Quill and Ink => Stories => Topic started by: DonaCatalina on June 02, 2011, 02:48:01 PM

Title: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 02, 2011, 02:48:01 PM
Once upon a time...well, all stories start that way don't they? But the truth is that some part of the story has been going on long before you stumble across it. But we are entering the story as a caravan of tinkers is trundling down the road. The colorful wagon seats are filled men and women enjoying a little late winter sunshine while they can. A riotous pack of dogs, of every size and color, moves along with the five wagons, sometimes falling behind and sometimes exploring the grasses along the road's edge. Not quite as boisterous, a group of children aged four and up ride their ponies among the dogs. Unlike the dogs, the children are careful to remain in sigght of the wagons. If you were to observe the cavalacade for some time you would notice that a smiling, apple-cheeked woman on the second wagon kept one eye on the roving boys and girls, and another eye on her two-horse team. From her open expression and bright eyes, she seems the sort of person who would always have a spare sweet biscuit for any children who happened to be about. If you were to think that, you would probably be not far wrong. But in any case none of these children got to be very old before they had learned that it was wiser not to make this woman worry. The boys in particular seemed to have bottomless stomachs and would have been sore pressed had the supply of cookies dried up because they had misbehaved. But then again, as with all general rules, there are exceptions. The woman's bright eyes had noticed that one pony was missing even before the dogs started a furious barking off one side of the road.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 04, 2011, 09:57:45 AM
The wagons jerked to a stop, pots and pans on the sides clanging so many demented alarms. From the lead wagon, a dark haired man leapt down gracefully from the driver's bench. Through the chest high bushes he started off towards the sound of barking. From the second wagon a younger man also jumped down onto the road, but this one paused to draw a long stave from behind the seat. The riderless pony stood muching leaves from a nearby bush as the two men walked on past it still following the sound of barking. A clearing opened up under an ancient tree where a dark haired girl stood almost motionless except for twiddling the end of one long braid. A short sharp noise from the older man silenced the dogs as he lked over the scene before him. The bright green patch in the center of the clearing was not immediatelyrecognizable as a spring. But the smell of wet moss drew te observer to the tiny trickle of water that wound away behind the tree. Though wat held the people's attention was the sight next to the spring. Stretched out on her side as if in sleep was an old woman dressed completely in dark blue, her feet demurely tucked up behind her. But only a passing glance at her wizened face revealed that she lay there in death. Almost within touching distance of one outstretched hand was a large hooded basket. A faint mewling sound emanated from this so that the older man stepped forward and pulled off the lid. All three blinked in surprise to see two babes nestled inside all swaddled in pure white wool and linen. "Maireah!" the man called as the girl darted forward to pick up one of the babies. But then he picked up the second and examined the wrappings closely. "Da" the girl said "we can't leave these babies here. Can you tell who they might have been?" Shaking his head in puzzlement, he replied "There is no mark, no embroidery nr a crest on these blankets. Though this is the finest wool tha I have ever seen in my life, so I would have expected some noble family's mark." The younger man looked nervously around "Chrys, You know if we carry these two babes away we will be called baby stealing gypsies." Crys himself looked at his daughter's pleading face. "Mario, we will take them to the next town and see if anyone knows them" he announced "We can bury the old woman on the other side of this tree and mark the spot." The younger man's shoulders slumped in defeat, but he turned back towards the wagons with the other two.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 05, 2011, 11:35:40 AM
Maireah emerged from the bushes first leading her pony and her grandmother's face darkened as she thought of a suitable rebuke. But curiousity got ther better of her when she saw her oldest son Chrys come out of the bushes holding a large basket. This he brought right to his mother so that she could see the contents. "Two babies abandoned?" she asked in a voice that wavered between shock and anger. "Not exactly that" Chrys replied "Maireah and the dogs found an old woman by a spring not far away. She was already dead so we don't know if she was nurse or relative. And there was nothing to tell us the identity of the babes." She looked from her son to Maireah's hopeful face and then to Mario's unhappy one. "Can we be blamed for the woman's death?" she asked. With a shrug Chrys replied "I cannot see how, the woman has been dead for some time and the babies are too weak from hunger to even cry properly." The matriarch of the tinkers sat back on her seat and her demanor showed that she made a worrisome decision. "Maireah" she called to her granddaughter. "Yes Nana" the girl replied meekly grateful that she had escaped a scolding. "Take these babes to your Aunt Margery" her grandmother instructed "Since the fever took her wee one only days ago, she probably still has milk."
