Author’s Note: The title will make sense … fairly soon. But if it doesn’t after you’ve read the post, have a look-see at this post of Van’s.
Many thanks to Van for this!
Imsdyn 27, 1014
“All right,” Berach said. “We’ve got one kid sittin’ down, ready ter eat …”
“Here!” giggled Leah from the table.
“One kid safe in her crib …” Berach counted.
Cliodna cooed, right on cue. The lassie wasn’t even a year old and she already understood her father’s humor. Excellent.
“An’ the third …”
“Jest put down fer a nap,” filled in Joyce as she shimmied down the ladder. Berach turned around to get a better view. The baby that would make his (or, more likely with Berach’s track record, her) appearance sometime in Lenona was just a bump in the front of Joyce’s apron; other than that, she was as lithe and muscular as she had been the day he married her.
“So that means,” Joyce hopped to the floor, “that we’ve all done our jobs — so it’s yer turn ter get ter work, mister.”
“Aye, Papa!” Leah laughed. “Time fer ye ter make lunch!”
Berach pretended to sigh. “Fine, if ye insist …”
“An’ we do,” Joyce answered. She was bustling to the table, but before she got there, she gave Berach a peck on the cheek. “An’ stop actin’ like we’re torturin’ ye. Ye’d think ye had things ye’d rather do than be cookin’.”
“Cookin’? Love, I ain’t cookin’. I’m fixin’ somethin’.” He went over to the larder and removed the things he had carefully put aside: lettuce, baby tomatoes, onions, and other freshly-harvested vegetables. It wasn’t summer proper yet, so the days weren’t as hot as they would be, but Berach was in no mood to cook two hot meals on this fine Saturday and turn the whole house into an oven. One for dinner would be plenty.
“What are we eatin’, Papa?” asked Leah.
“Autumn salad,” Berach replied.
Joyce started and half turned around. “Autumn salad?”
“Aye — well, I started makin’ it in ’11,” he replied, “an’ I figured I ought ter be callin’ it somethin’ …”
“An’ so ye called it autumn salad,” Joyce replied.
“It were either that or ‘Lilibeth salad,'” Berach admitted, “seein’ how she was the highlight o’ that year … an’ I thought ter meself, ‘Berach Brogan, that’s a mighty sweet thing ye’d be doin’ fer yer newest daughter, except fer folks gettin’ the impression that ye’ve chopped up bits o’ Lilibeth fer ter season the salad.'”
“Papa!” squealed Leah.
Cliodna let out a happy baby shriek — she must have wanted to be part of the conversation.
“Oh!” Leah asked. “Papa, have ye got the recipe writ down yet? I can do that fer ye!”
Berach smiled to himself as he chopped up the lettuce. The schoolteacher had complained about Leah’s penmanship, claiming that she needed more practice at home. Berach couldn’t imagine why — what cause did a girl like Leah have to have her letters be neat and just so? — but after the teacher had been so understanding after that incident with Katerina Capron, well, Berach had realized it would be just mean not to listen to her.
But Berach still hadn’t known what to do. The teacher had suggested a journal, but to Berach’s mind, that was silliness. What did Leah have to write about on any given day? And it seemed like a foolish thing to be badgering her about — for there would be badgering, Berach could see it rising up in his future as plainly as he could see that the sun would rise in the east tomorrow. It had been Joyce, clever Joyce, who had come up with the idea of a recipe book for the tavern. So she had bought the cheapest bound parchment book she could find, all blank with a plain leather cover, and now whenever Berach came up with a new recipe and got it right, Leah would write it down for him.
“Ye know,” Berach replied, “I think I came up with this recipe before we started our book, so–”
“I’ll get it,” Joyce said, jumping up. Berach could not understand how she could move so quickly with the baby kicking her from the inside at every waking moment (or so Joyce claimed). Sometimes he wondered if the only things that slowed his wife down were morning sickness and labor.
She threw the door open. “Good d–”
She stopped dead. Berach glanced over his shoulder, the knife still clutched in his hand.
“Good afternoon, Goodwife Brogan,” said Sir–Lord Lamorak now. Or was he? Berach knew that Sir Mordred still called himself Sir Mordred, even though he was entitled to the “Lord” title if anyone was. And Sir Mordred was a knight, like Sir/Lord Lamorak. Berach wished he understood how this all worked.
