White and pink flowers bloomed on the apple trees when we heard about the quest.
We were in the orchard. Elise predicted it would be a good harvest as she gently fingered a silky petal. I said it was too soon to tell. The village messenger walked by at the same time on the same route as he always has and always does.
“Morning, ladies,” he said with a small bow.
“Good morning, sir,” we responded in chorus.
“A hero is coming to town soon. A quest is happening. Soon, our enemies in the north will be defeated and this land will be free.”
I nodded enthusiastically. Elise shrugged. Then he moved on and we went back to examining the trees.
Hard, green fruits no larger than my thumbnail were growing when the hero came to town.
Elise and I were in the orchard pruning them down, ensuring that each fruit we left would have enough nutrition to grow large and juicy.
“I think we should have bread and milk for lunch today,” I said. “With butter.” The baker had delivered a warm, fresh loaf that morning.
“We should make eggs, too,” said Elise. “I’ll be hungry when we’re done here.”
Then I saw the hero approaching from the horizon. I sighed. I hoped he wouldn’t talk to us for long. I wanted to dig into the bread before it became stale.
He was a head taller than Elise and I. A thick beard and helmet obscured most of his face. I don’t trust people easily when I can not see their faces. He carried a sword through a loop in his belt.
“Where can I find the blacksmith?” he asked us without bothering to give a proper greeting or introduction. That was to be expected. We were not princesses or damsels in distress. We were just farmers.
Elise pointed down the road towards town. “That way. Third shop on the right.” She was used to telling heroes the route. It was all they ever wanted to know.
“Lunch break?” I asked her as the hero hurried into town.
Elise was right. It was a good harvest. Every tree in the orchard hung thick with large, shiny, red apples. There were plenty to share with the baker and the blacksmith and the messenger. We didn’t even mind when village children snuck into the orchard to try them.
“Blood must be good for apples,” the village wiseman told us when we brought him a basket. He was seated as usual on a wooden chair in his small hut at the end of town.
“Because they’re both red?” Elise asked. She shot me a look which suggested she didn’t find him particularly wise.
“Hundreds are dead in villages not far from here,” he said sadly, shaking his head and rubbing his white beard between his fingertips.
“The hero failed?” I asked.
The wise man nodded. “He failed and he made our enemies angry, so they came and they desecrated our lands.”
“He’ll try again,” said Elise with a shrug. “They always do.”
The apples were harvested and the leaves had long since fallen off the trees when the hero returned. Elise and I were drinking steaming apple cider from large, blue mugs when we saw him pass outside our house. Our fire crackled cheerfully on the hearth.
Elise pulled her pink quilt tighter around herself on the couch. “Don’t answer the door if he comes,” she said. “I don’t want to get up. Too cold.”
She returned back to the book she was reading, but I kept watching the hero. His sword was gone and his beard was scorched. Mottled purple bruises covered the small patches of skin I could see through his torn tunic. His head was held high and he stared straight ahead.
“Do you think he succeeded?” I asked.
“I haven’t heard anything.” Elise didn’t look up.
“I hope he succeeded,” I said. “He looks tired.”
“Who cares?” said Elise, meeting my eyes at last. She was annoyed. It was rare for her to become annoyed with me. “The enemies will take back the land. Another hero will come. That’s just how it happens.”
“You’re right,” I said, not wanting to argue. I took a deep sip of my beverage. Sugar and cinnamon danced across my tongue.
Sara Tabin is an English teacher and video game club advisor living in Boston. Her fiction has previously appeared in Rathalla Review, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Peatsmoke. She loves hiking and her best friend’s dog. Follow her on Twitter at @sara_tabin.