Maireah tied her pony to the wagon and lugged the heavy basket to the last wagon. Margery was not really her aunt, but a second cousin. Owing to the differences in age of the two cousins, Maireah had always referred to her as Aunt Margery. Upon seeing the contents of the basket, Margery's eyes briefly darkened with pain. "We found these orphans in the bushes" Maireah explained "and Nana hopes that you will be able to feed them. Margery exchanged a look with her husband Thom and then stretched out her hands for the basket. "Yes" she managed to say past the tightness in her throat "I can take them into the wagon now and feed them." After Margery disappeared inside the wago, Maireah returned to her pony a much more somber girl.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 07, 2011, 12:13:13 PM
After taking time to bury the old woman, the small caravan started back down the road. The time lost meant that dark found them still some distance from any town. Taking a chance that no one woul object to their presence for one night, the wagons were driven off the road where it crossed a substantial stream. Bertram, the man who drove Nana's wagon had joined the tinkers so long ago that none of them really remembered that he wasn't family. Chrys had come across him at a town fair trying to sell repaired pots from a satchel on his back. The two men had struck up a conversation, and as they say, the rest was history. This night Bertram helped Thom gather and break up some firewood while Thom's wife tended to the twins.Once Bertram had been as dark of hair as the other tinkers, which probably helped somewhat in the assimilation. But approaching sixty years of age meant that what hair that he had left was a grizzled color that was not silver, but was no longer dark.
When the cookfire was merrily dancing in a makeshift ring of stones, the children who were old enough to carry a bucket helped collect water from the stream. Little Cay always tried to help, but since the bucket was almost as big as he was, the most he succeeded in carrying back was half the water he started with. All of the adults who noticed him smiled sadly, but not because of the water. Cay was truly the orphan of this clan since he was the only child of Chrys's younger sister. A bandit raid in the western hills had claimed Cay's father and not long after his mother had died giving him life. And though all of the other spoiled him unmercifully, he somehow remained an angelic child. He and Bertram had formed a special bond, fatherless child and childless man found someone to be needed by who they had needed.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 08, 2011, 10:40:11 AM
The night settled gently around the little circle of wagons. For a short time the only sounds besides the late summer crickets were spoons scraping the last drops of soup from the bowls; which were then wiped clean with not-quite-stale bread. If the soup had been stretched a little thin to feed so many people, any of the tinkers would have blushed to say such a thing aloud. For once, camping unannounced in some farmer's pasture held no unpleasant surprises. In a time honored routine, the men took turns watching through the night for just in case. Bandits were not unheard of even on the well settled plains. Though their large size made the wagons slow and cumbersome, it meant comfortable sleeping for an oversize family that traveled almost constantly. Only in the deepest winter would the tinkers stop for a month or two.
Breakfast before daybreak was more bread and some smoked fish from the larder. For eight children and ten adults the nearby stream provided a chilly morning wash-up. Harnessing the horses took longer than usual since the tired animals looked on this spot as an equine paradise with grass and fresh running water. But in the end the men proved more stubborn than the horses. Once the five wagons were underway again, the road turned to follow the stream as both sloped down to the town and riverport. Traffic increased rapidly as soon as the morning sun cleared the horizon. Carters with wagons full of barrels and crates cast black looks at the slow moving tinker wagons. Just as often the tinkers passed peasant women who struggled down the road under heavy packs.  
