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All things that end, begin anew.
Book of Kylor, Chapter Six, Verse Two
Mariyah leaned back in her chair, rubbing her neck and twisting the stiffness from the muscles in her back. Staring at the three ledgers and two-inch-high stack of papers on the small dining table in front of her caused an involuntary groan to slip out. This was Father’s fault. His organizational ineptitude was a continual source of frustration. He was a master at cultivating the grapes and perfecting the wine, but when it came to the administration of their family business, he procrastinated needlessly, waiting until the work was so backed up that it took days, sometimes weeks, to put the books in order.
She cast her eyes around the kitchen, cursing as she realized that, as usual, she’d been too wrapped up in work to remember to light the stove and heat the kettle. Looking at the various pantries and cabinets, she ran through a mental inventory of their contents. Wine, wine, and more wine.
A deep thud and the clatter of breaking glass snatched her attention to the window. Not again, she thought.
Another crash and more breaking glass had her running to the front door. Flinging it open, she saw Tamion standing over a crate, eyes wide, hands covering his mouth. Wine was seeping onto the ground around his feet, filling the air with its sweet aroma.
“Again, Tamion?” she said, with undisguised irritation. “How many does that make this year? Five?”
Tamion was nearly as clumsy as he was strong, but at least he didn’t sneak away to drink when left unwatched. Wine from Anadil Farms, named for her great-grandmother, was a mighty temptation. One that few could resist, apparently. Tamion was the third hand they’d hired in as many years.
After old Chano died, more than three dozen had come calling, hoping to get hired on as his replacement. Initially, Mariyah hadn’t understood why so many had applied, considering it didn’t pay much and the work only lasted through the fall. It was when she’d found Milo, Chano’s first replacement, in a drunken stupor behind the house, the wagons only half loaded, that it had become clear. Her back and arms twitched at the memory of loading more than fifty crates of wine by herself.
Tamion had a deceptively thin build, though he was by no means frail, having spent his youth working the fields. His close-cropped red hair and fair complexion still gave him a boyish appearance, even though he was nearly forty years old.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice muffled by his palms. “I’ll pay for it. Please don’t tell your father.”
Mariyah planted her hands on her hips. “It’s not my father you should worry about. You know how long it took me to fill those?” This was an exaggeration. She had indeed filled and corked the bottles, but that was four years ago. This year her father had hired someone else to bottle and store the wine, and it was still aging in the main cellar. But this batch was of particularly good quality, even by her family’s exceedingly high standards. Each drop was precious.
Tamion opened the crate with fumbling hands. “I’m sorry. Look. Only one broke. I mean, two.”
“I should send you home before it’s three,” she said, but then softened her tone and forced a smile at Tamion’s anguished expression. “It’s all right. I was planning on keeping one for the house anyway. Clean out the glass and put it by the porch.”
“What about your father? You don’t think he’ll fire me, do you?”
Her father had sworn if Tamion broke another bottle, he would do just that. And he was sure to notice the crate was short by two.
“I’ll tell him I did it,” she replied with an exasperated sigh. “Now you had better get back to it. You don’t want to miss the festival.”
Tamion was visibly relieved. “Thank you. I promise to be more careful.”
Mariyah turned to the door, pausing just inside. “Take one for yourself,” she called back. “I’ll tell Father I broke three.”
Tamion’s eyes lit up and he bowed repeatedly, nearly tripping over the crate in his excitement. Mariyah closed the door, fearful of another calamity should she stay a second longer. Three bottles would be hard enough to explain away, particularly from this batch. Each full crate was worth enough coin to pay the average farmhand’s wages for a week. Father is not going to be happy, she thought. But keeping Tamion in their employ was better than the alternative.
Mariyah returned to the kitchen and plopped back down at the table.
“Still there I see,” she said to the pile of waiting papers.
She sorted through the small stack until she found the inventory list. Thirty-five crates had just become thirty-four, and it was up to her to decide who would be shorted on their order. A tiny smile formed as the unlucky soul’s name popped into her head. The smile stretched as she imagined the sour expression on Mrs. Druvil’s face—though in truth Mrs. Druvil’s expression was always sour.
