Story for the day: Mureadh and Teague

 I've been writing some of the more heartrending parts of Brothers of Sanhedhran so I decided to break up the sadness with some humour. Here is a moment from book 6.

 Mureadh and Teague

                Nerri and Mureadh sat beside each other in the soldier’s mess for some time discussing their various histories and means of coming to the castle. Mureadh explained his arrival first, imparting that he was from Karnwyl, the southernmost town of Frewyn situated between the frigid expanse and the prison, which was equally as unsavory and unwelcoming.
                “We never had any trouble from the prison,” Mureadh said with an affable smile. “It’s so well guarded that I think most of the guards are bored just standing about all day.” He drank the remainder of his tea and wiped his mouth on his sleeve with a hearty gesture. “I think the cold is what really keeps the prisoners inside. They know if they try to escape, they’ll have to find a fire and some means of survival. It’s cold there even at midsummer.”    
                “My clan’s camp not far from Karnwyl,” Nerri murmured in between her small bites of porridge.
                “You ever visited my town?”
                Nerri shook her head. “I wasn’t allowed to leave my clan or accompany any of the men on their business in the towns. I’m not married, you see.”
                Mureadh canted his head and spied her with a tapered look. He was uncertain what the notion of marriage had to do with being permitted to travel but he supposed it was a stipulation made by the Nnodainya and decided not to query her on the matter.
                When there was a pause in the conversation, Nerri awkwardly sipped her porridge and looked about in a nervous manner as if searching for something to fill the space between them while the strident sounds of the men in the garrison rang out in cheers as one of them had won a few pieces of silver in a game of cards. She studied Mureadh’s dress and noted that no others wore the same distinctive garments. “Were you a woodsman in Karnwyl?” she meekly asked.       
                “I was. I supplied firewood for the prison.”
                “Then, pardon me for asking, but what are you doing here?”
                “Saw a charge one day when I was in town for some supplies calling for recruits to the Frewyn armed forces. I never thought about being a soldier. I don’t like fighting, mostly because I end up winning,” Mureadh shrugged. “But the pay the charge promised was more than enough for my family. My folks died in the war, same as most people’s. Most of my sisters aren’t old enough for apprenticeships or marriage but they try hard to provide for themselves so I won’t have to worry about them. They’re excellent artisans.” Mureadh reached into his breast pocket and produced a small charm.
                Nerri took the artifact into her hand and examined it with a careful eye. It was a small, tapestry- like piece braided from the finest silks, weighed down on one end by a gemstone and on the other by a silver bearing. “It’s beautiful,” she said, returning it to him.   
                “My sisters made it for me as good luck. They made it from their hair, just like the heroes of Frewyn used to in the old days, their family sending them off with a keepsake and all.”
                “I thought it was made from silk,” Nerri said, her eyes wide with astonishment.
                Mureadh looked down at the charm in his hand and sighed with fondness for the memory of thirteen young girls swarming him with kisses when he parted their company. “All of them have beautiful hair. They thought of selling it for some good money but I said no. None of my sisters sell anything of theirs if I can help it.”
                Nerri felt a warm blush creep upon her face and she refrained from making audible coos at the giant woodsman. She imaged him coming home to greet his sisters and being surrounding by a bouquet of young women, all of them eager to hear of his adventures in the capital. She felt gratified to have such a sister as Merra Lingha and began to feel that perhaps the abandonment of their clan would not be as trying as she once believed it ought. “So you left them in Karnwyl?”
                “I did. They didn’t want to leave our parents’ house and I wasn’t going to make them. They’re tough, they’re my sisters,” Mureadh proudly beamed. “They’ll come to visit the capital during the holiday. You’ll get to meet them then if you like.”  
                “When are you going to introduce me to one of your sisters?” came a sudden and snide voice from beside the giant woodsman.
                Nerri leaned over the table and looked to Mureadh’s side to find there was a man sitting beside him. She had not even noticed anyone else at the small table but when she peeked around the woodman’s large and barrel-like body, she found a short, thin man sitting behind him, completely overshadowed by Mureadh’s immensity. His expression was peculiar, seemingly arch and disconcerted all at once. His hair was tied into a tight knot atop his head, his eyes were narrow and devious in character, his nosed was sloped and pointed, and his lips were cocked into a conceited smirk.    