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 09, 2011, 11:54:28 AM
The town below was probably the largest that the tinkers would ever visit. Every other village had its own blacksmith, but only the larger towns and cities would support a permanent tin smith's shop. There was still plenty of space in the market square when the tinkers arrived. Chrys left his brother Mario and cousin Hunnar to set up the portable workshops along with the older boys. With his wife Mairte, Thom and Margery, he set out to see the town alderman about the foundling twins. Long a busy riverport, the town was wealthy enough to boast square paving stones for the main roads at its heart. The alderman's meeting house had started out as a rather plain foursquare two-storey building. Sometime in the last century carved sandstone lintels had been added to the ground floor windows and doors. A blue liveried guard looked askance at the four tinkers as they approached his post at the entrance. "We need to see the alderman if you please" Chrys explained calmly. The guard was new, young and wanted to be stern. But Chrys had known and dealt with Master James here for the last twelve years. With only a slight delay, the quartet were admitted to a room where the alderman was just finishing up a late breakfast. "Master James" Chrys greeted him with the slightest of bows "We found a puzzle along the road and I thought it best to bring it before you." Wiping his mouth the alderman stood and came around the table, eyeing the hooded basket as if it contained a deadly serpent. "Goodman Tinker" the alderman replied "I have never known you to be frivolous what stands amiss this day?" A quick movement to lift the hood and Chrys revelaed the two babies peacefully sleeping off their own breakfast. "We found these two with a dead woman who may have been their nurse" Chrys explained carefully "Though the woman seemed to have died of old age, there was no wound on her." Even more puzzled now, Master James asked "Why do you lay this before me? Were there no martks among their swaddling to say who their family is?" Shaking his head sadly, a movement echoed by the others of his family Chrys responded "There was nothing and so I had hoped that you had news of some such missing babes." It was the alderman's turn to shake his head sadly. "I have heard naught of that" he answered "what is it you wish for me to do?" Margery's pleading eyes almost burned through the back of Chrys's head.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 10, 2011, 10:21:03 AM
"Master James" Chrys said hesitantly "the babes would not lack for a home if you know nothing where they belong. But We were especially worried because the clothes in which they were dressed was of a type suitable for the children of a king. If there is no news before we move to the next village, would you have word sent to us at Port Selkie? That is where we stop for the winter." Obviously relieved that the children would not be dropped in his lap, the alderman looked them over with a kinder eye. "Well" Master James drawled with a half smile "If Queen Adriana showed any sign of being with child, I would be more concerned. But such is not the case. You have my word that should I hear aught that pertains to these lost babes, I will send you word directly." Even without looking Chrys knew that Margery must be radiating happiness. The loss of her day old child had been almost more than she could bear although she had one son already. "Thank you Master James" Chrys said to the alerman with a slightly more pronounced bow "We will take up no more of your time and be about our business." As a group the tinker family backed towards the door with the alderman following. "Goodman Chrys" he said to them as he clapped a hand on Chrys's shoulder "I have had the pleasure to think of you as a friend for many years now. I feel honored that you would come to me with your problems." They parted after a quick handshake and with one babe in Margery's arms and the other in Mairte's, they returned to the wagons.
By the time the reached the square quite a few customers had already qeued up to have their tin and copper pots repaired. The two women disppeared into a wagon while Thom and Chrys put on their leather aprons and set to work.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 13, 2011, 10:07:49 AM
The tinkers remained in the town for three days doing a moderate amount of business. Not once did they hear from Master James, which suited Margery quite well as she had become attached to the twins. Nana had prepared herself to find the mysterious children's parents quickly. When that failed to happen, she was nearly as happy as Margery to have more babies to coo over. All of the other children made a fuss over the babies as well, in particular Maireah. As the official finder of the babies, she set herself up as the arbiter who decided who was allowed to play with and clean up after the twins. The adults just laughed and indulged Maireah in this little game. Her two older brothers Jarrod and Jeremy were just enough older that they considered Maireah as little more than a child herself.
Dawn of the fourth day found the five wagons headed south of the river, having crossed by ferry in the dark. There had been no explanation when the ferryman refused their fare; but Thom at least suspected that the alderman had paid their way in gratitude for keeping the twins with them. Vast fields of ripening grain lined both sides of the road on this side of the river. The wind moved across the supple stalks like waves on a golden ocean. For many miles the only change in the terrain was the occasional tree-lined stream. The green giants stood out in stark contrast to the otherwise flat landscape. When these oases of green presented themselves, the boys usually could scare up a slow moving pheasant that had gorged on too much grain. These were welcome additions to the communal cookpot as were the wild onions and herbs that could be gathered along the way. One day pretty much like the next, the tinkers spent three days on the road before they reached the next farming village. Once this country had been more populous, but most of the farmland they had passed now belonged to very few wealthy nobleman. With most of the smallholders bought out and gone, the villages had dwindled to just a few widely spaced ones. 
