Chapter 8:

Lord Barrymont

The Knight of the Golden Rose

"I trusted them!"Bookmark here

My feet dragged on the ground as I was being pulled forward by Anselm's tremendous stride. Lunge after lunge, he walked with a purpose.Bookmark here

"Calm down!"Bookmark here

I jumped in front of him and spread my arms out. "I think you're jumping to conclusions. We didn't even show them the emblem, remember?"Bookmark here

"Who else could have stolen it? I was a fool to let it out of my sight!"Bookmark here

He smashed his hand on his forehead.Bookmark here

"No, don't hurt yourself!" I wrestled with his arms before they could do any more damage."Bookmark here

"How do we even ask nicely? Hey there, got any stolen goods recently?" he said mockingly.Bookmark here

"Maybe there's an explanation. A passing thief, perhaps."Bookmark here

"That's even worse! Then I'll never get that brooch back." He waved his fists in frustration.Bookmark here

"But at least it won't be them that took it."Bookmark here

Anselm sighed. "That would make me feel a little better."Bookmark here

"Because they've been so kind and that would be pretty awful if it turned out they weren't so nice after all, huh?"Bookmark here

"Yes, exactly, Cecilia."Bookmark here

I beamed. Anselm looked like he was ready to wipe that grin off my face.Bookmark here

He took a couple of deep breaths. "Let's ask if there was anything fishy recently."Bookmark here

We calmly knocked on the door to the farmer's house. It opened, and a wide-jawed, fully-bearded face greeted us, eyes half-closed and yawning. He leaned against the door frame.Bookmark here

"G'mornin'." His breath wafted in front of me with the air of a wet dog.Bookmark here

"Good morning," I said.Bookmark here

"Hello. Did you hear any odd noises last night?" Anselm leaned in.Bookmark here

The farmer spit out a piece of straw he was chewing. "Funny noises? Nope, I slept like a baby! Maybe you should ask my wife, she's a real light sleeper. Always tossing and turning."Bookmark here

He cupped his hands together. "Honey! C'mere! These folks wanna know if you heard anything last night!"Bookmark here

His wife appeared, cleanly dressed in blue and white and wide awake. Her hair, although intricately done, was falling apart at the ends where the ties were slipping away. She was holding a child in one hand and shooing the dog away with the other.Bookmark here

"Last night? There was the little bit of thunder, but I don't remember much else..."Bookmark here

"No robberies lately?" Anselm asked.Bookmark here

"Robbers!" The man jumped. "We haven't had those in ages! We have nothing to steal!"Bookmark here

Anselm let out a groan. He stepped forward and grabbed the front of the farmer's shirt. The coarse threads threatened to break under the bewildered man's weight, which was bound up in Anselm's powerful biceps.Bookmark here

The wife screamed. The dog whimpered. The child stayed silent.Bookmark here

"Listen, if you have the brooch, I'll be nice and let you off easy. Otherwise, I'll take it back by force."Bookmark here

"Anselm!" I clawed at his hands. Put him back down. He did nothing wrong!"Bookmark here

"Exactly! I haven't seen a brooch in ages! Don't come crying to me just because you're good at losing things."Bookmark here

Anselm immediately turned beet red and, head down as if he had just realized what he had just done, slowly lowered his victim. The wife let out the breath she had been holding for the past several minutes.Bookmark here

"Forgive me for losing my temper. It's a very important keepsake."Bookmark here

"Anyone with eyes could tell you that! Well, because of your stunt, I don't think you can stay as our guest anymore. Pack up your things and scram!"Bookmark here

He slammed the door and left us in a cloud of dust.Bookmark here

"Yes, I understand..." Anselm said in a small voice.Bookmark here

He meandered back to our makeshift hut like a wounded puppy, gathered our supplies, and helped me on the horse.Bookmark here

"Thank you, thank you for your hospitality," he said as he waved goodbye to the kind farmer and his wife and eight children.Bookmark here

