Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The last leaf

The sound of metal striking metal over and over again could easily be heard across the first floor of the estate. However, the strikes did not seem to be wild or random. Instead, the experienced kindred would notice a series of clear patterns in the vibrations resonating from inside the master dining room, interrupted only by soft laughter every now and then.

“Can we take a break Ethan?” Brit asked making big eyes, while using an embroidered handkerchief reading ‘E. S.’ to remove little pearls of sweat from her forehead and décolleté. The fencing training dress, clearly coming from Victorian times, had been arranged for her by Ethan to make the fencing lessons seem more like an opportunity to dress up and embraced her form tightly, the laced up corset however was not necessarily as practical, as it was optically pleasing.

“We have two more routines to practice and then of course there is the scheduled sparring for today” was Ethan’s only response to her inquiry. He was well aware that her “break” would mean ending the fencing lesson for the night and just enjoy the opportunity to wear the pretty outfits, that Ethan changed every three lessons, as an additional motivational factor to keep doing them. He was also well aware, that if he started a lengthy debate with his wife, she would most likely get him to eventually do just what she wanted taking advantage of her overwhelming natural charisma, that enchanted him in such a magnificent way since that night over the rooftops of Toxia.

Brit puffed her cheeks, noticing that Ethan was set on continuing the lessons but dutifully followed up the routines that were still planned until the time of sparring arrived, at which point her sparkling eyes made it quite clear that the lessons became fun once more. And how could a game of chase across the whole estate around, over and under the furniture, swinging a sword dressed up like a pirate princess not be fun? Especially since the term pirate princess came from Ethan’s lips describing her most recent outfit, immediately intriguing her. “But a book in the library said, that women on ships were bad luck” had been her first response until Ethan assured her that that did not apply if the woman in question was actually a princess or queen, in which case they were excellent luck!

Ethan thoroughly enjoyed this little game with his beloved who had clearly improved over the years and even though none of the two had ever seriously injured themselves during those sessions, it had surprised him that he had to increase his level of alertness to avoid just that, as the influence of their sharing combined with the lessons resulted in wickedly fast succession of attacks coming from Brit, even more so when she seemed to have the most fun with it.

The chase throughout the floors of their hiding place of the season in the South of France ended in the bedroom, where he lunged back against her in a Celerity enhanced motion, trapping her sword between his torso and his upper arm, while taking a hold of her free arm pulling her to him. “Show mercy princess, I surrender!” he declared in a shocked manner as if her sword had really pierced his chest causing Brit to get all nervous checking to see if that was the case before letting go of it and wrapping her arm around his neck “You are my prisoner then now? What did pirate princesses usually do with prisoners?” her interest was quite sincere and not suggestive as it could have been, had she been another. So Ethan took his time to present her with a series of options spanning from mild torture practices up deserting them on a lonely island to rot. Just as she was going to declare her lost interest in being a pirate princess, he added the marriage and living happily ever after option, which of course increased the interest exponentially again.

Following the reenactment of exchanging vows and some moments of utter tenderness between them as they reached for each other’s wedding bands, followed by a proper bridal kiss, Ethan took the opportunity to present news. “I believe we have stayed here long enough Brit. It is time to return to Toxia for a while. People are beginning to notice and remember us too much here and that is never advisable for my kind.” Brit initially seemed unhappy with leaving as she had truly enjoyed the time in France but the idea of seeing their friends in the city again was enough to lift her spirits and convince her this was a good idea. On the other hand, maybe the fact that Ethan mentioned, that nights would be longer in Toxia and they would have time for longer dates had something to do with her mood swing as well.

