Plum Fool

A working title. Because she was a fool for a plum, get it?

This is a sub-par intro to inform you that this is part two (and the final part) of the story I shared last post.

Anyway. You get to see into her internal logic and humanity a little bit in this. I kinda like it. Do enjoy:

*

Dwyn perched at the top of a tree, watching the horses go down the road, away from Pentref o Gwenith. Her hands were tightly wrapped. It had been almost three weeks, and they were healing just fine, but they were still very tender.

It was the Afans leaving town, and they were taking their servants – a cook and cleaner – with them. That meant, on the property, only the field workers would be around for the next fortnight, and none of them ever entered the Afan house.

The Afan house would be empty for a fortnight. Dwyn waved to the departing party, though she knew they couldn’t see her.

No one expected a nine-year-old to hold a grudge for three whole weeks and then some. She was sure the Afans had all but forgotten the switching.

Dwyn smiled as she swung down out of the tree, only using her hands when absolutely necessary. She was not your ordinary nine-year-old.

She skipped along the outskirts of the town, entering the Afan property by the orchard rather than the more open avenues. She lay in the long grass of the back field as she waited for the dusky light to darken and the last of the field workers to go home for the night. She watched until she saw three stars twinkling in the lavender sky, and then she rolled onto her stomach, hoisting herself to her feet to take a walk around the Afan property.

Fields, orchards, that much she already knew. A barn. She creaked the door open slowly and looked inside – the horses were gone, and so only a bleating goat, brought in for the night, inhabited the modest barn. Hm, goats were no good.

She withdrew, closing the door just as softly behind her.

There was the pen for the goat during the day; a pasture full of cows? No, too large. Then she saw it, and when she did, she rose up onto her toes in excitement. Oh, yes, that was just it.

She checked the windows of the house. They’d all been locked shut with wooden wedges, and she couldn’t risk breaking them.

Oh, well, there were other ways into a house. Other ways into this house, in particular.

But that was for another night – first, she needed some supplies.

When she returned to the cottage, Goewin sat at the table. There was a single bowl and spoon waiting for Dwyn; the rest of the meal had been cleaned up, and Goewin was thumping absently on his tabor.

“Ah, there you are. Care to tell me where you’ve been tonight, fy melys?” Her father’s tone was easy, but she knew it covered a bit of concern and more than a bit of suspicion.

“Just playing around in the village, Papa,” Dwyn chirped, sitting at the table. Her legs still dangled, and she swung them just slightly. “I didn’t mean to miss supper.”

Goewin’s smile never wavered, but Dwyn registered the ever-so-slight narrowing of his eyes. “Good, Dwynny. Well, finish up quick, it’s past time for sleep.”

He didn’t have to tell Dwyn twice. She was hungry as could be, and her stew was gone in the blink of an eye. She washed up the bowl and spoon and replaced them on their shelf by balancing with one foot on the churn and the other on the back of a chair.

“Dwyn, I made a stool for you!” His voice was exasperated, but Goewin’s expression was playful.

“I know,” was all Dwyn said in return.

“You’ll be the death of me, little lass,” chuckled Goewin. “To bed! And dream your head full of kind turns and polite words.” He ushered her to bed with tickles to her ribcage.

Through her giggles, Dwyn said, “That’s all I ever dream of, Papa.”

“Sweet rest, fy melys.

“Sweet rest, Papa.”

 

The next day, as soon as Dwyn felt her papa kiss her forehead on his way out of the cottage to begin work next door at the smithy, her eyes cracked open. She watched Goewin leave, and as soon as he did, her eyes snapped open and she shot bolt upright.

She got dressed quick, tangling herself up in her skirt and growling at the detour. As soon as she was settled, she set herself to marching toward the trees. When she’d been sick and feverish, Matron Rees had used lafant to make Dwyn sleep. It had such a particular smell and look, Dwyn had always recognized it from then on.

She found the bush, bristling with the tall, purple flowers with their delicate petals, in a clearing just outside of where the trees began. She knelt in front of it and started pulling the flowers off their stems by the handful, shoving the buds into her pockets.

When she had plenty, she went back to the cottage. She built a fire in the stove, meticulously stacking the kindling into a little house. She lit a twig from a lamp, avoiding the hassle of wrestling a spark out of the flint and steel. When the fire was going, she shut the door and put the kettle on.

She emptied the lavender petals into a small pot and waited for the water to boil. When it did, she poured it over the petals. She wanted it to be strong, so she just hardly covered the petals in water. She put the lid on the pot, snuffed the fire, and went out of the cottage again.

Ordinarily, Dwyn would just pilfer her Papa’s knife, but he’d been keeping a closer eye on her since the Afan-fruit-cart affair and she didn’t want him to notice it missing. Also, Brăn had gotten Dwyn a lecture from his mum, so she had a bone to pick with him.

