"It's one more route to go." yelled the old man. "Then we seal the stack and we are off to the house once again."
"We need to move the lumber inside as well. Or the rain is going to spoil it." said the young man. "You just wait here and make sure you tie these together in piles. I'll make sure to bring the rest to you in batches."
The young man whose name was Ethan, run outside in the rainfall with a sudden leap, and the old man scoffed with his hand for being unable to stop him. The rain was already strong in the area, turning from a light drizzle into a storm unexpectedly and filling the farmland with a water fog as it flushed in the soil with a potent pressure. The two men were dressed in shimmering raincoats, glossy from the dimmed afternoon light and high boots that were adorned above their clothes, extending beyond their knees wide enough to support them in the unsteady ground.
The old man, Charles, was flustered and overwrought by the rush and he made sure to gather up and stack all the rumbled wood in ordered packs as he saw the young man sprint back and forth with his indomitable attitude. The shed he was standing on, was dingy and shabby, slovenly arranged with equipment that was forgotten there for a long time and it had multiple consecutive windows on the far top of the high ceiling that would allow the light to enter inside and some view of the ongoing clouds that were cramming the sky.
Within a few more minutes, the stack of woods had reached the height of the men and they eventually moved back to the main house, a few meters away, covered by their hoods closed in their faces and waddling fast through the muddy footpath as the rain battered on them unrelenting.
"You are a good man. And strong," said Charles as they entered through the door. "I wish I had someone like you throughout the whole year. It would save me lots of trouble."
The house was spacious and made of wood, in a way that only houses in the farms are, and the two men proceeded to bath and change their clothes before getting back together in the sitting room, in the time it would take dusk to turn into the night, and they sat in the table sharing a jug of red wine before the dancing flames of the hearth. The young man had rich curly hair and a stubbled face from his beard and he sat at the side of the table as he listened to the old man speaking.
"I cannot even remember the last time it rained so much. So much water can impair the land and clog the infrastructure. Not a good thing even for a small village like our own. But it will be spring in just a couple of months and then nature can take a rest and start growing again. Till then we can only hope that the damage will be small and that the roughness is going to pass fast without hurting the farms too much."
The old man had big blue eyes that were prominently occupying his long face and his voice was warm and throaty luring you to listen to it as if he was always narrating a story.
"The house here is old but very accomodating. It was built by hand by my grandparents when they first got here in their youth and we have been taking care of it through the generations, expanding it ever since. We all love this place. Its furnishings are all crafted in wood of our own, as we cut it thorough the forest. There really is no need for any other material to build your house. Every table and equipment can be amended if you have the appetite". He touched the surface of the table with his hand softly.
"It's a beautiful house," said Ethan.
"So tell me young man once again what brings you here in our parts. It's very rare that people like you visit this place anymore. Alas, all the youth prefers the capital or the big cities to spend their time in. It's unfortunate but the outdoors are shrinking steadily every year as the younger generation is fleeing away from us. You see they can't find the reason for staying up in a place like this anymore and they neglect their own heritage for things that have no real value."
"I couldn't agree more," said the young man solemnly.
"You are a reasonable man. That's why I like you," said the old man. "So tell me, dear. What brings you to our place. People rarely come here anymore and when they do it's for a quick job before they make it back out to where they came from."
The young man nodded and sipped through his wine before speaking, bringing the glass to its end. He was a reticent man and reserved in his words and manners, keeping a stolid attitude expressing almost no feeling when speaking. He always reacted to everything with the same courteous manner he carried always with him and one could see from his attitude that he was a man of big modesty in him.
"I'm here to buy some food grains from Penrith. Its fame has reached beyond into the capital and they now seek for them in the markets. I thought I should take the chance and come here to see for myself."
"Ahh grains, yes," said the old man with a husky voice. "It's one of the best places to find them really. You did well to come. But Penrith is 100 miles away from here if you take the main route and the road is very unstable around the mountain."
"There is still road, yes," said the man. "But on my way there I figured that the area has much beauty here and I could spend some time checking the famous caves of yours."
