Staff and Sword and Keepwell Leaf
The morning dawned clear and cold. I doffed my nightgown and pulled on my riding habit hurriedly in the frigid air of the room. Not bothering to groom my mass of dark curls, I stood on tiptoe to snatch my heaviest cloak from the back of the wardrobe and started downstairs. At the foot of my tower steps, I crossed in front of the door to my father’s study and ducked into the dark opening of the servants’ stairs on the other side, entering the kitchens as the first rays of the sun found their way through the high windows.
A pile of warm scones lay on the table, my favorite kind: dense, hearty bread, flavored with citrus rind and stuffed full of nuts and dried fruit. As I reached for one, Hanna ladled fresh milk, still warm and foamy from the morning’s milking, into a cup. Most of our milk was purchased from our tenants, but Father insisted we keep a few goats.
Hanna was a wonder. She was so ancient she was shrunken into herself; her head perched atop her collarbones, her waist rose up to meet her bosom. Her back was one large hump. Yet her eye was sharp, and there was life in her step. This morning she was occupied with kneading and shaping rounds of dark bread, readying them for the oven.
“I be too old to be wastin’ my energy on chatter, child,” she told me once. “I’ll not be tellin’ ye it be a good mornin’ ’til I be sure of it.”
I finished my breakfast in silence and washed the cup myself. Then I put on my cloak and slipped up the stairs and out the kitchen door.
The stars had washed the snow with their soft brilliance, leaving it clean and sparkling in the light of the new morning sun. I tramped through it, listening to its squeaky crunch under my boots, and headed to the stables. I could see ears swiveling over the sides of a stall: Pumpkin, waiting impatiently for me. I saddled the fat, round, copper-colored pony quickly, my fingers cold in my riding gloves, and led him out into the sunshine.
I tried to make Pumpkin trot, but he was too busy marveling at the snow. He kitty-pawed, putting each foot down gingerly, testing before he planted. He leaned down and breathed a deep snortful of the white stuff, then jumped and blew it out in a great sneeze, prancing to the side in feigned surprise to find that it was cold. I sensed his playfulness through the quivering reins.
“Pumpkin,” I remonstrated, “you’ve seen this stuff before. Now, scoot!”
He knew perfectly well what I wanted, although he gave a couple more starts and jolts before settling to a steady pace. We passed into the forest at an awkward trot. Pumpkin headed along the trail as fast as he could manage, urged on by my uneasiness: I feared I would not cover the half mile to the training grounds in time to see my father off. I knew I was already too late for the warm-up drills.
The world around me was so quiet, the usual sounds blanketed by layer upon layer of frozen crystals. The thick boles of oaks and hickories slipped by all too slowly. I noted branches broken off by the snow weight, and even a gnarled old black oak that was downed entirely. That oak had always leaned. Now its passing had ripped a hole in the forest where young pines and dogwoods would shoot up, come spring.
Pumpkin’s long ears picked up the vibrations before mine, but at last I was able to sort through the jumble of sounds growing steadily louder: murmurs of voices, stamping and whinnying of horses, clinking of harnesses and thudding of dropped bundles. I relaxed as I rounded the bend and caught my first sight of the garrison.
“Well met, lady.” There was Xavier, tightening his saddle girths. A dusting of snow lay on his dark, wavy hair. His gelding, christened Black Oak for his massive size, whuffled a greeting at me. Xavier gave another tug to the straps that bound his packs on the horse’s back and turned to me. He balanced one fist casually on his hip, his gray travel cloak parted in front to reveal the Blackwood seal: a gold oak embroidered on his black tunic. The evening star shining silver above the third right-hand branch proclaimed his allegiance to Lost Tree and my father.
“I think you grew older in the night,” Xavier said, surveying me with mock gravity.
I smiled. “People do that.”
He grinned. “You’ll soon be ready to handle old Oak, here,” he said, slapping the horse on the rump. Black Oak swished his tail mildly and planted a hoof—large enough to smash me in two—deeper into the snow.
