The merchant scowled as he read the duchess’s message. He pursed his lips and stroked his clean-shaven chins. “They tell me he’s a halfwit. What makes you think he could be of any use to me?”
Oswy’s distaste for the merchant deepened as he watched the effect the man’s words had on Corwin. “He’s as bright as anyone in this village….”
“A dubious distinction,” Sommer interrupted.
“…he just doesn’t talk much. He has a quick eye, for all that,” he added quickly, “and he’s obedient.”
“Perhaps.” The merchant’s eye raked over Corwin, appraising his outgrown clothing and the way he stood staring at his boots.
“Boy. Go into the storeroom and get me the bolt of russet wool. It’s on the second shelf to the left of the door, fourth shelf from the top.” Corwin looked to Oswy, who nodded. The merchant pushed the door to the storeroom open with his fat, beringed hand and Corwin slunk through. He returned a moment later with two bolts of fabric, both a ruddy brown, but one lighter than the other.
“I didn’t know which one you meant,” he said as he put them on the table between his father and Sommer.
“So you can talk. And you are right. Both of these are russet.” He turned to Oswy. “There is more sense to him than one would think. Here are my terms: He will work for me each day from sunrise to sunset, the Sabbath excepted. He will live with you and you will feed him. Make sure you send his noontide meal with him each day.”
Oswy swallowed hard. “An apprentice would get his room and board.”
“Don’t think I’m bestowing that honor upon him. He’s to work off your debt at the rate of one copper penny a week.”
“One penny a week!” the smith exclaimed. “It will take years!”
“No doubt there will be some response from his lordship before then. You will sign this.” The merchant scribbled upon a small piece of parchment.
“You know I can’t write,” Oswy glowered.
“Make your mark. Any will do.” Oswy took the goose quill from his hand and left a splattered, smudged X. He handed the shattered quill back to Sommer and they left the merchant frowning at the wreckage of his pen.