It was midmorning, Brăn’s family would all be out, busy with the day’s work. And if Brăn himself was home, well, Dwyn had no issues dealing with him.

On her way into town, she saw Brăn, confirming no one would be home. When she saw what he was doing, she felt even less guilty about stealing from him – which was truly impressive, because she’d felt no guilt at all.

He had a grass snake by the tail. He spun it round and round and round before letting it go, watching it fly away and cackling as he did. He chased after it, picking up a stick as he ran, and Dwyn knew he was probably going to kill the poor little thing.

Her mouth turned down in an intense frown. She hated that boy. He was mean-spirited, always setting fire to ants and kicking strays and tearing leaves off trees by the handful. What had that grass snake ever done to him?

 Dwyn had always rather liked grass snakes. They kept to themselves and had a sort of gracefulness and a little bit of slyness to them. Normally, Dwynwen would put a stop to Brăn’s tormenting wildlife right there. She’d go tackle him into the grass and tweak his nose or stomp his toes and trip him, and he’d tell his mum, who’d tell Dwyn and hit her upside the head and tell her Papa, who’d sigh tiredly and lecture Dwyn about being nice to the other children.

Any other time, Dwyn wouldn’t have hesitated to start the cycle in motion; but she couldn’t draw his attention today.

She kicked a large pebble down the road, but it didn’t make her feel any better, and she snarled to herself all the way to the back door of Brăn’s house. She peeked in the window, and the cottage was truly empty, as she’d suspected. The back door was unlocked, too, so his mum and pap could go back and forth through the day.

Dwyn lifted the latch and slipped inside. There were only three beds, one for Brăn’s parents, one for his brother, and him. She found his and pulled a little trinket box out from underneath it. Inside were acorns, some rocks – unique shapes or with interesting patterns – an old coin Dwyn didn’t recognize, and a little pen knife.

Dwyn looked at all the treasures, considered briefly, and left them alone. She took the pen knife, replaced the box’s lid, and stole back out of the cottage as quietly as she’d come.

Just as she rounded the house onto the road, she started.

“D-ynnie!” hiccupped a tiny little voice.

Dwyn scowled. It was Tegan Dafydd, the little girl two doors down from the house she’d just invaded. She was a little thing, barely learned to walk. She still rocked precariously in her stride. She had gossamer-fine blonde hair and the widest brown eyes, and she lived life with a smile permanently emblazoned on her upturned little face.

Dwynwen scowled. “What are you doing? Where’s your mum?” Ordinarily, she actually liked Tegan just fine. She’d just startled her in the middle of a plot, and Dwyn needed to get home to do her chores before her Papa noticed her missing or the lavender tea brewing.

Tegan lifted her arms toward Dwyn, wordlessly requested to be picked up. Dwyn sighed and complied, dropping the pen knife into her pocket and wrapping both arms firmly under the little girl.

“Where’s your momma?” She asked again, more nicely. She couldn’t just let Tegan alone. Though Dwyn didn’t doubt the little one’s daringness, she was too small still to wander into town alone.

“Mammy,” said Tegan, pointing down the road toward the Dafydd’s cottage.

Frowning at the folly of taking a wee croten’s directions, Dwyn started walking. Tegan grabbed at strands of Dwyn’s hair as she walked, and Dwyn jerked her head out of reach.

“No! I’ll make you walk,” she threatened.

 Tegan giggled and pressed her plump little hands on either side of Dwyn’s face and blew air between her lips, spraying spit making a sound like a snuffling horse. Dwyn couldn’t fight down her smile and responded to the game, doing it herself, sending Tegan into fits of giggles.

They played the little game down to the Dafydd’s cottage. Dwyn pointed at the door, which she noted stood open.

“Is your momma inside?”

Tegan pointed, not to the door but to the side of the house. “Mammy.”

Dwyn walked through the front gate and around the house, and Matron Dafydd was stooped in her garden bed toiling.

“Matron Dafydd,” Dwyn said. “Tegan wandered off.”

The matron looked up, and her face rapidly cycled through confusion, shock, anger, and relief. She pressed her hands to the sides of her face.

“How – oh, I’m going to kill that boy, he was s’posed to be watchin’ her!” She rushed over, taking Tegan out of Dwyn’s arms. “Thank you, my girl, I’m so glad she ran into you. She’ll not be wanderin’ away anymore, will she?” The last bit was directed at Tegan.

“Should I be closing the door on my way back?”

Matron Dafydd nodded. “And the gate, would you, please?”

“Yes, matron.”

Dwyn started back around the house, waving over her shoulder as she went. A little hand and twinkling smile returned the gesture. Dwynwen pulled the door firmly shut and locked the gate behind her, running up the road toward home.

She had to get that tea taken care of and get her chores done before Papa left the smithy for his meal.

