Distant Riders

man riding on horse

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Tamen, the old family retainer looked out at the approaching dust cloud.  Could it be Master Ral returning so soon after his departure? he mused.  Soon it became apparent that it was about twenty or thirty riders wearing an unfamiliar livery, the glimpses of a red and silver occasionally appearing through the rising dust.  They were definitely coming his way, and they seemed in a hurry.

 

Being a cautious man by nature, Tamen called for Benu, the yard man, to assist him.

 

“Benu, we need to close the gate. Give me a hand quickly.”

 

Benu, a tall and gangly youth of about twenty, dropped his rake and came to help the aged Tamen push the heavy iron studded gate closed.  They dropped the heavy oak cross beam into its sockets and took a quick look about to see that the rest of the compound was secure.

 

“Go tell Mistress Almira that there are strangers approaching at speed,” Tamen instructed.

 

“Okay Tamen.  Then what should I do?”

 

“Just go do it!” the usually kindly retainer snapped.

 

No more than five minutes after the cross beam had been put in place there was a forceful banging on the gate.

 

Tamen hesitantly slid open the iron cover of the viewing hatch.  “What business to you have with the House of Ral?” he asked.

 

“Open the gates in the name of the Sultan,” a steel helmeted man demanded.

 

“I will go fetch my mistress,” Tamen replied, and then quickly closed the hatch.

 

Just then Mistress Almira arrived, accompanied by two of the five Storm Riders that had been left behind in the compound.  Two other members of the elite unit moved stealthily to positions on the wall on either side of the gate.

 

“What is the matter?” Almira asked, still fastening her girdle sash as she approached.

 

“There are riders from Prince Yaqub outside demanding entrance,” Tamen replied.

 

The young lieutenant at her side said, “Allow me to deal with this Mistress.”

 

“Very well, Rahul,” she replied.   “But be courteous.”

 

The young officer went to the gate and slid open the panel.  “My mistress, would like to the nature of your visit, Sir.”

 

“The business is between the lady, and your Sultan’s representatives,” the steel helmed warrior hissed.  At that he gave a nod, and Lieutenant Rahul Abbab barely had time to step aside before a short arrow flew past him through the hatch opening.  Abbab swiftly recovered and slid the iron cover closed before turning to find his mistress kneeling over the prostrate form of Benu, who had been loitering in the courtyard.

 

The two Storm Riders on the wall rose and loosed shafts of their own, taking down the steel helmeted spokesman.

 

“Mistress, you should go and take the children and the maids to the sanctuary room, but send Cook to me,” Abbab said a little less calmly than he would have liked.

 

“Should I send the other Storm-man as well?” she asked as she began to retreat towards the house.

 

“No Mistress.  He should attend to you and the household.”  The officer then turned to Tamen and said he should get the groom, and the houseboy and begin building a barricade of hay bales in front of the main house.”

 

The old man nodded and then departed.

 

As Abbab was speaking, a portly Greenlandian woman came to him.

 

“Cook, fill all of the pots and cauldrons you have with fat and oil and heat them.  When they are ready send me word.”

 

About a dozen arrows sailed over the outer wall as he spoke falling ineffectually in the courtyard.

 

“Cook, how many days food do we have in store?” Abbab asked.

 

“We are well stocked, Sir.  Weeks I am sure.  And there is a well in the pantry house as well as the one in the yard,” she said in her broad Greenlandian accent.

 

“Good.  I think this could go on for a while.  When you see Tamen next, tell him when he has finished with the hay wall, to bring one, no make that three of the messenger pigeons to me.”

 

The cook didn’t reply, but turned on her heel to begin her tasks.

 

“This could be long indeed,” Abbab said aloud to no one in particular.

 

Padre

 

 

The Specialists (Part One)

Horse, Soldier, Warrior, War, Battle

Pixabay

 

“Your Majesty, the spies and scouts have returned and there are large dust clouds approaching from the west and northwest.  It looks like Ral has mobilised the western armies to try to remove you in a coup.”
“Yes, yes,” the Pretender responded.  “Is there anything to report that I don’t already know?” he retorted snidely to his general.