“I could handle him today,” I said.
Xavier looked back down at me. “I bet you could. Sometimes I wonder where his loyalties really lie.” He grinned again. “You owe me a bout when we get back.”
I nodded agreement and kicked Pumpkin into motion, threading my way among the mass of horses being readied for patrol. Most stood harnessed up with tack and gear; some already bore riders. A handful of the rangers had great black oak bows slung across their backs.
I had heard tell that in other lands any man, with enough practice and persistence, could become an archer. That in those lands, a longbow could be made from any wood, even wood light and supple enough for a woman to draw. I wondered what it would feel like to pull a bowstring taut against my cheek. I would never know—for in Moran, only a bow made from black oak would shoot true; an arrow loosed from any other bow went wide and fell harmlessly into the forest floor, every time. And only a handful of my father’s rangers had the strength and skill to bend a black oak bow.
I passed next to someone kneeling in the snow to inspect his horse’s near hind hoof. The tousled sandy hair turned out to be Jareth’s. He brushed it back from his eyes as he straightened and smiled at me. “Take care of my sweetheart,” he called.
“You don’t have a sweetheart,” I said over my shoulder.
“Sure. I be waitin’ for ye. Ye know the sight of all yer pretty little sun speckles makes me weak in the knees!”
If speckles were the key to Jareth’s heart, I must have won it completely, for I had a myriad of them. I had my mother’s black hair, but not her perfect, creamy skin, nor the bright sapphire eyes that looked back at me from the little portrait on my dressing table.
Near the middle of the ragged column I found my father in the act of mounting Banner, his great bow slung at a careful angle behind him. The horse took the bit between his teeth and swiveled to greet me. Gryph, the long-legged gray wolfhound, left his usual place at Banner’s side and trotted over, tail wagging. Father’s confused frown vanished when he looked over his shoulder and identified me as the cause of Banner’s disrespect. “Peregrine! Ho there, little daughter,” he greeted me, his big smile bright as the morning.
My father was one of the King’s knights, his speckled face weathered from riding through sun and rain. His golden brown hair was streaked through with gray. Lately, I had noticed that the silver was conquering, chasing out the gold. His eyes were the same gray as mine: sometimes a clouded blue, at times almost green, like the sea before a storm, or so he told me. I had never seen the sea.
He leaned down from his saddle to look at me as he said, “Don’t work Roth too hard while we are gone.” His eyes twinkled, and he smoothed a curl back from my cheek with an affectionate hand.
“Father…” I began.
But the words I could not find melted silently on my tongue. He was already turning, clucking Banner into a walk and heading off down the line of horsed men.
I found Roth beside a pile of swords in the mirrored training hall. He continued his inspections, discarding each sword into one of two smaller piles when he was through with it, while I shed my cloak and donned the heavy leather jerkin that had been remade to fit my child-sized frame. The white-haired weapons master looked absorbed, but I knew better. He would watch every move of my warmup. I went to the corner, selected the smallest staff, and walked toward the center of the room.
Grasping the staff with both hands, I began to swing. Up over my head, and down to the ground. Sweeping up on the other side, and down to the ground. Up, sweep. Up, sweep. This was called the Thresher. Gently at first, and then more vigorously, I cycled through swinging, lunging motions. The Archer. The Wheel. The Shepherd. The Stargazer. My mind relaxed and emptied.
I had just brought my staff down to complete the Sentry when Roth approached me with a staff in his own hands. “Fall,” he said tersely, and brought the length of wood down on top of me. I blocked, but lost my balance as he intended and went rolling across the floor, coming up with the staff still in my hands. I shifted my grip on it just in time to block and roll again.
As Roth said, nothing teaches like experience. Welts and bruises told me why learning to fall properly was one of the most important aspects of learning to handle a weapon. “Some untrained ruffian trips ye and breaks a leg, it be over before ye can even whip out yer fancy weapon.” Roth had told me. “Falling be one of yer best defensive strategies.”