A few nights later, Brit locked the front door of the house that had been home for the largest part of 2010. The way she gently touched the heavy wooden decoration elements on it indicated she would miss it but her expression looking at Ethan as he helped her into the car made clear, she was looking forward to returning to the city, where the two of them met. It was the moment Ethan quickly accelerated the car leaving the driveway, that the last leaf fell from the cherry plum, that Brit had so enjoyed watching, once its leaves started changing colors in autumn.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Scrambled Eggs - Take Two

When Brit opened the door, snow flurries swept in to the room in a swirl along with a bundled woman named Miriam. The door shut with a whistle of wind. Brit welcomed the visitor while helping her out of her cloak and scarves. The woman greeted Brit stiffly in a heavily accented voice, “My name is Miriam. I have come to instruct you to make eggs.” Brit smiled happily and Miriam watched as Brit placed the cloak and scarves on a hanger. Turning, Miriam saw Ethan sitting near the window and froze in place.

“This is my beloved Ethan, Miriam. Ethan, we have a visitor,” Brit said in her soft lisp. Miriam offered an awkward curtsey, which caused Ethan to frown. Tilting her head, she quirked over Miriam’s change in behavior. “I am sure that Ethan was expecting you, Miriam.” Miriam nodded and kept her attention on Ethan.

Ethan turned his attention to the woman. “I was indeed. Please do come in. I thank you for offering your services.” With a grin toward Brit, he continued, “Brit seeks to learn the art of perfecting scrambled eggs. We were told that you have been practicing for years.” Ethan returned to his book.

Miriam relaxed a bit at the smile. Nodding, she exclaimed, “Yes. Yes. I have been scrambling eggs for visitors and..well, visitors for a few hundred years!” Brit’s eyes widened as she had seen the woman out during the daytime. The woman looked at her hands and said more softly, “Yes, yes. A few hundred years can expand to a lifetime.”

The woman Miriam looked to be about 40 years of age. She seemed to be a woman who had lived life without much luxury. Walking to the refrigerator, she pulled out several ingredients: Eggs, milk, and real butter. Turning to Brit, she seemed to almost appraise her before speaking. “You will not get a good result if your ingredients are not quality. Look here.” Miriam poured a bowl of water and tossed in a few pinches of salt. Swirling the water, she then put in the eggs which sank immediately. “Eggs that float are old.” Brit nodded in understanding. “Fresh egg shells are rough and chalky. If they are smooth and shiny, you can discard them.”

Brit’s eyes widened at such sage advice. Miriam gave a nod of approval seeing that her words were being heeded. Brit tested all six eggs and found one that floated. “Out it goes,” said Miriam. Brit tossed the egg into the waste bin and retrieved another egg. Ethan raised an eyebrow before closing his book to watch the lesson.

“Low fat milk is used, though it is a modern concept. For years, we used cream. Un-pasteurized cream.” Brit said nothing in reply. Miriam muttered, “Modern times. Now people think even whole milk is too heavy,” which caused Ethan to grin again. Miriam reached for a bowl and instructed Brit to break the eggs into the bowl. Brit carefully cracked each egg and inspected for shells between each egg addition. Miriam waited patiently. “Sometimes, you may be forced to use an egg that is not so fresh.” Lowering her voice, Miriam whispered, “They will seem fresher if you add one single drop of vanilla.” Brit mouthed the word ‘vanilla’ as she committed the secret to memory.

Miriam tapped the bowl. “Use copper for eggs. Add 1 half eggshell of milk for each egg and one dash of salt for each two eggs.” Miriam demonstrated. Pantomiming, Miriam added, “And do not stir the eggs with a whisk. You will lift them and drop. Like a tilted wheel motion. Beat them until they are frothy and even colored. Brit carefully followed the instructions. Miriam turned to Ethan after ensuring that Brit was on the right path. She opened her mouth as if to say something to him but he was focused on Brit with an expression of sheer amusement and delight.

Miriam examined the contents after 2 minutes and warned, “Never over beat the eggs. They will fail to be fluffy.” Brit waited for the next set of instructions. Pulling a well-used 12 inch skillet, Miriam said, “This is the right size for six eggs. First, heat it up. Do not add butter before it is warmed.” Setting it on the flames, all three simply watched as the fire licked the skillet. Miriam indicated that Brit should add about a tablespoon of butter. The butter flowed without sizzle and coated the bottom of the pan.

