24 Saun 716Lazuli had been keeping her eye on the grapevines for the majority of the warmer seasons. The book she had read in the library during Ymiden had explained that a grape's colour could often help to determine ripeness for picking, as too could its size, texture, and taste. The young noble wandered along the long, straight rows of vines, reaching her hand out to touch the large, wind damaged leaves. This was the first time she had been home alone since being taken hostage by some of the members of the king's royal guard. She recalled the experience with painful clarity and thought about the masked man who had left her with a scar on her left hip that measured the width of her hand. Time had healed the twisted flesh, but not the memory.
Tentatively, the young woman took hold of a grape from the bottom of a large bunch and plucked it away from its cousins to role between finger and thumb. The texture of the grape was rather firm with a little give and the size was favourable too. The colour of the grape was dark, almost blue, and before lifting it to her lips to take a taste, she brushed a stray covering of a spider's web from its surface. As the grape went into her mouth and she crushed it between her teeth, her face contorted, eyes shrinking and nose wrinkled as the flavour washed over her tongue. The taste was extremely bitter and difficult to down. Out of curiosity, she chewed the grape a few more times to make sure it was as unreadable as it tasted, and put off by its bitterness and the texture of the thick skin, Lazuli spat out what remained of the grape.
With no explanation for the taste, and having been promised a sweet crop this year by the man she had brought the vineyard from, she turned and marched towards the house, stopping at the edge of the vines as she noticed dust on the road. Lazuli crouched down and watched as the delivery man steered his horses towards the gate, lifted the lid on the farm's letterbox, placed something inside, and continued on down the road. With stomach in mouth the woman got to her feet again slowly and pressed her open hand to her chest. Heart drumming hard against her palm, Lazuli took a moment to compose herself, having feared the worse. This game of politics was not for her, and in that moment, she wished she had never been born into a noble household.
Inside Lazuli referred to the notes she had taken the previous season regarding the differences between wine and table grapes. Her notes revealed that table grapes had thin skins, plump flesh, and sweet juice, sometimes lacking the seeds that wine grapes, including the one she had just bitten into, were riddled with. Wine grapes on the other had had thick skins, were very delicate and difficult to transport, had a lot higher juice or flesh ratio, and often had darker skins. The small snippets of information also reminded her of the fact that the seeds in wine grapes were extremely bitter. With the information refreshed in her mind, Lazuli left the house to venture back outside and test that theory.
The night before had been cold and the long grass outside was still heavy and wet with dew, licking at Lazuli's ankles as she walked towards the grapevines once more. Again she plucked one of the grapes from a bunch on vine, only this time instead of biting into the grape, she cut the edge open on her teeth and sucked the juice from it. Sweet, rich, and sugary. The woman was left with little double that the grapes were ready to be harvested.
After making a quick stop at the farm shed to put on her gloves and find a knife that would cut through the grape stems, Lazuli pushed the wheelbarrow up the slight rise and set to work. The bunches came away fairly easily, though the woman had to be careful not to shake too many grapes free as she pulled them away. Many of the grapes were covered in spiderwebs and Lazuli froze whenever she saw a little black spider dart across the underside of a left or get too close and almost touch her hand. There wasn't much to fear with bugs in the region of Warrick other than the large, camouflaged spiders the woman had heard about but never seen out in the woods. Rumour had it they were big enough to stun a full grown man with one bite and that they liked to prey on children. She shuddered at the thought and continued with her work.
As the day neared noon and the heat of the morning sun intensified, Lazuli took shelter under the overhang of the house and poured some water into a cup to drink from. The tips of her fingers felt grimy as if caked in dust or a thin layer of wax, and she sat staring out at the farm, at the empire her father had built which she now ran. She often wondered how different her life might be if she truly embraced her heritage and the lavish lifestyles other nobles seem to enjoy, and within no time at all she usually came to the conclusion that a life such as theirs would be far too dull for her. Life, after all, was about enjoying the little things, the sun on her skin, the feeling she got after a long day's work, that satisfaction and pride that money couldn't buy.
Soon enough the man from Andaris who had written to Lazuli telling her to expect his wagons closer to the twenty-fifth of the season turned up with two wagons and a young boy in his early to mid teens. "Lady Warrick?"
Lazuli got to her feet. "Hello?"
"Kevin Frost, I wrote to you in Ymiden about the transportation for your grapes to Andaris. This is my son, Luke."
"Good afternoon, Luke," Lazuli smiled. "I've managed to collect two wheelbarrow loads," she gestured proudly. "But I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow.
"Oh no, that won't do at all," Kevin frowned. "You promised us two barrels. You do understand that it takes at least a ton of grapes to produce that much wine?"
"Sixty gallons?" Lazuli queried.
"Per barrel," Kevin agreed. "One ton, one hundred and twenty gallons of wine, two barrels."
"I don't know if I'll have that much wine," the young woman frowned.
"Well how many vines do you have? You get about ten bottles of wine per vine."
"And how many bottles to a barrel?"
"I have five hundred vines," she admitted. "Am I to expect five thousand bottles?"
Kevin looked surprised and jumped down from the wagon to take a look at the crop. "Young vines?"
"Fairly," Lazuli agreed.
"Perhaps half that this arc, but if you cut them back after harvesting the grapes you can expect a lot higher numbers next Saun."
Lazuli grinned before realising how much work she had ahead of her. "I don't suppose you can come back tomorrow?"
Kevin looked across at his son Luke and lifted his eyebrows before shrugging his shoulder, seemingly talking without using words. "We came this far, might as well stick around and see the job done. We don't have any other deliveries to make until later in the season."
"Can I pay you for your time?"
"In wine," Kevin smiled. "We will take half of the profit from your grapes."
Lazuli did the maths. The boys would be doing more than half of the work and she would still make what she had been expecting to bring in. "You have a deal," the noble woman nodded and set to work, cutting away more grapes.
By dusk, both wagons had been loaded as high as they would go without the risk of losing any of the produce on the road. Kevin had explained that the grapes would go to the village of Venora where they would be processed and the wine put into barrels before being loaded back up onto the wagons to continue their journey to the capital. With a lot of the grapes still unpicked, Lazuli wondered if she would be able to make her own wine from home to sell at the local market and see what the villagers thought of it. While she was happy to send her stock to the capital, as it made it appear that Andaris was still in Warrick's good graces, she wanted to find out if there was any market for wine grown locally.
"I think this lot will make at least four barrels," Kevin smiled. "In fact I'm half tempted to drop this lot off and come and help you with the rest in a few trials."
"I wouldn't mind that, if you return with a recipe for me."
"Oh?" The man perked a thick, dark brow.
"A process rather, on how to make my own wine."
"Kevin smiled and tipped his hat. "Will do, my lady. Until then."
Lazuli waved as the wagons pulled away and returned to the house to wash up.