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.”