Winters passed without much grumble in the village of Sinoa, and Jaranin was sure glad for it.
The fourteen-year-old with the tousled brown hair dared a peek out the whitewashed shutters. A cold but not frozen breeze slipped through the crack. The sun was rising over the eastern hills to the right. Its yellow-gold rays were already melting what few clumps of snow stubbornly remained.
“Jaranin, you'd best shut that window,” he heard a scolding chuckle behind him, “before I call off breakfast.”
He spun to Naomi, grinning. “Aw, but how will I tell the story tonight on an empty stomach?”
“An empty stomach at the Narrisom Festival?” The elderly woman turned from the fireplace with a mock gasp and a wrinkly, cheery little smile. She was a little woman with tiny songbird features. Her white, wiry hair was pinned up neatly, just as it was every day—the better to keep it out of the dough, she said. Or the stew. Or the fruits and vegetables. Or any other number of dishes she was preparing that day. Little wonder she always smelled like warm, fresh-baked bread.
Naomi wiped her flour-covered hands on her apron. “Don’t think I’ve ever heard such a thing. Not when there’s thick potato soup from Mrs. Carpenter, or sweet preserves from Mrs. Elvinbard, or honeyed cakes with snowdrops on top from me.” As she spoke, she ladled thick, golden honey over a pan of her famous cakes.
“No, Jaranin dear, I think you’ll be just fine without piping hot porridge and warm, crumbling scones.” She plucked a long fork off the table and brandished it at one of the golden-brown scones that were baking on the fire-rack. Poke! The fork slid out quick and clean. “Ah, and speak of the thing, these are done. Jaranin, the big plate, please.”
The aroma was overpowering. Jaranin’s stomach growled. “And fresh butter, too?” he chortled as he saw the full butter dish sitting next to the plate in question.
“Of course! Can’t have a scone without some nice, melted butter. Plate, dear.”
He’d been entranced by the sight and smell of the food. He handed the desired platter to Naomi. “Looks like it’ll be another lovely first of spring,” Jaranin murmured with a smile. Suddenly, he couldn’t wait to kick down the door and race outside. The air would be fresh and morning-crisp, and in just a few more days, the trees would start to bloom.
“Ahh, Sinoa,” Naomi sighed wistfully, plucking the scones off the rack and stacking the platter high. “There’s nothing quite like the springs here. Close enough to hear the ocean, but not too close like the city of Embraeth where you can taste the salt in the air. And the flowers. Every year, I can’t wait for those hyacinths to bloom on our doorstep. Or the lillies-of-the-valley out back.”
She peered over her shoulder at Jaranin and winked. “But that means the rains are comin’ too, and then you’ll be happy to be inside at the loom.” Once she’d set the platter of scones on the table, she stirred the bubbling pot of savory porridge. She nodded, apparently satisfied at its thickness. “Now for the bowls, m’dear.” He handed her their two wooden bowls, and she ladled the porridge up to the brims. “All right, now sit, sit.”
Jaranin chuckled, knowing from years of experience that this was the most help he was allowed to offer. Naomi wouldn’t stand another cook in her kitchen. She was its sole reigning monarch.
And it showed.
Naomi deftly flicked a spoon into each bowl, hung the ladle on a hook on the mantel, grabbed her mittens, and swung the porridge pot from the fire to the table. And not a single drip of porridge to be found anywhere except inside the bowls.
Jaranin whistled. “I don’t know how you do it, Naomi.”
“Same as how you learned to tell stories even better than the ones I used to tell you, m’dear,” Naomi replied sagely, beaming at him. She tapped the tip of his nose affectionately. “Years and years of practice.” She then turned and drew two cups of water from a large bucket in the far corner of the room.
“Now, sit.” Naomi bobbed her little head up and down before flitting to her place at the table. “Breakfast is ready.”
[Excerpt from The Victor's Blade; all content subject to change.]
From Him, To Him