The next morning, Thomas woke feeling like he had a pit in his stomach. He wondered how he had gotten himself in this web of intrigue. One thing he knew for certain, he wanted to get to know Maren better but did not want to cause any safety concerns for her, her family, or himself.
After eating some bread and cheese, Thomas fed his animals, then followed by Pipi and Riporty, he walked to his woodshop where he resumed work on Marcus’s bow. He was grateful for the diversion that working with wood brought to him. He always felt a deep sense of gratification as he utilized wondrous materials from nature to create works of art.
Later that morning, Pipi and Riporty began eagerly barking; Thomas knew that bark meant someone was approaching his woodshop. He put down the bow he was working on and greeted the visitors. There were three men who were with the kings army. They were dressed in light weight armor and carried swords and shields with them. All three were taller than Thomas with bulging muscles. Two of them had dark hair and eyes and looked like they could be brothers. The other one had short light-colored hair, a lighter complexion with blue eyes. Thomas looked outside and saw three beautiful mares that the soldiers must have rode up on. They were subtly decorated to identify that they belonged to the king’s army.
The lighter-complected of the soldiers informed Thomas that Micco sent them to him to learn about the threat to him and to Maren. Thomas led them to his house to retrieve the note that was sent. They read the note and asked if they could take it with them. He agreed. They asked Thomas to keep an eye out for anyone who may be watching him. Thomas chuckled as he informed them that he usually became so engrossed in his work that he almost became oblivious to his surroundings. He laughingly expressed his gratitude for Pipi and Riporty to let him know when someone approached the woodshop. He proclaimed that he did not even notice that Micco’s sons were watching him; however, he promised that he would pay better attention.
The soldiers assured Thomas that they wanted to capture those who threatened him and have been plundering communities. They remarked that it has been a very difficult process as highly respected members of the communities are secretly part of Helki’s group. Thomas inquired as to why they did not just travel out to the community Helki and his followers built up. One of the darker-complected soldiers responded that various soldiers had been there several times but they could not find any evidence of wrongdoing. They had several soldiers disguised as travelers in many cities, including Thomas’s village, but were not convinced that Helki’s group were not aware of what they were doing.
They informed Thomas that they would leave the village for a few days. They surmised that Thomas could possibly receive another note as someone in Helki’s group was most likely aware that they had been there. They warned Thomas to be careful and advised that it would be best not to see Maren for a few days. He agreed with them and expressed his desire to help them in anyway he could. The fair-complected soldier then showed Thomas a leather band with an identifying mark that all the soldiers carry. The band is to identify actual soldiers in the army. Thomas studied the marking carefully and curiously asked if others could reproduce it. One of the soldiers stated that some have tried but pointed out the leather which has a different look from the processing which is something that only a couple of people know how to do. Thomas had other questions, but chose to wait until another time to pose them.
After their departure, Thomas felt a sudden relief sweep over him with the knowledge that the king’s army was working on capturing Helki and his group.
Later that afternoon, Marcus came by the wood shop. Thomas showed him the bow that was almost complete. Marcus inspected the craftmanship with the wonder of a small child receiving a new toy. He inquired about the visit with the soldiers. Thomas expressed his gratitude that the king was aware of what was happening and attempting to stop all the plundering and threats. He also told Marcus that they agreed it would be best for him not to see Maren for a few days. Marcus concurred and assured him that their family supported that decision. He did say, with a big grin, that Daniel had been asking to see him. Thomas smiled as he remembered holding the young boy in the air, pretending to fly.
The next day, Helki showed up at Thomas’s wood shop. Thomas was not happy to see him and surprised that he came. Helki eagerly greeted him as if everything was fine and as if he had no awareness of the recent threats to Thomas. He asked to see the bow Thomas was currently working on. Thomas let him look at it and Helki admired his fine artistry; then bluntly told Thomas that he wanted to purchase it. Thomas declined stating it was being made for someone else. Helki then asked if Thomas would create a bow for him, pulling several coins out of his pocket, more than Thomas would normally make from a custom bow. He had no desire to do any work for Helki, let alone have anything to do with him. He informed Helki that he was quite busy and would not have time for another few weeks. Helki pulled out a few more coins. Thomas held firm to his decision, not even tempted by the extra coins.
