Contest #71 shortlist ⭐️

7 comments

Dec 07, 2020

Fantasy Mystery Historical Fiction

The cobblestone streets of the town of Glastonbury bustled with market activity in the late morning Wales sun. Peddlers of every sort sold their wares for coppers, shillings, and quid, or bartered to make fair and equitable trades. The smell of home-fires burning was in the air, mixed with the scents of perfumes, leather, fish, meat pies, and other freshly baked goods. The sheriff’s protuberant nose caught another less appealing odor too, and he stumbled to avoid a mountain of horse manure. He steadied himself and continued striding towards the city gates. The sound of his high boots on the sett-stone road resonated off the outer walls like the percussion cadence of a marching drum.


When he finally arrived at the Glastonbury bakery, the first thing he noticed was that two windows were broken out and covered in canvas. The bricks around them were blackened and charred. No wonder the Lord of Glastonbury had wisely decreed that industrial buildings like the bakery, tannery, refinery, and smithy be located outside the city proper to reduce the chance of a devastating fire being caused by their high-temperature ovens, vats, and forges.


The sheriff opened the front door and stepped into the main bakery works with an air of superiority, “Hear ye, hear ye, I am here to serve an official writ upon the proprietor-owner of this business. Present yourself and bear witness to the representative of the Lord of Glastonbury.”


The common workers continued stoking their ovens and kneading their dough, paying the lawman no mind whatsoever. Annoyed, he straitened his feathered black leather hat and cleared his throat to more forcefully repeat himself, “Ahem! Hear ye! Hear ye! I am here to…”


A bald, rotund man in a red surcoat with golden trim entered the main hall from a side office to interrupt the announcement, “We heard you the first time, Sheriff. Good sir, I am Rowan Quinn the master baker, please come into my office so we can discuss this matter privately.”


The sheriff tugged on the front of his tunic and accepted the offer. The two men entered the baker’s office and Rowan closed the door behind them. “Have a seat, Sheriff. Now please, pray tell, what is this writ?”


The lawman removed his hat, placed it delicately on the baker’s oaken desk, and took a seat in a plush velvet high-backed chair. “Well, Mister Quinn, my Lord has been tasked by the High King to find out why the monthly delivery of the king’s loaves has stopped.” He paused to make an astute observation, “Perchance it may have something to do with the fire?”


The fat baker wedged himself into a narrow armchair behind his desk and clasped his hands together, “I must assume you are referring to the broken and scorched windows of my bakery. Well, in a way it may have something to do with it, but rest assured that the Guild is handling the matter. There is no need to involve the city’s peace keepers and tax collectors.”


The sheriff ignored the slight and rested a gloved hand upon his dagger as he countered, “I must protest, Mister Quinn. When the King himself demands an answer of my Lord, and my Lord issues a writ of mandamus for his master baker to supply the Crown with the king’s bread, it becomes precisely my business.”


Rowan Quinn pulled nervously at his collar, “Sir, sir, please. I beg you…give the Guild just a few more days to handle this situation.”


The lawman stood up, unsheathed his dagger, and buried its tip in the baker’s oak desk. “The Guild? The Guild? Seeing as regular shipments to the Crown have not happened for over two months, a few more days is not going to bring your dear Guild any closer to an answer…and why is the Guild involved anyway? You still haven’t told me why the shipments have stopped. If it has something to do with the fire, then to please the King, surely my Lord would be more than happy to help you restore your capabilities. However, let me be crystal clear my friend…at this point it is a simple matter of law. If you refuse to answer my questions and cooperate fully then I am authorized by this writ to have you arrested and thrown in the debtor’s prison.”


The baker’s plump face was now flushed and his voice cracked, “Alright, please sir, relax. Trust me, I shall answer every query the best that I can. First, the fire as you said, is not the cause of our lack of shipments. It happened during a break-in here at the bakery two fortnights ago. The thief set fire to the building to cover his tracks, but we luckily and quickly put it out. The damage has only set back our weekly production by a mere tenth.”


The sheriff pried his knife from the master baker’s desk, flicked a sliver from its tip, and sheathed it before returning to his chair. “So why then have there been no shipments if production has not been terribly hampered? Do you have transport issues? Brigands? Or could it be sheer incompetence?”’


The baker’s bald forehead was wet with perspiration. “No, no, and no, sir. I’m afraid the arsonist pinched the one thing we cannot substitute in the recipe for the king’s loaves…an ingredient so piquant that there is no replacement.”


The sheriff looked confused, “Piquant?”


