“Ye could come this way,” the man said, placing himself at the bridge’s cobbled threshold. “Ye need but pay the cost. If ye wants to go here, and down along there” – he waved an arm to indicate the path that wound into the trees beyond the river – “There’s a price. I’m not sure ye can afford it.”
Dewyn glared at the little fellow. “How dare you? What’s your name, you rogue?”
The smaller man set his jaw firmly, and hooked his thumbs into his belt.
“It’s Lesten,” he said. “And of course I dare. ‘Tis my bridge. I have every right to decide who crosses it, and what they pay.”
Dewyn drew himself up. “Impudent oaf,” he replied. “This is my land. Everything you see in all directions, on both sides of this river, belongs to me. Where do you live?” He leaned down from atop the horse, gazing unflinchingly at the obstructor of his way. “You will stand aside, unless want me to have my auditors pay particular attention to your taxation arrangements…?”
Oddly, the not-really-very-veiled threat didn’t seem to trouble Lesten at all. The smaller man just chuckled.
“Oh, my Lord,” Lesten sing-songed, “Oh, please dunna trouble thy noble self on my account, nor with my accounts, hah.” His smile vanished, and his voice dropped low. He looked the nobleman directly in the eye.
“Ye took a wrong turn, My Lord,” he said. “I might say, the wrongest turn. Ye didn’t watch the path thou trod, as thy father, or thy mother, or thy nursemaid must sure have cautioned ye from thy dawn days. Ye took a wrong turn, and ye stepped into that land that pays ye no taxes nor minds thy borders; and thine men of money have no writ here. There lies a path before ye, as ye see, and a price to be paid. There lies a path behind ye, and a price to be paid there, too. Though that price isn’t mine, and I cannot say which is the cheaper. So, My Lord: shall ye ask me my price?”