“How did she entice you?” Paris asked. Koa restrained a laugh. There was a story there, whether they would get to hear it or not.
“She provided us all with everything we needed to live comfortably: shelter, food, freedom from strife.”
“Ah, there you all are?” They heard Lizzie’s voice from the entrance to the courtyard, sounding apologetic and slightly groggy still. “I’m so sorry. I slept for so long. What are you all up to?”
“We’re waiting for Uncle Stolid to find Gerard,” Paris said.
“Oh, did you lose him?” Lizzie asked with amusement. “This is a nice spot to wait in.” She squeezed into a space next to Koa on the stone bench and wincing drew some of his blankets underneath her.
It was a nice spot but they were beginning to run out of places to sit down together.
Yan was beginning to get bored too and was running backwards and forwards. “Do you think you ought to go and tell your mother where you are?” Koa suggested after watching him briefly.“She might be missing you.”
Yan looked at him with his head at an angle and nodded sharply before running off.
“If Stolid doesn’t come back soon we ought to make our way into tea,” Koa suggested. “Even if you are not hungry it will be a comfortable place to wait, and you can get something to drink.”
Timonthy was trying hard not to be annoyed by the man. He had no real reason to object to him but it did annoy him the way he acted as their host, just because Stolid wasn’t there.
It annoyed him that Koa looked the same age as Gerard but he acted as if he was wise and ancient and that Koa’s skin was pasty and freckled like a creature that had recently crawled out from under a stone – and he still managed to look healthy and vigorous.
He was patently failing in his ambition to be tolerant but as he thought this he heard Gerard’s voice raised in indignation and suddenly silenced.
They all turned round to see Stolid and trailing behind him a ragged and sweaty Gerard. He used his sleeve to wipe his brow. “Hi, you’re back,” he said briefly, encompassing all of them in his blazing glare.
Gerard looked angry but Timonthy had no idea why he should be so. The anger seemed to be directed at Stolid so presumably had something to do with the job that Stolid had asked him to do.
In any event, his arrival interrupted the relaxed atmosphere and Koa got up swiftly.
“Time for food?” he asked Stolid.
“Probably a bit early still,” Stolid suggested. “You all know where the food is served now. Shall we see you there in about half an hour or when you’re ready?”
Koa and Stolid vanished behind the cover of plants and the sound of their conversation continued for a few seconds without any meaning being transferred to the listeners.
“Are you coming, Paris?” Lizzie said brightly and they vanished too. Timonthy realised he was left alone sitting looking up into Gerard’s flushed face.
He was about to stand up when Gerard sat down beside him. Timonthy could feel the heat coming off him in waves.
“What have you been up to?” he asked him. “Ploughing?” Gerard said briefly. “We were only gone a little while,” Timonthy shook his head. “How did you find the time to do so much?”
“It felt like you were gone for a long time,” Gerard said curtly.
“Why didn’t you come with us? Did you have to go back to work?”
“I was going to come with you,” Gerard said, and his mood seemed to lighten. “Elena was asking me questions and before I knew it you’d all gone. We couldn’t find where. She wanted Yan back so we looked everywhere for you but we gave up in the end. I waited and got bored of waiting.”
“Are you going to change for dinner?” Timonthy asked, trying to lighten the mood.
“No, everyone will be coming in from the fields and gardens so we will all smell. I’m sorry if you don’t like it.” He did not sound sorry and Timonthy could tell that he was still angry.
He was overcome by a sudden impulse to bury his head in Gerard’s shoulder: and he indulged it, immersing himself in the healthy fresh smell of sweat still dripping from him. “Don’t!” Gerard said gently and the word reminded him so strongly of Stolid that he sat bolt upright and moved away.
“You don’t have to prove anything to me. I know I am in a bad mood as I was looking forward to spending time with you and instead I was bored and on my own in a place where no-one really wanted me. Taking it out on you is unfair, I know that. Do you want to see my room while we’re waiting for food, I’ve moved back in temporarily? Or if you’ve had enough of looking around, we could go in and get good seats ready?”
“Show me your room,” Timonthy decided. Gerard was in the sort of mood that he was likely to start blurting out truths without meaning to. He wanted to encourage it by keeping him talking.
“How long was I gone for?” Timonthy asked him quietly as they walked back. “I don’t know,” Gerard shrugged his shoulders. “A couple of hours perhaps…”
“How in that time, did you have time to talk to Elena, look for Yan, change and have a shave, move back into your room, get bored and do enough ploughing to make you look like a waterfall? Why did you shave anyway? Were you bored of looking like a pirate?”
“I started to look more like an infidel,” Gerard said. “People were staring.”
“We were gone a couple of hours,” Timonthy mocked.
“It felt longer,” Gerard muttered unhappily. “Time was dragging. It felt like days.”