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 14, 2011, 10:40:39 AM
This farming village was so small that it did even boast of a smithy. Mario looked around the village green while the other busied themselves and set up for business. A few small cottages clustered to one side near the ancient inn and tavern. Some of the upper floor rooms had been closed up so long that some of the shutter hinges had rusted away leaving blank windows like empty eye sockets. On the opposite side of the green was a one-room meeting house with a public animal pen beyond that. Where the priest's house had once stood was only a charred stone foundation. But even this was weathered enough that Mario knew that the building had burned down sometime shortly after their visit last fall. It seemed sad somehow to Mario that the church had elected to serve the village with an itinerant priest rather than rebuild. But seeing that no one was likely to be in the meeting house, Mario went into the inn to search for the village elder. The man that Mario sought did not have an official title like Master James. But Jack had been born in the village before going away to sea to make his fortune. Upon his return some years ago, no one had enquired too closely about the circumstances under which he had acquired his gold. Jack now owned half interest in the inn and a sizeable farm some distance from the village. Since the farmstead was being worked by a tenant, Jack had spent most of his time arguing with the priest or drinking rum in the inn. With the priest gone, there was only one place to find Jack. When Mario walked into the inn, the room was black after the bright morning sunlight. In a few seconds, his vision adjusted and he spied the village elder Jack in a comfortable leather chair at one end of the long wooden bar. A half empty glass sat on a table near his left hand. Tha man himself was muscular in the way that only a man who has been active all his life can be. The thinning sand colored hair was the only real testament to his true age. Salt and sun had weathered his face to an ageless bronze long ago.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 15, 2011, 10:26:51 AM
“Jack my friend” Mario called out to him “Do you have time for a word with me?” Swinging his boots down from the footstool, Jack stood and greeted the younger man. “By God it’s good to see you again” Jack exclaimed as he clapped Mario’s shoulder “Are you coming through early this year? The harvest is not in yet.” The bar maid came from the back room and came to the other side of the counter. It was a bit early, but Mario nodded towards the ale keg. “Not as many stops this year” he replied to Jack “Sugarton up near the mountains is now large enough that they asked in a tinsmith. He has set up shop next to the sugar mill. What with the Black Duke clearing all that lat for the sugar trees, they produce nearly twice what they used to produce. And all that extra work means a lot more people.” During the pause in the conversation, the bar maid topped up Jack’s glass of rum. “So that’s one less stop” jack commented “is that the only one?” After taking a long healthy drink of his beer, Mario answered “One other this year, Saiya now has a garrison of Queen Adriana Rose’s troops stationed there so the town shares the tinsmiths that the troops brought with them.” Jack rolled the tumbler of rum back and forth between his thick thumb and forefinger as he pondered this. Mario gestured towards the barmaid with his mug even though he knew that Rani would frown at the smell of beer on his breath. “One of these days, my friend” Jack stated to the younger man “You and your family will have to give up roving when there is nowhere left to go. But I think that today you have more on your mind than that. You’ve never shared more than one mug of beer with me before midday.” Draining the last of his beer, Mario sighed heavily. “You’re right” he answered the former sailor “You have more experience of the great cities and the doings of powerful people so I hoped to ask your opinion on something.” The older man’s expression changed to one of frank curiosity. With a flick of a finger he encouraged Mario to continue. “Back across the river we found two lost babes, twins they are, with the body of an old woman” Mario explained “My brother told of them to Master James of Loudon, but brought them with us. Their clothes and swaddling were as fine as the silk cloth on the cathedral altar, but there was no mark or crest anywhere. I am afraid that we have involved ourselves in some great intrigue.” The glass in Jack’s hand was empty, but this time he went around the bar and refilled it without waiting for Mollie the barmaid. “Fair or dark?” He asked Mario abruptly. “What the babes?” Mario replied puzzled “What fuzz is there looks to be almost white, but you know they’re too young to show much.” Jack tossed back his rum and pointed the empty glass at the tinker. “Fair worries me somewhat” he said in an odd voice “The Emperor’s family tends to throw twins, white haired. Put that together with the fact that his mistress Lady Nicolette was warned never to bear him a child by the Empress.” 
