The Ploughman’s Inn overflowed with people celebrating two weddings. Widow Brown had agreed to marry Bramblestein, the dwarf sorcerer. That had inspired Polcock to suggest that his life would be much happier if Hannah would consent to warm his feet, and she had agreed that it would be a nice arrangement.
Widow Brown’s sudden marriage to the dwarf took the town by surprise.
No one in town was surprised by Polcock’s wedding, but Polcock himself.
Brother Henson had not been seen since the summer wedding season ended, as he was a hermit. Polcock rousted the unwilling monk out of his library, demanding he perform the services.
Brother Henson refused, explaining that in a month it would be Yule. “A Yule wedding is bad luck for the spouses.”
“Yule’s a month away!” Polcock delivered his reply with his fist. “Your bad luck starts now if you don’t do your job!”
The good brother had no idea where he’d stashed his vestments and the holy book, but once everything was located he managed two creditable services, despite his swollen eye.
Ambrose insisted on giving both brides away, and now tended the bar on his nephew’s behalf, while Polcock danced at his own wedding.
No one had ever seen Polcock dance, but he and Hannah made a handsome, sprightly couple. Everyone agreed the double celebration brightened the gloom of November. Even Leryn, the melancholy bard, enjoyed himself, playing every jig and polka he knew.
The two couples danced and made merry all afternoon, until finally the happy newly-weds went to their respective homes—Polcock’s rooms were just off the kitchen, in the far back of the inn. Hannah insisted they take their wedding night off, but promised that the tap room would open at the usual time the next day.
Polcock looked doubtful when Ambrose announced that he, Leryn and Galahad would do the cleaning up, but went upstairs to collect Hannah’s possessions, moving them to his rooms with no further discussion. The last hours of the evening passed, closing time arrived, and the guests all went home.
Ambrose apparently felt his contribution to the clean-up should be sipping ale by the fire and pointing out the places that needed cleaning. Leryn took the mug from his hand, and put the broom in it. “Here’s your broom, sweeper-lad. I’ll wash the tables and help Galahad with the dishes, but you can make yourself useful. And this time make sure there’s wood in the kitchen for morning.”
Galahad agreed. “You’re milking your performance as the ne’er-do-well uncle, Ambrose. We’re all a bit tired of it.”
“Why are you two such sticks? Life should be fun.” But he did start sweeping.
Leryn said, “Have all the fun you want, but we’ll need you when the demon returns. If your “nephew” kills you first, that won’t help us at all.”
Ambrose glared at him. “If I didn’t understand that, I’d be sitting down by the docks where I was happy. Where I should be, if you want the truth.”
“Don’t get your breeches in a knot. You can go back to the docks when it warms up, if he hasn’t returned by then. The storm last week would have blown your rickety shelter into the river, unless you used magic to hold it together, which could tip the demon off.”
“I know how magic works, boy.” Ambrose glowered at him. “He knows I’m waiting for him. But Ambrose is flashy, outrageously visible. It won’t occur to him that the old man he despises has the balls to put himself in the center of things like this. Ambrose has failings—something Merlin never admits to.”
Finally, the three of them sat in silence, gazing into the fire. Just as Leryn was feeling drowsy enough to go to his room, Galahad said, “I suspect Rosie will be back anytime now.”
Leryn sat up, suddenly wide awake. “Why?”
The green-eyed knight met his gaze. “I don’t know why she left, but I know what will bring her back. It’s something she won’t want to deal with on her own. She’ll have to talk to me. You can drag her to the chapel then. Given that Janet Brown married the foreign dwarf and everyone celebrated, she’ll likely go willingly.”
Wild grief welled, along with the now-familiar sense of angry helplessness. “How does their wedding change anything?” Leryn knew it was rude, but didn’t care. “And what can you help her with? She did all her knightly rescuing with Lance. You only go out when someone’s life is in danger.” He looked away. “No. She left me for reasons of her own. She’s gone for good.”
Ambrose said, “Don’t be too sure. She’s never been in love before—our sort don’t really mature emotionally in that way for fifty years. She’s seen a lot of grief and her family’s been run out of places, sometimes violently.”
“Why?” The bard glared at Ambrose. “I’m sick of excuses that tell me nothing! Polcock won’t tell me. You won’t tell me.” He set his mug down hard. “Tell me why people would want to run a person as good and wonderful as Rosie out of town just because she’s half-elven. Tell me why, so I can go out and hurt someone for putting me through this pain!”
The silence was drawn out. Leryn stood up, intending to leave.
“Sit down.” Ambrose’s voice had lost its mocking tones. “I’ll tell you. But it’s not pretty, and I’m not sure you’ll still want to marry her once you find out.”
“Tell me. Let me make up my own mind.”
“You know that if you need a thief, a spy, or an assassin you look for an elf. They’re silent and exceedingly good, reliable people, who only do what they’re hired to. Elves, unlike humans and dwarves, have no magic other than the uncanny ability to blend in with the scenery and remain hidden.”
