I sat between Valla and Lady Iris and we chatted for a while.
“Valla is right, you are quite dashing in your uniform, the sabre and dagger balance the look of it, and the hat is very rakish,” Lady Iris declared.
“Thank you My Lady, I feel a bit foolish dressing up as a guardsman. But Father said that it was appropriate since the Regent has made me a member. I don’t have any actual duties aside from training but I was doing that in any case. The sword and riding masters are quite strict. But there is a reason for that so I bear it cheerfully,” I said.
“I understand dear boy, you are like a caterpillar changing to a butterfly without the shield of a cocoon. And please, when we are chatting in private, just Iris will do nicely. Aside from the day’s events are you enjoying the summer?”
“Yes Iris, very much. We swim and hike quite a bit and we also ride all over,” I told her.
“All those boys swim with nothing on at all. Matron took the wrong path and we ended up right by the river bank,” Valla giggled.
“I sure you were terribly shocked as any good girl would be,” Iris chuckled.
“We saw a group of girls dancing on a hill top and they had no clothes, so it’s not just boys who do that,” I countered.
Valla grinned at me but didn’t reply.
A maid brought a message that Father was ready to go so I stood and bowed. I retrieved my belt and sabre from the hat rack, put them on and then donned my hat.
“Such a handsome young man you are Edrich. No wonder Valla is enamored of you.
I gave them each a peck on the cheek and went to join Father. There was more saluting as I passed the guardsmen. But I learned I only had to salute with a sabre if I outranked the men. A simple hand salute was sufficient otherwise. That was a relief.
During my next visit to the palace I took my horse back to the stables myself. I was wearing regular clothing. I was just there to see if Valla wanted to go riding.
A group of guardsmen were enjoying the sun and drinking wine.
“Oho! Look there, it’s our tin soldier.”
I was dumbstruck.
The man next to him stood and told him that anyone who would take a knife for the Regent was no tin soldier. The rest of the men agreed and made him come and apologize.
“I am deeply sorry for giving offense, I did not mean you weren’t a brave man, I was trying to jab you about looking like dress up toy for youngsters. I salute what you did and I welcome you to the guard,” the man said.
“If it makes you feel better, I often feel as though I’m playing dress up while wearing the uniform. I hold no grudge to you sir, please relax and enjoy the sun,” I said and offered my hand.
The man shook my hand and went back to his mates who were watching everything. I put my horse with others in a pen and went to find Valla.
As we walked back to the stables Valla took my arm. I like your uniform hat better, she giggled.
My hat was a simple cap like most boys wore, It was flat with a cloth bill and kept the sun off my head and ears.
I put her side saddle on her pony and helped her mount.
“I wish I could use a regular saddle, but I’m not allowed. ‘A young lady could damage her maidenhead riding a man’s saddle.” She said, mimicking the matron who oversaw outings when Valla and her friends were allowed to go out.
“My maidenhead is already gone, I went for a pee and squatted on a stick. It hurt a lot and I bled some but now it feels fine. It feels even better when I put my fingers in it,” Valla told me.
I looked around to see if anyone could hear.
“Don’t be silly, nobody cares what we’re talking about, they have their own lives to live,” Valla said.
We rode quite a ways and decided to stop in a meadow so the horses could drink from the stream.
We sat on the tall grass and clover in the shade and Valla got quite close to me. I knew she was impulsive so my guard was up.
“I want another taste of your seed,” she whispered enticingly.
“What if someone sees us?” I asked.
“They won’t and even if they do, they won’t recognize us,” she reasoned.
It was a good argument and I was weak.
“We can lower the risk of getting caught by doing it to each other at the same time,” I suggested.
“That’s a good idea, I hope I don’t bite off your kuck when I get my feelings”
I kicked off my boots and removed my trousers. Valla slipped her summer dress up and off revealing that there had been nothing between her and it.
I kissed her on the mouth for quite a while, she responded and we did that for bit longer. She ran her hand down my chest and seized my kuck.
I slid down and tongued the mounds of her budding breasts. She let me continue for a few minutes and the pushed me onto my back. She swung a leg over my face and put her mouth on my kuck. I pulled her hips down so I could lick her moist pink girlhood and she released me long enough to tell me I could insert a finger inside her while I licked.