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 16, 2011, 02:25:20 PM
Mario trudged back to the wagons in a desultory fashion. The village had a cleared area just beyond the last row of thatched cottages where the tinkers had camped for years. The tantalizing smells of stew and roast pheasant caught at Mario’s nose and drew him homeward. The beer had left him slightly light headed, but not enough to miss his wife’s scowl or his brother’s questioning look. Deeming it safer, he steered towards the latter. “Chrys” he Mario called out “I had a word with Jack and he put me in the way of knowing something that I think you should know too.” Since there wouldn’t be any real business until the farmers came in from the fields, Chrys waved his brother towards an ancient oak that shaded a nearby streamlet. It took very little time for Mario to explain the village elder’s thoughts and reservations about the two children that they had found. In the end, Chrys nodded his head and reluctantly and answered “I mislike the idea of secrecy but I fear that Jack was correct in his assessment. Though he was also correct when he said that there was no way for folk like us at the end of nowhere to have much knowledge of the emperor’s court.  I will explain to Nana and the others. You on the other hand had better reassure Rani that you were not just wasting time.” A quick nod of the elder brother’s head led Mario’s gaze in the direction of his wife. Hands on hips she seemed to be spoiling for a fight. Mario sighed and then grinned to himself. The harder they fought, the more strenuously they made up afterwards.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 20, 2011, 10:29:56 AM
Customers started to trickle into the tinker campsite a good bit before sunset. Most of these lived in the cluster of cottages and worked at their own crafts but hired out to the larger farms when the wheat harvest needed to be brought in. Nana looked over the small crowd and counted heads. Old Brewer Roderick was not among them, but Nana recognized Rupert his son. She suspected that Roderick, a man who had seen more than sixty winters had finally passed. Her suspicions where confirmed when she greeted Rupert and saw his face fall. “My condolences to you and your family” she said to Rupert softly as she could in the general clamor. “My thanks to you Goodwife” Rupert responded “Da went peacefully in his sleep before midsummer, and I’ve no doubt that he and Ma have reunited.” Nana nodded and turned away, politely letting the man drop what was still an uncomfortable subject for him. As far as she could tell, there were no more missing faces, though there were a one or two new babes in arms. The sight of these brought two other babies to mind and Nana turned to check on Margery. Maireah was helping Margery clean and change the pair and while she watched them Nana was forcibly struck by how different the twins looked. Even when the fact that they were infants was taken into account, the pale milkiness of their skin and white peach fuzz hair was in stark contrast to young Maireah’s near black hair and dusky olive skin. With a sinking feeling Nana knew that as they grew into a little boy and girl, the twins would stand out like beacons in the dark. The vague warning that Thom had repeated from the village elder had a feeling of truth about it and now Nana’s worried for the babies were freshened. But after a few deep breaths she recollected that they had some time before the twins would be up and walking. There would be time enough to deal with such problems later.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 24, 2011, 10:01:11 AM
Two nights were all that the tinkers spent in the little farming village. Bertram, if not the others, looked forward to moving south again. The next village on the road was almost identical to the one that they had just left, but it was fifteen miles closer to the sea. Since the years had crept up on him, Bertram had come to appreciate spending his winters in a warm coastal village. As the horses plodded patiently along the road, the older man let his gaze fall to the basket on the seat. Nestled between him and Nana was the male half of the twins. Margery had started calling him Jarrod and the girl Jocelyn. This morning Nana had offered to take the boy to help out Margery since Jocelyn seemed to be a little colicky. With a comically serious face Jarrod tried to grab and hold his own fingers. Whatever rumors that Thom had picked up in the village, Bertram dismissed out of hand. In his experience all those stories about lost princes, special birthmarks and rings with secrets hidden inside were so much hokum and nonsense.  Bertram’s movements attracted Jarrod’s attention and he blinked up at the older man. His eyes were certainly different from any that the older man was used to. The newborn blue had faded from the boy’s eyes and had left them a pale greenish aqua with a very dark blue outer ring. For a fleeting moment Bertram caught himself wondering at the intelligence that he seemed to see looking back at him. Then he laughed off his own fancies and tickled the boy’s cheek. A smile and a throaty chuckle rewarded Bertram for the effort. The thoughtful mood broken, Bertram turned his attention back to the team of horses. After another moment he broke out into an old song which Nana joined him in singing. The cooling autumn breeze gusted over fields of grain and made the morning even more pleasant.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 27, 2011, 11:57:17 AM