 

“I  – ah,” the man stumbled.

 

“Percisely,” the prince replied, giving a nod towards the inner door, at which the veiled Seer picked up her things and retreated through it.

 

“The spies say the second column is being commanded by Ali Mamode’s son,” the officer said quickly.

 

“Mamode, you say?  I thought we had dealt with that conspirator,” Yaqub said coldly.

 

“That is the report, Highness.”

 

“Very well,” the Pretender said.  “Leave me, and send in Captain Fer.”

 

A short while later a lean hawk-faced man knocked at the chamber door.  Alem Fer was a career soldier, and led a small unit of “specialists.”  He was tall and sinewy, and had a chill look in his eyes.  Many who fell under his gaze could feel that same chill creep up their spines.

 

“Enter,” Yaqub called.

 

The “Ice Warrior” stepped into the room and removed his helmet.  He then stood motionless, without uttering a word.

 

“Fer, it seems my orders to arrest and “interrogate” young Mamode have been ignored.  He is now approaching us from the west.  I would like you and your specialists to rid me of this problem.”

 

The hawk-faced officer gave a quick bow of his head, put on his helmet and departed.

 

“Excellent,” Yaqub said aloud.  “There’s that taken care of.”

 

An hour later, Fer and five other men dressed in the Black Stallion livery of the old monarch spurred their horses southwest-wards.   After several hours of hard riding they looped back north to intercept the column approaching the Pretender’s stronghold.

 

“Halt,” an outlying picket called.

 

The six riders reined in their mounts and an icy-eyed officer said, “We are from the Greenlands Border Garrison, and we have come to bring a message to the Ral.  Can you take me to him?”

 

The initial picket waved a red cloth above his head, and four horse archers approached slowly from behind a rise.  “If you will drop your weapons, you will be escorted to the camp,” the cloth-wielder said.  “Just precautions, you know.”

 

“Of course, quite understandable,” the icy-eyed leader replied.  The six riders dropped their scimitars and spears onto the ground, and the archers immediately relaxed the tension on their bowstrings.

 

“Take these men headquarters,” the initial picket ordered.

 

“Yes Sir,” one of the archers replied.  “This way gentlemen.”  The riders and their escorts then trotted off to the north, passing through another dozen waiting archers.

 

Padre

The Game: A Cousins Tale

 

Luke left the dining area and went towards the curtained door to the back room.  As he approached it, a drunk teamster raised his head from off a table.  “If you are going in there you must have some coins to spare,” the man slurred.

“I might have,” Luke retorted.

“Would you like to buy a dagger, Boy?” the drunk asked.  He held up an average looking blade and said, “It’s yours for the price of a flagon of red.”

“Not interested,” Luke huffed, and pressed by, emerging into the gambling room beyond.

Luke approached a table where a stern looking army rider and two merchants were just getting ready to play cards.

“Do you need a fourth?” Luke asked.

“Show us you coin first,” said the soldier.

Luke emptied his pouch on the table.  There were three silvers and a pair of coppers.

“It will do,” the warrior said, and the merchants nodded in agreement.

The first couple of hands were low wager, and no one had a spectacular hand.  Nonetheless Luke’s winnings were nearing five silvers.  Then Luke couldn’t believe his luck.  He was dealt four aces and a ten of diamonds.  This was the hand of his lifetime.   He bet all of the coins he had on the table.  While the merchants quickly folded at the gesture, the weary eyed warrior seemed unconcerned and matched his wager and raised it.  Luke quickly laid his sword on the table and called.

The sword that Bertram Drake acquired for Luke was an old Nordlandian infantry blade.  It had a functional wooden hilt, and an iron cross guard and an acorn shaped pommel. While it was not an elegant blade it was functional and of a good weight for a young man more used to a market stall than to an exercise yard.

The warrior looked at the sword, and then mumbled, “It will do.”  He laid down a straight Clubs flush and raked the pot to his side of the table.

Stunned Luke stared about the room.

He rose and walking with head hung and began to make his way to his room.  Then he saw it, a quarter-silver piece laying on the floor under an unoccupied table.  He as nonchalantly as possible stooped down and picked the coin up.  He went to the bar and exchanged it for coppers, and then returned to the card table.

