45. At Sup in The Spray
Course followed course: roasted chicken and rice, cabbage and onion with spices, a plum-raisin pudding, a hard yellow cheese, and a white cheese so soft it spread like butter. Aisly returned with wine repeatedly, but Milo drank very conservatively. The soldier at the entrance—whose name slipped Milo’s memory, which bothered him—had hinted that Ody Dans had invited his guests for some purpose. Milo wanted to keep his wits and attend to the host and his friends. The door to my future opens tonight.
The evening light faded outdoors. Scores of tapers on candle stands reflected off the glass windows of the north wall. The wood floor glowed golden in the yellow light.
Conversation topics flowed like water in a river, eddying now and then on a particularly juicy bit of gossip or Stonebridge political intrigue, but always moving on. Milo did his best to pay attention. Frideric Bardolf and Ody Dans seemed to know every merchant and guild master in Stonebridge and most of the farmers, vintners, foresters, and silver miners within a hundred miles. Repeatedly, Ada Bardolf reproved her husband and host for talking “custom” and tried to draw Avery Doin or Milo into conversation with her son, Richart, and his friend, Reynald Henriet. Milo played modesty when Lady Bardolf engaged him, turning aside questions about Hyacintho Flumen and his family. Twice he tried to turn the conversation to Adelgar and Tilde Gyricson, asking about their families and backgrounds, but both times Ody Dans intervened in his bland, cheerful voice to talk about something else. For his part, Adelgar rarely said anything, though Tilde laughed freely whenever anyone made a joke. The wine had brought a rose hue to her cheeks, which accentuated her flawless face, Milo thought. Light from the candles threw gold flecks in her black hair.
As the night darkened outside, turning the window wall into mirrors, the mood of Adelgar seemed to darken as well. At the end of sup, Inga brought round a tray of honey wafers; Adelgar alone didn’t partake. Milo looked round the table at each guest and saw Ody Dans’s gaze on Adelgar: It’s about Adelgar somehow. Careful, Milo. Keep your wits.
Frideric Bardolf pushed his chair back, leaned toward his wife, and kissed her cheek. “The old goat needs to go home.”
“You’re right, of course,” said Ada Bardolf. “I suppose we shall be safe if Reynald and Richart escort us.”
“Please, not just yet,” said the host. “I have a little problem, and Richart and Reynald may be able to help me with it.”
“Please explain.” Frideric Bardolf leaned back to share a glance with Ody Dans behind Ada’s silver hair. The host smiled briefly at Bardolf, and then leaned forward on his elbows. He held his empty wine glass before him, peering at it as if it were a divining rod.
Without moving his eyes from the wine glass, Dans said, “Adelgar Gyricson owes me money.” Dans’s flat, inflectionless tone sucked all humor from the party. The other guests turned suddenly somber faces to Adelgar, but Milo watched Ody Dans. The host’s countenance gave no clue as to the mind behind it; a pink face, bordered with white beard and wispy white hair, expressionless as snowfall.
“Gar . . .?” Tilde Gyricson’s voice sounded an octave higher. Her husband did not look at her; he was bent over his plate as if it were the oracle of the gods.
“Last winter Adelgar Gyricson borrowed two thousand golds from me.” Dans continued in a deadpan voice, but Frideric Bardolf’s eyebrows shot up.
“Two days ago he repaid me eighteen hundred golds, when I expected twenty-two hundred. Of course, he promised to repay the rest if I wait. But he cannot tell me how long I must wait.” Ody Dans still deadpanned, as if his words meant nothing. But Milo heard several sharp intakes of breath around the table, and Reynald Henriet quietly exclaimed, “Gods!”
Ada Bardolf asked quietly, “What happened, Adelgar?”
The handsome young man looked up, hearing sympathy in Lady Ada’s tone. “A friend of mine told me the houses of Down’s End are built of pine and fir; they obtain their lumber from the forests between the lakes. But there are rich men in the city of the downs—guild masters, aldermen, bankers, and cloth merchants. They would pay handsomely for hardwood like the ash, maple, and oak that grow in the forests of Stonebridge. Or so my friend predicted.”
Adelgar looked across the table at Richart Bardolf, who said, “And I spoke true!
“You told me just yesterday you sold oak lumber in Down’s End for double its Stonebridge price.”
Adelgar’s mouth twisted. “Aye. But that was the best of the lot.” A single tear squeezed out of the corner of his eye, and he stared once again at his plate. “I had to rent wagons. I had to hire guards against highwaymen. I had to rent a warehouse in Down’s End. More expenses than I anticipated. Still, at first, it was easy. The great men of the downs bought eagerly and paid well for the best lumber. But then I was left with the poorer wood, and no buyers. In the end, to avoid paying more warehouse rent, I had to sell the remainder at a bad price.”
“Tell the rest.” Ody Dans’s tone might have been a gentle nudge, but Milo heard steel in the command. “Tell the numbers.”
