Hamelin returned to the stall, much to the relief of poor Voln, who had desperately been looking around the market for the young lord. Grinning to him, Hamelin walked up to the other workers with a pleasant wave. “Lord Hamelin!” The young man exclaimed, red-faced and sweaty, “Where have you been — we’ve been looking all over for you!”
“Just around,” Hamelin said, adopting a blank expression, “There’s lots of pretty colors…” Voln could do little but stare at the young lord, probably thinking about who he had offended in a previous life to be so unlucky.
“At least we’ve found him,” said one of the other workers, a burly man with a sour look on his face, “Lord Wayne would have had our heads if he had returned while he was missing.”
Voln nodded, and knelt down in front of Hamelin. “Lord Hamelin, I know you’re excited about being in the city, but we can’t let you go about on your own. Please don’t wander around, okay?”
Hamelin tilted his head, adopting his dumbest expression, and said, “Alright, I won’t.”
“Good lad.” Voln smiled and patted Hamelin’s head.
“Is something the matter?” Wayne’s distinct voice made Voln tense, and look over his shoulder towards the approaching heir, “Has he been out of line?”
“N-No, My Lord, he has been here the entire time, yep.”
Wayne raised one eyebrow at the unsolicited information, but ignored it in the end, turning instead towards the burly worker. “I’ve discussed our needs with the blacksmith — have some of the lads bring back our orders before we leave.”
“Yes, lord Wayne.”
Tentatively, Voln stepped forward, earning himself Wayne’s careful scrutiny. “I’m sorry, My Lord, did you find someone to clear the pantry of pests? I think Hans will go insane if nothing’s done.”
Smiling, Wayne said, “And that would mean his cooking will only grow worse, doesn’t it?”
Voln scratched the back of his head, looking down abashed, “Aye Milord.”
Wayne laughed and placed a gentle hand on Voln’s shoulder, “Don’t worry, Voln, I won’t let you suffer for too long.”
Hamelin observed the interaction with curiosity. What he knew about management was based on fear and strength, however, it appeared humans were different. Or, at the very least, Wayne was different.
His older brother knew the names of every worker on the manor and farmsteads, and often helped out in the field alongside everyone else. Seeing their lord lower himself to help them, the workers took pride in their hard work, which had resulted in better harvests every year since Wayne first began taking responsibility in the household.
While he had every right to, Wayne had convinced their father not to hoard the additional spoils, but to share some among those who worked the hardest, creating incentives for others to follow suit.
Although Hamelin understood the necessity of incentives, he felt that Wayne’s method lacked the proverbial ‘stick,’ which he was much more used to. However, he could not argue with the results that the young heir had produced, which made him reconsider his own leadership, back when he had been a vexen lord.
Could he have fostered more loyalty if he had been more willing to share in his riches and research? Shaking his head, Hamelin thought it a foolish idea. The vexen were fundamentally different from humans, in that their society was based around their servitude to the Lord of Pestilence.
Had Hamelin ever shown any weakness as a vexen regent, the Lord of Pestilence would have happily cast him aside for another pawn — as he had ultimately done. Although, now that he was free from this influence, perhaps he could adopt some of the ideas that made humans strong.
It was worth considering at least.
“I’m afraid you will have to suffer for a little bit, though,” Wayne said to Voln, shaking his head, “I’ve been told that there was a rat-catcher in town a few days ago, but he left for another job. I’ve left word, but it might be a week or more before he returns.”
“Oh,” Voln looked disappointed, but did not make any objections; he still knew his place. Hamelin noted this down as well, seeing how his brother managed to walk the thin line between leader and confidant. It would be worth observing further.
The rest of the market-day was relatively boring. The workers offloaded their wares, as people came and haggled for what they required. Sometimes Wayne personally discussed the price — with those who looked to belong to the more affluent part of the town — while others spoke with the burly worker.
In the end, Hamelin found a nice dark corner of the wagon, where he could sleep. He only woke up when it was time to pack up and leave. He did his part of the work, insisting on it even when the workers tried to stop him. While he was probably more of a nuisance than a help, since he could not reveal his true strength, he took note of the approving expressions of the workers, as well as the whispered comparisons between himself and Wayne.
Although they still knew him as an idiot, it seemed he had managed to change their view of him ever so slightly. Hamelin thought of this as practice, seeing as he would one day have to leave the manor and find a place in this world for himself.
They left Tremon as the sun began to wane from its zenith, casting longer shadows across the land. Hamelin slept most of the way, only waking up when they got so close to the manor that his connection to Wither exploded with a sense of intense relief.
While he had been gone, the little white rat had been dutifully hiding above his room, but its current mentality was more like a child’s than a grown-up. Feeling its master return, it lit up with joy and expectation.
This emotion infected Hamelin as well, and he began to grow jittery with expectation. Unable to control his excitement, he stuck his head up over the top of the wagon, to see the manor grow in the distance.
“Well, it seems our young lord is rather excited to be back,” the burly worker said to Voln, nodding in Hamelin’s direction.
“It’s his first time away, after all,” Voln said, nodding.
Though they were not wrong, the uncontrollable emotion disturbed Hamelin. This effectively proved his conjecture that the connection between himself and Wither went both ways; they were now a connected being, whose life and death would affect the other.
This meant he did not merely have to grow strong himself, he needed to find a way for Wither to grow as well, or the rat would eventually become a liability, rather than an asset.
Biting his lip, Hamelin spoke softly into the afternoon wind, “I didn’t think I would be leashed as well…”