“Back for more of a beating, Lad?” the soldier taunted.

“Just deal the cards,” Luke retorted.

This time he had two pairs.  He wagered his coin and hoped for the best.  The others had poor hands, after a couple of hands he had raised enough for a flagon of red.

He then went out into the bar and sat down across from the sleeping wagoner.  Kicking him in the boots, he said, “Do you still want to sell the dagger?”

“Do you have the wine?” the man asked.

“I’ll be right back.”

Luke went and bought the flagon and then sat down again.   He noted the man’s fixed gaze on the drink, and said, “And the dagger?”

The man slid it across the table and Luke took it and passed the wine to the drunkard.

Okay, I wagered my sword and my coins against the most perfectly balanced killing blade in the kingdom – and I won.  No, then I’d have the sword and money too.  I exchanged my coins and sword with a decorated warrior for a finely crafted weapon more suited for someone driving a wagon.  Yes, that’s what I’ll tell them.

He entered his room as quietly as possible, and didn’t wake until morning.

 

Padre

The Joker: A Cousin’s Tale

 

Dwarf, Imp, Garden Gnome, Historically, Figure, Ceramic

Pixabay

The second day of travel was much as the first.  The long road eastwards took them through what seemed endless fields and small hamlets, and there was really no chance of a change of scenery until after they left the Farmington District.

 

Luke Weaver sat at the reins of the wagon taking in the sea of ploughed fields and wondered how anyone could spend their lives as farmers.  It was unthinkable to have to work outside in all weather conditions, and to do backbreaking work just for what? – grass.  As he saw it wheat and barley were grass, and didn’t grass just grow itself?

 

He shook himself from his musings and decided to liven up the journey a bit.  As Arun came alongside the wagon he called out in a loud conversational voice.  “A Dwarf walks into a tavern and orders a flagon of ale.  He guzzles it down, the liquor running down his long shaggy beard.  He wipes his beard with his shirt sleeve and orders a second.   He gulps this one down as well and lets out a satisfied sigh.  He then slaps a small silver coin down on the bar.  The barman picks up the coin and says. ‘I think you’re a little short’.”

 

After a moment’s consideration a small smile crossed Arun’s lips.  Uran who had overheard the tale, gave her brother a stern look, and his expression became more serious.  At the same time, Gwen looked disapprovingly at her boyfriend.

 

Rather than taking the hint, Luke began a second tale in a much louder voice – “A Green-landian, a Nord, and a Far-lander find a lamp which contains a Genie. . .”

 

He was cut short by a punch from Gwen, and only then did he see the hostile expressions on Wai Yen and Omar’s faces as they looked back at him.

 

“Doesn’t anyone around her have a sense of humour?” Luke challenged.  He then gave a huff and shook the reins to speed up the team.  “You lot are unbelievable,” he said under his breath. “I can’t see why everybody is so touchy.”

 

I think it’s  you that’s a bit touched, Andrea mused.

 

Padre

FOWC with Fandango — Touch

Encounter at the Whispering Shallows: A Cousins Tale

imageedit_18_5660115700 (1)

St Ives Beach

The place was known in the tongue of men as the Whispering Shallows, a mist covered inlet in which it seemed that quiet voices drifted across the waters.  Most of the merchant seamen and fishermen of Harbourhead avoided the cove, in fear of the strange phenomenon, or the rumour that the place was inhabited by ghosts or evil spirits.

 

In the language of the Sea-elves the small bay was called Merhaven, the haven of the Mer-folk.  The Elves too, seldom visited the place, not because of superstition but because of an ancient treaty which stated that this cove was to be recognised as a holy site of the Mer.

 

Seventeen-year-old Arun, however, was an inquisitive Elf, and he wanted to have a chance to once again to see and maybe even to talk with a Mer.  His Sea Clan had amiable relations with the Mer-folk, but most of their meetings were fleeting.  He on one voyage as a child seen three Mermen swim to the side of his father’s vessel and conduct the trade of pearls in exchange for bronze.   He was therefore determined to visit Merhaven on a solstice day.

