Timeline: Sixth Age, 46th Year, Autumn
Emcorae Azop’s mother Beckali was currently awash in memories of her childhood – the woman was heartbroken at the prospect of her son on the verge of losing his innocence to the world, even as she thought back to the time when her own childhood was suddenly ripped away.
Becklali’s memory flashed back to a day that was a couple months before her thirteenth name’s day – she was in town helping her family sell their goods at the bazaar at Market Square in the center of Monthaven. Like all market days, this one too was a blur – Beckali and her siblings and parents were busy unloading vegetables from the cart, setting their wares on displays, helping customers, and more. It was always fun and exciting for a girl like Beckali to see the hustle and bustle of town when life was always so much slower on the Grenger’s farm.
This day was much like the others before – until the incident happened.
After helping her father pack a crate of corn, Beckali recalled standing beside her father as the table for his next customer. That’s when a rather well-to-do looking man stepped up to the Grenger’s board. It was immediately clear that the man was not from Monthaven by his fancy dress and the way he spoke. Beckali heard some mention of the man perhaps being a merchant visiting from Primcitta named Master John Stapleton, however the girl didn’t pay too much attention as her mind wandered.
As the men spoke about fair prices and quality produce, Beckali emerged from her father’s shadow, with a plan to sneak a quick break and tend to the family horse for a bit of quiet time. Yet then it was that a little jay with a beautiful blue plume appeared – the bird began flying a series of aerial circles over the head of young Beckali as it warbled a song of such sweetness that all in the area stopped what they were doing to catch a glimpse of the unusual affair taking place at the Grenger’s stall.
Beckali was embarrassed by the sudden attention, and with her face blushing the girl tried walk away from the crowd, yet the bird flew wherever Beckali went and continued its enchanting song. And still the crowd crew.
How long this went on, who can say? For the people were transfixed by the bluejay’s beautiful music. Unfortunately for them, the songbird suddenly stopped – it’s rite seemingly concluded, it emitted one last long chirrup as it flew from the air over Beckali and landed for an instant on the shoulder of the merchant from Primcitta; once there blue jay’s crested head bobbed up and down as it seemingly whispered a twitter or two into the gentleman’s ear – the man instantly mesmerized by the bird’s chatter.
A moment later and the jay was gone – having disappeared into thin air. So suddenly had the bird vanished that the townsfolk began to wonder if the jay was ever really there at all; shaking themselves from their collective stupor, the crowd filtered back out around the market, quickly forgetting about the bird business.
All except Beckali; still glowing with youthful vitality, the girl wondered, Doesn’t anyone care where the beautiful bird went? That’s when little Beckali’s eyes landed upon the man to whom the jay had flown to last. Why is that old man staring at me so?
The old man Beckali saw watching her was in fact the rich merchant from Primcitta Jon Stapleton. Prior to the interruption, he’d been haggling prices with Mo Grenger, yet the man forgot all about the farmer’s produce when the bluejay’s song wove its magic upon his psyche. That the bird was now gone mattered little to the merchant, for his sites were fixed upon something far more important – a golden aura he continued to see all around the farmer’s daughter.
With sad eyes, the Jon Stapleton let his glance softly brush over the young girl’s face. It was a look that Beckali had never seen before or since – for the man’s eyes were filled with a hopeless desire that was overshadowed by the all-too-clear realization of an unrequited love that was not to be. (1)
Despite his travels the world over, Jon Stapleton’s moment of truth had unexpectedly just occurred in the sleepy town of Monthaven – torn inside because he saw that Beckali was so young, still Jon knew that he might never have this opportunity again. (2)
If it’s too good to pass up, don’t let it get away from you, Jon. The man reminded himself of his mantra. Life guarantees you no second chances – sometimes you’re just lucky to even have a first!
Stapleton silently repeated the mantra to himself, one that had one him fortune the world over. Then to the farmer he proffered the following, “The corn is fine, my friend, but I’ve taken a fancy to the girl.”
As word got out of what was occurring, the crowds swelled by the Grenger’s stall; the onlookers eager to see the master merchant making his play. The townsfolk were surprised then to see how Jon Stapleton appeared to treat Mo Grenger as an equal.
“She’ll be a welcome addition to my humble home,” Master Stapleton explained. “And I can personally assured you her innocence will be protected. She’ll grow up with every advantage, want for nothing, and live a life of luxury.”
For his part, Beckali’s father allowed no emotion to show on his face – his years having long since trained him not to offend his bettors. Yet his eyes surely bespoke his horror at the merchant’s proposal – one he had no intention of accepting, regardless of the price – and he used his arm to keep Beckali well protected behind him.
