continued from The Penitent: Aftermath
Yven emerged hungry from the empty caravan, squinting in the sunlight. Not a trace of last night's storm remained to mar the bright morning sky. His heart gripped his throat when he caught sight of the deserted clearing. The train had left him behind at dawn, wheel ruts in the soggy ground the only evidence of their passing. Cursing, he slammed his fist into the side of the wagon. “Damn them all,” he muttered, rubbing his knuckles.
The underbrush parted to reveal the crusader, leading his mare with purpose. “Ah, Master Dubois, good morrow. How fair you?”
Surprise at the sudden appearance rendered him mute. He struggled to respond, eventually surrendering to a series of guttural noises that even he could not recognize as viable speech.
His attempt caused William to chuckle softly. “Our conversations are likely to make the road seem longer, I fear me.”
“The road longer?” Yven repeated, confused. “I do not understand, Monsieur.”
“My apologies,” he responded, giving a slight bow with a fist at his heart. “I assumed you did not wish to travel alone. I am bound for Beaucaire; if this is agreeable, you are most welcome to join me. I understand if your plans are other.”
Yven regarded the wagon tracks, feeling uneasy. He never thought the merchants callous, and yet they were gone. “What would drive them on without us?” he asked, not entirely sure he wanted a truthful answer. He looked to the crusader hopefully, biting his lip.
His face had turned to stone. While fussing with the saddlebags on his steed, he responded, “The draper thought me a Templar Knight and was convincing in his argument to the others that they should not be associated with a wanted criminal. Why they left you behind still eludes me and I find that particular action most deplorable.”
“Are you, a wanted criminal?” he asked, holding his breath.
“If I am it is not because of my participation in the Holy War. I was not part of the Templar ranks,” his answer was wooden, suppressing any opportunity for Yven to inquire about his past.
“They didn’t even wake me. You didn’t wake me,” he said, bitterness at the edge of his voice.
His accusation rousted an unexpected laugh from the man, “My dear lad, I tried. I have seen dead less at peace than you. In truth, I sought to ensure your heart still beat, so sound was your slumber.”
Yven rubbed sleepily at his neck while he considered the crusader’s words, and especially the attractive offer. Beaucaire was yet a half-day’s ride hauling the caravan; it was entirely feasible to sell off the hides at the marketplace, perhaps even the caravan to someone in town. But what to do after?
William interrupted his thoughts, “You are troubled. Have I spoke out of turn?”
“No,” he answered, sullenly, feeling defeated. “Monsieur, I have no family to go to, no trade, and no master. What do I do?”
His piercing gaze softened, “Can you not continue the tanner’s business?”
“The business, no. I know the labor, but not the numbers. He didn’t teach me the books.” Yven fidgeted as he spoke of his ineptitude. “He told me I was too simple to ever understand.”
Something sinister flashed in the man’s dark eyes. “He told you thus? How old are you, Lad?” His tone was stern, even angry.
Why did that bother him? My master wasn't wrong, he thought, recalling his first attempt at wrangling numbers. He had struggled ages with sums only to be told that the numbers themselves were backwards. “I was four and ten last Eastertide.”
William raised his gaze to the sky and held it there so long, Yven was certain he was searching for Heaven's Gate beyond the sunshine. When at length he spoke, his manner was more relaxed, “You asked me what you should do? Accept my offer. I shall help you make any needed arrangements in Beaucaire.”
“I will go then, thank you, Mas, er, Monsieur.” Relief washed through him like a gentle wave. Little gave him more cause for fear but self-reliance. As panic receded, his stomach complained, reminding him of the hours that had passed since his last meal. Yven smiled nervously, “J’ai faim. Have we time to eat?”
The crusader took measure of the sun’s position and nodded, “Does your late master have any staples?”
“A few apples, some rashers, boiled eggs,” he rambled through the list of items he remembered packing. “Some bread.”
“Excellent, if you would be so kind to gather the fare while I locate my sakret? He should be nearby.”
“Bon d’accord, Monsieur.” Ignoring his desire to ask what a sakret was, Yven did as instructed out of comfortable habit. He was not prepared to make his own decisions quite yet.