Sorry, been busy lately and forgot to write a blog post again. Rather than miss another week, you all are getting a tidbit out of my WIP (work in progress) folder. The following tidbit is the first chapter out of a piece that has the silly working name of "Cheese."
The Clawscar Mountains were actually four separate mountain chains that ran parallel from the northern ice fields to the Western Sea. They were called that because that’s what they looked like if you stood on one of the higher peaks—like some giant beast had carved them out of the rock with its claws. The river that gave Green River Valley its name started at a volcanic hot spring in the far north, meandering its way south through deep, narrow crevasses between the Thumb and Pointer chains. Every so often, a spot became wide enough for a canyon and even more rarely, wide enough for a valley. Green River Valley was one of the largest valleys in the Clarscars. Towards the widest end of Green River Valley, there was a good sized village called Lower Riverdale.
Lower Riverdale was not a popular destination at any time of year. It was too far from the main roads to be “on the way” to anywhere. After the winter snows made the high mountain passes impassable, those few who might have wanted to come here stopped trying. That wasn’t to say the village didn’t have its attractions, of course. While the passes remained closed by snow and ice for half of every year, Green River Valley itself was low enough in altitude to have a nice long growing season that provided plenty of food. The high mountains on all sides also protected it from the worst of the winter storms. Life was isolated in the valley but it was also very rewarding to its residents.
When Rachel had come here as a new bride years ago, she had thought it queer that there was no Upper Riverdale and never had been. The village got its name from being located in the lower section of the valley, where the land was best for farming. Why not just call the village Riverdale and be done with it? As she had soon found out, the name was indicative of the sense of humor of its residents. Heavily populated areasin the south were filled to the brim with Uppers and Lowers and Greaters and Littles. The people who had settled the valley generations ago, disdainful of such silliness, named their little hamlet Lower Riverdale as a mockery to that practice. Rachel loved living amongst such free spirited people.
It was seven years ago last spring that her husband’s body had been found in the melting snow of the western pass. It had been seven years ago last summer that her father had shown up to take her back south. Rachel refused to go. Her father sold her into marriage with Hamish, a successful fur trader, to pay a debt when she was fifteen. While that had worked out remarkably well—Hamish had been a good man and loving husband—Rachel was not confident her father would sell her into another good marriage. And that could have been the only reason he would have come so far north to collect her. Now at age twenty-five, she was glad she hadn’t left.
The stubborn, independent people of Lower Riverdale, seeing what kind of father she had, rallied around her. Hamish had been a successful man but not a land owner. He left Rachel with a few sweet memories, a young son, a good reputation, and enough money to buy a little farm. As the daughter of a noble-born merchant with a somewhat shady reputation, Rachel had had no idea how to farm, but the Lower Riverlanders were happy to teach her. Now, seven years a widow, Rachel had turned that small farm into a small but successful enterprise.
In the beginning, she and her son Sam produced most of the things they needed for a simple country life. What little they couldn’t make themselves, they were able to buy with the proceeds from selling the hard, nutty-sweet cheese they made. One summer, a lowland trader had bought up all the cheese she had to spare after sampling some on market day. To her surprise, that same trader came again the next year, as soon as the snows had cleared enough to make the journey possible, and bought all of her cheese again. This time he promised to be back one more time before the winter snows closed the pass to buy any cheese she made over the summer. When she asked what was so special about her cheese, the trader told her that the queen herself had declared it the finest she’d ever eaten. The royal approval combined with the limited availability was enough to make her cheese in high demand with the court nobles. If she would agree to sell her Green River cheese only to him, he would agree to pay her very well for it. Rachel, not sure if he was serious or not, agreed. She had nothing to lose, really. At worst, they would be eating cheese all winter if he did not come back.
True to his word, though, the trader made the promised second trip, bringing the three new milk cows she had asked for in payment for her summer yield. If she was going to be producing cheese for trade as well as for her own use, the three cows she had started with would not be enough. And as before, if he didn’t come back, she wouldn’t be stuck with more animals than she needed.
With six milk cows with calves in her herd, the workload doubled. Rachel hired a couple of orphans to help poor Sam tend to the animals and the vegetable garden. The extra cheese she produced made extra work elsewhere, too. Rachel wasn’t the kind of person to simply throw out the whey after she’d separated it from the curds, so she made second-batch cheese for immediate use with it and used some of the resultant thin whey to make porridge and bread. The rest she traded to a pig farmer to feed his animals in exchanged for a whole smoked pig in the fall.
Before long, she hired the orphans’ older sister to make the bread and porridge because she needed a lot to feed the men and women who cut her hay between the spring planting and fall harvesting. Summer a great time to cut and collect hay, after all, and she certainly didn’t have time to do it. Then she found herself hiring a few housewives whose children were grown to help with make cheese because she was too busy organizing the village’s winter preparations to keep up with the cow’s milk production by herself.
Before she knew it, Rachel was the de facto leader of the village, all because the queen liked her home-made cheese. This was not at all the life she had been raised to expect but she loved it.
And the the barbarians came.