Story for the Day: Cutting Back
I absolutely abominate diets. Martje has more tolerance for Bilar's meticulations than I would ever do.
The king and his party were thanked for their visit and asked to please come again whenever their time allowed, and after one last look at the seller’s row along the river, the party were all returned to the keep and arrived in time to hear part of a conversation caroming out from the infirmary as they entered from the hall. They turned the corner and saw Martje standing on the infirmary threshold,having just ended her monthly examinations, the results of which Bilar was beginning to discussing with her. Neither the cleric nor the cook sounded particularly severe or scolding, but the hand on Martje’s hip, the slow insidious contraction of her brow, and the jutting of her lower lip prophesied some intimation of what was coming.
“Your blood pressure is good,” Bilar began, perusing her results, “your digestive tract is healthy, you’re getting ample amounts of sleep and exercise--”
Martje propped an ear and awaited the ‘but’ which no amount of clerical commendations could prevent.
A short silence followed. Bilar glanced at his notes, then at Martje, then at his notes again, and Martje awaited with fulsome smiles.
There was a pause, and Bilar’s amendment came at last. “But—“
“Aha!” Martje cried, thrusting her finger at him. “I knew it. Sure I smelled it comin’ from over the hedges. Everythin’s just fine, but there’s always gotta be a but in it.”
“But,” Bilar persisted, raising a brow, “your blood sugar is still a bit high, and you need to cut down on your fat intake—“
“What fat?” Martje scoffed. “I already stopped eatin’ the bacon and I cut out most of the butter in the mornin’s, just a bit with my muffin. Most o’ the fat I eat’s what I get from cheese and yogurt and all, and you said that good for me ‘cause of the fermentation. Next thing you’ll tell me to stop eatin’ that too.”
“Cimonna hashiff, yer moderation.”
Tyfferim profanities were not offered lightly by Martje, and the impending fulmination had reached its ridge. The party stopped, each glancing at another, some subrisive and others fearful, Beryn smiling to himself with his hand over his eyes, Lochan cringing into the brim of his hat, Alasdair muttering a sighing “Oh, dear,” to his wife, and Aiden and Adaoire indulging in stifled guffaws, simpering quietly to one another over Shayne’s great fortune in being in town with Maggie at present. The foreboding rumblings of his wife’s frustration would have convinced Shayne to slip quietly into his workshop and remain there until evening, leaving him to wonder whether roast or spit steak was the favoured holiday dinner at the Traveler, giving him an excuse to be out of the keep and away from his wife until the bellows had expired and the brontide of war diminished.
“Yer always goin’ on about moderation and all,” Martje continued. “I cut out everythin’ just how you said, I didn’t cheat myself much, I kept to my walkin’, and I stopped with all the sweets on holidays, but even if I had nothin’ all day but two beans to bang together, it wouldn’t be good enough for you. I been eatin’ more berries and nuts, eatin’ less wheat and more oats, stoppin’ with cakes and pies unless for a birthday or what, and even though I lost all that weight, there’s still gotta be a but in it—“
“I ain’t finished, cleric,” she bellowed, her nose flaring. “I been doin’ everythin’ just how you said—even keepin’ my Shayne in the same trim and not cookin’ nothin’ too bad, and you don’t go after him near as much as you come after me.”
This was no fault of Bilar’s; this was due to Shayne’s amazingly well timed disappearances, for like most of the residents of the keep, he avoided the infirmary as much as possible when anything like an examination was due and used work an excuse to evade Bilar’s frequent reminders that a blood assessment must be done every six months at least. Everyone liked Bilar, nobody liked being forced to visit the cleric and only waited until they were either bleeding or almost dying to submit to the cleric’s will.
“Yer after pesterin’ me for every little thing,” Martje asserted, “so if yer just gonna use my examinations just to tell me how I should be breathin’, I’m not comin’ no more, and I don’t care if I get the chest aches or Chune’s Tears of what. I’m not passin’ outta this realm eatin’ nothin’ but salt and bakin’ paper.”
“Which reminds me,” said Bilar coolly, adjusting his spectacles, “you need to decrease your salt intake too.”
Martje’s eyes flared, and she raised her fist. “I’m gonna give you a right wallop, ya bastard—“
Bilar tranquilly put up his hand, and Martje’s fist froze. “And you will need a thorough eye exam as well.”
“Eye exam?” Martje snuffed. She tucked her fists into her hips and flouted. “What’s all this here about an eye exam? I see just fine.”
“You believe so? You couldn’t read the second row on the chart when I asked you to.”
“Well, why’d you got the chart so far away and all?”
“To see whether those with poor eyesight can read it.”
Martje folded her arms and humphed. “Sure can see what I need to see. I’m the majesty’s cook, not his tower guard. Don’t need to see the next town over. I see what’s in front of me, and that’s all I need.” She glunched and turned aside, amending with a begrudging, “…Already eat enough carrots.”
“While carrots are a good source of nutrients and you should be eating them,” said Bilar, with half a sigh, “they cannot reverse deteriorating eyesight.”
“Nothin’ doin’, cleric,” said Martje pointedly. “I need a pair o’ ‘em jar-bottoms hangin’ off the end o’ my nose like I need another pound o’ cabbage in my pot.”
“Well,” said Bilar, adjusting his spectacles, “you could add a bit more cabbage in your diet. It would help certain things move things along. It won’t help your eyesight, however.”
Bilar hemmed and sniffed and looked unassuming, and Martje clenched her teeth.
“Listen here, cleric,” Martje demanded, thrusting her finger into her palm. “I don’t need no eye examination. My eyes’re what they always were. I can see when my breads and pies are done, I can see the stew what’s in front o’ me when I’m stirrin’ it, and I don’t need to see nothin’ else, so shise shin.”
Martje stamped her foot and was about to trundle away when Bilar called her back with, “You won’t be saying that when you cannot see your daughter’s face in five years’ time.”
He made an attack at Martje’s feelings here, the pang of which made her turn back toward the cleric, whose countenance betrayed no sublimity and no smiles.
“Yer just sayin’ it,” said Martje, snurling and jutting her chin to the side. “Yer just bein’ tragic and all so I’ll do yer examination.”
“I am not just saying it, Martje,” said Bilar, in a more serious hue. “I don’t just say things when it comes to my patient’s health. I may be able to help you prevent most things, but once the body and especially eyesight deteriorates, it is gone forever.”
His professions hung against her, his sincerity besieging every wounded feeling of opinion and revolt. She could say nothing against him beyond what calumny her anger could compromise, but it was trying to be given such news after being the subject of so strict a regimen, and the notion that no matter how well she ate or how much she exercised would never be enough to stave off the effects of a life lived amidst the raptures of cakes and pies was a bitter recompense for years of communal service. She served everyone in the keep, the work she produced nourishing the royal and martial contingents, and everyone else seemed to escape the wreck of biscuits and buns unscathed, every other person untinctured by the ampery results that her habits admitted. A concession was due, however, and Martje, having decried the cleric’s methods and having shouted at him for his unfairness, the deference for office as royal cleric was owed, but Martje had done with examinations, and if Bilar wanted any restitution on his claims, he would have to give her a reason to return to the infirmary for the third time this month.