Maeven sat beside her husband Richard as their wagon brought up the rear of the little caravan. Having three children of her own had not left her with a lot of time or energy to think about the twins that Margery had adopted. The small town that was their next stop on the journey south occupied all of her thoughts. Seven years ago she had met Richard here as a girl of seventeen. Some might have frowned at the match simply because Richard had already reached the age of forty when they met. He was Nana’s much younger brother and had been left a childless widower many years ago. As for Maeven, since the age of twelve she had worked alongside her mother in one or another of the taverns in town. Whoever her father had been, he had never seen fit to marry her Maeven’s mother. A veritable parade of men had come and gone from the little cottage on the outskirts of town. The last one had caught Maeven alone one night while her mother was out working. Unfortunately for all of them the older woman had come home earlier than expected and walked in on the assault as it happened. In the ensuing fight, the man had stabbed Maeven’s mother brutally. It took some time for the poor woman to die, but she named her killer to the Provost Marshall. The hanging took place on the same day that Maeven had been evicted from the only home that she had ever known. It was not long after that she learned how little she could earn serving drinks in the taverns and helping out in the kitchens. Richard knew that she was not an innocent when he had married her. But she had never told him about the corner room upstairs or how she had earned enough money to feed herself and pay the rent. She looked very different now than she had looked then, but every year she went through this town in a fog of terror, terror that someone would recognize and remember her. It did not take a stranger to realize that something about her hometown bothered Maeven. Knowing his wife well, Richard knew exactly how distraught she was but was puzzled as to the cause. For the first years of their marriage he had ascribed Maeven’s discomfort to revisiting the scene of her mother’s murder. But as the years had passed, it seemed to Richard that his wife was even more affected than before. Long ago he had resigned himself to a few unpleasant days every time that they visited this town.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on June 29, 2011, 12:17:59 PM
There was nothing unusual about this town. It was built at the convergence of two small rivers. Just north of the town was grain growing country and to the south the terrain changed to salt grass marshes where cattle grazed. The juxtaposition of two very different agricultural pursuits had led to the continued growth of the town. Autumn saw the town’s numbers swell by two or three times with drovers, itinerant farm workers, cattle buyers, grain buyers and others. The tinker family timed their visit to coincide with the harvest and cattle roundup. Under normal circumstances the town’s smithy was sufficient to handle the demand, but with a thousand souls packed into the town for less than a week overwhelmed almost all of the town’s merchants. Scattered along the perimeter, this town boasted no less than seven taverns. Chrys knew this because in the past he had found it necessary to find his brother Mario at one or another of them and drag him back to the wagons before Rani threatened murder. As he guided his wagon off the road, Chrys eyeballed the one closest to where they would stay. Just south of the town gates was a cleared area set aside for traveling merchants to camp. Being outside the town walls lent this tavern a rather sordid reputation. Though he had seen nothing with his own eyes, Chrys had heard the many rumors that the owner dealt in stolen goods. Occasionally he suspected that the townspeople objected to the workers who came for the harvest and tarred the inexpensive taverns and hostels that they frequented with the same brush. About half the spaces closest to the road were taken already, so Chrys guided them back to an area where all five wagons could camp together comfortably. As they bounced along the uneven ground he saw several men at other camps take notice of their arrival. Tonight it looked like they had customers already waiting for them. The impromptu fair that followed the harvest drew many types of travelling people. They all cooked and they all needed pots and pans repaired at some time.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on July 06, 2011, 04:04:00 PM
With the town so crowded for the harvest festival, a brace of new babies with the tinkers barely rated a second look. Chrys allowed himself to relax after the first day and concentrate on the business at hand. No matter that there were only so many hours in the day; every customer wanted their wares returned in the least time possible. Every member of the extended family had an assigned chore. The oldest children and women helped at the forges while the younger children were set to husking corn or just babysitting. Maireah was set to carrying charcoal for the forges when she would rather have spent her day caring for Margery’s adopted children. A year earlier she had been unable to lift the coal scuttles but she would have preferred that to watching the other children. Her oldest brother Gerard accepted her help with a solemn nod while he worked a crucible of hot metal. This went some way to easing her disappointment, this unspoken acknowledgement between siblings that she was closer to being an adult. Once upon a time he would have shooed her away and teased her about being just a baby. The days passed without incident with the forges glowing before dawn and long after sunset. If Chrys noticed that Mario stayed out of the taverns he did not mention that to anyone. For Mario’s part, he was still nervous about the twins and dreaded what he might say if anyone were to question him after a few ales.
