That evening when Benor returned to his room over the stables he checked carefully. His backpack had been disturbed. He looked around the rest of the room; somebody had disturbed the hoarded dirt under the bed. Not only that but there was a faint print of a shoe in the dust on the room’s only chair. Somebody had stood on it, perhaps to check on top of the battered cupboard that did service as a wardrobe.
His room had been searched but what for? Suddenly it came to him, were they looking for the crossbow? Given he didn’t actually possess one they’d have to look long and hard to find it. Then he had an idea. The privy needed emptying. It was getting disgusting, and the smell had turned his stomach that morning.
Next morning he made his way to the privy. He did so with the furtive air of a man who doesn’t want to be seen. He was carrying what might be a crossbow, wrapped in sacking. Once in the privy, trying not to breathe too much or too deeply, he unwrapped the sacking. This left him two pieces of wood tied together with a length of string. He tied one end of the string to the underside of the seat and then wrapped the remaining end of the string around a stone. The stone he hurled down the privy with as much force as he could muster, backing away sharply to avoid any splash. Then he stuffed the sacking and the two lengths of wood under his shirt. Then with the contented air of a man who has hidden his crossbow where nobody will ever think to look he went back into the stable. Hopefully whoever pulled the string would think that the crossbow had come untied and would then be forced to empty the privy if they wished to recover it.
Whilst he was eating his breakfast, Winnith the lady’s maid appeared.
“Master Dorfinngil. Madam Grasia wondered how much longer you’ll be busy with this mapping business.”
Benor put down a half eaten oatcake and tried to give the impression of a man engaged in complex calculations. Finally he said, “Master Grayer asked me to do various things other than the actual mapping. I estimate I shall be here another week.”
The expression on Winnith’s face indicated the household had hoped to see the back of him rather sooner than that.
Thoughtfully Benor added, “Look, I’m due to be paid for my next week’s work now, so give me the money and then when I do complete my task I can deposit the finished documentation with Cook at breakfast time and then leave.”
Benor felt he was chancing his arm with this request. He was entitled to five alars a week, and he only had another day’s work, perhaps two. Still it all depended on how keen they were to be rid of him.
Winnith considered his statement. “I’ll go and tell Madam.”
Before he’d finished his second oatcake she was back with five alars for him. Benor wasn’t sure whether to feel elated at getting the money or downcast at how ostentatiously keen the household was to get rid of him.
He turned his thoughts to the day’s work. The mapping was to all intents and purposes finished. But he had been asked to put a value on the estate as well. Frankly this latter task had surprised him. Cartographers are not auctioneers and valuers. Still he felt he could make an intelligent attempt to come up with a figure. He had thought of talking to the tenant but immediately dismissed the idea. The tenant would assume that his landlord was preparing the ground for putting the rent up and would immediately say everything he could think of to show how poor the land was.
Then he considered his acquaintances at the Bridge Inn. They were all local people and most had been involved in agriculture at some time. At the very least talking to them would be a good start. So he spent the morning completing the new map he was drawing and just before lunchtime he made his way to the Inn, leaving Gyp contentedly chewing his bread and cheese. At the Bridge Inn he was greeted almost as just another regular. A tankard was filled for him even as he walked in through the door and he nodded his approval when they asked whether he would be eating.
He sat down at the long table. There were two men already eating and he sat close enough to be companionable but far enough away for them to ignore him if they were discussing something confidential. The oldest, Fabbat, was bald and clean shaven. His sons farmed now and the widowed Fabbat would eat at the inn during the day to avoid the attentions of his numerous, over-solicitous daughters-in-law. His companion was Daccko, a carter, horse vet and general farm-worker who by his own account had probably worked on every farm in this area of Partann.
Daccko looked across to Benor. “You still working down at Beck House then?”
“Aye, but not for much longer, about finished now.”
Fabbat waited whilst Josette brought Benor a bowl of meat and vegetable stew and three thick rounds of bread. “What do you think of the place?”
Benor picked up his spoon with one hand and a round of bread with the other. “It’s good land, and that cannot be denied. What’s land fetch round here?”
“Thinking of settling down young’un,” Daccko teased.
“If he is he ought to be thinking of cosying up to Madam Grasia.” Fabbat commented, winking at Daccko.
“Shouldn’t be too difficult, she’s a fine looking woman still.” Daccko commented, winking back.
“Why Madam Grasia?” Benor asked. “I thought the farm belonged to Grayer.”
“Well you know what thought did, Benor, it followed a muck cart thinking it were a wedding.”
Fabbat elaborated more helpfully. “The farm was left to Madam Grasia by her mother so she seems to have decided to pass it on to her daughter. I think young Grayer was a bit put out by it. He probably expected that he would get at least a share in it.”
“It does seem to be a bit harsh on him, had he and the old woman fallen out?” Benor asked.
Fabbat shrugged, “Who knows, but I don’t think so. You see, the mother put in conditions. The farm fully becomes Grasia’s only when she marries a man from Port Naain or Partann. If she marries a foreigner, the land reverts to her brother.”
“On account of the old lady not liking foreigners,” Daccko added. “Tis said that she were led astray by one when she were younger.”
“Led!” Fabbat snorted. “I remember the old woman, she’d have dragged him, she didn’t need to be led.”
Benor tried to bring the discussion back to the present. “So does Madam Grasia have any suitors?”
“None as young and good looking as you.” Daccko reached across and squeezed Benor’s arm as if assessing the muscle on it.
“Although there are rumours that Arad Branwit might be showing an interest.”
Seeing the way the conversation was running, Benor asked in all innocence, “Given that they’re neighbours I’d have thought Arad Branwit would have shown an interest earlier?”
Fabbat tapped his nose knowingly. “It’s only a couple of years since the old lady died. I don’t think any of us expected her to leave the estate to her daughter.”
Benor let them run through a couple of decades of gossip which gave him chance to finish eating. Then he purchased another three tankards of beer and tried to get the discussion back toward the sales and land prices.
When their lunchtime discussion drew to a close, Benor decided he might as well return to his room and write up a piece on the value of the estate to append to the map. He made his way back along the now familiar lane to Tarrant Beck House. He paused as he entered the stable yard. The smell of sewage was strong, and the gardener and a man he didn’t recognise were emptying the privy with buckets, tipping them into a cart. The carter was standing off to one side to avoid being slashed whilst Winnith seemed to be acting as supervisor. Every so often she would step forward and peer into the hole before stepping back again out of the way of the buckets. One of the working party must have noticed him because slowly, they all stopped working and turned to look at him. He raised his hat to them and entered the stable. He scratched Gyp’s ears and produced a bone that he’d acquired for her from the inn kitchen.
Then whistling cheerfully to himself he climbed up the ladder and got down to work.
That evening he did some serious thinking. He’d always regarded himself as an ethical person. He was self aware enough to realise that a number of husbands and fathers might disagree with his assessment but still he didn’t like the idea of just walking away from this woman and doing nothing about it. Yes he’d hopefully got word to her family, but could they get justice. Should he go to what passed as the law in this area? He fell asleep as he contemplated Lord Addlestrune of Tarrant working with his orids.