Dead Letters 3: A Hungry Love

a hungry love cover

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I will strive to keep my own interruptions to a minimum; however, I do believe some explanation is in order. We here at the catalog hold true to that keystone belief of the Brothers of the Pen: “Knowledge is meant to be shared.” Only through arming ourselves with the sword of knowledge can we slay that monster ignorance and hope to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Now, imagine my dismay when stories with no or questionable sources were simply being logged and then shelved, forgotten. These tales of dubious origins, these dead letters, are still worthy of consideration despite their patchwork form. So I have made it my mission to pull the stories together with the folios we have here and my own resources so that a valuable asset can be added to strengthen our understanding.

-Valfor, First Brother of the Dead Letters

Versions of this are common enough in more rustic settings, often as a cautionary tale. Other times a more watered down retelling can be heard around hearths across the land. One would think a story so easily heard would have an obvious vein of truth but that is not the case.

I have found no Dargon Keep or Red Wells on any known map of Triss going as far back as the reign of Rueson The Magnificent. While attacks were as common in history as they are today, there were no records at all that even loosely matched what happened.

There was however one account that I was able to draw from. It came from a guard working the docks in Fulbright Harbor. Came across a woman, drunk as a sailor, spouting nonsense. He took her into the jail to settle when she started throwing fish heads at people and some of the things she said struck him enough to write them down. The account he wrote were all I could find that directly sourced some of the key points of the story.

~ ~ ~ ~

There wasn’t really a way to prepare for the end of your whole world. Kent realized that when he saw the knot she’d used to tie the ropes together. He stood there and stared at it, followed it up to the rafter. Maybe if he had loved her a little less, kept more of his heart for himself. Maybe losing her wouldn’t have felt so much like losing everything.

Maybe

He couldn’t manage to untie it. His hands shook too much. But three good chops with the butcher knife was all it took. The thud was deafening in the predawn silence. He moved towards the table, blew out his candle on the way. Happy to not see, grateful for the dark. His legs unsteady, grief drunk. Soon the sunlight would paint the windows in pale, weak morning. In just a bit the rest of the town would stir to life.

The Borewoods would be getting ready for a long day in the fields. Struggle to make their fallow ground yield something worth the effort. His father would be coming down for a simple meal of hot oats, a little worse for wear thanks to the bender he’d been on. They would all know soon, know that they had been right. Kent held his head in his hands, wanting to hold on to the darkness a little while longer.

~

“They got a hungry love, those two.” Sera’s mother said around a mouthful of candied nuts. She was a dumpy woman named Arowana who came from a long line of fishmongers. She watched Kent and her daughter dance in a square of picked flowers, surrounded by friends. Kent’s father just nodded and continued to turn a row of piglets they had roasting on the fire. Unlike Arowana, his parents hadn’t been very clever on his name day and so he went by Apple or Ap for short. Promised himself he’d be more creative with Kent and figured he’d done a good job.

A feeling of regret came over him as he watched his son dance in union. It was a feeling he’d felt often as he helped join two families. His wife had passed shortly after Kent was born and his heart had never let him share these joys with anyone else. Ap smiled a bit at the irony of it all.

Arowana had been trying to get her hooks in him for years. It had been her forwardness that allowed the two lovebirds to meet. Now she’d be part of his family but not the field wife she’d wanted. Though it seemed to suit her fine, maybe even better this way. Sera was marrying up, his orchard a far cry from the streets by the docks. Fruit smelled much sweeter than salted fish.

Is this a bit of bitter I taste? He shook his head. With a small brush, he painted a honey mixed with spices, clove and fennel, onto the crispy skin of the pigs. Old age is making me sour. He spat and pulled out a pouch of Merry Grass. He fished for his pipe and packed in a bit of the fragrant plant only to find another long pipe in front of his face.

“Share the love, eh?” Arowana smiled at him and he found himself smiling back. The two of them took a much needed break and sat side by side, backs braced against a large keg of oatmeal stout. He had brewed it up himself this past winter and was curious to see how the vanilla would taste. The odd bean had cost him a small fortune, but his man had sworn it would add a flavor that was to die for.

“Now that is a fine bit o’ grass.” He took a long drag, let the smoke dance down his throat before blowing it out his flat nose. Arowana nodded in agreement, her eyes already a little droopy.

“Where did you get such good shag?”

“Got a deal down in Reeds Port. Me cousin always sends whatever blend he fancies from shipments out o’ Shamin.”

“Shamin. Great day. Never thought I’d be smoking grass from over the big sea.” She took a deeper pull, felt her body melt into a lazy slump. “What blend is it?”

“Hag’s Hands, I think it said.” Ap also felt that boneless numbing work its way through his body. “Sure does creep up on you.” He was giddy, the grin on his face almost hurt. His vision began to haze til everything wiggled a bit around the edges. He watched Sera and Kent trade places with two others so they could dance as well. Seeing them so close, so happy, their lips never far apart. He could almost pretend. Pretend that she wasn’t just out for his land, pretend that maybe it was true love.

Kent broke himself away from the throng, breathless. The dancing would go on and on, all for the two of them, he knew. But it was tiring already and only just past mid day. The young and single would dance for his children, a sweet jig supposed to bring him many babies. The other couples would then dance for his happy marriage. And finally, the old would dance for his long life together with Sera. A little time away would do his feet good if he were to keep this up til the wedding tonight.

He spied his father and soon to be mother-in-law dozing next to the keg and couldn’t stifle a laugh. Two old birds side by side. He took his father’s pipe and sampled it. He gasped and sputtered.

