Authors: Peter Kenson
“What do you mean, my lord?”
“Manny looked after you in his way. He put food on the table, clothes on your backs and a roof over your heads. Even if it was only a tent.”
“He looked after us in other ways as well, my lord,” Leyla added.
“Yes, I’m sure he did. But let’s just stick to the food and the clothes for the moment. He provided for you and I killed him. I, therefore, have a responsibility for the two of you and I will
continue to provide for you. But with one important difference.”
“What’s that, my lord?”
“I am not Manny and you are not my property. I will continue to look after you for as long as need be, until
want to do with your lives. You may meet someone and fall in love. Or we may pass through a town and you decide you want to stop and settle down instead of a life of travelling. Whatever the circumstances, whenever it happens, you will be free to go and you will have a dowry and my blessing.”
“So you weren’t throwing us out because you didn’t like us, milord?” Mo asked slyly.
There was a tinge of exasperation in his voice as he replied. “I was never throwing you out at all. And certainly not because I don’t like you. I just wanted you to know that, with Manny’s death, you now have a choice as to what you do with your lives.”
The two girls looked at each other for a moment. Held stiffened as he felt first one hand then another slip in beneath his shirt and a warm glow started to spread through his loins.
“Then, milord…,” Mo started. “…we choose to stay,” Leyla finished.
The white dreams did not come back that night.
When he woke the next morning, the girls were already up and busying themselves around the tent.
“Good morning, my lord,” they chorused. “Did you sleep well?”
“You know very well how I slept. What little sleep you allowed me.”
“You were very energetic, my lord,” Leyla giggled.
“And ready to fight another day, it would appear, milord,” Mo added.
“Alright. Enough already.” Held scowled at them as he made a grab for his clothes which had somehow been folded neatly at the foot of the bed. “And would you please drop this ‘my lord’ business. I am nobody’s lord… least of all yours. And if we are going to be sharing a bed together then you can’t keep calling me ‘my lord’ all the time.”
“Then how are we to address you, my lord?”
Held hesitated for a second. “My given name is David. When we are alone together, within the walls of this tent, you can call me David.”
“David.” Mo appeared to consider this for a minute. “David. I like it. It is a strange name but I think it suits you.”
“Thank you,” he replied with a smile. “I’m sure my parents are grateful for your approval. How about you, Leyla. Do you approve also?”
“Yes, I think so. Yes I like the sound of it… David.”
“Good, then if that’s sorted, I’m going out to exercise.”
“Yes, my… David. We will have food prepared for your return.”
“Thank you. Please prepare a little extra this morning. We will have company for breakfast.”
David lifted the flap and stepped out into the early morning sun, only to nearly stumble over Jaks who was loitering outside.
“Jaks! What the devil… What are you doing here?”
you, milord. You said that if you stayed you’d teach me sword fighting.”
Held paused in mid-stride. “So I did, Jaks. So I did. But does it have to be this morning?”
“I’ve borrowed one of the practice swords, milord. So I’d be ready.” Jaks reached behind his back and produced one of the wooden swords from the previous day’s competition.
Held looked at the gangly youth standing there with an earnest expression on his face and sighed.
“Okay. For this morning, just stand behind me and try to copy the moves. Later, when we
have more time, I will teach you each move individually, the name of the move and what it’s used for. But for now, just try to copy what I do.”
Held thrust all thoughts of Jaks out of his mind as he concentrated on the sequence of moves in the morning ritual, occasionally grimacing with pain as he stretched the bruised area that Manny had given him the night before. When he finished he turned to find Jaks whirling like a demented dervish amid a chorus of chuckles and outright laughter from the circle of men surrounding them.
He gave a little chuckle himself as he called out, “Alright, Jaks. Stop now.
“And you men, you can laugh as much as you like but at least he wants to learn and he’s trying to learn. Cast your minds back, all of you, to your first day on the practice field and think whether or not you were the butt of the older men’s humour. Or of some grizzled old Master-of-Arms who put bruises on every part of your body that he could reach, and some that you didn’t think he ought to be able to.”
The group fell silent and looked a little shamefaced until one of them called out, “Sorry Jaks. But it was a good show.” That started them all off again and chuckling to themselves the group moved off back into camp.
“Don’t mind them, Jaks. There’s not many of them would have done much better on their first day. Now, run and put that stick away and then I have some errands for you. Find Bern
Wolfslayer and Ash Farseer
and ask them to join me for breakfast in my tent. And then go to Marta and ask, mind you, ask politely if she would join me as well.”
“And if she asks if Feynor should come, tell her no. I will come to him and talk after breakfast. Got that?”
“Yes milord. Ash, Bern and Marta in your tent for breakfast and you will go to see Feynor later.”
“Right. Off you go.”
As Jaks departed at a fast run, Held headed for the water barrel to wash the sweat off before pulling his shirt back on. As he walked through the camp he acknowledged the nods of both the men and the women. There was no sign of disapproval of the previous night’s events.
Back at the tent, he found the two men waiting outside for him. Marta appeared a few moments later, still smoothing down her apron and looking a little flustered.
“Come in and make yourselves comfortable. Find somewhere to sit. Marta you take the chair.”
“Oh no. I couldn’t do that, milord. That’s your chair. I’ll be fine here,” she said seating herself on a rug.
“No it’s not my chair. It was Manny’s chair and I hate it already. He used it as a kind of throne and I will not do that. And if I can’t even persuade my guests to use it then it’s of no use to me.”
He turned to Leyla and Mo. “Get that thing out of here. I don’t care what you do with it but I never want to see it again. Chop it up for firewood or something.”
He grabbed one of the camp stools and sat down. There were bowls of fruit and plates of cold meat set out in front of them. “Please help yourselves,” he said, noting a certain reluctance amongst his guests to be the first to eat.