She returned to her work and I focused on her fleshy button and the hood that covered it. She tasted like warm bread and I lost myself in her. After a considerable time she began to hunch at me. I fingered her ass with my free hand and she began to shudder and quake. I felt her insides grasping my finger and she squeezed my head with her knees. When it finally passed she begged me to stop. I relented and just rubbed her plump bottom and smooth back. At some point she resumed sucking on me and I was able to concentrate on my own pleasure. I pushed up at her and she took me as deep as she could manage, her tongue was exquisite and she worked every surface of my kuck while fondling my balls. I felt my seed coming on and warned her it would be soon. It arrived like a March squall and I managed to tell her this was it just before it began to pulse and squirt. She did a wonderful job of containing most of it, only a bit spilled from her mouth and dribbled off her chin. I reached up and licked her again and she squealed that she was too sensitive to endure that again.
I relaxed for a while and she scooted down and turned around.
“There is something else we can do,” she enticed.
“What do you mean?”
“You could put it inside me,” she whispered.
“In your ass?” I don’t have any lotion to ease the way,” I protested.
“You can do that?!” She asked in a shocked voice.
“Some boys do it, I’ve even done it once. But without lotion it would hurt you,” I warned.
“That’s not what I was talking about but it sounds interesting, I meant you could put it in my quim where you had your finger before,” She informed me.
“No, I think that would be a bad idea. There could be an accident and you could become with child. It only takes a little seed to make a baby you know. I love you Valla and I do want to have you that way but it would be a betrayal to your parents and mine. It could also endanger our future together. Your father tells me there is a path to nobility through service. I will do whatever is needed to achieve that for us. I want to marry you, do you understand. I would take you in a moment if I didn’t love you but I do. I can’t let a single act of madness ruin our life together,” I explained with great passion.
“I understand, and I was only considering it for a moment. I know we can’t actually do that but next time you could rub me with you kuck,” she finished.
“That might feel good but I can’t let my seed out anywhere near your quim,” I told her.
“And I don’t believe you, you wouldn’t take me if you didn’t love me. You wouldn’t even be here now if you didn’t love me. But I understand and I love you all the more for it,” She said.
We redressed and ate the lunch she had packed. At the bottom of the basket there were a pair of knickers and she slipped them on.
“In case Mother checks she grinned,” she grinned.
I helped her mount and we began the ride back to the palace. We hadn’t gone far when her horse pulled up lame. I dismounted and helped her off. Then I looked at the hoof the horse was favoring. I pried a large stone from her hoof and walked her around a bit. She was still limping.
“I’ll put you on my horse and lead them both to the palace.
“No that will take too long and Mother will worry and send out half the guard to look for us. Unsaddle your horse and tie it to mine. It’s not that heavy and I can just ride with you on the blanket,” Valla suggested.
She was right, the lame horse would be fine if she didn’t have to carry a rider. My saddle weighed very little. I unsaddled my horse and the tied it to the other saddle and walked her around some more. She was improving but the bruise to her quick was quite deep.
I vaulted up on my horse and it grunted but stood firm. I pulled Valla up and swung her to a sideways position in front of me. I held her close as we began the trip back to the palace by the shortest and least scenic route possible.
I reveled in the sensation of her closeness as we rode. Her faint lavender scent mixed well with her natural smell.
The stable master inspected the horses’ hoof and agreed that the quick had been bruised by the stone. He would put the horse on the injured list and work with her until she was walking normally.
I walked Valla in to her mother and bade them good afternoon. On my ride back I passed by the wheelwright’s shop. I stopped to speak with the man and we chatted for a while. He was at a loss as to how to prevent the same thing from happening. I pointed out that he could remove a few paving stones in his forecourt and put in anchoring rings. They could be set in concrete and the axle of the carriage or wagon could be chained to the rings. He thought it was an excellent idea and the next time I went past there were workmen in his forecourt.
