Miriam quietly watched Silas from across the cabin. The chairs were vacated except for hers and his. The simpleton fletchers under her charge had been taken out by a physicker for their shared meal. The simpletons reveled in any chance to get out of the cabin and simply enjoy the warmth of the sun on their faces. Silas, however, preferred to stay near her.
He had brought them both a portion of the stew that was cooking over the core’s great fire, in celebration of the Midsummer’s meal, the morning following Midsummer’s Day. It was sweet, she thought, that Silas had this affinity for her. She had never understood precisely why, but she enjoyed his quiet company, all the same. He, at least, was a man who never seemed to want more from her than to share the same physical space, in peaceful silence.
She watched, quietly, as the former spiker raised the spoonful of broth up from his bowl. He opened his mouth as he brought the spoon to it, his lower lip quivering as he attempted to coordinate both tasks at the same time. The spoon tipped just before it reached his mouth, and the hot, brown broth spilled onto his lap.
It pained her to see him struggle, and yet she knew it would hurt him more if she intervened. The man had his pride, even now, and he was damned persistent. He got like this, sometimes. It was worse at certain intervals. Sometimes he would speak clearly, walk for modest distances. Other times, however, he could not form words.
Or feed himself soup. As if on cue, he once again lifted the spoon, vertically at first, then horizontally toward his face as he opened his mouth in anticipation. The broth spilled out, mostly splattering on the bowl’s rim and onto his tunic.
He got closer, that time. She nearly had to sit on her hands to keep from getting up, crossing the room, and feeding him herself. She restrained herself, because even if Silas’ was unable, now, to express complex emotions like indignation, she knew that somewhere in his mind, a part of him would be screaming that he could do this ‘on my own’. A few years back, even little Sof—then just four summers old—had said the same of picking out her own clothes or stitching up a rip in her dress. Though those tasks had required the aid of Gram or Miriam, herself, how much more would Silas, a man grown, wish to prove he could feed himself?
So, she sat, and watched—and tried not to reveal her interest in his success at this daunting task of connecting spoon with mouth. She considered laying her own spoon to rest in her still unfinished bowl, concerned that her own ease at the task of eating might be an affront to the man, somehow. How might she feel, she wondered, if she had lost the ability to feed herself, but was able to see a companion so easily performing this task?
She had much to be thankful for, she decided at that moment. Forsaken, perhaps, as they all were, but still capable of feeding herself. She considered going back out to the cliff beyond the Pylon, to gaze into that vast blue expanse, once again. Part of the reason was curiosity about whether the wind would harry her as it had before. Another part was—she wasn’t sure. She just felt a pull to look in the direction of where Paradise was supposed to lay, were a Soul Bridge there to carry one across to it. Maybe she would—
Holy sands. The man had done it. His lips were closed around the bowl of the spoon, eyes closed, handle grasped tightly in his right fist. His face was impassive, his heavy black beard obscuring any definition in his cheeks, which must have been sucking down the savory liquid, enjoying the literal fruits of hard-won success.
Something looked different about the man’s eyes, though. Was that—?
Oh. Oh, no. She fought to maintain her composure, averting her eyes as soon as she saw the single tear begin creep down the man’s cheek. Was it frustration that he felt, or satisfaction? A mix of the two? It pained her doubly that she was unable to pull this out of him, help alleviate his pain, somehow. Then again, he might never have conversed about such things, even before, she thought. Most men didn’t, after all. Thought they had to bottle it all up inside, never show a shred of vulnerability. But that was the thing—“the shamblers’ll come for you, whether you cry or keep a stiff lip,” as Gram had always said, “so you might as well let it out and get on with it.”
Why did it have to be soup? She wondered, wishing they’d prepared something else—anything else—for the Midsummer’s meal. Silas would never finish before they returned, at this rate. Then again, spikers weren’t the target audience for these meals, former criminals that they were. Fencers dulled more slowly, more cleanly, and could easily negotiate the nuances of directing broth and beef to mouth.
Something occurred to her, as she remembered the basket Gram had sent with Sofia that morning. She reached over to lift the linen napkin off of it, and—very good.
“Silas,” she broke the silence, keeping her voice casual. “I just found a heel of Gram’s delicious bread here in the basket Sofia brought to me,” she said. “I should like to try it with this soup, but I wouldn’t dare try to finish it all. Do you think you can help me?”
The man extracted the spoon from his mouth, his eyes drooping and face expressionless. He gave a small nod.
“Oh, thank you,” Miriam said, tearing a small portion of the bread for herself and then crossing the floorboards to gently place the captain’s share of the bread in the broth at the edge of his bowl.
“I find that it is best after being soaked in soup, myself. I can’t be bothered to try to eat the stuff, otherwise, and certainly couldn’t eat all of this, alone,” she said. “So, thank you, Silas,” she smiled and turned away from him. Her own lip quivered as she walked, erect, back to her own chair.
Shortly after she resumed her seat, she decided to tip the bowl to drink from the rim. He can do that, and might follow suit, she thought, and soon enough, that’s what he began to do. She tipped the bowl a couple more times than was necessary to drain the broth from the bowl. It helped to hide the tears that streamed, silently, down her cheeks.
Not long after she managed to compose herself, she heard through the cabin’s window a cacophony of boisterous sounds from a group of children, but with older voices. The fletchers were returning from their meal, just as Silas settled his empty bowl in his lap.