Paulek

                                            By 

                                         Arthur 

 
CHAPTER 7


The boys set a steady pace, each taking a turn to carry Tito on their back as he could in no way keep up with their superior speed and strength, they were not afraid of any of the dangers that normally roamed the dark, after all, they themselves were probably the most dangerous of them all, at no stage were they threatened by any wild thing, it seemed that they had already been warned by some ethereal being to stay away from the boys.

The night around them was silent as they sped on their way, their foot steps barely making any sound as they traversed from rough bare dirt road to leaf covered forest paths, even the dried leaves underfoot let little sound into the night, their foot steps were so light that even the soft night wind could be heard as they passed.

The foursome slowed as the first glimmer of dawn appeared, Paulek was in the lead, it was as though he had a special thread leading to his younger brother as they had to change direction three times during the night on a hunch that he had, when they stopped near a cave to camp for the daylight hours, they guessed that they had covered well over thirty miles, Paulek had a feeling he was close to his brother but they could not make it before the sun rose, it was time to sleep and then start again the next night.

Tito settled himself at the mouth of the deep cave, in each hand he held one of his daggers, his cloak pulled tight around him as he sat back near a large boulder, had you not been looking for him, he would have not been seen, the other three were well back in the cave where the sunlight could not penetrate, above them hung the other night denizen, large black bats, it seemed it was time for all of the nights creatures to sleep.

Tito sat in his small hiding place behind the large boulder, occasionally he would nibble on some flat bread and a little dry cheese then close his eyes as he lightly napped as the day warmed, although dozing, Tito still had one ear open to catch any unusual noise that might approach their hiding place, the day continued to pass until the last rays of sunlight began to fade into the darkening sky, behind the little guard came the sounds of the boys awakening, at first a sniff and snuffle, then the groan of someone who had been sleeping on hard rocky ground.

The three joined Tito at the caves entrance, before they got too close to the caravan and Paulek’s brother, all three needed to drink, if the caravan master was truly one of them they would need to be fully fit and ready, but, here in the wilds, where would they find human blood to fill their needs, it was decided to continue onward and, once close enough to the caravan, they would take the time too find blood before going on to attack the caravan and rescue Paulek’s brother.

Sergei had told them not too underestimate the caravan Master, none of them knew how old he was and, even though there were three of them, an old drinker still had the advantage of speed and strength over the younger ones as well as possibly a life time of experience, also he had many human guards as well, they would have to take the time to plan properly before going into the camp.

After Tito had eaten, they set off at their usual steady pace, it seemed that Paulek had some sort of inbuilt homing talent where his brother was concerned for only four hours after leaving the cave, the smell of smoke filled their nostrils, they were very close to a camp of some sort, it was time to think about feeding.

Shortly after first smelling the fire smoke, the boys came to a clearing, in the centre was camped a large caravan, at a large fire in the centre sat three night guards, as the boys hid in the forest cover, they watched as six other guards walked the perimeter just within the confines of the fire light, it was now close to the midnight hour and most of the camp was sleeping, it seemed that the caravan master was in no hurry to arrive at the next destination.

It was not hard to recognise the masters tent, it was at the exact centre of the camp just a short way from the central fire, through the thin cloth of the tent could be seen the flickering light of lamps or candles, the sounds coming from inside the tent did not give any comfort to the boys as they hid and watched, it took most of Pavlik’s strength to restrain Paulek and stop him from rushing carelessly into the camp.

The boys recognised that they needed to feed first, the only targets they had were the patrolling guards, as they watched, they saw that the guards were at times, out of sight of each other and the guards at the fire, it was decided to watch for another hour and select which ones they wanted, once fully fed, they would have little trouble finishing the others and then going on to confront the master and get young Milac back.

Each boy took their selected guard totally by surprise, the guards had been a little lax as they had never been attacked in this county and were more interested in the upcoming sleep, the three selected guards were taken and drained totally, the boys, now full and replete, were ready to face the master of the caravan, with a hunters efficiency, they soon had the other walking guards taken care of and had subdued the fire guards, at this stage there had been not a sound as they worked to their plan, now it was only a matter of taking care of the master and getting Milac back.

Unfortunately, like all well laid plans, things did not go as they had envisioned, as they stepped away from the dead guards at the fire, a deep voice filled the nights silence.

