Herleif stopped to lean on his pitchfork. It was a warm day, warmer than he was used to, a bad day for work. Around him, men and women were rowing up the hay and loading it into carts, sweating, singing, or cursing as they worked.
It was hard work, and it paid no more than a few coins, but it was the only work Herleif could do. At summer’s end, when you could feel the warmth slowly draining from the land, the villages grew silent, and a man had to work the fields to save up for winter.
“Not a hard worker, are you?”
Herleif turned to see a big man glare at him from under a single, thick eyebrow. His belly was almost as big as that of the master of these fields, and his nose seemed to have been broken a great many times. Herleif spat in his hands, rubbed them together, and took up his pitchfork.
“Just a moment to catch my breath, is all,” he said, eyeing the newcomer. “Who are you?”
“I drive the carts,” the man said. “Name’s Sten.”
“Good name, that,” Herleid said.
Sten nodded and stared at Herleif for a few seconds. Just when Herleif was about to ask him what he wanted, Sten stepped closer.
“Want to make some extra coin?” He asked softly.
Herleif felt a cold, nervous tugging deep in his gut. He gripped the pitchfork tightly.
“What do you mean?”
“You sleep in the farmstead?” Sten said.
“In the shed,” Herleif said. “Me and most of these other buggers who have to work tomorrow.”
“I’m sweet on a girl that sleeps there, too,” Sten said. “And I want to come and see her tonight.”
“Looking to steal some kisses, are you?”
Sten drew back his dry and cracked lips to reveal two rows of rotting teeth in what Herleif reckoned to be a smile. “You could say that,” Sten said. “I need a little friend inside, a little friend who can open the door for me.”
“Why not get the girl to do it herself?” Herleif said.
“It’s a surprise.” Sten said, and two fat fingers appeared from his pockets, holding a Silver Mark between them. That was enough to last Herleif more than a month in winter, maybe two weeks if he bought the occasional tankard of mead.
“Sounds like a good surprise,” Herleif said.
The cart driver chuckled. “I knew you’d be up for it,” he said. “You just be sure to have a late night stroll near the gate when you hear a wolf howl. Have the watchman bugger off for a few minutes and whistle once in the dark when he’s gone.”
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