That’s right, a two-parter! We have a longer set of stories today and next month. Tune in to the newsletter next month for our next story, or join our Patreon to get it in just a week or so! All patrons get early access to Story Time every month. Let’s go!
Meltyre was eight years old.
“And you just sit still and wait for the fish?” Meltyre asked his dad. The two of them were laying on their stomachs on a bank overhanging the lazy little stream that bordered their farm.
“Just sit and wait for the fish,” Dad confirmed. “Now fish are cautious creatures. They usually like to test the bait before they eat it. So you can’t pull back on the line when you first feel a nibble. You have to wait until they actually take a bite.”
“How do you know when they take a bite?” Meltyre asked, voice hushed.
“Trial and error,” Dad explained. “It feels a little stronger. But when you feel that bite, you have to yank the hook hard enough to get that hook in the fish’s cheek.”
“Ouch,” Meltyre said. “I don’t want to hurt it.”
“That’s very kind, my boy, but we are going to eat these fish.”
“Can’t you catch a fish without stabbing it in the mouth first?”
“Sure, theoretically. Actually, your grandad used to do it all the time.”
Meltyre perked up a little. “How do you do that?”
“Well,” said Meltyre’s dad, keeping a careful eye on the little V current the line was drawing in the surface of the stream, “first you have to find a fish sunning itself. Trout like to do that. Then you lean down next to it, like we are now, and very slowly, you slip your hand underneath it.”
Meltyre nodded, wide-eyed. “Then what?”
“Your grandad said you have to tickle the fish, but I never got the knack,” Dad chuckled. “You could try it sometime.”
“Cool,” Meltyre said, and then turned his gaze back to the creek.
“Hey, do you want to hold onto the line?”
“Yeah, sure!” Meltyre’s dad unwound the line from his hand and carefully gave it to Meltyre. “I like to wrap it around my hand so I can get a better grip on it.”
“Okay,” Meltyre said with reverence, and took hold of the line.
Meltyre was ten years old.
“You can’t do this,” said his mother, keeping her tone quiet so she didn’t wake baby Seri in the sling on her chest. “We will have the money.”
“The problem is that you don’t have it right now,” said the magistrate’s lapdog, a guard named Yannick, clapping the irons onto Meltyre’s dad. “Come along then, farmer, off you go.”
“I’ll be all right,” Meltyre’s dad assured them. “The harvest will pay off the debt. Just make it until then.”
Meltyre’s mother glared at the other guard. “Do you feel good about working for the magistrate now, Connie?”
Connie winced, but didn’t reply.
“Meltyre, you take care of your mother, you hear? Do what she tells you.” Dad was putting on a brave face, but Meltyre could see his anxiety. Anxiety which was now on a feedback loop between the two of them.
“Daddy?” Min said. Oh gods, there was no way she knew what was happening, she was barely two.
“It’ll be all right, Min,” their dad said, as Yannick dragged him out of the house. “It’ll be all right!”
Their mother watched him go, shedding no tears. It wasn’t her way.
Meltyre, on the other hand, couldn’t help but choke up. Debtor’s prison! What was the point! You couldn’t work off debts by being in prison! It had just been one bad harvest!
No, no, that wouldn’t do. He shouldn’t cry. He had a job to do now, he had to take care of mother, and no bitter tears against the unfairness of it all would fix the problem.
“Come here, my darlings,” Mother said, kneeling carefully. Baby Seri was still asleep.
Lydda and Min ran to her immediately, sobbing, and Meltyre shuffled along behind them, into their mother’s arms.
“This is very scary,” Mother said, murmuring into their hair. “And I’m not sure what’s going to happen. And I’m very angry about it. But we are going to get your father back.”
“What will we do without him?” Lydda asked tearfully.
Their mother released them and looked each of them in the eye in turn. “Our best. That’s all we can do. I’m going to need a lot of help with Seri and with chores, though. Okay?”
Meltyre nodded, and Lydda said, “Okay.”
“Now, I have to…” She trailed off, looking at the pantry, which Meltyre knew was pretty bare, raking back her hair with her hand. “Er. Right.”
“Mother?” Meltyre volunteered. “I can catch us a fish.”
And now her resolve broke, just a little, and her lip quivered. She sniffed, once, and smiled. “Could you, dear? That would be very helpful. We could make ourselves a nice stew.”
“I can, Dad showed me how.” Meltyre’s fishing was getting better all the time. “I just need the right tools. I can do it.”
Even as he said it, he wasn’t sure it was true, but the relief that passed over her face made him determined to be right.
“Go on then, catch us a fish,” Mother encouraged him. “Lydda and I will make some bread.”
“I wanna help!” piped up Min.
“You can help,” Lydda assured her. “We’ll have bread by the time Meltyre gets back.”
Bolstered by the rare show of confidence, Meltyre grabbed the fishing line, a hook, and the kreel, and went off to catch a fish.