[Happy 4th, too! Happy Birthday, America!
As always, feedback, corrections, and comments welcome!]
Jispin had been at it steadily for more than an hour when two of the guards wandered over from the gate-house to check out the horses and watch him. Jispin could smell the wine from where he worked; they must have had some of their own wine or beer in addition to that which Hávarðr supplied them. The two were discussing the condition and value of the animals, which were mostly standing in a tired cluster in the lee of the shed, together for mutual warmth and herd-like companionship. The guards slurred speech was difficult to understand over the wind and through a heavy accent, but he got the impression the horses and mules were fairly valuable. They also thought he was not. They’d been told he was a half-breed Kurgen, the sort of non-person they thought less than nothing of. What man would be so desperate he’d be willing spawn such a thing with a Kurgen woman, if the female of the things could be called as such, and what decent woman would let herself bear such a creature who had a Kurgen father? Surely the mother would rather be rid of the bastard than let it grow.
Jispin did his best to ignore the comments. He couldn’t tell if they were taunting him deliberately, or if they just figured him too stupid to understand. The plan to sell the extra animals and war gear depended on being in the good graces of the locals. Killing their soldiers, drunk and encumbered by armor and mud, would be easy, but the consequences difficult.
But a man, especially a young one, can only take so many insults to his family before honor demands he react. He subtlety maneuvered the herd around closer to the two soldiers as he rubbed the mules down and did his best to clean the mud off them. Tossing a small rock underhanded and out of view, one of the horses was spooked by the sharply thrown stone hitting it in the hind quarters. It lunged and kicked, splashing, as if bug-bitten, jumping toward the soldiers. The other animals reacted to it jumping by moving suddenly as well, jostling yet more of them.
One of the soldiers was leaning far over the coral fence, with his arms dangling inside. The sudden motion towards him didn’t give his wine-dulled mind time to pull back. The thousand-pound weight of the horse – a mid-sized draft animal – slammed against the fence pinning his arm. They both were splashed by quantities of mud, but that was quickly forgotten as the man’s anguished shriek at his arm being broken caught everyone’s attention.
That spooked the horses, most of which were simple farm-animals, yet more. The warhorses and donkeys, which had been trained for and seen battle, stood with ears pricked up but otherwise still and looked curiously on.
The gatehouse emptied, some men drawing swords and looking about to see where the attack was coming from, others grabbing spears as they passed the weapon-rack coming out the door. Jispin noted their reactions and speed as he busied himself getting the animals calmed down, which he was able to do fairly quickly. The soldiers were giving him the eye and saying he must have done something, but when asked Jispin shrugged his shoulders and mumbled “spooked, bug bite, likely,” and added something about seeing wasp a few minutes ago. The uninjured soldier admitted that “the half-breed” was a good ten paces from the horse that jumped and injured his partner.
Jispin played dumb. It wasn’t only the mountains, wild animals, unfriendly clans, and Argentain war parties that made life in Kurgen hard. He’d learned how to avoid becoming a target for retribution dealing with his older brothers and the rest of the clan. But honor was satisfied for the moment.
An hour later Andronikos returned with the mayor’s representative to inspect the captured animals, arms, armor, and sundries. Jispin appeared to crouch sullenly in the corner, dirty and half-asleep. But he listened to the two men bargain closely. He didn’t understand all the words. Though the language was high and round-about as befits polite and cultured society (meaning they were both obviously lying through their teeth, but nicely, and each knew it) the haggling was little different than two old widows at a market day bargaining over potatoes. His rub-down to clean the horses didn’t go unnoticed by either man, and resulted in a higher bid than Jispin or the knight had expected. In the end, most of the of the animals were purchased, along with all the armor, weapons, and kit they’d brought in were sold at an agreeable price, and a substantial bag of coin traded hands. Jispin didn’t think he’d ever seen so much gold and silver at one time in his life. Sir Andronikos casualness either meant he’d dealt in huge sums before, or he was a supremely good actor. Jispin knew he’d have to question the knight closely later to see how he’d pulled it off.
But that night in the inn he almost didn’t live to get the chance.