“Let me first describe for you the king’s loaves, and then you may begin to understand. Most dough does not even make it into a loaf of bread because yeast is not used to make it rise. The bulk of our products are all made without yeast: flatbread, biscuits, pies, sweet rolls, scones, shortbread, and cookies. Common loaves of bread with yeast are made with a variety of common grains for common men. The king’s loaves use triple purified grain, fine white granulated sugar, and a handful of common and less common spices...” The baker paused and snapped his fingers. He had an idea. He stood up and pulled out a plateful of cookies and bread from the cupboard behind his desk. “Here, sir…try a piece of sweetbread and tell me how it tastes.”


The lawman chose a piece of bread that fit easily into the palm of his hand and popped it into his mouth. The fluffy morsel melted on his tongue resulting in an agreeably stimulating flavor. The sheriff smiled, “Tart, and yet sweet. Spicy with a hint of honey. Very tasty! Is that the king’s bread?”


The baker let his pride show and beamed, “That is our prize-winning sweetbread. Although very similar to the king’s loaves, it is lacking one crucial ingredient. It is lacking what that filthy thief stole from us.”


The sheriff was fascinated, “What ingredient could possibly make this bread any grander? It must be something truly spectacular? Please, pray tell Mister Quinn, what is it?”


Rowan Quinn’s grin reached from ear to ear at the compliment, “Thank you, kindly, but...” Quickly, his smile inverted to an equally expansive frown when he continued, “…but I’m afraid it isn’t an actual ingredient. It’s something that I use to create the final component…an element that when added to the sweetbread batter extends the lifespan of its consumer. I know, because I have been the king’s baker and taster for nearly seventy years…and yet, as you can see, I appear no older than the day I reached middle-age. At a hundred and six I should be pushing up the daisies.”


For several moments, the office was silent. The sounds of the bakery were muted beyond its closed door. Neither man spoke. A look of extreme fright mingled with reverence was upon the baker’s visage. It was as if he dared not give utterance to the truth.


Finally, the incredulous sheriff implored, “My God man! Spit it out! What piquancy did this plunderer pinch?!”


Rowan calmed himself and sat back down. “Well sir, before I answer, let me just ask. Do you know of the legend that tells how Joseph of Arimathea came to Glastonbury’s Abby and buried a treasure beyond all known earthy value?”


The lawman’s countenance now equaled the baker’s in fear and awe. “You can’t be saying…”


“Yes. Yes I am. I am saying that the Guild was granted use of this treasure by the Crown for a single purpose…to bake the king’s loaves. I am saying that now I can no longer make them because it is lost. I am saying that when I filled this treasure with water it took but a single drop per loaf to imbue the bread with the power of longevity…thus making it verily the Bread of Life! I am saying…the treasure that I filled with common water was the very Cup of Christ! The Holy Grail!”


For several minutes, both men were stunned into stillness by the baker’s confession. Eventually the sheriff stood up and took a second piece of sweetbread. He ate it and took a third piece of the honeyed bread to fill his mouth before stating, “Thank you for your honesty, Mister Quinn. I have no doubt that King Arthur will very soon be sending forth his Knights of the Round Table on a noble quest to recover this missing secret ingredient of yours.”

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7 comments

Lily Kingston
15:51 Jan 31, 2021

I like the build up of the sheriff just trying to figure out why the shipments have stopped and what the ingredient is, but the baker keeps bringing up all these other points in a roundabout way to get to the answer. Keep up the good work and keep writing!!

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David Brown
18:39 Jan 31, 2021

Thanks so much! This particular story was almost not written as I wasn’t really inspired by the topic...until suddenly I was!

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Bonnie Clarkson
01:03 Jan 20, 2021

It is well written with a surprise ending and it kept me interested. Again, very little editing needed. Loved the alliteration. I have a reservation to my like. I realize it is fantasy. But I am a Christian and it saddens me to see Bread of Life refer to anything but Jesus Christ himself. I pick and choose which stories I read. I did not read two stories that started out with guns, because I didn't think I could relate to them. That said, I do believe I will be reading more of your stories.

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David Brown
01:23 Jan 20, 2021

It’s good to have reservations. I try very much when writing Christian fiction to be true to scripture. I in no way have any intention of adding or taking away from the Bible. My goal as a Christian writer is to lead people to reading the greatest book ever written...the Holy Bible...and making them think about their place in the universe. Thanks for reading and your comments.

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Kevin Broccoli
23:01 Dec 18, 2020

I loved your spin on this genre. It was really well-paced and entertaining.

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David Brown
00:35 Dec 19, 2020

Thank you good sir! Maybe it shall pique the possibility of perusing my other plots!

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09:42 Feb 26, 2021

I enjoyed this so much! What a wonderful twist, it really made me smile -- I didn't see it coming at all. One (very) small critique: if it is "the king" it should be a small k - it is only captalised when it is his name (King Arthur). You get in right in some places, but occasionally it slips through. Otherwise, I loved this! Thank you for sharing it :)

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