“By Allah’s teeth, what have we here, three little changelings, what are you little boys doing in my camp; do you not know it is impolite to arrive without warning?”

The boys looked at the tall man standing in the doorway of the tent, he was wearing a long flowing robe of striped material, his head was bare and the boys could see his long black flowing hair laying down his back, he had heavy dark eyebrows that shaded his black eyes, below was a large beak of a nose and his chin was covered in a thick curly black beard, he stood with his hands on his hips as he stared at the boys in the circle of light.

“Now, tell me little changelings, why have you invaded my camp, are you after my goods or just after my guard’s blood?”

Paulek stepped forward, his hand on his sword as were the hands of Pavlik and Hawk, it did not go unnoticed by the tall man, he smiled at the audacity of these younglings, they were either very brave or very foolish.

“We are here for my brother, you purchased him from the Baron south of here, he is not a slave for the likes of you, bring him out now and release him.”

“Your brother you say, and which of the many boys I have in my Harem would he be?”

“His name is Milac, he looks much like me.”

“Ah yes, the little fire brand, he has much fire in his blood, it was a delight to try and break him, although, I must admit, I have not been able to do that as yet but, given another five or six days and he will bend to my ways, now as too releasing him, I think not, I like a boy with fire, perhaps you would like to join him, even though you three are somewhat old, I can make an exception to have brothers in my Harem.”

“That will never happen drinker, now bring my brother here.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then we will take him from you.”

“Yes, I can see where he gets his fire from, so tell me little one, how do you propose to take him from me, I still have many guards available and they will not be so easily taken as these carrion have been.”

The tall man swept his hand over the bodies lying on the ground, Paulek felt his blood begin to heat as he watched the smile on the man’s face, his confidence was almost overwhelming and the three boys had, for the first time, a feeling of doubt, although it was fleeting, there was still something about this tall man that inspired fear.

“I will take my brother now, what you do with your other boys is no affair of mine but, my brother comes with us now.”

“I see you are determined, there is however one small problem, you see, your brother is not here, he has been sent on ahead with some of my swiftest horses and my best guards, within four more days he will be onboard a ship for my castle in the south, so young changeling, you are too late, now do you wish to stay here and face my men or would you rather go after your little brother, I can promise you, whichever you choose, you will lose.”

Both Pavlik and Hawk as well as the tall man, could feel the power of anger building up in Paulek, suddenly, with a speed none expected, much less the master of the caravan, Paulek drew his sword and slashed at the tall mans throat, his anger prevented him from making a perfect strike, however it did open a deep gash in the mans neck, as he reached up to where he was now bleeding profusely, Paulek reversed his stroke and removed the mans head from his shoulders.

Pavlik and Hawk could only stand and stare as the once smug mans head rolled on the ground, they had never seen Paulek move so fast, it had to be his anger that had lent him power and speed, both boys stood transfixed as Paulek turned to them, his demeanour was now one of irate certainty.

“We sack the camp, none of them escape, we will take whatever we can carry, he must have some gold somewhere, we will need it in case we have to take a ship to follow Milac.”

“Paulek!” called Hawk, “What about the boys he said were here, they are innocents, we can’t just kill them and leave.”

“Let’s do one thing at a time, first the sleeping guards, it’s going to be bloody work but we can’t let them wake up and attack in force, let’s do it now, then we can look for the other boys and see what they want too do.”

Pavlik and Hawk agreed and, for the next ten minutes, they set to their bloody task, it was not until the last guard had been dispatched that Paulek realised how much he had changed since that night of losing Milac, before this horrible change in his life style, he would never have though of killing in cold blood but now it seemed not to bother him, it came to a choice between his brother and these men, then the men lost every time.

The last guard fell and the boys looked around at the now silent and dead camp, there were only two places any other boys could be, the large tent at the centre, or a smaller one off to the side, Paulek took a chance and went to the smaller tent while Pavlik and Hawk went into the larger.

Paulek was not surprised at what he found in the tent, laying on the floor were six boys, each was chained to the central pole by one leg, the shackle was heavy and the chain was short, two of the boys looked to be no more than eight or nine years old, the other four were about the same age as Milac, all of them had the look of lost hope, their eyes were dull and their bodies looked listless, they just lay there awaiting their fate.