Skilled beyond compare in the arts of negotiation, Stapleton read the farmer’s eyes, he saw his protectiveness, and he knew what he was up against – in truth, the merchant had never engaged in the business of arranged marriages, dowries, or the like, yet in this case the man would have gladly given his entire fortune if he thought the farmer would accept. He had no choice but to persist.
After calling over one of his attendants, he took a bulky purse from the man and then hefted it onto the Grenger’s table – it landed with a jingle (the sound quickly attracting more onlookers). Stapleton tried to open the bag so that only the farmer could see, yet as soon as a yellow glint was visible, the crowds erupted.
“That’s gold!” someone shouted.
“He means to buy the girl with a bag of gold!” Another gasped.
“Mo will become the richest man in town – it’s not fair.” Someone else complained.
The cacophony of voices and the push of the crowd threatened to ruin it all, but Stapleton’s bodyguards stepped in to push back the rabble and give their master room to complete the deal.
The merchant look the farmer in the eyes, “It’s a winning trade, friend. Like the girl, you’ll never want for anything in life ever again. They’ll be no need to farm the land yourself, when you can hire others. You’re family will be not only be secure for your lifetime but for generations to come.”
These kinds of transactions, while not common in a small town like Monthaven, were also not unheard of, and since the townsfolk could see that the merchant appeared to be negotiating in good faith – offering far more than anyone could have expected and in truth, perhaps enough to buy the entire town – everyone waited with baited breath, fully expecting the farmer to accept the exorbitant offer.
“Friend. I ‘appen to like farmin.'” Mo Grenger spoke calmly but forcefully. “And I love my daughter e’en more.”
The crowd erupted at the unexpected rebuttal.
“I’ll sell you my daughter.” A fellow pushed forward, dragging an adolescent girl with him.
“Me too! I’ll give you all three for half that price!” A morbidly obese farmer from two stands down called out. Pushing back his straw hat and grinning coyly he added, “Lord knows I can always make more.”
The onlookers burst into laughter as the catcalls grew more baudy, yet Mo Grenger held his daughter close as her brothers now came forward to stand around her, sheltering Beckali from the unwanted exposure.
The sweat of his looming defeat showing on his brow, the merchant tried to control his breathing as he said words he’d never uttered before, “Name your price, sir.”
“Like I says, friend. My daughter ain’t fer sale, but if ye be wantin to buy some of my fine produce I’ll be glad to sell ya some.” And here Mo pulled an ear of corn out of its stalk so that he could hold it out to the merchant and thus show off its premium color and texture. Then he added, “heck, if it’ll help you out I’ll even give ya ten crates for the price of four. Won’t that make ya feel a little better? You bein a businessman and all, I can’t see how ya can turn down a deal like that, neh?”
But Jon Stapleton had suddenly lost his appetite. With a sigh then, he waved away the corn the farmer was holding out and instead took one last look at Beckali. That she was The One he’d been looking for was without question – and yet, The Fates seemed aligned against him. With sad regret, the merchant left The Grenger’s stall; his spirit crushed, he left Monthaven that evening with his servants in tow – donating all the purchases he’d made in town to the local church, for he couldn’t bear to bring these reminders of a failed mission with him.
This marked the final time Jon Stapleton ever visited the town of Monthaven. (4)
The grumblings about the stupidity of The Grengers began almost immediately.
“How could Mo turn down such a price for his child?” Someone asked later that night at The Brandonale.
“Especially when he has six others?” Another added.
“It’s a bad sign to make Master Stapleton angry.” The general store owner worried. “That man’s done a lot to help our town.”
“It don’t bode well for the future, that’s for sure!” The barkeep concluded.
Four more years of harvests passed.
Despite bumper crops, Jon Stapleton and his merchant friends never returned to Monthaven. Lack of buyers drove the prices of the farmers’ produce down. Lack of visitors also reduced the income of the local inn and tavern.
Naturally people blamed the Grengers for the cause of all these problems. Soon nobody would buy the family’s produce at the markets. Not long after that the town elders told Mo that his family was no longer welcome in Monthaven.
From the Grengers’ perspective, life went on. Their farm was nestled just across the bridge on River Run road and apart from the village proper so maintaining a goodly social distance wasn’t difficult. The Grenger’s lands were fertile and their vegetable farms and animal herds provided them with everything the family needed to live to be self-sufficient. Although they no longer gained the extra income from the market events, they also realized they didn’t miss the bustle of the town. Thus Mo Grenger and his family lived in peace and happiness – even if their neighbors in town wished them ill.
And then things took a turn for the worse.
Whether the Grenger’s fortunes changed because of all the bad vibes the townsfolk manifested against them, or whether it was simply bad luck, the fates dealt a killing blow to the farm family when a mysterious illness stuck Beckali’s father during the following spring.
