Monday, November 25, 2019

Queen of the Cats 8. The Things We Learn

8. The Things We Learn

The commune life had not taught Nix how to be a free-thinker as much as it gave her mind space to roam and come at problems from different and unusual directions. Ed and Alice practiced a loveing and benign neglect that allowed their daughter to come and and go. Thus, on any day, Nix could be anywhere on the self-sufficient compound.

Even as a child, she had a quiet way about her and seemed to be able to read the attitudes of adults, knowing which ones would put up with children, when they were in bad moods, and when they just seemed a bit lonely. Asking an adult if you could watch them at their trade was an art. First, you had to observe and study them so you could determine which angle of approach would be best to gain their approval.

If they were gruff but affable, wait for them to take a break, walk up and shake their hand with determination, look them right in the eye and ask if you could observe their work because you wanted to know more about it. Most of the durable goods tradesman and craftsman were of this ilk. Blacksmith, carpenters, fence builders, construction and brewers nearly all had this way about them. Nix felt it had something to do with hard work, fresh air, and having the need to pass their craft on and teach another generation. A few hand delivered glasses of ice cold lemonade, some wet and cool cloths dipped in mint water, the occasional hand pie of a snack and face that looked to be yearning for their teaching and she was in.

Over the years, Nix befriended them all. She learned their tools, their processes, and even the sucky parts of their work and helped take care of each without complaint. In her small notebook, Nix recorded the names of the families of her various masters. If she learned a birthday or something their child liked, she would take time to produce a small gift for her master to take home. With each tradesperson she earned her way up the ladder from adorable pet, to helper, to moderately skilled apprentice and, in, most skills, to someone that could be trusted to run that trade or craft for a few days should the master craftsperson be ill or have to leave the commune for a few days.

Nix had nothing but time.

She moved her way through the skills of the commune, each year focusing on a new collection of related skills. Farming, animal husbandry, food production from the commune animals, animal care; well, that year had been pretty easy for her as Nix had a way with live things. She learned cooking, sewing, tanning, brewing, foraging, hunting, herb craft, building and even distillation for essential oils and spirits. Although she did not know it at the time, Nix keeping herself from boredom would eventually be using those same skills to keep herself alive.

Of all the useful skills she learned that kept her and the pride safe, comfortable and healthy, she never would have guessed that distilling would be one of the most important skill later in the Deadlands. Small pockets of survivors and the other loaners needed alcohol. Equally useful for medical needs and lonesome nights, a bottle of spirits was a powerful item for trade. Thankfully, Nix had learned distillation and infusion, so the alcohol that she made actually tasted pretty good. She could also grow some wicked good cannabis and kept a crop outside with her others

Nix had learned about people wanting to be 'off the grid' at the commune, but in the time after Revenant Day, they wanted to be off the map. The locations of camps, homes and even crops were carefully guarded secrets. People had been stripped down to their base and raw requirements of physical needs and security. The rest of the Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs could suck it. No one was being self-actualized these days. Most were dug in like squirrels and hiding their nuts for marauding bands of assholes who did not care to put in the time and effort to secure the needs and safety for their own people.

However, not everyone was in possession of the same set of skills, but they had requirements for the same set of needs. Without the knowledge of how to produce those items that had disappeared from circulation, there were really only two ways to obtain them. Theft or trade.

Only a few of the pre-Revenant Day festivities were still held to, but Thanksgiving was one that was rigidly and stubbornly entrenched. Even among people who had so little, they were thankful for all of the things they had. Perhaps, more so than ever before in their lives. So, when it was time for quarterly market days to occur in this region, Autumn Faire was held the week before Thanksgiving.

As the time of year was approaching, Nix had been preparing her goods for market and making sure to be outside each night at dusk. The wagon was loaded with strong beer, distilled spirits, small but useful blacksmithed items, cannabis in small jars. wooden spoons, wooden shoes, wool roving, various vegetables (especially pumpkins) and her signature item- bottles of applejack. It was one of the strongest alcohols Nix produced and came from the fruit of a dozen orchards. It was potent, delicious, and got her anything she wanted in trade.

The day floated each year, because having set patterns was dangerous and stupid. So, at dusk, two nights before Autumn Faire, a volley of flares would be fired into the darkening sky. The first three were fired over ten minutes, just to get everyone looking in the right direction. The second volley of shots would be rapid and number between 1 and 10 flares.

Just one flare meant that something was wrong and that all sites had been compromised. As soon as a site had been cleared, they would try again. Two through ten flares provided a location for the Faire. Handed out at Summer Faire, each known attendee would receive a list of locations numbered two through ten and would keep that list safe until the next season.

Sitting in her rocking chair on the porch, surrounded by her piles of cats, Nix watched the first three flares, unbelievably bright, light the darkling sky.  After a few moments, the second volley came with seven flares, which meant the Autumn Faire site would be at the great barn at what remained of Tupelo Farms. The location was home to an early 19th century house and soaring barn that sat at the edge of what had been an 18th century turnpike. The house was fairly tumble down, but the barn remained straight and true.

Nix was pleased and would leave the day after next for her brisk 10 hour walk with a wagon, a cow, and two cats.

Continue- 9. To Market Day

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