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© Copyright 2017, Veronica Sloan, All Rights Reserved
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Disclaimer: This story contains explicit content, including graphic descriptions of sexual intercourse. It is intended for adults only. All characters depicted are 18-years-old and older. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.
Cover created by Veronica Sloan. Cover Photos © Can Stock Photo Inc.
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Once upon a time, in the poorest of the five kingdoms, a young woman was charged with an impossible task. She was of the common folk, and so this was no great surprise. Common folk, and common women, were often tasked with the impossible in that wretched age. Scrounging enough food for a simple meal was frequently impossible. Traveling from one village to the next without suffering violence or plunder was almost always impossible. Finding a husband with all his teeth? Impossible. But the gaps in a man's smile are not so repulsive when compared to the gap in his heart. Unfortunately, in those impossible days, whole hearts were in short supply.
The King of Dolfland was at war with the world and with himself, and while his soldiers despoiled the land to keep themselves fed, the common folk went hungry. The young woman with the impossible task was hungry most of her life. That was why, when the King locked her away, she did not despair. Despair can only afflict those whom hope has deserted, and hope was a stranger to young Lorelle of Dolfland.
And yet, what is a stranger but a friend lacking introduction?
On second thought, that is too poetic. A stranger can just as easily be a scoundrel. In fact, introducing oneself to a stranger was the leading cause of death in Dolfland (after the various cow-related ones). Consequently, strangers rarely became friends. It was this unhappy state of affairs that rendered Lorelle both hopeless and friendless when the King snatched her up.
There was but one creature in the kingdom that could save Lorelle from her fate. He was an unconventional savior, not handsome to look at, and the price of his assistance was high. However, when faced with death, even the lowliest peasant will scratch and claw and fight for just one more day. One more day was what he promised, if Lorelle could endure the impossible.
This creature, who might be called a man under the most generous definition, had haunted Dolfland since before it was known by that name. His own name, and how he came to be, was lost to the tongues of humankind. A fragment of his tale survived in the winds, where birds could still hear it, but that is hardly worth mentioning. For what lonely soul cares for the babble of birds?
Baul the Brewer was not an evil man. He was a liar, a fool, and a drunk, but he never raised a fist in anger or betrayed the love of his dear wife. In the lowly village of Gorse Heath, where uncultivated men lived uncultivated lives, even these meager qualities marked Baul as an uncommonly gentle soul. To hear his wife and daughter tell it, Baul was indeed a gentle sort. He was that gentle sort of annoyance that is seldom favored by fortune and whose schemes are too incompetent to do harm. His girls loved him dearly, as only peasants can.
It was for love alone that Golda wed herself to Baul. The man was a poor brewer and forever reaching for some grander calling. In her starry eyed youth, Golda believed Baul would take her from Gorse Heath and that his mind, churning with such delightful fancies, would propel them to wealth and wonderment. After many years of marriage, Golda humbly accepted this as the dream of youth. She did so without bitterness, for few escaped the borders of their rude village and fewer climbed above the peasant's lot. There was no home in their future absent a thatched roof, nor a winter bereft of cows to keep them warm at night.
There were women (and not a few men) who questioned why Golda, so keen and comely, remained with Baul. It was rare that the man could be roused to do real work and what little ale he produced was, at its finest, a punishment to the tongue. Without his wife's supervision it would have been nothing at all, for she was the only creature in God's great kingdom that could bend him to his trade. As to why she stayed, the answer was simple. He made her laugh.
Baul would sing dirty songs and songs of surpassing strangeness. Baul told jokes that had no end. Baul, at his drunkest, made pledges to the moon and stars that put the Greek poets to shame, and always reserved his most auspicious odes for the Venus of Gorse Heath: Golda, his darling wife. Were Golda born a noble lady she might not be susceptible to bawdy limericks and grotesque riddles, but their little cottage resounded with her laughter from morning to the evening's final hour. The couple's daughter, Lorelle, found more embarrassment in Baul's tales than merriment, but even she conceded that her mother's snorting chuckle lightened an otherwise dreary existence.
Thus, the tragedy of Golda's death was threefold. Gorse Heath, a dank pit in the shadow of Udolf Castle, lost the only beauty within its borders; Baul the Brewer lost the only soul to find him charming; and Lorelle lost her childhood.
Without his wife to guide his lazy hands, Baul descended into complete idleness, leaving his daughter alone to manage the broken pieces of their hardscrabble life. The brewer forsook all labor that did not aid his stupefaction. His merry heart was cracked in half, and into that rift he poured the dregs of this pathetic ambition.
