Shay continued to knead as she spoke. Grab, fold, push, turn, one hundred times for each loaf. Each motion vital to obtaining the right consistency in the dough. She had been awake since before the cocks crowed, prepping dough for baking. The speed and easy familiarity with which she accomplished this process bespoke how often she had done it.
Shay loved her bread, and considering her product edible art. Each salt dusted loaf had a three hour process behind it to mature the flavors and perfect the crust. She finished the last set of hundred, rounding the dough into a dome shape, and placing it on the bakers rack for the final rise.
The first batch had gone into the wood burning oven before the sun broke over the horizon, this second batch would go in as the light crested over the trees. An exhausting process that was repeated twice a day. Thirty loaves and sixty half-loaves for breakfast. For dinner, twice as much. All needing to be accomplished before Terrasylvans from the Village came knocking on bakery window morning and evening.
Even though it was tiring, Shay liked to do as much of the work herself as she could. Sometimes that wasn’t possible. Fortunately there were two or three folks from the village that helped in the afternoons, and could man the bakery if she was called on duty or had a mission to lead. She paused to regroup for a moment, taking a deep breath letting it out slowly, not unlike she did when prepping for a bout of swordplay.
Normally while the breakfast loaves baked Shay taught her dear children to read and write. Spending time with them and her gentle husband whom she adored. In between batches she attended her duties at the Order Garrison. And while the dinner batch baked she preferred to work with her apprentice Miren, or train with other fighters one on one. It was a fulfilling, consistent, and uncomplicated way to live. Her days were filled with contentment.
But today was different. Today there was a prisoner chained to the grinding stone in the bakery. The garrison prison roof had leaked through exposing two rotten support beams during the last spring storm. There was now a great hole in the roof that Veron and a crew of new recruits were fixing. Consequently, there had been no place to keep the prisoner except chained to something he couldn’t move. So there he sat in the bakery, a length of iron connecting his ankle to the mighty stone. He was clearly pondering on what Shay had just said to him, working on a suitably scathing response.
Shay left him to his thoughts and focused on the final details of her art. She brushed olive oil on the rising dough and sprinkled salt on top of each loaf, carefully attending each one like a painter adding final strokes to a masterpiece. She slashed the doughy tops in deep grooves for the venting of steam during baking. Each salt flavor had its own specific pattern to help with quick identification. As she finished the last cut, the chained man finished thinking.
“Why does that matter so much to you?” He asked, clearly irritated, yet curious.
Even agitated as he was, he was pleasant enough to talk to. He listened, and genuinely thought about things, asking penetrating questions that invited further conversation. He was educated above his station and well traveled in the service of his master. He was an interesting person, but he was also very dangerous. Wisely, Shay kept her rapier in easy reach.
Shay had been with the squad that had sneak attacked his scouting party and had seen the man fight first hand. He had been the only survivor among his men. It had taken the combined efforts of Ul’vade, and two other swordsman to bring him down. He showed the effects of the fight, bruised and cut in many places, but he seemed not to notice. Or if he did notice he didn’t care. He was suitably intimidating.
Shay refused to be cowed. She Looked directly at him, but paused a moment before answering to make sure her point was heard. Without breaking eye contact she carefully replied, “It matters so much, because once you understand a thing, the more you value it.”
He shook his head, the first to break their gaze and smirked unbelievingly. “What if it isn’t worth valuing?” He asked coldly, with an antagonizing smile marred by a split and swollen lip.
Shay turned and began taking out the first batch of fresh warm bread using a long baker’s peel and filling in the empty spaces with the second batch. As she worked she answered the black clad man studying her.
“You wouldn’t know unless you took the time to look would you?” She challenged him with a quiet but firm question. “This will probably be your only chance, you should look closely now to see the details I’m referring to, while you can.” She carefully admonished him.
As she spoke the first tap on the bakery window came. Shay carefully wiped the remaining oil from her hands and opened the window.
“Good morning Laddy! How’s the Irish today?” She asked.
“Fine, fine,” Laddy replied. “Do you have a loaf for me, Shay?” He asked, a musical lilt in his voice.
“Of course Laddy. What are you interested in? Cyprus Black, Himalayan Pink? I have a nice Fleur-de-Sel, if you’re feeling French today.” Shay listed out each type of salt she had used that morning to dust the crusts.
Laddy made his choice, nodding his thanks in the Irish way. Looking over Shay’s shoulder into the bakery his face gained uncharacteristic hardness. He looked at the prisoner then to Shay asking silently if everything was alright. Shay nodded, almost imperceptibly, then tilted her head in a careless way, crooking the corner of her mouth in a wry smile to assure him. Laddy’s good humor returned and, bidding an Irish blessing on the ‘venerable house of Locke,’ he left up the path whistling a tune with a merry warble.
Before Shay could close the window Ja’ika and Tilly came for their breakfast as well. Tilly had an empty basket to take half-loaves up to Veron and his crew. Once it was filled they were on their cheerful way having darted silent questioning glances of their own.
Next came Evanlyn and Edward picking out a loaf to share, while they held hands lovingly. They were perhaps the sweetest and most deadly couple Shay had ever known. She was glad they fought for the Order instead of against it.
