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Friday, December 24, 2010

The Book of Drachma, Part Three, Turbulence and Restoration

                               The Book of Drachma
                                         Part Three
                         Turbulence and Restoration
                                     Chapter Forty

The inn was bustling with activity, even at this early hour. Barncuddy was busy with his orders for ale, and was moving about boisterously, getting the flagons and refilling those that were getting empty. He was sweating, and groaning, and keeping the younger patrons in line. He looked up from his work to notice the entrance of the odd trio of Cayman, Proust, and the younger fellow whose name he could not remember, but was the son of Diane.

“A hearty welcome to ye, my good men, and what brings ye in on this fine afternoon?”

“Well, thank ye Master Barncuddy,” said the captain, “What we’ll be needin’ is a table for four, somewhere private, if that be possible.”

“Of course, for a pair such as yourselves, but for this young lad, who comes among ye. He is none other than the son of one of my own lasses. Ho, Diane,” he yelled toward the back, “I’ve got two gentlemen, and someone ye know out here. Come on and give these fine young fellas a table if ye will.”

In a few moments, a woman appeared from somewhere in the back, whose hair was black and curly, hung about her impish face, which shone from the kitchen work she had been doing.

“Now, Master Barncuddy, ye’ve called me away from boilin’ yer stew for this evenin’, to do what? To show these men to a table…”

Then she saw who she was asked to seat.

“Eustace! Now what would ye be doin’ in the company of men such as these, Have ye done something wrong?”

“No, me dear, he has done nothing wrong. He has some information that we’ll be needing, some vital information.”  Cayman proffered. “Now, if ye’ll be so kind as to find us a table, away from all this rabble.”

“Very well, gentlemen, if ye’ll follow me, I can show ye to a table upstairs, would that be all right, Master Barncuddy?”

“Of course, lass, of course. Why, I think ye should serve the table as well, what think ye, gentlemen?”

“Why I think we should be honored, me lads,” said a grinning Cayman.

“All right, then, come this way.”

The three of them followed Diane up the stairs, to a small dining room. They sat down, and ordered ale to be brought up, but Diane said to Eustace, “now, be careful, and do not drink more than yer own pint, or ye’ll have to be towin’ yer own way home again.”

“Of course, Mum,” Eustace replied, “I shan’t embarrass ye, I promise.”

“Now, my good woman,” said Proust, “there’ll be a fourth joinin’ us here this afternoon, so be on the lookout for Master Kerlin, will ye?”

“Master Kerlin? Wasn’t he just here the other evening? Now if he’s to be here too, this is going to be an interestin’ meetin’, eh? Now Eustace, ye be sure to mind yer manners with Master Kerlin. That’s a man fer to make a lady blush. Now see, ye’ve got me sweatin’ and stammerin’ already. Well, I’ll go get yer drinks, and I think ye’ll be wantin’ a flagon then for Master Kerlin, too. Am I right?”

“Right you are, m’lass.”

Then with a toss of her head, and a practiced swish of her behind, Diane headed back down to the kitchen. Cayman and Proust stared happily at the figure vanishing down the stairs.

“Now, m’lad, that be yer own mother, eh?”

“Aye, sir, that be me Mum.”

“Well, then,” continued Captain Proust, “what can ye tell me of what happened with old Leroy? Is the old beggar still alive?”

“Aye, Captain, at least he was when we left him at the sick bay. They had a physician there, attending to Councillor Genet. Some foreigner, apparently brought to our isle by Drachma, who actually seemed to know what he was doing, and he seemed quite calm, and not at all like the physicians I have come to know, outside of this island. Craycroft, it seems may have finally gotten someone here who knows as much as he himself does.”

“My word, Cayman, ye have said a mouthful. I had no idea that ye were such a student of the healing arts.”

“Well, me own mother (may she rest in peace), ye may recall, was a woman of some education, and did serve the old Earl, not as a maid, but as his personl librarian.”

“Well, Aye, now that ye mention it, I do remember Cecilia. She was called Cecilia the Wise wasn’t she?”

