Author’s Note: Ten Internets to anyone who gets the title reference!
The day Grady had grabbed these old nets off the beach and rigged them to these old poles had been the best day in his life. Well, maybe not the best day. The day he met Toinette, his wedding and the births of his children also had to rank up there somewhere. Reaching the top level of success in his business also had to be up there. But for small things, the day he rigged this chair had to be the best day in his life.
And it was an excellent chair. The back supported him and allowed him to lean back, the front allowed him to put his feet up. The surface was much cushier than a wooden chair, and much firmer than a squishy pallet. And best of all?
Finley hated it.
Whoever would have thought that there was a comfortable surface that Grady would not need to fight his father for?
Grady rested his hands behind his head and glanced out over his fields. It was Sunday, which meant the shop couldn’t open. It was Sunday afternoon, which meant that services were over. There was an evening service, but he wouldn’t be going to it. Evening service was for Finley and Lilé, who watched the littlest ones while Grady and Toinette dragged Katie and Paddy to morning services. It worked out well for everyone. Finley got to sleep off his hangover in the morning, Lilé got to go to service without squealing and squirming little ones and she got to come home to a dinner that she didn’t have to make. And Toinette and Grady … well, they were able to start the older children’s’ religious instruction, without having to worry about keeping two toddlers quiet in church, or else leaving all four of the children to one parent or the other in the evening.
Right now, his parents and Toinette were inside with the little ones. Nora and Sean would probably go down for their naps soon. Goodness, they were both getting so big. Sean was already crawling around and getting into everything. And Nora, sweet little Nora, would be three in a month or so! Three! It seemed like just yesterday that she had been placed in his arms.
And surely it had only been last week that he had been buying rounds in the bar to celebrate the birth of his first son, and only the month before that Kata Thatcher had handed Katie to him, and he had barely dared to breathe for fear he would break this tiny precious thing that he was being told he had made …
“Twang! You’re dead!”
Yes, it was altogether surprising that his children were now of an age to pretend to kill each other with invisible bows and arrows.
“No, I’m not, stupid! You missed me by a mile!”
“Katie, don’t call yer brother stupid,” Grady admonished. An’ how can ye tell he missed ye if it was an invisible arrow?
“No, I didn’t! I hit ye!”
“Ye did not!”
“I did to!”
Wright! “How about we jest say,” Grady interrupted, “that ye wounded ‘er, Paddy?”
“All right, Da!”
“Twang! Now ye’re dead!”
“Aww! No fair, Katie!”
Grady rolled his eyes, but he decided not to intervene in this fight. Unless it came to blows, it would do them well to fight it out for themselves. That was how children learned, wasn’t it?
In any case, the bees were droning, the wind whispering through the trees, and the children were running off to the back. And the sun was beating on Grady’s head, filling him with a pleasant warmth. He wanted nothing more than to close his eyes …
Maybe he would … just for a minute …
Grady turned his head to the other side. No, it couldn’t be time to get up yet, it was too early for school …
“Er — Grady? Master Brogan? I don’t mean to disturb you, but … Grady?”
Grady mumbled something and hunkered down in his chair.
“Da, wake up! It’s Lord Pellinore!” Paddy called.
Grady’s eyes flew open to find the man himself standing above him, looking down on him.
“Not quite,” the lord chuckled.
Grady scrambled to get out of the chair, even as the lord protested. “Grady, Grady, don’t get up — don’t worry about it, I did drop in unannounced –”
“No, no, m’lord, ye’re here now, we should show some respect — kids! Stop actin’ like hooligans, Lord Pellinore’s here!”
“We know, Da,” Katie pointed out. “We opened the gate fer ‘im!”
At some point, Grady would worry about his children’s propensity to open the gate for random adults. Not now, though. “Grady, please, calm down.” Was the lord actually putting a hand on his shoulder? “Your children are fine. Do recall, I have several of them myself — and it wasn’t so long ago that they were running around like hooligans.”
“I can’t imagine lord’s children would ever run around like hooligans, m’lord.”
“Grady, have you met my brood?”
The lord’s eyes were twinkling, and so Grady allowed himself to laugh. “All right, kids, ye can go back ter doin’ what ye’re doin’, Lord Pellinore gives his permission.” Grady had barely finished speaking before Katie let loose another imaginary arrow.
Grady turned to the lord. “M’lord, fergive me if the question’s too familiar, but were yer children this violent?”
