As he crossed the village, he met one of the farm girls, Salla, hauling a dead cow on a cart. She had shoulder length silvery-blonde hair. Her figure was slim, her skin smooth. She stood nearly a foot shorter than Markus, and she was his junior by one year. Her dress that evening was white and reached down to just beneath her knees. Her beauty took Markus’ breath away, as it always did. Her eyes lit up when she saw him, and she brushed a strand of hair from her face. “Markus, how are you?”
“I am well, Salla. What of you this fine evening? Where are you tugging that beast to?”
“To Maeilor’s. Father sent me to sell it. It was lame, so he killed it”.
“Could he not have dragged it here himself; rather than forcing the effort on you?”
“He and mother are busy with my baby brother. They still try to find a name for the child. He said it would be best if the meat were fresh when brought here”.
“Let me take it for you”. Markus stooped and took hold of the rope Salla had dropped. He began pulling the cart toward the butcher’s.
“There is no need, Markus, I can handle it”. She tried to take the rope back; she didn’t like people to see her as a damsel constantly in need of aid. She hit his arm in an attempt to get him to return her the rope, but he pressed on.
“Why would a pretty girl like you want to pull a heavy, dirty cart like this one? Better you get a man to do it for you”.
“Just because I can get men to do favours for me does not mean I constantly require their aid, Markus. You should know that by now”.
Markus continued to smile. He pushed open the door to the butchers and dragged the cart inside, Salla following in his wake, a sour look on her face at being denied her way. Maeilor glanced up and a frown crossed his brow as he saw Markus.
“Back again? I’ll not give you more gold, nor return the meat to you so unless you intend to sell me more, or buy some of my fine selection, I suggest you leave”.
“What? So you could charge me twice the sum you paid for it? I think not. I merely returned bearing this burden for Salla here. She wishes to do business with you”.
“Bring the meat, girl and we shall see how much it deserves”. Markus hauled the cart over and heaved the dead animal up onto Maeilor’s counter. The butcher began his examination of the meat, casting his eye over it, running a hand along it. Markus watched his eyes darting; he was deciding how much he would under-pay Salla.
“Due to the broken leg, I will pay you five crowns for it”. Markus saw Salla’s face drop; she had clearly been expecting more; so had he.
“Maeilor, we all know you will be breaking the thing’s legs anyway. What does it matter that one is already broken?”
“It is soiled. The leg is not properly broken. Five crowns”.
“Maeilor, you will pay her properly. We wouldn’t want Master Amathorn discovering your out of hour activities now, would we?” Markus allowed himself a satisfied smile at the look of shock which crossed Maeilor’s face. The butcher gulped.
“Nine crowns”. Maeilor passed over the gold; Markus and Salla left. They came to a halt in the centre of the village square.
“Thanks for that. I can’t stand that man, he is vile”. She placed a hand on his arm.
“It was nothing”.
“What was he doing? ‘Out of hours’?”
“He has been stealing liquor, wines and spirits from the inn. He makes night-time trips and picks the lock on the inn’s back door. He steals several cases; but never enough to make Master Amathorn suspicious. I crossed his path four nights ago; but I doubt that blackmail will work again. He is too strong a character to feel threatened by what he assumes is a humble fisherman; a brainless oaf in his eyes”.
“Markus, why do you have to be so silly? You are no brainless oaf; you are far from it”. Salla moved her hand up and down his arm. Markus thought of kissing her then; but he did not. He knew she thought of him as nothing more than a friend; a friend of nearly fifteen years.
“I need to be getting back; Mother and Father will be wondering where I’ve got to”. Markus thought he could sense disappointment as she removed her hand from his arm. “See you at the village festival Markus”. She was gone then, parting with a wave as she took the trail leading to her farm. It was situated a few miles outside the village centre. Markus watched her go with a longing; then turned toward his home.