Otto shook his head dismissively. Randall fixed his attention on the big man.
“Do you have a problem with my plan, Otto?”
Otto cocked his head to the side smiling casually, then swinging it back about to face Randall his expression had transformed to one of abject fury.
“Yes, sir I have a problem, do you have any idea how much work we villagers have to do just to put food on our tables and to survive the winter? Yet you come here and cause a scare telling everyone about some unseen threat to them and demand we do as we are told. Heinrich here got lost in the woods because he believed your tales; there are no monsters out there. But yet you want a motte and bailey, well that’s just great, because I’m the woodsman here and you basically want me working all day every day to get the timber for such a work. Will I get any payment for it? Will I get any thanks? What about these other folk? They have more important work to do. Why should we do what you want us to do?”
Randall maintained a steely gaze at Otto throughout this entire outburst. He looked on as though completely unaffected by the torrent of extreme emotion that had just been poured forth.
“Otto, I understand your concerns about the harvest and making sure there is enough food for the winter. I myself will remain quartered here for the winter with you in the case that I fail to find and destroy the villains hiding out in the forest in time. I will help you all to be prepared and I will put my shoulder to the yoke myself as necessary to make sure you are not wanting for food.”
“Bah!” spat Otto, “You nobles are all the same. You think you’re smarter and more important than us peasant folk. Yet who grows your food? Who makes all the things you like to boast of to each other? I won’t play your game. If you want wood for a wall, then you’re going to have to cut it yourself. I am taking my axes and heading into the forest to live until you leave here.”
Randall watched him dispassionately as he walked away. Some of the villagers beseeched him to calm down, while others tried to apologise to Randall for his insolence. The thane for his part appeared unaffected by it and the apparent calmness of his demeanour impressed some of the town’s folk, while others ran off to mock him around corners.
Sometime later Heinrich had been moved to his bed in the hovel he shared with his mother and two brothers. Randall chose to sit next to him patiently while he rested. The thane was deep in thought when Ennlin entered under the pretence of making sure that Heinrich had enough to drink.
“Greetings lord thane, this woman comes with water for Heinrich and for you great lord if you should wish it.”
Randall glanced up at the young girl; she met his gaze and smiled bashfully.
“That is kind of you good woman, however, his mother cares for him well already,” murmured Randall and he turned back to his thoughts.
“Excuse me lord thane, are you angry with Otto?” asked Ennlin.
Randall looked at Ennlin and she shrank underneath his gaze. Before Randall could answer she started profusely apologising for asking such a bold question of a superior. She referred to herself only as ‘this woman’ each time she repeated a fresh apology.
“Silence, girl!” commanded Randall in a stern whisper, “you will disturb this young man’s rest.”
Ennlin froze submissively.
“Sit down,” said Randall indicating to a stool nearby.
Ennlin sat down awkwardly.
“Are you concerned about Otto?” he asked gently.
Ennlin nodded, “This woman feels most angry for Otto. He should not have spoken to his lord as he did. It is not proper. He should have shown you greater respect.”
Randall shook his head, “I am not angry him, I would probably have done the same in his shoes. I am however, concerned for his safety.”
Ennlin nodded again, “This woman feels in awe of your wisdom and holy compassion my lord. You are right. This woman has been sinful and impious by judging her neighbour so harshly.”
Randall rolled his eyes at this, clearly finding Ennlin’s conversation wanting. Randall losing interest in asking the girl any further questions returned to this thoughts forgetting that Ennlin was waiting to be dismissed. Ennlin sat rigidly waiting and hoping Randall would acknowledge her again. When he did not she eventually plucked up the courage to ask another question.
“My lord, this woman is curious about why you fear for the safety of a man so big and strong as Otto.”
Randall looked at her as though surprised she was still there, “I am concerned for his safety because there are evils lurking in that wood: evils more deadly than a sharp knife through the ribs. Evils that murder sleep and poison dreams for a life time. He went into that forest as Otto of Humhyde, however, he might not come back to us as Otto of Humhyde. Indeed, I suspect he will come back altered. Depending on what he condition he comes back in I might need to murder him in order to save what’s left of his immortal soul from damnation.”
The power of Randall’s speech sent shivers down Ennlin’s spine and her bottom lip started to shake uncontrollably. The thane was indifferent to her discomfort but when Klara walked in and called out her name the girl dropped the water jug she came in with out of sheer fright. Klara gave Ennlin a scowling and ordered her out of the hovel and back to her labours.
“My apologies sir, I did not realise the girl had come here and was acting discourteously in your presence.”
Randall glanced at Klara, “Do not punish her, I think she earned herself punishment enough.”
“How so, sir?”
“She came here seeking the truth from me, and I told her. The truth disquiets those who are of weak temperament.”