 

As the dawn broke, Arun scrambled down the dunes to the cove.  As he did the mist started to melt away, and singing wafted over the morning tide.  Dozens of Mer were raising their voices to meet the sun.

Arun lay still among the grasses of the dunes until the ceremony ended.  The whole thing was a wonder to behold.  As the Mer dived and swam out to sea, Arun approached to examine the trinkets which were left in the surf – offerings to the gods of land, sun, and sea.

 

To many the artefacts might have looked just like flotsam and jetsam, but Arun knew better.  He had watched the Mer reverently holding each piece up to the sky, then towards the land, and then laying them into the sea.

 

As he was gazing at the pieces her heard a voice challenging him.

 

“What are you doing here Elf?”   ******

 

Arun started, then looked into the surf to see a Mer of a similar age to himself.  He has broad shouldered, and handsome and he bore a trident spear.

 

“I came to watch your ceremony,” he lied. “And to maybe meet one of you,” he added truthfully.

 

“And the steal our offerings?”  the Mer challenged.

 

“No, to add to them,” he said, and he look off the shell pendant he wore around his neck and dropped it into the water’s edge.  “My name is Arun,” he added.

 

“I am Tuqueel,” the young Merman replied. “What did you want to talk about?”

 

“Life below the waves, and above,” Arun said.

 

“Fair enough,” Tuqueel responded.

 

The two sat in the surf for several hours discussing things.  Tuqueel was as curious about the land-dwellers as Arun was about the Mer.

 

In time there meetings became more regular, and the two came to consider one another as a friend.

 

On Arun’s eighteenth birthday, Tuqueel even presented the Elf with a Mer-spear.  This was reciprocated on Tuqueel’s nineteenth, he being a year older than Arun, with the presentation of a curved bronze dagger fashioned in the style of the Elves.

(535 words, 15 minutes to the ******, 26 minutes overall)

Padre

 

Tuesday Writing Prompt Challenge: Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Christine’s Daily Writing Prompt: Wonder

The Goodnight Moon: A Cousins Tale

 

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The oasis was large and the palms that surrounded it could be seen from quite a distance.  The companions had made good time, and arrived in the late afternoon rather than in the evening, and they found the north side of the lake unoccupied, though there was clear evidence that others had recently been there to water both camels and horses.

 

The shade of the palms was welcomed by the party, and as soon as the animals were cooled and rubbed down they were allowed to drink.   Further along the lake side Andrea and Wayne refilled the barrels and water skins, while Uran poured cool water over her head, and shoulders.

 

After a short rest camp was made among the trees, and a cook fire started.   Arun, soon stripped down to his loincloth and went for a swim.  Wayne, and Omar soon joined him, while Uran began to make a broth over the fire.

 

Meanwhile, Bryana sat alone taking in the beauty of the place, while Andrea and Maya attempted to console the still hurting Gwen.

 

“He’s selfish, Sweetie.  He was in this for treasure, not for you,” Andi said.

 

“But he said, he loved me, and that he was coming to protect me,” Gwen sobbed.

 

“I really understand the love bit, but could you ever see him risking his life for anything other than himself?” Andi asked.

 

Gwen sobbed loudly, then said, “I know you’re right, but it hurts so bad.”

 

Maya put an arm around her, and mumbled some incomprehensible words.  Gwen fell into a deep sleep.  “I will take her watch,” Maya said.

 

The sun had begun to set, and a chill was starting to fall over the oasis.

 

Omar was the first to leave the lake and dry himself.  “You should get out of the water,” he warned.  “The temperature is going to drop off quickly, once night falls.”

 

The others came out of the lake and dressed, followed by the others.

 

“But it was so hot earlier,” Arun said.

 

“It’s the way of the desert,” Omar said.  And it is a clear night, with a new moon.  It is what my mother calls a ‘Goodnight Moon,’ as there is no light to disturb you.”

 

“We should gather more wood before it gets too dark,” Maya said as she covered Gwen with a blanket next to the wagon.  Arun and Wayne complied and the watch rotation was worked out as the rest of the party sat around the fire sipping the broth.

