A licence to print money blog tour, part 5

A license to print money

Episode 5

That evening Benor opened his backpack, assembled his plane table and his groma. Next morning he appeared at the kitchen door to enquire about breakfast. The cook, a thin, grim woman, seemed to share her mistress’s disapproval of him. Still she set before him a plate of oatcakes, butter and cheese. To drink there was small beer from a barrel in the corner of the kitchen.

For his midday meal she presented him with some bread and cheese wrapped in a square of old flour sack. As he crossed the yard back to the stable Benor checked his lunch. The bread was stale and the cheese hard. He merely shrugged; it was now obvious what his place was in this household. He gave his lunch to Gyp the guard dog who shared the stable with him. She seemed to appreciate his generosity and when he came down from his room having collected his equipment she was still gnawing happily on the cheese.

For the next few days Benor found his life fell into a pattern. After breakfast he would give his lunch to Gyp and then went out to continue his work in mapping the estate. The map he’d been given was a great help, but it wasn’t particularly accurate. As well as measuring the fields he quietly borrowed a spade he’d seen leaning against the stable wall and with that he would examine the soil. The whole area seemed fertile and well farmed. Indeed he remembered being told that it was the very fertility of the land that allowed the peasantry of Partann to support so many petty lordlings and other hangers-on without falling into destitution. As he worked he’d rarely see anybody. Most of the land on the estate was let out to a tenant and Benor had made a point of explaining to him what he was up to. After this the various farm workers merely nodded to him when they saw him and left him alone. Other than that, occasionally somebody would pass along the road, and once or twice he saw a young lady riding on the neighbouring estate.

Each day he’d walk to the Bridge Inn where he’d dine, have a couple of glasses of beer and engage in small-talk with the locals. Finally he’d make his way back to work, do a few more hours, and arrive at the house for his evening meal. This would be eaten in the company of silent servants who largely ignored him. The meal over he’d take some boiling water back to his room, make coffee for himself and continue to work on drawing a new map of the estate.

It was on the third day that he noticed the ditch. The previous winter the tenant and his workers had dug a drainage ditch the full length of one boundary hedge. That side of the field had obviously been wet in the past and the idea had been to get the water away and into the beck. Immediately he climbed down into the ditch. For somebody tasked with estimating the value of the land this ditch was a godsend. For the farmer it was a drainage ditch, for him it was a transect across the land allowing him with very little difficulty to see the soil profile.

He made his way down the ditch, scraping the face clean with the spade, and making notes about the soil profile. At one point the ditch ran along the bottom of a dell. Here he was invisible from the road that ran on the other side of the beck, or from the surrounding fields. The topsoil at the bottom of the dell was still damp, but the ditch had been dug down into the clay subsoil. Where exposed the clay was starting to crack and as he scraped with his spade a large chunk fell away and into the ditch. Benor scooped it out of the ditch and threw it onto the hedge bottom. He glanced into the hole that was left. He was certain he could see cloth. Carefully with his spade he widened the hole. More clay came away, revealing a mass of black hair surrounding a barely decayed face.


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