* * *
A soft rap at the door told Mariyah she’d spent too much time in thought and too little on work. Through the window she could see that the sun was nearing the horizon. To blazes with it. This can wait until tomorrow. Not like her father would notice anyway. So long as the bills were paid, he couldn’t care less about the books. Twenty was young to be trusted with the well-being of the family, but though her father was by far one of the finest winemakers in Vylari, it was their combined efforts that had in recent years increased their wealth to the point that they could expand the farm. This season they’d employed twice the number of hands as the previous, and next season promised to be even better.
Selene, Mariyah’s best friend since childhood, had given up knocking and let herself in. Entering the kitchen, she let out an exasperated groan.
“Why aren’t you ready? I told my brother we’d meet him before the festival starts. Or did you forget?”
“I was just finishing up here,” said Mariyah. “Don’t worry. We’ll be there on time.”
Selene sniffed. “That would be a nice change.” She then twirled around, arms extended. “What do you think?” She was wearing her finest dress, blue with green stitching and a white sash, and her straight waist-length raven hair was tied back and intertwined with a silver ribbon. “Mother bought it for me; sent it all the way from Lake Merion.”
“My father orders fish from Lake Merion. It’s quite good. Though now that you mention it…” Mariyah leaned her head in and sniffed several times. “Is that fish I smell?”
“Stop it! That’s not funny.”
Mariyah laughed. “I’m sorry. I was only teasing. It’s very pretty. Really.”
This seemed to satisfy Selene. “Thank you. Now would you please explain why you’re not dressed? The festival starts in less than an hour.”
Mariyah had never enjoyed large crowds. The jostling about and the way folks squeezed tightly together made her feel trapped. And unlike the Spring Wine Festival, where she could stay hidden behind her father’s tasting booth, she would be expected to mingle and hold conversations with people at the Harvest Festival.
“Lem’s playing tonight?” asked Selene, as she pulled a bottle from the cabinet and uncorked it with her teeth. “I will never get what you see in him.”
Mariyah could feel her irritation building. “For one thing, he never takes without asking.”
Selene grinned and took a seat on the opposite end of the table. “You want me to put it back?”
“No. But could you at least use a glass this time?”
Selene took a long gulp directly from the bottle and then offered it to Mariyah.
Mariyah growled and pushed back her chair. “I can see you’re planning on having a very good time tonight.”
Selene grinned. “One of us needs to. All you ever do is pine over Lem.”
Selene coughed a laugh. “Jealous? Over Lem? I would never … I mean, he’s just so peculiar. Always going on and on about music. And those eyes of his…” She gave an exaggerated shudder. “Honestly. You could do better.”
“I like his eyes.” She did. Unusually gray and large, they had the power to capture her whenever she looked into them.
It was true that Lem lived an unconventional life. But someone with his talent was in high demand. Admittedly, she hated that he was forced to be away so much. But it was something she had learned to tolerate. Some considered him odd—easily distracted and often preoccupied. But she knew that his passion for music was beyond that of normal folk. And his talent was made manifest when he played.
Her mother had once remarked that people often cast scorn upon things they thought to be out of the ordinary. Unlike her father, who wanted Mariyah to wed someone with what he thought to be a more stable profession, she was in favor of the match.
“Why Lem?” her father had demanded once, during a heated discussion about her future.
The previous evening, Mariyah had told him of Lem’s marriage proposal. One would have thought she was planning to marry a wolf.
“What’s wrong with Lem?” she countered hotly.
“Nothing is wrong with Lem,” he admitted. “It’s…”
She knew what he wanted to say, though he was refusing to say it. “So, he’s a musician. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“I know. And I have nothing against him personally. He’s a fine lad. But what sort of life is that? You need someone more stable. I don’t want you working yourself to death just because he can’t support you.”
“I have no intention of Lem supporting me. Mother works. Why shouldn’t I?”
The fact was, however, that Lem was not merely a musician; he was far and away the best in Vylari. One did not hold an important event without hiring Lem. The coin he made from students alone earned more than enough to be considered respectable by any standards.
Setting aside these thoughts, she entered her bedroom and crossed over to the wardrobe, pausing to stare for a long moment. If Lem weren’t playing tonight, she could have feigned illness or found some other excuse not to attend.