“If I were you, Grady,” Lord Pellinore replied, “I would simply thank my lucky stars that your children are not going to be allowed any contact with real weaponry until they are doubtless mature enough to handle it.”
“Oh, Wright,” Grady breathed.
“But my Lamorak and Aglovale survived, and more than that, they are both shaping up to be excellent knights.” He smiled. “However, as pleasant as this conversation is — I would not have woken you up from your nap for it.”
“Indeed. I — well, I noticed something peculiar when you valued your property and income for this year’s taxes.”
“Ye — ye did?” Grady wanted to, but he did not pull at his collar. To do that would make him look guilty in Lord Pellinore’s sharp judge’s eyes — and he hadn’t even done anything!
“Yes. I noticed you claimed that your business qualified for Guild membership, and that you thus took the ‘thriving’ business deduction.”
“Aye, aye, m’lord, I did,” Grady replied. “I truly think it does. I, er, I axed Mark Wesleyan ter come over an’ have a look-see, an’ he said he’d let me right into the Guild if …”
“If you were a freeman,” Lord Pellinore finished. “Yes, indeed. That was what I wished to speak to you about.”
On the one hand, Grady felt his breath whoosh out in relief. Lord Pellinore didn’t have any questions about his taxes. He’d paid everything he owed, but like that would matter if Lord Pellinore decided that he owed more. And the devil of it was, Grady didn’t have the money to pay more.
But on the other hand … if Lord Pellinore wanted to talk about freeman status … that couldn’t be good, either.
“I — I see, m’lord. D’ye wish ter come inside? ‘Twould be more comfortable discussin’ this there.”
“If you please, Grady, I would appreciate that greatly.”
So Grady led the way inside, where Sean was playing with one of his toys, Toinette reading a story to Nora and Finley … passed out on the couch. Grady didn’t know where Lilé was, but hopefully she was enjoying her own nap. Toinette looked up with words on her lips — words that promptly dried up when she saw who accompanied Grady.
“Please, Mistress Brogan, do not be alarmed — I’m just here to talk business with your husband.” The lord smiled. “Your children, if I may say so, are looking quite fine and healthy. I see your youngest has inherited his grandmother’s coloring.”
“Aye — aye, m’lord, he has. Thank’ee.” Nonetheless, Toinette got to her feet and dusted off her dress. “Finley — FINLEY!”
“Eh? Eh, what?”
“Help me get the little ones ter bed. Ye can take Sean in fer his nap.”
“Sean? He never –” Finley’s jaw dropped as he saw Lord Pellinore. “M’lord!”
It was a good five minutes before Lord Pellinore could calm Finley down and before Toinette could lift a docile Nora and Finley a struggling Sean and bring them both to their cribs for their naps. It was when Finley finally closed the door on Sean’s angry protests that Lord Pellinore and Grady finally could sit down at the worn wooden table. “So — so, m’lord, ye wanted ter speak ter me about … freeman status?”
“If that is what you are seeking, then yes, I did wish to speak to you about that.”
Grady tried not to gulp.
“Are you seeking freeman status?”
“Aye, m’lord.” He hadn’t wanted to admit this, not until he had the money and could approach it with Lord Pellinore as a fait accompli, but he didn’t see what choice he had now.
“And Guild membership, I take it — though that part should be easy, once you have freeman status.”
Lord Pellinore sighed. “Well, are you aware of the process for this to occur?”
What … wait. Was Lord Pellinore prepared to help him?
“It’s a simple one, but a process nonetheless,” Lord Pellinore continued. “You must raise a certain amount of money, and then I will prepare the papers necessary for you to break your indenture.” The lord frowned. “Oftentimes, lords will have the peasant pay for this paperwork, but since the work would fall to me and to my clerks ultimately anyway, I really don’t see much of a point to that.”
“Oh — well, thank’ee, m’lord. Fer yer generosity.”
“You are most welcome. But before you do this, I want to be very sure you understand just what you are giving up.”
“Giving up, m’lord?”
“The rights and privileges of being an indentured man, of course.”
“… Oh?” As far as Grady understood, indentured men didn’t have any special rights — and certainly not any special privileges, unless getting fleeced by one’s lord was a privilege.
“The relationship between an indentured man and his lord is a special one. It should not be broken lightly. For instance, you know that if someone in your family were to need a job, I would be morally bound to provide one for them?”
“M’lord, with all due respect, I thought Berach already had that covered?”
