The first couple of days were not much of an adventure. The skies remained overcast, and traffic on the road quickly diminished as they moved further from the capital. Despite this the company decided that it would be prudent to camp each night off the road in a small valley or wood.
Day three brought about two changes. The first was that the clouds began to break. The second was less fortuitous. The road had become channelled between two tributaries of the Great Runnel, essentially funnelling them between two marshes. This left the party with limited options for where to stay. In the end they opted to stop in a small copse at the roadside, and to set a strict watch during the night.
* * *
Seymour took the last watch, as was his custom. As the day began to break he crawled into his tent for a brief nap as the “sisters” prepared breakfast. Wilberta and Maya were just getting the fire started when they heard an unfamiliar male voice.
“Ello, and what do we ave ere?”
The women looked up with a start, to see eight soldiers wearing the rose and crossed pickax badge of The King’s Sappers.
“What are such pretty liddle things doing way out here?” a second soldier sneered.
Just then Seymour bust from his tent. “What are you doing with my sisters?” he bellowed.
The first soldier quickly did a double take of Seymour and of the diverse features of the women. “Sisters?” he said mockingly. “Look ere mate, there’s ten of us all together, and as I sees it only one of . . . .”
Seymour reached back and gripped the handle of one of his axes just as an older soldier came up from the road with both hands up in a calming gesture.
“Whoa! You have no quarrel here, ‘Two-Axe’,” he said stepping in front of the other men. “Lads, you don’t know it, but this is De Klod, hero of the Battle of High Dune.”
At that the mouthy soldier turned pale and took a sudden step backwards. At the same time, Thilda lessened the tension on her bowstring as she stood at the mouth of her tent.
“You’re De Klod?” a fresh-faced soldier queried. “Is it true you killed four war elephants, all by yourself?”
“I heard it was five,” another piped in.
“The damned long nosed beasts were stomping the lads, I had to do something,” Seymour said without a hint of sarcasm or conceit.
The younger soldiers just looked on with astonished respect.
The sergeant asked, “Do you still have the gift the king had made for you?”
Seymour reached back and drew one of his axes. It had a beautifully inlaid ivory handle, and bore the royal crest of Hector and an inscription which read: “Sergeant S. de Klod – For Valour – High Dunes.”
“Wow,” said several soldiers.
“Wonderful,” rejoined yet another.
“It really is,” agreed Seymour ignoring the haft completely, and ran his finger along the blade. “It really holds an edge,” he said, again with no trace of intended irony.
* * *
By this time, all of the “sisters” had emerged. They stood listening as intently as the young soldiers did.
“What brings you this way, Two-Axe?” the sergeant finally asked.
Gwendolyn quickly answered, “We are on our way to League Town.”
“Not easily,” the sergeant said. “The Runnel Bridge has had a collapse in the last storm. That’s why me and the lads are heading this way. To do some repairs.”
Gwendolyn turned to Thilda and said, “Aunt Mildred is going to be so upset that we can’t make it.”
Thilda picked up the cue and feigned disappointment.
“Actually,” said the sergeant, “if you cross the wooden bridge over the little river on the left, it will take you to the Ferry Road. You can cross the Runnel that way. It will take you an extra day, mind, but it will get you there.”
All of the women thanked him for the information, as Seymour looked on bemused.
The soldiers departed as the party breakfasted.
About ten minutes later, Seymour blurted out, “We have an Aunt Mildred?”
Sue Vincent’s Photo Prompt: Clouds, The prompt photo inspired the idea of the copse.