“I spent sixteen hundred golds for Stonebridge hardwoods and sold my goods for thirty-two hundred in Down’s End, all in five months. Doubled my money! But my profit was whittled away by expenses—the guards, the wagons, and warehouse. Expenses of fourteen hundred, leaving me with eighteen hundred, which is what I paid Master Dans.”
“But Gar,” said Tilde. “What about the remaining stake, the four hundred? If you borrowed two thousand and only spent sixteen . . .”
“I married the most beautiful woman in Tarquint and moved her to a new house in Stonebridge.” Now Gyricson’s tears were flowing freely. “I was so sure my plan would work, so damn sure.”
“And it did work!” Tilde pivoted her attention from her husband to Ody Dans, the pitch of her voice returning to normal. “Master Dans! Lend Adelgar more money! He—we—know the business now. Even with all his expenses, he made a profit the first time; we’ll do better this time around and be able to repay you completely.”
Dans made a little ceremony of standing his wine goblet on the table. Milo thought: He loves the attention. The master fixed his watery gaze on Tilde Gyricson. “I will not lend your husband any money until his debt is paid. But I notice you say ‘we.’ Are you willing to help your husband clear his debt?”
“Ah! Young love! Adelgar predicted you would be willing to help. Forgive me, but I was not so sure.”
“What must we do?”
Ody Dans smiled, a slight turn of the lips, which in many faces would have indicated kindness. “Adelgar must do nothing—except watch. You must pay his debt. Entertain two men—Richart Bardolf, and his friend Reynald or perhaps Sir Milo. Ada might be jealous if Frideric volunteered.”
Confusion clouded the young woman’s face. “What?”
Dans motioned with his hand. “One of the divans will do. I want you to bed two of my guests. The price is one hundred golds for each. In a matter of minutes you will discharge your husband’s debt. I assure you, it’s far better pay than the women get in Madame Strong’s alehouse.”
The wine flush drained from Tilde’s face. “Gar?” The single syllable pled for some escape from the madness of Dans’s words. But her husband only wept onto his cold food.
“Gar? Did you know about this?”
“It’s the only way, Tilde.” He looked at his wife. “Sometimes Master Dans’s guests fall into the river. If I were to die, you would still owe two hundred golds. What could you do except become a whore? But tonight: two men—and we are free.”
Milo watched Ody Dans rather than Adelgar and Tilde. The master’s stubby fingers trembled on the tabletop. Dans’s mouth was slightly open, and he licked his lips excitedly.
“You can’t mean it.” Tilde could barely pronounce the words. Her voice sounded like the creaking of a branch in the wind.
“It’s the only way.” Adelgar tried to touch her face, but Tilde slapped his hand away. On the table beside Milo, the fingers on Ody Dans’s hand were wiggling like eels.
The young wife turned to Ody Dans. “I won’t play the whore in front of these people!”
“Well, there is another option,” said Ody Dans. “You might stay here, in The Spray, for two weeks, as my very personal guest. If it’s privacy you want.”
Now the host smiled broadly. “Oh, well. Young love isn’t all the poets say, I suppose.” He passed his hand by his ear and two men came from the kitchen door at a trot. They had short swords, unsheathed. Young Gyricson scrambled from his chair, but he had only enough time to fall to his knees.
“Tilde, please!” The soldiers seized Adelgar and pulled his head back.
“Stop!” Two voices—Ody Dans and Tilde Gyricson spoke at the same time.
“I don’t want a bloody floor,” said Dans. “The river.” The men jerked Adelgar to his feet and began dragging him.
“No! Stop! I’ll do it.” Adelgar stopped struggling. Tilde stood to face Ody Dans. “I’ll stay. Two weeks.”
Dans motioned and the swordsmen released Adelgar, who fell like a sack. The soldiers backed to the kitchen door and disappeared at a nod from the master.
The others sat frozen, watching Tilde as her husband crawled toward her. Adelgar looked up, his eyes begging for something—understanding? Pardon? Milo heard Ody Dans beside him, breathing in short gasps. Milo looked at him. The eyes were completely focused on Tilde and her husband, the round face flushed. Silently, the woman turned stepped around Adelgar and walked toward Dans. Ignoring Milo, who sat only inches away, she knelt beside the host. Dans extended his pink right hand and she kissed it.
“Ah! So sweet!” Ody Dans smiled beatifically at the other guests. “That’s just marvelous! The power of young love!” He motioned for Tilde to rise. “Adelgar Gyricson, get out of my house. When the debt is paid I’ll send your loving wife home to you.”
Adelgar Gyricson was already on his feet, his hand reaching out. “Tilde, I’m so sorry . . .” She did not acknowledge him.
Wordlessly, the three Bardolfs and Reynald Henriet bowed to Master Dans and walked to the door. Derian Chapman and Avery Doin also rose without speaking; one on each side, they ushered Adelgar from the room. “The only way, the only way,” he murmured. Tilde never looked at him.
Ody Dans gave a great sigh, slumping back in his chair. Milo rose, slipped around the statue woman still standing next to his chair, and hurried out the door.
Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.