Our ancestors would say that the “time before time, vines covered the land for as far as the eye could see. From The Great Sea to The Far Great Sea“. And then came the Time of Troubles…we can leave that story for another day.
It’s good to be passed the darker time and to see a patchwork quilt of vineyards returning to Venderbee.
Forgive me. I should have introduced myself. My name is Santie Mayfare, and I live in a small place near the Feathered Lagoon. I make tierboxes and my cottage is home to both me and my craft. I also have a small parcel of land planted to Finomencia… a noble red varietal that produces wine that is abundant in flavour and rich in texture… perfect to enjoy with a tasty roasted pouflon.
I should point out that just about everyone in Venderbee has at least a small vineyard that is growing this or that. We even have one great landowner, Gweeto of Venderbee, whose vineyards stretch from Gafter Zee to Steep Rock. Besides being our biggest landowner, Gweeto is also the Chief Magistrate and High Official of the Harvest Celebration. And as it turns out… today I happen to be putting the final touches to Gweeto’s personal tierbox that he will use for reviewing the Harvest Parade.
Gweeto’s tierbox is by far the most important commission of my year. Satisfying Gweeto is not hard. But pleasing the present “love-of-his-life”, the Ivory Snow… well, that’s a different matter. And if I appear anxious to you, it’s because I am presently expecting a visit from Ivory to check on my progress.
Ivory Snow and I go back some… oh, not the way you think. We all grew up together… and when we were younger, my cousins Barl Whighorn and Larb Hornwig took a powerful shine to her… and they would get into bloody fights to win her attention and affection. I’ll be honest… I never knew whether she favoured Barl or Larb. Not that it mattered in the end.
Barl certainly has done very well with Golden Trane. Larb? Well… he tends his vines. No one makes better Grey Zabia. And his Wren Hoolish took the prize at the Harvest Grandee. Still I suspect that a day doesn’t go by when Larb is not aware of his hurt or of the vacancy in his life.
Just the way it is… I guess.
Other folks would say that Gweeto was mighty lucky to have someone as special as Ivory Snow to spend his years with. And maybe that’s so. But I think it’s Snow who’s lucky!
It was a sad day when Lady Wisteria was brought down in a savage attack by a Ridged Zelbax… or that’s what was said. It happened on her travels beyond Steep Rock, to the land of Far Steep Rock. Gweeto would never forgive himself for approving the expedition.
In her absence there followed many seasons when he could no longer tend his precious vineyards. There were those who feared for the well being of Venderbee.
Maybe that’s why so many folks breathed a sigh of relief when Ivory entered into Gweeto’s life.
Me? I kept my distance. And so did Barl… and Larb, too! We all knew that there was charm… and then there was dangerous charm. Our Miss Ivory Snow packed plenty of the latter.
“May I enter?” she asked.
“Ivory… you’re always welcome to my cottage. Can I offer you a small cup of my Finomencia?”
“Why yes Santie… you make an extraordinary Finomencia… full of depth, richness and lasting flavour. It chills me to think of its soft caress… its silk like feel. Very sensuous. Can I see Gweeto’s tierbox?”
I pour a small amount into a cup… which she consumes in a single down-the shaft.
“Let me pour you another portion…”
“You are so kind. You have always been kind. Ah, yes… slightly chilled the way I prefer it. The box?”
“Oh yes… but it’s not finished yet. Small touches I assure you… crown molding no quite there… a touch of paint here, a rough edge there… you know.”
“I understand. Now… which box is it? I hope it’s not the hideous one over there.”
“Hideous? Well, no… that one is for Mave Fabish. It’s an older design, I grant you… But Ivory… let me pour you a small taste of Larb’s Wren Hoolish… he only makes a small amount and I have to beg for every drop.”
“His Wren? Yes, that would be nice. Now Santie… the box?”
I know what you’re thinking. This is just one more episode of my insecurity showing itself… and rather than confronting Ivory Snow head on… I prefer to “duck and dive.” And perhaps get Snow a bit tipsy.
OK. Big deal. So I am trying to distract her… but it’s with some of the finest wines in our parts… not some dumb Telmein or Brauver (heaven forbid)!
And I know Ivory Snow and you don’t.
“I saw the tierbox you made for Gweeto a few seasons ago. I used it for kindling last winter. There was no style… but it burned well.”
“No style? Hold it there, Ivory. I chose those columns from Hadrian’s Temple… they haven’t been used in 10,000 years! That was a unique treatment in a tierbox, no one else has even attempted to replicate it. Here… let me pour you some lighter Hoolish… it’s not as robust has Wren; but it has exquisite charm and balance… like you.“
“You are so kind. It is tasty. Santie… I hope you intend on using a different stain this year. Now point me to Gweeto’s box, I must see it…”
“Yes, yes… I know. But surely you will want to have a careful study. And look… the sun will soon set and Gweeto will expect the both of us to be at the pre-tasting of the Celebration wines. And surely we don’t want to disappoint him…”
“True. But please… dear, dear Santie, tell me that the box in the corner is not Gweeto’s. Because if that ugly thing is to be his, then I think we have a problem. And tasting or no… I will have to suggest to Gweeto that he give the commission to a different carver.”
“Ivory… I’m sure anything can be corrected to your approval… I look forward to your careful impression and impeccable taste. And while we consider improvements and corrections… let me serve you some of my most treasured vintage of Finomencia.”
“So kind of you Santie… but do you have any more of that breathtaking Wren Hoolish? And how is your cousin these days?”
“I will open a new bottle just for you, Ivory. Larb? Well… I should think he is well. And I am sure that your image beats a path in his mind every day.”
This is true. I’m not making it up. And it’s easy to see how anyone… Gweeto, Larb, Barl… and even Mave Fabish would be taken in by Ivory Snow’s beauty and charm.
Of course, the fact that she is mentioning the possibility of me losing my commission… I don’t find that charming. It doesn’t take much to put me on edge… being the nervous fellow that I am.
I glance at the window to the setting sun. Gweeto would be starting the tasting soon, and I couldn’t risk being late. I prayed that the second Wren that I had opened on the sideboard would begin to work its narcotic effect.
When I knocked on Gweeto’s door and entered, I saw everyone at the tasting table. Larb, Sanje Lem, Lahka Feis… even Mave Fabish.
Gweeto greeted me, “My good Santie we’ve been waiting for you!! I see you brought your Finomencia! Splendid!!” Then he paused, “But where is Ivory Snow?”
“Gweeto, I think she maybe late for the tasting…”
Ivory’s absence was noted; but we proceeded with the matter at hand and tasted thru the wines… and my… the wines were all marvelous… and all were agreed that we had the finest selection ever assembled for the Harvest Grandee.
I will admit that a melancholy has returned once again to Venderbee as it did when the equally charming Lady Wisteria was lost in the supposed Ridged Zelbax attack.
And sometime later, on an evening when Larb and Mave Fabish came over to share in a cup or two of Finomencia, Mave commented, “You are a true artisan Santie, maybe the best in all of Venderbee… I can remember the time, just before Wisteria’s untimely passing, when she had advised Gweeto to appoint Lahka Feis Master Carver… And now, another time of sadness for Gweeto — Ivory Snow, gone. What a coincidence…”
“Yes Mave… that is quite a coincidence. Can I pour you some more of my Finomencia? I think it’s my finest vintage…”