Short Story: More Than Gold

This is a short story I wrote a few weeks ago. I thought it was good enough to share. I hope you enjoy! 🙂

“Mathis, come eat your breakfast!”

Mathis turned toward the sound of his name, and his cheeks raised in a smile. He let the garden shovel in his hand tumble to the dirt ground of the backyard. In a bound, he reached the back steps and raced into the house. Mother smiled softly down at her son and gently closed the door behind them. She took care to adjust the sag near the hinges for the door to fit in the jamb.

“Breakfast!” Mathis crowed as he threw himself down into a creaking chair. “What is it today, Mother?”

“I’ve cooked up some porridge, and we have the two eggs from the chickens,” Mother informed him, turning sideways and inching through the narrow space between the dining table and the kitchen wall. The logs that made up the walls were a light brown and made for a very homely look. The size of the house, however, was not much more than a stable’s.

Mother spooned a dollop of porridge onto Mathis’s plate, next to a single fried egg, and gestured for him to eat while she did the same.

A beam of sunlight shot from one of the holes in the thatched roof and met Mathis’s cheek. It felt warm and blissful, but even at his young age of nine, he was aware that there weren’t supposed to be holes in the roof. He remembered last winter when Mother had to set pans down in the middle of the floor under the holes to catch the rain.

When I’m old enough, Mathis thought with sudden resolution, I’ll fix our roof and expand the house walls!

Smiling at this idea, Mathis spooned his plate for more porridge but collided with nothing but the clay dish. A pang of hunger shivered through his stomach, but he set his spoon down and turned his face up to the sun, attempting to distract himself from the lack of food. A sudden scraping arrested his attention. He turned to see Mother pushing the last of her fried egg and porridge onto Mathis’s plate.

“Mother, what are you—no, you don’t need to do that!” Mathis cried, shaking his head like a wet dog.

Mother simply showed that calm smile of hers and gestured to the plate. “You need it more than I do, Mathis, trust me. Mother can go without breakfast today. You’re growing. You need your strength.”

Mathis considered refusing. He knew his mother gave him nearly double her portion sizes every meal. The tantalizing dish of food, however, looked quite tempting where it sat in front of him. His stomach snarled and grumbled for more substance. Mathis slowly took up his spoon and dug it into the porridge. “Thank you, Mother,” he whispered.

Mother smiled and stood. “You’re welcome, my son.”

Mathis looked into her eyes and studied their bloodshot appearance. The heavy dark lines underneath them only accentuated her obvious exhaustion. Mother had always said that the wrinkled lines that trickled down her face were smile marks, but Mathis knew better than that. These were worry marks, and her wispy, graying hair looked far too old for her age. She had once had thick brown hair, colored like an oak tree, which she brushed every morning while she sang by the window. Mathis could almost hear the pretty sound of her voice as it floated through the house and out into the garden, where Mathis sat in his father’s lap while he tended to the plants and flowers. Father…

Now he saw the memories of Father striking a deal with a merchant friend. There had been word of a gold outbreak on the other side of the Jumilion mountain range. If he went along and found gold, he might have been able to bring it back to Mother and Mathis, and they could’ve been rich…rich…

“Mathis?”

Mathis nearly jerked from his seat and glanced at Mother. “I’m sorry…I got lost in thought.”

“Well that certainly didn’t stop you from eating,” Mother let out a short laugh.

Mathis glanced down at his plate, scraped clean of his second helping. He had never remembered even touching the food.

“Will you head down to the market for me and get some flour? I want to make a couple of loaves of bread, but we hardly have any left.”

“Of course, Mother,” Mathis hopped from his seat and took the five short steps to the other side of the house.

Mother bent down and opened a low cupboard to retrieve their money bag. Under the thin material of her dress, Mathis could see the ridges of Mother’s spine protruding from her back. He could still taste the egg and porridge in his mouth. Mother should have eaten it.

She stood now, the wrinkled money bag in her grasp, and opened it. By the absence of jingling, Mathis concluded that they were down to their last coin.

Mother pulled it from the folds of the bag and placed the silver currency, an erovin, in Mathis’s palm. “You take good care of that, okay, Mathis? Get the flour and come right back.”

Mathis nodded firmly. “Yes, Mother.”

“I love you, Mathis.” Mother’s strong, gentle fingers brushed the back of Mathis’s head as she leaned down and placed a kiss on his forehead. “Be a good boy now.”

“Yes, Mother. I wish we had a little more money. Maybe then we could fix the roof.”

Mother’s lips tightened, and her eyes began sparkling like a lake. They seemed to do that whenever Mathis mentioned something concerning money.

Mother nodded after a moment. “Me too, Mathis. But let us be grateful for what we have. Run along and get the flour now. That’s a good boy.”

