He rode south through Anna’s Water hundred. Behind him, the smoke of long siege still curled into the sky, a haze against the setting sun. It would be dark soon, but with luck he would reach the road to Levcomagus and Silchester before he could no longer see the ground under Handsomes’ hooves. The horse was hideous, and none too well fed, and as such the name fit well enough.
He had made camp by the road as full night crept up all around. A small fire danced inside a crude ring of stone, a rabbit skewed upon a rack of sticks. Cynyr felt numb, and not only from bone deep weariness. For seventeen years he had served the Lord of Llud’s hall. Some of those he did not remember, lost in a vague blur of emotion and impression, and the care of the monks at Ambrius abbey. Now that was done. Three long weeks of Siege, of waiting, of starving, of thirst and battle. Three times the invaders had stormed the walls, and three times he had stood to defend them. At the last they had been overrun, too weak with deprivation to drive the enemy off the ramparts. For a moment in the din of fighting he had seen a large man step onto the walls, towering above most who stood around him. For long heartbeats he had thought he had seen his Brother. But no, his brother was dead. The large man had thrown Kirn off the wall and run Makin through. Neither would play dice or laugh through long nights ever again.
The Rabbit smelled delicious, and either that or his fire drew attention. Someone was moving out there, in the dark. Cynyr took his sheathed sword and lay it in his lap, waiting. He had asked and received permission to travel Annas Water, but in these times one could never be too cautious.
Into the circle of light cast by his fire came faces more ragged and worn with loss than his own. Hunger gleamed in their eyes. A child hiding neath torn skirts gave a sound like a starving wolf, staring at the rabbit. Carefully he reached out, taking the stick with the meat. His stomach ached with hunger. Slowly, he bit into it, lips and tongue stung by heat and sizzling juices. Wiping the fat from his chin, he spoke “What do you want?”.
An elderly man, dressed in what had once been the fine clothes of a merchant emerged from the group “Good sir, please, do you have any food?”
Cynyr hooked the nearby saddle and sack of provisions he had bought with his foot and drew them close. “I have nothing to give you”.
The man looked at his sack, then the rabbit, and finally at the sword across his thighs. “Where, good sir, are you heading?”
“East, through Silchester, then home to Caercoloun. What business is it of yours?”
“I have information sir, news you will have a use for. If but you had something to ease the little ones hunger…?”
Cynyr thought for long moments, inwardly counting and measuring his provisions and what little coin he had left from seventeen years savings after aquiring horse and travelling gear. It had been his slim fortune that Sir Richard had been an uncommonly decent man, releasing all who served Sheriff Bedwor once that fateful duel was done. He had enough to last to Caercoloun, barely, with two loaves to spare.
Retrieving two small hard loaves of bread he tossed them to the small gathering. They were snatched, and devoured on the spot. The former merchant wanted one, wanted it badly, but did not partake. The children ate, and some of the women. The men stared at their feet.
“Thank you good sir. Thank you.”
“You had information?”
“Yes Sir. Caercoloun has fallen. More Saxon came over the sea, it is overrun.”
He felt like throwing up. First Lluds hall, now the only other family he had truly known. It was all gone. He forced words past teeth that would not unclench.
“Thank you. A day or two ahorse down this road lies Sarum, and north of that on the road to the standing stones is Amesbury abbey. Perhaps one or the other will give you succor. You are welcome to camp nearby and accompany me to Sarum on the morning”
Perhaps lady Ellen would have use for an experienced swordhand, or else sir Cador could use another man in his band. Good man or not, he could not stomach serving the man who had taken his Lords’ castle. There was nothing in the east for him now. Life had to go on. Despite all he had lost, the rabbit was still delicious.