3. A Mystery

When last we left our intrepid adventurers, Tom and Derdim had saved some of Lord Rosk’s horses from a barn fire. In doing so, Tom broke his arm. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

Because of his injured arm, Tom joined the women in weeding. He crawled between the rows of cabbages pulling pigweed, white goosefoot, sow thistle, chicory, and lion’s tooth. It was too late in the season for chicory sprouts, but the white goosefoot was still young enough to gather, and he set those aside for the stew that night. As he dug and pulled, he gnawed on an occasional lion’s tooth leaf, but he didn’t bother gathering those. If anyone needed a salad, there were plenty in the area.

As he worked his down the rows, he watched Derdim and the other men dig holes, with two men pushing on opposing sides of a pole stuck through the hole at the top of a shaft. At the bottom of the shaft was a double-edged blade that carved the hole. That afternoon, he watched them drag fir poles (trimmed of their branches) from the woods and set them upright in holes dug that morning. The wood was green and still covered with bark, but temporary stalls needed to be erected as quickly as possible. The stalls were left open to the southern wind. They would provide cover from the rain and the northern winds, and give the men to begin and complete a new barn before the onset of winter.

Over the next few weeks, Tom asked the various animals about the fire, but got no answers. He had a feeling that the cats might know, but they would not deign to reply to his inquiries. Nevertheless, he soon was certain that no-one on the farm had set the fire. At the same time, he noticed mounting tension and growing suspicion against Derdim. The workers wanted to assign someone the blame, and they were growing tired of Derdim’s rude humor and strong odor.

Derdim and he were now living out of a lean-to near the woods. After dinner, Tom gathered his belongings, slung them over his shoulder, and beckoned with his hand for Derdim to follow him into the woods. Curious and a bit worried by the young man’s behavior, Derdim followed. Derdim cursed as he fumbled in the dark, his hands ahead of him to protect against low branches and saplings. Tom leaped up the hills, scouting and exploring ahead of Derdim, who could not match him in speed. Derdim puffed, but he maintained a steady pace through the forest, vaulting downed trees, and pulling himself up the hills with the help of saplings. He ducked a low branch and risked a smile, finally starting to enjoy the hike. It was at that precise moment that he slammed his left foot into a root jutting from the ground and pitched forward into the pine needles. “By Faedir and by all that is holy!,” He bellowed. “May the thrice-damned son of a bitch who burned that flea-infested barn die a slow and agonizing death! My toe! My toe! My poor mashed toe!”

Be quiet, old bear! he suddenly heard. He stopped and looked around, but he couldn’t see anyone. Tom was up ahead, squatting down on his haunches and looking intently towards Derdim. Derdim looked behind him, thinking that perhaps Tom had seen the speaker. I’m right here, came the voice again. It’s me, Tom. Slowly Derdim turned towards the young man, dumbfounded, “But you’re a mute!” he exclaimed.

I am talking to you with my mind, replied Tom. It’s a kind of magic, I guess. Derdim watched the younger man carefully, but didn’t see his lips move. He came closer. “Say that again,” the big man said.

I am talking to you with my mind, said Tom again, this time somewhat less patiently. I could do it all along, but I keep it secret. You’re my friend, and I needed to talk to you. That’s why I brought you to the woods.

Derdim stared. And scratched his chin. And stared again. “So you’re a mage?” he asked. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”

I don’t know if I am a mage. I just know I can talk with my mind and it seems to scare just about everyone, said Tom. Doesn’t it scare you?

“Of course not! I know you, you’re not some sort of evil faerie,” said Derdim. And then, after a moment, “Are you?”

I don’t think so, said Tom quietly. Do you think I’m evil?

“Naw,” said Derdim. “You’re a good kid. You’ve been square with me, and you rescued those horses. No, I guess you’re ok. You just have a weird way of talking.” And that might be helpful, he thought to himself.

It is, replied Tom. It’s how I found out that the rest of the farm thinks you set the fire and is thinking of doing something bad to you. Kill you maybe.

“Oh,” said Derdim. “That’s not good. You sure?”

Very sure. We need to leave. Tom sat on a tree root. The person who set the fire wasn’t from the farm. Maybe we can find out who it was.

“Ok,” replied Derdim easily. “There’s plenty of places we can get work. Let’s go get my things.”

The next morning, Derdim called upon Krisse and announced he was leaving, and that Tom was going with him. Tom nodded assent, much to Krisse’s dismay. “Winter’s coming on,” argued Krisse, “and the road’s a hard place in winter. Besides, I hate to lose two good workers such as yourselves.” But he couldn’t change their minds, and the two set off southwards with two palfreys, gifts from a grateful Lord Rosk for rescuing his prized Golgetta.


About lostdelights

An old gamer flying his freak flag, I've been playing table-top role-playing games since 1978. I've been building my own system (Journeyman) since 1981.
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