A few minutes later Don came striding up the bakery path, with a whole cadre of fencers following along behind. No matter where he went, he managed to have hangers on. He looked like a father goose, leading a gaggle of goslings most days, while his daughter LaDrona followed behind gently guiding stragglers.
Others came, Dyn Hysbys, Damian, Rhiannon. The three sword brothers: Curtis, Leif, and Ian. Even the Berserker Sylas came through saying something very war like. And many more.
Each Terrasylvan that came to the window greeted Shay pleasantly, and each checked to make sure that all was well. Shay kept up a steady stream of pleasantries and reassurances with villagers and members of the Order alike. Happily greeting them and checking on them in return with loving questions. Soon the breakfast loaves were nearly gone.
All the while the prisoner watched silently.
After several minutes had passed with no more tapping, Captain Kane Driscol came to collect his half-loaf. He was usually the last to arrive. Without making a production of it, he managed to eat last, nearly every day, making sure everyone had something to eat before he did.
Rather than stop at the window, Kane let himself in by the side door, without knocking. This was a standing custom between Kane and Shay’s family. Of all the visitors that came by, only two didn’t have to knock before they entered her home. Kane was one, Miren was the other.
As Kane came in the side door, Miren, who had been looking after the kids that morning, entered the bakery from the family entrance. Kane noted her presence in passing but made no comment or sign as such. For her part Miren lifted her chin for a moment, then turned to leave the way she came, snatching a loaf to share with the kids on the way out. Shay ducked her head and smiled briefly before looking up again to greet Kane. She concealed her amusement with a question.
“How are you today Kane? Is there anything I can do for you?” This was part of the morning custom as well.
His response to Shay was monosyllabic, and after that he made brief and to the point conversation, with few pleasantries, as they discussed the Order’s needs for the week. He wasn’t upset, it was simply too early in the morning for any other form of communication.
Eventually, he selected his half loaf from the few remaining. With calculated absent mindedness, he took the same flavor as Miren. Shay noted his selection but made no comment. She hoped, eventually, her apprentice and Captain would see eye to eye, but for now their game of well practiced ignorance on Kane’s part and Miren’s feigned indifference for her’s, was entertaining to watch.
A subtle change came over Kane as he turned toward the grinding stone. He took on feel of authority. Cautiously, but without fear, he checked the prisoner, chains, and locks. Then he pulled a chair from the small waiting area to a position just outside the prisoners reach. Captain Driscol negotiated his rapier making sure his hilt was ready for a fast draw. Then he sat down facing the man.
Shay pointed subtly to the last half-loaf of bread in a way Captain Driscol could see, but the prisoner could not. She arched her eyebrows seeking approval, and he nodded once. Quietly Shay took the bread, still a little warm, and brought it to their enemy. She moved out of reach quickly after he had accepted it. Coming to stand slightly behind and to the side of Kane within reach of her own sword.
The prisoner received the loaf with wonder and doubt. He looked first to Shay then to Kane not quite trusting their kind proffering. Kane nodded towards the bread in the prisoners hands indicating that it was alright to eat. He then signaled for Shay to give them some distance. Shay quickly obeyed, giving a brief encouraging smile to the prisoner. Captain Driscol then began a quiet conversation with the man.
Not wanting to eavesdrop Shay cleaned the counters and baker’s rack and scraped out the mixing bowls rubbing them vigorously with clean sand. By the time she was done, the two men had finished their quiet conversation, and most of their breakfast loafs.
Captain Driscol rose from his chair and replaced it along the wall. As he prepared to leave he promised to send Draco down to guard the bakery while Shay attended to her Garrison duties. Then Kane exited the same way he came, the remainder of his bread hanging from his mouth while he negotiated his rapier and the door latch with his hands.
Shay turned to the dark-haired prisoner sitting on her grinding stone and asked, “So, what did you see?”
The man had undergone a small transformation. He appeared confused and somewhat stung. As though he were conscience pricked, which bewildered him. He sat a little slumped over, looking down at his manacled hands as though they were foreign to him. A small remainder of bread rested in his upward facing palm.
Shay waited with the patience of a baker. Neither moving or making sound. Eventually, he looked at her. There was hardness in his eyes, but they were brimming with emotion.
“Essence.” Came his reply.
Shay nodded slowly, “Yes, the essence of Terrasylvae. And what is it?” Shay asked so quietly it was barely above a whisper.
“Love, and Honor.” He whispered back, hanging his head.
“And how do you value it, now that you’ve seen it?” She asked gently. He looked up from the bread crust in his hand into her face. He was surprised by compassion he saw in a member of the Order he had sought to destroy. For a moment they looked into each others eyes. An understanding passed between them.
“Highly.” He replied.
Draco rapped politely on the door, and Shay moved to answer. Before she lifted the latch The prisoner, Blackkoven’s Captain, gently called, “Thank you.” She nodded briefly to him and opened the door.
Moments later, having kissed her family a good day, Shay was on the path to the Garrison. Tabard on her shoulders and rapier on her hip she moved quickly through the Village. As she passed by the smithy, Illidan fell in step with her and casually asked, “Did you know that Veron got scale mail on his helmet?”