Tall, thin, pale, with luminous green eyes and wild red hair he tied to tame with a leather thong, Olwyn was a man of few words, a generous nature, and a wicked sense of humour. He wiped his hands on his work apron, sighing. Even after water-sluicing, he would smell of sour milk, and ripening cheeses. To be apprenticed to a cheese maker!

His father found far better positions for his other brothers, at the forge fire or the wood lathe. Jeweler’s bench or silver smithy. As masters, their creations would have form as well as function. Well-honed swords with tracery on the blade. Chests with inlaid rare woods, opening to music and mirrors. Delicate gold chains and costly ear baubles. Silver chalices embracing gems and dragons. Their mark, their stamp of creation lasting years, singing praises of their skill and artistry.

But he, Olwyn, cause of Holwyn’s beloved wife, Laikka’s death, mother robber for his older brothers, was not destined for such great things. Olwyn sure his father saw to that.

When Holwyn chose another joining, it was with Hjól, a flightily, vain young thing who had no plans of mothering Laikka’s whelps. Holwyn, as soon as possible, found positions for his sons befitting his place within the community. Olwyn was last and least – when heard the cheese maker needed a boy, Olwyn was offered up. He learned well the alchemist’s secrets of turning milk into cheese. At the market, he entertained; a showman and a fromager.

This left his master free to indulge in drink – afternoons in the ale house, or brewer’s cellar. Although his name was upon the output, his hands never were. He would swagger and stagger, crowing of his ability to create the finest of cheeses. Moments when Olwyn wished he could break away; perhaps find another trade.

Though more skilled than his master, Olwyn had little hope of the kind of recognition his older brothers received. And, as to his younger step-siblings, the boy went off to be schooled, and the girls, taught to be well mannered so as to be well married. And, Olwyn sighed, “I make cheese. If even I were a brewer . . .”

Light from the Full Blood Moon, a glowing circle in starscape sky marking beginning of long harvest market, slipped into the dairy. Olwyn spent that day among the wooden shelving of stacked ripening cheeses, choosing those ready to be sold. Wiping down the unwaxed ripe cheeses, wrapping them in special linen cloths. He checked the hardness and integrity of the wheels of waxed cheeses, dyed a certain colour to indicate the maker. He tasted cheese as a vintner might gauge the contents of his oaken casks of wine.

Well before the orange fingers of dawn scratched out the moon, he would ready for the market. Sprite and Spirit, coaxed with crisp apples, allowing themselves to be “apprenticed” to the wagon. The cheeses, placed in wooden boxes, carefully loaded. His market day chest fragrant with late summering flowers, picked by his Master’s young daughters, and sweet-grass circlets to set off the rounds of cheese. Nestled in  a cushion of hay, a set of scales, only to be used should  a customer not believe Olwyn’s skill in cutting the quantity requested.

In the wash-house, he cleansed himself. Smelling less sour, and a tad of soapwort and pomade, he dressed in his market-day best: jerkin of fine wool, dyed emerald green, leggings of a darker green, and high boots of soft leather. His damp hair tied back with a thick leather lace.

At his waist, hung a pouch of thin, medium and thick ducats. Equally important was the list he carried in his head of what items were needed if offered as barter, and their value in cheese. All fine if a cheesery was to be your life. But his glum thoughts were all made worse by memories of a brother’s recent joining day. Other siblings brought the new couple samples of their crafts, their artistry. While the best Olwyn produced was a wheel of special, long-aged and well-tended cheese, specially dipped in multiple layers of wax. He cut the couple’s names, joined by vines, into the wax so that the various colours were visible. A gift soon forgotten.

He put such dark broodings away; a long harvest market day was of celebration. He maneuvered his cart along the crowded road. The travellers were clothed in the same colours as the woods: vibrant reds, shimming golds, deep oranges, rich browns.  To honour of the changing of the seasons. For soon it would be the wintering. Time now, as the days shortened, to celebrate the harvest; the bounty. Above the jumble of voices, as he neared town, were the sounds of the musicians dancing on the the crisp air.

After uncoupling the cart behind his stall, he let Spirit and Sprite wander to the horse meadow behind the market square. The familiar routine of spreading a cloth over the rough wood of the display table, setting out the cheeses, arranging the flowers and circlets, cutting samples. During the process, he was enveloped in the seductive smell of freshly baked bread. Gone was his sausage-making neighbour who smelled as strong as his links.

Lungar looked to the next stall hungrily eyeing  rounds of crusty bread, perfect circles, and tiny wheels of honey cakes. No one was about, so he called over as he had not yet eaten: “Cheese for bread?”

A young woman emerged from the back, her long brown hair rolled into three thick circles, one above each ear, the other at nape of neck, held secure by fine mesh net. She wore a simple dress without adornment, too big for her tiny frame. Mismatched eyes were striking, one hazel, one blue. A small scar pulled corner of her mouth down in perpetual frown. She smelled of lavender, honey and flour.

She made her crooked smile, and said: “Yes, bread for cheese, cheese for bread. For thus is the perfect match of circles, wheels of sustenance, wheels of life.”

Olwyn felt his heart tugged with a great pleasurable shudder. His days and his dreams to be filled with thoughts of her.

Cheese making was the most honourable art, Olwyn decided, next to baking, of course. He thought of the multi-layered waxed small wheel he would make with her name, Pyörä, lovingly inscribed.

image: splitshire via pixabay.com

Wheels within wheels; tale weaver #140: wheels