“Yes, we have many different kinds of cookies, almond jelly sandwiches and breads. If you can read, I have a menu written here and the price of each. If not I will be happy to list them off…”
Tally, borrowing a kitchen stool, sat at the counter for most of the day. Nefe stayed in the bakery and was taking care of filling the orders, while Trev was being entrusted for the first time with making the deliveries on his own. He was fast, full of energy, and had long ago memorized the routes. Now that his sack was filled with things like cookies and sandwiches, it was lighter than when it was filled with bread, so he could make multiple short trips at a good speed, coming back to give the money earned on each trip to his mother.
I was ahead of the game, so while I baked batch after batch of cookies, they would be for tomorrow instead of today. However I never stop innovating if I have time, and because Nefetina was being such a good girl and doing a dutiful job of helping her mother while she was having her time of the month, the treat I made this time was specifically designed for her.
Frosted apple-pecan cinnamon rolls.
The scent of finely diced baked apples and cinnamon flooded the bakery itself and drew nearly every passer-by in the area inside. I hadn’t intended to sell any of them, but it was getting more and more difficult not to.
It was outrageous to ask for it, but I made these particular ones as big as a famous shopping mall’s which I was quite fond of eating. They were so famous that they even had a cereal and an ice cream to which the brand name was attached.
“Oi. Four copper for two, aye?”
A very spindly man with a long thin face, a wide forehead, and a pointy hairless jaw placed the appropriate amount of coins on the counter after weaving his way through the ten or so customers lined up.
“’Allo, Talsy. Smells right nice in ‘ere. Ah’d like to bring two’a them back to Nedda and the old mare if ‘ya please.”
“Nefe, go get Jhorin two of those… what did Gar call them again?”
The litte princess helper giggled. “Daddy named them after me, mommy! They’re called Cinnefe Rolls!”
Mrs. Thalica just rolled her eyes.
“Yes, sweetie, two of those.”
“Okay! I’ll pick some good ones!”
And she did. Nefe picked out two of the fattest most loaded apple-pecan cinnamon rolls with a sugary frosting and a hint of lemon zest in it that I had made. At first I think it was surprise that anyone would have paid that much, but then the food crossed the counter and between the glazed golden brown appearance and the scent being right at their nostrils…
It was done.
“I’d like one as well.”
“Two for me!”
It now became less a treat meant for family, and an instantly successful menu item instead. While that Jhorin fellow didn’t take a bite of one inside the store, others upon receiving theirs, did.
“Oh my goodness!”
I soon found myself pressured into making more of them, and it was to the point my capable wife had created a second line for people just waiting to receive theirs, so she could still take orders for the other things we were selling quickly out of! There was hardly any time for them to cool, and they were far to hot for Nefe to touch bare-handed, lest she burn her fingers, so I sent her upstairs quickly to fetch some of the pieces of paper I had been given by Zedron the master merchant friend of Mrs. Thalica.
She quickly returned and I began to fold the paper in a way so that the cinnamon rolls could be eaten without getting to hot to hold or in the way of taking a bite. Served blistering hot out of the oven, while I could make no more than eight at a time, i was soon able to clear the line of waiting and expectant customers.
Many were overheard saying that they would tell their friends about it while they chatted and talked about the cookies they had also tried the day before.
One customer, a regular who I knew by now as Mrs. Windie had appeared, and without even needing to pay for a thing, my wife had handed one of them over, fresh out of the oven, along with confiscating a piece of paper and putting a significant number of cookies into it, folding it over and twisting it closed at the top.
“What’s this for, Mrs. Thalica?”
“Oh, just repaying a favor from before, plus I’m in a very good mood.”
“Gardavan.” She nodded.
Mrs. Windie quickly accepted my wife’s generous repayment, and along with insisting on paying for two loaves of bread, one of the old fashioned, and one of the cinnamon raisin variety, she promised to stop in when it was less busy and catch up with her. Thalica quickly agreed that she must.
When it came time for sup, and my wife quite forcefully closing the bakery, she was able to breathe easier, before she took hold of little Trevorkane, and began dancing around the store with him.
“Well, your mother sure seems happy about something.” I commented off-handedly to Nefetina, who was sticker than a ten-fingered crook having gotten to eat her third Pecan-apple Cinnefe Roll.
“Mom’s been weird lately.” Was all the insight the seven year-old had to offer.
I found out shortly after why she was so happy, and it was because there was a shiny object she placed on the table while the three of us, Nefetina, Trevorkane, and I stared down at it, having never seen one before.
“Mommy, is that a gold coin?” Trevor asked with curiosity.
“Yes baby, it is. The first gold coin to pass through our bakery.”
“Wow, it’s so… yellow!” He added.