“Aye, that she was. Anyway, as a young lad, I was sent to the mainland for schooling, but when me Mum’s health became poor, I had to give it all up, and came home, and I stayed to become a guard here at the castle. Not that I ever minded, but those years of schooling just stayed with me, and every now and again, they just come out.

“Now look, here comes our ale. I thank ye Diane.” Diane quickly and efficiently laid down the flagons. “Now for all assembling here, I raise this toast, that we should see to it that whatever changes we seek for the good of the isle, they be right and worthy.”

Proust and Eustace quickly raised their own flagons, and clinked them noisily with Cayman’s own.

“Here, here! May it be so!”

“Here, here, yourselves,” said a voice coming up the stairs. “Now have you all started the party without me?”

“Kerlin! It is ye indeed. Come, we’ve got a goblet for ye as well.”

As Kerlin joined the others at the table, Cayman noticed Diane mouthing instructions to her son. To which her son replied, “I know, Mum, ye don’t have to remind me.”

Then Diane blushed, and bowed, then made her way to leave, when Cayman stopped her, saying, “now, me good woman could we trouble ye for some bread and victuals also?”

“But, of course, sir. What shall ye have this afternoon? I’ve just been cooking some fine stew, which I think should be done, and we have some salted fish, and some fine turnips.”

“Why not some of your fine stew, then, if that be all right with one and all?” Kerlin spoke, and Diane self consciously looked down. “Well I see that none would object to your stew. How about a round, with some yeast bread, then?”

“Of course, m’lord. I shall get it for ye anon.” She said, as she left, unconscious of her own use of the title, so unfamiliar to Kerlin.

Kerlin looked around at his tablemates. He noticed his good friend, Proust, and another guard that he assumed was Cayman, and the youth. “Now this would be a most unusual gathering, if I do say so myself.  As you may have heard, I have had to assume some new duties, and I have been told by our Earl that my new tasks shall take on more important aspects as time proceeds. So, as the newly appointed commandant of security for the Earl’s palace, I raise my tankard to you gentlemen and to you, m’lad as well.”

They all raised their flagons, and with a crisp click, and a hearty, “here, here,” they drank to the health of their endeavors.

“Now you two may be wondering why I have come to join you here. As my good friend, Proust knows, when I heard of this new threat, and your intimate knowledge of the persons involved, I thought it best that I meet with you, e’en though I would rather be sleeping.”

“As well you should,” put in Proust. “I told him that we could meet, and that I would report back to him, but no, he would rather meet with Cayman and Eustace himself. That’d be the kind of person he is, and that be the kind of person that I now serve.”

“Well, as my good friend Proust indicated, I am that kind of person who prefers to get information directly from the source, if that be possible. So that brings me to you, Eustace. Now, I know that you’ve told your story to both Masters Cayman and Proust, but if you’ll indulge me by telling me your tale again, then I think that we can proceed towards making a plan, for as you know by now, I think we are dealing with a most dangerous and formidable foe.”

All eyes turned toward Eustace, who looked down, but then stammered, “m-m’lords. ‘tis a bit more than I care to do, but I shall try to tell ye all of what happened.  As ye well know, I am not comfortable speaking to folks such as yerselves. I am a mere lad of the streets.

“As it happened, I was here last evening, having brought me Mum some things from the market. It was getting late, but not closing time. Then, as I was leaving, I noticed this man was also leaving, and seemed to be in some kind of hurry. I decided to follow him, though I cannot tell ye why.”

“Now, let me interrupt for just a moment, if I may,” said Kerlin, “for I was also here, and saw this man of whom you spoke. What I need to ask is whether there be any chance this person saw you last evening? Was there even the slightest chance that he might have seen you? You shall soon learn why I ask.”

“Nay, not last night, for I was certain of my cover of darkness, and if there be anything I have learned, it is how not to be seen.”

“Very well, I shall believe you. And, please, go on with your story.”

“Well, as I was sayin’, this man seemed to be in some kind of hurry. He was all wrapped up, so I couldn’t see his face, but he carried this cane with him, though he did not need it fer walkin’. Anyway, he headed fer the mansion up the hill, the one owned by Councillor Reordan. I saw him speak to the gatekeeper, and was let in. Then, as there was nothing more to see, I decided to go home.”