The two youngest were of a type Paulek had never seen, their skin was as black as night and their dull eyes were a deep brown, all the boys were covered by a small white loin cloth and on their upper bodies, they wore a small short jacket of some silken cloth with intricate silver designs sewn into them.

The other boys were also a strange mix, two were very pale with yellow hair that fell to their shoulders in long curls, their eyes were of the lightest shade of blue Paulek had ever seen, the last two boys were darker but not as dark as the little ones, they had a swarthy look about them and the same dark eyebrows and slightly hooked nose of the dead man, all the boys looked up at Paulek as he entered, each had the same look of fear in their faces.

The two little ones immediately clasped each other at the sight of a stranger in their midst, slowly the two swarthy boys rose to their feet to face Paulek, there was the faintest hint of fire still in their eyes, of the other two, one was badly hurt, he had blue bruises over most of his thin body and his eye was puffed up and closed, Paulek could see the faintest smudges of blood in the crotch of the loin cloth, the boy lay silently in the others arms.

Suddenly Paulek had a picture of his brother in much the same situation and the events of the night filled his eyes with sudden tears, the situation of the boys came and hit him hard, had his little brother Milac had to go through the same things he was seeing now?

Paulek looked at the boys, the fear they showed almost broke his heart, how could any man do to these boys what he guessed had happened, deep inside he felt a hate building along with a sense of compassion, it was a strange mix of emotions for one so young, finally, Paulek decided, trying to soften his attitude as he spoke to the boys.

“Don’t worry, I’m Milac’s brother, I’m here too help, the man is dead, I’m going too release you as soon as I can find the key to your chains, do you know where it is?”

The boy holding the injured one spoke for the others.

“He kept it on his belt, please, what are you going to do with us now, we have no home and no where to go?”

Paulek now had a new problem added to the ones already rising as the night wore on.

“I don’t know, what do you want to do, I have to go after my brother but first I want to help you.”

“Are you like us, you know, a drinker of men’s blood?”

“Yes and so are my two friends although I have one boy who is not, he watches over us during the daylight hours. How do you travel during the day time?”

“Our master has a special wagon fitted for daytime travel; it is blacked out to the sunlight so we and himself are kept safe during the day.”

“Which wagon is it?”

“It’s the one with the red cover, it takes six horses to pull it, he also keeps his gold under the floor of the wagon, there is a lot of gold and silver.”

“Good, we will need it if we have to take a ship to rescue my brother, now you are in no danger here, wait while I go and look for the key and send for my assistant.”

Paulek left the tent just as the others appeared from the large one, he asked Hawk if he would go and get Tito then, turning to Pavlik, he asked if he could find six horses to pull a wagon and four more to be used as saddle horses, they could be tied behind the wagon when not used. With Pavlik’s work on the Baron’s estate, he had little trouble finding good strong wagon horses, he then looked over all the others until he had selected four of the best saddle horses, when Pavlik returned leading all of the horses, he saw Paulek standing outside the small tent with six young boys, one looked as though he had been badly abused but, as they all well knew, after the boy had slept for the day, he would once again be as good as new, it was one advantage of their new life of blood drinking.

Tito arrived with Hawk, one glance at the new boys and both of them felt their hearts go out to them, within minutes, the wagon had been pointed out and Pavlik began the task of hitching up the six horse with the help of Hawk, Tito was given time to eat and make ready for the day ahead, he would drive the wagon while the others were asleep in the specially prepared back.

Paulek went with the six new boys to look inside the large wagon, it was, too Paulek’s eyes, a marvel of the wagon makers trade, the rear door lifted down to form a set of steps, once closed it sealed out all light, inside were three small bunks on each side and in the centre was a larger free standing bed, it would be a tight squeeze for all of them but better than trying to find a cave or other shelter every morning.

The pale boy showed Paulek how and where the gold and silver was hidden under the floor, Paulek was amazed as he looked at the four thick chests sitting in the bottom of the special hole in the floor, even if they were only partially full, it would be a great deal of coin, at least now they would have no problem finding coins for the trip.

Paulek only hoped they could catch up with his brothers keepers before they made it too the far off coast, with Tito driving during the day, and one of them driving during the night with pauses to feed and water the horses, they should make good time catching up to the men ahead, as a last resort they could take the saddle horses and speed ahead while Tito watched over the six newcomers.