"The caves, yes, yes," said the old man, "a splendid viewing indeed."
"I could still get a room in the cabin near the shackles. It's close to the mountain and not very far away from here to be inconvenient."
"Aye, speak no more of this, I tell you. This house is open for you for as long as you like and trust me you wouldn't enjoy any of the filthy cabins of Gibbs. They are wrecked and shaky and it would ruin all the good experience you would have otherwise. Trust me this is not a place to go if you want to have a good time here. Plus it would give the wrong impression about our hospitality norms."
"Yes these norms are well heard beyond the country already," said the young man. "I assure you your kindness will not go unappreciated."
The two men raised their glasses and drunk from the semi-sweet wine leaving the thick tactile sense, flow through the pallette of their mouths. It was a product of his own making as was most of the edibles in the village, and Charles was especially proud of it and the vintage that he inherited through the generations and which people knew him for around the area. Just a few months ago he had watched his son Andrew, harvesting the grapes for the season and continuing this long-lasting tradition that he himself inherited from his father. Those 60 acres of vineyard would produce the same quality-wine it always had, every year consistently for all this time and Charles felt content in the thought that this custom was continuing to be active after so long taking hold with the new generation as well.
It's been a long run so far, he thought. And you are lucky to have all these blessings, and the vineyard and the tasty grapes that can produce this sweet wine. Not many people can claim to have been given so many things as you have and it would be ungrateful for you not to recognize. Yes, ungrateful is one of the most terrible sins to commit and one that is bound to bring you misery sooner or later.
Only last year it had been awarded as one of the best wines of the category and he had managed to make deals to distribute much of it all over the country as it was gaining in popularity day by day. He made sure to acknowledge his good fortune one more time and sipped from his glass bringing the liquid to its end.
"So, I heard your kids continue the same road with you," said the young man waking Charles out of his daydream. "Are they living here with you?"
"Aye, Andrew is the most wonderful kid a father could have," said the old man. "He has taken full control now of the vineyard and honestly he is making a much better job of it than I ever had". "He has his own house right across the street where he lives with his good wife Alice," he continued. "Fate had it for them to get together five years ago and they have been enjoying a blissful marriage together since then. Soon I hope they manage to spawn a tod or two for me. And then I would be as happy as an old man can get," he said smiling.
"I do hope they get everything they deserve, and you will have more descendants than you can handle," said Ethan, and they both burst a little chuckle.
They continued their chat for a while drinking their wine under the soothing voice of the old man who would narrate some of his latest adventures in the outdoors before their discussion was interrupted by a new visitor. And when Charles opened the door to bring her in, Ethan could already feel his head heavier and dizzy by the potency of the alcohol on his brain.
"I thought you wouldn't come back since next week, dear" the voice of the old man was heard from across the hall approaching. "Whoever visits the food festival is bound to stay there for at least a week. I'm actually surprised you decided to abandon the endeavor altogether."
"It was nice but I had to get back early for the store." a woman's voice was heard in response. "Nick is out of town and I need to stay in place to cover for him.."
The voice stumbled the moment they entered the room and the woman stopped dead track in the entrance, blocking the gateway of the old man who was standing beside her, and she stood looking Ethan astounded as if she was frightened by his presence. Ethan who noticed her, smiled when he saw her but said nothing and he only lift up his glass unbothered as he continued to sip from it.
"Hi," said the woman named Claire, in a reluctant way. "Didn't know you had company."
"Nothing to worry about," said Charles, "Ethan here is visiting us from the capital."
"Oh is he?" said the woman.
"He is on his way to Penrith but his plans got sidetracked and he is going to be staying here for the next few days. Much to our good luck because this young gentleman is of an exquisite kind. He even helped me today with the timber and he managed to transfer all the wood to the shed when the sky was throwing thunders. If it wasn't for him the whole pack would have been destroyed for good. Next time you enjoy the fire in this room, you know whom to thanks."
The two men smiled in the comment but the woman remained serious and sullen standing tall in front of the two men with her hands wrapped around her chest like a rope. She was a woman of around 50, with light red hair in the shade of orange and prominent cheekbones that made her mouth seem puny.
