A man's anguished scream rang out from the end of the tourney field as his opponent fell. Somehow, something had gone wrong. Was his armor loose? Perhaps he wore only a coat of leather rather than mail rings. Did his horse stumble? The winner of the round hastily dismounted and ran back to where the other man had fallen. A small crowd of people had already gathered close and someone had run to find the midwife, who was tending to other tourney scrapes and bruises in a nearby tent. The champion's face was sweaty and his breath came in half-gasps as he stared into the face of his fallen rival; it was pale.
The injured man, called Will by his companions, lost the use of his legs from that day forward. He lived on with his sister in the house their father left them and they moved his bed to the window so that he might see the sun rise over the edges of the trees in the morning. The news spread over the village in the space of a few days, and the man who wounded him was off on horseback to his uncle's manor within an hour of his hearing the consequences of his joust. Many people noted his actions as suspicious, and some few gossips muttered foul untruths.
After the first wave of visitors (mostly lasses escaping work who took the opportunity to fawn over the fallen and console with his sister Carrie, but also the priest who spoke in a rasping voice and brought what could be spared from the poor box), Will was shocked to think how much he had taken for granted and not prepared for. Not only the ability to walk about and sit on a horse, work everyday, but it struck him as sister left for market day that he couldn't protect her if some bristling smelly fool should take a fancy to her curls. He wondered if the door to the house was strong enough to withstand a few heavy blows and whether the corner of the ceiling that he fixed last fall was actually strong enough to hold through.
Humming a little to lessen the eerie silence, he thought with chagrin about evenings in the local public house that he would miss very much. The problem of his livelihood had been present in his mind and it was this that he pondered when the door opened and his former opponent stepped nervously into the room.
Will felt physically vulnerable and had a wild thought about yelling for help, but before he could do anything aside from composing his face into a frown, the man was on his knees before the bedside. Will maneuvered himself with his arms until he could lean against the wall.
"Am I to suppose you came back to apologize?" Will sighed. "I'm not angry with you, if that's what it is. Things like that happen in tournaments, sometimes." For a moment the man before him bowed his head, but then he took a deep breath and not without effort did he look at Will's face.
"I am sorry. I hope you can forgive me." He trailed off into silence for a moment and Will's expression changed. "I mean to say, please let me repay something! It's my fault. I can work for you. My uncle gave me my share of the inheritance and I have the money. You could at least make a start at something with it." Will looked puzzled but he could see the man's ears turn a frighteningly rosy pink color. "I don't even know your name," he said in disbelief, and found himself speechless.
"Tom. My name is Tom, from Cairn Wood. I've got one brother a sailor, other one a farmer—I'm a third son, see. " Will whistled. A third son was generally considered good luck but a nuisance to provide for—he either went to the church or took a uniform and it was clear that Tom wanted neither. They looked at each other for a moment in realization that they may as well have exchanged places and both been the happier.
There was some talk in the village when Tom took over management of Will's farm, but it died down for the most part when the lasses stopped giggling and nudging themselves about Carrie's prospects (now very slim) and the men replaced stories of Tom's disappearance with the one regarding the occasional evening when a wheelbarrow would appear whimsically tipped to the side against the pub's outside wall and Will's laughter rang from his usual place on the bench against the wall.