  At the end of only five days Chrys was very pleased to discover that the family had already made twice what they had at this fair last year. At a family conference it was decided to invest the additional income in a pair of milk cows. The pace at which they traveled would be no hardship for the animals and their milk would a welcome addition. One morning after the pace of work slacked off Chrys and Bertram went to bargain for the heifers. The man who they went to see was well known to the tinkers. Garrett was his name and he made his living by buying up cattle at rural market fairs like this one and reselling them in the larger towns, mostly for butchering. Since the cattle dealer had been a customer for years, Chrys highly expected to get a fair deal for the pair. In aid of this, Chrys intended to buy younger and smaller animals that would not fetch much at the knackers. After some good natured negotiations on both sides, the two tinker men led a pair of dun colored heifers out of the temporary rope corral. Not far along the road back to camp, the thunder of hooves on the hard packed road began to overwhelm the noise of the festival crowd. Almost like the wave before a swordfish, the crowds parted towards the side of the road. The movement was gradual at first but quickly turned frantic when it seemed that the large body of mounted men would ride down anyone in their path.
  At the very last second the officer in the lead flung up a gauntleted hand to halt his men. The people between Chrys and the riders were packed four deep so he saw this only in glimpses. But when he finally got a good look at one coal black saddle skirt, his heart froze in his chest. The crossed sabers over the red starburst could only mean the Imperial Guard and their only function was to guard the Emperor Donuil and the members of his immediate family. Even the Emperor’s mistresses did not enjoy the protection of these elite troops.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on July 11, 2011, 11:10:40 AM
Bertram was just close enough to Chrys to hear his sharp intake of breath. He saw the color drain from the younger man’s face but could see no explanation. When the mounted troops forced their way through the crowd, Bertram had moved behind the heifer that he led. “Is something wrong?” he half shouted to Chrys “Did the cow step on your foot?” Chrys shook his head sharply and answered back “No, um, nothing, I am all right now.” With a shrug Bertram turned his attention back to the complaining cow and barely looked up as a large black coach rattled past in the wake of the armored horseman. Since they planned to leave in the morning, Bertram was glad to see that Nana had chivied some of the others to pack up her wagon. Each winter the older man was a little less sanguine about the heaving lifting that made up much of the tinker life. Inside the circled wagons the only items still on the ground were needed for cooking the evening meal. Bertram and Chrys turned the two cows over to a pair of the older boys. It seemed that Chrys was being unusually taciturn, but Bertram shrugged it off and went in search of Mario. One ale or possibly two from the tavern would not be amiss, or so it seemed to Bertram. In most places Mario could be counted on to be up for joining him.
  Mario was helping his wife Rani as she sorted some ladles in the storage chest when Bertram reached them. They looked at in unison at the sound of his approach. But when he saw Rani’s expression change, Bertram sauntered on past and only bid the couple a good evening. Even on this last day of the festival, the tavern was crowded with drovers, farmers and other traveling folk. Bertram managed to get a pint after wading through the press of bodies. He elbowed his way to a corner stool and sat back to enjoy his ale. The snatches of conversation that he could follow all seemed to be about the horse soldiers unexpected pass through town. For they and the coach had not stopped but had continued on the road north. There seemed to be some disagreement among the tavern’s customers as to whether the coach’s crest had been the Imperial starburst, or Queen Adriana’s red rose. This close to the border, it could be either one. Bust most agreed that it must have been some diplomat attached to one or the other of the royal houses.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on July 14, 2011, 09:54:51 AM
Chrys shared his apprehensions with his mother and Gerard as soon as he returned to the campsite. Gerard took the news of the imperial troops in the same calm impervious manner as he took everything else. But for Nana and her oldest, the sighting meant a sleepless night. Both expected to be visited by stern men beating warrants at any moment. Unusually, Nana was wide awake when Bertram returned from the pub. She heard him as he gently opened and closed the door to his little compartment. The familiar ceiling of her berth held no comfort this night. As much as she tried to chastise herself for letting her imagination run wild, she could not seem to stop. The occasional torch flare through the oilcloth shades was weighted with ominous portents. But at last she must have slept for one of the roosters in the camp startled her awake as he began the morning chorus. With a mouth that felt full of wool, she made her way out to help with the early breakfast. Nursing a cup of hot tea, Chrys was lost in his own thoughts beside the fire; while Margery and Rani cooked up the last odds and ends of food that would not travel well. Just slightly after Nana, Bertram yawned his way to the teapot and filled a cup for himself. Little Cay erupted from under the closest wagon and positioned himself beside his idol. Nana allowed herself a tired smile to see the boy mimic the older man’s actions and posture.