*

Not a trace of light shone through the shutters’ cracks or the door’s edges. Dwyn had been laying, keeping herself awake, for a few hours now. Her father had begun snoring an hour ago. She used to be thankful for his snores as a sign she could move undetected, but when he’d started faking them to catch her sneaking off, she could never be sure he was asleep.

But he’d been rumbling away for a long while, and the breaths were deep. He’d stopped rolling over in bed. So Dwyn sat up, but moved slowly, watching him all the while. He didn’t move, and she couldn’t see the slight twinkle of his eyes in the dark.

She swung her legs over the side of her bed, pulling her boots from underneath it and slipping them on. She pulled a skirt on over her shift quickly and silently, then wrapped a jacket around herself, tying it tight.

Dwynwen stepped carefully on her way to the door, studiously avoiding the floorboards she knew would make noise. When she got to the door, she opened it quickly, casting a breeze onto her face. It was the only way to keep the hinges from creaking. On the other side, she did the same, stopping just shy of banging it, and pulled it closed – careful not to release the latch until it would slide noiselessly into place behind her.

She darted down the path from the cottage to the main road, smiling. So far, so easy.

The whole town was sleeping, or at least safe away in their houses. There was always a guard at either end of the town – less a guard and more a grouchy farmhand the Afans paid to rotate through a night watch – but they never walked the streets, only stayed at the gates. Dwyn walked the whole distance to the Afan’s house undisturbed.

She hopped the low fence into the chicken yard and walked up to the chicken coop, peering inside. The water dish, where she’d dumped the lavender tea, was mostly empty and the chickens were lethargic. She wrapped her fingers in the wire and shook the door, hard, and aside from a few ruffling feathers, she got no response. She smiled.

The coop was locked up to deter would-be chicken thieves, but Dwyn thought it was silly to spend money on a lock for something that was paneled with wires. The criss-crossed wire that made up the front of the coop was thin, and even Dwyn could cut through it with Brăn’s pen knife, even if it did take her two hands and her whole body weight pressing downwards.

She ripped through the wire along the right side of the door with the knife and peeled it back. She considered the knife and tossed it over her shoulder. Let them find it and lead them to Brăn. He deserved it. She’d call it her revenge for the grass snake.

Dwynwen reached into the coop and pulled out a chicken, careful to keep her forearm along its underbelly and grab it firmly by both legs, her middle finger between them. She tucked its head under her arm, and between the hold and the lavender, the chicken put up no fight aside from a single ‘cluck.’

Dwyn climbed back over the fence and walked to the back of the Afan’s house. The matron had trained vines up a lattice on the back, and as Dwyn began to climb up it – muscle memory making the task simple, even one-handed – she wondered if the Afans would have the lattice torn down after this little incident.

The lattice put her on the roof mere paces from the chimney, and Dwyn grabbed onto the edge of the brickwork of the long-cool structure for stability. She pulled the chicken out from under her arm. It looked at her, head cocked sideways.

“Sorry,” she whispered, and gave the feathers on its back a quick stroke. “But it’s for a good reason. Make yourself at home.”

With that, she shoved the chicken down the chimney. It squawked and scratched on its way down, but soon enough the echoes in the chimney quieted as it landed in the house. Dwyn smiled and went back to the coop for another.

After the third chicken, she climbed down and went to a window to peer in. There was soot puffed out around the hearth and the three chickens had already made themselves useful, pecking at the floor and legs of furniture.

Three chickens locked in the house for thirteen days? Yes, that would be enough.

Dwyn walked back home, quick and quiet, smiling to herself all the way.

*

Dwyn and Goewin were in the market. Dwyn was trying to coax a stray dog toward her, her papa haggling with a merchant over some ore above her head, when the Afans arrived home from their trip.

Goewin had just settled on a price with the merchant, and the puppy was just letting Dwyn rest her hand on its head, when Matron Afan’s startled squawk rang out from the Afan property.

Goewin’s head snapped toward the Afan’s house before he glanced down at Dwyn, who continued to pet the stray and pretended not to notice. Goewin’s eyes did not narrow, his teeth didn’t clench; one didn’t need suspicion when the answer to the riddle was petting a dog right under their nose.

“Thank you,” Goewin said to the merchant. He tapped Dwynwen gently on the side of the leg with his foot. “Come along, fy melys,” he said, easy as the summer breeze. “We’ve got work to be seeing to.”

Dwyn grinned up at him, mischief sparkling in her eyes. “Away from here, Papa?”

Goewin tweaked her nose and winked. “I don’t know what you mean, Dwynny. We’ve just got chores.”

Dwyn laughed, and Goewin tucked her under his arm as they walked home, the shrill exclamations of Matron Afan following them.

I dunno, man, I’m just kind of into it. I do so love this character. The possibility may exist that I shoehorned Tegan in there just a teensy-weensy bit, but it’s CUTE, okay?

In all seriousness, dialogue accepted and encouraged about this piece/this character/this world, if you’d like. Hope you like it, too, and if not – tell me why.


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