After another two weeks all was in readiness for our trip to the Haluken area. Valla was with her mother visiting a cousin to the east of Halla for fortnight. Olaf preferred to stay behind with Ivy and Bolly to see to Mother’s needs. He would make sure the little boys didn’t trouble her unreasonably. Father, Rilla and Kiva packed and prepared with me. Father passed out daggers like mine and the sheaths that attached to the wrist. He also told me my sabre would be useless in the bush and handed us each a short sword that would wield well in close quarters. He gave us scabbards that we wore on our backs so that we could draw the sword quickly. We met a man named Leif who was the surveyor and cartographer.
He explained that he would use the Haluken road as a reference point and draw the map in relation to it. There was a map of the area but it didn’t show many features such as lakes and streams.
We left early one morning with eight horses and five donkeys loaded with provisions. We stopped at many villages to eat in their inns. Father had stopped shaving a week before we left and we wore no visible weapons in settled country. Father had a crossbow in a pouch and so did Leif. We all had our bows with a large supply of arrows. I hoped we’d have no need of them other than game. The villages became fewer and only small hamlets were seen from there on until at some point they ceased to appear. Father produced his own map and we saw that the next water source was a full days ride. We let the horses and donkeys stand in the stream and drink as long as they wished. Meanwhile we were filling water skins upstream from the horses. It was a three day ride to our destination. Donkeys can’t walk as fast as horses so the journey took longer with a pack train. I found my old hut and looked inside. It was looking like it would fall down with a harsh word. We set up camp in a tree covered glade near the area I wanted to show Father. With the camp set up , Rilla and I went to hunt dinner. There were hundreds of ducks at the lake so I put arrows in two plump ones and took them back to camp.
We ate like kings and banked the fire for a quick start in the morning. I took the bones a good distance from camp before laying them out for the animals to scavenge.
I passed around some hard licorice and we sat by the coals and talked for quite a while.
Everyone was tired and we all went to sleep. I slept outside with Kiva and Rilla while Father and Leif slept in their tents. I had slept out in the woods outside of Halla but it wasn’t the same as here. The night sounds were different. You could occasionally hear people singing in a tavern or horses plodding along the cobbles. Out in the wilds of Haluken only the night birds and foxes made noise. I could hear animals moving carefully through the brush but they never got close to our camp.
In the morning we made oats and ate bread toasted by the fire. I led the party on foot to the crumbling quartz face of a sloping hill. It took little time to find samples to test. Father and Leif saw to the assay process while I watched. I spent some time in the stream with a copper pan swishing water and crushed quartz around to see how much gold could be found in the stream. I showed my brothers how to sluice and they got the hang of it quickly. It didn’t take long to come up with a pile of gold the size of a fat strawberry. It was enough to assay and Father pronounced it to be very high grade ore. We sluiced a palm full of gold sands and Leif put it in a crucible and melted it on a very hot fire. Salt and other chemicals were sprinkled into the crucible until there was a deposit on top of the gold. This was scraped away leaving only very pure gold in a large lump as big as Father’s thumb. Leif tapped the lump out on a flat stone and let it cool. They chipped off a small piece and placed it in another vessel and added acid. It was nearly pure and according to the scale was a bit over two troy ounces. We completed the day with a toast but I only had a small glass of wine.
In the morning we walked lines with the surveyor and then explored the hillside above the quartz deposits. Rilla and I were looking around some bushes and found a natural cave in the face of the hill. I picked up what I thought was a rock but it was terribly heavy. I poured some water on it and it shone in the sunlight and winked at me. It was about the size of my closed fist and it was mostly gold with a small amount of quartz running through it. Rilla found another somewhat smaller one, then Kiva joined us and found a third. I didn’t think it was a good idea to go in any further without a torch so we backed out and carried our respective rocks with us.
Father and Leif were awestruck by the size of the gold nuggets we had found. We put torches together and returned to the cave. Father lit one by starting a small fire and we each lit our own off his. Then he tossed the torch as far back as it would go. He wanted to see if there was any gas in the cave before we went in with lit torches. We walked in and the walls of the cave were studded with quartz and glittering yellow metal.
