The next morning, Agnus and I singed in fields blanketed under heavy-fresh dews. Our hot breaths chimneyed above tilled ground, and sweet-earthy aromas filled the mist. Agnus kept busy practicing a new song he learned from the troubadour. Committed to not forget it, he sang its lyrics, over and over, until a breeze showered us with dew drops from the evergreens above.
“Do you think that troubadour will stay another day?” Agnus asked.
I hoped he would, but I was not so sure. His type never stayed anywhere for long. I scanned a red and orange sky for the village’s skyline. Four chimneys smoked above the tree line. The shortest chimney belonged to the tavern below. The traveler would be staying there.
“He didn’t play the song,” I said.
Agnus shrugged his shoulders and tilled a new row. The mist soon receded, and I began to sweat. By late morning, the earth was dry and hard. Twenty-three new rows later and I could no longer see our breaths.
“That looks like trouble,” Agnus said.
He was right. A black, windowless square block, towed behind six draft horses, emerged. The carriage was not alone: atop of it, a driver whipped the horses; and on the back, two-armed soldiers rode. Twelve-calvary-men followed the carriage, and two-squads of foot-soldiers followed them. A knight headed the column, and six uniformed in their master’s colors, rode in three rows of two behind their leader. Following the entire column: wagons of supplies, groups of artisans, prostitutes, and tradesmen followed much further behind. I counted thirty-three archers assisting the convoy.
I recognized the banners: a red octopus wrapped around a spear, both across a green background. The troops paid no attention to us as they passed. We smelt them before we laid eyes on them. All of them wore black tankards emblazoned with their master’s standard.
“They smell like the sea,” Agnus said.
“Good. We never quarrel with that kind,” I said.
“How would you know?”
“Lords don’t sail to pillage farmers. They are after bigger prizes.”
Back in town, Agnus and I toasted with a couple old pals who planted our lord’s fields further down the road. They stroked their grey beards and remembered a thousand-men at least. Others were more reasonable: they thought three hundred, because they weren’t sure there was one-thousand people in the whole world. Not after the last wave of plague. One farmer’s daughter, a real beauty, shared how her brothers all of a sudden grabbed her and her sisters by the mouth and pulled them into the forest, far from the road, far from the soldiers. All the women agreed, they shared the same experience.
“Did any come into town?” one old pal asked the barmaid.
“The whole town cleared out, but I stayed right behind my bar,” she replied. She handed them their beers. “They never left the road.”
“Has anyone seen Rufus?” I asked.
No one answered. The troubadour stepped out of his room.
“Well, you forgot a bit of news to tell us last night,” Agnus said.
“Ah, the jest is up,” he replied.
The troubadour climbed onto the bar. His blonde hair fell to his shoulders. He smiled and raised an empty cup.
“Cheers, my friends, and forgiveness, for I lied,” he said. “I serve her Lordship, the Countess, the leader of the very army that so peacefully passed through your hamlets today.”
The room erupted. The troubadour sat, ordered a drink, and waited for everyone to cool down. The door swinged open and standing in the midday’s light was Rufus and our Lordship, the Duke. Behind him, the Dutchess and Wet Nurse stood.