Chapter Nine: Where There is Work...

Sticking with her original route, Carlone stopped by the inn to inform her adoptive family about Viktor's new living arrangement at the farm inland. While there, Carlone made herself useful to the aging matriarch and patriarch of the family by working with Buloke in the tavern at night. This also allowed the once again pregnant Peaches a chance to rest, as she was usually tasked with this job due to the girls Sara and Juniper being a bit too young to handle any drunkards on their own. Carlone was not just being charitable in her offering of free labor, she had another secret reason for being hesitant to go back to the quarry directly. It being of course that she was not sure if she was pregnant from her fling with the man who called himself the "Regent." Carlone had mixed feelings about the idea of becoming a mother. She felt that if it were possible then she would have to change her entire life's plan that she had mapped out for herself. It was not that she was particularly opposed to having children of her own but more concerned that her lifestyle did not suit raising them. There were birth control methods where Carlone lived. Many sheepherders sold barrier methods at the market and the midwives had teas to brew for that matter as well. None of which Carlone or the Regent bothered with during their time together. Carlone in hindsight simply hoped to remain as she was, single and free. The thought of motherhood was not something she associated with herself then or possibly ever.


Manning the tavern caused Carlone to spend more time with the jocular Buloke in a one-on-one setting. He was away from the quarry for the winter as per his usual seasonal work cycle. It was on a late-night running the inn's tavern that he confided in Carlone that married life has not been what he expected with Peaches. He somberly admitted that he had become put off by her no longer happy-go-lucky attitude. As he finished, he seemed to regret saying such a thing out loud, yet he went on to whisper that he made the effort to go as far as to avoid Peaches as much as he could. Carlone did not know how to respond to Buloke's revelation, but she could tell he had been waiting to get this off of his chest to anyone who would listen for some time. Buloke, almost speaking to himself now, continued to say that he even considered staying on at the quarry for the winter this year just to have some peace from his growing family. Although Carlone and Peaches were not especially close, Carlone still felt it would be a disservice to a fellow female to not advocate for the wife and mother of this man's children at that moment. However, she was torn to see the typically jolly Buloke looking so depressed as well. Not knowing how to react, Carlone patted Buloke's shoulder as she took her leave for the night telling him "chin up my friend." She knew it was not the heartfelt advice that Buloke was looking for in a peer, but it was what little Carlone could do to spare herself the possibility of being caught in the middle of a contentious argument later.


Buloke kept the tavern open late that night, brooding alone as he sipped his family's ale. It was Peaches who caught Carlone the next day to have a bit of a chat. Carlone realizing Peaches was trying to get the details of her husband's feelings to be divulged, changed the subject quickly to focus less on the disrepair of the unhappy union between the couple to the topic of her own relationship with the Regent. As Carlone retold her experiences with the man, she came to the conclusion of how silly she sounded believing a likely groundskeeper was the actual Regent. Peaches though, being in the know about these types of things was intrigued. It did not take much for her to get Carlone to speak of all of her concerns about a possible pregnancy. Peaches, who was an authority on these matters from her years as a tavern maid, as well as her own experience as a mother, gave her some unwanted advice, which was to essentially try to extort money from the Regent if she were pregnant with his child, something Carlone frowned at hearing. Even when she was trying to be friendly, Carlone found Peaches to still be the same person she knew from when she was working at the quarry. Their differences boiled down to Carlone preferring not to flirt or date those she worked with, while Peaches had made a living out of her sexuality among those same men. Carlone nodded at Peaches before she made an excuse to escape the conversation with Peaches whom she found to be too ignorant and petty to attempt to correct.


All of her worries were put to rest when Carlone soon found that she was not pregnant after her period came as it always had, much to her relief. This caused her to be grateful but also aware that Faya did not fall pregnant either even after spending the summer as Viktor's wife. Carlone reasoned that the fever may render female survivors infertile, something she did find to be a disadvantage for herself in the least. Still, Carlone felt bad for Faya, comprehending that she and Viktor would never have their own children to hand their property down to, without adopting anyway, which was not impossible to be sure. The fever had swept through towns and broke apart families in its wake, causing there to be a surplus of children looking for homes that would likely never be open to them because of the common prejudice that survivors of the fever endured thereafter. The myth of survivors being lifetime fever carriers was something Carlone wished she had the courage to reveal to the world was a farce but also was ashamed that if she did she would lose everything. There was no cure with words of truth that could ever dissuade those who were set in their beliefs even if this truth had been living and breathing next to them for years.


