Clack. Clack. Clack.
Fragment by fragment, In little puffs of dust, stone gave way from before the chisel. Slowly, a yet another block would have its facing, ready for when the weather permitted building again in the Spring. With the first snow having arrived only a couple weeks ago, it’d be months of this yet.
Clack. clack. Clack. clack. Clack. clang.
Like an echo, another similar sound, if faint. Straining to hear, he paused his work and glanced at the direction of the ajar door, watching the dust swirl in the pale slit of light.
He left his tools in a huff, a cloud of an exhale visible in the cool workshop air. The hinges groaned loudly as he let himself outside, face scrunching in the harsh grey of a winter's afternoon. Shading his stare with one dust-bleached palm, he squinted into the distance. Across the yard, on a patch of grass that hugged the old monastery wall, stood a figure. And they appeared to be—
Digging? What was more, he recognized whomever it was, spade in hand — The squire whom had failed to show at the workshop, the lone one who hadn’t an aversion to the tedium of stonework.
Joona. Judging by the breadth of those swings, they were having trouble making a dent in the ground. And no wonder, considering — The frosted ground crunched underfoot as he went, a lone trail of prints in his wake.
“ So, here you are. Whatever kept you from arriving in the morning like we’d— “ He begun, watching as the squire flinched to attention and made haste to wipe a sleeve across their eyes. With some puzzlement, he came to a halt, stare falling upon a bundle at their feet. A piece of cloth wrapped like around something.
“ Settled. “
The shape within was small and still, pitiful. There weren’t many things it could’ve been, as he’d been well-aware of the three little dogs being trained for rat-catching at the stables, for what was it — couple months now? Despite the wave of recognition that washed over him, chilling and scalding all at once, his expression didn’t flicker.
“ What happened to it? “
The response was but a shrug, genuinely clueless. In a sigh more weary than he’d meant, he resumed his approach, strides long and arm outstretched.
“ Why don’t you take a break — I’ll continue. “ The order was spoken in a tone that didn’t welcome objection. None came as Joona relented, head bowed. Aarno gestured them to stand aside proper, stare indicating a spot on the ground generously behind him. Giving way, the squire’s face twisted as they blinked more tears out of their eyes, ones they quickly wiped away into the side of their soft woolen sleeve.
“ You picked a bad spot— “ He huffed under his breath, trying the ground with the tip of the spade. “ The ground is frozen nigh solid here. Should’ve maybe— “
Even amidst his babbling, he could hear the sniffling that refused to die down. Instead, it’d merely became muffled, like that of a child hidden under covers trying to secretly cry themself to sleep. Hazarding a glance past his shoulder, he saw Joona having sunken into a squat on the new snow, face buried into forearms that rested upon their knees. Their shoulders were tense, hands clutching the elbows tight.
“ Gone to the garden. Under the hedges. “ He finished the thought in a shake of his head, coherence shattering into the wind as he stared at the hard ground beneath his feet. Joona’s garments gave a rustle as they shifted, surfacing for breath that was drawn heavy and sorrowful.
Well— Next time then. For there’ll be a next time.
Teeth bit together, he gave a sharp exhale and drove the spade into the ground.