“Did you talk to anyone at all about your night?”

“Nay, not to anyone, until today, when I talked with Master Cayman.”

“Not to your mother, nor any friends?”

“Nay, not to anyone.”

“Well, then, what happened next?”

“This morning, when I was walking back to the castle, I saw him again. This time he was striding toward the market, with a look upon his face that I scarce would call friendly, rather he looked as though he meant to do someone harm. It was the first time that I saw his face, and it frightened me, and I turned away. I know not whether he saw me or noticed me, but he was soon walking quickly toward the marketplace. I then followed at what I thought was a safe distance, but then, he was just ahead of me, having been stopped by a peddler, who was asking him something, but I could not say what. He then proceeded to take his cane and poke the peddler with it, but actually it looked as if he had run a sword into the old man’s stomach, and the old man just crumpled to the ground, bleeding, as the stranger then pushed his way through the crowd, and went I know not where.”

“Hmm, very well, young man,” said Kerlin, who then noticed Diane approaching, with Barncuddy close behind. “Ah, I think our meal comes. How now, m’lass? That looks like a fine meal, indeed. Here, we’ll make room for our bowls.”

Diane and Barncuddy then set upon the table bowls of steaming stew, with freshly made yeast bread in a large basket. As she laid the bowl down in front of Kerlin, he touched her arm, and immediately she blushed from her ample bosom up her neck to her already ruddy cheeks.

“Now, m’lass I must ask you something.”

“Wh…what is it?” she stammered. Then she looked at Eustace, and said, “now son, have ye done or said anything to embarrass me?”

“Oh, no, m’lass, he has done nothing of the sort. He has been quite a gentleman.” Eustace looked down, afraid that his grin might lead his mother to think otherwise. “No, what I must ask about is a man that was here last evening. He sat back at the table near the kitchen, by the back door, and I understand he left without paying his tab.”

“Oh, that one… Aye, he was a strange one, or so I’m told. Now Connie waited on that table and she told me about him. But I did see him as he went out, which is because Eustace here did bring me some vegetables, and let me tell ye that the man was not anyone I’d let me kin near, for he had danger written on his features.”

“So, then Eustace did not mention that he had followed him…”

“Eustace, oh no, m’lord. Now, Eustace, what have I said about followin’ after folks? Oh, no, is that what this is all about? Is Eustace…”

“No, m’lass, he is not in trouble, but what I would like to ask is whether you might spare Eustace for a time, to be with me?”

“With thee?”

“Aye, as my personal assistant.”

Diane’s face became redder as she digested what Kerlin had just said.

“As yer personal assistant? I…I think that would be fine. Now, would ye be needin’ anything?”

“Nay, m’lass, nothing but thy blessing.”

All eyes turned toward Eustace, who was grinning.

“Well, Eustace, how about if we ask you?” said Kerlin, very seriously. “What do you say to that? For I should be needing an extra set of eyes and ears, don’t you think?”

“Master, Kerlin, if ye think me worthy, who am I to say no? I should be honored. Is that all right, Mum?”

“But, of course, son,” said Diane, still blushing. “If that is what ye want, I can think of none better than Master Kerlin fer ye.”

“Let me ask ye, Eustace, can ye ride?” asked Cayman, somewhat unexpectedly.  “I know ye can manage well enough on foot, but on a horse…”

“Aye, sir I can ride, but not well. And it has been a good year since I’ve been on a horse.”

“Well, then as ye now be Master Kerlin’s new assistant, let it be my duty to teach you the finer art of horseback riding, if that be all right with master Kerlin.”

“Point well made, Cayman. Aye, I think it would be good for young Eustace to learn his way around horses, and I think that you would make a fine teacher for him.”

“With most hearty thanks, m’lass, we here at this table do then swear to you that we shall care for your son as one of our own.”

“Here, here!” said Proust, “To one of our own.”

Again, the glasses were raised in salutation.