“Well, this is a change of plans. Tomorrow we will ride to Haluken and place a claim with the magistrate. I will send a messenger to Halkar and ask for an order for the watch to station a few men on the claim to protect it. Do not volunteer any information about the site. I will tell the magistrate what I want him to know. I have found some copper ore and I will present that if he wants to know what we found.
We planned to start early in the morning. Kiva and I had gone to take a deer for meat. I was looking forward to venison. We took our bows and short swords, the swords would make quartering the animal easier. We shot a doe and quartered her. I was carrying a haunch and so was Kiva when something didn’t look quite right. There were too many adults. One of them had Rilla clasped to him and a knife against his throat. I whispered to Kiva to shoot the man that was talking to Leif and I would shoot the one who was threatening Rilla.
“Try not to kill him, I can’t save the one that has Rilla and we need to have one who can talk,” I heard myself saying. It was logical yes but I had never thought that way before.
We circled and found the best position to shoot from.
I nocked one arrow and held a second between two fingers. I thought of nothing but Rilla’s life and freeing him from the man who was holding him at knife point. At the last second I saw Father poised to rush in and bring his pommel down on the head of the third man. I had loosed my arrow and it struck the man who held Rilla in the eye. He dropped like a sack of grain. Kiva hit the other man in the thigh and Rilla followed him to the ground holding his dagger at the man’s neck.
A fourth man we had not seen bolted and ran away but he ran right into Father and was convinced to drop his sword and walk back to camp. We kept a look out to see if there were more but there was no more noise or footsteps. I had reverted to forest life and my senses were alive after only a couple of days in my natural environment. One of the practices of forest people is that we don’t banter idly when we’re walking into a camp or village. You might miss a bear or some other threat and pay the price. Because of that I was able to sense that things were not right. We observed for a while and saw no one. I deemed it was safe to return to camp with our game. I had never killed a man before and it was a grizzly sight with the arrow protruding from the back of his head. Father and Leif had already pulled the wounded man up to his feet, while the third and fourth sat on the ground trussed up like pigs.
I knew from their first words they were Swedes. Swedish raiders frequently crossed the border to rob and steal They had no compunction about killing Norwegians. Several were caught and hanged every year.
I felt bad for having killed a man but it was him or Rilla so I reconciled myself to the fact that it was necessary. Rilla hugged me tight. He had a bit of blood on his back from the arrow strike. The man Kiva had shot gasped in pain. After he and I shared a hug with Rilla, Leif patted my back and went to help drag the two other men to the center of camp.
I cut off the shaft of the arrow leaving a short length to grasp when we would pull it out. The three of us drug him to the others and we began interrogating the ones that could talk. The first one Father had dealt with was stuporous and unresponsive.
I went to my things and retrieved my healing bag. I crushed a few leaves into a cloth and bade Rilla hold them against the man’s nose for thirty heartbeats.
Father walked over to the man with an arrow in his leg while Leif looked menacing behind us.
I tested the arrow to see how imbedded it was. It was deep and it would be a painful extraction.
“How many are you?” Father asked while I went about my work. Coincidentally I needed to shift the arrow a bit so I could get a blade in to free it. Father was timing his questions to my efforts to free the arrow. The man broke and told father everything he knew. They had been sixteen but a farmer with an axe had killed three while they were stealing goats and maimed two more. That left eleven and six had camped closer to the border while this team scouted possible targets.
“What of the eleventh man? Father asked as I made another cut.
“He’s minding the horses, near the fork in the trail by the stream with all the reeds,” the man groaned.
“Anything else My Lord?” I asked Father.
“No, as long as you know what he’s talking about,” Father replied.
I gripped the shaft and yanked the arrow free. Then I packed the wound with herbs and roots. They would staunch bleeding and relieve the worst of the pain. The time I had spent with the midwife was worthwhile. It was good that I had someone to practice on before I needed to treat someone I cared about. The man had passed out and I bound the wound. We drug him over to the rest of them and Leif agreed to watch them while we went for the fifth man.
When we made our way to the place where the horses were being watched the man was asleep in the shade. When we woke he pissed himself out of fright.
He babbled in Swedish and barely understood our commands. Danish and Norwegian are essentially the same language. There are a few differences in vocabulary but Dansk speakers can understand Norsk speakers with very little difficulty. Swedish was once the same language but it evolved differently so it is harder to have a conversation with a Swede.
