“You believe he was a refugee, then?” pressed Baenarn. Another day had passed, and he still hadn’t caught sight of the strange man going by “Chard”, despite taking a ride around the farmstead just before dawn to see if he could catch him sleeping in a field. He had returned to find old Saul starting his morning routine at the house, beginning with the water hauling, and had trotted his rinaan over to speak with him.
Baenarn didn’t wish to alarm the farmers with his suspicions about Chard, and matters in other farmsteads were calling on his attention. If the old farmer couldn’t give him an answer now, it would have to wait for the next patrol, as much as he hated to put it off. Even now, Captain Fordrellon was forming up the paladins along the lane, soon to leave.
“Almost certainly,” Saul told him, shouldering his water yoke and walking ponderously down to the well. Baenarn slowed his rinaan to keep pace with him, though the horned horse bowed its neck to show what it thought of that. “Though he’s not from Hillet, I’d wager. I would have recognized him. He must come from one of the other villages. Eh. Someone close to him died in the war, I think.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Oh,” said Saul, reaching the well and sending the first bucket down. He seemed oblivious to the urgency of the lord, winding his way through his words as slowly as he unwound the chain about the well winch. “It’s just a kind of emptiness you get to recognizing, ser, once you see it enough times. And, hmm, he won’t attend our little fetes, no matter how much Daisy begs him. Always picking the most remote of jobs — watching the south field, minding the sheep, that kind of thing.”
“Lonely jobs, with plenty of time to think,” reflected Baenarn.
“Eh?” Saul heaved the first bucket up, brimming over now with water, and sent the second down.
“You’d think he’d be keen to distract himself from memories of what happened to him,” Baenarn elaborated. “Long, slow, dull work hardly does that.”
Saul considered it, then shrugged. The second bucket faintly made a plash. “The Missus thinks he’s running from something, but I can’t imagine what or why. He’s quite mild-mannered, really. I don’t think he has a mean bone in his body.” The second bucket came up, and Saul went about attaching it back to the yoke. “…but the looks he gives us sometimes, oh yes. He’s seen stuff. I would bet my best goat on it.”
Baenarn hesitated. “Companionship may be the best thing for him, then, at the moment,” he advised. It would serve two of his purposes, if not his third, he thought privately.
“Oh, aye, if he’ll even let us get close.” Saul let the well lid down with a bang, then turned to Baenarn full-on as he shrugged back into the yoke. “But here now, why are you so interested, m’lord? Meaning no disrespect, but we’re not used to nobles taking an interest in the problems of a passing farmhand. At least, not for any good reason.”
“War damages more than just crops and houses,” replied Baenarn, looking back at the row of paladins. They now were all standing at attention, waiting for his commands. “One doesn’t need to stop breathing to die. If I am to help rebuild this place, I must focus on souls as much as on the herds or the grain.”
Saul thought about that, then he sniffed, standing straight with the buckets in either hand. “Begging your pardon, sir, but that’s what family is for. If not them, then the temple. Better someone who’ll be sticking around, you see, not moving on once the taxes are paid.” Saul seemed to realize what he was saying and flushed. “Again, begging your pardon, m’lord. I didn’t mean to say you would do that–”
“But that I probably would?” Baenarn laughed, and Saul relaxed. Imperceptibly, so did Baenarn. “Pardon granted, Saul. I agree with your assessment, though I do not know if my version of a family would be suitable to the young man.” Baenarn paused. “Or priest, though I do have that training.”
“You’re a regular jack of trades,” Saul remarked dryly.
Baenarn bowed slightly. “The better to understand my people with.”
Saul grinned, starting back up the walk. “That’s a sight better than any of the nobles up in Griffinrock, though you’ll oblige me if you don’t pass that on.”
“Of course. Still, a priest’s word is only as good as the faith one has in the god it comes from. Does Chard have a patron god?”
Saul shrugged, glancing back at him. “Not that I be knowing of.”
“Well, keep me updated. I do need to check on the eastern farms, but I’ll be back. Until then, the Light’s blessings to you.”
“It’s appreciated,” growled Saul, and he honored Baenarn by pausing and taking off his cap, until the lord and his retinue had ridden into the distance. “We’d be a far sight better if our betters would quit their meddling,” he grumbled. “Still, if I gotta be meddled with, Baenarn’s better than most, I’m supposing.
“I wonder what he meant by that bit about family,” he added to the wind, before going back to his chores.