“Gah! It’s all topsy. How do you put that back, old man?” He dropped the pipe and filled a tankard with cool beer. After he’d gulped down half the drink to ease his burning throat, he licked his lips in surprise. It had a sweet aftertaste but not like the honey brown ales he was fond of.

“Practice.” Ap mumbled, eyes still closed as he grinned wide up at him. “Show I raised you well and rub down those pigs again.” Kent went and applied more homemade glaze to the meat. “There’s a good one.” Ap snuggled closer to Arowana who was fast asleep.

“Thanks again for all this.” Kent waved his hand to the spread laid out for his wedding. Ap had set up most of the food and entertainment, as was custom. But the amount was staggering. Seven tables, borrowed from friends, overflowed with honey pies and fresh stews. Three were set up for just the breads alone. Sweet rolls topped with buttercream crammed in next to dark and white loaves. Muffins rubbed elbows with jam filled pastries of every shape imaginable. On yet another table, peppers stuffed with sausages steamed next to hot pots of beef. Ap just shrugged and held up his hands.

“What is a father to do on such a big day?” He sat up a bit more. “Besides, half the town’ll show up tonight and they won’t want to leave hungry.”

What would you have done, dear? Would you speak your peace or pour another and hope? Not for the last time in his life, Ap wished he could ask his wife her advice. You’d tell me to stop being a coward and just lay it out. Oh, what I’d give to have you scold me again.

“Boy, help an old man up.” Kent helped his father to his feet. Ap studied his son’s face for a moment. Gone was the bucktoothed helper, his clumsy feet knocking over apple barrels. His son had grown into a fine young man with his mother’s green eyes and blonde hair. A bit of his granddad’s chin as well, more’s the pity.

“Should I start whittling that cane now?” He dodged his father’s swat and buffed Ap on the shoulder. “Grass is making you slow.” No sooner had he said that did his father’s rough hand swoop up and cuff him behind the ear.

“Always cocky.” They played for a while as they often did. Kent getting a lucky slap in every now and then as Ap pecked at his ribs til he staggered away.

“I give, I give.” When Kent smiled, Ap could see so much of his mother in him that it hurt.

“Walk with me a while.” Kent saw the look change in his father’s eyes, felt the mood shift as he followed Ap into the orchards.

Sera watched them from her hiding spot in the bushes. She too had decided to take a break from all the dancing. When she couldn’t find Kent, she decided to hide in the shrubs. She’d danced with a dozen cousins and uncles and aunts as well as nephews and nieces galore. Sera never knew a family could be so big.

All she had was her mother and some drunken sailor, a father who she’d never met. She’d watched Kent come by and play fight with his dad but hadn’t wanted to interrupt the sweet moment. Sera had always been a little jealous of their relationship. The two of them were more like best friends than father and son. Her own mother was far less loving. Cold as a fish.

Many a night before she met Kent, Sera would listen to her mother rage at her. Sometimes the cheap wine made the words hard to understand, but Sera knew them all by heart anyway.

Whore

Worthless

Slut

Her mother had given her so many titles. It was only when she’d drawn Kent’s eye did Arowana change her tune. Now she was:

Sweet Darling

Heart of my Heart

Odd enough, these names made her feel more dirty than the others. She could feel how forced they were, the lies that dripped from them. When the two of them walked off, she headed over to the large keg. Her mother muttered something in her stupor but Sera ignored her. She liked the old woman best this way, passed out.

Having her here soured the happiness she’d been feeling, but there was no keeping her away. Doing so would be a scandal. Not one Kent would mind she was sure, but his father was a different story. She sampled the beer and made a face before forcing down half a glass. It burned a little, but a sweetness at the end almost made the bitterness worth it.

“Having a toast already, are we?” Arowana said as she knocked the ash from her pipe against her knee. “Well, don’t get used to the taste.”

“Or what, I’ll end up like you?” Their time together was almost over. Her impending freedom had made Sera much bolder.

“You’d be so lucky.” Her mother swatted at her with a lazy hand, leaning so far forward the older woman almost fell over. “You’ll have those legs in the air soon enough and a whelp at those tits not long after. Can’t lay on the sauce then, makes a babe thick-skulled.”

“Kent hasn’t said a thing about kids.” Sera knew he’d want them someday, but the thought of making a child made her blush. The two hadn’t done anything more than kiss for their whole courting.

“Not for him, you simpleton. For us.”

“Us?”

“The sooner you get heavy, the sooner we are set in this family.” Sera moved away, poured herself another glass. Her hand shook, spilled more than she drank. “You know how long I tried to reel old Ap in? Stubborn man, greedy as a goat, to be sure. And selfish. If I offered him a little rumpscuttle once, I offered it a thousand times.” The slap came so quick it took Arowana’s breath away. Her daughter loomed over her, hand held high in the air for another strike.

“You slag.” Sera kept her voice low so none of the guests could hear. “I’m not your little girl and I’m not your key in the door either. I love Kent and when I’m his wife, you’ll still be in that little fish hole.”

“Ungrateful bitch.” Arowana tried to stand but another whap across the face kept her shocked on the ground.

“If there ever was an us, Mother, then this is the end.” She took a moment to collect herself. “I’ll be his wife after tonight. I won’t let you back here and I’ll never see you again.” Sera’s hand hurt, stung like a bee sting but her heart was filled with a prickling happiness. She turned on her heel and walked back into the group of party goers who swallowed her up in their cheer. Arowana just sat there on the ground, gobsmacked.