There was no flour, not even rye or corn. Rose stood in her kitchen, trying to figure out what to do without any flour. “What does flour do?” No one else was in the kitchen with her, she asked the question out loud to herself. “It gives the thing structure, something to hold it together, that’s what. I need something else that can do the same thing if we want bread.” She had oats, sometimes they made cookies from just oats and nuts and honey.
It would be different, and she wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but better oats than nothing. The front door opened and banged shut behind Kent as she put oats through her grinder. He stomped the snow off his boots and pulled his mittens and coat off. “They’ve finished clearing everything. Sheriff Ben said they’d start on the rebuilding thing tomorrow. I checked with Gary like you asked me to. He said he didn’t think there was any flour left in the mill, but he’d check later and bring over whatever’s there. We could ask Scott and his friends to go-”
She cut him off before he could continue. “I’m not asking him to go fetch anything like that. They aren’t traders, Kent, they’re adventurers. They haven’t got the first clue how much any of the things we might need should cost. They’ll get swindled to high biscuits, which won’t help anyone.”
Kent hung his coat on its hook and gave her a hopeful smile. “I could go with them.”
Rose laughed. “You’d get swindled, too.”
“Then you should come with us!” Kent hurried into the kitchen to crouch by the fire and warm up his hands. “It would be fun. Old man Marty might even let us use his horses, then we could take a wagon and get whatever the town needs.”
Rose stopped grinding, she had enough oat flour for a few loaves of bread. “Organizing something like that is up to the Mayor, not you. He’ll probably send someone to have a list made up, so let’s start writing it out now. And while you’re getting paper and charcoal, grab our money. We’re going to need it all.” Kent scooted off, and she added quietly, “and then some.” There was no reason to worry him over what was a manageable problem, after all. No one was going to starve, that was what mattered.
He came back and she started dictating ingredients while measuring oat flour for for bread. She wasn’t sure how well it would turn out, so she was only going to make one loaf, even though her home oven could handle two. By the time the list was done, the bread batter was in the pan and ready to go in. It would be nice if it was a proper dough, but the yeast was all gone, too.
Kent ran off to deliver the list to the Mayor and check with Gary again. On his way out the door, Scott walked in. She saw him and didn’t bother hiding her annoyance at seeing him. He looked like he could probably use something warm to drink. Since he saved her life, she grudgingly grabbed a mug and filled it with tea from the kettle she put on earlier for Kent.
“Today’s work is done. The Sheriff said to rest up this afternoon and tonight, because tomorrow will be harsh.” He had a pack slung over one shoulder that he only set down long enough to pull off his boots, cloak, and gloves. “Which room am I using?”
“Second door on the left.” A proper hostess would escort her guest to his bedroom, but she wasn’t in the mood. All she did was point and set the mug down for him with a little gesture to let him know it was his.
“Thanks.” His tone said he noticed she wasn’t being helpful. So did his not-smile. He marched down the hall and disappeared inside the room. When he came back, Rose ignored him in favor of a pot over the hearth fire with the start of soup for dinner. She heard the mug slide on the counter where she left it, and then there were sipping noises to announce him not leaving her kitchen.
“There are plenty of comfortable places to sit. Make yourself at home.” Her voice sounded flat, even to her.
“Are you this unhappy to see everyone who doesn’t live here, or is it just me?”
“It’s just you.”
“Good to know. I’ll try to restrain myself from grabbing your bottom, then.”
“You see here, mister.” She rounded on him, brandishing a large, dripping and steaming wooden spoon. He was closer than she expected him to be, and grinning at her. It unsettled her more than she wanted to admit, giving him an opening to say something.
He used one finger to push the spoon away. “It is a very nice bottom, you know. May I inquire as to why there isn’t someone around who grabs it on a regular basis?”
She scowled and huffed at him, then turned away to chop carrots for the soup. “No, you may not.” With a sharp knife in her hand, she felt more capable of dealing with him. “Why is it you don’t have some woman hanging on your every word?”
“Occupational hazard.” To her irritation, he didn’t leave the kitchen. Instead, he leaned against the counter like he meant to stay there for a while. “Working with Ryan and Terry makes it more difficult, too. They’re not usually left alone on any given night, and I tend to be seen as the ‘leftovers’. When someone says ‘oh, well, I guess they’re busy, so I’ll try you out’, it’s not exactly enticing.”
“No, I can’t see how it would be.” Dammit, now he was telling her things that made her like him. “Are you planning on sticking around?”
“As in settling here?”
“Yes, as in settling here.”
He sipped his tea while she chopped carrots. A glance up at him showed he was genuinely thinking, though she couldn’t say about what, exactly. Maybe he just wanted to word it so she didn’t toss him out on his ear. “It’s a nice place,” he finally said. “I grew up in Rennsen, on the streets, scraping from meal to meal as far back as I can remember. I’ve been in places like this before, where everyone genuinely cares about each other, but I’m usually just passing through, on my way someplace else, and don’t stop to really see what that means.”
Her eyes flicked up from her chopping as he paused. He stared off at nothing, expression closed, probably getting stuck in memories. Stopping with the carrots, she watched his face as it fell into mild distress. Then he blinked and sucked in a breath. “I’m not sure what I want anymore. I used to think I was just looking for a challenge and a better weapon and armor so I could tackle tougher problems. Now, I don’t know. It was really something to see everyone working together like that, at the bakery and tavern. Really something.”