“I’ve heard this. I’ve never met one, but I’ve heard they’re the best hired thieves.” Leryn sat down. “But what does this have to do with Rosie?”
“You may have noticed that I have magic.”
Leryn rolled his eyes at Ambrose’s sarcasm.
“My childhood was long and fraught with trouble. I was orphaned far too young, spending a year on the streets of Londown. A wizard who is also half-elven found me making my living as a pick-pocket. He took me in and trained me before I did so much damage I was discovered and murdered.
“We half-elven are persecuted, because regardless of whether the human parent has the gift of magic or not, children of a mixed couple are always born with magic. Sometimes, as in my case, it’s exceptionally strong magic. If the human parent has no magic, as is frequent, they have no control over their child’s abilities. Things begin to happen whenever they’re around, sometimes bad things. Fires, perhaps, and even worse.” Ambrose looked grim. “Especially when the half-elven are toddlers. That’s what happened last year in Londown, although it’s not well known—a half-elven child was the cause of the great fire. Because of this penchant for mayhem, half-elven are not welcome anywhere.”
Leryn looked confused. “I hear what you’re saying, but Rosie has no magic.”
“Calling dragons is her magic.”
“She said dragons always find her…but how is that sort of magic so awful that she would be treated harshly by the people here?”
Ambrose’s impatience threatened to get the better of him, but he continued. “When she was a toddler, her town was inundated with dragons. They can’t be tamed, so they laid waste to the countryside around her town. And half-elven age slowly—very slowly. Even now, she’s still only about eighteen by your standards, but is really over sixty years old. She was orphaned young too, like me. In order to get by and remain hidden she learned to control her magic.”
“What does this have to do with bigotry against the half-elven?”
Galahad interjected, staving off Ambrose’s irritated flare-up. “Think about it. Do you want to live in a town where a toddler with an immense capacity for wielding magic is playing make-believe? When no one can control the workings of a child’s mind?” He grinned at Leryn’s shocked comprehension. “Especially a toddler whose early childhood lasts twenty years? And then they have another twenty years of getting through puberty. The human parent’s entire lifespan is taken up with just getting the child to adulthood.”
Ambrose said, “Whenever it comes out that an elf and a human have a child, they’ll be forced out of town for the safety of everyone. And because of the problems we half-elven pose as children, and the length of our childhood, that bigotry extends into our adulthood. People fear us even though by the time we reach forty we’re no longer dangerous.” He sipped from his tankard. “Rosie is still relatively young, so she’s terrified of what will happen.”
Galahad said, “Lance told me that every time her family settled in one place for any length of time, dragons followed them. Whenever her family’s secret was discovered, they were violently attacked and run out. When she was barely the equivalent of a fourteen-year old, her parents were murdered, as was her younger brother, whose only gift was creating flowers from sticks.”
The bard looked horrified. “They killed a child just for being half-elven?”
Ambrose said, “Yes. They beat to death a boy whose only crime was making sticks bloom. And congratulated themselves when they were done.”
“What is wrong with people that they would do such a thing? No wonder she’s skittish about Bleakbourne.” Leryn felt ill. “This is great. Lance knew her secret, you knew it, Polcock knew—I was the only one who didn’t. But it wouldn’t have mattered! I love her, and that magic of hers changes nothing. She has full control of it.”
Ambrose shook his head. “She does have control of a sort—but she needs training. Why do you think a dragon was stalking our area in the first place? They always find her.” He leaned forward, putting another log on the fire. “Anyway, she’ll be back. She’s in love with you or she wouldn’t have left. And she’s about to make a discovery that will bring her back to Bleakbourne.”
Leryn fought the rush of hope that Ambrose’s words filled him with. “And what is this discovery you’re both being so coy about?”
Galahad said, “I’ll tell you, but if it makes it into a tale or ballad, you’re a dead man.”
Leryn snapped, “If you don’t know me well enough by now to trust me, then don’t tell me. I wouldn’t want you to be worried I might sing your secret to the world.”
“Peace!” Galahad held his hands up. “Alright, if you insist. Rosie should be just discovering that Brunhilde is carrying a foal.”
For a moment Leryn wondered what that had to do with her deciding to return to Bleakbourne on Heath. But then it occurred to him that when Brunhilde was in season only two other horses and a donkey had been lodged in the stables. Polcock’s donkey, Applecore, was a jenny, so that left Elsinore and…. “Applecore is female and Elsinore is a gelding. That leaves…but you were under Morgause’s spell at the time. What does this mean for the foal?”
Galahad said, “Exactly.”
Ambrose chuckled at Leryn’s expression. “Lancelyn should be returning any day now, too. Bramblestein told me a certain sorceress had a tantrum that backfired on her. Lance is now the proud owner of a tabby house cat, named Morgause.”
Galahad sat up, grinning. “Now that is good news! But it’s likely Polcock won’t let us keep her here in the inn. He despises cats. She’ll have to live in the stable, even if she is Lance’s wife.
Bleakbourne on Heath © Connie J. Jasperson 2015 – 2017 All Rights Reserved
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Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.