Five years ago I wrote my first story and posted it on the forum. I was scared to death! So I thought it was time for a second “gift” story, and I hope you enjoy it. (And I still find posting a story scary.)
As always, my thanks to Evie for her proofreading and encouragement.
Justin’s GiftDecember 23, 1135City of Rhemuth
Justin de Tehryn paused by the almonry at a side gate of St. George’s Cathedral. Two lay brothers were distributing leftovers from the noon meal to the people lined up before the door. The harvest had been poor this year, and the line before the almonry door was long. The women and older men who formed the line wore the much-repaired dresses and tunics of Rhemuth’s poorer labourers. There were a few young children in line as well, gripping their mother’s skirts and looking in interest at him, a royal page.
Somewhat self-consciously, Justin turned away and headed toward Merchant’s Row. He had completed delivering various messages concerning the preparations for King Kelson and Queen Araxie’s attendance at the cathedral on Christmas Eve and needed to return to Rhemuth Castle. Merchant’s Row was not the most direct route back to the castle from St. George’s, but it was a reasonable detour when he actually had some coin he could spend. Early snows in mountainous Tehryn had prevented his father and sister from attending Christmas Court, but the old Baron had sent money for birthday presents for him and his twin brother along with a very tempting box not to be opened until Twelfth Night.
Justin smiled as he thought of the box with its large wax seal. Of course he and his brother Jared had attempted to loosen the seal without breaking it. The embedded Deryni message from their triplet sister Jäna had threatened that the boy’s hair would fall out if they touched it again before Twelfth Night. They had agreed that Jäna could not know a spell that would do that, but decided not to risk it.
There might be snows in Tehryn, but the afternoon was warm for December in Rhemuth. Justin turned back the sides of his cloak as he stopped by a leatherworker`s stall. He carried a small amount of his birthday money with him in the worn leather pouch that hung from his belt. Jared had teased him about being a miser because he was still wearing such a battered old pouch, but Justin saw no reason to replace it while it was still serviceable. The time had come, however, as the strap that should hold it secure had become quite frayed.
Justin became so engrossed in looking for a pouch that would give the best value for his coin that he almost didn`t notice the tug at his belt. Startled, he turned around and saw a young boy tuck his pouch into his grimy tunic while hastening away.
“You!” Justin yelled. The boy darted between people in the crowded street and down a narrow alleyway between stalls.
Justin followed as quickly as he could, but with the thick crowd and needing to maintain at least a little dignity as a royal page, he lost him before he reached the King’s Way. Belatedly, it occurred to him that if he had shouted “Stop, Thief!” he might have gotten some assistance. On the other hand, if the boy had been caught, the pouch probably looked more like it belonged to the boy in the grimy tunic than to him.
“Damnation,” Justin muttered under his breath while considering if there was anything more he could do to get his money back.
“That’s not the best language for a young man, my son,” said a reproachful voice beside him.
With an inward jump, Justin turned toward the voice and then made a hasty bow. The man who had spoken wore a friar’s robe, its hood thrown back to reveal a lined face with thin, white hair around his tonsure. The eyes were sharp in the aged face, and Justin suspected they missed very little.
“Beg pardon, Brother Friar,” Justin said. “I have just been robbed.”
“Robbed, you say? Were you carrying a fortune in jewels? A king’s ransom?”
Justin shook his auburn-haired head. “Nay, sir. It was a small amount, but it is still thievery and wrong.”
The old friar nodded. “So some big brute took your money, and now you have none.”
“Nay, sir,” Justin said again. “It was a young boy, and it was the money I had with me, not all that I have.”
“You want to find him and get it back?” The friar slipped his hands into his opposing sleeves and studied Justin carefully.
Justin suddenly had the impression that he was being tested and not doing very well at it. “I would like to, yes, but it doesn’t seem likely. I have no idea where the boy went.”
“I might have an idea where he went. Walk with me and I will show you.” When Justin looked doubtful, the old friar smiled. “I should introduce myself. I am Brother Talbot of the Friars of St. Simeon. I know many parts of Rhemuth that you have likely not seen much of.”
“I can walk with you a little way, but I must return to the castle soon.”
“Of course,” said Brother Talbot as he began to walk in the general direction of the Molling River.
Justin walked beside him, surprised at the smoothness of the old man’s gate. As they walked, the buildings began to look less prosperous than in the castle area. Brother Talbot nodded to passersby along the way and stopped occasionally to bless those that seemed less fortunate than others. By the time they reached the outskirts of the Shambles, Justin was feeling uncomfortable and out-of-place.