It was a cold night in the dead of winter when none other than old Mox himself with a group of other displaced workers came into the inn's tavern as he yelled to Buloke "we've all just quit the site!" The men ordered drinks as Mox sat at the bar. Carlone asked the dramatic Mox about his adventures since she had last seen him years ago at the quarry. "I've been here and there. I even heard of a quarry girl who bought a farm and was hiring workers to build a barn out inland." He smiled as he spoke knowing Carlone was that quarry girl. He continued on "We're all here tonight because the quarry is flooded, half of the workers have been cut loose and those that stayed are working in conditions too dangerous for any sane man to carry on under." Carlone couldn't decide if Mox were just being his usual bad employee self or where the reality was in his statement. She did believe that the quarry was flooded. The rain had been coming down too hard for too long for it to not be. It would likely be that way until the spring, which was weeks away right then. "You're thinking of Viktor and his foot? That was a flesh wound. You were gone when Neery and Christchen died. It was the same way Viktor got hurt, but instead of their foot, it was a boulder that crushed them each at the same time on their backs. They did not have a clean death. Neery died by the day's end and Christchen died two days later. The whole lower half of his body was crushed. I wouldn't have wished that on my worst enemy." Mox said with his eyes wide to convey his horror. "Why are more people getting hurt? It didn't use to be like that there." Carlone said as she wondered openly. Mox responded, "The company is moving more stones than they ever have before and all the old managers quit when the owner said no more pay increases. You make what you start out as and nothing more ever." Mox huffed as if personally offended. "The new men running the site now are fools. Don't go back there. It's suicide." Mox finished saying as he looked at Carlone with his most serious expression. Carlone took in what Mox was saying. She figured that a few seasons between her and the quarry along with too much rain would make her return there too risky even for her. It seemed that her career as a quarry worker would have to be shelved for the foreseeable future.


The next night when many of the workers were still at the inn or lingering in the tavern, Buloke got into a bar fight, while Carlone tried to drag him out of it. For her efforts, she received a painful black eye. Buloke however, praised her for her ability to not lose focus despite being hurt something she did not think about until after he said so. She supposed that after years of being bruised while working at the quarry had deadened her senses to any tenderness she may acquire until after the fact at least. Buloke told Carlone he didn't want to go back to the quarry anymore because he is afraid that what happened to Viktor's foot could happen to him. He admitted that he had trouble interacting with Viktor after his injury because he felt too much pity for him to treat him like an equal anymore, now that Viktor had become a "cripple." Carlone finally understood why Viktor had refused to return home, knowing that his family would care for him there. She is mixed between being angry with Buloke for his treatment of Viktor, but also glad for his honesty about it. She responded by telling Buloke that Viktor was doing well with his new wife and that they are finally officially related. Buloke smiled at this saying that he feels some closure by it all. "The place I want to be is in the palace guard. They are opening up the castle in the Capital soon because the Queen is getting married there. The pay is better there than any job I know of." Carlone kept to herself her experience with the man she had a short-lived romance with that referred to himself as the Regent. By then she had decided it was certain that he was likely merely the steward of the property more likely than anything else.


The next morning, Neey's widow who was a friend of the family came to stay at the inn with her children. She had three teenage sons, two adult daughters as well as her own elderly mother in tow. Their arrival was solemn and unceremonious. Carlone could feel the sadness they each harbored at the loss of their beloved father. As if to keep moving to avoid their own grief, they all went to work without complaint. These newcomers along with Sara and Juniper made a full house, causing Carlone to soon find that her duties at the inn's tavern had become redundant. The young girls tended the laundry, the older women the kitchen. The teens worked outside chopping wood or mending the inn's structure. The inn was now a very well-oiled facility. By the end of the day, Merri did not need to ask Carlone to go she was already aware she did not fit there anymore.


Off to the side, there has been a welling friction between Peaches and Buloke. He felt she had changed since their marriage, while she felt he was being unrealistic about their aging together as a couple. There were days that were increasing in frequency that they could not be in the same room together. The straw that broke the camel's back between the two was when Buloke told his wife that he would not be going back to the quarry anymore for work. Peaches chided him for shrieking his adult responsibilities because the inn did not make enough money to support the family in the off-season. This resulted in them having a big blow-up of an argument the likes of which the whole house could hear. It was after the sound of a crash from Peaches throwing a vase at Buloke that Merri came rushing in to intervene. She had become worried that Buloke and Peaches' fighting would negatively affect their children, none of whom were out of their toddler years. Additionally, Peaches who was recently rebounding from a miscarriage the previous spring was ordered to have a low-stress pregnancy, something that apparently could not be achieved with her husband in present company. This caused Merri to do something Carlone never expected to see her do: to toss her favorite son out of the family home. "Out with you go find work to send home. It's no good for you here," Merri said as she pulled her son by his collar to pack his things, leaving Peaches to cry as she clutched her belly. Carlone having no money herself began to pack her things too. She wanted to go before she wore out her welcome too.


On his way out, Buloke stopped by the room that Carlone shared with the other girls. "Before Mox left he said that he was going to the capital for work. I've never been there but it's better than doing nothing here. Do you want to go with me?" He said with a look on his face as if he were pleading for her to go so he did not have to make the long journey alone. Carlone looked back at him, took in a deep breath, and nodded without a word as she threw her canvas sack over her shoulder and fell in line behind him toward the door, hugging the family members silently as they went out. It was time for her to press on and she knew it. Just as they were in the light on the road they heard clumsy footsteps running toward them. "Don't forget me!" Neery's middle son, Dowson called to them. He was ready to make a strike out on his own and saw the ruckus as his chance. Buloke welcomed him along with a heavy pat on his back. Just like that Carlone once again followed Buloke to a career in a strange city, like she had followed him to the quarry for work. History seemed to be repeating. Yet, this time it felt so much more ominous than hopeful.