“This one was younger than the others and had worked for Danes. He was reasonably intelligible. I had him mount a pony and then tied him in place.
Kiva and I mounted other ponies and led the rest back to our camp. We fed them and then Father and Leif took them one by one to do their toileting. The crossbows kept them in a mood to comply. The one Kiva shot complemented me on my healing skills.
In the morning Father and I took the four live men and the body to Haluken. The magistrate recognized us immediately and summoned watchmen to take the Swedes into custody.
“The dead one had a knife to the throat of one of my sons. His brother did what was necessary,” Father told the magistrate.
“I understand Lord Marshal, we’ve had reports of a band of Swedish raiders from a farmer who took on five of them. Two died of their wounds after he brought them in. Do you think it would be fruitful to send a few of the watch down that way to offer them our greetings?” The Abel the magistrate chuckled.
“My son has treated two of these men and they seem to be recovering. I’m sure they would love to see their friends again. Your best bet for a more precise location is the one with the bandaged leg,” Father informed him.
“I require a messenger to go to Halla. I have information for the Regent,” Father told Abel.
“We have a very sophisticated delivery system involving several horses and riders at various places along the road. Give me your message and we will have an answer in three days,” Abel assured.
“Excellent, I have prepared the message and it is sealed by me. And now I need your seal on a document. It is a claim of land east of Haluken. Tell me, does the tavern still have rooms?” Father asked.
“Oh yes, I’m not sure if they have any guests but I can send someone over with a note for the innkeeper,” Abel offered.
“That would be wonderful, thank you,” Father said.
“You know, things have improved greatly for the village since your last visit,” Abel told us.
“I am glad to hear it, the Regent will be pleased as well. He regards Norwegians as brothers from the same heritage. I take it the Monastery has reformed its ways?” Father asked.
“Yes, the decision was taken to leave Father Michael in charge as abbot and he has been using the resources of the monastery to build the community rather than drain it. My one regret from that whole thing is the death of young Edgar and his mother. Hopefully, he and his mother are in the next life as the gods intended,” Abel sighed.
Father and I agreed and the messenger returned with the news that the tavern had a room available.
The magistrate placed his seal on the documents Father had mentioned and a copy was kept for the local files. It would be entered in the tax rolls in five years and by then the mining operation would be in full stride.
“From what you tell me there have been several incursions from Swedish raiders in the past months. Perhaps the fate of these men will give them a warning of what happens to brigands in our land. I do not wish to tell you your business but would you consider sending the one called Verint back with the tale of his arrest and trial. And of course the fate of the other four.
“I will keep your advice in mind when I deal with them, Abel said. Can I offer you a libation Lord Marshal?”
“I thank you Magistrate, but tea will be sufficient,” Father smiled.
We sat and drank tea and chatted.
And how is life for our young Peng?” Abel inquired.
“I am very happy, I’m receiving a wonderful education and I have a warm loving family.”
“Those are the most important blessings, cherish them young man,” Abel told me.
“I do sir, I do,” I said in answer.
After some time chatting with Abel, the rider arrived and took the message and documents Father had placed and sealed in a parcel. The messenger saluted and rode off to the north.
We had barely arrived at the tavern when there was a commotion. A woman and boy were on the terrace of the tavern while she pled for help for her son. He looked very bad and I walked over to see him.
“Tell me mother, is your son a goatherd?” I asked.
“Yes, he minds our goats quite well,” the woman said.
“Do you have a lot of boxweed in your fields? A small box like growth with small pink flowers?” I asked.
Yes, it abounds this time of year but it doesn’t harm the goats,” she replied.
“Your son is not a goat, boxweed is bad for men, enough of it can kill.”
I opened my satchel and went through my herbs. I pulled out a pouch of Salvorum and asked a serving girl for hot water and a bowl.
“Father, would you find a monk and send him to the monastery for a litter and the herbalist. He will know what I’m doing. Asla Fanestras has taught me a lot but I would feel better if the herbalist took an interest.