“That’s not yellow, it’s gold, poopy pants!”
“I’m not a poopy pants, you… pee pee pants!”
“I’m gonna bite you!”
Nefe, while clearly caring more about the sweet apple delight in her hand than getting revenge on her younger brother, I couldn’t help but find the situation humorous.
I walked over and put my arm around my beloved, and held her close, kissing her on the cheek.
“Maybe soon I can say I’ll be a worthy enough man to provide for you.”
She reached up and touched my cheek, passing along a sultry sweet kiss that tasted a bit like apples as well, and reminded me that I had no say in the matter. That only she would be the one to decide my worthiness.
While the children and I counted all the profits, helping them familiarize themselves with the currency exchange rates, Mrs. Thalica insisted on at least making sup. I had no say in the matter, so I might as well give up.
I’ve lived with two women who still had that time of the month, and I wasn’t about to choose a hill made of loose sand to make any kind of stand on.
“If the value of the coins you taught me is correct, Tally, there is approximately three gold, two silver, and eight copper here.”
“That is counting the gold coin as well.” I added.
She came over to see that I had the copper coins stacked up twelve high and grouped by eights, representing one, then the rest combined with the silver coins to represent the second, and the gold coin by itself for the third. The remainder was put aside in one pile as well… the remainder.
“Something wrong, Tally?”
“Wrong? It’s three gold, Gardavan. Three. Gold.”
“Yes, I’m the one who said that.”
“Do you have any idea how much I made on a daily basis selling bread before you came into my life?”
I shrugged. “A silver or two?”
“Yes. And on a very good day, when the goddess was merciful to me, as much as three silver. But this was before deducting the cost of ingredients. What I made on a good day selling brown bread is merely… the leftover change here!” She pointed to the loose coins.
She immediately plucked up a silver coin, and handed it to Trevorkane.
“Go buy us some meat. Whatever kind, however much you can for this one silver coin.”
“Yes, I don’t care which! Whatever you fancy, mommy will cook it and we’ll eat good tonight!”
I took the other silver coin and handed it to Nefetina.
“And another bottle of wine for your mommy. Don’t worry, I won’t let her drink it all. She worked hard too, and can enjoy a single cup of it.”
“Don’t you know, meat tastes best with wine? My mother and sister often said such things.”
“You will have a cup with me?”
“No, but I will have a sip from your cup, to show my sincerity.
All of us were quickly gathered up into a group hug by my wife who was very… very.
“Things are only going to get better from here onwards, so let’s keep doing our best and maybe we’ll be in for some big changes soon!”
“Big changes? Like what, mommy?” Nefe asked.
“I don’t know yet exactly, sweetie. But whatever they are, they won’t be anything but good!”
Little did I know, there was going to be such a change, and I wouldn’t think positively at all of it at first. All because my wife didn’t yet understand the seriousness of my vow to her. The cultural dissonance of this place when compared to my world…
I wasn’t prepared for it. Not one bit.
Not when the children were out and the elderly nun named Gemma had arrived, not alone, but with a young girl of fifteen in tow.
“Good afternoon, Tally. Gardavan. It is this child who I have selected. You know the Mrs. Thalica, but please introduce yourself to her husband.”
The young girl stepped forward. At least, I’m pretty sure it was a young girl. The face was certainly effeminate, but she was lacking in every other department, though I wasn’t trying to scrutinize a minor, besides my wife won out completely even if she would have been a bit more feminine in shape.
“Hello. I am Jaxan. From today on, I will be the slave of this household.”
“She’s… not half bad, Gemma.”
“Well, you were very specific on what you wanted.”
My wife nodded.
She wanted a slave? And a young girl at that? What the hell!?
“Where is your crest?”
The girl who was wearing a brown one piece dress, slid down one strap and revealed on her chest, something which shouldn’t be shown to anyone until much older. But there it was, some horrid looking tattoo.
“What’s the sealing oath?”
The nun, Gemma said a strange set of sounds, and my wife placed her hand in such a way to cover up what was on display, but that meant also covering up the tattoo. My wife began saying the same thing that the nun had spoke, and the face of the young girl began to twist and contort. She had bit her lip and broke skin, a small droplet of blood trailing down her chin.
“From now on, I am your mistress.”
“Good. Gar, come here.”
“To formalize the slave contract. You need to be added as her master as well. Don’t worry, in the cases of two masters she can’t ever act in the interest of one to harm the other, it’s perfectly safe.”
“No. What slave contract? I’ve never heard of such a thing!”
“It’s perfectly normal to own a slave, Gar. Now that we are married, and there is more work to be done than ever before, as well as the eventuality of me having another child or two in the future, we will need an extra pair of capable hands.”
