Friday, April 22, 2016

The Iron Lily (Part 4)

Wye was noisier than Halthor had expected. The small village was a great deal smaller than his home of Starhaven but the squawking of geese and the noise of dogs seemed louder to him there. As he sat at his seat in the common room of the inn, Halthor noted that several people watched him with some interest. An elderly man was working his way into the depths of his cups though it was but a half hour past daybreak. As the white haired man drank Silas's ale and complained of the aches in his bones, Ysinda stirred the pot and chattered with the cheerful young woman who had come to her with some parcel.

Halthor ate his bread, feeling a twinge of homesickness as he realized that Aleric would have enjoyed the hearty black maslin bread. He drank his ale. Halthor was almost finished with his cup of ale when the bailiff of Wye walked into the inn. The auburn haired man looked at the man with snow dusting his black hair and felt some anxiety. The bailiff looked older in the wan light of the inn which seemed only marginally brighter than it was in the night before. As he stepped up to Halthor, the builder's stomach clenched and suddenly the heaviness of the bread he was eating made him queasy. "Matias had a bounty on his head. They tell me that he lies dead a half day's journey north," the bailiff said. As he brushed his hair back out of his face, Halthor noted that his hand seemed obscenely large and questioned what fate they held for him.

The bailiff looked at the discomfort in Halthor's face. He gave a thoughtful noise and nodded slightly. As he turned, he said, "Wye owes a debt to you. Matias was a plague upon us all. Lord Wintrin may want to see you over this." Out the corner of his eye, the bailiff watched as Halthor's expression of concern turned cautiously optimistic. "I can't give you the bounty, it's not my place," he said, "But I can tell you're of a mind to move on. We can give you some aid in your journey. The Black Wood is a dangerous place. You'll need something more than a hammer. When you are finished, come find me at the market stang." The bailiff started to walk away when Halthor spoke.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked. The bailiff looked over his shoulder. The bailiff gave him the barest of smiles before walking away. Silas walked up as Halthor shook his head in confusion. As Halthor set his nigh empty cup down, the inn keeper put a full loaf of black bread before him. Halthor looked up. "I only paid for a half loaf," he said as he sloshed the dregs of his drink in the beech cup that Silas had put before him earlier. Silas clapped him on the shoulder.

"What is your name?" the inn keeper asked.

"Halthor Sigridsonne," he answered. The inn keeper nodded.

"Your name will not be forgotten here," Silas said, "Matias robbed us of wealth three times in the past. And terrorized Ysinda. Thanks to you, we can raise our child in peace. When you come north again, stop here. We are in your debt." Halthor realized he couldn't argue with the inn keeper so he finished his ale. As he picked up the loaf of bread and moved to put it into his pack that was sitting beside him, he wondered what strangeness awaited him down the day's road. Halthor picked up his coat and cast it about himself. As he picked up his coat and hung his hammer from his belt, he shook his head at his situation.

Halthor set his pack upon his shoulders and walked out of the inn. The thin dog that had followed him in the evening trotted up to him. The dog's blotchy white and dun colored coat looked ragged and Halthor wondered when the last time the animal was fed. He leaned down and scratched the mutt behind the ears before walking to the stang hoisted at the center of the village. The bailiff stood talking with his deputies and Halthor felt a spasm of anxiety. The two younger men looked over at him before walking off as he approached. The bailiff held a small sack in his right hand. He held it out to Halthor.

"Griff and Toby will be back in a minute. There's one more thing that they're getting," the big man said as Halthor took the red leather sack. He started to open it when the bailiff reached out and put a hand on his arm. "Wait until you're out of Wye," he said, "It will keep. And you have many a league to put behind you today. I'll answer your questions when you come north again." Halthor questioned what was in the bag that was almost small enough to fit completely in his hand. When the bailiff clapped him on the shoulder and pointed off towards the left, Halthor looked over. The sallow man with the crooked nose that Halthor guessed was Griff walked down a lane with a grey pony on a halter at his side. On the left side of the pony, Toby strode carrying a cloth rolled up and what Halthor thought was a saddle on his shoulder.

The deputies and the pony walked up to him. As Halthor looked at the pony, he shook his head. "I can't take this," he said as he turned back to the bailiff. Toby threw the saddle cloth over the pony's back before setting the saddle on her. As he cinched down the girth, Griff shifted his cloak and revealed two small axes thrust through his belt. The bailiff gave Griff a stern look before he pulled one of the axes free. Halthor stepped back, expecting it to be swung at him. When Griff held it out to him haft first, Halthor blinked. "Why are you doing this?" he said, unable to keep the note of confused anxiety out of his voice.

"You'll need this," the bailiff said, "the Royal road is hard going south towards Wynnwode. I'd prefer it if you arrived alive."

"But you don't even know who I am or where I am going," Halthor retorted.

The bailiff twitched aside Halthor's cloak. He gestured towards the hammer. "You have the iron lily. I saw it when you held that hammer last night ready to defend Silas Aleman from me," he said, "That is all I need to know. Lord Wintrin told me to give aid to the man with the iron lily when he goes south. Now, when you go past the high trees near the ledge, keep that hammer hidden. That's the southern edge of Lord Wintrin's domain. Lord Cuthbert has hired hard men to look for that sign. No man traveling to or from Lord Cuthbert's lands has gone unmolested in the last seven years. Some say that he's taken the black priests into his hire. It would explain some of the tales I have heard."

Halthor frowned down at the hammer hanging at his right side. "Stay on the Royal road," the bailiff continued, reaching to take Halthor's pack from his shoulders. Moving as though in a dream, Halthor let the bailiff take the pack and lash it to the pony. Griff thrust the axe more forcefully at Halthor. Halthor took it and looked down. Impressed on the side of the axe head was another stylized lily. This lily, however, was worn and not immediately recognizable unless one knew what they were looking at. Halthor looked from the axe to Griff. The silent man gave a small nod, though Halthor couldn't tell if it was approval or something else.

At the side of the pony, Toby made a step of his hands. Halthor swallowed uncomfortably, never having ridden before. He stepped into Toby's hands and swung himself into the saddle. The pony whickered but did nothing more to acknowledge its living burden. The dog walked between the men to sniff at the pony. "Seems you made a friend," the bailiff said, "May he serve you well." Halthor looked down at the dog, which raised its head to give a curious bark. Griff handed Halthor the halter for the pony that served as rough reins.

"Just tell her what to do," Griff said, breaking his silence with his gravely voice, "She's smarter than she looks. Elf-stock, she is. The runt of the herd, though." Halthor swallowed uncomfortably. "Get on wi' yeh," Griff muttered authoritatively at the pony. She tossed her head and snorted. Giving Halthor a brief look, the pony began to walk south along the road. As he rode out of the village, the dog with the red ears and tail tip trotted in his wake.

No comments:

Post a Comment