Ozren missed both breakfast and dinner the following day. Lada saw him storm out of the keep and head to the orchard again but kept her distance. The day after, he used the orchard as an excuse not to eat with his father again. On the third day after their conversation, the boy entered the dining hall and sat across Ivan without uttering a word to the goddess. She served breakfast with trembling hands, expecting the priest’s hunters to barge in at any moment.
“Father, can I ask you something?”
“Of course, you can.”
“I’ve been thinking about our orchard. Why didn’t they build a statue or a monument? That would’ve been much easier to take care of.”
“Ha, you’re not wrong… When the first Bozmaroff came here, everyone told him that he would starve and his house would be no more. So when he established the settlement for his people, he made the orchard and wrote to his rivals saying that his house would live as long as there are apples in the garden.”
“Do you think we’re thinking too much about it, taking it too much to heart? There seem to be other problems in the village that need our attention.”
“I know, Ozren. I know. But I already felt helpless once when your mother passed away in front of my eyes. I can’t let the same happen with the garden. I have so many memories there. She would pull me out of my study every day to have an evening walk. I was buried in work and always complained when she came, but secretly I couldn’t wait for that knock on my door each night. She told me she was with child under those apples, and you all made your first steps there…”
“Can I confess something to you, father?”
“I can’t even remember what she looked like. I remember her colorful dresses and long hair - I always tried to grab it. I remember her laughter and her bedtime stories. But I can’t see her face no matter how hard I try.”
“You were all so young when she passed away. She was gone in less than a year, and I was left with three boys who asked for their mother. I have some confessions to make too, but it’s not the time. I’m proud of you, son. It’s not glorious to labor away in the gardens, but we always do what we must. I’ll go write a couple of letters, but you finish your breakfast. You deserve a good meal.”
Ozren’s eyes didn’t move from the bread on his plate. He heard his father’s chair scraping the stone floor, then his footsteps disappearing in the keep halls. Lada, Veran, and Ozren stood silent, the boy still gazing at his half-eaten breakfast.
“Veran.” - he said without lifting his gaze.
Is he the one who will execute me, Lada wondered. Maybe they’ve decided to keep things silent, no public hangings or pyres, just a knife in the stomach. Maybe that’s what I deserve, she thought. I’ve been playing with people’s lives for a hundred years. That would be the lightest sentence they could give me.
“Yes, my lord.” - the soldier answered.
“Did you take care of those two guards?” - Ozren asked.
“Yes, sire. They won’t be serving in the keep any longer, or anywhere else for that matter.”
“And there’s no need to bother my father with such… trivialities?”
“No, sire. Your father is a busy man.”
“Thank you, Veran. Lada?”
“Y… Yes, my lord.”
“We’ve kneaded more bread than we could eat this week, and it’s going to get moldy.”
“I apologize, sire. I’ll check it with the other servants and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“No, that’s alright. I’ve arranged for someone to pick it up. Could you greet them?”
“Are they coming now? I can go to the gate right away.”
“No, they’ll come after dark. And I’d be happy if you could take them through this other path you showed me. I don’t want to bother the guards with opening the gate.”
She smiled at him, and a single tear of joy ran down her cheek.
“Yes, sire. I will do that.”
Ozren stood up and looked at Veran and Lada.
“We do what we must.” - he said and left the dining hall.