Owin #23 — A New Job

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Photo ©Depositphotos.com / Oleksandr Minyaylo
Photo ©Depositphotos.com / Oleksandr Minyaylo

Owin tried not to fidget in the new shirt he wore, but the linen itched. Gwen carried his prior shirt, using it to bundle her belongings.

“I get to dress as a man, why don’t you dress as a woman?” she grumbled quietly as they walked down a busy street toward the north city gate.

Owin glanced over at Gwen and noticed her left hand drifting down from her cropped hair. “There are a couple of reasons. First, it would look odd for me to be carrying my sword while in a dress. Second, while it is easy to cut hair in a pinch, growing it take time.” Stopping suddenly, he glanced over his shoulder while making a point of looking at a food merchant. With his peripheral vision, he watched for sudden changes in movement of anyone who might be following them. Not seeing anyone change direction suddenly, he headed over to the merchant with Gwen. “The sword is the biggest issue,” he said to continue the discussion. “A hat could cover the second.”

Pulling a couple of coins from the pouch at his belt, he waited for the merchant to finish helping a woman standing at the booth. “Two pasties,” Owin said, handing over the coins and getting the warm food in exchange.

He handed one of the meat-filled pasties to Gwen and took a bite out of the other one. “Your stomach was growling,” he said as he chewed.

Gwen shook her head. “Not mine; that was yours.”

Owin smiled. He felt some relief that despite the situation, she had not withdrawn into herself. “I hope you don’t mind, but I think until we can get your mother out, I’m going to try to hire us out as laborers. Perhaps look for a farm outside the city. Maybe get to sleep in a barn. The work won’t be fun, but we’ll be out of sight.”

Gwen nodded her head as she continued to eat. “Well, I won’t be doing it for life, right? Since we’re on the run, you’ll teach me what you know, right?”

Owin pondered the statement. His life lacked safety and security. It’s a surprise I am even still alive, he admitted to himself. He had taught her the basics, but should I go farther? Definitely not what the Duke paid me to do. “We’ll see,” he said.

“You always say that. If you let me help, I can help take care of my mother as well and everything won’t be on you.”

Owin moved around a pile of horse manure in the road. “We’ll see, Gw–we need a name for you.”

“Stevinoldston,” she said quickly.

Owin rolled his eyes. “If that is what you like.”

“Okay, how about Ben?”

Owin looked at her; he could not really picture her as a Ben, but that was more because he still saw her as a woman. “Ben it is. Don’t forget. You have to respond to it naturally.”

“Got it.”

“I’m Orlan and you’re my son.”

She smiled as she ate the last of the meat, proving she had been hungry. Tossing the crimped crust to the ditch, she nodded her head. “Sure thing, Dad.”

Owin shook his head as he continued to eat his pasty. He was beginning to wonder if her humor was simply how she was coping or if she truly was excited to now have a change in her life. In all likelihood, Gina will easily get Elsin healed and once the commotion dies down, she’ll be ready to leave the city. Or so he told himself, not wanting to think about the confrontation that would ensue when they were all reunited.

After crossing a third of the city, Owin led Gwen through the northern gate. A small gatehouse stood guard over the opening in the stone wall. However, the gates remained opened through the majority of the night and the guards only stopped the very poor from returning to the city. Even in their worn clothing, Owin knew would be unlikely they would have any trouble reentering the city at a later point.

Once outside the gates, a place Gwen had never ventured, Owin headed along the northern road, passing the numerous shops and inns setup to service those who did not wish to pay for more established lodging inside Rhyl’s walls. Outside of a war, the city walls offered little additional benefit aside from prestige.

They walked for three miles before Owin turned off the main road and took Gwen toward a smaller farming community. The sun reached the last third of the day by the time they reached the Village of Gouden. Looking for a farm with a summer crop still in the fields, Owin called out to several farmers from the road. He had started to become a little worried after the fourth rejection of his request for work. However, the fifth farm they stopped at was owned by an older woman and her equally old brother. After a short negotiation, Owin secured work for Gwen and himself in exchange for lodging in the barn, two meals a day, and a modest pay once the hay was cut.

“Just be hard about your work,” Madam Inga said, “and we’ll get along well.”

“Of course,” Owin said, knowing he only needed to buy a few days of safety for them. “Ben and I can definitely cut and stack hay.”

Being cautious, Owin sent Gwen with Mister Vance, Inga’s older brother. He hoped the man would be less observant of Gwen’s femininity than the older lady who seemed more watchful. With a smile to Inga, he put his weapons down and picked up a scythe to start working on the field before him.

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