The quartet then turned their attention to the food, as Diane and Barncuddy left to see to the others in the inn.

“Now, Eustace,” said Kerlin after they had left. “What I do need to explain to you is just how and why you’ve found yourself in this peculiar position. You see, Master Proust and I decided that you are a most exceptional and observant, not to mention honest, young man, and we could readily use the likes of you in our aid. Now I know that you have not had the training, but that is neither good nor bad, for we can certainly train you, but your powers of observation set you apart from the other village boys.

“And then there is the matter of Master LeGace. While I do not know that he has observed you, what I do know is that he is a creature most vile, and would think nothing of destroying you if he even suspected that you were here with us.”

“Then I am most grateful. I shall try to earn my keep. Now, me Mum… what shall I tell her, anything more than she already knows?”

“Nay, son, it would be better if she knew little, for her sake as well as thine. Now, eat your stew, it’s quite good.”

“Aye, sir, I shall.”

The foursome then ate in relative silence for a time, enjoying the stew and rolls, as well as their ale. Diane then came back up with a pitcher of ale. She began refilling the flagons of brown brew for the three men, but held off filling up Eustace’s cup.

“Now son, I know ye think that this is some great adventure yer off on, but let me tell ye that yer still my only son, and I’ll be a worryin’ over ye. Here, I want ye to keep this charm to remind ye of me, fer I don’t know when I’ll be seein’ ye again.”

What she gave her son was a small, round pendant, cut from some whalebone with a carving of a ship on it.

‘What is this, Mum? I’ve never seen this before.”

“What it is, I’ll tell ye, it was yer father’s only thing he left me, besides leaving me pregnant with thee.”

“Why, he was a sailor, then, I would believe, from this piece of scrimshaw.”

“Aye, that he was, and ye know what? To this day, I’ve not missed him, but now, with ye goin’ off, and all, I can see him in thy face, and in yer hands, and ye know, I’m going to miss ye, for I’ve not been without thy company, all yer days.”

“Well, me good lass,” interjected Cayman, “I shouldn’t think that yer son should be too far gone from thee.”

“Well, Master Cayman, that may be, but I do know that Master Kerlin, here, does not want my son, shall we say, exposed to certain people, and so I don’t expect that I shall be seein’ much of him either. Is that not right, Master Kerlin?”

“I must admit, m’lass, that your deductive powers  suit you very well. You have discerned the truth. For it is precisely for that reason that I wish to keep him with me at all times, until we have apprehended our Master LeGace. And unfortunately I do not foresee that as happening too swiftly.

“Now, if I may, I should like to study thy pendant, young man for it might prove something of value that I suspect.”

“Certainly, here it be, have a look.”

Eustace handed over the pendant, and Kerlin, then Proust and Cayman also studied it intently, then handed it back to Kerlin.

“Well, me lads, what think you off this little broach, does it not fit with what I told you, Proust?”

“Aye, it does at that.”

“What does it tell thee?” asked Cayman. “All I see is a wondrous carving of a ship.”

“Ah, Cayman, you may be a bit young, but do you remember hearing of the ship called the Tremaine?”

“Was that the whaler that sank off the island? I must have been six or seven at the time?”

“Precisely. And do you remember anything about the story?”

Cayman turned to look at Diane, and noticed that she looked pale, and avoided eye contact with the people at the table.

“Only that there were but a few survivors, who managed to swim ashore, in stormy waters.”

“And do you remember anything else? Do you recall any of their names?”

“Wait, was there one who was a nobleman, wasn’t there?”

“And do you recall his name?”

“Nay, that I do not.”

“It was…”

“All right, it was the Earl of Derrymoor,” said Diane, unexpectedly. “And, so, Master Kerlin, how is it that you were able to determine that?”

“Well, lass, I was a forest guard at the time, and I was assigned the duty of protecting the few survivors. And, as you know, the Earl of Derrymoor was among those surviving. He was nursed back to health, and did stay, at that time in the village of Champour, which I assume was your home at the time.”

“Aye, it was.”

