The Baker Who Loved Bread

Once upon a time, there was a King who walked astride his world—here, there, and everywhere. He became poor in order to be like the people he loved, and he lived among the outcasts in order to feel their pain.

The baking complex was hidden in the heart of Deepest Forest, close to the clearing where the Great Celebrations were held. It was important to the Chief Baker that the breads from his ovens be served warm and fresh at the banquet tables. He had carefully planned this cluster of stone houses where the bakers lived and the many, outdoor clay ovens—some large, some small, some with roaring fires, some with smoldering charcoal beds. Each oven was designed to bake a different kind of bread to perfection.

This baker had worked hard to become chief. His father had been a baker and his grandfather before that, but he had his own particular genius for making bread. His doughs were lighter and more nourishing than any his ancestors had ever kneaded! There wasn’t a dough of any kind—wheat or rye or corn—that didn’t become tasty and delicious after his touch.

The Chief Baker particularly loved making special breads for the Great Celebrations. He loved to twist and braid dough. He loved to invent new recipes for sweet breads. He loved muffins and biscuits and brioches and croissants. He loved to hear the “Oooohs!” of the King’s subjects when, with a flourish, the banquet procession was begun and his many bakers carried his creations into the feast in great baskets.

“Chief Baker’s done it again!” everyone always exclaimed. “No one can make breads that melt in your mouth like these!”

Bread, the Chief Baker knew, gave special strength, so he prepared baskets of round, black loaves to feed those who had spent the morning at the practice field. He admired the Rangers and enjoyed preparing nourishing squash-and-cheese breads for them to carry on watch.

After that, however, he drew the line. He refused to send baskets of bread to the old Mercie, though she had never requested it from him. She has a fireplace and recipes of her own, Chief Baker thought. Besides, it would only encourage her and that crazy husband of hers to keep filling Great Park with weird people. If these outcasts had so much wrong with them, they must have done something to deserve it. They certainly were not worthy of the King’s bread.

One day the Chief Baker inspected his new invention, a wooden paddle wheel that kneaded thirty loaves of bread at the same time. Genius, he thought.

At that moment, Chief Baker noticed someone walking up the path to the open clearing of the baking complex. It was a woman carrying a baby in her arms. Her clothes were ragged.

Chief Baker looked around for his assistant, but he could see that the boy was in the middle of rolling out flaky pastry. All the other bakers seemed to be busy: grinding flour, measuring ingredients, watching loaves in the oven. I’ll handle this intruder myself, he thought.

Still he hated interruptions. Good bread was a matter of timing. A moment too soon, a moment too late, and all was lost.

“What do you want?” he asked the woman, gruffly, as he met her on the path.

Her baby whined. Its little head hung limply on its neck. “Please, sir,” the woman answered.

“Some bread. We lost our way in the forest, my child and I, and we have not eaten for two days.”

A likely story, thought Chief Baker. These kind of people were always looking for a handout, the lazy things. “Can’t you see I’m getting ready for the Great Celebration? We have hundreds of loaves to bake today. I can’t be bothered just now. Go find Mercie. She’s always feeding your kind.”

The baby whined again, and Chief Baker thought that the woman tried to look even more pathetic than she was. He relented a little and drew a map in the dirt. “This is the way to Caretaker’s cottage,” he explained.

No sooner had the beggar woman left than Chief Baker spied something moving in the woods. Someone was hiding behind a bush…

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