“Have you boys fed lately?” Paulek asked the six young ones.

“A little, he kept us close to starving so he could control us, we might be alright for a day or two more but, too gain our full strength we need to feed soon.”

Paulek looked around, there were no guards left alive and for one of their sort to drink from the long dead was not a good idea, he had gathered that much from Sergei, while it would not kill them, it would take a great toll on their ability to stay young and lessen their strength and other abilities, Paulek would have to find some fresh blood for the new boys, just another problem among many others that he was having to learn to deal with as he chased after his brother.

The most steadying force Paulek had was Pavlik, he had been a drinker for longer than either of the others, his experience was the one factor that enabled Paulek to keep too his objective, with the addition of six more drinkers, it was going to be harder to feed themselves as they moved forward, with so many of the villages being small it would not be easy to keep their secret from becoming common knowledge and, with the ability for news to travel quickly, one wrong move and they would be hunted down and killed, it was the experience of Pavlik that came to save the day.

“Paulek, look we have to find blood for the boys or they won’t last long and the thirst will get them and they will do something to reveal us, I’ve been thinking on it, as you know there are many bandits and road agents all over, we have to try to trap them into attacking us, especially during the night hours, if you get Tito too flash a little of the coin around in some of the villages, the word will soon get out that the wagon is unprotected and valuable.”

Paulek could see where this was going but how to make sure the wagon was safe during the day, Tito alone would not be able to protect the wagon, they would all need to be awake to take advantage of their strengths.

“All we have to do is let Tito flash some gold around in a village during the day, he stays there until close to night then leaves, by then we are awake and can stay hidden inside the wagon or ride just a little behind, when the bandits attack, we can get them all, after all, it would be a service to the King to rid the country of those vermin, it is just an added fact that we also get to feed at the same time.”

Paulek liked the idea, it was relatively simple and, as Pavlik said, there were plenty of bandits and brigands roaming the country, it was also a fact that many of them attacked at night to cover their tracks, again Pavlik had come up with an answer, Paulek felt much more happy now that this particular problem had been taken care of.

Now that everything was ready and it was only two hours until dawn, Tito made himself a parcel of bread, cheese and olives with a flask of watered wine for his days meal and settled onto the seat of the wagon, for the next two hours he would have the time to practice driving the large wagon while Paulek, Pavlik and Hawk rode ahead on horseback, the six new boys rode in the wagon apart from two of them who sat with Tito in case he had a problem, at dawn light they would retire with the others to the beds inside.

An hour before dawn and they had made good time, the horses seemed to know their job and just continued down the rough road at a steady pace and gave no trouble, but, just as they were starting to think about going to the wagon for the night, four rough looking men stepped out of the predawn darkness and confronted the small cavalcade, the three at the head of the small group looked down at the well armed men, two had crossbows, the others had only old rusty swords, Paulek glanced at Pavlik and Hawk, there was almost the faintest of smiles on his young lips, someone up there had answered their prayers.

The men were dressed in a variety of clothing, all of it rough apart from one man that stood ahead of the others, he was tall and thick through the body, his face was covered with a rough brown beard and his eyes were dark and piercing as he looked at the three boys on horse back but, they could see that their main interest was on the heavy wagon, the man spoke in a course voice as though his throat was sore.

“Well lads, wot we got ere then, you boys in charge of this big cart all on yer own then?”

The three boys sat silently and looked at the men.

“Well, cat got your tongue then boys, peraps you got lost like; mayhap we can help you find your way?”

Again the boys stayed silent and watchful.

“Now then boys, I think maybe you should get darn and let us real men take a look see at that there cart?”

Paulek looked at the men and where they stood; the two men with crossbows would be the hardest to get too as they stood at the back, the bows too their shoulder and aimed at Hawk and Pavlik, Paulek looked at the man and smiled.

“I don’t think so, it would be better for you to move along and leave us alone.” Paulek knew that was not going to happen, in fact he didn’t want it too happen, with a small hand signal, he gestured for the other two to start to dismount, once on the ground they would perform their own attack, it would be the last thing the men would expect.

