Aine walked with the two sons of the House of Karred. His vastly smaller homestead was on the way to theirs. The sun was dropping lower in the sky and, in the shade of the trees, the late afternoon chill was noticeable to all of them.
Aine didn’t share it with them, but he was nervous. He would be hard-pressed to come up with a mark in time to pay the porter. He didn’t have one and doubted that his maenna would either. Not that he could ask her for one if she did. That was out of the question.
Perhaps the porters would accept something in exchange for his mark—some milk, cheese, eggs or bread. It wouldn’t be too difficult to prepare a mark’s worth of rations. Only worth it if they were willing.
“Heroes and porters!” Gaenid said, walking between Aine and Kolredd.
Both men looked at him.
“What?” Kolredd asked him.
“You heard me. Heroes and porters.” He flashed a bright smile at his older brother and then turned and repeated it for Aine.
“What are you about?” Aine smiled, momentarily forgetting his quandary. The shorter man’s enthusiasm was infectious.
“In all the stories that we’ve been told, all the great adventures, the heroes had porters carrying their belongings. We do, as well!”
“We’re not heroes,” Aine responded, the smile still in his voice.
“Aine’s right,” said Kolredd, although the smile on his face indicated that he liked the idea. “We’re farmers, most of us.”
“For now, yes,” said Gaenid. “But when we return from the Pit, we’ll be heroes.”
Aine shook his head. “Heroes?”
“And porters?” Aine continued.
“Heroes to who?” Kolredd asked. “We aren’t saving anyone. We aren’t righting some wrong. We aren’t protecting our lands from trolls or giants.”
“Trolls or giants? Where?”
The three men looked up to see Maerrah and Evanshah rounding the bend in the trail coming toward them. The two girls were sisters, a few years younger than the men. Their homestead was back toward the village. It was Maerrah who had asked the question.
Aine and Kolredd both looked from the girls to Gaenid. Maerrah had been pursuing Karred’s Fourthborn for over a year now, in a manner that was too aggressive to be entirely proper. Gaenid was cagey at best about his feelings for the girl; the smile had left his face.
The five of them stopped as they came to within a couple of paces of one another. The girls were both wearing their Family Sashes for Marketday, as was the custom for the women of New Tharrenton. The small cloths, which looped over their necks and tied at their waists, were heavily embroidered. Flowers and trees of the forest surrounded their family sigil: A hoe and an axe crossed in front of stylized crops, all in font of a large green oak tree. Fringes of deep red, bright blue, and summer green hung from its edges.
“Where are you coming from, so late in the afternoon?” Aine asked them.
“Delivering eggs and other sundries to the Silmardans and some of the other families for our panna,” Maerrah answered and then turned her gaze directly at Gaenid. “What’s this talk of trolls and giants?”
Evanshah laughed at the question.
“The Pit.” Gaenid cleared his throat and repeated himself, “The Pit. The boys have finally decided to join me!”
Kolredd and Aine both looked at him incredulously. “Decided? To join you?”
“Oh, have they?” Maerrah smiled and look at each of them in turn. “You’re going there?”
Evanshah laughed again and then asked, “Do you think you’ll find some? In the Pit? Trolls and giants?”
The interaction annoyed Aine. Most people didn’t speak lightly of the Pit, or of what might be found there. It was obviously a joke to the girls. Was it a joke to his companions?
Aine stepped aside and began to leave the conversation behind.
“Aine!” Kolredd called.
“Maenna’s waiting and the evening chores,” Aine responded over his shoulder. He hoped his annoyance wasn’t evident in his voice.
As he left the four behind and their voices quieted behind him, his mind immediately returned to the tariff for the porters. A whole mark. The amount would be no problem for Kolredd and Gaenid—they probably each had a pile of marks to their name, sitting in a chest somewhere in their homestead. Unlike them, however, his farm was small, his family even smaller—his maenna and himself. He would have to work to gather that coinage.
A moment later, Kolredd and Gaenid caught up with Aine. As their footsteps drew closer behind him, Gaenid called out to him, “We have the porters. Do you know what else heroes need?”
Aine couldn’t help but smile. Gaenid was starting to believe his own stories! He didn’t bother to attempt to answer; he knew that Gaenid would be answering the question momentarily.
Aine paused, just long enough for the others to catch him before continuing.
“Porters carry the kit, build the camp, tend the fire. Squires join the heroes, carry their weapons, stand ready to assist.”
“There are no heroes,” Kolredd insisted.
“There can be squires.”
Kolredd only shook his head.
As ludicrous as the idea initially sounded to Aine, it quickly grew on him. There was a purpose to having ‘squires’ as Gaenid called them. Aine had a few boys in mind.
Shortly, they came to an intersection in the path. Aine moved to turn from the main thoroughfare.
“Where to?” asked Kolredd.
“A quick errand before home. Soft ground and sharp sickles!”
The two returned the friendly fairwell and then continued toward the House of Karred.