“Glad we won’t have to contend with soldiers on the road today when we leave” Bertram mumbled between sips of scalding liquid “The road south will be crowded enough without them.” This brought Chrys up out of his reverie and Nana looked away from the eggs that she had been stirring. “What do you mean?” the younger man asked of Bertram “We saw the soldiers ride into the center of town.” With a shrug that was half-hearted he answered Chrys “heard in the pub last night that whoever it was pushed on without stopping. Most people seemed to believe that Queen Adriana was sending some messenger or some sort north to the Emperor’s Court. I did not see enough to say one way or the other.” Out of the corner of his eye Chrys saw Margery as she stood rigid at the end of her wagon. “You are right then” Chrys replied carefully “Queen Adriana’s business is none of ours, but the road will be easier without soldiers crowding out the rest of us.” 
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on July 26, 2011, 01:25:17 PM
Their tinker family continued their journey south without any unusual events. Many small farming villages and a few medium sized towns stretched out towards the sea like beads on a long necklace. Homecoming this winter seemed particularly poignant to all the adults this year. Death and birth, sickness and health had dogged their footsteps since last they saw this coastline. Robbie and Eris came out of their cottage when the chorus of dogs started up. The dogs from the cottage launched themselves into a frenzy of welcome for the tinkers’ dogs as well as the people themselves. Chrys noticed that the older couple who took care of the cottages looked so very much older than he remembered. It seemed that more than eight months had etched deeper lines on the smiling faces. When the wagons reached the common area that was surrounded by various buildings, everyone indulged in hugs and laughter. Home again! This was the heart of the tinker family, cottages, barn and workshops that had been passed down through the generations. If a few cottages were shuttered this year, they would be full of life and love again someday. Mario was closest to Eris when she realized that Thom and Margery had returned with two babies. “Oh my dear” she exclaimed and held her hands out for the baby girl that Thom carried “These are the first twins ever in this family. How marvelous it is!” It was Mario who managed to get Eris’ attention as Margery stood stricken on the brink of tears. “Auntie Eris” he said softly, though the title of aunt was only an honorific “These babies were orphans that we have, well adopted actually. Margery’s little girl died of a summer fever.” The expression on the older woman’s face changed from excitement to sympathy in less than a heartbeat. With one arm full of baby and the other around Margery, she smiled through tears that left silver trails down her cheeks.
Title: Re: Once upon a time
Post by: DonaCatalina on August 09, 2011, 10:04:59 AM
The four months of true winter were relatively mild for the tinkers. An occasional storm would lash the coast. It was at times like this that everyone would hunker inside the largest cottage and gather around the roaring fire. Games and stories kept the children from being too restless. Jarrod and Jocelyn kept everyone busy enough when they were crawling. Jocelyn was the first of the twins to pull herself up and take a few hesitant steps, but not many days passed before Jarrod caught up with her. Between themselves the twins developed a system of communication that was difficult for anyone else to follow. Thom and Margery were pleased when Jocelyn first called for mama and then for dada. Jarrod was more reticent. It was amusing at first to watch him when he wanted something that was out of reach. The crock of fresh milk was on the table high out of his reach one morning. After Jarrod spotted it he looked at his sister Jocelyn. As if she responded to some silent request Jocelyn toddled over to Thom and grabbed his trouser leg. Pointing to the crock she demanded “Milk, milk.” Thom had already given a cupful to bother before he realized how the exchange had actually happened. After that, he and his wife watched the twins more closely for this behavior. It did indeed become a pattern that Jocelyn seemed to become the spokesperson for both of them. Their adoptive parents wondered if the boy was unable to speak, so clearly did his sister interpret his silent looks. On sunny days, Thom took the twins outside with him and he worked on tools or repaired harness. A couple of toy horses and some old dolls seemed to be all the entertainment that the children needed. Thom talked aloud as he worked, mostly to himself. “You seem to be a bright boy” Thom rambled as his fingers untangled leather straps “I hope you start talking soon. Do you want people to think you are a mute, hmm?” This last was said with a quick look and smile for Jarrod. “No” the boy said clearly and concisely “I don’t.” Thom was so badly startled that he fell backwards off the bench.