Brit tilted the skillet as Miriam showed her to do and then added the eggs into the skillet as the last bit of butter liquefied. Miriam showed her to watch for indications that the eggs were setting before using a spatula to push the eggs toward the center and tilting so more liquid eggs would fill the spot. Brit followed the instructions carefully to Ethan’s delight at watching his wife’s wonder over such a simple thing.

As Brit slowly pressed the eggs as indicated, Miriam turned again to watch Ethan. After a moment, she spoke, “When ingredients are not kept properly, they will age. Age fast.” Neither Brit nor Ethan responded but Ethan’s glance shifted to Miriam. Miriam continued, “It is a little thing…to keep something from aging.” Ethan’s jaw set a bit before he walked over to Brit. His hand touched his wife lightly on the waist and caressed her hair pulling it back. Miriam kept her gaze on Ethan even as Brit smiled up at his touch. Brit continued to cook the eggs. Miriam’s eyes shifted to Brit’s hands before looking down at her own weathered hands.

Miriam showed Brit how to break up the large clumps and, when there was no more egg to run, Miriam told Brit to flip all over and count to fifteen. Then, she pointed to the plate and said, “Good. Now place them there and you can add more salt or pepper, if you like.”

Brit beamed at Miriam, “They look perfect!”

Miriam laughed briefly, “I assure you that you will find none better.” To Ethan, she added, “Your lady is a budding chef.” Ethan nodded obviously pleased at Brit’s excitement. Miriam politely declined when Brit asked her to share the eggs and directed Brit to enjoy them while they were warm. As Brit nibbled, Miriam went down the list of things one should never do to eggs. “Do not stir eggs. Do not beat whites then add yolks.” Brit ate slowly taking in all advice. “Never use baking powder in eggs. Nor sugar. Sea salt and salt. It is truly all the same.”

Brit said to Ethan, “We should stay a long time! I could learn lots, I think.” Ethan smiled at her as she ate the eggs.

Miriam responded quickly, “I could offer other lessons.” Brit bounced looking to Ethan.

Feeling the over anxiousness of Miriam, Ethan’s smile faded. He shrugged and said, “We shall contact your employer when Brit tires of eggs.”

Miriam pressed a thumb to her mouth staring at the window. Brit took another bite of eggs and Ethan caressed her hair again as he watched the woman seated across from them. Taking a hard look at her, Ethan could see Miriam's panic within and he was sure he could smell death upon her. Miriam was aging quickly. “Are you okay,” asked Brit.

“I.” Miriam looked from one to the other. Ethan could hear the woman’s heart race. “I need to drink,” she whispered in a panicked voice staring straight at Ethan. Brit looked to the refrigerator offering a stammered apology for not offering Miriam a refreshment. As Brit babbled, Ethan spoke silently to Brit to return to the table and sit down. Brit turned to him and blinked before doing as he indicated.

Placing his hands on Brit’s shoulders, Ethan said calmly, “You need to talk to your keeper. Several centuries yield a lot of loyalty. Perhaps you can find a way to remind him of your needs.”

“Please,” Miriam whispered. “I only need a little.” Ethan stiffened as Brit looked from one to the other bewildered. Miriam begged, “Please. I..I shall not last much longer.” Ethan did not respond. Miriam’s voice caught, “My years were like hers less than a month ago.”

Ethan’s hand went to Brit’s hair protectively and he said, “I am sorry. You should go now.” Pink-tinged tears formed in Miriam’s frightened eyes causing Brit no little anxiety. Ethan pulled Brit to him and nodded to Miriam. As Miriam started to say something else, Ethan whispered, “Go.” Miriam’s sob caught in her throat. She grabbed her cloak and scarves to run out of the cabin.

The wind howled into the cabin from the opened door. Ethan crossed to secure the door before returning to pull Brit close. Picking her up, he covered Brit and sat back in his chair cradling her to him. “Why is her beloved not feeding her?” asked Brit.

Ethan felt her racing heartbeat and could imagine her thoughts within. “I don’t know, baby. I do know it will never happen to you.” Not wanting to remind her that not all who are kept are beloved, Ethan pulled Brit closer and shushed her softly. He could hear the questions she was forming within.