Marcus hates geese. Especially these geese. They are already glaring at him with their beady little avian eyes. They look like they're plotting.
"Do we have to have geese?"
Esca's look is somewhere between fondness and exasperation. "The eggs will make good eating."
Marcus is not convinced.
"Chickens lay eggs." Although, really, Marcus hates chickens too. But at least chickens aren't smart enough to plot.
"Chickens are stupid," Esca says. "Geese are good for warding off thieves."
"Surely Cub is better than a gaggle of geese!" Marcus protests, but he knows this is a battle he's lost. He swears that the geese look smug.
When Marcus was a boy in Etruria, they had geese. And when he went to gather eggs, they attacked him in formation, a semi-circle of ganders all nearly as tall as he was, wings spread and hissing viciously. When you're only six years old, that is the sort of thing that can give you nightmares for months.
He makes the mistake of telling Esca this story while they are building a pen for the geese. He can tell that Esca is trying his best not to laugh when he says, "I would be happy to get a boy from the village to mind the geese for you."
Marcus glares at him.
Esca is worried that Cub will eat the geese--secretly, Marcus hopes that he does--and sets about trying to teach him that they are not for eating or chasing. But it turns out that the geese can fend well enough for themselves, and the first time that Cub tries to sniff at them, they send him running to Marcus with his tail between his legs. Marcus ruffles the wolf's ears in sympathy, and ignores Esca when he laughs at their matching sullen faces.
Esca offers to gather the eggs, but Marcus is not six years old now, and he can damn well gather goose eggs for his own breakfast. Esca nods, his face just a little too blank. When Marcus steps into the goose pen, the unholy birds hiss and peck at his legs, and he sees Cub slinking back to the sleeping hut.
“Coward,” Marcus mutters. One of the geese pecks him on the arse. He whirls indignantly and thwacks it with the flat of his palm, but there are too many of them and another one gets him while he is distracted. He decides that they have probably been too disturbed to have started laying yet, and goes to tell Esca so.
“I expect that is the case,” says Esca gravely. Marcus resists the urge to thump him over the head, and absolutely does not sulk as he eats his bread and honey. Cub puts his head penitently on Marcus’ knee and licks apologetically at his hand, but he is nowhere to be found the next day when Marcus ventures out to check if perhaps today the geese have laid.
They have. But they have also gotten better at their plotting, and one of them goes straight for the front of Marcus’ braccae when he steps into the pen. He trips over another trying to protect himself, and finds himself on his arse in the mud, with his arms over his head to protect himself. Jupiter, he hopes they kill him before Esca sees.
“Get away! Shoo! Go on now, get away!” The voice is high-pitched, a child’s voice, and with a lilt that puts Marcus in mind of Esca. There is the sound of something thumping into feathery bodies, and his attackers disperse, honking sullenly. He scrambles up, as though he could possibly pretend to have any dignity left, and finds that his rescuer is a little gap-toothed British girl of about eight, her red hair in twin braids down her back. She grins at him, and despite himself, Marcus finds himself grinning back.
“Shall I run them down to the pasture and back for you?” she asks brightly, thumping one of them with her stick when he tries to peck at her.
“Aye, and there will be honey cakes for you if you do,” Marcus promises, trying to brush the mud from his braccae, and mostly failing.
The little girl nods. “Esca said! He told me to come help you.”
Marcus bites back a groan. “Did he, now? And what a help you’ve been, truly. Run and earn your cakes now, go on!” She waves at him as she runs off, her braids bouncing. Marcus buries his face in his hands before he remembers that they're covered with mud.
He is washing at the stream when Esca finds him, carrying a clean pair of braccae and a fresh tunic.
“Did Màili’s rescue come too late?” he asks, laughter catching in his throat. “Don’t worry, she promised me she would protect you from now on, so long as we don’t run out of honeycakes.” Marcus tries to glower, but Esca stretches up to kiss him, and Marcus can’t help the grin that creeps across his face.