A telling off…
Joseph forgot all about Laura and the van as he followed Edgar and Cara underground. He caught up with them after a few minutes of running and splashing through the maze of tunnels he knew as well as they did.
“Shirt,” was all he said as he grabbed Edgar by the shoulder. He was hot from chasing them but it would soon get cold underground, too cold to stay bare chested.
“Are you going to tell Father?” Edgar asked with a sigh as he handed back Joseph’s shirt.
“I’m sorry but I have to. If we hadn’t found you when we did, well I don’t even want to think about it.”
“We’d have fried.”
“That’s not quite how I’d have put it Cara, but yes. As it is, you’ve both got burns that will need explaining so I have to speak to him.”
They found the Margrave in his chamber, deep in conversation with three of the Elders. He looked at Joseph, then saw Edgar and Cara and frowned.
“You are burned.”
“Not very,” Edgar retorted.
“Why were you out in daylight? You know it is forbidden and yet you disobey your father so easily?” It was Jorn, one of the Elders, who was now glaring angrily at him.
Edgar’s bravado evaporated and he shifted uneasily from foot to foot under Jorn’s unflinching gaze. Joseph felt for them, their lives were so restricted and they yearned for adventure so he decided to speak up.
“There’s no real harm done Jorn. They were on one of the north east river beaches and they must have misjudged the time, that’s all. We got them safely back underground.”
“We?” asked the Margrave.
“I was on the river with Laura. She helped.”
Cara sheepishly held up Laura’s shirt.
“But what were they doing taking such a risk? They should know better.” Jorn looked from Edgar to the Margrave and then turned away in disgust.
“Edgar?” The Margrave waited for his son to find his voice again.
“It was a low tide, we knew the scavenging would be good and we always need more these days. We should be there when the tide goes out, whatever time it is. And anyway he’s always sneaking off to the river these days so why can’t we?” Edgar threw a furious glance in Jorn’s direction.
The Margrave was firm, ignoring Edgar’s petulance, “There must be no more of this. I’m asking you – telling you – it has to stop. Now go away, both of you, before I think of a punishment.”
The two youngsters shrugged at Joseph and left the chamber, Cara handing over Laura’s shirt on her way out.
“Joseph, please stay and join us,” the Margrave said, “I always welcome your contribution to our debates.”
Joseph sat down at the table, feeling decidedly uneasy. This debate was clearly already an argument, and he knew his presence would not be welcomed by everyone.
It was Jorn, still angry from the incident with Edgar, who was first to speak.
“This cannot continue sire. If even your own son is prepared to take such risks you must see that we can’t go on like this. At some point we will have to make a stand.”
His companion murmured his approval, but the Margrave shook his head.
“It is not the time to discuss this. We have enough trouble already without making more.”
“What trouble?” Joseph asked.
“Nothing for you to worry about Joseph – just those incidents with the water mains that’s all, seven bursts this week alone. But it’s probably just mischief making, it will pass.”
“That’s enough!” Jorn interjected, raising his voice.
He clearly did not intend that they should talk about it in front of Joseph, who suddenly felt very uncomfortable. He didn’t want to make things difficult for the Margrave, who was looking tired. There was definitely more to this than a simple disagreement but now was not the time to press him further.
“I should go.” He nodded at his old friend as he stood up, “I will come and see you again soon.”
He left the chamber feeling that all was definitely not well among the Elders, and made his way back above ground with a nagging sense of worry. He was carrying Laura’s shirt in his hand, and as he caught her scent from the material he frowned.
Merry Christmas – back in January!