Hello, Benjamin from Brother’s Campfire here! Zahra, an art student in India drew a picture and challenged me to write a story about it. Some of you know what my story will include, and if you do, let’s keep it a secret for now so it can unfold. It required a LOT of research on my part to keep pace with Zahra’s request. Zahra, keep up the great job in college and thank you for the challenge!
She was sprawled out on the entryway of the shack, a basket of mushrooms and toadstools scattered on the rough wooden floor.
Ashton sighed. His mother had been like this for a while, staying up late and sleeping all day. She was not a witch, but skilled in the art of the apothecary. Some of the skills he had acquired from observation, but she had more knowledge of the local medicine than anyone around.
Unsociable odors and her requests for ingredients made folks leery. For instance, pain in the abdomen accompanied by coughing up blood was treated with the pancreas of a pig
and the comb of a rooster would be prepared and inserted in the knee for chronic pain.
She was frowned upon by the peasants and the gentry alike for her work despite helping a number of them. The Bishop was in good relations with the Alderman in whose land he and his mother resided and he strictly forbade such things.
Speaking to his mother who was obviously not listening, Ashton whispered,
“Mom, I don’t know what you have been getting into, but I am going to help you to bed.”
He led her half aware, half stumbling to a straw mattress and covered her up after pulling off her shoes.
Heading over to the toadstools, he examined them as he replaced them in the basket. These were excellent finds and could be traded.
A woodcutter down the way had promised Ashton work and he did not wish for it to be given to someone else. Looking at the dried fish he left for his mother longingly, he trotted off to the woods.
The day’s work involved splitting wood and stacking it in wheeled carts that would be transported at a later time. Pacing himself, he was able to get a fair bit of work done before lunch.
The woodcutter was a hard but fair man weathered and tough as the trees he cut for the Alderman. “boy, there is ale in the cask. Drink your fill and have a loaf me wife made last night. You earned it. Keep up the good work and I’ll send you home with another.
Ashton was wary and thankful. Selecting a mug, he smelled the brew and took a test sip. It was the porridge ale, not the thick syrup of the longboatmen. He drank heartily, as it was much safer than the cattle ponds and sated his appetite as well.
He split and stacked until the day’s end. His shoulders and arms ached from weariness, but If there was bread and ale to be had, he would work until tomorrow for more if necessary.
The woodcutter was pleased with the work and he sent Ashton away with a loaf as payment.
Well fed and worked, home was a welcoming place. Perhaps his mother would be there.
Out from behind a thicket there was a crack of a branch underfoot. it was Yara.
” Ashton! Where have you been? I thought you were going to bring me salsify roots and cattails! “
She stared at the bread hungrily making Ashton want to share.
“Yara, I see you have come to barter with me. I have toadstools my mother gathered and I suppose I can give you some of this loaf for dried fish. “
He looked her up and down from and Yara smiled slyly.
” You like me, don’t you Ashton?”
Ashton, embarrassed, did very much like Yara.
He looked at the ground for a long time and he could feel his face fill with color.
“Yara,” he managed to stammer, ” I like you very much, and given other circumstance, I would ask your father about seeing you. I am worried about today and it is all I can afford to do. If not, I will starve. Yara, if I could, I would marry you and build you a castle on the highest mountain top and fill the meadows with wheat and potatoes.”
Yara’s jaw went slack and she dropped her basket. ” I will go with you. Let’s leave at once!”
Ashton’s heart pounded. This was so unexpected. His hands shook and it felt like a goat was sitting on his chest.
He felt as if he was choking on his own words and shyness had returned. Perhaps there was a little too much boldness from the ale. “Yara. … I …”
“Ashton, let us go right now and ask my father.”
Taking him by the hand, Yara drug Ashton through the meadow.
Ashton regained himself. “Yara, there is something not good about all this and I cannot marry you. You will starve to death if I did so. Winter is right around the corner and…
Yara was not listening and Ashton was seriously concerned. He was not welcome with the fishermen and here he was with one of their daughters.
From a hut, a giant of a man with a shield and an ax emerged. From head to toe he was coloured in dark ink and his kaftan was freshly stained red.
Ashton was face to face with Egil Halvard, Yara’s father.