Mathis turned and pulled the front door open. He slipped out and let the battered door quiver back into place.

With the sun shining from above, Mathis nearly forgot the troubling thoughts of his father and mother. The light blue sky of the summer morning always lifted Mathis’s mood. The soft breeze brushing against his skin and the melodies of birds nearby that filled his ears only helped in raising his spirits.

Humming a little tune as he walked, Mathis made this way along the hard-packed gravel road and into the town square of Sanurai city. The market filled the town square from one side to the other—large tents shaded the products of the various merchants, craftsmen, farmers, and vendors. The hubbub of voices yelling over each other stamped out any other sound.

“Excuse me, lad!” A heavyset man leaned down and smiled at Mathis. “Would ya’ like a plum tart? Only two erovins!”

“No thank you,” Mathis declined as he hurried past. Many other sellers talked to Mathis, attempting to convince him to purchase one of their items. However, Mathis kept his thoughts on his mother and clutched the single erovin in his dirty fingers. He ducked through the crowded street, dodging merchants, farmers, and occasionally patrolling centurions. The overpowering smell of baked goods, human sweat, and horses mingled in Mathis’s nostrils.

“Flour! Oats! Grains of all kinds!” A soft voice floated over the crowd.

Mathis raised his eyebrows and turned toward the voice. A young, pretty girl, perhaps twenty years old, stood nearby. Mathis steered his way toward her and stopped at the front of her table. The girl beamed at him.

“Hello, young sir. Would you like one of our grains? Best in the market!”

Mathis nodded, attempting to act like he knew what he was talking about. “Yes, please. I’d like your best flour.”

“Our best?” the girl nodded quickly and turned to another table behind her. She pivoted back to Mathis with a sack of flour in her hands. “Here it is. That’ll be five erovins, but if you’ve got a hensom, that’ll do as well.”

Mathis’s heart sank. “I’ve…I’ve only got this.” he set the single silver erovin on the tabletop.

The girl looked at it for a long moment, then flashed a quick smile. “That’s all right.” she bent down to reach eye-level with Mathis. “Are you purchasing this flour for your parents?”

Mathis nodded. “Yes, for my mother. She needs it to make bread today.”

The girl nodded, expression serious. “All right then. Take the flour. One erovin will do just fine.”

“Oh, thank you!” Mathis couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear.

“You’re quite welcome. I didn’t catch your name.” The girl straightened.

“I’m Mathis.”

“Very good to meet you, Mathis. I’m Jasmine.” The girl extended a hand and Mathis shook it.

With the sack of flour clutched in both hands, Mathis turned and headed for home. He extended his face to the sun, unable to keep the smile off his face.

That girl was so nice! I don’t think one erovin was enough for this flour, but she gave it to me anyway!

Without warning, a solid form rammed into him. Mathis felt his feet slip and his back crash to the gravel road. He scrambled up, the flour still held protectively in his hands. Two royal centurions met his gaze when he looked up to see who he had run into.

“Move it, brat!” the centurion he had struck snarled, black gloves taking a tighter grip on the spear he carried.

“Yeah, get going, runt!” The second one laughed maliciously.

“I’m terribly sorry, sirs,” Mathis said, lowering his eyes and ducking around behind them. As soon as he was out of their eyesight, a fire flared up in the depths of his chest. He turned around and glared at the lofty soldiers.

Idiots! They serve the emperor of Sanurai, tax the people, and don’t even care about us! Mathis felt the urge to run back at the soldiers and attempt to pound them into the ground. He knew, however, this could lead to grave consequences. Too many times had he seen a farmer or village man pick a fight with the centurions. Every time they were arrested and dragged off to jail, never to be seen in Sanurai again.

“What are we even doing here?” one of the centurions said.

Mathis turned his gaze to the side and realized they were directly outside a centurion outpost. Many such outposts could be located throughout the city—buildings most civilians gave a wide skirt when they walked by. He looked back at the soldiers, and his heart leaped into his throat. One of the men had leaned up against a stack of barrels and crates outside the outpost. From his hands, he had set a money sack directly behind him on the lid of a barrel. By the way the bag bulged like a frightened frog’s neck, it undoubtedly held piles of coins.

“I don’t know,” the second centurion shrugged as he replied to his friend’s query. “I wonder if we’re gonna be assigned to moving these crates into the outpost.”

“Oh, I ain’t doin’ that!” the first soldier grunted. “Way too hard.”

Mathis hardly heard their conversation. Inside his mind, his thoughts were whirling, calculating every possible risk he would need to take to retrieve the bag of coins. He thought of his mother’s face, her bloodshot eyes. She needed that money, and the soldier probably had enough. It was time for some payback—the centurions had taxed them long enough.

