Ser Chrisfer and Lancyn

Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment


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"So, Lans, what do you make of it?"

They were sitting in the quietest corner of the inn's public room, with ale and crunchies on the table while they awaited their roast meats.

Five days asking questions, and it was perfectly clear what had been happening here. "Bunch of fools were taken in by a charlatan selling them purses that turned coppers into silver. How anyone could be that stupid, I don't know."

"Greedy," opined Ser Chris, taking a swig of his ale, and grabbing a handful of crunchies. "So, what now?"

"We have two matters to deal with, I think. Find the charlatan and stop him, that's one. And, placate the lord here and deal with the people who stole his supplies."

"I think dealing with the charlatan will be easier," muttered Chrisfer, gloomily.

"Do you? I was just thinking, it'll be easier to sort out the grievance here!"

"Easier? You think so?" Chrisfer grimaced. "A lord, in dispute with his own, that's always tricky."

"But Lord Mitteral seems a reasonable man. He did pass the dispute over to the magister here, rather than impose his own punishments when he was angry, though he was entitled."

"And I'm sure Magister Jonet was very grateful," said Chris, sardonically. "Poor woman hasn't a clue what to do with the situation. Wants to set things right, doesn't want to offend either the local lord or the three dozen people in the village who're related to his contracted servants. So, she sent for help, and us is what she got. So, kid, what are we going to do to put all right?"

"Mmm." Lancyn was distracted by the arrival of their dinners, hearty platters of flour pudding filled with sliced roast meat, carrots, shreds, mushrooms and rich dark gravy. Ser Chrisfer made a noise which Lancyn chose to interpret as 'eat first', coming as it did through a mouthful of dinner, so he did.

"I think," he said, when half a platterful had taken the edge off his appetite, "they should starve."

There was an indignant splutter from his knight. "Isn't that a bit extreme? Can't kill a man for stupidity!"

Lancyn didn't really see why not. Back in the city where he came from, stupidity was likely to get a person killed any day of the week. It had nearly happened to him. No reason it shouldn't be that way out here in the country too. However, that wasn't quite what he meant.

"No, wasn't planning to kill them. Let the punishment fit the crime," he said absently. "What I was thinking was, they stole their lord's food to give the charlatan in exchange for the purses. So, they go without food—I thought, maybe, they should fast every day for a sennight, or two, a month even, however long it takes until the winter stores are back where they should be. I can calculate that, if I have a word with Lord Mitteral's steward. Anyway, the ones who stole the food don't get to eat until evening repast. Only water during the day. So they don't starve to death, but they get an idea what it feels like to be hungry. And the lord saves on meals, so that the stores get back in order. Which they'll need to be, since there isn't much trade done here in winter."

"Huh." Ser Chris sat back and looked at his squire, eyes gleaming. "You know, you're not as daft as you look."

"Why, Ser Chris," Lance fluttered his eyelashes, "Such praise! I am overcome!"

"Brat," said his knight affectionately, and reapplied himself to his dinner. "You know," he added, after a few minutes of chewing, "it wouldn't hurt to make them think it was going to be a lot worse."

"I could probably do that," said Lancyn meditatively. They looked at one another, and grinned.

* * *

The offenders were, by and large, an unattractive bunch, Lancyn thought. Collectively stupid enough to be fooled into believing someone was going to give away magical purses—money for nothing—and greedy enough to steal to obtain them. He understood the urge to provide for oneself, outside one's contract. He'd certainly never missed an opportunity to earn a coin or two, while he was with Master Merchant Perel. But steal his contract master's goods? Certainly not!

Of course, stealing from Master Perel would have been insane. But the principle held.

The spokesman of the group, probably the stupidest and greediest of the lot, but unhappily for the others, the one endowed with the loudest voice and a modicum of charisma, was still trying to convince Lancyn that they had none of them really done wrong, because they'd had every intention of paying Lord Mitteral for the food they'd taken, when they got their magic purses. It wasn't their fault the purses didn't work.

"And when there had been snow on the ground for weeks and no food to be bought at any price, and you were given coins to eat because that's all your lord had, what then?" said Lancyn, exasperated. The babble of self-righteous agreement died away as the idea trickled into their thick heads. "What if I take your boots from you while you sleep, and give them away? I can give you money, but your feet will still get cold while you wait for the cobbler to make you another pair." His attempt to show them what they'd done wrong was not getting him very far. He hadn't really thought it would, but it was only fair to try.

Never mind. He let the annoyance fade from his features, and replaced it with a worried look. "I only hope..." he began, and sighed. "You see, Ser Chrisfer is very angry about this. Stealing food, in winter... well. I don't know what punishment he'll decree, but there has been talk of lashes. Public lashing, on the village ground." This was perfectly true. He and Chris had discussed what might frighten the miscreants. Lashes, they thought, would work. "Or here in the keep," he added, "with the village folk invited to see justice done. I've heard," he added, "that a person can die under the whip. Horrible."

There was a bit of wimpering, and a lot of muted discussion, until someone asked, "Is there anything we can do? If—if we say we're sorry, will it help?"

Lancyn looked at her with grave sympathy. "It might. If you all apologised to your lord, and asked him to intercede for you, I mean, to speak to Ser Chrisfer on your behalf, that might persuade him to change his mind."

Then he went to talk to the steward, discussing the worrisome problem of depleted stores and what would happen to the household if the first spring traders were delayed. Lancyn dropped delicate hints that if certain of the household were cast out with thief-labels round their necks, there would be enough for everyone else.

Before riding Viper back to the inn, he told the stable boy that he had heard tell of elite-imposed punishment which required the wrongdoers to draw lots, the losers being hanged to compensate for the crimes of all. Shook his head at the foolishness of those who thieved.

* * *

By the time Ser Chris delivered his judgment—publically, in front of Lord Mitteral's entire household, the village magister and several villagers of note (the inn-keeper and her husband, the butcher and the bank-manager were the ones Lancyn recognised)—the miscreants were in such a state of terror that the imposition of daily fasting came as an almighty relief. They were inclined to bless the very name of their lord for his supposed kindness in mitigating the sentence. In words of one syllable, of course.

Knight and Squire rode away in dignified silence. Not until they were out of sight did they slap hands together in gleeful triumph.


On to the next story: Tricksy


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