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When he saw Leandro, a wide grin split his face. "Well, well, well, if it isn't the great beast hunter." He laughed loud and long at his own wit, and the other men in the bar followed suit. "The next time you're out in the woods, boy, bring me its head; it will look fine on my wall here. I would pay good money to see that." Another round of laughter was followed by a chorus of growls that sounded like they had been rehearsed.
Leandro felt his face heat with embarrassment but he refused to give them the satisfaction of rising to the bait. "What would you like me to do today, Master Dynes?" he asked as cordially as possible.
Master Dynes narrowed one eye suspiciously and Leandro had to fight down a laugh. He knew that the old man wasn't quite sure if Leandro was making fun of him or if he was just a bit simple. Leandro had never tried to confirm or deny either.
"Go out to the stables, boy. And try not to scare the horses." He waved Leandro off like an annoying insect.
Leandro nodded and smiled as he headed to the door that would take him to the stable block at the back of the Inn. He rolled his eyes as he closed the door on another wave of mocking growls.
The earthy smell of the stables hit him the moment he stepped outside the Inn, and Leandro smiled. The old man thought that he was somehow punishing Leandro by sending him out to muck out the stalls and take care of the horses, but Leandro couldn't have been happier. It was hard work, but it meant that he didn't have to spend the day inside, dealing with the jibes and ridicule that would doubtless be aimed at him. Their village was too small to generate much gossip, so when something even slightly out of theordinary came along, the villagers would descend on it like hungry hordes. It wasn't the first time Leandro had been the village entertainment. He could only hope that there wouldn't be many more.
Moving the horses to the small paddock by the stables, Leandro found a pitchfork and began to clean out the stalls. It was hot, sticky work, so he pulled off his shirt and hung it on a nail at the end of one of the stalls.
He had been working for perhaps an hour or so when he sensed that he was no longer alone. Turning, he found a young man about his own age leaning against the wall of the Inn, arms crossed over his chest and watching Leandro through narrowed blue eyes.
"Hello, Barron, is there something I can do for you?" Leandro leaned on the handle of the pitchfork and met Barron Dynes' eyes. He could practically see the man bristle. As the son of Master Dynes, Barron was used to a certain level of respect from the villagers, whether he had earned it or not he--usually not. Leandro knew that it vexed Barron deeply that Leandro refused to kowtow to him like the other young people in the village. The young men Barron called friends were little more than lackeys who did his bidding without question.
Barron pushed off the wall and walked slowly toward Leandro. Leandro knew a moment of fear; he had suffered more than one split lip and bruised eye courtesy of Barron. But he refused to lower his eyes. Barron stopped at the end of the stall and leaned indolently.
"I hear you had a bit of an adventure last night." He was chewing a piece of grass between his teeth.