Playing For Keeps

It was an orderly mess, but a mess nonetheless.

Netty Berengar was a proper lady with refined taste. She was not sure at times why she had married Emerson, but she loved him. Her family was well connected and she understood the finer points of managing a holding.

Their arrival in Northwich was celebrated wildly. The families of the 16 pulled out the stops to welcome them. Pumpkin soup, zucchini bread, spaghetti squash and an entire deer had been carefully roasted and parted into their respective portions. Brother’s Campfire blazed with oak wood that had been cut and stacked. Typically, Brother’s fires were pine. The hardwood burned fiercely in the chilly afternoon.

Netty looked at the keep. There was no banner on the entrance. In fact, it was obviously not in use. Everything was centered around this fire. Business, judgement, disputes, orders, meetings with nobility…… She shuddered. Lord Emerson had been sleeping outside with common folk for a year.

Their estate in La Longi was modest to her standards, but this was an adjustment entirely. She would change this.

The food was quite delicious and served on rough hewn wooden platters. Netty recoiled at her server who bore the branding of Last Rites. He was a murderer she recognized. ” My lady, enjoy. I am delighted to serve you.” At least the savage had some semblance of manners.

She wondered to herself why they were not eating in the great hall. She turned to Emerson, who was clearly enjoying a portion of the deer’s hind leg. “Emerson, have you ever been in the keep? We will be residing there.”

Emerson had in his mind to build a house on the outskirts of the village so he would eventually not be in the center of everything. He planned to repair the infrastructure as a productive steward should. He had done work for the king to pay his taxes before and figured this was another project. There were a lot of projects he had completed and he clearly thought another noble would reside here. As a freedman, Emerson looked at the world much differently than his wife, who was accustomed to how the nobility functioned. Emery Berengar had not raised his son with any such thought processes. The thought of residing in the center of everything distressed Emerson.

Emerson sighed,

” yes, my dear Netty. There were pequin residing there and we had to drive them out. It was a little too spicy for my taste, but we ate them to get by.

The damaged structures have been either removed or rebuilt to include the keep.

Most of the keep’s structure is stone and did not need a lot of work. We have been busy, Netty.

Initially, I came with the express purpose of taking my friend Jeptha into exile. The king requested that I repopulate Northwich with convicts and clean up the place. He sent supplies and a steady rotation of guards. In fairness, I do not believe it was clearly communicated that I was to be the recipient of an honor like this or be anything more than a steward. I did not wish to move into the keep as it was not mine. When James Rainport arrived, I thought I was paving the way for his ascent.

I fell in love with the area Netty, and wanted to bring you here as a freedman with a plot of land.

That was good enough for me. Now, I am a little overwhelmed by it all.

Netty shook her head.

” I love you, Emerson. You are ridiculous, but I love you.”

The sound of drums came from the west accompanied by loud vocalizations that were unnatural to the La Longi tongue.

Netty was alarmed.” Are we under attack by those horrible pequin you talk about?”

Emerson laughed. ” those are the Heron. They will be here to exchange pleasantries in their own way. If there is food and a celebration, they will come. “

He pointed toward the hills where you could see movement and the outlines of people. ” If they were attacking, you will not see or hear them until they are very close.

You get used to the drums and it is a tell as to the temperament of the Heron. Today, those are happy drums.”

Netty laughed nervously. She had been in tough situations with Emerson before and sometimes they were outside her level of comfort.

Men wearing an assortment of leather, fur and beadwork came to camp with a variety of game laden on their shoulders. Shortly afterwards, women and children from the tribe followed, carrying other foodstuffs.

Emerson recognized Ahusaka leading the way and greeted him. Netty and Magaskawee measured each other instantly gathering every outward detail. They would be rivals and friends soon, thought Emerson.

The mix of former convicts and Heron escalated into singing, wrestling, weapon throwing and droughts.

Droughts could be a violent affair. Emerson turned to Netty. “Do you really want these events in the great hall of the keep?”

Netty blinked her eyes to see if she was really seeing what was transpiring. “So you have been having wild parties in my absence then? Of course not. We must portray ourselves as respectable nobility.”

Emerson smiled. ” they are eating and blowing off steam and they will go home tired and full.