 

All except Bryana and Omar settled for the night under the canopy which had been erected from the sides of the wagon.  Each wrapped tightly against the chill of the “Goodnight Moon” evening.

 

“I am surprised your mum let you come?” Omar said to the girl as they settled into their watch.

 

“Lady Bright isn’t my mother,” Bryana responded. “She is my guardian.”

 

“Aren’t you named after her?” Omar asked a little confused.  “Bryana – Breena?”

 

“No, I’m named after my father, Bryan,” the teenager replied.  “Breena loves me like a daughter though, and she has trained me, and helped me master my talent.”

 

It then struck Omar how little any of the cousins knew about this girl they had always referred to as cousin.  Yes, she was four years younger than the nearest of the kindred, and nearly eight younger than Wayne; and she had spent all of her time at the hospital and didn’t spend time at the Axes or the theatre.  But, he had never realised that Breena, like Thilda had no children of her own.

 

“Do you talk to White Ones like Breena?” he asked.

 

“No, that is your Aunt Breena’s gift.  I heal, and I can do it without potions or spells, though it really hurts me sometimes when I do it, so use herbs when I can,” Bryana said.

 

“How’s it hurt you?” Omar asked.

 

“The injuries or sickness moves into me, and the person is healed.  But I get as weak as they were with the illness.”

 

“That doesn’t sound like much of a gift to me,” he said. “More like a curse.”

 

“It’s all in how you look at it,” she said with a smile.  “Is it time to wake Wayne and Andrea yet?”

 

Padre

 

Christine’s Daily Writing Prompt: Goodnight Moon

Musings of The Little Prince: A Cousins Tale

Inside, Architecture, Indoors

image: Pixabay

Yaqub despised being called “The Little Prince.”  His older brother was the one still called by the child’s name, Razi.  It was Yaqub who was taller.  It was Yaqub that was more athletic.  Yaqub was cunning, and a leader of men, but Razuli had been the heir.

But for how long?  It would take some doing, but it would be done.  It had to be done.

The Little Prince was inpatient.  But first things first.  There needed to be a fall guy.  The Chamberlain seemed the obvious candidate.  The head of the Guard was too much a sycophant to be accused of assassinating the monarch, but the wily Ali Mamode with his clear political ambitions, he was a believable patsy.

Now that that was settled, how to carry out the deed and yet be far enough away to avoid being suspected himself?   A fall?  No that wouldn’t do.  It was too similar to how he had assassinated his father.  Poison?  Yes, that seemed a good approach.  It would need to be a rare one, however, hard to trace and harder to cure.  Something natural.  Yes, that was it.  Snake venom?  No, how would a snake be found in the new Sultan’s chambers?  What would be believable?  A spider?  Yes, perfect.

Now how to get a spider into his rooms.  One a dinner tray?  No, the servant might spot it.  Among his laundry?  No, there is no way to assure the creature would bite Razi and not someone else – or even bite at all.

No, a jab would do. Place it on his fork, or maybe . . .?  That won’t do.  The food tasters might succumb first.

His pens!  His imbecile of a brother always licked his pen nibs.  All Yaqub needed to do was place the poison on the nibs when his brother was preoccupied, and then leave.  Then hide the poison in the Chamberlain’s chambers, and be sure to be seen at some official event outside the palace when the Sultan fell ill.

Oh, the simple plans were always the best.  He smiled and stretched before ringing the little bell beside his cushioned chair.  A servant quickly responded.

“Wine,” The Little Prince commanded. “One from the Sultan’s cellars!”

 

Padre

(369 words, 29 minutes)

Christine’s Daily Writing Prompt: The Little Prince

Like Fish Out Of Water: A Cousins Tale

Landscape, Desert, Clear, Viewsand, Yellow, Dry, Hot

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

 

As the party left the pass behind them they entered into a vast landscape of rolling sands.  The golden granules seemed familiar to Uran and Arun.

“It’s like a large beach,” Uran said to her brother. “It’s almost like home.”

“Yes, but’s too big for my liking,” Arun replied.

Soon even Uran’s initial comforting thought about the place evaporated as did the perspiration from her face.

The Sea-elf was not ‘at home,’ but it a harsh alien environment that quickly filled her with dread.