“Anyway, as part of his protection, I, though younger at the time, did have the chance to visit with this Earl, and though he did not have much that survived his harrowing swim to shore, he did show me this fine broach, which, as you can see, was carved of whalebone, and shows a three masted ship, which was what the Tremaine was, and though a whaler in name, was the ship owned by his family, and part of their fortune was made in whaling, as well as ownership of islands discovered by the crew.”

“The family, when they learned of the disaster, did of course send for the Earl, but there was a period of months before they came, and being the young man that he was, and quite good looking, he did have the occasion to sport with the young lasses of the village, and there was one who caught his fancy, though I never did meet her, did hear that she was, indeed truly charming.”

Diane blushed crimson at this.

“As it happened, when it got time for him to leave, it was said that she refused to go with him, am I right? Please, have a seat, and join us, will you not?”

Diane, then, sat down at the table, took her son’s tumbler, poured herself some ale, and told them all her tale of youthful indiscretion, and love for a man she knew she could never marry, and how, the night before he left, he gave her his scrimshaw broach, and a promise to send her money to help, which she never received. All she had left of that encounter, was her son, her own heartache, and that broach, which she was now bestowing on her own son, as his rightful piece of his father’s memory.

“Let me ask you, then,” Cayman spoke up, obviously entranced by this tale of hardship, loss and youthful love,"has anyone heard of this Earl of Derrymoor since he left our fair isle?”

“I, for one, have not,” replied Diane. “but there is one here who probably has. Is that not right?”

“Verily, you have surmised correctly, m’lass.” Kerlin spoke again. “For that brings our story full circle.”

“Before ye continue,” spoke up Proust, “ might I suggest that we raise our glasses once again, in a toast to this fine young lass, who has graced us with her tale of love and loss.”

“Here, here.”

 As the glasses were raised, Eustace pondered what he had just found out. Thinking that he was certainly in for some changes, and how he was going to look back on this moment with a certain amount of affection.

“Now to complete this tale of our newfound nobility, albeit without title or monies, let me tell you what I do know. As Diane so graciously told us, this talisman was something the Earl bequeathed to her, apparently as symbolic of his lineage. What she did not say, but I have reason to believe, is that this piece of scrimshaw represents the family seal, and carries with it rights and privileges of nobility. As you recall, the Earl did return to his noble home in Ireland, and I understand has married, but has not had any heirs to his estate. I know this because my own brother does work at an estate for the Earl. The Earl has said, in private, that, if any were to return with his seal, that he could then inherit what should be his. But, to my knowledge, he has not said anything publicly. Nevertheless, this certainly changes how we perceive our circumstances.

“And now, let me tell you what I have found out about our infamous Master LeGace. As you know, he is an extraordinarily evil and crafty man. But what I have found out is even more alarming. Now, I know that he is in the employ of Councillor Reordan, and just what his role is for that snake I know not, but what I do know is that he has had something to do with the Earl’s illness, and perhaps Lady Felicia’s recent illness as well.”

“Oh, Diane! Come on down, I’ve got work fer ye.” She knew that voice, it was her boss.

“Well, gentlemen, ye have certainly succeeded in turning my world upside down in a small amount of time. Now I must go. And do take care of my son, as he is all I really have left in this world.”

Then she came around to where Eustace sat, gave him a kiss, and as her eyes overflowed with tears she mouthed the words, “I love thee.”

Eustace whispered, “I love ye, too, Mum.”

Then Diane quickly left, went down the stairs, and back to the usual chaos and clutter of the inn.

The quartet finished eating, drinking, and talking, then went down the stairs, where Kerlin paid the tab, then they stepped out into the weather that had definitely taken a turn for the worse, with a cold wind blowing off the sea, carrying with it a stinging, freezing rain. They bundled up against the elements, then headed on back toward the main keep of the castle.

They did not notice the man observing them from the seclusion of the shed by the inn. He watched as they left Barncuddy’s, waited for them to turn the corner, then stepped back out into the weather, following them, but keeping just out of site. As he saw them enter the keep, he smiled, noting that it was, in fact the same youth he had seen earlier that day.

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