Story for the Day: Tearlaidh
Tearlaidh is commander of the Brigade, a special group of elite Royal Guard who preside over Frewyn's western border. Being stationed in the mountains, he is used a solitudinarian's life, and while he is very civil when being made to visit town, he is hardly talkative, until the day he meets a small homeless boy and decides to look after his wellbeing.
He had spent enough time in town, for a few hours in the teeming bustle of the village market was all that his solemn character and solitary nature could endure. The lanes belonging to a village, though charming, were too compacted with animated parishioners for one of his broad stature, and once he had shown himself civil and obliging by listening to the laments of passing farmers and the rants of traders, he was well prepared to return to the serenity of his high seat, to stand astride the summits and scrutinize and look solemn to command his men with severe flouts, stanch humphs, and tapered glares, to trundle about the fallen and erubescent pines, to grimace at bears and challenge wolves, to return to the place where hid pride was forever numinous and his heart forever resided. Long, too long, it was since he had left all the grandeur of the high fells: twa weeks, was his final calculation, his good eye remarking his home in the distance as he pretended to listen to one of the traders, twa weeks, an’ tha’s meh alreadae tae much seperated. An imperceptible sigh escaped him here, and he looked grave as another passing seller accosted him with the woes of a seeksorrow tradesman. Ahve nae heart for the market, he somberly admitted. Must be gettin’ auld, and with dried cherries and a cask of fermented yeast paste tucked under his arm, he turned to go, moving toward the road which would lead him from town and take him home, when the strident sounds of a salesmen at the end of the row called him back again. His ear perked, and he turned his head to listen to seller’s heated debate as he moved toward the end of the row.
“’Mere, ye little thief,” he heard the seller articulate, in a guttural accent. “Tha’s the last time ye steal from mah cart.”
In peering over heads and around several stalls, Tearlaidh at last arrived at the scene of the dispute: under the auspices of a vibrant brocade was the apple cart, its proprietor roaring and crimson with anger, being jostled and pulled about as though he were trying to detain someone, his captive screened by a stall piled over with mounds of fresh apples. Tearlaidh neared and narrowed his good eye, trying to descry whom the seller was attempting to arrest when a few steps made him acquainted with the whole: a child, a young boy no more than five years old, was writhing about in an attempt to free himself from the seller’s gasp, flailing and kicking with all the ardency that his inferior might and desperation could thoroughly admit, grunting and grimancing, his countenance fraught with grim determination, refusing to relinquish the two apples in his hands. A bellowing command from Tearlaidh would have brought the guard from the next row, but he refrained from calling out when he noted the boy’s condition: his frame was painfully thin, his ribs an excruciating display of starvation; his garments were worn and ragged, the breech cloth draping from his waist, the small fur adorning his back, the torn leather shoes betraying a wreck of poverty his complexion was pallid and bemired, his grey eyes raging with defiance, and Tearliadh would have pitied the poor child were it not for the makeshift spear on the ground beside him, the old pot overturned on his head, and the tinkling roars of “Here, ye! Let meh loose, or that’s ye gutted!” emanating from so small a thief. Tearlaidh stopped and examined the spear: it was contrived from an old besom and a knife, fashioned together with old leather straps and carpenter’s glue, and he could not but smile at a child who, though in the wrong, raged rampant against deficiency by availing himself of whatever tools and scraps were given him. While the child had seemingly stolen the two apples, Tearlaidh must laud him for his bold insubordination, for the seller overpowered him every way, and yet the child would fight, would taunt and attack his antagonist regardless of how whelmed he was. Lad’s got a good bit o’ fight in him, Tearlaidh humphed, and he watched the velitation for some minutes before approaching and saying, in tone of mock authority, “What’s g’n oan here?”
Instantly did the child stop and stare at the old commander. He looked down, marveling at the insurmountable breadth of Tearlaidh’s long shadow, and continued up the commander’s immense form, following every feature from his white braided beard and missing eye to his battleworn skin and dreadlocked tonsure. “Whoa…” the child breathed, agape and amazed, struck by the force of the commander’s presence, his aspect in a glow of admiration, the glint in his eyes dancing about, the corners of his open mouth curling in smiles of sincere approbation.
Tearlaidh could not but adore the small child, who, even in the midst of his silent adulation, refused to relinquish the two stolen apples, digging his fingers into the flesh of the fruit, rendering them unfit for selling. “Ye little—“ he heard the seller say, in a threatening tone, but while the seller was lamenting the loss of two apples and jerking his captive about, Tearlaidh was forming his own opinion of the child: he narrowed his gaze, focused on the child’s face, and his mind searched for what his eye could not distinguish, but he descried no future for the child, nothing that would convey his course in life or even what he was to eat for dinner. His prospects were blank and unformed, making Tearlaidh somewhat apprehensive of leaving the child to be apprehended, for should he allow the seller to call for the guard and have the child be taken away, his future might remain indistinct until such time when he be liberated from all the oppression that the continuance of his destitution might evince.
“Glad ye came when ye did, commander,” said the seller, pulling the child forward. “Caught thess-un stealin’ from mah cart, and it’s no’ the first tyme. Ah was gonnae give hem over.”
“Nae need,” said Tearlaidh, shaking his head. “Ah’ll taek hem over. Here, lad,” bending down and taking up the makeshift spear, “ye give meh ‘em apples, an’ ye taek yur spear.”
The child did he was told once released, and while he was sad to lose the two prizes he had fought so long for, he must be relieved to be allowed his spear and was glad to be treated with some semblance of consideration. His stomach might have revolted at the trade by giving a few furious wambles as he exchanged the apples for his weapon, but his conscience could be easy knowing that the commander, though forboding in appearance, did not effect to seize or imprison him. A suspicion bordering on curiosity came over him, and he gave the commander a chary look, his mind feverishly working out why it was that this emblem of higher authority had little interest in admonishing or even detaining him. The child could have gone, could have taken the oppurtunity of a moment’s pause to abscond with his freedom, but his curiosity and his hunger got the better of him, and he stayed, wanting to know what was to be done with the apples that he had struggled so long to procure if they could not now be sold. He stood in the commander’s shadow, remarking his black bear hide and fur greaves with wonder, assailed by a thousand inquiries, desirous of knowing how such exquisite treasures were to be got, how the commander’s eye was lost, and how he might too be fortunate enough to gain the unexceptionable knife that hung at the commander’s hip.
“Here’s enough for these and moar for yur trouble,” said Tearlaidh, reaching into his pocket and producing a silver coin.
Such compensation, being nearly twenty times the cost of what two apples would bring, was enough to appease the seller and persuade him into thinking that the child might be let off with a warning. His pride as businessman had not been tarnished, and therefore he he was disposed to foget the child’s crimes in favour of spending his newfound fortune on a few rounds at the Bleating Sheep. He took the silver coin with a very good grace, with renewed smiles and an affable bow, he thanked the commander for his interference and wished him a good day, pulling the brocade down over his stall and quitting the row, calling to a few of his friends in the opposing lane as he went, leaving the child in the commander’s care with the aspiration of his being being raided again in future, if only to be so handsomely compensated for his trouble.