The Cost of Living - Sir Thomas Kipling
Death raises the cost of everything. I discovered this first hand when my mother died. My brothers and I battled fiercely over everything she'd touched simply because she would never touch again. Scarcity creates demand in all things; land, coin, men. What sickened me most was the simple fact that not enough men had died yet for life to become scarce and sacred. Our King, Constantine VII, sent wave after wave of young soldiers to their deaths on the shore of Faramond and they went willingly. While life was not precious, coin was and poor farm hands signed up to the navy in droves. They saw the sea as their path from destitution and poverty.
Of course, Hattie and I knew none of this as we proceeded inland. Netby, being a sea port of no small importance was never really penniless as so many of her sons were in the navy and sent coin back to their families on the shore. It came as something of a surprise to us, then, when few men were willing to part with what little wealth they possessed for Hattie's charms and before we ever imagined possible, our funds were gone.
Still, there was nothing to do but keep on, from one town to the next. Occasionally someone would take pity on us, sleeping by the roadside, and toss us food scraps which were gratefully received. Eventually, our poverty grew so much that we sold the stronger of our two nags to a small farmstead. Two days later we shot the weaker and sold the best meat in the town of Innes. We kept the foul stuff and the blood for ourselves, using the money from the first horse to have the butcher make us some long lasting blood-puddings.
All the while Hattie grew increasingly gaunt and pale. She had begun the journey slim, but robust though now she appeared nearly skeletal. After leaving Innes and finishing the food stock we gathered there we would often poach game from local land owners, and steal milk from any poorly attended cows. Often though, the fare was too rich for Hattie's shrinking stomach and she would excuse herself to where she thought I could not hear. Her body, unable to cope with heavy game meet, would expel it and she would go for yet another day without food.
The hungrier we became the less we could travel and so the longer we went between towns. Hattie's skin grew increasingly grey and taught over her bones. By the time we reached Lunida I was convinced that she would die wherever we next stopped. On the city boundaries I paused to let her get her breath back and we regarded the town before us.
She sat down on the grass with ungainly, spider-like movements and closed her eyes for a long while. When she opened them she turned to me and croaked,
"Something must be done, Thomas."
"I know, child, I know… Just a few more steps and we'll be in Lunida… we can find a stable and bunk down for the night, get some proper rest."
"No, I mean that we have to do something about our situation. I made a grave error when I wanted to leave Netby and now we're both paying for it. Tell me, Thomas, does your coat have lining?"
"Yes, but I can't see what that has to do with-" her look silenced me and with stiff fingers she began to untie the buttons from her sleeve cuffs.
"See what price you can get for these and bring me back a needle and thread. Leave me with your coat though and I'll cut the lining out."
I did not think for a moment to argue. She obviously had some great design for the fabric and I had learnt over our time together not to question her plans.
I returned an hour later with a few bonze coins and her needle and thread. By this point she had cut the lining of my coat into shapes and laid them neatly out along a dry stone wall. The alarming thing however was that her long, beautiful brown hair was soaking wet. She had clearly dampened it in the little stream that lay a short way off though I could not understand why.
Still, I did not ask her purpose and rushed forward to wrap our moth eaten blanket around her shoulders. Winter was approaching fast and the air was chill. In her already weak condition I knew that a cold would kill her in a matter of hours.
"Don't fuss, Thomas, just dry my hair."
I did as I was told and she began to stitch the pieces of lining fabric together into what appeared to be a bonnet.
"You're thinking of selling one bonnet to raise our fortunes?" I asked, incredulously.
"No, I'm thinking of selling my hair."
It was such an obvious answer, and it explained her washing it. I shut up then and did all I could to help her.