Consequently I fell often. I went headfirst, tucking to roll from one shoulder to the opposite hip and whipping back around to face my opponent. I fell over backward, tucking my head and knees and landing on my back, my arms slapping the ground to disperse the impact; or I twisted sideways in the air to make one smooth motion of landing (slap!), rolling over and back up. In the course of regular weapons practice, I fell frequently enough; but Roth still felt the need to drill me at it occasionally.
“Enough,” he said at last. “Grab a wood. That one.” He pointed to one of the small wooden drill swords. When I grew into it, this would be one of the lighter weights; right now it was a handful. Roth insisted that a well-trained fighter could use any weapon—or none at all.
“Time enough later for ye to decide what feels right to ye,” he said once. “But ye be going to leave my hall ready to do some major damage with nothing in yer hands.”
I hefted the sword he had indicated. I was watching my own stance in the mirror, working on lunges, so I paid no attention to what he was doing until a bucketful of cold water was dripping down my right side. It was cleverly done, in just such a way as to thoroughly soak my glove and arm padding. Water seeped through my shirt.
“I regret to inform ye that ye be under attack and have no time to even think about going to dry off,” he said, raising his sword.
I clenched my teeth and blocked just in time. That was Roth’s style; take it or leave it. If you chose not to take it, you left.
Roth worked me and my damp leather around the room, until I was flushed and near discouragement. I discovered we had come full circle when I slipped in the puddle of water on the floor. I slapped and rolled, but this fall would add some bruises to the ones my instructor had been dealing me with the flat of his sword all morning. I sat up slowly. He did not lecture me on the need to keep a better awareness of my surroundings, nor did he mention that sitting in the floor like a slumped squash would guarantee that I became toast on a stick. He simply placed the blunt tip of his practice sword at my throat. Point taken.
“Enough,” he stated. “Now we do take-downs.”
“You didn’t get much of a ride today,” I commented to Pumpkin on the way back. “And I think I need to limit these self-regulated snacks. You’re getting quite fat this winter.” Pumpkin rolled his eyes at me.
By the time I had managed to throw Roth into the straw a few times, I was thoroughly worn out, not to mention ravenous. After seeing to a good rubdown and a hot mash for Pumpkin, I slipped into the kitchen. That was where I ate every day, as my father ate his midday meal with his men, whether at home or away on patrol. Not one of the servants had the heart to put me up in the dining room all by myself. Instead, Bess usually laid out one of the kitchen tables as if it were the Queen’s nuncheon, and then sat with me to be sure I held my silverware properly and ate my soup decorously. She declared she was not going to let me grow up wild and ignorant just because I had no one to impress with my social skills.
Today I saw a simple wooden bowl of steaming stew and a plain spoon laid out on a small table near the fire. Bess was standing beside it, arms folded under her breast, looking like she had swallowed a lemon. I looked from her to Hanna, who glided—it was a marvel, the way that humped little woman could glide—over and set a buttered brown loaf down next to the stew bowl, as serene as if she were the Queen herself.
She was, down here. If there had been a dispute, there was no doubt who had gotten her way.
I climbed the stairs with a full belly and a sinking heart. It was time for my afternoon lessons, and these had become even more arduous since my father had announced his intention to wed again. After needlework and history would come basic figuring, followed by writing.
I hoped there would be no geography today. There would be no Father this evening to take me on his knee and trace the maps in his study with his finger, talking until his words joined with the inked lines to form vivid images in my mind. While Bess pedantically drilled the names of Moran’s four provinces and the Crown district, the prominent earls and the colors of their guards, my father’s pedagogy was of a different style. He took me on imaginary journeys so that I felt I really saw the kingdom.