He pointed to the well fed inferno that was obviously piled too high with logs for any practical use.

” All the business of Northwich has been handled here by the campfire for the most part. I hold frequent meetings with the village to create order and get input about concerns. Netty, they have brought some interesting ideas to me, and some of them work. There is more than festivities in a get together such as this.This is rough hewn politics with rough men.”

The draughts matches were to begin. Galvin the Bard had written a song that preceded the tournaments.

An off key older convict jumped on an upright cut log and let out a whoop. He sang out of tune and loudly.

All I want to do, is play draughts with you

King me, double jump, Do what you do

All I want to do, is play draughts with you

Black, Red, your choice what’s good for you

All I want to do, is play draughts with you

You hate this game. What’s wrong with you

All I want to do, is play draughts with you

You call me names. It’s up to you

All I want to do, is play draughts with you

What’s that striker and flint for

All I want to do, is play draughts with you

You are putting tinder all over the board,

All I want to do, is play draughts with you

Strike a match, what did you do that for

All I want to do, is play draughts with you

The board burns, pieces lost, my fun is through

All I want to do, is play draughts with you

Droughts was not only a game, but a method of resolving disputes. Pieces were designated to represent various differences. If that piece was lost, so was the argument. Draughts was very competitive as much could be at stake. Many games were played and problems were resolved by talking. It was considered weak to turn down a game of draughts in Northwich for this reason.

Not all minds are created equal. A player that did not want to lose a piece could literally set the board on fire to save his part of the dispute. The rules required that the board be burned completely and cold to the touch before the next progression which was physical.

The burning of the board was rare, but it did happen. The boards were labor intensive to make and it was a deep insult to burn one as it

demonstrated that conversation was dead between the parties.

Lighting the board on fire in Northwich was akin to flipping the board over in the poor parts of La Longi where this practice began.

It was just more resolute in Northwich. The convicts wanted it that way and Brother permitted it.

Today, a board would burn. Wuldric and Heahfrith, both former convicts had been stealing from each other since the day they departed from La Longi. They had a friendly rivalry as to who was the better thief until a carving that was stolen and traded for muck boots became a point of contention. This had festered for months and caused all manner of division between them. Wuldric and Heahfrith chose this occasion to showcase their misplaced pride.

The 14 other convicts egged it on. Burn the Board! Burn the Board!

Heahfrith took tinder from his leather pouch and gathered the fixings for a fire. Wuldric stole them when his back was turned and everyone laughed. Nonetheless, a fire was kindled.

Hannah Berengar had met some young ladies from among the Heron and the 16 and were discussing the complexities of life only teenagers comprehend and was not present for the draughts match.

Caydon was not so distracted and said, “Dad, they will fight, you must stop them!”

The board burned rather quickly as it was woven from dried cattails.

Emerson looked grim.

“They set rules for themselves and they are following them. Hard stubborn men such as these learn harsh lessons from each other. They are fighting about unfathomable foolishness.

Some of the men here will grow. Others will not. You do not have to watch, Caydon.”

Emerson Berengar observed the contest between Wuldric and Heahfrith with disdain. Neither knew what they were really quarreling over.

Herons, convicts, mothers and children gathered for the match. James Rainport had been learning about the culture of Northwich finest in Emerson’s absence and elected to mediate the fight.

Fights are quick and messy. Haefrith was the instigator and charged Wuldric low and hard. Wuldric struck downwards on Heafrith’s head were the skull grows together stunning him. Heafrith recovered and charged again. Wuldric drove his head hard into the ground and Heahfrith’s legs went sprawling from underneath him. Heahfrith was out.

James ended the fight, declaring Wuldric the winner. The crowd dispersed as there was nothing more to see.

Wuldric faced Emerson. ” I won!” He declared.

Emerson asked,”what did you win?”

“The fight! The draughts match!”

“What did you lose?”

” a draughts board.”

Emerson frowned.

” And a friend. Was it worth it? Why don’t you stop gloating and help Heahfrith get home.”

Netty was appalled. ” I do not like this, Emerson. You need to enact some laws.”

Emerson contemplated.

“You are probably right, Netty. I am glad you are here to help me with it all.”

Author: The Storyteller

Don't count the lions. It will make you afraid and slow you down.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.