John tried to show Klonar the door after breakfast, but King Willy didn’t take kindly to that idea. How a dog could so completely rule a house was beyond Klonar, but the dog seemed vicious and he wasn’t about to risk being attacked. John seemed to waver between irritation and resignation. He didn’t like Klonar. This rough looking stranger who had upset his son wasn’t welcome in his house, but he had long ago accepted that he wasn’t in charge. After Mary died, the dogs took over. They became unruly. No one had ever been able to manage them except her. Hunting dogs, they were. She loved hunting. Had loved hunting. Almost two years, now, it had been, since her death, and he still spoke about her like she were still alive.
Shaking his head at himself, he sighed. He was tired. The boy never spoke and he didn’t know what to do with him. He missed Mary and Katarina. Katarina had been the sunshine in this home and now she was gone, along with the boys voice. His home and heart felt grey, like an old black and white movie with a dreary cloud hanging over it. At least he had Peter. Funny old Peter who happily chattered away in the background, never caring whether anyone actually listened to him or not. A distant cousin to his wife. The dogs had made him stay too.
Oh well. That had worked out well. It was good having John around. Better for the boy.
“Comon then”, he said to the stranger.
Klonar followed him through the dark house, out to the back door. Peter and the boy looked up as he approached. The boy looked away again quickly, his expression a strange mixture of fear and longing. John got up with a smile and dusted his hands off with a chuckle.
“Looks like you really are staying then. Welcome to the household. Be good to have some young muscle around. I was just then working up some enthusiasm to go chop that there pile of wood, my friend. Don’t spose you’d save an old man the bother?”
It was a big pile of wood. But it was cold and it would be good to vent his frustration and perhaps a good way to say thank you for breakfast. Maybe an axe might help him get past the dogs. He went to chop wood.
The two old men and the boy watched silently for a while.
“Was it really a good idea it give him the axe, Peter? We don’t know anything about him. He’s covered in scratches. Looks like he came off second best in a tousle with a rosebush.”
Peter nodded thoughtfully.
“The dogs want him to stay John. Maybe we should trust them. They ain’t done nothin bad by us, but a lot of good really. You remember that time the boy fell and hurt his leg and they came got us? And then what about that time them bullies cornered him in Clowers Lane? They gave them nasty younguns a right deserved fright, didn’t they? They’re good dogs, John. Bossy, but good.”
John grunted. Bloody dogs. He couldn’t for the life of him understand how having a stranger in the house was helpful, especially one like this Klonar fellow who fairly oozed danger. There was something not quite right about him. Pulling the boy a little closer to him, he breathed in the sweet scent of the lad’s hair. The smell always reminded him of his daughter Katarina. Memories threatened to overwhelm him. He stood up suddenly, almost tumbling the boy out of his lap.
“Here lad, go to the market and get some butter. We’ll have soup for dinner. Get yourself a treat.”
He handed the boy some coin with a smile, happy to see a little colour in the boy’s cheeks, and a wee glimmer of happiness in his eyes.
Klonar watched from the corner of his eye as the boy took the coin and headed off. The ridgebook cross headed off after the boy, leaving only three dogs to contend with, King Willy, Sam and Bones. The problem was, he really didn’t like violence. He had been taught how to fight, and he fought because it was expected of him and it was what you did to survive, but he didn’t enjoy it. That was why he’d been locked up. The Master had set him up to fight his own brother in a dirty round and he’d not wanted a bar of it. Blood money it was. No one was happy unless there was blood and plenty of it.
The rhythm of the chopping settled his tense muscles and soothed his mind, helping him think. Maybe it weren’t so bad, this strange house. Maybe he needed to bide his time and just go with it a bit longer. He had no where else to go. He just didn’t like the idea of being trapped, and these dogs made him feel just like he were in prison again being watched over by guards.
Pausing to wipe the sweat him his eyes, he looked around him. A clear blue sky stretched out over him. What a glorious sight! It felt good to have the sun in his eyes and some good honest work under his hands. Peter strolled over with a drink on offer and Klonar took it gratefully, glancing around to see where the dogs were at.
The skinny one, Bones, was rolling around on the grass on his back, making happy grunting sounds. Trying to scratch an itch, Klonar guessed. He couldn’t see King Willy or Sam. The yard was walled in on two sides by brick walls covered in rambling rose creepers. The third boundary was an old wire fence that had certainly seen better days. It had a gate, but the gate was hanging on one hinge and looked as though it were half embedded in the earth.
“Thanks for the drink. I’ll be off now.”
He handed the glass back to Peter and headed towards the gate, as though it were the most natural thing in the world to do so with the axe still slung over one shoulder. Bones who was still happily writhing around on the grass, but Klonar got no more than four steps before Bones spotted him and let out a yip. Klonar started to run. The next thing he knew, he was flat on his face on the ground, all the wind knocked out of him. Something had hit him hard from behind. Now it was on top of him, happily covering the back of his neck and ears in wet slobbery kisses.
A face bent down beside his and he could feel the axe being prised from his fingers.
“I think she likes you. You could have hurt yourself with this axe you know. Damn fool thing to do, running off with it like that. Get off him Sam.”
Sam obliged and Peter helped him up.
“I think you and I need to talk”, said Peter, as Klonar spat out a bit of dirt and checked to make sure none of his teeth had been knocked loose.
As they walked to the porch, Klonar winced a little. His body really had taken a battering in the last twenty four hours and he was starting to feel it.
“Klonar, that’s your name?”, asked Peter
“Klonar, I tried running too. Came for the funeral and three weeks later was still here. Tried everything I could think of in the first five days or so. Tried sneaking out, tried running. Those dogs, once they round you up, they just don’t let you go. Then I got sick and was in bed for a long time. Poor John. Just lost his wife and his daughter and he gets lumbered with a silly, sick old man and a grieving grandchild. Must have been bloody rough. Don’t know how he coped, Klonar, I really don’t. Sam here saved my life I reckon. That was a damn cold winter and we were low on wood. She slept with me constantly, keeping me warm, cheering me up. I stopped trying to leave after that. My life wasn’t much chop before that anyway. I was lonely, living by myself. I’m happier here. These are smart dogs.”, he said with a smile as he ruffled Sam’s ears.
The stranger said nothing for a while. Peter could see he was shaken and struggling to understand what was happening. To be honest, he didn’t really understand it himself. Why were the dogs trying to keep this man here? Over the almost two years he had lived with John and Tobias, he had come to trust the dogs and their judgement. If they didn’t like someone they had good reason. and if they wanted this man to stay, it was because he was meant to stay.