We wandered through our dense Blackwood forests northward, through the fertile valley pastureland of Brownwell, and up and to the west to the sloping moors of Greyheath and the crumbling ruins of our monasteries. Then we turned east to Crown Hill and the palace, which lay sandwiched between Greyheath and Redwater, nestled at the foot of the Silver Mountains. Winding eastward along the mountain range, we tumbled down the cliffs with the Falls of Redwater and floated down the White River that marked Moran’s eastern and southern border, through Redwater and then Blackwoodagain, curving west to the southernmost tip of the land. Further west, the White River emptied into the Gulf of Kialan, hugged by Sirwan on our west border and Din Sul to the south.
There was no geography today. I had my second pleasant surprise when I was wiping the piece of slate clean from the sums Bess had set me.
“Take these,” she said, proffering paper and quill, “and write out a list of Sirwani verbs ending in –ar. In your best hand, mind. Then conjugate them in present tense and use each one in a simple sentence.”
I stared at the paper, eyes wide. Could it be that we were going to combine the dreaded penmanship with language lessons? I was a linguist at heart. I loved to discover the subtle nuances of expression in the foreign tongues of our neighbors. I delighted in their differences, in finding the astonishingly radical and yet fluidly logical ways of combining grammar and syntax that were essential to their structure. I loved to hear the strange sounds roll off my tongue, and I longed to have someone answer me in something more fluid than Bess’s halting tones.
When I had completed the written exercise, we set aside the pen and stumbled through a conversation orally.
“Mei lani ni janto kei?” Bess said. Would the lady kindly pass the salt? Only she made it sound like, “Mayee lawni nee yawnto kayee?” and her inflection rose at the end, where it should have fallen.
“Ponparo, lan. Mei ci toz jantan herbe?” I replied. Gladly, my lord. May I offer you herbs as well?
“Utrara ja ni besprelen.” I would like to hear some music.
“Besprelen u toz.” I would also.
When Bess released me for my free quarter watch before supper, I made my way down to the sunroom on the first floor. My mother’s harp was still kept here. I lovingly fingered the strings, but the soft sounds that emanated were discordant, a winter wind soughing among the rocks. I plucked at them sometimes in a feeble effort to glean some insight into their workings, but there was no help for me here. There was no one even to show me how to tune the instrument. But my soon-to-be sister was musical, said my father. The harp was to be his welcome gift to her.
I frowned at the unlovely sounds and wondered if the sister I had not yet met would care for my mother’s harp as it deserved.
I wondered if she would care for me.
Every spring and autumn when he returned from border patrol, my father made the rounds of his own land, visiting his tenants to see that all was well; and as long as I could remember, he had taken me with him. Before I was old enough to ride on my own, he had set me before him on his horse, stopping to buy me sweet buns and milk in the markets and sheltering me in his cloak when I grew sleepy towards the end of a long day of travel.
Even if we had simply been inspecting the land itself, I would never have grown tired of passing through endless woods, studying the way each tree differed from all the others and listening to the wildlife that dwelt in secret places. But now and then, forest would give way to cultivated fields, and fields would lead to a village, and the village would be filled with interesting sights—and with people who seemed always glad to see Sir Walter of Blackwood Lost Tree. It was with fierce pride that I had saddled Pumpkin and accompanied him on my own steed for the first time.
This spring’s trip would be the last before my father’s marriage, the last time I had my father all to myself. I was prepared to hoard our watches on the road together, determined that the bitter taste of finality would not mar the sweetness. One day as preparations were nearly complete, I escaped from Bess—who seemed to be floundering in the double mindset that once I left I would have more than enough time away from our usual study routine, but she perhaps would not, and was chivvying me halfheartedly towards copying out a dull, historical sort of penmanship exercise—and found Hanna in the apothecary.
She was wrapping little containers of herbal tinctures and powders in a satchel small enough to sling over a shoulder or fit easily in a saddlebag. I sat down at the end of the table with my chin on my folded arms and studied the arrangement of bottles.
“Tell me what this be, and what ye would be needin’ it for,” she said, handing me one of the smallest jars used for essential oils.
