TidBit McIntyre & The CreamCheese

Neath Ancient Roslin Waits

 

The Do’s Series: Segment 7

 

© Grandpa Jim

 

 

“We should reach the outskirts of the fair tomorrow evening. In good time to make camp.”

“The path down was difficult, HauptMercer. The greenhills are welcome.”

“Mayhap not as welcoming as their appearance is presenting, my trusted swordguard. These hills are old and they hold long memories.”

“Is there danger here, mastermerchant?”

“Danger is always with us, lad. But enough of such talk. There is light left. And I know you favor a walk by yourself in the eventime. Go. The camp is secure. Do your thinking. But be careful.”

Touching his sword, HirschTruss bows. “Thank you, HauptMercer.”

The merchant laughs. “Off with you. Enjoy your time.”

Truss starts to turn away.

“One thing.” The merchant rubs his head. “I remember. There are ruins near here.” HauptMercer BaiTail points. “In that direction. There is a legend, the legend of a Lady.”

“Is the place far?”

“I think not. It has been years since I visited. I was young. Yes, it is there. Beyond that first rise.”

“I will turn my steps in that direction.”

“Yes, do. Good. I remember it was a special place.”

 

* * *

 

Truss hears noise ahead and loud voices. Moving quietly through the underbrush, he pushes branches aside and studies the scene unfolding before him.

– – –

“Thief, you will pay for your ways!” The speaker brandishes a club, the end wrapped in pounded metal. To his sides, four others fan out, two to the left and two to the right. All five are garbed in bloused shirts, leather jerkins and pants, high boots, and dark caps with single black feathers. Each holds a weapon. Clubs and short swords point to a small figure holding a large round object. The small one slowly backs against a rock wall overgrown with moss and lichen.

“Where will you go now, Mouse?” The ringleader scoffs. “There is no tight space for you to squirm into and escape from us. It is time for you to pay . . . with your life.”

“It is you who have not paid, BentNose ChurnTurner. You and these other cheesemakers. I take this cheeseround as rightfully mine. It far less than what you truly owe me for my labors carting your moldy wares.” With his free hand, the small one pulls a shiny dagger and swings it in a wide arc at his attackers. “Now, off with the lot of you before I am forced to teach each a lesson he will not soon forget.”

BentNose opens his mouth in a snarl, showing broken yellowed teeth. He raises his arm, jerks it forward and launches the club at the speaker. At this signal, the others rush forward.

The small figure drops the heavy cheeseround and leaps aside, landing in a fighting crouch, dagger forward. The mallet thrown by BentNose bounces harmlessly off the stonewall.

– – –

HirschTruss springs from the bushes. With a clang, he parries the short sword of one attacker, the blade spinning into the air as Truss trips the owner who falls backward bouncing his head onto the rocky surface. With a smack of his swordhilt to the head of a second cheesemaker, HirschTruss collapses the adversary who sinks forward with a dull thud to the ground, the cheesemaker’s club rolling into the brush. Spinning in front of Mouse and between BentNose and the remaining opponents, Truss sweeps the longsword back and forth halting the advance. The point of his sword stops inches from the ringleader’s crooked nose.

BentNose ChurnTurner glares at the tip of the sword and the tall figure who holds the blade.

Without turning his head from BentNose, the swordsman addresses the Mouse. “Small one, take what you have dropped and bring it to this cheesemaker.”

“I will not,” the Mouse objects. “I am owed this round of premium creamcheese.”

“I do not doubt your words, daggerquick. But now you and your words must do as I say. Return what you have taken.” HirschTruss stares hard at BentNose. “And, by The Do’s, all debts will be sworn and settled between the two of you. Do you both, in spoken agreement, accept and commit to this?”

“No. . . .” BentNose starts to speak. Truss stabs the swordpoint to touch the end of the cheesemaker’s nose. “I do . . .” ChurnTurner grumbles. “I do agree.”

“Smallfighter?” HirschTruss’s voice is without emotion.

“And . . . I.” Mouse hesitates, picks up the cheeseround, walks over and drops the heavy creamcheese at BentNose’s feet. “I too do agree.”

“Behind me, small one.” HirschTruss does not lower his blade as he chants in a strong even baritone. “Be it so pronounced in The Binding Speech of The New & Free Peoples. Any debt standing between the two of you is now settled, sealed, contracted and agreed to have been fulfilled and fully satisfied each to the other and ended. The space is closed and drawn shut. It is done.” Truss pulls back the sword tip. “Collect your fallen, BentNose ChurnTurner. They are little hurt.” HirschTruss raises the blade upright and extends his other hand out in formal parting. “Leavetake to you. Fare thee well and true, cheesemaker. May you find your own way.”

BentNose lifts the cheeseround, shrugs and waves his companions to follow. The uninjured cheesemakers gather their bruised fellows and slump off after the trudging leader.

Truss watches for some seconds before turning to the small warrior at his side. Humor and respect are in the swordmaster’s voice. “You did this for a piece of cheese?”

“A round. A very valuable round of very expensive creamcheese. An excellent trade good. One I was owed and have now been parted from.”

Truss laughs, sheathes the longsword and extends his right hand, palm forward, fingers spread wide. “I, SchirmerShutzen HirschTruss, SwordGuard to the Hohenschwangau Traders, extend formal greetmeet.”

