He woke slowly, basking in the glow of the sun on his face.
As he opened his eyes and sat up, two things instantly jarred Ron out of his half-asleep state. One, that the red wine from last night had indeed, resulted in a hangover, for he’d drunk the better part of the bottle. And two – a very sore lump had risen over night on the back of his neck. Between the two, Ron’s head was pounding.
“Ow,” he muttered as he prodded the welt were those assholes had clouted him yesterday.
Ron yawned and slid out of bed.
The clump of hay where Kylon had fallen asleep last night was empty and no blanket either. Ron sighed and shrugged. Street kids. The hammer was left behind in the center of the anvil, however. Odd, that, Ron mused, but right now he didn’t pause to consider its ramifications as his head was pounding.
He stepped outside for some water and heard a rustle. Customers?
Instead, Ron found Kylon sweeping the stables clean. The boy looked up. He pointed to his neatly folded blanket which hung over a stall and then admitted with a guilty expression, “He – the master – he started…” and then Kylon’s voice dropped to a whisper. Behind his hand, Kylon whispered, “He started snoring – and I couldn’t sleep – so I came out here and slept.” He shrugged up at Ron in apology.
Ron looked down at the ground in amusement. Aloud to Kylon, he smiled. “He’s been known to do that, I’m afraid. I’ve learned to sleep through it. You’ll get used to it soon enough.”
Ron chugged several gulps of clean water from the water barrel down and then told Kylon, “Now, let’s put some breakfast together.”
Ron normally did not eat breakfast, but growing children needed to, especially growing, undernourished, soon-to-be blacksmith apprentices. Well, if the boy stayed, that was.
He watched how quickly Kylon – or perhaps Pylon – consumed his breakfast, and knew he’d have to take a trip to the Market or the boy would be eating hay for lunch.
Most of the morning was spent explaining to Kylon what the tools of the forge were, how they operated, and what blacksmiths did. He even pulled the tongs out of the forge and molded a bit of steel on the anvil for the boy.
Twice, he gave the boy a bit of a break. And why not, for an eight-year-old’s attention wandered and waned after just a few hours. Ron, too, needed the break, so he could splash some water on the pulsing lump on the back of his head.
The second time he stepped outside for a drink at the water barrel, Ron saw something rustling in the breeze against the forge.
Nailed to one of the wooden beams were two cored apple skins over the top of a blank piece of pigeon parchment.
Shit. Ron was to go to The Brew House and Tavern and wait to be approached with information.
And he was convinced that this visit would be concerning the people in the carriage yesterday. How was Ron supposed to work that into a covert conversation, when what he really wanted to say was, “Two bloody knockers kidnapped me and threw me into their carriage!” That should make for some interesting conversation. Or maybe he’d just show them the lump on the back of his head.
It was only snoon but if Ron picked up groceries from the Market Place and placed an order at the tailor for a tunic and breeches for Kylon’s size, it’d be after noon and Ron could stop at The Brew House.
Ron cleaned himself up and told Kylon to watch the forge until he returned. Once he told Kylon that he wouldn’t be gone long and that he’d be returning with groceries for lunch, Kylon brightened. Amused, Ron recalled vaguely eating everything he could stuff in his mouth while he was growing up.
Ron browsed about the Market Place for the extra amounts of eggs, vegetables and fruits he’d need to feed his own small apprentice, and bought two loaves of bread from the baker as well.
The tailor eyed him with curiosity when Ron described the measurements for Kylon’s tunic and breeches but asked no questions. If the boy stayed on for two weeks, then Ron would have a small sigil stitched onto Kylon’s tunic, just a small one, without his name, but the same crossed hammers and anvil as Ron’s.
Finally, Ron stepped into The Brew House and Tavern. What Ron wanted was a good pint, for whatever it was that his employers had to impart, it was serious enough that it couldn’t wait until the next Market Day, and so a good ale would help Ron wash it down. And possibly even numb that bump on his neck.
The Captain crossed his path as he stepped toward the bar. “Captain,” Ron gave the tomcat a precursory salute and then slumped into his bar stool.
Hasley set his usual basket of bread and bowl of hot stew before him, though her smile was an absent one, for she immediately moved on to new customers who sat down at a table across the bar.
Ron stretched his visit out by dipping a slice of buttered bread into his stew, waiting for someone to arrive.
Ellia brought him a pint of ale, for which Ron was grateful. Not often was The Brew House and Tavern busy at noon, but it had its days. Usually, only a few customers strayed through.
A man seated himself one barstool over from Ron. Ah. Finally. He placed a pear on the bar. He ordered a full loaf of bread from Ellia to take with him. Ellia smiled and disappeared behind the swinging kitchen doors.
After she was gone, the man commented, “I see you took the boy in.”
Ron, confused, thought, that’s what they’re here to talk to me about?
Ron continued to stare at the wall before him, but returned lowly, “He’ll be of no trouble.”
The other man responded just as covertly, “See that he’s not.”
Then Ellia returned from the kitchen with a warm loaf of crusty bread. She smiled while the man paid her and wished her a good afternoon.
As Ron’s Market Place representative turned away, his elbow knocked the pear to the floor, though he appeared to take no notice. Ron recognized that this stunt was for his benefit alone.
Once Ron heard The Brew House door creak to a close, he casually reached down and added the pear to his basket. But there was a piece of pigeon parchment, folded into such a tiny wad that it was almost invisible upon the wooden planks. Ron swiped it up and slipped it into his boot.
It was everything he could do not to hurry through the rest of his meal, for this had never happened. Even meeting like this in The Brew House was highly irregular. But, as he pushed his empty pint and stew bowl toward Hasley, he decided on a whim to order a full loaf of Luvian’s bread to take with him. After all, Kylon was like to eat him and Master Cradwick out of the forge, so why not have a loaf of Luvian’s bread to himself? And he could also follow the representative’s example….
Ron was sure the pear was for him to follow the code, per usual, indicate his understanding once he received his information. He’d let it sit out in front of the street for one of them to see after he’d bitten into it.
Once he arrived back at Cradwick’s forge, Ron stepped with silence behind the stable, so that Kylon would not know he’d returned. He drew in a deep breath and pulled the pigeon parchment from his boot. Amazed at the care taken to wad it into such a tiny square, Ron finally unfolded it and tilted it toward the sunlight to read it….
By the time Ron finished reading the parchment in full, he found his mouth had dropped open.
He read it a second time.
And then a third….