It was not labeled. Hanna always simply knew the contents, and she said I must learn to read their birr and know them the same way. I touched the smooth, dark glass with a forefinger. I did not need to open it to know the homely, wholesome smell that would greet my nose if I did. “Lavender,” I answered. “Calms the body and boosts its strength. It can be used for almost anything and assists almost any other oil.”
She handed me another. Wrapping my fingers around it, I could almost feel the cool spiciness on my skin through the glass. “Coriander. Calms, supports digestion.”
“Find the lemon balm,” Hanna told me, watching with hooded eyes.
I hovered indecisively over a row of identical amber bottles, paying attention to the way they felt under my hand, or perhaps the way my hand felt near them. Clary sage; rose; sweet fennel; oregano. I picked up the next: lemon balm. Hanna took it expressionlessly and slipped it into one of the small pouches she had sewn into the purse. Then she handed me a different kind of jar, used for powdered herbs. “What be this?” she asked me.
“Wormwood,” I said. “For parasites. Are you going somewhere?” I asked, when she packed a jar of willow, for breaking fevers.
“No,” she said. “Ye be. Ye know yer father be takin’ ye on his spring tour in the mornin’.”
I stared, eyes round. “And I be taking the remedies with me?” I asked, surprise causing me to slip into a reflection of her brogue.
“Surely. Ye might be findin’ someone in need of healin’ as ye travel.”
This was a big responsibility. Hanna was not giving trinkets to a child so I could play at being a healer. Those herbs, and especially the oils distilled from them, were precious. The satchel before me represented many weeks—months, even—of time spent seeking, gathering, drying, grinding, distilling, and blending. And in some cases, the wrong remedy, or the wrong dosage, could do more harm than good.
“Ye be an apt student,” Hanna said, perhaps guessing my thoughts. She closed the satchel’s front flap, which was emblazoned with the sigil of a healer: a willow tree and superimposed keepwell leaf. “An’ ye have a sort o’ knack for it. Ye’ll do.”
I glanced down where Paws-in-the-Milk, draped on the stool, dangled his tail in front of Jasper’s nose. The kitten’s saucer eyes followed its every twitch, his haunches wiggling in preparation for a spring. Sidewinder blinked yellow eyes from his perch on the smaller table, and Ladies’ Lace lay curled atop the shawl I had let fall to the floor. The respective birr of each cat flowed soft and warm about them.
“What do the cats be thinkin’ about it?” Hanna asked, eyes sharp on my face.
I chuckled. “They know you’re preparing fish for dinner.”
Most of Blackwood is rich woodland, with black oak wood its chief commodity. Unlike Brownwell, where fertile farmland is the defining characteristic, most of the farms in Blackwood are small, chiseled from the surrounding trees and always in danger of being swallowed up again.
Accordingly, much of our travel passed through dense forest. Father mostly tried to go from village to village, more to make himself available than for personal comfort, but he was also interested in those lone holdings whose yeomen might travel rarely to the nearby village. They should still, he said, be able to see that their liege lord cared personally for their welfare.
I loved every day of that journey, joyful in the knowledge that I was participating in an important part of my father’s work. There was a minor mishap early on, at the inn at West Parding, when I approached a beautiful dog without asking the owner’s permission. The man reacted by grabbing me roughly, provoking Gryph to bite his arm. I had ended up tending the wound myself, to the man’s obvious irritation. But nothing else noteworthy happened until we reached Port Timber.
After a nuncheon at the Fat Flounder of hot fish chowder served over maize grits imported from Sirwan, Father took me through the bustling market, admiring the local wares and conversing amicably with the merchants. Along with the usual produce, there was plenty of fish, as well as a quantity of crafts. I spent a long time looking at the wood vendors’ stalls, where there was everything from abacuses—less elegant than my father’s, but functional—to ornamental wooden spoons.
I was licking my fingers after a sweet bun, bought hot from a woman at a stand sandwiched between one of the wood vendors and the tin mender, when I became aware of a commotion at the other end of Market Street. With a gentle pressure on my shoulder, Father kept me beside him as he moved out into the market square.