Lord Pellinore shook his head. “Legally, Berach’s work on my lands covers that proposition. Legally. Morally, however, it is quite well-entrenched in the traditions of Glasonland that any indentured man who needs a job is to be given one by his lord.”
Aye, an’ work his tail off an’ be paid beans fer the privilege. No, thank’ee!
“Well, that’s right generous, m’lord.”
“It is not generous. It is duty,” Lord Pellinore replied. “Secondly, you realize … well, as long as your father was alive, you could stay in this house as long as you liked, but you could not inherit it. It is my duty to provide dwellings for all the families under my care, and I would need this house to give to another family.”
“I — I know, m’lord. But — but if I weren’t ter buy out me indenture until after I inherited the house, ye’d have ter buy it back from me, wouldn’t ye?”
Lord Pellinore leveled a look at him that, had it been on anyone else, Grady would have called a glare. “I hope you are not — forgive me for being vulgar, but I hope you are not waiting to inherit this house before you buy your freedom.”
“No, m’lord. It’s jest, well, I don’t have the money yet — an’ anythin’ can happen.”
“Ah. I see, I see. Well, if that were the case, yes, I would have to pay you a reasonable price when you vacated the house.”
“Do not thank me, I am merely telling you what my legal obligation would be. In any case, you would not only be losing this house, you would also be taking away an added measure of security for your youngest boy and any further boys you might have. You understand what that is, do you not?”
“That ye’re supposed ter provide houses for ’em?”
“Indeed. If you were a freeman, I could not do that.”
“I know, m’lord. Believe me, I understand.”
“You also understand what else you would be giving up? I would not longer be enabled to fund legal advocacy for you, should you or any of your children — heaven forbid — run into trouble with the law. I hear that the Guild is willing to take upon that obligation for their members, but of course, you would have to pay membership dues for that privilege. I also could not help you if you ran into any other trouble — I would not want to seem as if I was favoring anyone. You understand?”
“Aye, m’lord, I get it.”
“This does not bother you?”
“No, m’lord, not really.” Guild membership don’t cost half of what yer taxes cost me. “O’course I’ll be a bit sad ter — ter see our workin’ relationship end, but that’s life, m’lord. Life is change. Ye jest have to roll with it.” Grady bit his lip. “Fergive me, my lord, but … ye don’t seem in favor of this. Might I axe why?” Ten ter one says it’s the money he’ll be losing.
Lord Pellinore sighed. “To put things quite simply, Grady — I believe there is a reason why one’s place in the social hierarchy is called one’s station in life. In essence, one is supposed to stay there.” He shook his head. “I believe there is a reason why the Lord Wright placed us all in our respective stations, Grady. While I am not qualified to judge my own performance as a lord, I know both of my sons will make great knights one day. My daughter Dindrane is already proving herself a worthy châtelaine and wife to Sir Mordred. My twins, well, they’re young, but I am sure they will make wonderful ladies or nuns someday, whatever Lord Wright calls upon them to do. Sir Lancelot, too, seems born for his role as a knight, and Lord Lot is quite a clever general and courtier. And King Arthur — well, there’s no man whom I would rather serve as a magistrate and vassal. The same, you know, goes for men of lower stations. I have talked to Mark Wesleyan many times; that man is born to ‘wheel and deal,’ as they say.”
“An’ Master Ferreira, m’lord?”
“Another man who seeks to rise.” Lord Pellinore permitted himself a small smile. “He is a clever tradesman. But more than that, he has foresight and ambition. He was just the man Albion needed, you see, to help us make our name in the wider world of commerce. I certainly do not blame our King for giving him a barony, if that is what our King decides to do.”
“I see, m’lord.”
“I hope you do — it is the fact that Albion is a new kingdom and needs, frankly, as many clever and ambitious men in its merchant ranks as possible that makes me as … amenable to your wish to change your station as I am. Perhaps this was your purpose, after all — I will say, back in Glasonland, you would have been wasted working in the fields all day.”
“It is a compliment, I assure you. Yes, perhaps you are meant to rise. The Lord Wright, after all, did not devise a totally stagnant world. There are patterns and methods to the change, but change there is, nonetheless.” He stood up. “Well, it seems I have no choice but to wish you luck in your endeavors to change your station, Grady. You will let me know when you raise enough money to free your family, will you not?” He proffered his hand.
Grady stood as well and took the hand the lord offered. “Indeed, m’lord. Ye can count on me fer that.”