"Claire is my in-law" declared the old man proudly. "Her daughter Alice is married with my son and honestly a man couldn't hope for a better family to blend with. We are happy God sent them to our path and were you to taste some of the cakes of this lady you would be happy too," the old man joked.
"Charles, you managed to get drunk didn't you?" said the woman.
"Aye. Not drunk. Just laying out some truths as they come to me. Now sit down with us if you will and share a glass of this sweet wine in the company of two lonely souls as our owns, will ya?"
"God, I can't believe you managed to get wasted already in a day like this," scoffed the woman. "And sorry but I can't. I need to get back in the store. Nick is waiting for me."
"This fool will have no issue to hold the store for a few minutes on his own. He is a grown-up man, isn't he? Now please sit down and share this moment with us. There is always time to get back to your routine anyway, isn't it? Meanwhile, I'm gonna head and bring some more of this beauty from the cellar. I have something very special for you two that I think will appreciate quite a lot." the old man said. He then leaped up pointing to the woman to take her seat opposite to Ethan in the Windsor chairs with the extra curve in the back and he waddled through the room with clumsy steps to the cellar to bring the wine.
The woman stood silent for a while, being numbed on the man's presence which seemed to have a strong effect on her.
"I wasn't expecting to see you after so long." she scoffed. "What are you doing here? This is not a place for you to be."
"Relax, woman," said the man. "This is not an invasion. I'm coming in peace."
"Last time we encountered your peace, you left Alice broken to pieces. It took her a long time to recover after you left. And now she finally managed to get her life together and march a new road at last. I'm telling you, you chose the wrong time to come back. You should leave. Leave, and go back to whatever it was that drew you out in the first place"
The man stood unresponsive and only sipped through his glass solemnly darting his eyes over the woman furtively.
"Alice is happy now. God knows how long it took me to see her like this again. It didn't come for a long long time. But now it has. And I'm telling you that you should leave. And never set foot back in here again. You have caused enough pain to us already."
"Your mind is going overboard woman," said the man in a low voice. "I'm telling you, I'm not here to do any harm. Just on my way to Penrith, that's all."
"On your way to Penrith.." said the woman shaking her head in anger. "You want me to believe that? Really? You think I don't know what you're doing already?". "I'm telling you this place is not for you anymore. You need to leave. Leave and never come back."
The steps from the hallway escalated towards the room bringing a halt to the discussion as the old man appeared through the door. "You may think you have tasted good wine before," he said as he glanced at them with a smirk. "But wait to try this baby over here and you will forget everything you ever knew once and for all."
He chuckled and produced an elegant russet bootle with a gentle white-label in front of it, scribbled with a pencil sketch. He brought out a spiked corkscrew with the shiny stainless steel and the spiraling screw in the middle and he opened the wine as he pressed its nib on the top of the bottle. The young man observed him going through the ritual with his unrivaled zest and then the woman who stood silent opposite to him with an expression full of suspicion and her hands intermingled together on top of the table.
"I hope you can excuse me, Charles," he said with a raspy voice, "but no need to waste your good wine. It's already too late anyway and we will have a much better chance to consume it in the following days that we are going to be rested and have a clear mind. I think it's better if we just head for a good night's sleep tonight. We are already way too tired for this tonight anyway."
Charles protested and tried his best to convince him otherwise but receded eventually and allowed the young man to leave for his room after he showed him his whereabouts. And when he came back to greet Claire he stood in wonder when he confronted her reproaching attitude.
"You should be careful of whom you put in your house, Charles," she said. "Not everyone is as innocent as you imagine them to be."
The next day was sunny and Charles spent most of it doing his work over the farm, the one he used to do for all his life now and had become second nature to him. When he got back to his home he saw his son Andrew with a note in his hand and Claire consoling him with her arm on his shoulder.
"Alice left me, father," he said to him with a sob. "She left me for good and she ain't coming back." And the old man opened his mouth with eyes wide open as he glanced over to Claire who was staring back at him.