Only the thought of seeing him urged her to open the wardrobe doors. She pulled out a blue-and-gold dress her mother had bought two years prior for her birthday. Lem had remarked at the time how well it suited her. Mariyah smiled. Yes. This will do nicely.
By the time she was ready, she could hear Selene talking with her mother in the living room. This meant Father would soon be home also. She gave herself a quick, final glance in the mirror and hurried to join them.
Selene was sitting across from her mother near to the hearth, her wine now in a glass. Mother was wearing the tan cotton skirt and blouse she often wore when spending the day in the field inspecting grapes, and her salt-and-pepper hair was wrapped neatly in a bun.
“Aren’t you coming with us?” asked Mariyah.
She smiled back. “Not tonight. Your father and I are going to the Sunflow.”
Realization struck. “Your anniversary! I completely forgot. Should I come with you?”
“Not unless you want to be embarrassed,” she replied. “Your father promised me a romantic evening. Besides, someone has to represent the family. People from all over Vylari will be there.”
“Like we need more business,” Mariyah laughed. “We can barely handle what we have.”
“A testament to your father’s skill,” Selene chipped in, then drained her glass.
“And a testament to my daughter’s keen mind,” her mother added. “Do tell Lem that I expect to see him before he leaves again. He promised to teach me ‘Dove of the Snowfall.’”
Mariyah crossed over and kissed her mother’s brow. “I will. I promise.”
“Now off with the two of you,” she said, shooing her daughter away. “Unless you want to be questioned by your father for an hour.”
This was all the prompting Mariyah needed. Father would insist that she not only tell him every moment of her plans, but swear several times to come straight home once the festival ended, and remind her for the thousandth time that Lem was to remain outside the door upon walking her home. Mother was more understanding when it came to their time together. Young hearts need to be free, she would say.
As they exited the house, Mariyah spotted her father approaching from the barn. “Hurry,” she whispered to Selene.
The girls broke into a run, laughing as they went, not stopping until they were well down the road and out of earshot of her father’s call.
* * *
The sun was nearly past the horizon, and already the lavender sky was strewn with starlight. Several travelers shared the road, mostly on foot, though there were some ox-drawn carriages filled with supplies for the festival.
The excited voices and laughter of children sang in harmony with the chirping of the crickets. Mariyah recalled how much she had enjoyed these gatherings as a little girl. Selene’s parents ran a small bakery in the nearby town of Olian Springs, and would let the girls ride in the wagon atop the boxes of cakes and bread they sold from their booth. In those days, the two spent countless hours tromping through the vineyard or, if the weather wouldn’t allow, reading stories to each other. Selene’s mother had quite the collection of tales in her library and had taught them both to read almost from the moment they could walk.
Soon they could hear the flutes playing, and the scent of honey rolls, candied apples, fig cobbler, and myriad pastries and other delectables filled the air as they neared Miller’s Grove. Dozens of large pavilions had been erected, and various acrobats, musicians, and theater troupes were performing to the delight of what was already at least a thousand people. Booths were set up in a massive circle surrounding the festival, where merchants and artisans from every corner of Vylari were plying their wares. At the far end would be games and contests. Selene usually managed to talk Mariyah into a race or two. Mariyah was an exceptionally fast runner, easily beating most of her friends.
Selene pulled Mariyah toward a group standing just within the entrance. Mariyah recognized most of them, including Kiro, Selene’s brother. He was a bit older and had recently taken a blacksmith apprenticeship in Jordine, a hamlet two days to the north. Selene had hoped for years that Mariyah and Kiro would marry, but Mariyah had never felt any attraction. Kiro was friendly and charming and had always treated her with the utmost respect, but Lem had captured her heart. There could be no other.
As they walked up, Kiro was telling the group of his time in Jordine.
“I like the work,” he said. “But Master Dorin is about as nasty a fellow as you could meet.”
Mariyah tried to look interested, but could not stop herself from fidgeting. Lem would be playing by now.
“She’s not really listening,” remarked Selene.
Kiro laughed. “That’s right. I nearly forgot. Do you know where he’s playing?”
Copyright © 2019 by Brian D. Anderson