Despite her father's constant inebriation, young Lorelle could not hate the man. He was gentle, miserable, and useless, like the swaybacked mule that wandered their barren farm. She loved him because her mother taught her that love must prevail over anger and starvation, that love emboldens a weak and weary world, and bitterness leads to brittleness. "A brittle soul cracks," her mother said. "A loving soul binds." So Lorelle bound herself to her father.
It was a love that proved as laborious as her daily chores. In the morning, if her father was not abed, she'd scour the village's taverns and pig sties until she found him. There were seldom enough eggs or oats to pay a strong fellow to cart him back to the farm, so this task frequently concluded with the simple verification that Baul had not drunk himself to death. If he was still comatose by noon, a sympathetic villager might drop him on her doorstep. When Baul awoke (and after he vomited), he made crude attempts to delight Lorelle as he once delighted her mother, but Lorelle had no time for jokes or songs while she tilled their worthless soil or milked their bony cows--and if she did not hide the oats and malt she gathered, Baul would drink the wort before it fermented.
In time, Lorelle's beauty was the equal of her mother's. Her temper, however, was the rival of any troll in the five kingdoms.
A visitor to Gorse Heath might believe the girl was unmarried because of her father's helpless condition. Without his daughter's begrudging intercession Baul's fate was assuredly starvation or a stabbing, and so she simply had no time for wedding proposals. The locals knew better. Lorelle suffered from her own condition--being a pretty maiden in a village of louts and lushes--and was presumed to be as helpless as her old man. After a decade of defending herself from the very worst of medieval scum, Lorelle trusted men as far as she could throw them (though it must be said, after half a decade of dragging her father home herself, Lorelle could throw a man much farther than most women her size). By her eighteenth winter, Lorelle's reputation for beauty was outmatched only by her reputed temperament. To put it delicately, the girl was as mean as a billy goat.
Because Baul loved his daughter and knew better than any man what burden was upon her, he dueled all those that slandered her name. But, as he was a coward, he relied on his tongue to defend himself (his fists were better suited to lifting tankards than boxing ruffians, and even that simple task was a shaky affair). In general, men did not find Baul's slurred stories as amusing as Golda had. The following morning Lorelle would find her father with black eyes and bruised cheeks. His nose was broken so many times that it came to resemble a tomato, especially when the man was in his cups. Still, Baul persisted. His Lorelle was an angel, like her mother, and Gorse Heath was unworthy of them both.
It was love and not madness that compelled Baul to spin the yarn that changed his daughter's life forever. The brewer was not an evil man, but he was a liar, a fool, and a drunk. It was these unsavory qualities that led him to the ridiculous claim that Lorelle turned straw into gold.
Winter's unforgiving teeth gnawed at the tavern door. Inside, the grizzled men of Gorse Heath shivered over the smoky hearth and downed their ale in thick, breathless gulps. "It's colder than a witch's tit," Old Dudley said.
As his breath wafted over the pale congregation, Young Dudley wiped the frost from his nostrils and slammed his tankard on the cracked oak table. "Colder than that," he grumbled. "Cold as Satan's thorny cock!"
A chorus of chilly laughter followed Young Dudley's curse. Another round of ales was sent to the table, and as the laughter died Nilson Thatcher raised his greasy finger. The men held their breath in anticipation. "T'ain't as cold..." he muttered, "as Lorelle's cunt!"
Like dogs to the amber moon, the men sent up a collective howl. Tankards smashed together and ale leapt to the frigid air. Young Dudley thumped the table and even Old Dudley, his joints frozen and his fingers red with rheumatism, clapped his callused hands. Eyes, with evil expectation, followed the stains along the cracked oak table to its end, where Baul the Brewer hunched over his ale.
The man drained his tankard and slammed it over his bench. "My daughterrr," he slurred, "is not the cold witch you take her forrr."
"Izzat so?" One-eyed Winston barked. The blacksmith was forty-three and looked nearer to sixty-four. His soot-blackened cheeks were pitted with smallpox scars, his hairy belly peeked over his belt. He spread his toothless mouth into a slippery grin. "Youn'Du'l'y's da'r alrrey ha'lipper!"
The tavern fell silent as they tried to parse the blacksmith's drooling jibe. Young Dudley was the first to chuckle. "I believe he said, 'My daughter's already had herself a litter.' And that she has. Five healthy children to Stuart Thatcher, and another on the way!"