Three men were shoving a fourth along in front of them, his hands tied with twine behind his back. Keith the Tanner, whom my father had appointed magistrate of Port Timber, as I had learned while nunching at the inn, had the bound man’s arm in the firm grip of one of his stained hands. Someone else dragged a sack, which, I realized with some shock, was dripping blood.
The crowd was scrambling to get out of the way and into a position that afforded a good view. Ladies’ Lace, who had been riding on my shoulder, jumped down with a hiss. I caught sight of her bottle-brush tail as she disappeared into the throng.
“Milord.” Keith ducked his head to my father. “I did mention to ye, over nuncheon, Bran’s complaint of his missin’ goat. Seems it be found.”
The man with the sack opened it and dumped onto the ground what was unmistakably the mauled carcass of a goat. The crowd gave a general murmur; some turned away, while others jostled to take their place at the front. My father’s hand on my shoulder moved to pull me against him in a gentle embrace. His birr, through his touch, revealed his disapproval of the situation, though his impassive face gave no sign of it. I leaned my cheek against his tunic, glad of the comfort he offered against the ugly sight before me.
“That be my goat,” announced the third man angrily. He gestured to the carcass. “Those notches on the ears be my markings, plain as plain. And this man stole it.”
“How was this discovered?” asked my father.
“Bran and I come through the woods,” answered the man with the sack, “aimin’ t’see about a leanin’ oak ‘bout ready t’fallover.” He adjusted the axe at his belt. “Caught this one here, chasin’ after a lynx as it was tryin’ t’make off with the goat. Stupid fellow had tied it to a tree like bait.”
The bound man tossed his head at this. He was staring at my father, an insolent twist to his mouth. His sleeveless tunic was missing a couple of buttons, I noticed, and he had nothing on his arms but a fraying shirt. One of his boots had a crack in the toe.
“What is your name?” my father asked him.
My father waited a moment longer, and I shifted against him. It was customary to give one’s name with province and village attached, and I realized suddenly that Gyre’s terse answer had been discourteous.
“Did you steal this goat?” The man shrugged in response. “Why did you steal it?” probed my father.
“I was hungry,” Gyre said. He flicked his eyes at Bran. “Thought there were plenty enough left.” He shrugged again. “It’s just a goat.”
“Just a goat,” my father repeated. “And you know something of the worth of a goat, I think, since you could not afford to buy one. Is this the first time you have stolen?”
“Yes,” was the reply.
My father surveyed the sea of faces. “Can anyone vouch for this man’s character?” he asked.
“Come here a few weeks back,” Keith answered. “Keeps a wife and babe in some hut in the woods.”
“Done a few odd jobs for me,” someone volunteered from the crowd. “Paid him with a couple o’ layin’ hens, so he shouldn’t be starvin’.”
A bitter smile flicked across Gyre’s face. “A fox got one of them,” he said. “And an egg or two a day isn‘t much to feed a family, unless you can add in a little milk and cheese to go with it.”
“How’d you let a fox get to ‘em?” someone else called.
“I foolishly thought the hen would need to eat,” the man sneered, “so I let it run in the woods.”
“May as well be callin’ the fox over and handin’ ‘er to ‘im,” the first man laughed. Gyre’s lips tightened, but he continued to gaze with sardonic eyes at my father.
My father reached into his tunic and pulled out a purse. Opening it, he took out one silver penny. “A good price for a two-year-old milch goat,” he said. He handed the coin to Bran and indicated the mess on the ground. “I think we can remove this.” The man with the sack bent to take up the carcass. “Now,” my father said to Gyre, “you have injured no one but me.” Turning to Keith, he ordered, “Release him.” Hands free, Gyre rubbed at his wrists with a sour expression, and I noted chilblains on his hands. “You speak as though you have had some education,” my father commented. “What are you trained for?”
