Art Pact 172 - Secret Admirer
Lavan found the cow outside the entrance to his hut. It had died there, judging by the huge pool of congealing blood that surrounded it. In the middle, like a stepping-stone, the thick tuft of grass that had always previously annoyed him rose from the red lake. He used it to get across from his door, then after a short survey of the scene he crossed it again to go back inside. Finally he emerged with some rope and began the laborious process of dragging the dead animal away from the door. While he was doing that Son the blacksmith passed by.
"You've a cow in front of your hut, Lavan the weaver." Son observed.
"That I have," Lavan agreed, "but I am in the midst of remedying the situation. Perhaps you'd care to help me, Son the blacksmith? I could do with your strength."
Son the blacksmith was lazy, but he was also vain. He nodded, taking station on the rope behind Lavan and heaving ostentatiously so that the thick bands of muscle on his upper arms stood out. The cow began to slide slowly away from the gelatinous crimson ooze that had issued from it. From his position at the back of the rope Son could see little of the body of the cow, but could see that its legs were shattered. He thought this rather odd.
"Did that cow fall off a cliff?" he asked.
"Of course not."
"How did it die, then?"
"How should I know?" Lavan asked huffily.
"Did you not kill it, then?"
"In front of my own home? In full sight of Teklava the butcher's house? Of course I did not?"
"Then how do you know it didn't fall off a cliff?"
Lavan stopped pulling and turned to face Son with an exasperated expression on his face.
"Where's a cliff near here?" he demanded.
When they had dragged the cow to a safe distance from the hut, Lavan began to scrape and dig at the ground, turning it over so that the clay-like soil on which the village stood would have some chance of absorbing the carpet of blood. Son, again, did not want to help. But help he did, reckoning that the only way he was going to find out why Lavan the weaver had a dead cow outside his front door was to stick around until the answer became obvious or until someone with a more persuasive tongue arrived to talk Lavan into an explanation.
He did not have to wait long - partly because it was early morning and there were plenty of people wandering around, and partly because even if only a few people had noticed the cow the village was a small place, and the villagers in it much prone to gossip. After they had been turning over the sod for a little less than five minutes they heard the polite but distinguished cough of Robast the village elder.
"It seems," said Robast, when they had both nodded their respect to him, "that you had a cow in front of your hut, Lavan the weaver."
"It seems that way to me too," Lavan said, rolling his eyes.
"And also to m-"
"Where is the cow now?" asked Robast, glancing in the direction in which they had dragged the cow. Lavan and Son exchanged glances. It was well known throughout the village that Robast rarely (perhaps never) asked a question to which he did not already know the answer.
"It seems to be over there," said Lavan, pointing.
"Yes," agreed Son. "That's where we p-"
"Hmm, yes." Robast cut him off. The elder walked around them in a large circle that encompassed the whole hut so that for a good few seconds he was out of sight, during which time Lavan and Son stared at each other blankly. Nominally Robast was the advisor to the village chief, chosen by lot each year from the eligible adults. But his position as advisor was somewhat undermined by his aforementioned habit, which meant that he was unable to come by any information that did not present itself directly to his eyes or unsolicited to his ears. His questions, it was well known, were designed to carefully manipulate the interviewee into some form of action or other. It was very effective, although whether it was effective because the technique was sound and Robast had taken many long years to perfect it or because everyone simply assumed that whatever Robast wanted them to do was for the good of the town and went along with it quietly, it was impossible to tell. Certainly everyone in the village (the chiefs included) knew that the chief's job was largely ceremonial, which was why there was such great competition for it (fruitless competition, since each chief was chosen at random, but competition nonetheless). Had the unlucky recipients of the sortition actually had to run the village they would have found it most disagreeable, but with Robast controlling them and the rest of the townsfolk behind the scenes (or so he thought) all the chiefs had to do was collect the food given to them, appear at religious festivals, and give Robast the impression that they were unwitting pawns in his arcane autocracy.
It was for this reason that Lavan and Son waited patiently for Robast to appear again, and continued with the soil-turning when they did.
"I hear that this is not the first thing that has been laid outside your door," said Robast. Then, apparently suddenly realising that he had not phrased this in the form of a question, he added: "is that correct?"
"It is," said Lavan.
"You received... what was it?"
"Oh yes, a rock. And.. uhh...?"
"A table. Slightly damaged."
"Was there anything unusual about the table?" Robast asked.
"Yes," Lavan replied. "It was standing outside my door one morning."
"Do you think that it's possible," said Robast, "that you may have a secret admirer?"
Lavan scratched his head.
"It's possible," he said, then smiled with sudden excitement. "I wonder who it might be! I hope it's Evili the brickmaker."
This time Robast and Son exchanged glances.
"You don't think that it might be the dragon that lives in the hill?" Robast asked gently.
"No," said Lavan, frowning. "Why do you think that?"
"Evili the brickmaker's very nice," said Son gently. "But I don't think she can carry a cow."
Lavan nodded solemnly.
"You may be right," he agreed.