However, he did understand that it was not good to greet one’s liege lord with a knife in one’s hand, even if it was meant for chopping lettuce, and so he hastily put the knife down. “M’–m’lord! An’ Master Carey! Wel–welcome!”
“Aye–welcome, welcome.” Joyce backed away from the door to give the men room. “Please come in.”
“Thank you!” Sir Lamorak grinned as he came in. “I was hoping to–oh.” His face fell, and he looked embarrassed. Just like Lord Pellinore would have. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your luncheon …”
“Er–no worry, m’lord,” Berach said. “There’s plenty fer all — ain’t there, Joyce?” Berach asked, putting an arm around Joyce and looking at her — as if she’d know! But she gave him what he was asking for: a confirmatory nod.
“Well, I couldn’t–”
“Lamorak.” Berach goggled to hear the steward call Sir Lamorak by just his first name — he goggled more to see him poke the young lord in the shoulder. “Take it from me: never say no to a free meal.”
Sir Lamorak turned back to Berach and Joyce with, if it was possible, an even more embarrassed smile. “We’ll–we’ll join you, if you don’t mind.”
There was no refusing him. So Berach went back to chopping double-time, throwing in more ingredients just to be sure he would have enough. At least the salad was quick to throw together and quick to serve.
“So,” Leah asked as soon as Sir Lamorak and Master Carey had seated themselves, “how come ye’re here?”
“Leah!” squeaked Joyce.
“What? I’m jest axin’!”
“Don’t worry about it, Goodwife Brogan, nobody minds a kid asking questions.” Master Carey grinned at Joyce before turning to Leah. “The truth is … we hear your father has been breeding dire chinchillas in the basement. And we can’t be having with that.”
Berach almost dropped the plate onto the steward’s lap.
“Florian!” laughed Sir Lamorak. “Don’t frighten her!” He sent a big smile toward Leah. “We just want to check up on your papa, sw–Leah. We want to know that everything is going well with him and with your family.”
“Oh.” Berach watched nervously as Leah digested that. His heart was about to explode when she turned to Master Carey. “What’s a dire chincilla?”
“Trust me, kid, you don’t want to know.”
With the food all set out, Berach was able to sit. Nervously. He wasn’t sure how he was going to work up the courage to eat, though.
At least Sir Lamorak was laughing. “You’d be more likely to breed dire chinchillas in the cellar, Florian — admit it.”
“I protest! I haven’t got a cellar!”
“Well, you would if you had one,” Sir Lamorak replied amiably. He took a forkful of salad and popped it into his mouth in the manner of a careless young man who had yet to outgrow the adolescent preoccupation with quantity of food over quality. But his eyes widened when the food hit his tongue. “I say — this is very good, Goodman Brogan!”
“Thank–thank’ee,” Berach replied. That gave him the courage to eat. A little bit. He stole a glance at Joyce — she was eating, but her face was pale and pinched, and she was shooting him a, Oh, Lord, what now? glance. Well, it was always good to know that they were on the same page.
“And I can’t breed them in your dungeons,” Master Carey went on. “Your wife’s got ’em locked tight.”
Berach almost choked.
Leah gasped. “Ye–ye tried ter do that? In the big castle dungeons?” Leah’s gaze turned to Sir Lamorak. “Ye let ‘im?”
“Leah,” Joyce said — probably because she needed to say something, “it ain’t polite ter — ter talk about people like they ain’t there.”
Trying to parse out the logic of that, Leah looked from Joyce to Master Carey to Sir Lamorak, and then to Berach for good measure. Berach nodded, but Leah was old enough to know the difference between a real nod and a bluffing nod. Unfortunately for her, there was no bluffing in Joyce’s gaze. “Aye, Mama.”
“An’,” Berach put in before Leah could ask another question about dire chincillas — or, heaven forbid, Master Carey could answer it — “Sir Lamorak — I’m sure ye didn’t come here ter — ter — ter jest chat,” he stammered, “is — is there anythin’ I can be doin’ fer ye?”
“After this meal, Goodman Brogan, I feel like I ought to forgive you your taxes for the next year,” Sir Lamorak replied.
“No, don’t do that!” Master Carey said quickly. Then, glancing at Berach, “Sorry. No offense. Just … I’m never sure when he’s being serious.”
“I could say the same thing of you!” laughed Sir Lamorak.