Unknown by the three boys, and unseen by the men, the six boys had slipped from the wagon and had disappeared into the nearby trees, from the rear of the four would be bandits, came a gurgling sound and then a quickly cut off scream, as the two men in front turned to look behind them, Pavlik and Hawk struck with their rapidly drawn swords, the fight was no fight at all, it was more like a massacre, the four men were not killed but only disabled so the six boys could feed, they had just enough time to dispose of the bodies in the thick trees before the dawn broke. With full bellies, the boys settled into the bunks as Paulek, Pavlik and Hawk took to the wide bed in the centre, Tito settled in for his first solo drive of the wagon.

Tito kept the horses at a slow and steady pace, they were well trained and did not try to take advantage of their new driver, Tito sipped a little wine now and them as well as taking bread, cheese and olives as his stomach dictated, he had been told the plan by Paulek, his Master, he was quite happy that he was given such an important role to play and such a large responsibility as to care for nine drinkers, his parents, if they could see him now, would be extremely proud of his new situation.

Twice during the day, Tito stopped to let the horses feed and water themselves when he came across a likely stream, the wagon horses he left in the traces, the four riding horse, minus their saddlery, he led to the waters edge and let them drink and when finished, retied them to the rear of the wagon. While it looked easy and idyllic he was always on the alert, his hands never too far away from his hidden knives, the Roma had not survived in hostile countries for as long as they had by being careless.

By the middle of the day, Tito left the forest and came into open country with small farm holdings dotted along the narrow dirt road, at the first sign of the farms, Tito guessed he was closing onto a village of some sort and, by late afternoon, as he came over a small rise in the road, he saw below him a small hamlet, not much more than a dozen houses surrounded a round green grassed area with a water well at its centre, it would be a good place to stop the wagon until dusk closed in and Paulek or one of the others could take over.

With still a couple of hours to go before dusk, Tito pulled the heavy wagon onto the grass by the well, stopping the wagon, he then went to ease the tension on the traces and began to water the horses as they rested, occasionally cropping the fresh green grass at their feet. After seeing to all the horse, Tito saw it was starting to get close to sunset, he took the last of his food and sat to eat as he waited for his Master to awaken, the silence of the hamlet eased his fears and worries about his first day as the only protector of the ever growing family in the wagon.

The last rays of dusk disappeared and Tito heard the first groans and grunts from the wagon, he stood up and began to retighten the traces and then saddle the four horses, as he finished the last saddling, he heard Paulek greet him, turning, Tito smiled widely at his young Master and fixed the last buckle then turned towards the wagon as the others came out from their sleep, it had been a good day, he would now be allowed to take one of the beds and sleep the night through while they continued on their way.

Paulek saw that the hamlet they had stopped in was already settling in for the night, in these out of the way villages and hamlets, people went to their beds early, for the boys this made it easier to get ready to move on, only one small window had movement of a curtain but, the candle behind the curtains was soon extinguished and the wooden house went into darkness as one of the new boys took the drivers seat, another sat beside him as Tito climbed into the back, Paulek, Pavlik and Hawk, along with the boy that had taken the leadership role of the new ones, each took one of the saddled horses and slowly led the way through the small hamlet, they were on the road once again.

With the coolness of the night, they were able to push the horse a little faster but not too fast, they did not want to lame their horses and be stranded for some time because of their impatience, fortunately for them, the horses were big and strong and well trained to long journeys, they set their pace and kept it up mile after mile, stopping only at small streams for water.

Those mounted on the saddle horses went ahead to scout out the land, riding with confidence in the dark hours of the night, it had no terrors for them, their enhanced eye sight gave them plenty of warning of any problems ahead, the country side was long low rolling hills but not too steep to make a problem for the big horses attached to the wagon, they just kept up their steady pace, up or down the small hillocks.

When the first faint rays of the rising sun showed on the horizon, Paulek estimated they had made more than twice the distance of the previous day, the horse were a little tired and just starting to get to the stage of blowing a little on the climbs, with a final glance down into the next valley, Paulek saw the outline of another small village, a little bigger than the hamlet but not as large as a town, he set their course for there and hoped they would make it before the sun rose, as it turned out, they had to let Tito take the reins with less than a mile to go.