“Nothing useful, apparently,” Gyre muttered. My father waited, until finally Gyre heaved a sigh and tossed his head again. “I have some scribing skills,” he admitted. “Which,” he added, “are of precious little use in a hamlet such as this.” The inhabitants of Port Timber, which was by far the biggest village in my father’s domain, murmured in disapproval.
“You are used to larger waters, I see,” my father replied. “I agree that your luck might improve in a bigger town. I have no need of a scribe, myself, so I suggest you make your eventual way to Wooton.” He pulled two more silver pennies out of his purse and held them out to Gyre, who eyed them skeptically. Slowly, the thin young man reached for the coins, searching my father’s face narrowly. “A loan, perhaps,” my father suggested. “You now owe me three silver pennies. We will consider the debt canceled if you can manage to turn those into a way to feed your wife and child honestly. If I ever hear your name linked with another misdemeanor on my lands, matters will go differently.”
Gyre looked as though he had bitten into something unpleasant. “My lord,” he answered. He ducked his head and turned away. I tugged at my father’s sleeve and whispered something.
“Gyre,” my father called, and the man looked back. “If you will follow us to our horses, my daughter has an ointment in her saddlebag which she would like to give you for your hands.”
Gyre’s closed expression wavered a moment on my face, and then he ducked his head again. The crowd parted to let us through and began to disperse. Back at Pumpkin’s side, I found the ointment that would heal the chilblains, but I hesitated, looking up at the gaunt face.
“Is your babe well?” I questioned. “And your wife?”
His expression softened, and he looked down at me with a half smile. “Surprisingly, yes,” he answered. “They seem well.”
“It would be better if I could see them, but…” I fumbled in the bag for an empty vial. Unstoppering the oil of bergamot, I poured some in, then took out a powdered mixture of oregano, marjoram, and keepwell. “A pinch of this,” I said, handing the powder to Gyre, “and just one drop of the oil in a cup of water every morning. It will help your wife’s body to stay strong, and maybe lift her spirits, too. And the babe will get a bit through her milk.”
Gyre’s smile was warm, now. “Mara will be grateful,” he said. “I admit,” he added, “that I have never been dosed by quite so young a healer.”
Later, there was some talk among our small party about Gyre. Joss maintained he was a noble’s son, disinherited for his choice of a bride. “Why else,” he asked, “would an educated man be pokin’ around in the woods, tryin’ to feed his family without the common sense God gave a goose?”
“It’s not improbable,” my father admitted. He turned in his saddle to look at me. “That was an unpleasant experience for you, earlier this afternoon. You know, of course, what a wild lynx would do to a goat.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Still, it’s not a sight we bargained for on Market Street, is it?”
I smiled at the pun. “Father,” I asked him, “why didn’t you punish Gyre? Didn’t he break the law by stealing?”
“Yes, he did,” my father said. “And the conventional requirement for stealing an animal is to give it back, or another of equal worth, and to compensate for the time it was gone. The local magistrate would estimate how much labor or goods, such as butter and cheese, would have been lost.”
“But Gyre couldn’t do that,” I said.
“No. So it would have been thirty days on bread and water in the lockup. And then what would have happened to his wife and babe?”
“They would go even hungrier.”
“Most probably. And he would have emerged even more of a cynic than he went in. Remember this, little daughter: Anyone in a position of power can dispense justice. Yet it is far better to show mercy, rather than judgment, if in doing so you harm none but yourself.”
I thought about this. “But if he keeps stealing,” I mused, “you have to handle it differently.”
“Yes. If someone continues to break the law, he becomes a public nuisance. I gave Gyre the opportunity to prove that he was merely desperate, not lazy or unprincipled.”
“And right now he has not really hurt anyone but you, because you paid Bran for the goat,” I ventured.
“Exactly,” he replied. “A wrong should always be addressed, Peregrine, but you cannot always make the scales come out even. There will be times in your life when you must bear a heavier load than someone else, simply because you can.”