“That’s silly. I’m always serious.”
… Yes, Berach was very much afraid that was the case. But Sir Lamorak laughed like it was all a joke.
Sir Lamorak stopped laughing only to eat another forkful of salad. Then he turned to Berach. “I just wanted to check up on you, Goodman Brogan. Make sure everything is … is good on your farm, and to see if there’s … well, anything I should be doing,” Sir Lamorak finished sheepishly. “I–I understand that you inherited the farm from your father?”
“… After a fashion, aye,” Berach answered. That was shorter than going into the whole story. Lord knew that he didn’t want to remind Leah of all that. Perhaps it made him a bad son to think so, but he’d much rather that Leah had only the haziest memories of her grandfather.
“After a … fashion?” asked Sir Lamorak. Drat. Berach had said too much.
Or had he? “Would …” Sir Lamorak glanced sidelong at Master Carey, then continued his question, “Would this have anything to do with the … the odd little clause in the deed? I took it to Sir William, but he didn’t know what to make of it.”
“Ye mean,” Joyce answered — Sir Lamorak turned to her in some surprise, but to his credit, he did turn to her — “ye mean the promise ter let us buy some land on the other side o’ the lane, fer a tavern?”
“A tavern?” Sir Lamorak’s eyebrows went up. “It didn’t say a tavern.”
“Oh, I would have noticed if it said a tavern,” agreed Master Carey. “Tell me, Goodman Brogan, what are your thoughts on curling and tortoises?”
Berach could not have intelligently replied to that if someone had held a knife to his throat and demanded it. Thankfully, he didn’t have to. “Ye can’t curl a tortoise!” protested Leah. “That’s hedgehogs that curl up!”
“Hedgehogs …” mused Master Carey. “Nah. Too soft.”
“They’re not soft; they’re prickly!”
“They are soft if you’re going to be using them for what I’d be using them for,” replied Master Carey. “Although …” He stroked his chin, lost in some other world of thought. Berach gulped.
So did Sir Lamorak. He turned to Joyce. “Please — please don’t let Leah give him any ideas,” he pleaded. Then, with another gulp, he turned back to Berach. “Goodman Brogan — you were mentioning a tavern?”
“Aye–aye, m’lord,” Berach replied. “It’s — it’s somethin’ I’ve always wanted ter do. Since I were young. Start a tavern.” What else to say? Berach’s mouth was stuck for words. “An’ — an’ when he sold me this place, yer father put inter the — the deed, or whatever ye lordly folks call it — that, that when I got more money, he’d sell me more land an’ I could build a tavern there, an’ run it an’ … everythin’.”
“And …” Sir Lamorak turned to Joyce. “You said you wanted to have it across the lane?”
“Aye, m’lord,” answered Joyce. “See–Berach an’ me, we was thinkin’, that’d be the best place fer it. If we try ter build on sideways-like, the land turns inter a big ol’ hill an’ that’ll be a tough one ter master. But on the other side o’ the lane, it’s a wee bit flatter, an’ it’s on the same side as the stalls fer the market.”
“The market …” mused Sir Lamorak. He turned to Master Carey. “Florian — you were saying we should expand the market?”
“It’ll bring in more revenue, taxes and otherwise,” Master Carey agreed. “And it’ll give us a way to compete with the port at Avilion, the forests in Lothian, and of course Port Finessa.”
“But my father …” He glanced at Joyce and said, almost apologetically — though Berach wasn’t sure why — “My father always thought it would be better to develop the land agriculturally, not commercially.”
“Well, that’s a wise thing, it is,” agreed Joyce. She hadn’t been nearly this deferential with Lord Pellinore, not that Berach remembered … except when she was planning something. “But ye do have the market, an’ … Well, m’lord, I were jest talkin’ with Ailís Porter, Berach’s sister, and didn’t she say, Berach, that all kinds o’ good get shipped inter Port Finessa an’ then sent out Reme-way?”
“Aye,” Berach agreed, because the fact was true, even if he was pretty sure Joyce knew it long before whatever conversation with Ailís she was referring to — if there was a conversation at all.
“An’ … now, I could be wrong, but it seems ter me, if there were a tavern here, it would give folk — wagons an’ such-like — reason ter stop in Dyfed, spend a little money here …”
“Most of which would end up in your pocket?” asked Master Carey, and Berach was sure they were sunk.
