“The problem with this world is that everyone remains so blissfully ignorant of how much suffering there actually is,” I informed Ladd, though he had not inquired. Our conversation had fallen silent for several moments and I determined to remedy it by introducing my friend to one of my theories. Ladd never thought deeply about things; if it were not for my educating him, he would still be a simple farmer’s child. Thankfully, he had me to aid his maturity. There was no doubt that Ladd benefitted more from our relationship, but that did not bother me. He was a source of occupation when there was no amusement to be had. And in the small town of Kennbridge, where we lived, there was rarely any entertainment.
Ladd would have commented on my musing, but it was that time. The door swung open and a customer walked in. Neither Ladd nor I looked up to see who it was; Tunic came every Vierday at this hour for his weekly purchases. Tunic, of course, was not his given name; it was just what Addie had taken to calling him. I cannot even recall if I ever knew his true name. Not that it mattered, for we never spoke to him.
From under the counter, I procured parcel-wrapping paper and laid it on the flat surface. I graciously offered Tunic a coy grin before setting out to fill his order. As I grabbed a bar of soap and filled a small packet with salt, Ladd pulled the heavier items off the shelf.
Ladd took the opportunity to resume our conversation as he worked, “I suppose you conceive that you are different from the rest of the humanity.”
“That I am willing to speak of it, should be evidence enough,” I retorted with a hint of disgust at his lack of faith in me.
Rather than debate the issue, Ladd chuckled and diverted the topic. “Have we ever encountered a subject you are unwilling to talk about?”
“I have been blessed with discernment. If I do not use my talent, then I am worse than those who are without it,” I said as I grabbed the ledger and skipped down the page to record the familiar sum. I would fill in the order details after the customer had left. “I don’t suppose you want anything else?” I inquired of Tunic, knowing the answer would be a negative. The question was a formality that my father insisted I perform. I did not even wait for a reply before scribing the total.
Tunic grasped the small purse hanging from his hip and pulled out the exact change.
I smiled again, the smile of a merchant. “Thank you for your patronage; come again soon.”
Tunic smiled back and nodded before he began to assemble the items into his pack. He would be back next week at the same time. Ladd and I waited for him to leave before beginning our conversation again.
“You were telling me about how uniquely talented you are,” Ladd reminded me.
I rolled my eyes. Ladd never understood. “That is not what I intended to speak of. We were talking about humanity.”
His smile seemed to say we shared a secret.
“I am not so vain!” I protested. It was not my fault I had been gifted with cleverness and an earnest tongue. I would not deny my privilege; after all, why should I feign to be something I was not? But I was frustrated at his insulting tone so I began copying Tunic’s order into the ledger.
“You seek to ignore me now?” Ladd guessed my intentions.
I answered his question in kind.
At once Ladd’s countenance changed. “Don’t be angry with me Nari,” he pleaded. “You know I only mean to tease.”
I continued to ignore him, despite his growing desperation.
“I take it back,” Ladd insisted. “I spoke foolishly.”
I probably should have responded then, but this tendency of Ladd’s annoyed me. He had been my childhood playmate so I knew him well. But even with so many amiable years behind us, I could not find him free of fault. Indeed, all people have some fault or other. Ladd’s was that he loved me too much. When I threatened our relationship, he would fret until I assured him I bore no animosity. He always seemed fearful that I might develop a grudge against him; I don’t know what would give him that notion.
Nevertheless, I remained silent until his pleading began to grow unbearable. Then I sent him to tidy the storeroom so that I might have a moment of peace.
Alas, my peace was too hastily broken. The door swung open and I raised my head to greet the patron. But it was not a customer; it was only Addie.
I hated when Addie visited our shop. She was the tailor’s daughter and came from such wealth that she was not required to labour. When we had told her that we were envious of her unemployment, she had replied that we were foolish to think her life unoccupied. “I have a crucial occupation at our shop,” she had told us, “Father requires that I wear our garments respectably so that others shall wish to purchase from him. It is not easy work to spend my days in town, looking as proper as father wishes.”
Today, as always, Addie was dressed famously. Her red gown looked untouched by the summer dust; its colour still true to its original dyeing. I looked down at my drab grey apron and grimaced.
“Oh Nari, isn’t it just terrible!” Addie whimpered as she stepped into our shop.
“What is terrible?” I returned, noting that Addie was twisting her kerchief anxiously.
“I thought you had heard!” she gasped. Addie loved to proclaim the inferiority of my information sources. She had often remarked that our store must hear such interesting news from travellers though she knew Kennbridge Village almost never hosted visitors. “Cade just returned from Oxtown, he said everyone there was talking about it. I would have sworn you, being at the shop every day, must have heard from someone.”
“Addie, I haven’t heard anything,” I replied with gritted teeth. As much as I wished to tell her to leave, I wanted to know her news. Her brother Cade was the chief source of outside information and he brought a new tale every time he returned to Kennbridge.
“They say the monster of Keegan Heights has descended down the mountain and destroyed a village. They say the monster is moving south and could be upon Kennbridge at any time!”
My mouth gaped as I considered Addie’s news. “What is being done about it?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Addie whimpered. “There is nothing that can be done. No one can stop the monster. We must flee or perish.”
“Rubbish,” I snapped. “The monster cannot be allowed free reign. It must be stopped.”
“You know as well as I do that there is none who can.”
I shook my head. “This is exactly what I was telling Ladd was wrong with the world.”
Hearing his name, Ladd emerged from the storeroom. “Hullo Addie,” he greeted our guest.
She ran over to Ladd and threw herself into his arms. He looked a little baffled as she wept into his chest. I rolled my eyes at this display. Addie’s chief flaw was that she loved Ladd.
Ladd’s expression seemed to question me as to what he should do. I mimed him shoving her away. He shook his head; Ladd would never be so disrespectful. He gently placed his hands on her arms and slowly pushed her off him. “What has troubled you?” he questioned.
She relayed what she had told me, and I piped in at the end saying, “Ladd, consider the current circumstances; it is events such as these to which I refer.”
“Pardon?” Ladd had obviously forgotten our conversation. It grated on me. If he loved me so much, perhaps he should remember what I said.
Addie had finally composed herself, and spoke up saying, “Please explain, for my benefit as well.”
“Remember,” I began, “I said that what was wrong with this world was our ignorance of suffering.”
“Oh, that,” Ladd commented unhelpfully.
“So, what do you determine to do about the monster then?” Addie queried.
I bit my lip. I didn’t have an answer; I just knew that something had to be done. It wasn’t my fault that I didn’t know how to deal with monsters. If my education was lacking, it was no fault of mine. Rather, it seemed to give credence to my earlier statement. No one had saw fit to teach me how to master evil. “Someone ought to know how to destroy the monster,” I answered for fear that silence would weaken my earlier argument.
Addie shook her head. “It has been peaceful for centuries. I doubt anyone knows how to deal with monsters anymore.”
My anger rose at this. “That is ridiculous. Did no one see it prudent to train for such a time as this? We all knew about the monster.”
“It slept for centuries,” Ladd quietly interrupted. He was not sure if we were speaking yet. After so many years, he still did not understand me. “I suspect that people figured it would sleep eternally.”
I opened my mouth, prepared to let Ladd know how foolish his response was, but then I remembered Addie. I put on my shopkeeper’s smile and said, “Perhaps this is not the time to talk of it. I am certain something will be done about the monster.”
Ladd and Addie nodded in agreement, happy to put such unpleasantness behind us. That was always a problem with Ladd and Addie, their willingness to ignore unpleasantness.