”The role of an artist is to inoculate the world with disillusionment.”
…or a Muppet?
Marius trod the worn brick path to his father’s tiny office – once a pleasant cottage with plenty of room, but the Deluge of Marius’s grandfather’s time had violently washed it away, leaving just the sitting area, it’s door, and most of the room’s four walls. The roof was halfway gone, the remaining wooden beams exposed to the elements like rungs of a gray, withered ribcage.
The sun streamed in through the various openings – the state of the place never seemed to bother Jarl; indeed, the old man enjoyed the way the sun’s streaming heat and light would reliably move about. Jarl often followed the shafts throughout the day, much as a cat follows a warm beam across a floor when lounging about, as is the feline’s nature to do so.
As Marius opened the door without bothering to knock – he was the only person who could do so without receiving a cringe-worthy stream of curses from the old man – and started speaking the place in the room he predicted his father would be currently occupying, based on the time of day and angle of the sun. Jarl was there… but he wasn’t alone.
A tall woman with an untamable mass of black curls crowning her head stood before him, and was handing him a sheath of papers. Paper was not yet as rare as it would become, but it was becoming noticeably more difficult to come by, yet this woman passed Jarl Tell a cream-colored, thick and expensive stock, the words printed in neat, even rows by one of the Outer Area presses. These particular coopers already understood that what passed for printed news from the largely-unvisited Outer Area Cities was essentially imaginative and fantastic ramblings.
This was a rare sort of paper – it looked almost alive. Marius watched as Jarl took the parcel without a word. His father stared at the woman before him, as if in a trance. She turned with a swirl of her blue and gray robes and took several steps in his direction before looking up. She stopped. Marius had completely forgotten what he was doing of what he had been thinking just moments before.
She had dark eyes, “Spanish eyes,” his great-uncle the broken-down sailor would have said. The kind of beautiful face impossible to describe, or even accurately remember after you’ve seen it. The kind of beauty some men might pray reaches beyond that flawless Mediterranean-Greek bone structure, and isn’t skin deep. The kind of beauty that haunts you.
Well, that would haunt a more sentimental man than Marius Tell. He smiled and nodded at her as she glided past him and out of the room. He honestly did not give her a second thought immediately after their first meeting.
Long before your grandfather was born, a cooper by the name of Marius Tell walked into his father’s place of business as he had on countless days before. Marius’s father Jarl was the premier cooper – maker of barrels – for many leagues in any direction. His was a honest, strong trade – the smiths hammered out the iron bands, the carpenters tapered the redwood planks, and the coopers labored to bind the things together.
Once complete, the barrels were loaded onto mule-or-horse-drawn wagons and delivered to the brewers who lay to the east, the fisherfolk in the west, the fruit-growers to the south, and the far more mysterious alchemists in the far north. Marius knew not what alchemists needed such barrels for, but his father had ever put faith in them: “They pay well before their accounts are due, and they trouble us not.”
That, as ever, was his father’s final word. The final word. Marius thought his father was aged in his thinking about certain things, but his unyielding faith in the bedrock of their trade had ever proven true, so in the end the son stilled his tongue during such discussions.
He made his barrels. He loaded the wagons and mules. He went home, where his elderly and mostly unseen housekeeper, Dorelda, had a hot supper laid out. He would walk the half-mile down to Piney’s to join his mates for a lager or five – if none had shown, he would sit alone in the corner, gazing into the large hearth at the corner of the room, watching the flames dance and think about the shadows they cast. He was alone. He liked it that way.
As he walked into his father’s cramped bookkeeping office just a short ways off the grounds of the cooping fount, he saw her.
And everything changed.
1st month’s rent in? Check!
Pet deposit? Not required!
Indescribable excitement at moving back to the East Bay, to a peaceful, perfect little spot where I can shed the past and focus on the endless possibilities ahead of me?