Anselm was hunched over and quiet while we rode clickety-clack around the village, desperately looking for any glint of gold or shred of twisted metal. I admired the self-sustainability of each family and felt deeply ashamed of my own inability to fend for myself.Bookmark here

"Chin up, Anselm. At least so you know where we're going."Bookmark here

"I was so awful to those people. And oh! The brooch... Where could the brooch be..."Bookmark here

"Do you think we lost it before we came to this village?"Bookmark here

"No. I remember holding it when you told me to show him, but I decided not to."Bookmark here

"Hm..."Bookmark here

We pondered in silence.Bookmark here

"Did we go anywhere else?"Bookmark here

"Just that area around his field." He pointed.Bookmark here

"Maybe an animal took it!"Bookmark here

"Are you daft?" he said sharply.Bookmark here

I simpered. "Just trying to help."Bookmark here

Anselm patted my head, instantly regretful. "I'm sorry. I don't know what's gotten into me lately."Bookmark here

"Yeah, fix your anger issues."Bookmark here

"I should. It's unbecoming of a knight."Bookmark here

He sighed and stopped the horse. "Let's rest here for a bit and come up with a solid plan instead of wandering around aimlessly."Bookmark here

We set up a fire and cooked some nuts we had gathered earlier with the farmer and his family. I read Anselm the same stories he had heard many times before.Bookmark here

"Aren't you bored of listening to the same thing over and over?"Bookmark here

"Not when you tell them. I like your voice."Bookmark here

My heart skipped a beat. "Well alright, I'll read this next one with extra dramatic monologues."Bookmark here

Anselm laughed. "Go ahead."Bookmark here

After I had finished the tale and the nut supply ran empty and we were both lying down, staring at the blinding yellow eyes of the flickering flames, I remembered that dinner conversation.Bookmark here

"Say, Anselm, what kind of people are your parents like?"Bookmark here

"Is there a reason? You've never brought this up before."Bookmark here

"You seemed really happy in that household. I thought that's what your parents must be like."Bookmark here

"... Sort of," he said. "They're a little more serious. Down to business. Less talkative. More worried about taxes. More worried about everything."Bookmark here

"Your parents are starting to sound completely different!"Bookmark here

"I guess so," he said. He paused as if he were internally debating a philosophical question but finally came to a somewhat unsatisfactory answer. "They're good parents."Bookmark here

"What about farming? Do you miss that?"Bookmark here

"I do! Everyone says how I'm so lucky to be chosen as Sir Hector's disciple, but no one says you're lucky to be working in the fields."Bookmark here

"Well that's understandable. It's back-breaking work."Bookmark here

"That's true, but think about the miracle of the seed! Look at how we've harnessed nature for ourselves. We're not at the whims of the movements of the wild beasts nor grasses!"Bookmark here

"What about the weather or plague?"Bookmark here

"That's true. We haven't solved everything. But through time and grit, we will get there!"Bookmark here

"I don't think we'll ever be able to control when it rains."Bookmark here

"But we can grow so much food we don't need it to rain!"Bookmark here

"You're never this chatty normally. What's up?"Bookmark here

"Sorry, it's just all anyone ever asks me about is my training or whatever silly errand I happened to go on that day. If everyone just spent longer thinking about better ways to tend the crops, we'd all be a lot happier. There'd be less hungry kids."Bookmark here

"I'm sorry. Should I start talking about plants instead of knights?"Bookmark here

"No, you keep doing what you do."Bookmark here

"But you just said—"Bookmark here

"You're an exception."Bookmark here

In a softer voice, he added, "Please don't stop."Bookmark here

"Why am I special?"Bookmark here

I heard a rustle from the opposite of the fire, as if Anselm were trying to hide his embarrassment.Bookmark here

"Secret."Bookmark here

I laughed. "Okay. Tell me one day."Bookmark here

"I will, I promise."Bookmark here

I felt a pair of arms wrap confidently around my back, and my insides instantly became hot.Bookmark here

