Chapter 11: Sharpening

Karin sat in her customary spot in the great hall, enjoying the last week of her trip. It was the first day, which meant a new bottle of whiskey. She rocked her empty glass with one hand with anticipation.

Mal and a bunch of farmers came in, wearing their best clothes from going to the small church down the street. A few of them nodded to Karin before sitting down at their tables near the center.

Suras came sweeping in. She had picked out her green dress for the day, one that Karin enjoyed watching her pull on before they had to their separate ways. She had a whiskey bottle in her hand but it looked different than the others she had served Karin before. “I’ll be with you in a minute, Mal.”

“Take your time, Sur.” He was in a good mood, but then church service always brought out the sweeter side of the village.

Suras walked over to Karin and held out the bottle. Her eyes were shimmering as she set it down. “For your last week.”

Karin frowned and looked at the bottle. It had the familiar Barnsveld Distillery logo on it along with the date it was decanted but underneath it was a single name and a number: Suras, Number 2.

Suras started to say something, but then her voice cracked. She wiped her face and then tried again.

Karin looked up with confusion. “Suras?”

“I… I… damn it.” Suras pulled out a chair and sat down. “I thought this would be appropriate.”

“Why is your name on it?”

A tear ran down Suras’s cheek. “It’s the family tradition. On our first birthday, we set aside a cask aside. Throughout our lives, we serve those bottles to celebrate special events: when we come of age, when we get married, wedding anniversaries. It’s only for special moments in my life, those times when everything changes or to celebrate being together.”

Karin realized she was crying herself.

Suras lifted the bottle and looked at the label. “The first one when I turned sixteen.” She sighed. “I got really sick and almost died a few times. When I lost most my summer and fall that year, my legs not working and I couldn’t leave my bed. It wasn’t until this icy winter night that I managed to take my first step again.”

She smiled and the room seemed to brighten. No one was talking and Karin noticed that everyone was looking down at the table as they listened to Suras’s quite words.

“The next day, my parents and grandfather came up that night with the first bottle from the cask. Number one. We drank it that week, just a glass at a time as I got stronger.”

Suras looked up and smiled. “I lost my father a few weeks later when the roof collapsed on him. He still had bottles left from his, so we celebrated by drinking those. Everyone in the town came to the inn because I still couldn’t walk far. We drank and celebrated until the last bottle remained.”

She turned and pointed toward the top of the walls. There was a long shelf of bottles, each one different, that circled the room. “The last one of his is up there along with grandmother’s.”

In the silent room, everyone held up a glass for a moment. The soft clink of them setting it down was a chorus that had the weight of tradition.

Karin shivered.

Suras set the glass down. “Please? I know you are leaving soon, but you are the most wonderful thing that has happened in my life. I would like this to be your last bottle.”

Karin sniffed, she was crying too hard to say anything.

“Please?”

Unable to speak, Karin just nodded.

With a beaming smile, Suras went and got a second glass. She brought it over and poured a healthy measure into both. Setting the bottle down in the center of the table, she sniffed. “I feel silly.”

Karin reached out with one hand to hold Suras. “You aren’t being silly. I love it. I… thank you for everything.”

They toasted each other silently before drinking. It was the smoothest whiskey Karin had ever had. She felt almost sad as she enjoyed it.

After only a few sips, Suras had to excuse herself to serve the others.

Karin watched her lover wipe the tears from her eyes as she got the farmer’s orders. She gave Karin a smile before heading into the kitchen area.

She looked down at the glass and felt the tears rising up again. She would have never expected Suras giving anything like that, it felt like she had her lover’s heart in her hand. Slowly, she rolled the glass from one side to the other before she took a sip.

Karin had considered staying beyond. The last month had made her happier than in a long time but she wasn’t sure it would last. There was a big difference between enjoying the blush of lust of two new lovers. It was heady as the whiskey in her hand and left a warmth deep inside her body.

It didn’t last though. When she married her husband, they were head-over-heels in love and kissing every time they passed in the kitchen. Nights were passionate affairs that slowly became a chore, drudge work, and finally petered off into arguments.

Her smile faded. The last two years of her marriage were the worse years of her life. She still remembered the screaming and fighting. It drove her to becoming a hunter and somehow risking her life every few weeks for change became preferable than to finding love again.

Someone tapping on the table next to her broke her thoughts. She looked up to see Mal standing. He toyed with the front of his good jacket. “I’d like to talk.”

Startled, Karin nodded and pointed to the chair that Suras had sat.

Mal took the opposite one. He pointedly move the bottle of whiskey away from him. “You know me?”

“You’re Mal.”

“Maldir formally, but you can call me Mal.”

“Karin.”

“Rumor has it that you can sharpen blades.”

A pang of sadness darkened Karin’s thoughts. “I used to.”

“We could use those talents here in Barnsveld, you know. Always a need for sharpening.”

Karin shook her head. “I can’t go back into cooking, I’m sorry.”

He smiled broadly and shook his head. “No, this village isn’t big enough for fancy meals. However, there are a lot of farmers here that have good tools that always need a blade: axes, hatchets, and saws. Even the plows, if you can do that.”

Karin thought about the one time she had to put a blade on a metal door to kill a tomagoran. A ghost of a smile crossed her lips. She almost said that but then held her tongue.

“I know you are leaving soon but, if you consider staying, we’d have a place for you.” He looked concerned and serious.

“Stay?”

Maldir nodded twice.

“Why?”

“We all like to see our Sur happy. She has been nothing but smiles since you arrived.” He sighed and drew his finger through some moisture on the table. “We’re a small village. We know what’s going on.”

“And it doesn’t bother you?” Karin tensed slightly.

“Not my thing but Sur likes what Sur likes. She’s taken a liking to you and we’ve taken to liking when she smiles.”

Karin considered her thoughts earlier. “What if it doesn’t work out?”

Maldir shrugged slowly. “It didn’t work for my first two wives either. One runs the general store and the other works on Ted’s farm.” He pointed to one of the other farmers who waved back.

Karin glanced around the room. Everyone was trying not to look at her. It suddenly felt confining, as if everyone in the room was trying to match her to Suras. She squirmed for a moment.

He held up his hands. “If you leave, that’s okay too. But if you do, I’m going to ask you not to return.”

All the muscles in Karin’s back tightened.

“We all love Suras and I don’t want to see you tear out her heart every time you walk out that door.” His voice had grown more tense as he spoke.

The glass in her hand seemed to draw her attention. She swirled the whiskey as she let her thoughts drift.

“You live a violent life. I lost my husband to an accident, but you run toward the danger. What kind of life is that for a young girl like her?”

Karin closed her eyes. Her son had said the same thing, that was one reason she rarely returned to visit his family. They never knew if it was going to be the last time.

Years ago, that was a risk she wanted to take. With Suras, the idea of leaving felt like a knife digging into her side. She understood Maldir’s request, stay or go. She nodded, not trusting her voice.

He stood up. He tapped the table twice before he said, “I’d hate to see you go. It is nice to see the smiles and you mean a lot to our girl.” His hand gestured toward the bottle left on the table. “Please, consider staying.”