestow onto a woman as to refuse her advances if she is so determined.