The messages had been written, the qualifications defined and the messengers sent on their way. The final preparations had finished out a full week of seven days. Alena, Balder, Helmut, Ulrike, Ebba and Detlef had taken care to consider the needs of everyone at both Deepshade and Crabapple Farm. Alena was grateful they had considered her feels a great deal in the matter.
The messages were all the same:
We are seeking an unmarried man of elevated station to marry a woman of equal rank, just past the age of eighteen, with the holdings of Deepshade and Crabapple Farm. The marriage must take place by the next Harvest Moon. The management of the two holdings is to remain in the hands of the young woman and this will be part of the marriage contract. The qualified man must be at least eighteen years of age and no more than thirty five year of age, of able body and mind, with property of his own and with no previous issue. Interested parties should arrive at Deepshade on Midsummer’s Night.
They wrote out fifteen copies, five for each of three messengers. They chose three brothers for this mission, Karl, Gebhardt and Gisbert. Each man was in his early twenties, the descendants of one of the town’s founding families and with great stakes in the outcome of the process.
Gebhardt and Gisbert were fishermen. Their boats would be commandeered by younger cousins eager for the opportunity to prove themselves capable. Karl was a hunter and the town’s woodsman. He could get away at this time of year without too much ill effects on the town and his duties. The woods took care of themselves at the end of winter.
The town’s best horses were readied and provisioned for a month long trip. Each man would also go with a pack mule carrying leathers bags of Deepshade’s finest salt to be given to prospective grooms as gifts.
Gebhardt was sent east where he would encounter families that have had a greater Roman influence on the native peoples. He would find men who were Romanized Celts. This was also the territory where Victorius had his governor’s seat in the town of Noricum, the center of the district. Here they might find someone both suitable to the town and the governor. Victorius would after all have to approve the union. And if they did not choose a man from this area at least it appeared that they tried to find one.
Gisbert was sent west into the more Celtic areas, where he would meet people with more in common with the people of Deepshade and Crabapple Farm. These would be people that were more used to women who ran and managed their own property and whose customs would be most similar to their own.
Karl was sent south below the Alps. He was already known to these people from his hunting and trading trips in that direction. He knew of several men who might be interested in forging relations to the north and while these men were fully as dark of hair as Alena herself, Celtic blood ran deep in their veins. They might be Roman by law but they souls remained wild.
Now all that remained was the wait for the return of the messengers and their reports of who might be interested in their proposal. Now life must go on and daily chores attended to.
The Moon of Winds was on the wane and the village expected the return of Karl, Gebhardt and Gisbert any day now. Everyone was anxious for their return to find out who had been interested in their offer. This had been a mild winter, so travel was not as difficult as usual. Balder the Druid said the weather was auspicious for a good outcome.
Gisbert was the first to arrive back in town. He rode down the mountainside with a big grin on his face. The back of his pack mule was laden with packages. He was greeted by one and all with great cheers when he announced that all of his scrolls were accepted by five very eligible men who were quite eager to vie for Alena’s hand in marriage. All of the men knew of Crabapple Farm and Deepshade. Several had known Alena’s parents.
Gisbert was unpacked, bathed and well fed before he was called to Alena’s hall to report to the town’s council. He explained that he was well received throughout the region and he was able to find five men that qualified for the plan without difficulties. He was wined and dined by each appropriate household. He delivered the gifts of salt to each agreeable man who accepted with obvious delight. Each declared the quality of the salt the best they had seen and knew what a precious gift it was. They each gave Gisbert small tokens of their intent to bring back to the village and promised to arrive at Deepshade in time for the Midsummer Bonfires.
Gisbert listed the name of each man he had given a parchment to and described the locations of their holdings and the extent of their wealth.
Balder the Druid noted the details in their village records and the group thanked Gisbert for his efforts and good luck in completing his task so quickly and so well.
Two days later, Gebhardt rode into town after the sun had dropped below the mountain peaks. No one was in the village center to greet him as everyone was at their evening meals. He stabled his horse and mule, removed their packs, blankets and harnesses and brushed them down before seeking someone to announce his arrival to.
As his own house was dark, he assumed none of his brothers had returned before him. Their house was next to Detlef and Ebba’s family home, so he knocked on their door. It was answered by one of the many children that ran amuck in the household. It was a young girl who giggled as she ran from him. She fell into Ebba’s lap, tugging on her mother’s skirts. Ebba patted the girl on her head as she glanced at the open door.
Ebba waved Gisbert into the room and called loudly to the masses that he had arrived on their doorstep. Gisbert saw that Gebhardt was seated at their trestle eating from a deep wheat bread trencher. The brothers smiled at each other as Detlef’s wife, Cordula, ushered Gisbert in and sat him at table next to his brother. She placed a trencher filled with venison stew in front of him and one and all encouraged him to eat before speaking of his travels.