                “You can meet them when you learn how not to steal things,” Mureadh said to the deceitful creature. “You’re nice to me, but I don’t like my sisters being with men who are dishonest.”
                The slender man scoffed and leaned his back against the wall of the mess as he rolled his eyes. “Of course,” he fleered, tossing a flippant hand. “I am imprisoned for one crime and suddenly I’m the worst person in all of Frewyn. The king himself pardoned me and that should be good enough for you, Mureadh.” He mumbled a few things on the subject of false accusations and sat with his knees against his chest, settling with his sour expression. “Aren’t you even going to introduce me to the lady?”
                “I suppose now I have to.” Mureadh leaned back to expose the man to Nerri and a cordial, gloved hand was put forth for her to shake. “This is Teague,” said the woodsman passively. “He’s a thief from Amene I met on the road from Karnwyl to the capital.”
                “I am not a thief,” Teague asserted, pressing his pointed nose toward Mureadh’s friendly features.
                “Then why were you in Karnwyl prison?”
                “Because I stole. Once. That doesn’t make me a thief.”
                “You mean you stole and you only got caught once. I’d say that makes you a thief.”
                Mureadh’s sense of righteousness was beginning to irritate Teague and he sought to explain his position to guard Nerri against making any incorrect conjectures of her own on his account.
                “I did it because I had a family to feed, you idiot,” he chided the woodsman. “If you weren’t so concerned with being virtuous, you’d understand I had to do it to keep them alive.”
                “What happened to your family?” Nerri asked with concern, placing her porridge aside.
                “Same as his,” Teague said, pointing a thumb at Mureadh’s stubborn expression. “Lost my father in the battle at Amene. I fought together with the armed forces but when the war was over my father never came back. I looked for his body on the field. I found it.” His smirk soon faded and he lowered his gaze, staring at the table with a pained countenance. “There was nothing left of Amene so most of us moved on and went to rebuild elsewhere. I took my brother and sister to Varralla. I had difficulty finding work-”
                “So you stole,” Mureadh interposed.
                “Only food,” Teague asserted.  
                “So you are a thief.”
                “I stole because I had to, not because I wanted to,” Teague asserted. “It’s not like I took money or anything anyone would miss. I did it so my brother and sister could eat.”
                “There are more honest ways to feed your family, Teague.”
                “Anyway,” the thief scoffed, circumventing Mureadh’s remarks. “I was caught and sent to Karnwyl for a meager sentence. The king, however, reviewed my testimony and my case when it came to the courts. He decided I would spend the remainder of my sentence in the armed forces so I could make a decent wage and regret what I’d done.”
                “King Alasdair acquitted you?” Nerri asked smilingly.      
                Teague’s brazen exterior relented for a moment as he pondered her statement. He had been acquitted in a sense. He had been absolved of all past transgressions regardless of the reasons why he committed them and though they were petty trifles in the way of thievery, still hardly constituting himself worthy of the title of thief whose deeds were done in good conscience, he thought of how he had been forgiven in so gracious a manner. He was given an opportunity to learn and make a few silver while doing so. He could not have asked for so favourable a pardon and nodded to himself as he thought of the benevolence that was shown him. “Mureadh saw be being escorted from the prison,” he continued. “You’ll probably think I’m a murderer next.”
                “Murder and thievery are very different, I think,” Nerri simpered. “You were probably very good at stealing if you were only caught once.”
                Teague grinned and lifted his chest, pleased to see that someone had seen the romance and adventure in what he had done.
                The three sat for the remainder of their rest talking together on numerous matters regarding one another but the subject of greatest interest to Teague was Nerri’s sister. He, not the most unpleasant of men to regard, might have done for Merra Lingha. Nerri could see that Teague, though having the air of a haughty performer, had an affectionate heart and was determined to love somebody, and if the one in question could be a sister of a friend, he should be all the happier.
                By the end of their conversation, when they parted ways and returned to their respective ranks, a meeting for supper was decided. All three agreed to the time and place, after training and in the soldier’s mess as none of them were certain where in Diras to go for a meal, and they left each other’s company with the sense that they should like one another very well regardless of who was a thief or which of them was unmarried.