Young Dudley and his son-in-law clanged their tankards in celebration. "She has, she has," Stuart Thatcher chortled. The man was twenty-six and could have passed for his own grandfather. His thinning hair was the color of dirty millet and frostbite had taken the tip of his nose. "The last one was a bloody affair but she's a stubborn old hedgehog. She's promised that her loins will deliver me an army of men just as handsome as their papa!"
"Huzzah!" the men shouted.
"My daughter!" Twyford the shepherd crowed. "She's outlived three husbands and now she owns three farms!"
Young Dudley guffawed. "She's the richest woman in Gorse Heath, I'll wager. I'll wager her next husband will soon be buried beneath the fourth farm!" All laughed save for Bartleby, who was set to marry the widow in a fortnight.
"My daughter!" Eldon the sailor cried, but his next words were drowned out by Young Dudley's laughter.
"Your daughter is uglier than Baul's old mule!" he said.
Eldon leaned into the crowd's giddy roar. "Mayhap!" he cried. "Mayhap, Young Dudley, you have the right of it. Edith is no great beauty, no, but she's the finest cook in this dungheap of a town. Which of you has not sampled her delicious shepherd's pie?"
A grumble of agreement began to percolate amongst the crowd, until Nilson Thatcher raised his greasy finger. "Indeed..." the man muttered. The crowd bit their tongues in quivering suspense. "And which of you fine fellows has not sampled Edith's hair pie?"
Fists banged the tables and the tavern walls and Gordon, the enormous bartender, shoved skinny farmers and malnourished shepherds aside to slam a fresh pint before Nilson. Every man in the tavern (save Eldon and Baul the Brewer) bleated with laughter. They leaned into each other's shoulders and blew bubbles in their drinks. Even the fire twisted with delight.
The wind belted the tavern door again and men thumped the cracked table in reply. "What say you to that?" Young Dudley cried. "What say you, Baul the Brewer, when all our daughters bring joy where yours is cuddly as a wolf bitch?"
Baul peered into his tankard for its elusive final drop. When it refused to slide to his split lip, he reached inside and sucked it from his fingertip. "My daughter..." he said slowly.
Young Dudley cupped his palm over his hairy ear. "What's that, Baul?"
"My daughter!" Baul repeated (he raised his voice to compete with the cackling crowd), "is a maiden of surpassing talents. She puts your petty progeny to shame!"
"Izzat so?" One-eyed Winston said. "She knows a su'er'punn'a'm'n!"
The crowd looked to Young Dudley. "I believe Winston said that she knows how to sucker punch a man," he said. "You boys may recall that she parted One-eye from his remaining teeth after he pinched her bum at the midden heap."
The men thumped their tankards on the table and One-eyed Winston nodded at Young Dudley in thanks. "Uh'wha'uh'sah!" he gibbered.
"She's a mean right cross, I'll give you that, Winston!" Baul yelled over the crowd. "But she is also as delicate as a flower and as lovely as the spring's..." Baul paused to belch. "You get the idea."
Young Dudley, and half the tavern, wafted their palms across their faces. Even amongst their stinking company Baul's gases were exceptionally offensive. "No one disputes your daughter's prettiness," Young Dudley said. "It's her womanliness we call to account. I seen her work in the field, I seen her punch poor Winston--"
"I seen her spit on Bartleby!" Eldon chimed in.
"I told her to smile for me!" Bartleby growled. "And I seen her wear your pants, Baul! While she was working the rows!"
Baul nodded. "She has, on occasion, worn my pants," he admitted. "But dresses ain't made for tilling, and you boys know I generally end the day without 'em anyway!"
The crowd laughed in agreement. "Aye, Baul!" one man called. "My wife's seen your pecker more times than me own!"
Baul raised his empty tankard to the next round of laughter. "So she wears the pants!" he called back. "That's so she can test 'em for holes! You boys know I'm always roughin' up me clothes. There's no finer seamstress in Gorse Heath!"
"You do get ripped, Baul, I'll give you that," Eldon said.
"So she sews!" Young Dudley said. "All our wives and daughters sew! What makes yours better than ours, Baul the Brewless?"
"Aye! Baul needs another brew!" Baul replied, and no sooner did Gordon deliver one than he drained it in one gulp. The man smacked his lips and slammed the tankard down. "My daughter can sew it all!" he cried. "She's a weaver, like her old man, save she weaves with her hands what I weave with my tongue."
"I'd like her hands to weave me into those pants of yours," Nilson Thatcher said, "while she's wearin' 'em!"
But Young Dudley did not wait for the laughter to cease. "I never seen your daughter weave!" he cried. "Your clothes are as ragged as a pauper's, and if Lorelle's so gifted...why hasn't she woven you a fine winter coat?"