Throughout the coming months, Mo’s health declined – his body, once hale and strong, began to waste away. Despite pleas from Beckali’s family, the local doctor would not help – for the town feared The Grengers’ Plague. Many a mouth it was that said Mo’s suffering was retribution from Yahway for the farmer’s foolish rejection of Jon Stapleton’s generous (5). Thus was Mo forced to battle his illness without any medical assistance.
The Grenger family struggled to stay afloat while their father faded away. His sickness took its toll on them all, but especially on Beckali’s mother who valiantly still tried to run the farm in spite of the mounting burdens that threatened to overwhelm them all. It was a losing battle.
Ma Grenger’s private grief eventually overwhelmed her. It began with the death of her husband. Next came Beckali’s unexpected pregnancy and subsequent marriage one of the little known families in town (The Azops). Meanwhile, many of the other Grenger children moved away to find a mate or escape the ill will of Monthaven. Eventually, when only two of her sons remained with her at the farm, Ma Grenger succombed to the constant hounding of Henri Perballi – a farmer’s whose smaller lands abutted The Grengers and who’d been trying to buy the latter’s lands for years in order to expand his own holdings.
“Let’s us just git away from here” Jim and Jon Grenger encouraged their mother to sell to Farmer Perballi. “There ain’t nothing fer our kind in these parts any longer, Ma. Why don’t we all just git ourselves to them woods where we belong? Them animals is all the company we’d ever need anyway. What do ya say?”
Giving in to her sons’ requests, Ma Grenger sold her farm to her neighbor, accepting a ‘generous’ offer from Farmer Perballi for what the latter said was ‘blighted’ lands (6). The farm sold, Beckali’s mother moved with her two sons to a location deeper into the woods, miles north of town.
In the years that followed, Beckali had only seen her mother and brothers one time. The new Grenger homestead was far from Monthaven and there weren’t any trails to make the going any easier, but somehow Beckali had talked her new husband Alboris Azop into visiting her family the first spring after their son Emcorae was born. (7). The visit was a happy one for Beckali, yet it was a journey she’d never made again. (8)
Sitting in the grass near her current house, the memories of a lifetime continued to race the through Beckali Azop’s mind – eventually her inner visions ended with a final remembrance of her father. It was the final chapter of Mo Grenger’s life –a memory that Beckali could never forget — one day shortly after before her eighteenth birthday…
Beckali had come in from her chores to take her turn nursing the old man. Sitting quietly by her father’s bedside had become her new favorite pasttime and the young woman often found peace near the man who’d been her rock for all her life.
On most occasions, her father hardly moved and he almost never spoke or even opened his eyes anymore. Yet none of that mattered to Beckali – for just being near her father brought her comfort and she was confident that her precense was helpful to her da as well.
Imagine Beckali’s surprise when she looked over at her father and saw him staring back at her. Beckali knew that even small movements of Mo’s body caused the man great pains, and she knew that it was all Mo could do just to turn his head even to see Beckali.
Then it was that young Beckali also realized something else – her father was about to die. Mo Grenger knew it, he could feel it in his bones, and somehow, Beckali too, also knew it. The girl knew that she had to call out for her, yet she couldn’t — for she was frozen in place, afraid that if she looked away for even a moment, her father would pass away forever.
A tear ran down her cheek and she grasped her father’s now frail hand. As she did so, Beckali recalled the time when those hands used to be big and strong — when Mo Grenger would plow the fields in the early mornings or carry the big bushels of corn, or especially when he used to pick her up and toss her in the air when she was still a child, as she laughed without a care in the world. Her father’s hands had always signified protection for Beckali; protection from the unknown world outside. These were the hands that supported her throughout her life. These were the hands that comforted her when she was sad. These were the hands that held her close, filling her with a father’s love.
Now, these were the hands that were just skin and bones thin and Beckali worried that they would crumble to dust in her grasp if she held too tight. She had wanted to lean over and hold her father, to tell him that it would be all right, and that now it was her turn to take care of him and make everything better, just like he had done so many times in the past for her; yet Beckli knew that to do so would cause her father even more pain than he was already in.
And so Beckali just sat there, as helpless as she had been for the last two season while she and her family had been forced to witness her father slowly and agonizingly waste away.
Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, Mo Grener opened his mouth and spoke. His words were the first he had attempted in weeks, and while his speech was slurred due to the lack of muscle control in his face, even still Beckali understood every word…..
“They’re coming mom! Did I make it in time? You know I did, huh?” Emcorae Azop came racing up the path to the porch, jarring his mother back to the present day.
