Beyond the Rim – Installment 6

“Oorgo, child, you must deliver these loaves to Mister Henlik. He wanted them by this afternoon for the party for his daughter, and the sun will reach zenith soon.”
“Yes, mother.” Oorgo ceased from stirring the embers under the round loaf in the oven. He stood and collected the sack of bread in his two arms, a bundle of nearly his own size. He skipped around the hearth and bolted for the door, eager to be in wind without smoke. Just as he reached the door he hopped back onto his heels as his elder sister burst through the door.
Oorgo’s mother snapped, “Mairda, you were too long on that errand. By what were you distracted this time?”
Mairda immediately looked down to the ground and stepped sideways to clear Oorgo’s path. She said nothing, but the blush of embarrassment told all. Oorgo pushed the door open with his back as struggled cheerily under the load, and as his head filled with street noises he last heard his mother say, “You know he will never pay any attention to you, Mairda. If you’re to have any hope of a husband you must…” but Oorgo did not care to hear that conversation again.
The little boy ran along the gutter of the street, barely keeping his feet out of the mess that slid down the edges of the road. He bustled past the doors of many other tradesmen, most too busy to notice that the baker’s son was on another errand. He would pass their doors many times some days, and only the butcher ever took notice.
Oorgo could barely see over the sack he carried in his arms, the ends of the long loaves protruding towards the shop side. With that little vision he tried to pick out any new threats to his route; he already knew every loose paving stone and deep spot in the gutter where the grime might collect into puddles. He had only to get to the butcher’s shop and then he could skip down a level.
Mister Henlick lived two terraces below the Durnath bakery, but the butcher’s house spanned a whole terrace. Oorgo had got special permission to use the exterior stairway by the side of the unusually tall home to shorten his routes, mostly out of pity from the butcher’s wife, who always gave a little cry to see with what speed and under what loads Oorgo’s bare feet would traipse the streets. Oorgo took the sharp corner, catching the little gate latch with the fingers of his right hand without so much as glancing down. He listened closely and stepped more lightly as he took the stairs, as over his load he could not see if anyone was coming up.
He heard a door on the stairway yanked open and slowed his gait, only to hear the butcher’s wife, “Oorgo! Not so fast on stairs little one. You could have taken me all the way down with you!”
Oorgo slowed to about a stair a second, carefully avoiding the weak plank he knew was about a dozen steps above the ground level. “Sorry, ma’am,” he said. “The order is late getting to Mister Henlik.”
“Ooh, Henlik has all that bread coming has he?”
Oorgo knew that it was impolite to run away from adults asking him questions, and knew better than to be impolite to The Lady who secured him a much shorter journey up and down the hillside. “Yes, ma’am. Mother said it was for a party.”
“No doubt. His daughter’s just been betrothed, and he must thank the young man’s family appropriately. No wonder he ordered bread from all the way up the hill. Any prospects on your sister?”
Oorgo had never been asked this so directly before, nor had he been taught how to answer it. He merely stood still until he realized that she actually wanted an answer. “None but perhaps in her mind, I’d guess, but perhaps I am just not told…” he said, though he knew there were none.
The butcher’s wife sighed. “The homely girl…”
Oorgo heard the dismissal in her voice, and plunged on down the hill. It was only a minute more to reach Mister Henlick’s place.
Upon arrival, Oorgo rapped on the door. The sign was not out, indicating that Henlick was not open for his usual furrier business. Oorgo knew the place by memory.
The door was hastily opened and Oorgo looked up into the flushed face of Henlick’s wife. “Oh, it’s the bakers’ boy. Bring them in, and take them where he says.” The Ladypointed to her husband.
Oorgo stepped inside and immediately felt the soft of fur on his feet. He looked down for how to avoid the rug, knowing his feet were dirty. “Never mind the rug, my boy, it’s a gift after today,” called Henlick, winking at his daughter. “Just drop the whole sack on the table over there.
“Congratulations to this house,” said Oorgo as he dropped the sack in the indicated place.
“And thanks to yours,” Henlick responded. As Oorgo turned for the door the man of the house handed him a small pouch, “A gift for the friendship of your father,” said the man, and then, glancing over to see that his wife paid no attention, he pressed a golden coin into Oorgo’s hand, “And take care that you tell no one I gave you this. It’s for you to enjoy something that’ll put meat on your bones,” and with that he slapped Oorgo in the back, pushing his light frame out of the house.
Oorgo had been tipped for his work before, and occasionally given the same admonishment to actually spend The Coin on himself, but he had never heeded it. Every time he would go and bring it back to his father, receive hearty thanks, and hear his mother wish that he would stay a small child forever so that the hearts of families might continue to bestow on him their extras. His father had once verbally resented the implication that his son was a beggar, but after the respondent tongue-lashing had never done so again.
Oorgo came again to the butcher’s house and ascended the stairs rapidly, hoping for no delay from The Lady. As he reached the top stair he heard the same door as last time open and The Lady call up to him, “Oorgo, you’ll tell me if a man ever comes for your sister?”
Oorgo hardly stopped but called behind him, “Of course, ma’am,” with no intent of putting any extra effort into doing so. He always answered her questions, whether they be of his family or of another. He saw it as a sort of fare for passing the stairs.
He returned to his home, passing under the baker’s sign and rushing through the door, only to find that he wished he had for once been slow on his errand.
Mairda was holding back what looked like the last few tears of many that had preceded them, and his mother was kneading dough far too energetically, facing away from Mairda who had taken Oorgo’s place tending the fire. His father sat idly sharpening a bread knife, staring into the familiar wood work of the work table.
“Ooh, there’s the precious child back! Did they give you extra?” his mother inquired.
“A gift for the friendship of my father,” he said as he passed the pouch, made from a scrap of the furrier business.
“And anything else.”
“A coin to me, as well, mother,” he said, and handed The Coin to his father.
His mother gasped, “Henlick is in a generous mood!” Oorgo turned, and for the first time recognized that The Coin was gold. For a small moment he wished he had kept it, but not long.
“Henlick is a generous man,” said his father, setting down the knife. He counted the money quickly, seeing that the pouch contained the expected value of a gift to someone contributing to an engagement party, and then a bonus coin. He then swept the coins into his own money pouch, but stuffed the golden coin into his apron pocket while his wife had returned to the dough.
“Well, if Mairda does not learn to be a more excellent baker, we may never need to save for her party. That skill is the only quality that might recommend her, and the only one she can hope to obtain.”
Mairda choked back a sob that had already been ready. Then at last Oorgo spotted the spark that had ignited the cruel words. The ashes of a loaf, unfortunately tipped into the fire, were still visible in the back of the hearth.


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