Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Farming Dragon, Another Part

Isaac liked the rain. Though he had to be cautious about footprints and certainly about tracking mud, the friendly rain also obscured tracks after a time and made his footprints across the meadows nearly indistinguishable from that of the cattle.

He liked the fog even better, because not only did the fog conceal, it also distorted sound and warped distance and made those searching for him stumble.

Fog and rain were friendly.

“Not so, Father, not so,” he said.

Isaac sat on a pile of firewood. His father leaned on his axe.

“You’re smiling so, Isaac,” Abbingdon said. “You must be lying!”

“Oh, Father, can a boy not smile at his father upon seeing him of a morning?”

“Not when the boy is prone to smiling whenever he’s caught in a lie. You must take back the Widow Provost’s ladder.”

“But I told you, Father, I do not have it.” Isaac smiled.

Abbingdon gave a small sigh. “Don’t play me with technicalities, boy. I see you do not have it. So I will rephrase my request: Go to where you’ve hidden the Widow Provost’s ladder, then return it to her.”

Isaac’s smile widened. “I have not hidden her ladder, Father. Nor do I have it.”

The games were wearying. He had to credit the boy with inventiveness, and took a stubborn pride in his son’s natural intelligence, though the pride never strayed into justifying his thievery. If only there were a school nearby, a good school, where this boy could learn, Abbingdon thought many a time. He could put that mind to good use. But the monastery school wouldn’t take him because of his past, and there was nowhere else to go. He chafed at life on the farm. He stole from the businesses where  he could apprentice.

Abbingdon gave another sigh, leaned the axe against a fence, and gently grabbed Isaac by the ear.

Isaac protested. “I’m not a child, father. Do not punish me like one.”

“To punish you as an adult would be to turn you over to the undersheriff, next time he comes,” Abbingdon said. He marched Isaac behind the stable where a ladder unfamiliar to Abbingdon lay propped against the wall. He released Isaac’s ear and nodded toward the ladder. “Pick it up,” he said.

Isaac scowled, but did as he was told. “What does she need the ladder for,” he mumbled to himself almost as he shouldered the ladder and started to walk toward the Widow Provost’s hut. “She’s too old and fat to climb it.”

“No matter, that,” Abbingdon said. “What matters is that it is hers, not yours, to do with as she pleases.”

Thunder rumbled as they both crossed the meadow and entered the wood, following the meandering path that le to the village outliers. Ordinarily, Abbingdon liked the thunder. It made him feel dozy, as it reminded him of late afternoons resting between chores. But this was morning thunder, not to be trifled with, meaning heavier rain was on the way and likely to cause more rot in the haystacks.

They walked in silence, slipping on piles of wet fallen leaves and splashing through puddles on the path. More thunder rolled as birds an squirrels scampered around or flew through the gathering mist, trying to find a morsel of breakfast before the storm of the day set in.

“What do you need the ladder for,” Abbingdon asked as they walked.

“There are two-story houses now in Asheville,” Isaac said. “I cannot reach the upper windows.”

“Brazen you are,” Abbingdon said.

“Bored I am,” Isaac said. He then shut his ears to his father and concentrated on walking. So he had to return the ladder. Hers was not the only ladder he could lay a finger on. Hers had just been the first, and likely easiest to seize. There would be others.

God in heaven, Abbingdon said to himself as they walked, the rain now coming down heavier, soaking the gunny he used as a cloak. God in heaven, how can I make my son see he walks on the path of error? He’ll end up on the gallows in Asheville, though he himself does not see it. He’ll hang if he continues down that path. I told him that once, when we stood at the foot of the gallows. He laughed and ran up the gallows stairs and swung on the rope hanging there, the rope that bobs and weaves in the night as the ghosts of those hung by it fly through. He jumped up and down on the trap door, pulled in vain at the locked release lever.

“Immortal, Father,” he said. “Immortal. I will never die. Never!”

He continued to steal. He continued to lie. He continued to sullenly return what was stolen which, for the time being, mollified the residents of their village, who knew him, who knew his father, who knew if anything was missing it was best to find Isaac and shake him until the missing item fell out of his cloak.

But they did not know him at Asheville. To them, he would be another fresh-faced thief, ready for the rope.

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