286. Menhir, a winter’s tale 7

This is one installment of a twelve part excerpt from Valley of the Menhir. Check December 29 for an introduction to the novel.

When we crowd the wardens together and feed them wine and ale, they will show me who they are. Tell me what you know already.”

“Jor thinks he is a wolf, but he is really a weasel.”

“Jor I know.”

“Vesulan is the oldest and the most stable. He is not particularly ambitious, but he loves his home. If you had not come along, Jor would have taken over the valley, but he would not have held it. Vesulan would have taken it away from him, not because he wanted power, but because Jor would have been a poor lord. I think Vesulan will take your measure slowly, and eventually welcome you.”

“Does he have children? Heirs change attitudes.”

“Vesulan had two daughters, both married out of the Valley, and has one son, Iolo. When I saw him last he was a stripling but he should be a young man by now.”

“What can you tell me about him?”

Dael smiled. “When I saw him last, he was a boy – and I was just a girl. Our paths hardly crossed, so I can’t even tell you what he was like then. What he is now, I have no idea.”

“You are related to some of these people. Tell me about it.”

“Lord Kafi was Vesulan’s uncle and Jor’s g’father. Dutta is a cousin through a tortuous connection where he is twice removed by direct relationship, and once removed by being adopted by his uncle Press when his father and mother died. I was supposed to memorize the details, but,” she shrugged and smiled, “who knew I would meet him again as an adult, far less be the Lady whose husband held his fealty?”

“You have other kin?”

“Unquestionably. Those who hold land here have held it for generations. They are all intermarried. I am related to three I know of, which means I am related in some degree to everybody.”

“Dael, I need you to do something for me. Remember every face you see. Remember every name. Find out how many uncles and cousins are in each house and how many servants, and, if you can, how many serfs are in their fields.”

Dael’s face showed surprise. She said, “I don’t even know how many servants are in this house.”

“I do.”

It was quietly said, but she took it as criticism. She snapped, “Why do you need all this information?”

He leaned back and looked around. The servants had started to come in and prepare for evenmeal. Their brief time of privacy was nearly over. He noted Dael’s irritation and ignored it. “Because,” he said, “there are too many sitting at every table in this valley. The serfs can’t feed their masters and still feed themselves.”

“No one will leave. This is their home.”

“They will leave, or I will move them out. The only question is how many have to go from each warden’s house.”

Dael shook her head in disbelief. “Have you told them?”

“I have dropped hints. The wise know; Vesulan surely knows. The others didn’t hear me. But they will hear me.”

“When?”

“After the feast.” continued tomorrow

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