Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Two

And then The Linder - who had suffered from stomach troubles since a child - became ill.  Most in the house thought it to be an episode like all the others that would then subside.  But not this time.  The illness became a canker and the canker a rot that spread outward from deep inside him.  The wisest doctors from the University and then from the Seminary were fetched to heal him but to no avail.  It is well he finished his will when he did because that night he started having seizures that took his mind and two days later his life.

I had not been a wife a full turn of the seasons, had barely been one during the turning, and then like a bolt from a clear sky I was a widow who had been freed to return to the home she had been forced to leave.  Some returning.

My arrival in Harper was not met with much enthusiasm.  If any emotion could be attached to it at all it was pity, and only after resentment had been expressed.  No one wanted me there.  For the young I was proof that happy endings do not always come.  For others it was that I reminded them how easily their lives could be ordered away from the way they would have it go.  For still others I reminded them of things they would rather not remember or know.

The friends my age I'd thought I'd once had, I no longer had anything in common with.  Those that might have been inclined to speak with me were kept away by their mothers and other female relatives who thought I would impart knowledge it was not time for them to know.  My friends at the college were all gone to positions or marriages of their own and were too busy or uncomfortable to bare me company.  Like others felt for me, I felt too uncomfortable around them, and resented their pity so I willingly kept to myself rather than suffer through forced interactions painful for all involved.  I could have felt sorry for myself but I didn't.  That almost-year of marriage may have stripped me of my girlhood but it gave me something as well ... a strong backbone and a nature not easily cowed.

Because in addition to all of the other difficulties there was also the problem that my position in the community now raised my status.  It was higher than the mayor's wife but because of how it happened and my age I was never invited to share their table at functions that I normally would have attended.  Not that I would have gone if there was any way out of such an invitation if offered.  My heart had healed from its brokenness and I saw clearly how immature both Rom and I had been back then ... we were nothing but children only playing at adult games.  But my pride?  That was a different organ and there were moments when the wound was as raw as if it had been made the same day.

Nat was my only regular companion and he was kept busy by his own position in the church and then in preparation for going away for more training in reading the old manuscripts and caring for them so that the townspeople could still view them and learn from them.  Some towns had locked all of their old books and papers away but not Harper.  It was forbidden by town charter and as such took a lot of care by the Order of brothers to which Nat belonged.

Nat worries.  Perhaps he has reason, perhaps not.  I've done well using my schooling and my larder is full in preparation for a winter alone. At least my training isn't going to waste.  Neither is the training I received from Marta but that's brought me a sort of problem I had not expected.

Our region - formally known by the Great Council as Tentuckia - has always been considered one of the more progressive areas.  Early on the Guardians of this area set aside land and taxes to build and sustain schools in our land.  Each town has its own college that serves those boys and girls that show an aptitude for learning.  In some towns only a few make it into the college.  In Harper the reverse is true and most children receive at least their first certificate before heading out into an apprenticeship.  A triple certificate is as high as you can go before heading off to the regional university.  But getting into university is not for everyone.  You are expected to work at your chosen line of study.  It is best described as an in-depth apprentice-ship for degrees of higher learning ... but if you speak with very many students you are more likely to hear it called slave labor.  But the end result allows you to ply your experience in high level trades like medicines and agriculture.  There are some arcane studies like for old tech but most that want to study such go to other regions to get that kind of specialization.  Tentuckia by and large has more profit in agriculture and natural gas as fuel and frowns on such esoteric things as old tech, though there is some outlay for old mech so long as it proves directly useful rather than hypothetical.

Going to the university had never really played a part in my plans so I wasn't devastated to lose the opportunity.  I would have been happy with my triple.  I do regret not having the chance to take the exam though.  But even had I, my position as the widow of The Linder would have made finding a job impossible.  My social status ranks me well above too many potential employers.  After all, who wants to have to admit that their housekeeper or cook has more social status than they do?

So I do what I can to put my training to use from my cabin door.  But despite Harper offering so many educational opportunities there is a vein of superstition that runs deep in the people here.  For instance if you were to ask them outright most would agree that certain plants have certain properties that when used in a certain way will help the body and mind to heal.  But some ... well, behind their hands or your back - or even to your face - they'll call it magic or some other type of nonsense.  It is as bad as during the Days of Destruction when ignorance ruled the world.  There are strong prohibitions against using the old "magics" from those days and if it can't be explained there is usually some legal prohibition against it.

I don't know how many times I've had to prove what I'm doing is allowed by the Regional University.  But when people wish to be superstitious and distrustful not even a wax seal from the Dean of the University himself will wake them up from it.

And thus, not only do I have to deal with people's resentment and pity, there is distrust in there as well.  And for some reason refusing to charge for my knowledge makes them even more distrustful though that is purely ridiculous.  For one, not having my triple much less a university certificate, I cannot by law charge for my services.  For two, I wouldn't.  It simply feels wrong to me.  My two mentors - Sister Evelyn and Mizz Marta - never charged to help other people and neither will I.  I do not understand why trading coins for knowledge or help somehow validates it any more than if it is proffered out of charity.

All this means is that in a very real sense I am as poor as my Cousin Nat has chosen to be.  On the other hand, I am as rich as my parents ever were.

My parents taught me that coin can't buy everything and can actually keep away some things you might want.  My father's position as Head Woodsman gave us some coinage but just enough.  Mostly it was mother's way with a garden, and Grandmother's way with farm animals, that filled our bellies.  Father and Grandfather hunted but they had to be careful to manage the woods properly so everyone of Harper benefitted which didn't leave a lot of time to devote solely to our family's needs.  My brothers filled in where they could but they too acted as Woodsmen.  They also spent a lot of time taking the Mayor's friends around on pleasure hunts for the giant wild boar and ornery buffalo that inhabit this area of the region.

"Widow Linder," they whisper at my back door.  "My husband's feet ... they stink so bad.  I've tried everything.  It has gotten so bad I can't even stand to share his bed with him and it is causing problems between us.  I'm desperate.  Will you help?"

"Widow Linder," another women whispered.  "Five children in five years.  I need a season off.  I feel like an old heifer and my husband won't give me any peace.  He says he has needs.  Will you help?"

"Widow Linder ... Widow Linder ... Widow Linder ..."  As if they hadn't been calling me Young Leeda my whole life.  I always wonder if they are calling me Widow as a joke or because they think it will somehow win them favor.  Both reasons make me ill.  If it wouldn't scandalize Nat and sink me in the hots with the angels I'd swear.  They'll come calling at my back door when no one is looking but those same people can't be bothered to admit my existence when I go to church on the Sabbath or the few times I get to town for Market Day.

Nat says their respect is my due since it was my sacrifice that stopped the hand of the Guardian from falling hard.  I say I would be just as happy to have it all go away, but it will not happen.  The only way to make it go away is if I go away.  I am thinking of writing a letter to Sister Evelyn at the hospital where she now practices, explaining things, and telling her I do not care for social status, but only want to go someplace for honest work and honest rewards ... and the biggest reward would be peace of mind and escape.

I haven't told Nat my plan.  He has so much to do.  He leaves the end of this week.  I am making him traveling food to save expenses and to make his first couple of weeks in his new residence easier.  I have it to spare and to head off any fuss he might give I have reminded him that I consider it part of my service to see him set off on his own.  And that family take care of each other.

And who can be visiting in the heat of the day?  And coming to the front door at that?

I looked up as a form blocked both light and breeze from coming in my half door and a male voice asked, "Could you please direct me to the Widow Linder's cabin?"

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