“This is a part of Rhemuth you haven’t seen before, isn’t it?” Brother Talbot asked. “I am here quite often in my work.”
“No Brother, I haven’t. What work do you do here that takes you so far away from St. Simeon?”
“I am the almoner.”
Brother Talbot led Justin past the crowded buildings. Many needed repairs, and Justin noted that not all of the children that ventured out to look at them had proper shoes and hose. They stared at Justin’s page tabard and more than one mother called her children back inside.
“I think we have gone far enough, Brother Talbot. I really need to get back to the castle, and I no longer think I could recognize the boy from among all the others.”
“I understand,” Brother Talbot said, “though he may be one of those that eat better this evening or sleep under a blanket.”
“It’s still wrong to steal, Brother Talbot,” Justin stated.
“Of course it is. I have never preached otherwise.” The old friar looked down at Justin, his sharp eyes intense, but not unkind. “You go along. I have work to do now that I am here.” He raised his hand in blessing.
Justin bowed his head for the blessing, but when he looked up, the old friar was gone.
***December 24, 1135City of Rhemuth
Justin de Tehryn looked at the old stone buildings that housed the Friars of St. Simeon. They were tucked into the far northwest corner of Rhemuth’s walled boundary, though enough space had been left for an orchard behind them. The old church faced the street, and the friars’ dormitory and workshops were arranged to the left. Justin hesitated before the church steps, unsure of whom he should approach to find Brother Talbot.
“May I help you, my son?” asked a familiar voice. Justin turned to find the old friar standing behind him, his hands tucked into his sleeves as they had been the day before.
“Brother Talbot,” Justin said in greeting as he made a respectful bow. “I would like to contribute to your work.”
“Do you now?” Brother Talbot responded. “How might you do that?”
“With this gift, Brother Talbot.” Justin reached into his tunic and withdrew a linen-wrapped bundle.
Brother Talbot withdrew his hand from his sleeve and accepted the bundle. He hefted it in his hand to judge its weight.
“I know it’s not much, and it is short the coin the boy stole, but I thought my birthday money would serve a better purpose in the Shambles,” Justin said hastily. “There is nothing I really need it for.”
“A generous thought is sufficient,” Brother Talbot said after a moment. “Though you are not completely accurate.”
“Beg pardon?” Justin asked, confused and a bit concerned.
“It appears to me you are in need of a pouch,” Brother Talbot said solemnly, though Justin thought he saw some amusement in the sharp eyes. “A royal page should not be carrying items of worth tucked into his tunic front, and you no longer have your old pouch.”
“I will manage, sir.”
The old friar nodded and then removed his own pouch from his belt. “Will this one do?”
Justin took the pouch and studied it. The leather was supple, and it was fashioned in an older style. A simple cross had been tooled into the leather flap.
“It will do fine, Brother Talbot, but if I accept this, you will be without a pouch.”
“I will manage, my son. Now you should get on with your day and I with mine.”
Justin bowed his head to accept the friar’s blessing and found himself standing alone when he looked up.
Justin’s steps were light when at last he set off for Rhemuth Castle. He had delivered his messages and collected more to take back with him. He would reach the castle in plenty of time to assist with the noon meal, which would be light compared to what would be served on Christmas. He realized he was hungry and quickened his step, but managed to hold up before colliding with the Auxiliary Bishop of Rhemuth.
“Beg pardon, Bishop Duncan.” Justin bowed respectfully. “I was in a hurry to return to the castle.”
‘You seem to be in a fine, good mood, Justin. Any special reason?” Bishop Duncan McLain asked.
“It’s sort of a long story, My Lord,” Justin replied.
“Well, since I am headed toward Rhemuth Castle myself, why don’t you tell me along the way?”
Justin hesitated, but saw no respectful way to avoid telling his tale. He told the bishop all that had happened since the theft of his money.
Bishop Duncan listened intently, interrupting only once to ask for a description of Brother Talbot.
“May I see the belt pouch?” he asked when Justin had finished.
“Of course, My Lord.” Justin removed the pouch from his belt and handed it to the bishop.
Bishop Duncan examined it carefully and then handed it back. “That certainly looks like Brother Talbot’s pouch. I would recommend, though, that you not tell too many others about this.”
Justin looked at the bishop indignantly. “I have no intention to brag about it!”
“No, no, I didn’t mean to imply that,” Bishop Duncan said hastily. “It’s just that Brother Talbot, the Almoner of the Friars of St. Simeon, has been dead for nearly 40 years.”Next chapter: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1835.0.html