Holding Evan Tamm
There was something about the warm summer sun that managed to make a man feel particularly rank, almost cankerous. It all depended, of course, on what direction one approached it from. After a large, rich meal, basking in the sunlight like a lazy cat induced a distinct languour. After a long night's sleep, the summer sun through the window could make a man feel invigorated and ready to face the day. And after a long night of not sleeping and rather too much drinking, as Evan well knew, the intruding morning sun on the long stagger home could bring out the coat on the tongue and make a man feel unbearably itchy all over, as if he desperately needed to scratch the layers of filth off before they became permanent.
Evan squinted up into the sun over the tourney field, and considered himself fortunate that the stocks had been out of commission from lack of use - at least his hands were free so he could occasionally scratch discreetly when the itching became too much. The collar around his neck was not an improvement, of course, but the stake it was attached to at least gave him something to rest his back against. And, he reasoned, the grass was a lovely, cooling shade of green. Best to count small blessings where he could.
A dozen men or so were putting up the lists, and Evan tried to remember when he had last lanced from horseback. Or, indeed, if he had ever lanced from horseback. Nothing leapt to mind. Frustrated, he closed his eyes and lay back flat on the ground, trying to enjoy the summer afternoon as best he could. After all, what else was there to do?
A small movement nearby distracted him, and he turned his head to see a sparrow, hopping lightly over the grass and picking at it, trying to fatten up for the long flight south. Unmoving, Evan watched it for a time, as it scoured the ground thoroughly, bobbing its head from time to time, unfettered by the concerns of the big folk around it. Slowly, he sat up, and stretched out one hand towards it, as far as the manacles would allow. The sparrow twisted its head to look up at him, cocking it back and forth to look him over in the manner of birds. Evan said nothing - he'd never needed to. Unlike horses and dogs, birds didn't like it when you spoke to them. Maybe they felt that their song was so refined and elegant that ugly human speech was nothing more than meaningless noise. After a time, the bird looked away, and hopped primly onto Evan's outstretched finger, continuing to search the grass, as if it was merely deigning to include him in its quest for food. Evan smiled out of one corner of his mouth, and gently lifted the sparrow towards his face, meeting its eyes again. He might have considered it a sort of silent communication, but Evan doubted the bird had anything it felt like sharing with him.
The sparrow bobbed its head then, once, twice, as if nodding. Evan nodded in return, and tossed his hand, sending it on its way. It fluttered madly upwards, diving and climbing, a darting brown shape that was quickly lost in the trees that bordered the tourney field and Holdfast itself. With a small sigh, Evan lay back on the ground again and closed his eyes.
It was going to be a very long day.
It was not long, however, before he felt something nudging against his face. Something that smelt very strongly of horse.
At the same time, he felt a sudden tug on his collar, as though someone had jerked his chain. Opening his eyes, he saw a rather attractive dark mare, who was nudging gently at his face.
When he turned his head to avoid this, he saw a boy in leather breeches, shirt and a waistcoat - but with bare feet. He was pulling at the chain that was attached to the wooden stump, perhaps to see if he could free it.
Then Evan realised that the boy had rather a profusion of dark curls, drawn back untidily from his ... no, her face. Her rather pretty face.
She gave another impatient tug at the chain.
He stifled a little sigh, and lifted his hands to pinch the bridge of his nose, though the chains that bound them then fell across his lips. Exasperated, he spat them away, and watched her strain at the stake for a while more, his expression faintly curious.
"I think you'll need a spade if you're going to get anywhere," he said at last.
She lifted her head and frowned at him, as though he was an interruption to the problem she had set herself. Then she gave an abrupt nod and walked away.
The horse, left to its own devices, nuzzled again at what it clearly assumed to be a fallen rider.
It seemed a very long five minutes before she returned, carrying a spade of the kind used to dig wagons out of the mud on difficult journeys. She held it aloft, and then looked consideringly at the chain that stretched from his neck to the stake.
With an air of politeness, Evan watched her take her first swing at the chain. The spade bounced off with a ring of metal, and the chain jerked uncomfortably around his throat, making him gag and cough a little. Still, not being one to discourage industry in today's youth, he let her be as she lifted her spade high to try again.
Others, however, had different opinions on the matter. The spade was stopped high above her head, and one of Holdfast's guards looked down upon her, holding the haft in one meaty hand. "'Ere now, miss," he said, wearing a slight look of puzzlement. "You can't be doing that 'ere. Clear off and play somewhere else, hey?"
The girl glowered at him, but made no answer. She gave a jerk at the spade - but he had it fast and all her efforts were in vain. She stood and glared at him instead - and then her face suddenly lit up. She gave a quick nod, and then she was flying away across the tourney field towwards the castle. The fact that she was barefoot seemed to make no difference at all to her.
The guard looked down at Evan Tamm, baffled.
"You know her?"
He shrugged. "Never seen her before. I would think it strange, but this whole town seems somewhat insane." Again, Evan sighed, and rested his head back, closing his eyes. "Take the horse with you, won't you?"
The guard grinned. "Oh, I wouldn't like to interfere with a lady's property, you know?"
He sauntered some little distance away.
The horse nudged Evan once more and breathed with heavy anxiety into his face and then - concluding it was a lost cause - shifted slightly and began to pull at the grass instead.