While Gisbert ate and drank his fill of beer, several of the men and women went along with Gebhardt to stoke the fires in the brothers’ home and prepare a bath for Gisbert. Some others had gone to various other homes to pass the word that Gisbert had returned. The excitement of his return spread quickly and it was announced that all had gone well, but as the hour was late, he would make a full report on the morrow.
Gisbert was permitted to sleep late the next morning and was called to a meeting for the noontime meal. He gave a similar report to the one given by Gebhardt. He gave gifts; he received gifts and was well received. The difference in his report was that Governor Victorius put forth two candidates chosen by him. Gisbert met both of the men and found neither of them wanting, which was a happy development as they did not wish to alienate the governor. Another five men’s names and their locations and gifts were added to Balder’s list and tally.
The entire town was particularly eager for the return of Karl. Everyone was very excited by the excellent outcome so far. Spring was waking in the area. Small blooms were poking their heads through the dark brown earth. Crocus, Catchfly and Phlox were making themselves known all along the edges of the mountain paths and pastures. Several young animals had been seen frolicking in the woods with anxious mothers looking on. Promise was everywhere in the air.
Men began going back into the mines to prepare for the new year’s digs. Tools were brought out of their hay beds and polished. Wagon wheels were inspected and wagon beds checked for their stability. Oil supplies were checked and lanterns cleaned of their winter debris.
Women cleaned out fireplaces, careful to keep the embers from the Winter Solstice fires burning. The ashes from the fireplaces were placed in the communal storehouse to be used later in the season to make the new batches of soap and to add to the urine to bleach the wool fabrics that would be made after the first goat shearing of the spring.
Fur pelts and down pillows and mattresses were placed out on bushes and fences to be aired and beaten and brushed. Dirty rushes were swept from houses and added to the pile that would be used for the fires of Beltane as kindling. The streets were also swept of debris and everything began to look fresh and cheerful.
It was mid-April and a full week and a half since Gisbert’s return when Karl finally entered the village. He came by boat across the lake and he came empty handed and with a gross red welt on his cheek. He looked tired and worn. His clothes were dirty and ripped in several places. The town’s people gathered around him and several men helped him home.
Alena was called to minister to his wounds after he had bathed. Cordula brought him bread and cheese and his brothers poured him several bowls of beer before anyone asked him to tell his story.
The council sat around him in his own hall, with his brothers next to him and several other friends there too. It was a crowded group, but a concerned one. Each person present waited patiently for Karl to begin. He was not known for excessive talking so it took him a while to begin. He cleared his throat several times and seemed too embarrassed to begin.
Alena leaned forward and touched one of Karl’s hands.
“Karl, how is it you came by your injuries?” she asked in a quiet voice.
Karl looked into Alena’s eyes then looked down at his hands.
“I was attacked the day before I was to enter Juvavum as I rode on the main rode.”
There were gasps from several people.
“Who would attack you there, in the open?” asked Detlef. A scowl crossed his normally happy brow. He looked quite ferocious.
“I passed a section where the trees came close to the roadside.” Karl cleared his throat again and took another gulp of beer. He rubbed his neck where a bruise could be seen.
“From both sides, I was jumped by four men on foot, dressed plain and their faces covered by scarves.” He shifted in his seat. “A fifth man stood off to the side and watched as the others pulled men from my horse and beat me.”
“This attack sounds planned,” said Helmut.
“It seemed so. When I woke, I lay in the road and the horse and mule were gone. There was no sign of my attackers.”
“These injuries you have here are all from this attack?” asked Ulrike.
“It seems so. I have no clear memory of receiving them all, for which I am grateful.” Karl grinned a bit, and then grimaced as the pain in his cheek affected him. “After slowly rising from the ground bit by bit, I managed to walk into the city to a friend’s house. He bade me to stay the night and had me make a report with the magistrate. He sent out patrols to search for the bandits. A group of thieves so close to town made everyone uneasy.”
“Was no sign of them found?” asked Ebba.
“None.” Karl shook his head. “I felt I needed to come back here the next day and let you all know I had lost everything except the promises of three men to come for the suit in the summer.”
“Another three prospects?” asked Alena.
“Yes and very eager to meet you, they are.” Karl smiled at her.
“We will take their names and other information tomorrow,” said Balder. “You are to get to bed and rest. None of the other things matter.” He rose to leave and everyone else followed him out of the house.
There was plenty for everyone to talk about in front of their evening fires as Karl slept and recovered from his ordeals. Some in the village wondered why all of a sudden a band of outlaws showed up in the area and attacked only Karl. They thought it mighty convenient that it should happen now at this time. There had been no attacks of this sort in the area for many years.