Legacy of Truth
by Christy Nicholas
GENRE: Historical fantasy
Her sister plots to steal the family heirloom from her in order to exploit the magical powers for her own gain, and Esme must battle for survival of herself and those she loves.
Esme was so glad Aisling was willing to watch over the animals while they gallivanted across the countryside. She was on a holiday from workaday life. So many things were on offer at the stalls, Choices overloaded her. Colors and odors assaulted her, as well as the cries of the stall attendants.
“Fresh meat pies! Dripping with fat and flavor!”
“Good, strong leather work—none better!”
“Buttons and notions, for all your needs!”
Stopping at the latter, she saw a variety of bone, wood and cloth buttons, both flat and shank. Seán had told her not to purchase anything until they had looked at all the stalls. He was also seeing which stalls might want his own goods, appraising the sellers and the variety of wares on offer.
“Oh!” She stumbled as a large man barreled into her.
“So sorry, mistress! I wasn’t looking where I was going.” The educated accent and voice of a wealthy man, from his dress, was a surprise to Esme. She couldn’t speak, but nodded in response as he moved on.
“Seán, was that a nobleman?” She kept her voice to an intense whisper, but Seán laughed.
“No, no, mo chailín rua. He’s a footman, by the look of him. A servant in one of the larger houses, from the livery.”
“But he spoke so… nicely.” She had never met someone in service to one of the stately homes, except for the boys who worked in the stable at Hugh O’Hagerty’s house. The rest of the servants didn’t come into town much.
“He’d likely have learned it from his master. The higher servants imitate their master’s speech, as they interact with guests. The lower servants, such as the cooks or stable boys, usually don’t. They talk more like we do.”
She stared at the man’s retreating back until the jostling of the crowd brought her to her senses. She decided to modulate her own speech. His had sounded so refined and aristocratic.
The afternoon went by in a whirl of activity and people. She had never been in such a diverse group before. The peasants and servants shopped alongside wealthy people. Perhaps they weren’t nobles, but rather upper servants or wealthy merchants. Still, she was surprised at how people interacted. The social classes didn’t seem as divided as she had presumed.
Exhausted, she sat in Seán’s wagon and counted out her purchases of the day. Good, pale-blue wool and a good roll of rougher wool in a deep, rusty red plaid. She was able to get linen with a dainty floral pattern on it and flax and cotton bits. Silk ribbons in various colors, silk and cotton thread and several buttons and findings completed her haul. She surveyed the pile with great satisfaction. She could create several attractive pieces with this lot.
A glimpse of red caught her eye, and she could have sworn she saw herself walking down the street, but the press of people obscured whoever it was from her vision. It certainly wouldn’t have been Eithne. What reason would she have had to be in Westport? Esme shook her head at the fancy. Plenty of people had red hair in Ireland. It was just her imagination playing tricks with her. Still, a shiver went down her spine as if she had seen her own fetch.
Seán had managed to find buyers for most of his goods and a couple of merchants had agreed to look over most of what he had left and make their own selections. He hadn’t been happy about the prices on some items but had evidently decided not to hold out. This was the last day of the market.
They had meant to be there a day earlier. However, various delays—due to her—had necessitated their late arrival. Perhaps Seán did have a point. She did slow him down. They needed to stop for breaks when she was on board and stop for longer times. Men had it so easy when it came to such things. A couple of laces pulled, and they had instant relief. Women had several petticoats to deal with, even if they wore bloomers with a handy slit. She was also uncomfortable relieving herself in plain sight, so they had to search for appropriate cover.
One such stop had resulted in her getting lost and had taken a whole hour to find her way back through the densely-grown forest. Every step she took increased her uneasiness and sent her closer toward panic. Finally, she heard Seán’s voice calling her name, and she pushed her way through brambles and bracken to emerge, scratched and sweating, from the woods.
“Where in the name of the nine hells did you get off to, Esme? I was worried sick!”
Sheepishly, she said, “I got lost.”
“Why do you need to go so deep in the woods, anyhow? It’s not like you won’t hear another wagon coming down the road in plenty of time to arrange yourself into womanly decorum, or whatever it is you need to do.”
Esme shrugged. It wasn’t anything she could explain, just something she needed to do. The world was such a big, uncertain place. Being exposed while she was vulnerable didn’t make it any easier. She needed to find a place that would give her peace of mind.
Perhaps being out on the road wasn’t such a great idea.
Packing her purchases in oiled cloth for the trip back, she heard Seán talking to one of the lingering merchants. He was a big fellow, even topping Seán’s considerable height, and almost twice the weight of her husband, as well, with short-cropped blond hair and a reek which made her eyes water. It was the smell of a pig-keeper; she would know the stench anywhere. She closed the curtains of the wagon to help block out the malodorous atmosphere and tidied up while Seán finished his dealings.
The man wasn’t buying anything, but trying to convince Seán his own market, in Louisburgh, was a better bet than this one. It ran on the same day and was ten miles away. If it were up to Esme, she would have refused him out of sheer olfactory preference. But Seán was getting the pros and cons, like a good trader. He didn’t say no but did promise to consider it. The pig man didn’t sound convinced but grunted as he left.
“Esme? Come on out. He’s gone.”
She opened the curtains. He was grinning fit to crack his face.
“Well? Did everything get sold off then?”
“What does ‘sort of’ mean, then?”
“It means, yes I sold all I brought, but no, we’re not done yet.” He lifted a box and showed it to her. The box was about five inches long, ebony and beautifully carved with delicate birds. The interlacing Celtic knot work almost reminded her of the brooch. She considered it, lying safely inside the lining of her skirt. She was loath to leave it at the cottage, where anyone might walk in to steal it. Wearing it in the open would be out of the question. She kept it sewn into a hidden pocket.
“What’s that? Where did you get it?”
“This, my dear girl, is my profit.”
“What’s inside?” She resisted the urge to open it herself. Seán did like to tease her, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing it was working.
Slowly, he lifted the lid, revealing a necklace of glowing black pearls. They glittered in the fading sun, tinged with orange from the light. She gasped at their beauty.
Without thinking, she reached out to touch them. They were cool, almost like metal. Drawing her hand back, she looked up at her husband.
“So, a good profit, then? Where in God’s sweet name are you going to sell those, though?”
“It’s why we aren’t done yet. No one here has the resources to turn these into anything useful. We’ll have to make our way to a larger city, say Galway, to get a decent price.”
“Galway! But that’s…!”
“About three days’ travel, yes. But we could get a fantastic return on our sale there. Perhaps twice as much as we could get at, say, Castlebar, or Ballina. If they could even buy them there, which I doubt.”
Esme pondered it. She hadn’t expected they would be gone so long, or so far away. But it was all an adventure, was it not? The first night on the road hadn’t been so bad. Being able to sleep in the proper covered wagon was a vast improvement over sleeping in a tent on the hard ground or in the pouring rain. She nodded.
“Let’s do it, Seán. Galway, imagine that!”
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