The exciting conclusion to A Hundred Years' Good Luck (Part 1)!
The wedding was only one week and three days distant when I paid a visit to the town's butcher, only to discover that my demands of six yearling sheep could not be met in time. So it was that I was compelled to call for my dealer -- for I had come to see him as my dealer.
We met in the country, barely five miles from my home, on a farm owned by a man I hardly knew, where my dealer was temporarily housing the sheep. The sun was six hours into its westward journey and already the field glowed golden. "Congratulations!" His thick, brown voice preceded his embrace. "You're going to have a son at last. And from such fine stock, too." He released me, winked, and said again, "Congratulations."
My short and wary response surprised him. But that signature smile faltered for only a moment. The pleasantries dismissed, he could now proceed to his favorite form of conversation: business. "So, you'll be wanting to see those lambs, then. They are the finest specimens -- the finest I could find on such short notice. Got them from three different sources -- three sources for six sheep! Ah, my brain aches now with all that business talk. Though I did it for a good cause, eh? And it is an interesting story: the first man, he had---" He looked at my face and paused. "But maybe another time, my friend. Come, this way. I got them in a pen on the other side of the barn."
The six animals were fine enough. Oh, perhaps two were a bit older than I might have anticipated, all of them a bit more scruffy, slightly thinner than I had hoped. But they were all healthy and passable enough, befitting the occasion.
"It is surely not good to have them out here in this pen all day and night, in all kinds of weather," I said, after a few minutes of contemplation.
"You are right my friend, of course. For that, I hired a boy -- the youngest son of my farmer friend. He feeds the sheep each day, then leads them into the barn at night. There is no need to worry, my friend; have I ever done you wrong? Of course not."
A few more minutes passed as I continued to examine the animals. There was little conversation, besides my occasional, lackadaisical questioning and his quick and confident replies. He was patient enough, and when I had exhausted my small bag of questions, he was the first to bring up the subject of price.
I had known this man long enough to know that money was always an issue -- or rather the issue of money was an issue. Despite the many years he had spent at polishing and honing his craft, still his approach to the subject was never quite perfect. He felt embarrassed, I think, whenever he had to name a price; it became more a duty to him, than the pinnacle of his craft.
That day, I settled the matter briskly, agreeing upon only the third offered price. Then I called for my horse, gently refusing his offer of a drink on the merit of the quickly setting sun. He embraced me once again, though this time he held in his verbal congratulations. Just before leaving, already mounted on my horse, I remembered my duty as a friend. I invited him to the wedding and rode off. The pounding of the horse's hooves upon the well-packed earth deafened his response.
"Marriage is a sacred bond, my friends, between a man and a woman, a bond that cannot be justly broken except by death. Each of you stands here now, before all of your people and before the Almighty, to swear..." The minister continued as eloquently as he could, while my mind slowly drifted -- to the bright, light blue sky; to the beauty of the Earth, and of this wedding in particular. I sat in the front row but no one seemed to notice my faraway gaze.
I leaned to my right and my eyes fell on the merchant, sitting across the aisle. I had expected him to sit on the bride's side, in the very last row, so as to avoid conflict with my two darlings. Yet somehow he had contrived a seat in the front row of the groom's side. He sat there, as natural as a pea in a pod, his usual smile an endless presence now. What kind of lies did he use to weasel his way amongst my new son-in-law's family? I began, for the first time, to doubt his moral fiber.
When the minister had finished and the couple taken their first kiss and the polite applause finished, the merchant rose and began a speech. Why could he possibly be giving a speech in these circumstances? What right or reason did he have? I began to sweat; I glanced around nervously -- no one else seemed surprised. I decided to listen:
"...tragic death of my brother, I am given the honor and duty of giving away this fine man, my nephew, to his beautiful new wife and her lovely new family. Congratulations, lad. One hundred years' good luck to you and yours! Thank you." The crowd applauded as my newest relative walked over and embraced me.