Aine rapped on the low wooden door of the Silmarden homestead. He heard laughter and the sounds of supper within. The Silmardans were a large family—certainly larger than his own. The homestead housed at least ten people from three generations, and they were good people. There was a clatter from within, someone moving toward the door. Aine wondered who would greet him.
Standing in the deepening gloom, Aine gazed at the Silmarden family sigil painted on the doorstone directly above the door: Five stalks of golden baerli, above a blue stream. Behind was a forest, above which rose two grayish green hills. The baerli harvest was coming soon. Would Wornen be willing?
At just that instant, Carngrae, the patriarch of the clan, opened the door. Light spilled out into the evening gloom.
“Who’s there? Aine!” The man was surprised to see him but gave him a nod and a smile. “Shouldn’t you be supping with Tiresse by now?”
“Aye, I should, sir. I’m heading there now.”
“What’s your aim?”
“Is Wornen in? I’d like to speak to him.”
“A task? An extra chore?” Carngrae asked, thinking he understood the nature of Aine’s visit. It wasn’t uncommon for the families of New Tharrenton to work together when extra hands were needed. He turned into the house and called, “Wornen! Aine—about a chore!” He left Aine standing at the open door as he moved back into the house and returned to the commonroom table.
Wornen quickly appeared.
“We’re going to the Pit,” Aine said quietly, not even giving the fifteen year old a chance to speak.
Wornen’s eyes widened, and then he stepped into the evening air and pulled the door shut behind him.
“Who?” he asked excitedly.
“The six of us,” Aine answered. “We decided at Market.”
“If you want to go.” Aine paused. “I’ll need to convince Kolredd.”
Wornen pondered the answer and then fell downcast. “The harvest,” he commented dejectedly. His panna expected him to help, as did the father of every son in and around New Tharrenton. The decision to skip it would not be an easy one.
“I know,” Aine replied, sympathetically patting the boy on the shoulder. “You’ll need to decide.”
“The fields are almost ready…” He fell into thought.
Aine understood the boy’s dilemma, but he didn’t have time that evening to wait. “Carngrae will not be without help. Aurbin and the boys can handle the harvest.”
Wornen thought it over. “It’s the harvest, Aine. You don’t know—”
“What? I don’t know, because most of my family’s fields lie fallow? Because it is only my maenna and I? Is it because—”
“Aine!” Wornen interrupted. “I’m sorry. I… Give me some time to think about it.”
“You have a sixday.”
“Are you going to ask anyone else?”
“Probably Right Cheek.”
“Does that mean you’re going to start calling me ‘Wyrm’ again?” Wornen asked defiantly.
‘Right Cheek’ was the derogative nickname for Rebley Aggsby, another fifteen year old. He had a large brown birthmark that extended from the middle of his right cheek to beneath his jaw. Not only did the mark sharply contrast with his pale face, a dark tuft of black hair grew from it, in sharp contrast to his red hair. Likewise, Wornen was called ‘Wyrm’ when he was younger due to the large purple birthmark on his back and left side. The mark seemed to wind around his kidney like a snake.
“Not tonight. But perhaps at the Pit.”
Wornen did not appreciate Aine’s attempt at humor. He opened the door to his house. “I’ll let you know.”
Gaenid and Kolredd continued toward their father’s lands after Aine left them at the intersection. They walked in silence for several moments, which was common when they were alone together.
Kolredd fancied himself the de facto leader of their group of friends. His personality demanded that he take a leadership role. As Thirdborn, he held very little sway within the structure of the House of Karred so it was natural to him that he would be the leader of their small band. That he was oldest of their group only reinforced the idea in his mind. Gaenid, as Fourthborn, was content to acquiesce.
“Do you think the Houselord will allow it?” Gaenid asked his older brother.
“I do,” Kolredd responded simply. They left the forest and passed through a gate in a stone wall that marked the edge of their father’s property.
“Amathere?” Gaenid asked. “Ongrinn?” Karred might allow the ‘adventure’, but their two older brothers would surely have a different opinion.
“They’ve no stand to stop us. They won’t like it. But they aren’t Houselord.” Kolredd laughed and gently shoved his shorter brother. “But as I can wrestle you to the ground, I can do the same to them!”
Gaenid laughed in return. “Both of them?”
“If need be! What about you?”
“There’ll be stew. Perhaps after I eat!”
Kolredd laughed at the joke and then grew serious. “Do you think Kaise will cook us a farewell feast?”
Kaise was their younger sister, the Fifthborn of Karred. She was dearly loved by both of them.
“Kaise won’t be happy,” said Gaenid. “She’ll try to convince us to stay.”
“I’m surprised that Maerrah didn’t try to convince you to stay!” The large man broke into a bellow of a laugh. Gaenid blushed and punched him on the shoulder. “She might still yet!”
“At least I have several who’ll ask me to stay. Who in the entire village, other than Kaise, would care if you left?” It was Gaenid’s turn to laugh. “Even the Firstborn! He’ll only want you to stay to work the harvest!” Gaenid laughed so hard that he had to stop walking.
That is Chapter Two of my new novel, The Ramparts of Tharrenton Deep. Chapter One is located here.