She nudged her horse forwards and came along side Wayne.

“Wai Yen,” how long does the dessert go on for?” she asked scanning the sands stretching to the horizon.

“The map says that the desert is about a thousand miles across here,” he said.

A look of despair fell on her.

“Don’t worry Cousin, we have barrels of water, and there is an oasis with a small lake that we should reach by sunset.  We will camp there for the night,” Wayne said encouragingly.

Uran slowed her mount and waited for Arun to catch up with her.

“Wai Yen says the desert goes on for a thousand miles,” she said to her twin.

“I’d rather have a thousand leagues at sea, than a day of this,” Arun said glancing up at the brilliance of the desert sun.

“There is a lake,” Uran said in an attempt to ease her brother’s obvious apprehension.

“When will we reach it?” he asked, a little too eagerly.

“Before nightfall,” she said.

“I knew we would need to come to this place,” Arun said. “But I never imagined it would be like this.”

“Neither did I, but it seemed important to Thilda, and she has crossed it,” Uran remarked.

“But she is not a Sea-elf,” Arun said ruefully.

“You’re right, she isn’t as strong as us,” Uran said with a smile.

“I still hate it here,” Arun said quietly.

About then Omar rode up to the pair.

“What are you guys talking about, in the ‘High Tongue,’ he asked.

“Nothing – Just that we don’t like the desert,” Uran said.

“My mum grew up here, and I don’t like it much either,” Omar said.  “I can’t wait till we get to the oasis.”

The three rode along in silence scanning the endless sands.

 

Padre

Sunday Writing Prompt “A Fish Out of Water”

 

The Seamstress: A Cousins Tale

Gwen Strong sat at her work counter in the wardrobe store of the Temple Theatre stitching a black pointy hat for a witch costume.  She was a short woman just over five feet in height, making her a hair taller than her mother.  She was busty and had curvy hips, both traits she seemed to have gotten from her father’s side of the family.

 

Her dad, Buster Strong was a circus strongman.  He had signed as one of the original acts at The Amazing Wil Small’s Temple Theatre.  It didn’t take long for the unlikely couple, the “four foot something” acrobat Wilberta, and the six and a half foot Buster to fall in love.  They were happy together and within two years, Gwen was born.

 

As a child she had some skill as a gymnast, though nothing to compare to her mother’s abilities.  She was also strong for her size, but being diminutive even this wasn’t earth shaking.  She was tenacious, and she was fiercely loyal, and a lioness in defence of her family and friends.   Her greatest talent, however, was in fact with a needle.  She, therefore, found her place as seamstress and as the theatre’s wardrobe mistress.

 

She was just biting off the thread, when she heard the voice of her cousin, Wayne talking to The Amazing Draygon, the fire-eater.

 

“Is Gwen in?” her cousin inquired.

 

“I think she’s in the sewing room,” the performer responded.

 

“Thanks, Janet,” Wayne said, as his voice got louder as he approached the wardrobe store.

 

Gwen placed the pointy hat onto a matching cape and looked up to see Wayne already in the room.

 

“If it isn’t Wai Yen, Mystical Warrior of Xi,” she said teasingly.

 

He flicked one of the roasted nuts he was eating towards her forehead in response.

 

She adeptly shot her hand up and plucked it from the air.

 

“You are fast,” Wayne complemented.

 

“Yea, yea,” she said dismissively.

 

“Anyway, I have something I need to talk to you about,” Wai Yen said.

 

“What’s that?” she replied curiously.

 

“I found Aunt Gwendolyn’s map,” he said, the excitement returning to his voice.

 

“And . . . ?” she said pausing for him to continue.

 

“And – Gwendolyn says I can use it, if the rest of you guys say it’s alright.”

 

“Which ‘guys’?” Gwen asked.

 

“The cousins.  Gwendolyn says it belongs to all of us, and we all need to decide how to use it.  And, I guess to see if any of you want to go on an adventure with me.”

 

“Me – on an adventure?  Dream on, I’m not good at anything.  You have your ninja thing, and Omar is like super strong – me – I sew,” Gwen said.