“Mo, this food looks delicious but where did it all come from? The company’s stores?”
The girls stopped and put the chair down in the entrance to the tent. “Uh… not exactly, milord. Manny had his own private supplies.”
“I see. Well I’m sure we won’t let this meal go to waste but when we have finished, I want you to take Manny’s private supplies and put them with the rest of the supplies for the whole company. From now on, I eat what the men eat. And so do you.”
He looked back at his guests. “Now please help yourselves. That is just one of the changes that will happen around here if I am going to lead this company.
“The mood in the camp seems quite cheerful this morning. Are there any problems?”
“We lost one man overnight,” Bern said. “Sam
Wainer, one of the wagon masters. It’s no great surprise. He was very tight with Manny and not very popular with the rest of the men. The sentry reported to me but I said to let him go. I hope that was okay.”
“I said last night that anybody could leave if they didn’t want to be here. I’m just relieved it was only one. What did he take?”
“Only his horse and weapons and what looked like a small bag of provisions.”
, shame about the provisions but still… it could have been worse. Right then, I will assume that everyone else wants to be a part of this new company but I will be asking each one of them for their personal oath of allegiance. If any man does not want to give me his oath then he may leave on the same terms as Sam
Wainer. Do you think that will be a problem?”
“No, I don’t think so milord,” Ash replied.
“I can certainly speak for the archers, milord,” Bern added. “They will be fine with that.”
“Good. That brings me nicely on to my next point. Marta, you are here for two reasons. Firstly you are representing Feynor, although I will go and speak with him directly we have finished here. I would like to appoint the three of you, well you two plus Feynor to be my lieutenants and take charge of a section of the company. Ash, obviously the scouts, Bern the archers and Feynor the swordsmen. If you agree, you will be entered into the books as officers of the company and take a correspondingly increased share of the profits, should the company ever make any. What do you say?”
“We should be honoured, milord,” Ash and Bern replied together. “As will Feynor,” Marta added.
“Good. Now Marta, I also invited you here in your own right because you appear to be the unofficial leader of the camp wives and other followers.”
“Well I don’t know where you’ve got that from, milord. I’ve certainly never put myself forward like that,” she huffed.
“Peace Marta, peace,” he laughed. “I wasn’t implying that you were pushing yourself forward. But you are very much in tune with the mood of the camp and with the company in general. And I wanted to say to you that I would value your advice and opinions at any time. Particularly on any matters which officers of the company might find difficult to bring to my attention.”
“Well,” she sniffed. “I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean, milord. But you can take it that both Feynor and I will be happy to help in any way we can.”
“Thank you, Marta. That’s all I ask. Now we need to start putting right some of the events of the last week. We have to return the supplies that we took from the village last week, together with the Lady Falaise of course.”
“That will leave us very short for the winter, milord,” warned Marta.
“I guessed as much but it will have to be done. We will have to find some other way of restocking our supplies. Earning our keep somewhere or buying supplies at a market if the company has enough funds. I take it there is a strong box somewhere with the company funds in it?”
“Oh yes my lord,” Leyla called out. “It’s at the back here under these rugs but Manny had the only key.”
“Ah, that will probably be this one then,” Marta said, producing a key from under her apron. “I found it round his neck while we were laying out the body last night.”
“Marta, you are a treasure,” he said taking the key. “All right girls, let’s have it over here and see what we’ve got to play with.”
It took both girls to lift the box from the back of the tent which, Held thought, was an encouraging sign. He fitted the key in the lock and it turned smoothly. But when he lifted the lid there were gasps of shock from all around. Inside the box was a ledger containing the company records, two small leather purses and the rest of the box was filled with rocks.
Nobody said anything for a long moment. Held looked at the others and saw nothing but shock on all their faces.
“Okay then. Not a word of this to anyone,” he warned. He lifted the two purses out. “Let’s see what we have here.”
He tipped the first purse onto the rug. It contained eight silver talons, one double talon and a couple of copper
groats. The second purse contained no coins but a handful of brightly coloured pebbles. “Has the company not been making any money this year?”
“Yes milord,” Bern replied. “There’s been a steady stream of money coming in all summer from… various activities.”
“I’m not concerned with where it came from. At the moment all I’m concerned with is where it has gone to. Leyla, is there anywhere else that Manny could have hidden this money?”
“I don’t think so, my lord. He always carried a purse with him but he would have taken it off to fight last night, so it must be around somewhere,” she said, rummaging through a chest of clothes.
“Ah here it is.” She emerged with another purse and shook it to produce a clinking sound.
Held tipped the contents onto the rug alongside the others. It was a little better. Nine silver talons, three double talons, two five
groat coins and a couple of singles and, gleaming brightly amongst the rest, one golden eagle.
“Huh, not exactly a king’s ransom, is it? That golden eagle will fetch fifty talons at any honest money changer so that makes a total of 75 talons and a handful of coppers. Certainly not enough to feed the company through the winter.”
He picked up one of the pebbles. “These might be interesting though, if they are what I think they are.”
“And what’s that, milord?”
“Uncut gemstones. Emeralds I think all except these two which I don’t recognise. Should be worth some money if we could get them to the right merchant. But it would probably have to be a big city merchant. We’d never sell them in a country market.”
“So what do we do now, milord?”
“Well, the first thing is, we tell nobody about this. Not a word. With the exception of Feynor,” he added to Marta. “He has a right to know. Leyla, Mo, I want you to go through every scrap of Manny’s possessions and see what you can find. Check the chests for false bottoms, check the furniture for hidden compartments. Did Manny have his own wagon?”
“Search that too. Check for hidden compartments again….” He paused as a thought struck him. “Who used to drive Manny’s wagon?”