Latest Post: A Bailiff’s Life
Reiss trotted his horse towards yet another rotten village. How long have I been doing this for? His men plodded behind, not speaking. Talk has long dried up on this damn road.
As they neared Raylside, the king’s bailiff wondered how much more he could take. At least I’m not on the front line. Though I could kill more easily there. Here, you were never far from riot and rebellion if you did that. A careful balance of intimidation and force is needed.
Smoke rose from a few little fires as the small folk prepared their evening meals. And there stood the village leader, as if waiting for them.
‘Gunthan. You have the gilt?’
The old man smiled. ‘Come inside.’
Reiss dismounted and followed him into the gloom. He didn’t like cheer on the part of those he taxed. It always hid something more sinister.
‘Bailiff, you know how hard things are. No doubt you’ve heard similar stories at Valedown and Grest already.’
‘I hear sad tales in good times and bad. No one wants to pay their gilt, ever.’
‘Yet now we are on the edge of survival. More men have been taken to fight in the disputed lands, leaving few to grow grain and fewer still who might trade for your taxes.’
‘My taxes? No Gunthan. No, no, no.’ He held up his finger. ‘Never forget that you pay gilt to the king. For the lands he grants you. The kingdom itself is on the edge of survival, and every man, woman and child must play their part.’
Gunthan shook his head. ‘If we could defer-’
‘Do you know how tired I get of pleadings, man? Do you think I get to plead with the king?’ Reiss leaned forward and grabbed the older man by his tunic. ‘I swear, I have near lost my patience. Do not push me further!’
A boy – of what, sixteen? – burst into the home. His eyes were piercing, but he looked about uncertainly. I’ll thrash the men who let him in here.
‘Vess, it’s okay lad. Out you go,’ said Gunthan.
Unsettled by the boy’s stare, Reiss let go of the old man and stepped back. ‘The hour is late. We shall board at Raylside tonight, and in the morn, you will pay your dues.’
‘Bailiff, please stay at my place,’ the boy Vess said. ‘I have some ale, and a comfortable enough cot for you.’
Reiss considered the lad for a moment and dismissed the tiny knot forming in his gut. ‘I’m glad at least one here still recalls how to treat his betters. I will board with you. My men will sleep on the green.’ That’ll teach them for letting the brat in.
‘I hope not before they’ve sampled my ale, eh? There’s plenty to go round.’
Reiss nodded. So much for their hard times.
Vess’s grin was wider than the old man’s had been, and Reiss liked it even less.
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© 2020 Lee Donoghue
Books set in the world of Eald Cearo
© 2012 Lee Donoghue