A monk was found and he raced back to the monastery. The litter arrived before the herbalist so we made the boy comfortable and fed him salvorum tea. He wouldn’t drink it at first but I told him it would ease the pain and convinced him. By the time the elderly herbalist had arrived he had finished the tea and his cramps were abating. But that was just the first stage of recovery. In half an hour or less he would lose control of his bowels. Diapering was usually the only solution for that.
I told the herbalist what I had treated him with and confirmed by symptoms that it was boxweed poisoning.
“No valerian?” the monk asked.
“No, I thought you might want to speak with him in case I’m wrong. But I was pretty sure. Boxweed tastes like licorice at first and then fire. You can escape its effects if you rinse your mouth out with milk or water as long as you don’t swallow. That’s where people go wrong, they swallow the water and the poison reaches the stomach and it goes right to work.
With that we put him on the litter and the monks took him to be cared for with the mother in tow. She turned and put her hand to her heart and rejoined the monks.
Father and I took our bags to our room. In the hall our neighbor was just exiting his room when Father said “You!” in a snarl.
I was already scrabbling for the dagger in my sleeve when the man said, Karl of Ikast? Doesn’t this inn have any standards?”
They both laughed and then embraced.
“Jørgen, it is very good to see you after all this time,” Father said as the two began to talk. I opened our room and we all sat together where I pieced together how it was they had met. They had been calvary soldiers together. Father became the head of another unit and Jorgen became an officer and was given his own command. They fought in several battles together and were long time comrades. I listened while they explained what they were in Haluken for. Jørgen was just stopping on his way to Stilinninbørg to assume a new appointment. He would join the court of a governor as the lord marshal to Bjørge of Copenhagen.
“I had hoped to see you when I stopped in Halla but I would not have found you at home, eh?” Jørgen grinned.
“Only my wife and our three youngest boys. She is with child and not interested in travel. “The Regent would be glad of a visit, Halkar and I speak of you often,” Father said.
“And who is this handsome and dangerous young man?” Jørgen inquired with a grin.
“Dangerous? Father asked.
“He was preparing to cut my throat if I turned out to be your enemy. He’s very sharp, I’ll bet his dagger is as well,” Jørgen smiled.
“Well he has had a few experiences lately that have honed his vigilance. I will tell you of them later. We were beset by Swedish raiders yesterday and we brought in a body and the survivors for the magistrate to deal with. I think it's time to deal with these bandits and discourage their visits,” Father said.
We returned downstairs and ate an early dinner. Father and Jørgen retired to Jørgen’s room to catch up.
I wandered the streets and shops and bought more licorice and peppermint drops. I will admit that Danish licorice is an acquired taste. But if you’ve been raised with it, it’s far better than sweet candies.
I found a nut vendor and got a bag of hot salted nuts which I nibbled as I strolled. I was wearing what I thought of as work clothes that we wore in the work shop. But to other children it was fancy dress.
“Where I live now, these are just the same as your leathers. But in Halla leathers aren’t well regarded. They don’t know what they’re missing,” I said.
I wandered past the lacrosse pitch and was invited to join in. A boy loaned me a basket and I distinguished myself. Finally I wandered back to the inn and to our room. I napped until Father returned.
“I’m glad it was Jørgen in the hallway and not an enemy. It’s too close in there to draw my sword. I would have been forced to use my dagger. I am impressed by your defensive instincts. We have not had much time to speak quietly about the death of that man in camp,” Father began.
“I don’t think it has completely sunk in that I have ended a man’s life. But it was justified. He held a blade to my brother’s neck. I have come to terms with that part of it,” I said.
“Well, let me know if it becomes more than you can bear alone. I will always be available to help you,” Father said and kissed my cheek.
I really hadn’t had time to consider the events in camp that day. If he had cut Rilla I would have still put an arrow in him. It was my brother or him I decided and drew a line under it. I had not cared about the life of the assassin, only that the Regent was in danger. I was closest and I just reacted. Shooting the man with the knife was to an extent planned, if quickly so. They were the same but also different. I decided to read for a bit and then went to bed.
I worried for Rilla and how he might be feeling. I hadn’t much time to comfort him or Kiva before Father and I left.