"Jonna. Does her family know where she's vanished to? Also, she's spending a lot of time learning from, well, everyone, but she's also coming into this situation with a lot of skills and knowledge already. Any chances to shine?"
Phillippus the Pigman, Phillippus Grieverhock as he was in the parish records, was not at all confused although possibly he had the right to be. His daughter, Jonna, had gone off to escort some pillock, who’d been disturbing the pigs by wandering around as a talking frog before she’d changed him back, out of the forest and back to where he’d come from. Now, it seemed, Jonna wasn’t coming home. Instead, he had a messenger, someone he would have expected to have been going to see one of the surrounding lords or dropping a message with the village reeve on his way through, supervising a crew of workmen in his yard.
‘Bride price’ had been bandied around to explain why a solid new sty and cow byre were going up round the edges of his farmyard. Jonna, the messenger said, had married the pillock’s brother. The buildings, and the two cows with calves at foot, were to compensate the farm for the loss of her labour and, Phillippus thought shrewdly, for not being able to call on his son-in-law and future grandchildren when he needed a few extra hands. He understood that perfectly well, just as he understood that the pillock had been the Crown Prince. In some ways, he understood the King’s position completely – one son a pillock, the other locked in a tower under a curse and then a pretty, bright, sensible girl with no important relatives drops into your hand…
Phillippus suspected that his problems were going to start after the messenger and his workmen left. The parish and its village didn’t come under the auspices of any of the local lords, there’d been so many disputes between them over who was its overlord that the current king’s great-grandfather had declared himself both tired of the business and the village’s direct overlord. In return for a company of free archers to the King’s Muster and maintenance of the King’s Highway through the parish, they were allowed to manage their own affairs under the law. That didn’t keep the neighbours at bay of course. Once a generation for each of the three local lordly families they’d had to send a protest to the King as a new incumbent lord tried to claim rights over them and theirs he didn’t have. Phillippus kept quiet about how many pigs he and his family actually owned for good reasons and he thought that this shiny, new construction was just asking for problems.
Problems arrived sooner than he expected, before the messenger and his men had left but while they were still cleaning up at the back of the farm sheds where they’d put their horses and cart. The problems were Sir Sander sur Helcrom and his men at arms, who simply rode into the farmyard and dismounted.
“You,” said Sir Sander, striding up to Phillippus and seizing him by the throat of his shirt, “have cost me a valuable opportunity. You can start repaying me with those two fine cows you’ve so recently acquired and you can either give me those nice, new building materials too or I’ll take a couple of your offspring for my estate.”
Phillippus managed to stutter out, “I don’t know what your lordship is talking about!”
“My daughter had that enchanted frog in her hands, she was one kiss away from being the next queen, you dolt! But for that blasted hawk and your meddling daughter, I’d be about to become the Crown Prince’s father-in-law.” Sir Sander tightened the fit of the shirt around Phillippus’ throat as Phillippus decided that perhaps the Crown Prince wasn’t as much of a pillock as he’d thought. “Do you have any idea how much that enchantment and the transportation cost me?” The neighbouring manor lord’s voice dropped to a hiss. “I’m going to be taking it out of your peasant hide for years.”
“Well, now,” the new voice from behind Phillippus was the messenger, one Sir Wendell who claimed to be no-one of real importance, “that sounded rather like a confession of treason, didn’t it, Captain Bouche?”
Phillippus recognised the sound of swords being drawn, then the workmen’s supervisor, a man his own age whose scars were suddenly making a lot more sense, ordered, “Drop that man and your weapons, in the name of the King!”