The young man pulled off his black gloves with a sigh.
Mission accomplished, he thought smugly, slapping the gloves onto the table.
He settled down into his bear-skin chair with a contented sigh, reliving the past day.
The man had had no time to respond. Out of the blue, a man dressed completely in black had appeared. Without mercy, the man in black wrenched the poor man and his wife out of their seats by the fire and shoved them out the crudely fashioned door. It had been an easy way to make money. Lord Dronum paid 100 riaras a head for capable men and women to work as slaves. And besides, they were only poor tenants, it wasn't like there weren't millions more.
The man rolled his shoulders before closing his eyes and waiting for sleep to come. A face came to his mind, however, one he’d overlooked. A dirty, terrified face.
He jerked up in his chair, his mop of brown hair flopping, his keen blue eyes wide open.
Where was that face from? His mind raced trying to think.
Wait, he thought, his mind going back to the previous event. Pictures formed in his mind as he again relived the scene, but with another person.
In the corner, a huddled figure with hair falling over her face cowered. Her eyes were wild with fright and her hair wasn’t brushed. She couldn't have been more than 11 years old since she was so small.
The 17-year-old felt a nervousness clutch his heart, here was a witness. She wouldn't have been able to identify you, Maurdrim, he comforted himself, the only thing she would have been able to see were my eyes, and lots of people have blue at that. He tried to shake off the fear and go to sleep, but the girl's face haunted him, even in his dreams.
5 years later…
"Leannare! You finish milkin' that cow afore I take ta whippin' ya!"
I jerked out of my reverie and turned to face the cow and commenced milking, the frothy white streams making a pleasant sound in the bucket.
"Ya hear me, girl?"
"I hear you, Sir Ostontat," I yelled back, before mumbling, "I hear you loud and clear."
'Sir' Ostontat wasn't really royalty at all. He was a pig farmer, a common pig farmer who'd had the misfortune of taking me on. At least that's what he said.
"Ya oughta be thankful fer what ya have. I coulda left ya grovelin' in that little hovel ya called home," he'd always remind me.
I tried not to think back to that incident. I'd done everything in my power to erase it from my brain, but Ostontat kept drudging it back up, forcing me to remember it.
I shook my head to clear it, sending my long brown hair flying over my shoulder.
Finishing with the milking, I squashed back through the pigsty in my barefeet, mud and all oozing between my toes.
The small abode the Ostontat family called home stood in front of me, and I brought the pail to the back door.
Mrs. Ostontat rudely took the milk saying, "It took ya long enough ta do that!"
"I'm sorry," I mumbled before heading to the lean-to that rested against the barn.
A small pile of grass covered by a blanket was my bed and my sack full of hay served as my pillow. I looked around before rummaging under the grass for my two most prized possessions. My father's sword and my mother's bow and arrows.
I pulled them both out before putting the quiver and bow on my back and strapping the sword's belt around my waist.
I glanced one more time around the small farm before throwing my green cloak over my bow and sneaking off into the fields.
The Ostontat homestead sat on the edge of ten acres of green fields bordered to the north and east by the Bruenbiere Forest.
I ran through the fields dotted with pleasant smelling wildflowers, the green grass swishing against my legs.
The Bruenbiere Forest was lighted well, so I made my way easily through the trees until I came to the small clearing with the rock outcropping to the south.
My training field and battleground. I took my bow and quiver and laid them on the ground before taking my cloak off.
My sword lunged and twisted, countered and parried, thrust and plunged as I battled imaginary foes. But one in particular, one with piercing blue eyes. One I'd never forget. Ever.
After fifteen minutes of fencing, I climbed to the top of the rocks and practiced there, being careful to watch my footing before I jumped off of the top, plummeting at an astonishing speed before I threw my sword aside and curled into a ball, letting my shoulder take the brunt of the leap.
I un-curled and was on my feet with sword in hand in less than ten seconds.
“Whew,” I commented, wiping my perspiring brow.
I switched out the sword for the bow and arrows. I'd used charcoal to draw an outline of a person onto a piece of raggedy cloth somebody had disposed of. My arrows hadn't helped any.
I stood back at twenty yards and pulled back the string before letting my arrow fly.
It hit the desired mark and I stood back with my arms crossed in satisfaction.
I was ready.
I hurried back to the hovel quickly, so that Sir Ostontat wouldn’t yell at me. Through a hole in the mud, clay, and stick home, I could see the puny candle lit for the evening meal—which, for me, usually consisted of a hard heel of bread and a small chunk of dry cheese.
I slunk through the tall swaying grass and snuck into the barn, commencing shoveling pies—the brown kind-- out into the pitiful garden.
Mrs. Ostontat threw open the door and screamed, “Leannare! Get in here!”
I cringed and trotted obediently into the small hovel.
My eyes lowered to the cold dirt floor, I humbly walked in, the gaunt eyes and shallow faces of the seven Ostontat children’s faces staring at me.
I made my way to the fireplace and began dishing into the crude wooden bowls a flavorless boggy soup.
Sir Ostontat shoved me a stale heel of bread and a warm piece of cheese.
I huddled by the fireplace and slowly ate my cheese and bread, knowing from experience that the more slowly you chewed, the longer the food seemed to last.
There were the usual squabblings of the dirty children, Mrs. Ostontat’s nagging of her husband, and Mr. Ostontat’s banging of the table for quiet.
I was filtering out the horrendous noise when I heard Mr. Ostontat slam the table and say, “Listen up, ya cantankerous children! And you,” he pointed his stubby ugly finger at his wife, “hesh ep. I got som’in real important ta say.
“The Knight of the plots from here ta clear oer in the Village is a’comin’ ta have supper wit’ us tomorrah.”
All the Ostontats became quiet.
Mrs. Ostontat’s hand flew to her mouth, “What will we feed ‘im? Good gracious petunias, I’ll have ta clean the house!”
I leaned forward eagerly.
Mr. Ostontat continued, “Since we’re the squire of the Mirrian plot, he came to discuss with us his new plans.”
The table was abuzz with new chatter, but I sat, not hearing any of it.
The Knight was coming to visit. Maybe, just maybe, I could pull this off.
When I’d finished clearing the plate and washing the sloppy dishes, I hurried out to the lean-to. I would need my rest if all was to go as planned.
I was going to escape.
The next morning came and went, filled with weeding the garden, working in the large fields, slopping the pigs, and, of course, cleaning the house.
As I rushed around the house, sweeping the dirt floor and dusting the crude furniture, Mrs. Ostontat kept nagging me about supper.
“I don’t even kno’ what I’m goin’ ta feed ‘im! What a blast’d mess m’ man gave me ta clean up!” Mrs. Ostontat grumbled loudly.
I sighed and tried to block it out. Suddenly my peace was broken.
“Leannare! Blast it, girl! I said, you’re to make supper!”
I looked up in horror. “Wha-what did you say?” I stuttered.
“That’s right, you’re goin’ ta make supper! It was my problem, but now it’s yours,” she said in smug satisfaction, “and if it tastes like pig slop, then I can blame it on ya’”
I turned with my broom in hand, looking at the floor in desperation. What on earth could I make that would be worthy of the Knight?!
I glanced out the window and heard the hogs snorting. With a quick look at axe hanging by the door, I made a decision.