Chapter Four: Assumptions are not Abilities

At the beginning of Carlone's journey, she pointedly rarely used any striking stones to ignite a fire despite them being prevalent in the rivers and creekbeds. This was because she worried that she would be found by robbers or ner-do-wells who would harm her. However, as she progressed she soon found that hungry animals and the cold were more realistic concerns for her to address and the use of a good campfire each night was not such a bad idea after all. The longer she walked south, the more she discovered that the priest had been right, it was as if the whole country had shipped themselves up to the north. It was weeks in between seeing anyone even from a great distance and then they were usually old hermits who valued their privacy more than their sanity. Carlone could easily avoid them as they were already avoiding the world for some time she came to understand. She had never had this much time to herself before in her life. The farm was her constant, filled with workers, trips to the town, and her own relatives, now she was surrounded by the empty woods. In a way be began to prefer her isolation, because then she didn't have to think of all that she had lost due to the fever by answering painful questions.


As the weather became worse into the winter, Carlone got better at boiling acorns into soup with her empty preserves jars. She did come to miss the chicken of the forest mushrooms which had gone out of season by late fall. They had kept her fed throughout most of her journey since leaving the farm, by now she was quite the forager for the most part. The winter was different when it came to finding food. For her lately, walnuts were a decent snack. She would fill her pockets and bag whenever she passed any tree-bearing substance. Infrequently and much to her every lasting guilt, Carlone had to do the unfortunate deed of trapping a bird whenever she could for nourishment, which made her quite sad to do so as every bird she ever saw was a truly beautiful creature. She cried as she prepared it each time. Each day when she had figured that she was spent for the evening she would construct a tree branch and twig hut to settle into for the night. No one ever bothered her about her fire that she let burn throughout the night, no one was there to care.


She knew she was nearing the coast as the snow on the ground became more scarce, nonetheless, the wind was picking up increasingly so. The coast was a chilly, yet snow-free region. Carlone had heard her aunt speak of how it was a tourist spot for newlyweds. Carlone found it to be very empty though. The day she stumbled on a beach, there was no one and nothing within sight in every direction. The water was warmer than the surrounding air and Carlone took off her boots as she walked in the tide to her ankles. She liked the smell of the salty breeze as she took it in. Not wanting to push her luck she went back into the cover of the woods to make her camp for the night and boil her rations into stew.


The next day she was all business as she scoured the beach for moonstones. She thought the beaches would be littered with the things, but there were only some polished down once broken glass that had washed ashore. Carlone, not one to be defeated by circumstance, walked the coastline until she came to an old inn. The place was not abandoned like the last town she had been to. This place though might have just as well have been. The keeper was an older chubby woman and her aging husband. They had no guests that Carlone could see, but they did have a few children that made the place seem alive. Carlone entered through the tavern dusting off the sand from her shoes as the keeper's wife greeted her saying "what is a little thing like you doing all by yourself?" Carlone dared not tell the truth so she lied saying that her parents sent her to relatives, but that she got lost along the way. The inn keeper's wife, whose name was Merri, frowned saying "oh, you poor thing." Carlone hoped the woman didn't ask her any details to her story as she was a bad liar and had no idea of how to sound any more believable than she already did. Carlone trying to come off as slightly older than she was offered the woman labor in exchange for a night's keep. "Well, I do need someone to go to help with the wash, and you could use a little cleaning up yourself." Carlone smiled at Merri's light-hearted quip, even she was aware that she was a mess.


That afternoon they boiled all of the linens from the inn in the kitchen. This was when Carlone got to meet the entire family. Sara and Juniper were the youngest girls both under ten. While Viktor and Buloke were the oldest of the children. Carlone soon found the family to be highly curious about the world. They had hunkered down last spring with the fever that was rumored to be spreading from the nearby cities. They were supposed to go too but found that they had so many travelers stopping by the inn that they missed their opportunity to leave for themselves when the winter came early. Merri explained that they were not sure if they should wait it out or go north like everyone else they knew. Carlone not wanting to mislead the kind family flatly explained without giving away too much detail that she had no reason to think anyone was coming back ever. Merri looked like she was ready to drop out of her dinner chair as Carlone spoke. "I've never heard of such a thing. My family has been at this inn for over a hundred years. Can the fever truly be that bad?" Flashing memories of Carlone's own family's tragedy burst into her mind, causing tears to well up. All she could do to respond to Merri with breaking was nod her head as if to say "yes." Merri looked down as the seriousness of the situation clicked for her. Buloke trying to break the gloom in the room chimed in "I hope you like crab salad sandwiches Carlone because it's our only meal item these days." He said as he winked at her, Carlone smiled. These were such nice people, Carlone thought to herself she wished she had better news to bring.


That night Carlone slept in a proper bed for the first time in probably her whole life, at least from what she could remember. Sara had sat by her at dinner and told her all that she knew about finding moonstones, to which Carlone listened intently. The reason Carlone had not found any was that she was six miles on the wrong side of the beach. She had to go inland toward the bay which had an underwater cavern that the moonstones washed up from with the tide. Viktor stopped Carlone as she went up the stairs before bed telling her that Sara's description of the moonstones was a child's opinion. He recommended that she go to the stone quarry if she were looking to make a large enough sum to live off of. He explained that every year the boys from the family work there from the spring and into the summer. He said that she could go with them as they planned to leave for the quarry by the month's end. Carlone asked if there were tasks someone as small as she was could do, to which he replied that she would likely be given the job of spalling. Without saying it Carlone knew that Viktor could tell she was not going to find relatives and she was grateful he didn't make her explain it out loud.


"You are talking about child labor," Merri said as a reaction to Carlone's invitation to the quarry for work the next morning at breakfast. Viktor shook his head in disagreement as he spoke of it more as an opportunity for a person like Carlone to get a foothold in the workforce. He reasoned that with the towns being essentially abandoned indefinitely that Carlone had little else to hope for. Merri refuted by offering Carlone to stay at the inn until things went back to the way they were before the fever had come. To this Carlone put her hand on Merri's shoulder, a woman who although she had only known a brief time, she had become endeared toward. "I can not become just another mouth to feed, I want to go and at least try this." Merri sighed at this but relented, "if you don't like it, you can always come back here." Carlone knew she speaking earnestly in that offer. Yes, there were tasks Carlone could do around the inn, but the younger girls were old enough to manage those with their mother. Carlone also knew that the head of the family, a man only referred to as "Papa" was able to help as well. Carlone would soon find herself redundant if not a complete burden there, which was what she didn't want to be to anyone.


The following short weeks were busy. The girls helped prepare the meals for the twenty-seven-mile walk to the quarry. The able-bodied members of the family chopped all the firewood that they could to hold over the household in their absence. Buloke and Viktor each would fill Carlone in on the interworkings of the quarry life that she needed to know to maintain employment. The brothers were interesting as they could not be more different. Carlone wondered if they would see each other much once they arrived on the job site. She would miss them if they were separated. Time passed quickly and it was soon the morning to leave. Carlone took in her likely last time being woken up by the inn keeper's daughters and eating a breakfast of warm porridge with the family. They were so different from the one she knew. It almost made her both appreciate them and loath her aunt equally. By and by this was what a family should be Carlone affirmed in her mind. She wanted to find a way to pay them back for their charity one day.