Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Watchers: Part Four.

A continuation of the Watchers. Copyright, Michael Wescott Loder 2009.

“Be sure the cucumber slices are not too thin.”
“Yes, Ma-Ma.”
“You said that last time, but they were so thin, the plate held nothing but a slimey mess. Our guests could pick up nothing.”
“Yes, Ma-Ma.”
“Beriana Beth, are you listening?”
“Yes, Ma-Ma.” Beriana emphasized her answer with an extra-loud chop of her paring knife, then waited until her mother had moved on to the meat trays Madam Cook was assembling. Her hands remained motionless as she let her gaze drift away from the chopping table, taking in shining pots and pans hanging from hooks near the stoves and the hung strings of dried apples, tomatoes, red peppers and—her favorite—klemfruits gathered among the overhead beams. She wondered for a moment if she could break off one or two from the one string that might be a bit longer than the others. Her mouth and tongue reminded her of the tangy snap mixed with sweetness that klemfruit always delivered. “Mmm.” If Madam Cook and Ma-Ma and Madam Assistant and Master Souper all left the kitchen for at least half a dial … She wrinkled her perfectly-complexioned, delicate nose with its slight bump right in the middle. She might as well hope for an elder’s blessing. Not today, anyway … Beriana’s gaze moved from the fruit to nearest west-facing window. The sun was still too high in the sky for her to see it, and no one would eat until a dial-turn after it had set. Why did Solstice Day promise such marvelous foods, yet make everyone wait so long to enjoy them?
Fiona, Beriana’s sister, opened the swinging door and leaned in. “Ma-Ma, the Fletchers just called. They won’t be coming. They said something about their dog being sick?”
“Oh, dear. I was going to seat them next to our off-land visitors.” Ma-Ma sighed. “This always happens. I will think of something.”
“That dog of theirs is always getting sick,” Fiona agreed.
“That’s because they don’t have any children to get sick when they don’t want to come here. Bappsie is their baby,” Beriana pointed out. “Besides, they’re always feeding her sweet breads and biscuits,”
“Beriana Beth Krinklesdau, mind your tongue and your manners … and get back to your task.”
“Yes, Ma-Ma.” She glanced in her sister’s direction and was rewarded with a return wink. Chop-slice, chop-slice: Beriana was back at her task.

The guests began arriving shortly after the last sunrays faded from Krinkles’ upturned eaves. The women all wore shawls woven from the finest, thinnest wools and covered with floral and leaf motifs over their light-weight summer dresses. They greeted their lady host warmly, pressing covered dishes into her hands and often kissing both cheeks as well. The men wore somber black jackets ornamented with many pockets underneath pale robes. They nodded to the lady and bowed to her husband but did not kiss. “Betty, Rauldo, oh, so glad you are here! We had thought you might be in Tartuff.”
“And miss any of Madam Theresa’s cooking? Shame on you, Margareta,” Betty answered with mock horror. “Come, we have brought you a special guest.” She gestured that the stranger dressed in clerical grey and blue should step forward. “This is Shepherd Benjamin. We met him this morning in the aeroport. He was going; we were coming. Oh, but he did not want to leave. It was just that he had no longer any place to stay. You know the Avon Hotel burned at lunch time? Yes, the news is everywhere. So we invited him to stay with us while he completes his research. And, of course, we had to ask him to share Solstice with you!”
Margareta smiled and nodded as Benjamin gave her his best clerical smile and bow. “I hope this does not mean you will have to look for another plate?”
“No, certainly not. I shall just tell Madam Cook to add more water to the soup,” Margareta replied. Everyone laughed except for Beriana, standing unseen behind the foyer’s curtain. Instead, she squinted and glared at the cleric who stood grasping his staff, smiling and gripping her father’s hand.

“This is our eldest daughter, Fiona-Bel. This is our middle daughter, Beriana-Beth and here is our youngest, Louisa-Bin.” Margareta pointed each of her three youngest standing in line, feet carefully alined and heads slightly bowed.
“Pleased, I’m sure,” the uninvited guest replied. Benjamin’s smile froze then faded as he took in the middle daughter. Thrusting his head forward he studied Beriana. “We have met before?”
“I don’t think so,” she answered indifferently, then with a slight nod turned and followed her sisters.
A solstice even’ meal should have forty-two in attendance: thirty for the days of the month and another twelve for the months of a year. The Krinkles often did manage that many, but tonight they were still one short—the unexpected Shepherd Benjamin making up for only one of the missing Fletchers.
“Yes, Ma-Ma?” Beriana stood still, waiting.
“Would you sit by our newest guest, the cleric? I know you can sparkle in conversation when you put your mind to it.”
“Yes, Ma-Ma.”
“He did specifically ask for your company. What do you think of that?”
“Humph. Yes, Ma-Ma.” She bowed and walked slowly over to station herself by the tall-backed chair next to where the cleric already stood, staff still in hand. The prayers and holiday salutes went on and on. Beriana thought about how empty her insides felt, and how she longed to sit and eat. But an end did come at last, and the assembly eased into their seats, Beriana waiting until Benjamin had settled into his before taking her own. Soups and cheeses started their rounds. Except for a few courteous remarks and nods her way, Benjamin spent most of his supper responding to questions from the woman to his left. Beriana was halfway through her roast mutton when he politely freed himself from the woman’s curiosity and concentrated on his own food. Three bites into his main course, he paused and, without looking her way, spoke softly. “You have an unusual ability to leave sunburns behind quickly.”
Beriana did not answer but continued to cut and eat, carefully chewing each bite.
“Come, child. I know you can say more than ‘Yes, Ma-Ma.’ I heard you say more than that in the dawn turnings.”
“Ah. Now I have this strange curiosity that must be satisfied. How is it that a beggar girl wearing little more than one, threadbare gown and missing most of her right hand should now find herself seated beside me an a dinner fit for a ruler, dressed in silk and with both hands intact?”
“Tsk. It is a puzzle,” Beriana allowed. She helped herself to a soft roll, broke it in two and began to mop up some of the gravy.
“May I see your right hand?”
“No.” Beriana continued to eat. If she was offended by this direct demand, her voice did not show it.
“You’re strange one, Child.”
“And you also, Shepherd. What flocks are they that you tend?”
He grinned. “Ones that walk on two legs. I am a shepherd of men and women, a pastor, as they say in my own land.”
“And that gives you a staff that is not a crook, but a versatile and even deadly weapon?”
“You spar well for one so young,” he admitted.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Beriana rejoined, ending the conversation.

Interior trim for the lodge

Bit by bit, we are starting to add trim: baseboards and moldings around the windows. It is slow work and real wood is expensive, so it may be months before all is done.
Images show me nailing on sub-baseboard, then finishing a power receptacle. I paint and stain the grill work for the large bedroom window, then install it. The small windows in the bedroom are done with the white dragon of the Loders watching over all.