“But… a slave? You’re talking about taking control of someone who is then forced to do things against their will?”
This… agitated me for some reason. I grew up learning about slavery when I attended school, and none of it was good.
“Yes. But you don’t need to make it out to sound so evil. This is also charity for her.” My wife tried to explain, but was met with a wall known as my stubbornness.
“Jaxan, explain your circumstances to my husband.”
“Yes, mistress. My parents were debtors who could not repay the money they borrowed. Everything in our family was seized and both my parents were put into slavery as the terms of repayment. I was not required to be one, but seeing as how I have no means of surviving on my own, I also opted to become a household slave. The duration is for five years, in which I will learn a trade, and be given food and board during the entire time.”
I shook my head.
“No. I’ll have no part in anything to do with slavery, even if it’s under the noble lie of charity.” I firmly stood my ground.
“Gar, please don’t be a child about this.”
“I must. Slavery was banned in my homeland a hundred and more years ago because it was wrong. My entire society fought a war over the matter, and the outcome was decided that it was wrong. I believe in that outcome so I will not have a hand is something I so strongly disapprove of.”
“Then you disapprove of me?”
“If it is of this matter, then yes, I do!”
It was our first real argument as a married couple. If she told me to get out, I wouldn’t hesitate. I believed in our marriage, and my love for Tally, but I do not condone slavery.
My wife sighed.
“What can I do, Gemma?”
Gemma the elderly nun shook her head as well. “It is done already, Tally. The crest has been invoked…”
“What do you mean it is done?” I said, somewhat furiously at the elderly nun who brought this trouble into our home.
“The crest… it’s a binding magic. It was imprinted to last for the duration of the contract. She will be Thalica’s slave for the next five years. There is no undoing it.”
My brain paused for a moment.
This… was someone’s life here.
This was a monumental decision to accept five years of someone’s life and my wife just… went and did it so casually without saying anything to me, just like wiping her bum with a leaf after taking a large fat sh–
“No.” I said, firmly rejecting the reality of the situation. “I will have nothing to do with aiding in this atrocity.”
“Gar, be reasonable, please. It’s done already. This is a very normal thing! I would have obtained one already by now if…”
She halted her tongue.
“If… what?” I asked, somehow knowing what the rest of that sentence was. I’m not a dense person. What she hadn’t finished saying was that if her former husband was still in the picture, this wouldn’t even be an issue. She’d probably have another one or two children, and this poor girl or someone just like her would be in the slave’s position.
My wife kept her tongue.
That act alone made me lose trust in her today.
So I looked to the elderly nun, and I asked a question that I probably shouldn’t have, but I did anyway, with a cold voice.
“Who do I need to pay to get that tattoo thing removed?”
“GARDAVAN!” My wife yelled.
The nun met my gaze squarely. I could see she wanted to remain compassionate towards my feelings, but I had no idea what offence I had just committed.
She simply pointed up.
So I looked up, at the ceiling of the first floor of the bakery, not understanding.
“Gardavan, apologize to Gemma, right now.”
“Why?” I said as my head returned to eye level and my gaze shifted to Thalica.
“The crest. It’s a blessing… from the goddess.”
A disgusting laugh.
A revoltingly sick and absurd laugh that denied the divinity of any such being who would ever endorse such a thing as slavery.
It came from me.
Without Mrs. Thalica, I have nothing. I have no direction in life, no knowledge in this world, no money, and little reason to continue trying. Just the clothes on my back.
Currently these clothes belonged to the former Mr. Thalica, whoever he was.
I left the first floor and went upstairs, leaving the three of them alone. I opened the trunk at the foot of the bed, and changed into my clothes from Earth which had been freshly laundered by my sweet wife a few days ago.
I returned downstairs, and without saying a word to any of them. I left. Penniless, I left that home, and walked. Without a destination, I walked and walked, and had no desire to go back.
Did I think leaving the way I did was wrong? Yes.
Did I think the children might be hurt that I left when I told them that I would never ever leave? Yes.
Do I think there is anything I can do to fix the situation? I could only hope that too, was a yes.
I would have been fine if Thalica had said she would be a live-in apprentice. I would have been a bit concerned, but would have thought that a noble thing. Indeed, it would be one more set of able hands to help my wife during her menstruation. Another body to help at the counter serving customers. Another hand in the kitchen to help make the dough for bread and cookies and whatever else I ended up making.
But there’s something insidious about slavery.
And it didn’t sit right with me, not one bit at all.
So I walked, and walked, and walked. Then eventually I found a place that looked familiar. I sat down and closed my eyes.
And I prayed.
Not to any trashy goddess of this world who condoned slavery, but to the God of my world. The one who must not have been looking when I was stolen away to this forsaken place.