Tito watched as the village came closer, it looked as though it was their market day as the road ahead was filled with plain farm carts stacked with vegetables and other produce, Tito pulled into the rear of a short column and followed towards the village, Paulek had told him to find a place to rest the horse for part of the day and too start again after the heat of the midday sun had gone, it would still give them some miles before dark.

Tito steered the team towards a narrow and shallow river just at the edge of the village, as he moved through the centre of the houses, he collected a few disinterested stares but continued on his way until he was by the river, loosening the traces and letting the horses free of the shafts, he led them down to the river and staked them close enough to drink, Tito then went back and unsaddled the other horses and also staked them out to water and feed, the grass along the river edge was thick and rich, the horses took little time to start eating, Tito settled in the shade under a tree to watch his charges.

While the horse were regaining their strength, Tito looked through some of the small outside cupboards fitted to the wagon, after a short search he found what he was looking for, a used curry comb and a long hard brush, Tito returned to the horse and, to fill in his time, he set about currying and brushing the horse, he could almost feel the animals shiver with delight as he combed them in long flowing strokes, this part of horses he well knew, it had been one of his chores for his family when he was younger, the horses snuffled and sighed as they felt the brushing.

At two hours past the midday hour, Tito saw the first empty farm cart leaving the village, it appeared the market day was over, time for him to get the horses ready once again and move on himself, he wanted to be well clear of the village before sundown, for the next hour, he readied the horses, with little trouble they soon settled into their familiar places and Tito took the reins and they moved out of their temporary stopping place and into the open country beyond.

As dusk drew in on the single Wagon, the change over was smooth and almost un-noticeable, they had now set themselves a quick and easy routine, this time however, Pavlik took the wagon and one of the other new boys took his horse, it had been decided that at least one of the older boys would be in charge of the wagon at all times in case something arose that needed them, it was most unlikely as the four boys in the vanguard would see most dangers well ahead of the wagon driver.

It was five days later when they got the first faint smell of the salt air from the sea, at this, Paulek felt something snap inside himself, if they were this close to the sea and they had not yet caught up with his brother he would have to go over the sea and keep up the chase. Mixed in with the salty smell of the sea was also the familiar dank and sour smell of a large town, at first it took Paulek by surprise but, when he thought about it, he realised that of course there would be a town with a port if it was close to the sea, there would be no other reason to be going down this road otherwise.

It was in the very early hours of the morning when they turned a long slow bend in the road and saw the port town only a mile in front of them, even at this ungodly hour, there were still noises coming from the spread out town, especially down towards the port area, it seemed that sailors never went to bed when in port, the raucous sounds coming from the far edge of town showed the sailors were still in the mood to party.

Paulek and the others decided they did not want to completely enter the town so they looked for a park place outside the town limits, the only place they could find was a small farmlet right on the edge of where the houses ended, it looked tidy but almost deserted, Paulek took a handful of gold coins from one of the boxes and rode towards the small farm house.

It took Paulek a little time to get a reply to his continuous knocking; finally a young voice spoke from behind the closed door.

“Go away; I told you before, I’m not going to sell, not now, not ever, this is my families land and always will be, now GO.”

Paulek listened to the tension in the young voice, it sounded like a boy not much older than he was.

“I’m not here to buy your farm, I just want a place to park our wagon for a few days, we need a place to water and feed our horses as well, I’m prepared to pay well for your help.”

“Who, who are you?”

“My name is Paulek, my friends and I are trying to find my brother, he was taken some while ago and we’re trying to get him back, please, we just need a place to stay.”

“Wait.”

Paulek heard something heavy being moved behind the closed door, a small grunt followed by a soft thud as the heavy item hit the floor, slowly the door was opened just a little and a face appeared in the darkness beyond, something caught Paulek by surprise, the eyes that looked out at him held a sort of mysticism, they seemed to ensnare Paulek the moment he saw them, from the bright greenness of those orbs, Paulek’s eyes followed down the gentle curves of the young face, high cheek bones sloped down to a small firm mouth and round soft chin, Paulek found he could not utter a sound as he looked at the young teen holding the door, for the first time in his life, Paulek was speechless, the soft beauty of the boy held him enthralled, his trance was broken only when the boy spoke.

“You really don’t want to buy me out, they have tried to get rid of me many times since my parents died last month, the council has taken most of my land as back taxes but I’m sure they were all paid but, what can I do alone, this is all I have left plus the small paddock out back and along the side here and my one cow, if it is enough then you may rent it for your time here.”