"Hey Anselm, no surprise attacks!"Bookmark here

"Too bad," he said. And held me tighter.Bookmark here

We stayed in that position until only embers were left in the pit. Bookmark here

It truly was an interesting village. Apparently all the residents were refugees of the larger town up the hill ruled by a cruel Lord Barrymont who imposed harsh taxes and starved the peasants every winter. However, he was as generous as he was harsh, so he constantly attracted merchants and other travellers looking for easy entertainment. He would host feasts and tournaments and all sorts of spectacles, and no one thought to question his draconian policies, for the constant stream of visitors made the town rich.Bookmark here

Some of the peasants, fed up with the constant shower of praise on double-faced Lord Barrymont, fled the crops that fed the village and settled just outside the area where the soil was less fertile and the plants grew thinner and paler.Bookmark here

I asked the farmer why Lord Barrymont never reclaimed his rightful possessions with force, and he just laughed. They weren't worth it. You could find ten peasants to replace a lost one in a single day.Bookmark here

I think Anselm also liked that about the village how every person lived for themselves and no one else.Bookmark here

I wondered if the villagers got bored. But maybe boredom was also a privilege of those well-off.Bookmark here

I don't remember when we fell asleep, but I woke up to a wild man sitting across from us. Bookmark here

His tangled beard was filled with knots and fell past his chest. His eyes were wide open and fierce like a wolf's. Patches of grimy cloth held together by haphazard stitches hung loosely from his thick, broad frame. I was struck by an overwhelming feeling of deja-vu.Bookmark here

Anselm also arose in confusion.Bookmark here

"Who are you?"Bookmark here

"I am but a humble beggar," the man replied. "If you would give me an alm, I would be ever so grateful."Bookmark here

"Unfortunately for you, the only thing we had of value was stolen from us recently."Bookmark here

"Ho-oh." The beggar uncrossed his legs. "How unlucky. I've had my own share of bad luck over the years."Bookmark here

"Tell me about it," Anselm said, rolling his eyes.Bookmark here

"I tire of my travels. But I cannot stop, for I am banished."Bookmark here

"Banished?" I started paying closer attention.Bookmark here

"That town on the hill. I used to live in that manor house." He jabbed his finger up high. Spit flew from his mouth.Bookmark here

"Wait, the manor? Doesn't the lord and his family live in that manor?" I looked at the beggar then Anselm and back at the beggar again.Bookmark here

"You are Lord Barrymont?" The usually stoic Anselm looked mildly surprised.Bookmark here

"I used to be. Now I am nobody."Bookmark here

He let out a wail like a donkey and told us the sad story of how his second son felt robbed of his rightful inheritance (for the first son always took everything) and one night, in a fit of insanity, killed his older brother, watering his father's carefully-tended garden with blood. Then, he and his entourage of usurpers sent the former Lord Barrymont in exile in a small shack right between the town and the outlaw peasants' village.Bookmark here

The new Lord Barrymont devised a sorrowful tale of unjust slavery and torture with his father as the chief perpetrator. This turned the entire population against our beggar, who was now unable to show his face anywhere in town without the threat of a mob. The son blamed the father for all the bad harvests and missing rain and crime while promising that his own rule would be idyllic.Bookmark here

"Surely you have some allies," Anselm said. "Who would recognize the blatant slander and rescue you?"Bookmark here

"Alas, I made too many enemies during my time!" He pounded his fist on a fallen log. "Otherwise, my son would not have succeeded in taking the title of Lord from me."Bookmark here

"He is truly more fit to be ruler," the beggar continued sadly. "My own son, how could you?"Bookmark here

Anselm took a copper coin from his bag and put it in the man's hand. "For a good story."Bookmark here

Realization suddenly washed over me like a flood.Bookmark here

"He was the one who was following us earlier!" I cried.Bookmark here

That flash of white, the unnerving smile. The overwhelming scent of wet earth.Bookmark here

"Then you are the thief!" Anselm bolted upright, ready to spring into action. A wave of shame spread through my body. How could I not have noticed earlier? Why did I forget such a suspicious person?Bookmark here

My next realization was that I needed to prevent Anselm from murdering the old man.Bookmark here

Fuzzy Rabid Usagi
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