Serial Tuesday ~ Toliver

Fire and Ice ~ Philip Brent

Fire and Ice ~ Philip Brent

Chapter Ten

After dinner, Toliver hoped to have a chance to talk to Janeannie outside, but Joad waited for him by the exit and motioned him out of line. Joad turned without waiting and Toliver followed him to the front and up onto the stage. By the time they stood by the family table, the rest of the room had cleared. Sawyer sat alone in his usual place. Jacobi stood on the floor below the stage watching him and that was all.

“Well, Toliver,” Sawyer said, finally looking at him, “you’ve created quite a stir.” Toliver waited. He figured silence at this point served him better than anything he might think to say. He kept his gaze firmly on Sawyer, fighting the urge to glance at Jacobi.

“Well,” Sawyer yelled. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I’m not sure what you’re asking me,” Toliver said quietly. An odd memory sprang to life for Toliver. It was a similar situation, but Toliver played Sawyer’s role. It vanished into Sawyer’s next words, spoken with an intense, intimate anger.

“Let’s not be coy, Toliver. If you don’t insult my intelligence, I’ll try to do the same for you.” As he spoke, he brought out the pieces Toliver had carved for his daughters. Each hung from a black, braided silk cord and Toliver smiled to see them, instantly realizing that might be a mistake. “Recognize these, do you?” Sawyer asked.

“Yes, ser. I made them.”

“You made them for my daughters. You didn’t think I might not approve?”

“No, ser. I made them as gifts because I thought the young ladies might like them.”

“Indeed they do,” Sawyer said, “but that’s not all you made, is it, ser?” Toliver considered how he should answer, but figured in for a credit, in for a share.

“I made other things. Joad gave me permission to carve small pieces of wood with a slaved cold laser Wurst brought.

“But he didn’t give you permission to send them to the Trader’s Market, did he?” Sawyer glowered at him, but Toliver maintained eye contact.

“No,” Toliver said. “I didn’t ask him.” Sawyer sat back, clearly measuring Toliver, who decided this wasn’t the answer he was expecting. At least not all of it. He spread his feet slightly and relaxed his shoulders. Sawyer changed tack.

Jacobi here,” Sawyer said, casually motioning to him without looking away from Toliver, “says he takes full responsibility.”

Toliver looked at Jacobi for several moments before turning back to Sawyer.

“I don’t know why he would say that,” Toliver told Sawyer. “I’ve never spoken to him. In fact, I’ve only ever seen him at dinner.”

“Ah, but that’s not what I said.” Sawyer smiled. “He says Janeannie told him about it before they departed.”

“I couldn’t speak to that,” Toliver said. “I don’t know what may have passed between them. If he’s says Janeannie talked to him, I suppose I’d have to believe him. I don’t know what reason Janeannie would have to lie and I don’t know ser Jacobi well enough to say either way. Though I believe he is your head of staff?” Sawyer chuckled.

“Very diplomatic, ser Toliver, convoluted, but diplomatic.” Toliver inclined his head in a nodding bow. He imagined he could feel the heat radiating from Joad behind him, but he didn’t dare look.

“I suppose this is all leading up to why I did it,” Toliver said.

“Actually no,” Sawyer said. “But since you brought it up, why did you do this?”

“For a hat. Or, more accurately, the possibility of one.” Sawyer opened his eyes wider, but didn’t respond. “When Joad first bought me, brought me here, I saw a hat at the Trader’s Market I wanted. I didn’t have any way to buy it. Joad, rightly, told me to forget it, though I offered him my first two-month’s credits.”

“While that’s all very interesting, it doesn’t explain what you did, or why,” Sawyer said impatiently.

“I’m coming to that,” Toliver said, though he quickened his explanation. “I’d planned to ask Joad for the credits I’d earned, though he and I have not always seen eye to eye.”

Sawyer chuckled cynically. “No, ser Wonderhammer does not see you in the same light I do.” Toliver could feel Joad’s tension growing behind him. He heard him shift his stance as if he would step forward to defend himself from a slander her couldn’t quite define.

“Be that as it may,” Toliver said, “when I learned Janeannie would be going to the Trader’s Market, I decided to try bartering for my, no doubt, nonexistent hat. Though I see I may have acted in error, I don’t regret what I did.”

Sawyer studied him for several long moments, looking stern, but then he smiled. “As it happens,” Sawyer said, “Neither do I.” This time Joad did step forward, his hands fisted. “Stand down, Joad. There’s more to this than you’re aware of it the moment.” Sawyer turned to Toliver, ignoring his foreman. “So, do you think your actions should go unpunished?”

“I would certainly like them to be,” Toliver said. “I doubt that’s likely.”

“You’re right. For the next two weeks, you will be denied dinner. You will be locked in your quarters when everyone else comes to the hall and you’ll be released in the morning to work. Any objections?” Toliver stood mute, grimacing. From the corner of his eye, he saw Joad’s lips start to curl into a malicious smile. “I said, are there any objections?”

“No ser,” Toliver replied.

“Wisely done,” Sawyer told him. “Dismissed.” Toliver turned and walked away, with Joad on his heels. “Wait,” Sawyer commanded. Toliver stopped, looking back over his shoulder at his titular master. Sawyer reached to the seat beside him, retrieved something and dropped it on the table. There sat Toliver’s hat. “If there’s no trouble at the end of that time, none, you may claim this. Now get out.”

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