Helki persisted and asked Thomas if he wanted to do some target practice. Thomas thanked Helki for stopping by, declined the offer, then informed him that he needed to get back to work, that he had several deadlines approaching. Lingering, Helki started looking at some of the already finished wood carvings and began asking him about them. Thomas, feeling annoyed with Helki’s persistence, but with some pride in his voice, showed him a few of the animals. Helki admired them and asked if he could purchase one. Thomas took a few coins from him and gave him a beautiful carving of a bear. He thanked him for his purchase and firmly reminded him that he needed to get back to work.
Helki did not take the hint and continued to dawdle. While Thomas was trying to convince Helki to leave, another man rode up to the woodshop. Thomas greeted the man who appeared to be a few years older than Thomas, with long dark hair and light colored eyes. The young man, Melchior informed Thomas that he was traveling through the city and had heard about his talent and wanted to stop by to meet him and see his work. Thomas showed him the bow he was currently working on and some of the other carvings he had done. Melchior seemed quite impressed and asked if he could custom order a bow. Because Helki was still there and listening to the conversation, he told Melchior that it would be another couple weeks before he could finish the bow, but could take his order now. He gave Thomas his specifications and also ordered a carving of a dog. He said that he would be passing through the village again in about two weeks. Thomas would have liked to guarantee that the work would be done, but was hindered because of the presence of Helki. Melchior turned to Helki and asked if had purchased any of Thomas’s work. Helki showed him the bear carving that he just purchased and said that he had also bought a bow from Thomas about a year ago. He then informed him that he had just offered many coins to purchase another bow to be made immediately, but Thomas did not take the offer. Melchior smiled as he looked at Thomas and declared that he must be really busy to pass up that generous proposition. Thomas asked him if there was anything else that he could do for him, he replied that there was not and went on his way.
Watching Melchior leave, Thomas hoped that he was one of the king’s soldiers trying to distract him from Helki, but after he left, he concluded that he wasn’t. Thomas, again, reminded Helki that he needed to return to his work, said good-bye, and started to walk back into his woodshop. Helki followed and encouraged him to go out to his community, adding the enticement that there would be a place for him there where he could make much more money than he was earning in this village. Thomas looked directly into his eyes and commanded him to leave, emphatically informing him that he did not want any part of the group. He felt tempted to express his annoyance about the threatening note, but thought it would be best not to discuss it at that moment.
Helki walked towards the door strongly implying to Thomas that it would be in his best interest to visit his community. He shrewdly added that it would be in his best interest for himself and for the girl if he came willingly and not by force. At the mention of Maren, Thomas’s heart began to pound so hard, it felt as though it would come out of his chest. He forcefully ordered Helki to leave and not to come back. Helki arrogantly sneered as he departed.
Thomas wanted to run to Maren’s home and let her family know what just occurred but felt constrained, assuming that someone was probably watching him. While talking to Helki and the man that came by, he did remember to look around for anyone that could have been watching, including one of Maren’s brothers, but he saw no one.
Later that day, another tall, well-built man with a light complexion, hair and dark-blue eyes entered Thomas’s woodshop as Pipi and Riporty barked to greet him. He introduced himself as Malachi and quietly informed Thomas that he was part of the king’s army. He then quickly changed the conversation and asked to look at some of his bows. He informed Thomas that he had heard about the quality of his bows from many who owned them. Thomas picked up the bow he was working on for Marcus. Malachi whistled in amazement as he admired the beautiful craftmanship. While inspecting the bow, he discreetly showed Thomas a leather band that was inscribed with the army symbol to assure him that he was who he said he was.
While discussing the bow and perusing some of Thomas’s animal carvings, Malachi asked about the conversation he had with Helki earlier in the day and informed him that the man who visited him while Helki was there, was also part of the king’s army; they had been watching the exchange. Thomas looked at him incredulously and wondered how and where they could have been watching. Malachi just smiled at him, showing his straight white teeth, and said that they learned to be very clandestine.
While talking about the carvings, Thomas gave as many details about the conversation as he could, including the threat made by Helki. Malachi placed an order for a bow, but Thomas explained to him that it would not be ready for another two weeks. Malachi informed him that would be acceptable and that he may stop back before then to see how the bow was coming along and to see how Thomas was doing. They shook hands, Thomas thanked him for the business, then Malachi left the woodshop.
As Thomas scratched Pipi and Riporty’s ears, he reflected on the visits of the day, grateful to know that the king’s army was diligently searching for Helki and his group to again bring peace and order to their village and in hopes that he could see Maren in peace.
(To be continued…)