Hunter Wilde was in trouble. He was young and strong, he had travelled far and wide, but he’d hit a run of bad luck and it was looking like his travelling might be at an end. He’d lost his horse and now his mule. The solid little community he had hoped to Winter in was naught but burned beams and ashes.
There were dead too, things too awful to think on, so he buried the dead and most of his trade goods and headed for his last chance. The snow was deep and fresh which made running hard. The Winter was early and strong, he could feel the icy fingers of cold stealing the life from his limbs. There would be no one to bury him if he didn’t find a fire.
Step after step, each one a fight for life. Now the wind howled, sure of a kill. He couldn’t see for the snow and ice blowing into his face. One more, and one more, keep stepping or die, push.
Step and step, the wind was less. Something barred his way. He pounded at the portal, a door, light, a fire. Heat and light and the sound of merrymaking smote him like a blow. Salvation. He stumbled across the threshold.
He had found the fire of Murchadh, a minor lord in a confederation of such small kings. However, Murchadh was a man on the make who fully planned to be Rig of a Tuath and maybe Ard Rig, and why not? Warmed by fire and ale young Hunter was brought.
Murchadh sat a throne, with the furs taken off and the lord not sitting there it might just be a chair, but a throne it was that night. “Who is it that enters the feasting hall of Murchadh? Speak if you be friend, then welcome.” Murchadh laughed glancing around his inner circle, “If you be enemy then we will have to figure out what to do with you.”
“My name is Hunter,” Hunter drew breath, there were many Wildes who roamed the west, he had no idea what truck this lord may have had with his folk, so he hesitated.
“Your name is Hunter or you are a hunter?” asked the lord.
“Wilde is my name from my mother. I have never lived near another of that name.” He added quickly, nobody seemed the least perturbed by his name or his bastardy so he added, “I can hunt, I do as I travel, but I sing better and play.” Hunter drew his lute out of its case.
A grumpy looking codger in worn motley spoke up, “We’ve no need of a minstrel, I am bard to lord Murchadh and I have my own harper.”
“Yes, yes, of course Barnen,” Murchadh soothed the skald, “We don’t mean to replace someone so valuable as you. But this fellow may give you a bit of a well earned rest. . .”
“I need no such. . .”
“Surely not, it isn’t need of which I speak, I only speak of rest that you have earned, that you deserve, dear Barnen.” Turning back to Hunter, Murchadh smiled broadly, “Did you say you travelled? Perhaps you could tell us of your travels.”
“Indeed I could. I would be happy to regale you with stories of distant lands and songs from a hundred halls in dozens of kingdoms. . .”
Murchadh glanced over at Barnen who was fuming, “uh, do you compose, say, satire? Barnen is most adept at satire.”
“No lord Murchadh, I sing mostly ballads and write that sort of thing.” So that was it thought Hunter. The up and coming lord Murchadh had his every action praised in song and his enemies skewered in satire, but he feared that the poison sword of Barnen’s tongue might turn against him. Barnen looked smug.
“Welcome to my hall. Rest for the moment and we will see what can be done to earn your keep later if that is agreeable?
“Yes, most agreeable.”
“Find a seat at my board then, and Barnen, let’s have a tune.”
Hunter found a way to a bowl and a cup and a place near the fire to warm the cold from his bones.
* * *
Hunter Wilde stayed as inconspicuous as could be and still get something to eat and drink. Several days went by and he gathered no attention at all from Murchadh or any of his inner circle. Still better, the attention he did garner came from the serving girls. He became something of a favorite among them and found a better place to rest than the feast hall floor on a couple occasions.
It came as a bit of a surprise when the call came. Marta elbowed him as he was lost in his own world gently playing his lute at the end of the bench farthest away from the head table. “That’s you they’re call’n for Handsome.”
It was late, and there weren’t many still awake enough to bend an elbow much less listen to him, but Murchadh still sat his throne, his inner circle passed out around him, and no sign of Barnen at all.
“Wake up Hunter Wilde!” Murchadh thundered, “I’ll have that song now, and news of the wide world.”
The hall, for the most part, slept on, but Hunter played and sang, servers and the temperate few were treated to a few lovely songs of love and loss, of heroes and their deeds, and then, when even this audience was sent away happy, though eager for more, Murchadh got his news.
“Well lad,” said Murchadh, “I would love to keep you here for the sing’n and to gather what news I could shake loose that you haven’t passed yet. But Barnen won’t have it, and truth to tell, I’ve more than enough mouths to feed. This Winter came soon and hard, so better than song is meat, not just for me, but for everyone.”
“I could tell that Murchadh was uh, not comfortable with me.”
“Don’t take offense Hunter, I think old Barnen would rather that nobody else sang in the world. It’s just. . .”
“No no, I expected this when you mentioned satire.”
“You see my position?”
“Indeed,” Hunter sighed, resigned to what he expected would come.