Paulek still could not find his voice as the vision before him kept him enraptured by its beauty, all he could do was open his hand and let all of the gold coins fall into the boys waiting hand, as the coins touched the boys hand, they rolled and fell to the hard stone step of the doorway, it seemed the boy was now also taken with the boy at his doorstep, they both just stood staring at each other while the time and world around them moved on, it was Hawk that finally broke the spell as he came over to see what was going on.

Hawk looked at the fallen coins, then he looked at the farm boy in the doorway followed by a glance at Paulek, finally Hawk waved his hand between the two boys and then turned to Pavlik where he waited on the wagon seat.

“Looks like they both got it.”

“Got what?” Pavlik relied.

“The same thing we’ve got, smitten by a farm boy only yours was a baker boy.” Hawk laughed loudly as he watched the two boys suddenly start and look at him, neither had even been aware that they had someone approach so closely.

Paulek looked at Hawk then an embarrassed look came over his face as he realised what he had been doing, the redness that covered his cheeks was only dimmed by the same glow on the farm boy’s cheeks, with a shuffling of feet, they both tried to introduce themselves at the same time, again another burst of laughter came from Hawk, only this time it was followed by Pavlik as well.

The spell broken, Paulek flushed as far as a blood drinker could and began to try to stutter his words out.

“Thank you.....we will settle the wagon here by the house.....if that’s alright with you.....and if you don’t mind.....we will let the horses free in the paddock to graze.”

His words faded away as he looked at the vision before him, in all his short life he had never been so taken with another boy, one that he had never seen or heard of before, the farm boy also seemed to be stuck for words as he just nodded vacantly towards the visitors, the boy in front of him was his one long dream come true although he did not know the boys name, he knew that he did not want him too ever leave.

Hawk tapped Pavlik on the shoulder and went to turn the wagon and park it close to the side of the house, once settled there, they and the rest of the boys set about releasing the hard worked horses, once brushed and watered, the horses were set free in the paddock at the rear of the small farm house, Paulek and his new acquaintance were still standing as though struck dumb, neither wanted to make the first move to break the spell that held them.

It was Tito that finally broke the spell for the boys, as the first rays of the sun began to show, Tito ran for his young Master, the others had already settled into the wagon and now Paulek was close to being burnt by the strengthening light, Tito grasped a slim shoulder and shook determinedly until Paulek shook himself and looked down at his small friend.

“Master Paulek, it is time, you must be very tired after travelling all night.”

Finally the words got through to Paulek and he also began to feel the heat on his skin, with a sad smile he looked at the boy in the doorway and said.

“I’m sorry, I have to go and rest, I’m just about asleep on my feet, if you wish, my friend here, Tito will stay and tell you anything else you need, thank you for your generosity, I will talk more later today, I just need to rest now.”

Not waiting for an answer, Paulek hurriedly left and climbed into the back of the wagon, closing the rear panel tightly, almost instantly he was asleep, as the sun rose higher, his mind went darker until there was nothing but the faintest of images of a young farm boy standing waiting for him.

Tito looked at the boy in the doorway, he was a little taller than his Master, a slender but well built boy from all the hard work a farm required, as if suddenly noticing Tito, the boy invited him inside for some food to break their fast, it was the usual farm fare of the time except for the fresh milk in an earthen jug on the table, Tito thoroughly enjoyed the first chance he had had in a long time to drink fresh milk, they both sat and ate in silence until the meal was finished, Tito could see in the boys expression that he had questions he wanted to ask but the rules of hospitality prevented him asking until the meal was done, Tito waited in silence, he knew it was not his place to start the conversation.

“So,” the boy began. “How is he your master, he doesn’t seem the sort to have a slave?”

“Oh, I’m no slave, I am a free servant, my people have served for many generations, it is our purpose in life, and may I ask your name?”

“Oh yes, I never got to tell him, my name is Bevic, my parents owned this farm although now it is so much smaller, there is only the one paddock left and it is all I can do to keep my last cow from being taken.”

“Why would they take everything from you?”