 

“Yeah, but we already said you are fast, and you can juggle, and you do that pickpocket trick on audience members during the shows sometimes,” Wayne said trying to be encouraging.

 

“I see it now,” Gwen said, “I will dazzle the Goblins with my juggling, then steal their swords off them when they are distracted.”

 

“No seriously, Gwen, you are more talented than you think,” Wayne said.  “Will you at least think about going with me?”

 

“I’ll think about it,” she said in a tone that said, “And not another word about it for now.”

 

“Good,” said Wayne. “We’ll have fun.”

 

Padre

(551 Words, 31 Minutes)

Christine’s Daily Writing Prompt: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Lake House: A Cousins Tale

 

The party joined the Farmington South Road about twenty miles south of the market town.  Turning south towards the border they could see the foothills before them, and the mountains rising beyond.  It was only mid-day and there was no reason, even with the slow-moving wagon, that they would not reach Laketon before dusk.

 

It was about five when they came across the road marker saying Laketon was only two miles ahead.  The landscape had become hilly, and large lakes could be seen the low-lying spaces between the rises.

 

They soon came to a wide side road which bore an emblem of a wheat sheath enclosed by a marquise’s crown.  It also bore the clear inscription “Lake House.”

 

Gwen was driving the wagon, and Andrea sat at her side.  Luke meanwhile was riding alongside of Uran on Gwen’s grey mare.   Andrea looked down at the small map her father had given her, and   after a moment’s hesitation, she said, “Here’s where we turn off,” pointing to the sign.

 

Gwen then turned down the road indicated, and others followed.

 

A large lake came into view, and on its shore was the foreboding edifice of a fortified manor-house.

 

“Are you sure this is the right place, Andi?” Gwen asked.

 

“I think so,” Andrea replied.  “It’s the right place on the map.”

 

The huge structure with its bleak walls and commanding location looked nothing like one would expect to be the home of an invalided Watchman.

 

The party hesitantly made their way to a porter’s gate which was adorned with the same wheat sheath crest.  The party halted and Andrea climbed down and approached the porter’s chamber.

 

“I, um – I am looking for Toby Barn’s house,” she said nervously.

 

“You have founded it,” the old retainer said.  “Are you Mistress Binman?”

 

“I am – Andrea Binman,” Andi replied uncertainly.

 

“His Lordship has been expecting you,” the servant said, and giving a nod towards an unseen colleague, the gates to the manor began to swing open.

 

The Fifth Marquise of Farmington, Toby Barns had been born the son of a mere farm laboured.  Years before he had travelled to the capitol to prove himself worthy of the hand of the Farmington mayor’s niece, Breeze Fairweather.   Her uncle and guardian, Horace Foddervendor, was a rich seed merchant, and powerful regional politician.  When the third marquise had died without an heir, Foddervendor had been elevated to the role.

 

Now some fifteen years later, the former Roseman having won the hand of the now Lady Breeze, had inherited the title.

 

The party were lead into the manor house by a footman, while servants tended to their wagon and mounts.  They stood in an entry hall, which was richly panelled, and staircases rose on either side of the reception area lined with portraits and suits of armour.

 

Soon a man of about forty-five came down the right hand stairway.  He was wearing green satin suit, richly embroidered in silver thread.  His empty left sleeve was pinned across his chest, and he wore the Silver Rose Medal of valour as a medallion around his neck.

 

“Andrea,” he said walking straight for Andi.  “It is so good to meet you,” he said leaning to give her a kiss on the cheek.

 

Andrea gave a nervous curtsy, and the expression on her face betrayed her confusion.

 

“Don’t be so alarmed,” Toby said, “It was easy to pick you out. You look just like your mother.”

 

Thanks loads, she thought, but then considering that her mother was considered quite a beauty when she was younger, she smiled and said “Thank you.”

 

An attractive woman dressed in a similar satin material, had come down the other stairway, and now stood beside her husband.

 

Andrea gave her a curtsy, as the attractive Lady Breeze asked, “And, who are your companions?”

 

Introductions were made and Lady Breeze pointed to the left hand stairway.  “Welcome to our home.  Please come in.”

 

Padre

 

Castle #writephoto