The Lord had never had quite such a lovely ride towards Olympus. Perhaps the road was worn smooth from the pilgrims so excited to experience the festival, perhaps it was Lorelei, who was always polite and stimulating conversation, and perhaps it was Markham’s absence that gave him such a cool, rested mind.
But Philomere’s mind was tired of rest. As the light began to dim, and they found themselves in good time, he ordered the train of gifts to settle at the inn for the night early. The arrangements had all been made, the carts were to be loaded into a large barn, locked, braced, guarded, and the men would get their payment and Philomere could take a walk. He needed to move a bit.
He paced, a few times, around the barn, in sight of the men who guarded the place, all too casually. House Dunn was historically a wealthy house. Their palace was lush, their food sumptuous, and their lifestyle high.
But their palace was maintained entirely by the monastery, their food was procured by local families, and their lifestyle was sparse and quiet when unobserved. Now, in the eyes of so many people, House Dunn had to swathe itself in the richness and gentility of nobility, but what was left but rags?
There had been talk that House Dunn was running out of funds, the wine was running out since the last war left them drained. The peasants were ascendant, the old barriers were crumbling. Even these rumors, however, were a façade. As Philomere paced around the carts full of goods, from herbs to silks to horses to candles to bottle after bottle of wine, he was pacing around everything that mattered, everything that he had.
What had he done to deserve this? Odius, wonderful, astounding, perfect, horrible, disgusting Odius was supposed to be Lord. He was supposed to marry a girl, Lord over the dying land, and leave Philomere alone.
But now Philomere, who once acted the part of forgettable spare, was now acting the part of rightful heir. Lorelei was with him on his ruse, she was the only one he could trust. His guards were farmers, called off, hoping to be home before harvest, untrained. They were not held by loyalty. They had no vested interest besides tradition and pay. Philomere had run out of the latter. There would be thefts, but this was to be expected. There was his problem, he feared nothing more than foreigners making off with his goods, but so long as it goes back to Bora, where he made his home…
Years ago he was asked to run away from it all. He remembered the question, a question so singularly rare in a person’s life. So foolish was he that he let fear of disownment keep him from fleeing, like a man too afraid of darkness to walk into the sun!
He wrung his hands. They would reach the city tomorrow, at this pace, and the sun set behind him, and he observed his long, diminishing shadow…
It was wonderful to choose life again, and not sit in silence with the fat man. To Markham, life was lived on horseback, it was lived fighting and gnashing and loving and roaring about the world. Phil acted like life was just something that happened, something that we had to wait out until a bittersweet end. What an awful concept. What was there to worry about?
Markham had taken one of the horses and galloped off, when the horse, having half of Markham’s vitality, wore itself out, and Markham had it traded away at the next inn, only to be galloping violently onward on a more aggressive, wilder stallion. Lord it was wonderful, no more expectation, save the pains of the horse and the wonderment of those peasants looking out across the road to see a figure dashing across the horizon.
That was what Markham saw himself as, the magnificent lone rider along the horizon, untouchable, almost divine in his freedom.
This was living!
Hayden had never been used to living life so late into the night, so early into the morning. There was no time to sleep in Olympus. He was new to his position as it was, but this was more pressure than he could stand.
Admittedly, he’d never been so excited or enthralled by a lifestyle. Most men would die for it. Hayden was quite the salesmen. His wit was talented, enormous, with a cavalcade of tricks to fall back on when pesky pursuants fell on him.
It was still exhausting work. Lurick was never happy to see him until he’d explained how much money he’d secured from the homes of lords and ladies and knights and merchants. Lurick was never really happy with anything, and spent most of his time going over paperwork or pulling back a bowstring over and over again without any arrow or target in sight.
But Hayden was actually busy doing things. Every morning before the sun came up he was packing the gifts, preparing a demonstration, and hiking, all alone, through the enormous city to whatever visiting noble wanted to be smiled at and have their ego lovingly massaged. It was starting to feel inauthentic. How surprised could he honestly be about a wonderful wine pairing or just how pleasantly low a certain price was or just how many gifts he was willing to give? The Abbot had given him strict lists and orders and they hadn’t failed yet. People really were quite predictable. The Abbot said it was Hayden’s “demeanor” that made them all act so simplistically. Hard to know what that even meant.
As the light leaked away from his windowsill in the warehouse he was being kept, along with the other prized possession of House Dunn, he quietly went over the next day, certain that the Knights he was meant to serve tomorrow would not be quite as interested in his gifts as others. Why was it he was acting as the face of the House while the actual Lord and Lady were yet to arrive? How much faith did they have in him to give him such a position? It was so difficult to gauge the thoughts of those in power… except, perhaps Aya, and how much power did she have really?
“My lord, where would you like to take your grapes and cheese?” asked the young monk, arms folded.
“On the balcony, I think, and please, take down a note for me…” said the Abbot of Bora’s famed monastery, relishing his few moments now in power of something outside the walls of the Order of the Austere.
“What would you have me write, sir?”
“Oh yes, write, we will right something indeed.” The Abbot cleared his throat.
“Upon the death of our noble Lord of the House, Philomere Dunn, upon the order of Lady Lorelei of House Dunn, the title of Lord of the House will be bestowed upon the husband of Aya Dunn, whosoever that may be, and in the interim control of Bora and all the properties associated with House Dunn will be overseen by the Order of the Austere, as per the Belltower treaty.”
“My lord, what of Markham?”
“Yes we should cover that shouldn’t we? Unless the bastard Markham can consolidate his claim to the throne through knighthood or marriage, there are no other heirs to the House of Dunn.”
“Right my lord, what should I do with this notice, put it away with the will?”
“Are you kidding? Get it transcribed and post it throughout the town!”
“Sir, Lord Philomere is not dead.”
“But he is gone, and we can use this to right what has gone so horribly wrong with this city.”
Frogs may bellow louder than bulls, but they cannot drag the plough in the field nor turn the wheel of the winepress, and of their skins you cannot make shoes.