The Wolf of Harrow HallBy: Christine Pope
(Tales of the Latter Kingdoms Book 7)
A Tales of the Latter Kingdoms Novel
I stared down at the meager collection of silver coins as they lay on the worn surface of the kitchen table, then looked up at my grandmother in dismay. “This is all we have left? But where has the rest of it gone?”
She pushed a strand of graying hair away from her face. Sometime during her last fabric dyeing session, her hair must have come loose from the neat coil — still heavy and thick — at the back of her head. “‘Where has the rest of it gone’?” she repeated. My grandmother was not the sort to let the various blows the world had visited upon her weaken her spirit, but in that moment, I thought I could hear a weariness in her voice she couldn’t completely conceal. “Why, to patch the roof, and to purchase a new goat after the wolves got Sissi, and to pay Garrit for another load of firewood after the last storm, and — ”
“I see,” I cut in. Perhaps that was rude of me, but in that moment, I did not wish to hear the tally of our troubles once again. Truly, this past autumn and the beginning of the winter that followed had not been kind to us. And now, with the turn of the year rapidly approaching, so, too, approached the time when we must pay our tithe to the Mark of North Eredor, so that we might live yet another year here in the cottage where I had been born.
I had never seen the lord of our land, for his capital of Tarenmar lay several days’ ride to the south. Indeed, in all my twenty-one years, I had never seen much of anything beyond the forest of Sarisfell, which covered many leagues to either side of the village where I had been born. No doubt the Mark and his court would have thought our little hamlet of Kerolton small and mean, but it — and the people who lived there — were all I knew.
My thoughts churned as I considered what our next course of action should be. Our household was small, and consisted of only my grandmother and myself, for my grandfather had died of a fever some five years earlier, when I had barely passed into my sixteenth year. He had been an accomplished woodsman, and had hunted and trapped in the woods of Sarisfell, providing the merchants in Tarenmar with beautiful furs to adorn the ladies at court. Our worry over the loss of the income my grandfather had brought in was only exceeded by our grief at his passing, for he had been a cheerful sort, never one to allow a harsh winter or a meager meal to subdue his sunny nature.
In those five years since his passing, my grandmother and I had worked doubly hard at spinning and dyeing, transforming the wool from our neighbors’ sheep into sturdy fabrics. But often those same neighbors wished to trade their wool for the cloth we finished for them, or to barter for other necessities, and so we never had much in the way of ready coin, barely enough to purchase those items we could procure no other way, and to scrape together the ready for our taxes.
To most, those taxes would not seem so terribly onerous, for the Mark was not a greedy man and did not expect more of his subjects than they could comfortably give. Now, though, even that modest sum seemed to me more than a king’s ransom.
“Well,” I said, doing my best not to sigh, “I think I must go speak to Amery and see if he can find it in himself to loan us the necessary sum. His flock is thriving, and he is certainly not suffering for ready cash.”
Amery Willar was the richest man in our village. More to the point, he had once wished to marry my mother and give me his name. My mother had declined his suit, and had disappeared from our lives not long afterward, but Amery had never seemed to hold her betrayal against me. Instead, he always treated me with a rough kindness somewhat tinged with regret, as if he still wished that I might have been his daughter, even though he had been happily married these seventeen years or so.
At any rate, I thought he was the most likely person to approach about borrowing the required sum. There was one other in the village who was nearly as prosperous as Amery, but I doubted he would look kindly upon me asking him for a loan.
My grandmother appeared even more troubled after I made my suggestion. “I am not sure that is our best course of action, Bettany.”
“What else would you have me do?” I shot back. “I know you are too proud to ask anyone for money. I am not sure how well that pride would serve you in a debtor’s gaol, but I would rather not find out.”