Joyce was not so easily put off. “An’ then inter Sir Lamorak’s, when we paid our taxes.” She beamed at Sir Lamorak. “Ain’t that right, m’lord?”
“I should hope so!” replied Sir Lamorak. “It does sound like a good idea to get more traffic coming through here, doesn’t it, Florian? Especially if we can manage to sell some of our produce to all the wagons coming through?”
“Me sister says,” Berach turned to Sir Lamorak, “that things — supplies an’ such — are awful expensive in Port Finessa — ’cause o’ all the ships comin’ an’ goin’, ye see. If … if we had a tavern here, an’ attracted more folks — why, they’d want ter buy their food an’ their provisions here, wouldn’t they? On account o’ it bein’ cheaper?”
“I–I think you’re quite right, Goodman Brogan!” Sir Lamorak grinned. “They most certainly would! And that would be a great thing for us!”
Berach glanced at Joyce to see her beaming at him. Berach felt his smile stretch from ear to ear. Finally — finally he was getting the hang of this!
… It was probably a good thing he got the hang of this before he tried opening a business for himself … Joyce, she swore, would do the selling and the managing, leaving Berach to do the cooking and entertaining, but still, it was good to know that he had skills enough to hold his own.
“This, I think, is just what we need!” Sir Lamorak grinned. “I cannot wait to start. When would you like to, Goodman Brogan?”
Berach blinked. “Eh–eh?”
“Start, I mean,” replied Sir Lamorak. “With the tavern. If your cooking is always this good, I’m sure you shall have it full to capacity every hour of every day!”
Berach’s eyes widened. “Well, sir … we ain’t got the money ter build it yet …”
“We could loan some to you! Couldn’t we, Master Carey?”
“Sure,” replied Master Carey.
“N–” Berach didn’t look at Joyce when he said this. He couldn’t. “Fergive me cheek, sir — but we couldn’t take no loan.” Not Oh, no, that’s too kind, or Me goodness, how wonderful o’ ye! That was too encouraging. “I–an’ I’m sure Joyce agrees–I’m a cautious fellow. I … I got burned bad, once, borrowin’ money, an’ I ain’t doin’ that again. When … when I built the tavern, I want ter make sure that I has enough money fer it, free an’ clear. That way …” Berach took a deep breath. “That way, if anythin’ goes wrong, I can sell the land an’ tavern — with yer permission, me lord — an’ not have ter worry about payin’ back no debt.”
“Debt …” Sir Lamorak repeated.
“Aye, sir. Debt … debt is how men like me get into trouble.”
“Debt can be useful, though,” pointed out Master Carey. “Especially when you’re starting something new.”
“That’s — that’s as may be, sir, but … like I said, I ain’t much one fer takin’ risks. At least, not those kind o’ risks,” Berach admitted.
Joyce might disagree … but Berach was not going to put his family in jeopardy, like he had when … well, he hadn’t, when he took the load from Lord Pellinore to set up house in his first farm. Then it had just been him. Leah hadn’t even been born yet — maybe not thought up, though Berach couldn’t remember the timeline as well as he wished — but as soon as she had be, Berach’s gamble had gone and blown up in his face.
But when he looked at Joyce, she seemed not angry or or frustrated, but quiet and thoughtful.
“Well, of course we won’t force you into anything you’re not ready for,” replied Sir Lamorak. “And you have to put your family first.”
“But … but once you feel secure, you will start the tavern, won’t you? It would be a great thing for the estate. And I’m sure it would be a great thing for you, too.”
Berach swallowed. “Aye — aye, sir. I will.”
“Shall we shake on it?” asked Sir Lamorak, his smile as open and disingenuous as ever.
Berach blinked. Shake on it? A noble wanted to seal a deal with a peasant — a peasant — with a handshake? Wasn’t he afraid of catching fleas?
No. No, the Gwynedds were not that kind of noble family. So Berach swallowed and nodded. “Aye, sir.” He stood. So did Sir Lamorak. They shook.
And for perhaps the first time in his adult life, Berach felt like he’d made a deal — a true deal — with a nobleman. Man to man. And he thought that as long as he kept his end of the bargain, Sir Lamorak would keep his. Not just because of honor, either, but because it was the right thing to do.
Berach would miss Lord Pellinore. He had been a good man and a good lord. But this …
This was good.