Wilfred drummed his fingers on the table as he watched Rotherwood’s steward scratch at his scroll. “Well?”
Frederick made one final mark and looked up. “All in all, it comes to seven-hundred twenty-three pounds and three shillings, my lord.”
“Seven hundred?” Wamba echoed across the table, his voice thin and face graying with shock. “Are you certain?”
“I have done the sums twice. If you would like to confirm it for yourself, I will not begrudge you.” Frederick proffered the scroll with a smile.
“That won’t be necessary,” Wilfred said. He snatched the parchment from between them and cast his eye quickly over the long column of numbers. “Prepare a letter for the king’s steward with instructions to have that amount delivered to Wamba upon his return to London.”
“What?” Wamba yelped. “My lord, that is far too generous.”
“It is nothing of the sort,” Wilfred said. “That coin is yours, rightfully earned by your labors, and it will be returned to you.”
“Earned in your service,” Wamba protested. “I have never lacked for what I needed to see to my own needs. The rest is yours.”
Wilfred pointed a warning finger at him. “So help me, if you say one word about my right as your master, I will give you that sum three times over and that is a promise.”
Wamba’s mouth snapped shut at this threat, his eyes wide, though as ever he was not cowed for long. “It is not only that, Wilfred. You have always been good to me. You protected me and gave me counsel and…” he stuttered, flushed, and said again, “you were good to me.”
Wilfred heard his meaning well enough. It softened his indignation, though not enough that he would allow Wamba to forfeit everything to which he was entitled for the sake of a misplaced sense of his own worth. “All of that I would have done in either case, for friendship alone. I cannot allow you to begin your life as a free man with nothing.”
Wamba’s flush darkened, but he collected himself and said, “I will have my full wage from here on, correct?”
“Yes. I will make sure of it.”
“Then there is truly no need for any more,” Wamba said. “I cannot imagine spending even one year’s worth in a lifetime.”
“I will not accept that,” Wilfred said firmly, “but perhaps we can agree on somewhere between. What say you to half?”
“It is more than I could ever need,” Wamba said, shaking his head. “Can you not use it here? I would rather it serve some needful purpose for Rotherwood. There is little enough I can do to repay what I have been given. At least allow me to do this.”
Wilfred huffed a laugh, a fond smile stealing over his face for all he fought to maintain his stern visage. “That is your bargain? If I keep what is needed here, you will accept the remainder?”
Wamba returned the smile somewhat warily. “It is.”
“Then we are agreed,” Wilfred said.
Wamba nodded, though his smile faded as his gaze dropped to his hands. He touched the silver ring on his hand with the fingers of the other. “And this?” he asked quietly. “Should I return it to you?”
Wilfred stood and leaned across the table to cover Wamba’s hands with one of his own. “No. Of course not. That is yours.”
When Wamba looked up he was smiling again, relief shining clear in his face. “Thank you, my lord.”
Wilfred shook his head. “Go and find that overgrown hellion of yours. Get him to teach you a little of his irreverence. Frederick and I have other matters to discuss.”
Wamba did as he was told. Wilfred and Frederick watched as the door closed quietly behind him. Then Frederick turned to Wilfred.
Wilfred sat back in his seat and spun the scroll to face him again. “What is yet owed for the repairs to the gate?”
“No more than twenty or thirty pounds," the steward replied.
“Take that from this sum,” Wilfred said, sliding the parchment back toward him.
“And the rest?”
“Give it back to him,” Wilfred said. “Give all of it back.”
Frederick smiled, and lifted his pen. “Excellent, my lord.”