Heart of Adventure Part 7 - Price
Part 1-3(Called the East Way Chronicles)
Andester found himself standing outside of the tavern. He was looking around for somewhere to sleep for the night. He figured he could find an inn and try to get a room. Andester's hand went to the money pouch he wore on his hip. It would cost him the few gold coins he had struggled to collect to get a room though; he had to come up with another option. He finally decided he could sleep outside of town, in the woods. The trees would provide him shelter and he could be back at Raydon's wagon early the next morning. He started to walk down the nearly deserted street, a cool breeze chilling him as he went.
As Andester crossed the small town he came to the punishment block, a large stage set in the middle of town. He looked up at the hanging plank that had been built in the middle. They hanged murderers in this part of the world. Andester could see where the rope had begun to ware down the wood from many uses. He looked at the stage for a moment. It contained two walls that formed a V-shape at the back of the stage; regionally know as a justice wall. Andester could see a man chained to one of the walls. Andester recognized the man instantly; it was the ill-fated thief from earlier that day. His curiosity aroused he slowly walked up to the man. The man was looking down, at first Andester had thought he had fallen asleep but the man moaned quietly.
At the man's feet was a loaf of bread, the loaf that had cost the man his freedom, Andester figured. Andester could see various types of rotted fruit and vegetables littering the ground around him. No doubt this was food thrown at the thief.
"Can I help you?" Andester said trying the chains that held the man's wrists. The chains were firm and would not budge.
"Hugh?" The man said looking up at Andester. "What do you want, go ahead and laugh, I don't care."
"I did not come to laugh at you, is there anything I can do to help you?" Andester said trying the chains again, this time putting his back into it. He felt the chain budge a little. The man reminded the youth of himself, how he had felt trapped within his father’s house, until he had escaped it himself.
The prisoner seemed to study Andester for a few moments, and then sighed loudly. He looked around studying the darkness before turning his eyes back to Andester.
"I live north of town in a small cabin. I have two cows and one horse in the field behind the house. Bring the bread to my wife," he paused and chuckled to himself,” it's paid for now."
"What are they going to do to you?" Andester looked over at the hanging plank, but shook his head. They couldn't be that cruel, could they?
"I sit here for a week and then they take my left hand,” he paused again this time fighting back tears, “they said I should feel lucky only to lose one hand."
Andester tired the chains again, "I think I might be able to free you."
The other man chuckled to himself. "Where would I go? I live here. If I run they will punish my wife or children, no I did what I did for them, I won't run from it."
"Why did you steal the bread?" Andester asked.
The other man looked up at him again. "I am a farmer; I normally grow the wheat for the bread. This year there was little water and my creek went dry and the crop died. My family hungers and I will feed them."
"Wouldn't the Count hear your plea?" Andester asked.
"He did, but he said I would only need one hand and my children for future yields." The man said shaking his head.
"There is no other way?" Andester asked desperately.
"I could pay fifty gold coins, only I don't have fifty coins or I wouldn't be stealing food would I?" The man said angrily. "Please just take the bread for my family." Andester bent over and picked up the loaf. He broke off a piece and held it up in front of the man who refused it.
"Eat; you need your strength for your family," the man pondered this for a moment and then accepted the food.
"If any of the other food is good please bring it to my wife also." The man pleaded to Andester. Andester gathered up all of the food he could carry. In the dark he couldn’t tell if it was still good or not, and he doubted it mattered, he would bring as much as he could to the family. He turned to bring his cargo to its rightful place.
"One more thing," the man continued. "Tell my wife to come and get me in seven days, when they take my hand I will not be strong enough and will need her to take me home."
Andester could not find the words to say to the weary man, so he just nodded and turned away to find the house with the cows and a horse.
Andester found the house without any problems. It sat perched just off the main road into the town; he had even probably passed it on the way into town himself and just never noticed it. He noticed the animals just as the man had said and they answered his unspoken question, why they were not eaten themselves. All three looked to be barely clinging onto life themselves. Malnourished and weak, he doubted they would last much longer anyway.
He paused for a moment before knocking on the door. Why me? He exhaled and knocked loudly on the door, a hollow sound, just like the heart within his chest. He could feel it beating and it rang in his ears like a drum. A few moments later a tired woman answered the door. Andester could see the redness of her eyes and cheeks and realized that she already knew the news about her husband.
"Your husband…. He wanted…. Well this is for you and your kids." He managed to stumble out holding the food up for the woman. The woman, who had been putting up a strong front in front of Andester lost control of her emotions and tears began to roll down her cheeks, weeping quickly overtook her. She turned and entered the house leaving the door open behind her. Andester paused for a moment and then followed her into the house closing the door with his foot before placing the food on the table.
The moments that followed were probably the most uncomfortable time that Andester had ever experienced. He stood there watching the woman weep in despair. He wanted to reach out and comfort her only he could not bring himself to do it; he reasoned it was because he did not even know this woman. In truth he just didn’t know how to respond to this type of grief, so he just stood quietly looking out a window at the falling snow until her sobs subsided.
“I don’t know what to do,” the woman said after she regained herself. She went to the dinner table that sat in the middle of her small home.
Andester walked over to the woman. “Do you have any friends or family that could give you the gold?” He said sitting down at table across from her.
“No there isn’t anyone we can ask to do that,” she replied sadly.
Andester looked behind her to see two children looking out of their bedroom. The oldest was a girl of about twelve winters. Her younger brother looked to be about eight winters old. The children obviously had been watching and listening to the conversation. The young boy approached slowly his hair was red and looked like straw piled upon his head; he had freckles that populated his cheeks and nose. He walked around his mother and put a hand on her knee. The older girl walked out and put her arms around her mother’s neck and hugged her from behind. The girl too strawberry red hair and wore it braded down the back. She looked aged beyond her years, as the trials of life were beginning to take their toll on her. The mother tilted her head down and kissed her daughter’s forearm.
The boy looked directly at Andester and asked plainly. “You will help my daddy won’t you?”
Raydon was awakened by the sound of loud knocking on his door. He glanced out his window; it was still dark outside and there were many hours until morning. "Just a minute," he called pulling the covers from his bed. The cold instantly assaulted him and he grunted to himself. He slipped his feet into the slippers that he kept next to his bed. The knocking stopped and he headed slowly to the door. Who could be here at this time of night? He got to the door a couple of moments later. He opened the door just a crack and looked out to find Andester waiting outside. "Yes?” He said.
Andester exhaled nervously. "I'm afraid to ask this but in order for me to protect your wagon I'm going to need fifty gold coins." Andester waited nervously for the response.
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