Shaken from her dream, Beckali didn’t see her son speeding towards her. Instead she looked up towards the porch roof, up to where once sat that strange but familiar little bluejay that had just reminded her of her memories.
Unfortunately the bird was gone.
Meanwhile, Emcorae was upon her. “Ha, ha. I’m gonna tell gram I should get TWO extra tarts! What do ya say, mama?”
The boy didn’t stay for an answer as he rushed inside, thus it was that he never saw the tear that ran down Beckali’s cheek.
A tear that she was quick to brush away when she saw Alfranco and her husband walking up the path, home for supper. Both drunk once again.
- A bit or two about Jon Stapleton. Although Beckali may not have known who or what the merchant was all about, still he was a man well known around Monthaven for his kindness and generosity whenever business brought him to these parts – which was usually every two or three years, just as the summer was drawing to a close. Master Stapleton had a business partner in Monthaven by the name of Merrill Finch – he’ll factor into our story later, but for now you may be interested to know that this pair ran a major shipyard in Primcitta and it was Jon Stapleton’s skill at importing and exporting that he and his partners wealthy beyond compare. Stapleton traveled nowadays not to build his vast fortune, but rather for the sheer enjoyment of meeting new people – for you see, in spite of his vast fortune (or perhaps because of it?), Jon Stapleton was a lonely man – he’d never married in his 64 years because he’d never met the girl of his dreams. For all his wealth and possessions, he could never satisfy the desires of his heart, and so he journeyed the world (with his entourage of bodyguards to protect him of course). Whenever someone would ask him why he didn’t just stay home at his beautiful manor in exciting Primcitta he would quickly reply, “Ah, my friend, you never know who or what is around the next bend and if you don’t turn those corners in life, well then, you will never find out.” So for years Master Stapleton had been turning corners and peering around bends, always hoping that someone would finally catch his eye, not knowing what she would look like beforehand, yet knowing that he would be sure of his heart’s desire the first moment he laid eyes on her. That’s what happened when Jon saw Beckali – and immediately understood that his life was doomed from this moment forward.
- It had taken him over 6 decades to find his diamond and it’s doubtful he had life enough to find another.
- Could Stapleton have had his goons kidnap the girl? Undoubtedly – and the men suggested as much to their master, yet the merchant declined. Could Stapleton have waited for the girl to grow up and return to court her? That too seemed unrealistic to him – notwithstanding his already advanced age, the real matter was this — Business was all the merchant knew and if his greatest skills in life were going to fail him when he needed them most, Time couldn’t solve that. During his brief conversation with Mo Grenger, Stapleton quickly understood that no amount of bartering could convince the farmer to part with such a blessing in life as Beckali. Not that he could blame the farmer, for if Jon Stapleton had Beckali at his side he wouldn’t have sacrificed her for the world.
- Upon returning to his estates in Primcitta, Jon Stapleton chose to end his world travels, deciding to live out his remaining days in seclusion. For the world no longer held joy for him and the allure of discovery was lost. In time, he sold off his business dealings to his partners and lived the life of a recluse – lounging in his quiet gardens and dreaming back to the time when he had seen an angel. Until one day, seven years after first seeing Beckali, a real angel appeared to the merchant, granting him a glimpse of his greatest desire: the sight of Beckali as he last saw her. The angel called him to leave the world of Substance and join her – it was an offer that Jon Stapleton gladly accepted – one that allowed the still lonely man die with a smile on his face and peace in his heart.
- The impetus for this was rooted in a sermon given by Pastor Kastelli in which explained to his parishoners that “Yahway helps those who help themselves, and when Mo refused to help his family by working with Master Stapleton, Mo was in essence rejecting the help of God Himself.” The clergyman also claiming that “if Yahway isn’t good enough to help Mo, nobody in town is either.”
- In fact the Grenger’s farmland was the most fertile in the entire region and Farmer Perballi well knew that. The shrewd farmer also knew how much The Grengers wanted to sell and therefore he used that to drive the price lower. In addition to picking up some of the most valuable land in town, Farmer Perballi was proclaimed a hero by the people of Monthaven for the part he played in liberating the town from the ill-fated Grengers.
- That was back at the time when Em’s father still seemed to care enough about Beckali to do the little things to make her happy, instead of just ignoring her like he did now.
- For all she knew her mother and her two brothers were still there, in that same little log house, now twelve years later. But Beckali never knew for sure because Alboris had never wanted to go back, saying it was just too much trouble to “get all the way out there” and “why couldn’t her family have been normal like everybody else and continued to live in Monthaven?” Since Beckali couldn’t make the journey on her own, and since the Grengers would never step foot in the town again, well they just had not seen each other since.