The Mouse stands tall, extending his height, and slips his dagger away. “And I, TidBit McIntyre, a StealthSeeker of the TrueFind Tribe, answer, acknowledge and thank SchirmerShutzen HirschTruss for his able and skilled assistance, unneeded as it may have been. . . .” TidBit shows a thin smile. “But most appreciated, nonetheless. Thank you, young swordmaster.”

HirschTruss touches his swordhilt with a slight bow. “You are most welcome.” The young man studies his new acquaintance. “Now what should I call you? TidBit or Mouse?”

TidBit squints in embarrassment. “’Mouse’ is an earned nickname. More an honorary appellation. I have a knack for slipping through tight places.”

“And for getting out of close jams, Mouse TidBit,” Truss offers.

“With your help.” TidBit bows. “No matter the cost.”

“Freely given.” Truss spreads his hands wide.

“Duly noted.” The Mouse is thoughtful. “And for that, I would share something with you in return. A special place. I have need to go there. A secret place. I would show you, if you care?”

“In the ruins?”

“How do you know this?”

“I was told there are stones here from the Long Ago. And, yes, I would care to see this place. Are these ruins close?”

“In part, you stand upon them.”

“Here?” Truss stares down at his feet. “I see grass and rock. No more.”

“This wall . . .” Mouse backs a few steps and touches the stone surface he had been forced to take his stand against . . .“ is what remains of the aboveground sidehold of a small houseworship from the Long Ago. Dirt fills much and plants grow upon, but some hidden space remains. There is a line, a rose and a secret. Come, see and find.” TidBit moves to a shadow in the rock, glances back and disappears. His voice echoes from within. “Follow my steps.”

Truss finds a narrow passage, little more than a bent crevice snaking its way though the rock and soil. Faint light from the lowering sun shadows his steps. Ducking and squeezing around a tight corner, Truss spies flickering flames dancing off wet stones near the floor of the passage ahead and there, an opening. On all fours, he crawls through a short tunnel, pushes up and stands.

In the middle of a wide columned room, Mouse TidBit holds a torch. Light dances across the space, highlighting smooth niches holding carved statues in unfamiliar dress. The ribbed ceiling is painted in a reflective array of symbols and shapes.

Making eye contact with the swordsman, the stealthseeker drops to one knee and brushes dirt from a metal strip embedded in the floor. TidBit allows his fingers to trace the shining line to a bulge, which he rubs to reveal a medallion in the shape of a rose sunk into the pavement. “Stay away from this.” The Mouse hands the torch to Truss. “Take the light and stand over against the wall. Stand there and wait.”

“Where do you go?” Truss’s tone is concerned.

“Where I can fit.” The Mouse lifts a circular stone plate from the floor. “Down this.”

“It is too small.”

“For you.” Tidbit wiggles his legs and body into the opening, lifts his hands, exhales, and slides from sight.

Truss resists the urge to run to the spot. He stands fixed in his place. Minutes pass. He hears a scraping sliding sound. A square of floor, the rose medallion at its center, swings up.

“Climb down,” the voice calls from the opening,

Truss approaches, kneels and extends the torch into the space. Below, he sees TidBit’s face.

“Down here.” The small one motions with a hand.

Truss lowers his legs, finds the rungs with his feet and descends.

“Turn around and hold the torch high,” the Mouse instructs.

Truss lifts the light.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” TidBit asks.

A life-sized feminine figure reclines on the lid of a large ornate oblong box. Arms folded at the waist, hands clasped, a flowing garment encloses her body in folds of smooth stone. The scarfed head rests on a carved pillow of lighter stone that forms a glowing halo. Headboards to each side frame the Lady with rising wings. Clean clear features hold the tranquil touch of a kiss, parting and greeting, life and death, an innocence of youth, the passing of maturity and a certainty of future.

“She is . . . beautiful.” Truss moves forward and reaches to rest his hand on hers of stone. “Who is this Lady?”

“’The Holy Grail neath ancient Roslin waits / The blade and chalice guarding o’er her gates / Adorned in masters’ loving art she lies / She rests at last beneath the starry skies.’”

“What words are those, small friend?”

“They are from the Old Days. A part of the life and sound and picture of our tribe. The wise ones know and remember. They hear, listen and see what was, is now and will always be. I can only repeat and wonder.”

“You amaze me, TruthSeeker StealthMouse. As does this place. And its Lady.”

“You newname me well, SwordGuard. Yet, time passes and night waits. I have no place other than here. You need be to the safety of your own people.”

“My people are now yours, if this you wish, TruthSeeker StealthMouse. I offer you the company of our traders and my protection and friendship. With this Lady’s blessing, we are now bound.”

“I do wish as you do, and I accept the bond of grace.”

Truss slowly pulls his hand away from the figure.

“Before we take our leave, swordguard.” TidBit touches the Lady’s right shoe. “I would a thing retrieve.” With his other hand, the Mouse reaches under the lid and pushes something. A small door opens near the bottom of the box. TidBit lifts up a leather pouch. He hides it away in the folds of his shirt. As the door slides shut, the stealthseeker straightens to the questioning face of his new friend. “What is this look? Trade goods. That is all. You lost my cheese. She has made up for that. For the both of us. You will see. You will see.”

SchirmerShutzen HirschTruss shakes his head, smiles, and with one hand motions his TruthSeeker StealthMouse to the ladder. With the other hand, after TidBit has passed, Truss removes the plastic from his ear, slips the plug into his pocket and bows his thanks to the Lady for her secrets.