Seeing James’s discomfort, Ranon said, “I think that’s the problem, Burle. The cold boxes don’t work without Craft, and landens can’t do Craft.”
“There aren’t any youths in your village who are interested in earning some pocket money?” Burle asked. Then he huffed. “Look. I know things have been hard here. You just need to look around to see it. And I know there have been bad troubles here between the Blood and landens. But the fighting is over, and from what I understand there wasn’t any of that kind of fighting in Eyota. These people are here because you all decided you were willing to work together to build a new life. Isn’t that so?”
“Yes,” Ranon said.
“So.” Burle looked at James. “Cold box is more dependable than ice. The spell needs to be renewed on a weekly basis.” Now he looked at Ranon and Rogir. “Around Weavers Field, where I come from, a couple of enterprising young Warlords go to the neighboring landen village where some of the people have bought cold boxes. They charge a fee for maintaining the spell on each cold box. Now I know things are tight here and no one has much coin to spare, but these houses also have a tank for hot water that needs Craft too. So it seems to me that charging three coppers a week for both spells would be fair. At least for this first little while.”
“I can ask around the village and see if anyone is interested,” Ranon said.
*We could do those spells,* Wynne said.
*We know our Craft,* Duffy said.
The men looked at one another. No one had noticed the Scelties joining them.
“Well,” Burle finally said. “You come with me. I’ll show you the spells, and you can give them a try. Then we’ll see.”
*What happens if they do it wrong?* Ranon asked Burle.
*Then I guess I’ll be buying that landen family another cold box or ice chest,* Burle replied as he and the Scelties went into one of the houses.
“We didn’t expect you for a few more days,” Rogir said.
“That was my decision, sir,” Jaego said.
“Mine too,” Ristoff said. “Moore is about a day behind us with the rest of the landen families and livestock.”
“You must have driven the animals awfully hard,” Rogir said.
“No, sir. We had help.” James shook his head and sounded like he still didn’t quite believe what had happened.
Jaego nodded, then looked at the other guard. “Ristoff and I took the liberty to make some decisions on the Queen’s behalf.”
Ranon stiffened, then forced himself to relax. Hadn’t he also taken the liberty to make some promises in Cassidy’s name? If these men were going to serve as guards in her court, he had to show some confidence in their decisions—at least until those decisions proved unworthy of that trust. “Explain.”
“People are still feeling plenty uneasy, and we were concerned about the landen families traveling so far,” Jaego said. “Especially since some of the raiding parties had traveled the same way during the uprisings. Some animals, and a couple of women with a lot more men.”
“Two days out, we stopped at a Coaching station on the outskirts of a village,” Ristoff said. “Showed the Coachmen the letters of passage from the Queen’s Steward, and told them that she wanted these craftsmen and the other families settled near her home village as part of her plans to restore Dena Nehele. They had heard of some of the things Lady Cassidy has done already to help restore our land, so they offered their livestock Coach and a passenger Coach. Since it required several trips, and we had to load the wagons into the livestock Coach after the animals, we agreed on a spot south of the Heartsblood River as a place to disembark.”
Jaego called in some papers and handed them to Ranon. “We didn’t have enough marks to cover the usual fares, but the Coachmen didn’t name a price. Those papers indicate the number of trips they made, the number of wagons and livestock taken. They said they’ll accept whatever fee the Queen deems fair.”
“They did ask that we mention their names,” Ristoff said. “They wanted Lady Cassidy to know there are others beyond her court who are willing to serve in their own way.”
The ripples from one heart can change so much,Ranon thought.Cassidy has changed so much.
“Well done,” he said, his voice warm with approval. “Well done.”
Then he noticed Burle coming out of the house. The man kept scratching the back of his neck, but Ranon didn’t think the itch was on Burle’s skin.
“Problem?” he asked.
“No,” Burle replied. “Not exactly. Those two youngsters are right. They do know their Craft. They learned both those spells after being shown once, and they can do them better than a good many young humans I’ve known.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Why did he ask the question when he didn’t really want to be given the answer?
Burle wasn’t looking any of them in the eye, and that made Ranon nervous.
“It’s like this,” Burle finally said. “Wynne and Duffy want to try out this payment-for-work idea humans seem so fond of.”
“So they’ll maintain the spells on the cold boxes and water tanks for three coppers a week for each household.” Burle looked at James Weaver.
“That sounds fair,” James said.
“They also want three coppers a day to guard and herd livestock.”
“I thought they liked herding sheep,” Rogir said.
“A man who likes his work still wants to be paid for it,” Burle said.
“Anything else?” Ranon asked.
Burle nodded. “Since they’ll be helping guard the community, they’ll live in the guardhouse with whoever is stationed here. They want their own big chair so the humans can’t snarl about them being on the furniture.”
Ranon found himself nodding in time with Rogir.
“One of them is free each week to go to story time in the village,” Burle continued. He glanced at James. “Do you have a teacher for your children?”
James nodded. “Potter’s wife has been teaching some of our children.”
“Well, Wynne and Duffy want a little time with the teacher each day to continue learning to read and do their sums.”
Ranon’s jaw dropped. “They read?They can read? Then why doI have to readSceltie Saves the Day every damn night?”
Rogir and James looked at him.
“You don’t have children yet, do you?” James asked.