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Warm Bread

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Emmanuel had always loved watching bakers work. When he was young, he’d stumbled into the kitchen of a bakery in Nacre and had stood in rapt fascination as the baker had kneaded his bread. Bread wasn’t Emmanuel’s favorite thing to make, but it was his favorite to watch others make. So he stole glances behind him as he stirred tonight’s stew—watching Rosana as she worked the dough on the counter in front of her. 

Rosana wasn’t always in the kitchen. Sometimes she was in the fields, or in the cellars, or at the enormous loom that took up far too much space in one of the university’s grand halls. But today she was here, and she was baking bread, her strong arms and thick hands working the dough with a practiced ease. 

Her son was there with them as well, working his own, smaller, chunk of dough. He was turning into a strong adult like his mother, and the resemblance between them was striking. He had her round eyes and apple cheeks, and he worried his bottom lip between his teeth as he worked. 

“What’s on your mind, Ben?” she asked, clearly picking up on something that Emmanuel had not. 

“Nothing.” Then, suddenly, as if he’d made a split second decision to ask: “What do you know about love? I mean—romantic love. But maybe other kinds of love too.”

Rosana burst out laughing. “Would you like to field this one, Emmanuel?” she asked. 

Emmanuel held up his hands and shook his head. “I’m not the one with a decades-long marriage.” 

“True,” she conceded. She paused for a long moment, thinking. Then she said, “Love—all love—is bread.” 

Benjamin looked at her a little incredulously. “You’re just saying that because we’re making bread right now.”

“Maybe. But it’s also true. It’s in the scripture—“

Emmanuel watched as Ben rolled his eyes a little. 

“—Breaking bread with someone is an old, old symbol of trust and love. It’s sharing what you have with them, it’s generosity, it’s hospitality, it’s warmth, it’s care. But love is bread in a more symbolic sense as well. You work it—“ She gave the dough a sharp knead. “—and work at it—“ She flipped it over, kneaded it once more. “—and then—“ She held up her hands and stepped back. “—you let it rest.” 

“Okay…” Ben said, pondering the dough in front of him.

“Of course, it’s not a perfect metaphor,” Rosana continued. “Bread is made to be consumed, and once it’s eaten it’s gone, but if you cultivate love carefully it can last a lifetime or more. So maybe love is a tree—“ she nodded out the window towards that strange, enormous tree that had sprouted in the middle of the field. Emmanuel looked at it and shuddered. “With work and rest and sunlight it grows, and so long as we care for it we may enjoy its fruits.” 

She dusted her hands off on her apron and placed the dough aside to rise. “Did anything bring about this particular topic of conversation to mind, or were you just curious?”

“Just curious,” Ben answered quickly, tapping the toe of his shoe on the floor behind him. 

“Alright. Did you get the answer you were looking for?” 

“Not…really?” Ben confessed. “How do you know when you’re in love? Like…when did you know you were in love with Dad?” 

Rosana sighed. “Oh, I don’t know. We’d been seeing each other for awhile before I realized, I think—it probably wasn’t until I was with the circus that I—“

She was interrupted by Benjamin saying, “The circus? ” at the same time that Emmanuel said, “You were where?

“Oh, I guess I never told you about that, huh, Ben. I’ve always been a woman of many hats, you know, and for a while I traveled with a circus. Not as a performer, mind you, I moved boxes and took tickets, but it was a fantastical experience. I hadn’t been with Hadrian very long at the time, so I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity on his account. But then, about a month into my travels, I realized I missed him terribly and found my way back to Velas.

“For a while, between the two of us, I was the wanderer,” she continued. “I was young and restless and I felt like I was searching for something. And then I had you. And I found it.”

“Mom,” Benjamin said, rolling his eyes and blushing. 

“That’s not to say that your father wasn’t important to me. He was. Of course he was. But for the two of us, love has always been not in the staying but in the coming back. And with you—well. I couldn’t just leave you behind.” 

Something about that struck a chord with Emmanuel. Leaving, coming back, staying—it felt. Familiar. He turned quickly back to the soup, giving it a few quick stirs. 

Benjamin put his bread aside to let it rise. “I’m gonna go now, if that’s okay,” he said. 

Rosana shrugged. “I’m not in charge here. Emmanuel?”

“Go ahead.” 

“See you later, Emmanuel.” And then Benjamin disappeared out of the kitchen. 

“Kids,” Rosana snorted, fondly. 

“Kids,” Emmanuel agreed, but her words were still weighing on his mind. They lapsed into silence. The soup had thickened, so Emmanuel moved it off the stove to be taken into the cafeteria. After a long pause he asked, “How do you stand it?”

“Stand what?” 

“The wandering.”

“You mean Hadrian.”

He nodded, turning to face her. 

“It might sound shitty to hear me say that I’m used to it. But I am.” Rosana gazed off into the middle distance, her eyes glazing over slightly. “Besides, I know what it’s like to be searching for something. Hadrian just hasn’t found it yet. But he will. And then he’ll come back. And he’ll stay.” 

“And you’re certain of that?”

“Positive. But you aren’t asking about my husband, are you? Unless there’s something I didn’t know about?” She turned back to Emmanuel, smiling wryly. 

Emmanuel shook his head, laughing, a little embarrassed. “No, of course not.”

“Good. Because then we’d have to have a serious talk. Anyway—I don’t know Mister King very well—this is about Mister King isn’t it?”

“It is.” It was strange to hear someone call Lem ‘Mr. King’. It was so formal, likely more formal than Lem deserved. 

“I thought so. As I was saying, I don’t know him very well, but even I can tell that he’s searching for something too. Him and Hadrian—all of their little gang, really—are made of the same stuff.”

Emmanuel rolled his eyes. “Right, they’re adventurers .” 

“Not quite. I mean, they are adventurers, but I’ve met plenty in my time, and not all adventurers are the same as them. Some aren’t looking for anything, they just wander because it’s what they do. Hadrian, in his heart of hearts, isn’t a wanderer, and nor was I. And I don’t know about Lem King, but he might surprise you.”

“I think he’ll definitely surprise me.” Lem was nothing if not surprising. “Rosana, what if Lem finds what he’s looking for, and it’s—it’s not here?” It’s not with me, it’s not—me. 

“Then it is what it is. But we can’t predict the future and we shouldn’t try. It’s like you said: let him surprise you. Hadrian has surprised me on multiple occasions, as predictable as he can be, and I have surprised him. Now, let’s get that soup served, shall we? While we wait for the bread to rise.”

“Of course,” Emmanuel said, looking at Benjamin and Rosana’s loaves on the counter, worked first, now at rest.