Hello! Benjamin from Brother’s Campfire here! I have been trying my hand at creative writing again and I wrote a 1400 word story. Let me know what you think.
Without further ado, Gather Round and I will Spin You a Tale about a day in the life of Ashton!
Ashton was distraught. The potato crop had failed and without seed, no wheat was planted. If he and his mother survived the winter, it would be a miracle.
As he wandered through the meadow, he thought of the family cook pot, acquired from a family who did not survive the winter a few years back. Burying their emaciated remains amplified the stark reality they were facing.
Surveying the field, he surmised that grasping the stems of grass and removing the seeds would serve as a temporary meal.
He would return and gather as much of it as he could before they fell from the spikelet, but for now, his bag had too many holes.
Moving on to a patch of salsify, he evaluated his remaining energy reserve and began digging. As tired as he was, he had precious little to spare. Salsify tasted like oysters and better than cattail roots, but were not as filling as the starchy water plant.
Mind muddled with hunger he headed towards home with his meager gathering.
Shaking his head back and forth to find focus, a thought came to the scrawny young man. He must check the snares.
Backtracking, he went further afield where he had baited a few snares with corn kernels on a willow tree. A squirrel dangled by his on a branch, a fortunate happening for him.
Carefully, he looked around.This was a potentially dangerous undertaking. The Alderman had watchers in the forest and one could be severely beaten or worse for hunting on his property.
Shaking with fear and excitement, he placed the animal in the bottom of his ragged canvas bag. It was still warm and it always made Ashton uncomfortable when they were fresh.
His mind not as sharp as normal and head pounding from thirst, it was hard to discern the noises around him from what was within. The pounding.. It was the hoofbeats of a horse.
Ashton froze. It was one of the gentry astride a tall gelding. The horse dropped its head to the ground catching a scent, likely his.
Surely, if he continued on this route he would be questioned. Knowing sudden movement would attract the eye of the now alert rider, he forced himself to relax and slipped into the willows.
The rider approached, suspicious, scanning about. “Must be a wild animal,” he muttered as he rode on.
Leaving the squirrel was not an option.
His mother was depending on him for these provisions and they were few. Contemplating,
He assessed that he would have to pass by the house with the dogs and surely they would smell his find, and he would be discovered.
Perhaps paranoia had taken ahold of Ashton and he took another route circling home from the sea side. Passing a stream, he cupped his hands and drank his fill of water. Slowly, the precious liquid made its way to his stomach and while feeling nauseous, he felt better overalls
With luck, he could scrounge a few snails or a little something that washed on the beach. At this point, washed up fish would not be off the table.
Boats dotted the water headed towards the shore. He wished to be aboard one so he could work the nets for a meal, but work was scarce on the fishing vessels.
The boats were tight knit family affairs and word was out that his mother was a witch. Storms, leaky boats, and empty nets befell the unwary fisherman who hired a witch’s son.
The salty air and the stream water had revived the senses. A bird flew overhead from the direction he came. He was being followed.
Looking behind him was Yara, a girl he had seen here and there. She was a fisherman’s daughter, rail thin with brown hair and eyes. Her wind blasted skin stretched tightly over her freckled face and she carried a gathering basket.
Slowly, Ashton turned and waited for her to catch up. She was curious
“Hi Ashton, what do you got in the bag?”
Ashton was silent and his ears turned bright red. Secretly, he adored Yara, but he knew his future prospects were bleak and there would be no courtship forthcoming. The tiny braids she put her hair seemed like living things and moved almost independently it seemed, distracting him.
“Ashton, I am speaking to you. It is not polite to stand there without greeting me.”
Ashton’s eyes looked downwards. His words came out in a mumble. ” Hello Yara, I am just out gathering a bite to eat for me and my mother.”
“How is she?”
Ashton inhaled and exhaled slowly. He measured what he would say to Yara, but the words came out as choppy as the nearby sea.
“Mother is at it again. When the gentry pass by, she goes about begging for a morsel. Nothing is free and she pays dearly for every bit she gets. She finds work cleaning houses for the gentry and they are not kind to her for various severities of reasons.”
Yara looked genuinely concerned. “And how are you?”
Ashton smiled. ” Why, I get a brief moment to sit here and admire your gathering basket. What’s inside?”
Yara stared hard at Ashton, her lips tightening. “What a rude question, I am shocked you asked!
Ashton was hoping against hope that there was food in that basket. He glanced at a cast off fish head with consideration.
“why Yara, you asked me first what I brought and I think it fair to ask you back.”
Yara smiled slyly,
“I have a half loaf of bread and smoked fish. I was picnicking with a friend. Now you have to tell me what you have.”
Ashton cringed. He put himself in this spot and regretted his decision for divergence from the path. Maybe those dogs wouldn’t have smelled his find after all.
“Yara, I got nothing.”
Yara looked at Ashton and then at his canvas bag. Part of the squirrel’s tail had worked its way out of a tear in his bag, obviously demonstrating Ashton was not exactly forthright.
Her voice was shrill and tense.
“Ashton, there are men on horseback looking for you. Everyone knows you have been poaching in the Alderman’s forest.”
Ashton’s heart raced and fear tightened his chest making it hard to breath. His lip trembled. “I , don’t… “
Yara’s eyes went to the bag again. “Give me the squirrel, Ashton.”
“But my mom…”
Yara would have none of it and she stepped uncommon close to Ashton and he grimaced.Her breath smelled of fish, and her clothing reeked of several day’s accumulation of sweat. Gently, she took the bag off of his shoulder and removed the offending rodent.
Ashton opened his eyes, looking on helplessly. To lay hand on Yara would result in consequences he did not wish to experience. She was well known in the fishing village and her father was not a man to trifle with.
She dumped out the contents, taking inventory.
“Cattail roots, salsify, grass seeds,” She paused. “Ashton, is this what you have been eating? What of the potatoes?”
Ashton fought back tears. He was exhausted and just wanted to be home and here he was being robbed by a girl. Composing himself, he said flatly,
” the potatoes did not grow at all this year and there was no coin to be had for wheat. It will be a rough winter.”
Yara’s eyes darted back and forth. “I don’t want you to get in trouble, Ashton. Here, you take what is in my basket, and I will take the squirrel and the roots.”
Hastily, she packed the dried fish and loaf in the bag and handed it back. The grass seeds lay strewn on the ground. Yara methodically examined the roots.
“Bring me more of these roots and I will provide you fish. You are scrawny and need the meat and these go for a decent price at my village.”
Although somewhat enriched for the time being, Ashton was bewildered and trudged home.
He did not have the burden of the Alderman’s squirrel to his relief, but digging roots was no way to make a living or fill a belly for that matter.
Ashton did not see his mother, but this
was normal course. She came and went quite frequently. As hungry as he was, he was more exhausted than anything. He drifted off to sleep.
Ashton awoke in the middle of the night thirsty and ravenous. He got up and poured water into a mug. Taking care to leave a portion for his mother, he devoured the fish Yara had given him and went back to bed.