Two boys who are thrown together in a chance encounter that turns their world upside down.
Noeleen Kavanagh is an Irish writer currently living and working in Shanghai, China. Her publications include poems and micro-fiction in the Linnet’s Wing and the 13th Warrior Review. Publications also include short stories in the Silver Blade, Another Realm, Moon Drenched Fables, Aurora Wolf, Swords and Sorcer, Misfit Magazine, Sorcerous Signals and the Luna Station Quarterly. She also has short stories in the print anthologies Dream and Screams and A Pint and a Haircut.
By Noeleen Kavanagh
She is tall, tall enough to block out the sun. She stands over me, tall and straight as a sycamore tree. ‘Whist, whist,’ she says and scoops me up in her arms. I sail through the air like a bird.
I am braver now the old gander is far below me and diminished. I stop crying. ‘Scat,’ she says nudging him with her foot. He ruffles his feathers and waddles away. I laugh, waving my arms after him and my mother laughs too.
I do not know if I take after my mother. There is no-one I can ask. My memories of her are vivid and unchanging, but fragmentary. Sometimes I look at my own children, a gesture or a phrase catching my eye. Maybe that’s something of my mother’s that lives on. But I do not know. I cannot tell. I would give it all away to have her back again.
A noise breaks through my memory. I look up to see that Lord Frayne has finally finished talking. He has a small beard, neatly trimmed. Such beards were common in my youth, less so these days. Lord Frayne. I knew his father, long dead now. He was killed in one of the last convulsions of the War of Succession.
Cloch, the farrier stands to one side, feet planted solidly, his guild-master and guild-brothers and sisters flanking him. They are all as plain as crows in a nide of cock pheasants. He is not tall but he is powerfully built. He is clean and brushed as he stands there, twisting his guild cap in his hands, but uncomfortable, out of place.
This cool, dim hall with its weavings and hangings, high vaulted ceilings, courtiers and lordlings and ladies in silks, bright as furze blossom, as blood, is not his place. Nor is it mine either, after all these years.
The courtiers titter and fan themselves. It is their latest fad to attend the Peasant Lord’s Court as he passes the king’s judgement and it is cool in here in the heat of the summer. The Peasant Lord. They think that their words are knives to cut me. Instead, they are nothing to me.
I am the Peasant Lord and I have the ear of the king. Kings are prone to fits and flights of fancy, even to making a peasant a lord. But he trusts me, as he does no other. We were bound together in blood and fear. It was the pivot on which my life turned, a pivot of blood and pain and tears.
I am the Peasant Lord and I speak with the king’s voice. The common people believe that I am their mouth, the channel through which they can reach the king. Others mutter that I am unnatural, tainted, touched. But they dare not say it to the king or to me. I laugh to myself. They would fear me more if they knew that their mutterings were true.
But the One True God made me this way. Who am I, or they, to question his purpose? I keep my devotions publicly, ostentatiously, head bowed, eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer.
‘My lord, my lord?’ says the Clerk of the Court. I have not been listening. I do not need to listen, but should give the pretence of doing so.
‘Was the horse ever lame before this?’ I ask.
Talk and yet more talk. It floats through the air like dandelion seeds. I let it glide over me. Instead I watch Cloch the farrier closely, my chin in hand and forefinger raised to my mouth. He is aware of my close regard, made uneasy by it.
I pass the King’s Judgement, so it is fitting that I give the impression of deep thought. In truth nothing could be easier for me. Words are a mind’s clothing, concealing far more than they reveal.
Who could know a person’s mind through their mere words? But the secret desires of men and women are as easy for me to read as words printed in a book.
The Clerk of the Court waits for me to pass my judgement on behalf of the king. His pen is at the ready as always, hovering above the page. He will write my judgement down and then it cannot be denied or unmade by anyone, be they high or low.
‘I find for Cloch the farrier. Compensation for his labour to be paid according to the rules laid down by his guild.’
Yet another judgement passed against a Lord. Does Lord Frayne know of my first ever judgment against a lord, I wonder? Unlikely. He was not yet born then and I was a peasant boy forgotten in the corner.
That was a harsh judgement, harsher by far than the one today. But I was bereft then, enraged in my grief and guilt.
My words fall into silence. The Clerk’s pen scratches away. The courtiers whisper and smirk while Lord Frayne tries to adjust his face to benign neutrality, a lord’s light smile painted on. But his true emotions flash across his face, ripple and echo in his stance. He has been thwarted and that angers him. He looks at me and I meet his gaze.
There is a clatter of spurs as Lord Frayne and his men turn on their heels and leave. There is nothing he can do. The next case files in.
‘Deoch, Master Brewer against Laidir of the Guild of Coopers,’ calls out the Sergeant of the Court. He has a fine, carrying voice. The talk and murmuring dies down again. The Master Brewer steps forward. She approaches my chair to plead her case. The sunlight catches and flashes on her chain of mastery. I stare at it as she bows and begins to speak.
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