Mathis slowly crept forward, heart pounding like a stampeding elephant. He had to do this. With a slight dash and a skid of pebbles, the boy made it behind a stack of crates near the two soldiers. The money bag seemed to glisten in the summer sun, calling to him. Slowly, ever so slowly, Mathis inched his way between the barrels and crates of supplies until he was less than a yard away from the lid the money rested on. Mathis reached out with fingers that shook like leaves in the wind. He felt the rough cloth of the bag on his skin, and it was all over. He had the bag tucked up next to his chest, right beside the small sack of flour. A rush of relief blew over him and he turned to creep out from the crates of supplies.

He nearly ran into two large legs tucked into shiny boots, standing over him. He almost screamed, but slid back behind a crate and looked up to figure out whether this newcomer had spotted him or not. It was another centurion, with a massive red beard and curly red hair that created a fluffy frame about his face. He was, however, looking at his fellow soldiers, and not down at Mathis. The boy let out a slow sigh of relief. Still safe.

“Soldiers!”

The two talking centurions snapped to attention and saluted the red-bearded man. “Yes, commander! Centurions reporting for duty, sir!”

The commander nodded. “There’s been a complaint at the end of the town square. I’d like you two to check it out.”

“Of course, sir,” the first centurion said. “We’ll get to it right away.”

The commander left with a brief salute, and the two soldiers turned to go.

“Oops, almost forgot,” the first soldier laughed, turning toward the barrel where his money bag had just been. When his hand found nothing, he looked down and stared at the barrel, wide-eyed. “It’s gone!”

“What’s gone?” the second centurion asked carelessly.

“My money bag! I set it right here, I know I did!” the soldier slapped his pockets and belt, frantically searching for the bag.

Mathis tightened his grip about the rough cloth.

“Did you drop it somewhere?” the second soldier asked, glancing around half-heartedly.

“I don’t think so,” the first soldier let out a groan and bent over, burying his face in his hands. “There was a year’s wages in that bag! I just got paid today. That bag was what I was going to use for the next twelve months! Now it’s gone!”

“A year’s wages?” the second soldier whistled. “That’s bad. We need to find it.”

Mathis blinked in shock. A year’s wages? But it’s such a small bag! I thought it was no more than a week’s pay for a rich centurion like him. Mathis slowly opened the bag and stared in shock at its contents. He had thought the coins inside would be silver erovins. Every single one, however, glinted gold in the sunlight. It was a bag packed full of gold hensoms.

“It’s no use,” the first centurion moaned. “Someone probably stole it. They’ll be long gone by now, hidden in the crowd. Oh, what will I tell Mariah? What will I tell her? And my poor baby boy…what am I going to do?”

Mathis stiffened. The centurion had a wife and a baby? Without a year’s pay, they would grow poor…now an image of a starving family appeared in his mind. He tried to summon up the anger he had felt before toward the soldier, but it was gone like smoke carried off on a heavy wind. The centurion…coming home with the heartbreaking news. The next few months…the family would grow thinner and thinner with no food. The baby would starve…

Mathis thought of the food he had eaten this morning. Half of it hadn’t even been rightfully his. He had eaten his mother’s food. She had given it selflessly to her son.

He thought of the joy that would light upon her face when she saw the pile of money he could bring home. But no…she would not be pleased. She would be horrified that he had stolen from someone.

Always be thankful for what you have… the words repeated over and over in his mind. His stomach clenched. He wanted to throw up the food his mother had given him. He didn’t deserve it. His mother was so selfless. And here he was…another man’s money in his hand.

Mathis straightened, the images in his mind vanishing as he came to a decision. He crawled forward slowly, back toward the barrel the money had rested upon. He tossed the money bag down next to the barrel, then turned and fled before he could be tempted again.

“Look! There it is!” Mathis heard the second centurion yell as he jogged off.

“The money! It must’ve fallen from the barrel. Why didn’t I see it?” The first centurion’s voice drifted into Mathis’s ears, and his peals of relieved laughter were like cool water on the heat of Mathis’s guilt. Mathis looked down at the bag of flour in his hands. He could have bought one hundred times the amount of flour with that bag of gold…but now that he had returned the money, this single bag felt far more precious.

So what’d you think? Did you like it? Maybe not? I hope you did! 😀

Comment down below what your favorite part of the story was, or your favorite character!

That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading!

Until later,

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7 thoughts on “Short Story: More Than Gold

  1. Wonderful story! (I sympathize so much with the issue of poverty, especially children. It hurts me so much that I can’t stand to think about it. May God bless the widows and the orphans through us all.)
    I just want to point out the adjective you used at the beginning of the story, the fourth paragraph I think… it says “homely”, but perhaps you meant “homey”? As far as I’ve read, homely normally refers to “common or subpar appearance”. Just a thought, although it would still make sense if I’m wrong. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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