Fellyans (part six)
“And your duties include patrolling the grounds, but also maintaining the jail?”
Coral drew breath, and said: “Yes.”
“How many cells?”
“So far, only a storage room.”
“But well locked.” The elf did not conceal an avidity, somewhat near glee.
“Locked, and windowless,” she answered.
“He gets two.”
“He will,” said Bede. “You mean Vincent?”
The elf spread closed lips, a smile.
“He has only come into our custody today.”
“You must learn to better plan for what’s to be predicted, Mr. Dwale. You are keeping him under a spell? Otherwise, I can’t guess why you’d let a known border-jumper wander the premises.”
“Well, you’re not the professional,” said Coral. “Mr. Dwale and I can’t bump the charges up if the prisoner has no chance to make a run for it.”
“Ah! Very good. Very very good.” The elf bit the end of his quill, stifling not all of his giggles, and took some minutes to jot on his questionnaire.
“I’ve only come to get my pay. Then I’m off,” Coral added.
Bede gave a convincing start. “It will have to be in coin, out of that cachepot with the broken dragon’s-wing handle. What did we agree on?”
He rose; the chair said sadly, “Goodbye.” He moved to the shelf, and his mother’s voice said: “How many times have I mentioned these things are delicate?”
He rummaged, clinking, and Coral answered finally, “Four hundred.”
“My!” said the elf. “By the week? The Queen’s Green Gaiters go for less.”
“I’m advancing a certain amount. Coral has one or two purchases to make.” Bede pressed the money into her hands, saw in her eyes the unreadable.
Alma shot into the room. “A man is at the gate, wanting to know…”
The look she cast aside would have flagged its target faultlessly, but that Coral had vanished.
“Is it Farmer Langham?” Bede asked. “Did he give you that name?”
“Me? Never a word.”
“Did you happen to notice him give Jorinda…”
Langham’s voice came from the kitchen. “I was cross, I can’t say other. Her face came over something odd, and she said, I won’t need to take that from you much longer… I’m afraid, ma’am…”
Jorinda, as Bede well pictured, had her back to Langham’s excuses, her sympathies all with Coral.
“I’m afraid,” Langham said, louder, “she’s making home to her people. Is Dwale here? I’d like him knowing…”
“Wilf Langham!” the elf called. “Will you step into the parlor?”
Jorinda stepped into the parlor, and bustled Alma out of it. “Look after that pot, won’t you? Have it off the fire if it’s bubbling.”
Playing doorwarden, she bustled Langham next, tugging him before his auditors—of whom Bede still held a pose of embarrassed listening.
He collected himself. “Langham, what brings you down? We’ve taken a prisoner from the Fells, I’m afraid. A very distracting morning!”
“You were expecting your wife to be home at an earlier hour?” the elf cut in, narrow-eyed. “From her employment with Mr. Dwale? You approve of this, you don’t object? You have arrived with Mr. Dwale at amicable terms? For it is not unknown to the Queen’s intelligence, that one Coral Langham, aged thirty, born Ballow, who hails from that salient of marshy scrubland which thrusts into the Fells at the Queen’s midnorthern border, and which had once been permitted the courtesy of calling itself a kingdom, was eight years past entered into a contract of marriage, negotiated between her parents, Tilmy and Tallow Ballow, and a Mr. Wilf Langham, owner of Lumpstone Farm, with the eleven surrounding hills, in this portion of Her Majesty’s Realm called the Pocketlands, where presently Vincent, the former king of the former land of the Hutterers, is prisoner, in this house belonging to Mr. Bede Dwale, and under the keeping of his, Vincent’s, countrywoman… Your wife, sir!”
This Elvin speech left its hearers parsing its several elements, while prepared to feel stunned by the totting-up. Coral, Bede surmised, was a Hutterer. Her people were shunned, and she expected herself to be. Langham, off each summer with his wagonload of spring fleeces, had been getting places.
Getting places, and striking bargains—
“I’ve got a wife up at the house…don’t have Jorinda call. Mrs. Langham’s not up to it.”
Astonished that Langham had news, had visited his neighbors specially to tell it, and all the more for what it was, Bede and Jorinda had offered sober nods.
They’d thought Mrs. Langham sickly.
“Well, of course I’ll call.”
“Best not. He’ll take it as interfering. When I go up, now and again, I’ll carry a basket, and let her know it’s from you.”
He had carried, in the course of years, dozens of baskets—of yarns, honeys, and tonics; of ducks’ eggs, apples, and braided herbs to freshen a sickroom—that Langham accepted with a thawing demeanor. At length, Bede caught a glimpse of Coral, and was surprised by her youth.
“She seems blooming,” he reported to Jorinda.
“Did she speak?”
Jorinda flung up her hands. “Leave them to each other, I guess.”
“Mr. Dwale,” said the elf, “appears to have been cozened out of a sum…”
“There are no more Hutterers? Is that what you said?”
“I did not, madam. I made reference to a land the Hutterers are no longer allowed to occupy. I am told that among the Fells population are quite a few. Certainly, hundreds were put across the border, and the scouts inform us that multiple huts have been seen constructed.”
(2022, Stephanie Foster)