“The council says it is for unpaid taxes as I told your Master but, I am sure my Father always paid the taxes after each harvest but the council says it has no record, I think I’m going to lose the last of it soon unless I can find eight gold pieces, it is too much, I will never have that much, I will soon be out on the streets like so many others have been.”

Tito looked at the boy with open eyes of wonder, had the boy not seen the gold coins left by Paulek, turning around too look toward the door, Tito saw the scattered coins still laying on the ground where they had been dropped, the boy, Bevic had not even noticed them. Tito rose from the table and began to gather up the scattered coins, there were more than twenty coins, after collecting all of them, he took them back and laid them on the table in front of Bevic.

“Here, this is payment for the wagon and horses; I don’t know how long my Master plans to stay so it is better you keep it all for now.”

Bevic looked at the small pile of gold coins, there was more on the table than he had seen in his lifetime, far more than enough to pay for a few days of lodging in his near empty paddock, after looking at the coins for some time, Bevic counted out eight coins and then pushed the rest back to Tito.”

“There is far too much here for a little lodging and grass, if you don’t mind, I will take only enough for the taxes, even that is far too much but I do need to pay them or I will lose everything.”

Tito watched as the boy carefully placed the eight coins in a small leather pouch at his waist, with little thought, Tito just pushed all the other coins back in front of the boy, he was sure that his Master meant the boy too have them, after all, they had more than enough in the wagon too keep them all in comfort for many years too come.

Bevic looked at the other coins and asked.

“Are you sure, it seems so much for just a little grass and space?”

“It is what my Master intended for you, now what are we going to do for the rest of the day while the others rest?”

“Well Tito, I should go and pay those taxes, at least then they can no longer lay claim to what is left of my farm.”

Tito nodded in agreement and rose from the table saying.

“I will come with you, it is best to have a witness for such important transactions as taxes, that way they will never be able to say it was not received, I also have to make some purchases in your market for when the Master awakens, so what do you say, shall we go shopping and spend the day in the town, you can show me everything?”

“Yes, yes that would be a good idea, now I have enough for the taxes I feel much better but, first I will have to go and milk my cow, it won’t take long and I can’t leave her un-milked for the day.”

After Bevic took hold of an old wooden bucket, Tito followed him out the small back door and into the paddock beyond, the cow stood in a shady corner just a short way from where the horses were cropping the fresh green grass, Tito followed Bevic over to the shady tree and watched intently as the farm boy began to milk the gentle cow as it stood slowly chewing its cud.

It took no time at all for the milking to be finished, Bevic had told Tito that before his father had more than ten cows and it took most of the morning to milk them all, he had supplied many taverns in the town with fresh milk but now Bevic only had this last one left and could not get enough to supply anyone.

Tito thought about it for a while and then said.

“Why don’t you use some more of the gold to buy new cows if that’s what you want to do?”

“I’m not sure I want to stay here, there is not much of the farm left and they won’t let me buy back any of the land, I would like to travel too far places but I can’t just walk away from the family land either, I don’t want those greedy council men to take it all for nothing.”

“Ok, pay the taxes then put it up for sale, that way you will make profit from the land and will get a good price as it is so close to the town boundaries, there will be many who will want to build their houses here, I’m sure that’s what those tax men had in mind too make a big profit, now you can pay the taxes and sell it for your self, they get nothing, all the value is yours.”

For the first time since Tito had seen Bevic, he saw a broad smile on his face.

“Yes, that’s what I’ll do, it will take me more than a week to sell though but then I can take a ship over the sea or just go adventuring over the land, yes that is a much better idea, do you think your Master would come with me when he has his brother back?”

Tito sat and thought about what he had seen flash between the two boys; he smiled and looked into the wide eyes of hope that stared back at him.

“I am sure my Master would go anywhere with you, now let’s go and pay your taxes and then you can show me the town, especially the docks, they are of the most interest to my Master.”

The two boys rose from the chairs they had been sitting in and Tito followed Bevic to the door after checking that his knives were in place under his smock. Closing the door firmly, Bevic led Tito to the gate and turned right towards the nearby township, with the rising of the sun the noises and smells of the town had increased considerably, after the quiet of the road, Tito was almost taken aback by the newness of the bustle of the town, he walked along side Bevic as they made their way towards the council office, his eyes ever alert for any signs of the brother of his Master.

TBC.

Artcart65@vodafone.co.nz

 

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