The swords are rusting
Inside a monumental hall there was a man. He was still a young man despise his efforts of hiding this from the world. His few strings of hair he thought passed for a beard were supposed to hide his still childish face from the world when in truth it was making him look quite ridiculous in everyone's eyes; especially in the eyes of his father. He stared at the throne room door wondering who in this world chose for him to be born a Farenhall. The gods were gone so it couldn't have been them. "Such a burden cannot simply fall on the shoulders of a child … a man" he corrected himself "without someone putting it there" he said quietly thinking he was alone in the hall decorated with statues of heroes from elven lore. He knew nothing of these statues. But then again most humans were clueless when it came to the elves and the few remaining ones considered an insult for them to be asked of their past. Still he felt somehow guilty living in the elven city.
He inherited this constant guilt for something he has not done from his mother, Melissa. It was this guilt his parents' marriage was founded upon. His father, king Aulmehr, was a tyrant was punishing his wife for the untimely death of their first born Alvehr, his older brother, a death they were just informed of. Sixteen of age, he was eight moons apart from becoming king but he drowned while on an expedition to the Sea of Unknowing. His mother gave him permission to go. When asked why, she said she was given a dream that he was to find an island. Upon this island he was to drink from the Fountain of Ages that would make him immortal and return to the Great Planes wielding The Sword of Will lost back when the gods roamed the earth. It has always been the Farenhalls' dream to unite the cities of man under one true name, a name that was spoken even back when the First City of the Fallen Dwarves was nothing but a bunch of dwarves fearing the forbidden mountain. But ancient names meant little to the other families. Tired of the Farenhalls' constant plea for their rights as first humans, the other royal families gave them the city of Davon'his - the only city by the shores of the sea. They did not see a favor in this but wanted more. Greedy as they were they still realized turning against the other families would mean their end … all of them. At first it was the fear of rising orcs from the stories of the elves they shared a city with. Afterwards they were scared of starting a war for the elves might return. It seemed that fear was running in their veins and after a while the other families got accustomed to the idea of a coward enemy who over time became nothing more than a hateful but neutral neighbor. Tolerated yet ignored, the Farenhalls decided it was time to prove their once so proud name. This decision was not an alarm for anyone. It was not the first time they decided upon this. They all waited for something of minor significance to intervene and postpone their conquering lust.
"It is Alvehr's destiny" once thought the king with hope in his eyes and love in his heart. But now, now he sat drunk covered in white stone in his bed while the queen was on her knees facing the floor. There was little blood on the floor from her mouth. She was softly crying over the pain from her husband's beating. As she was crying she saw her reflection in the stain of blood and thought "He doesn't love me anymore … I'm an old woman." She burst into tears at that thought. It seemed her fading beauty was a bigger tragedy than her son's death. The sea was loud that morning yet you could hear the sound of Melissa's crying all the way to the hall. Eldran, the young boy, looked at his parent's bedroom door and felt his heart fill with hatred for them both while narrowing his eyes. As soon as he heard the door opening he changed his attitude and made a sudden movement. He filled his chest with air and held it in so that he wouldn't sigh in front of his passing father. It was for the best if he did not find out about his crying. He never laid a hand on the boy. He had crueler ways of torture for him. He was always thought of as a constant disappointment for his lack of strength and being the second born meant he had no chance to prove himself. He was the only royal child remaining at Davon'his. With his sister married in the Free City and his brother dead, he felt a prisoner in his home.
"What now?" he thought as he was following his father with his eyes. "Am I to inherit my brother's destiny?"
The king passed him by without even glancing at him. His eyes did not move and they were not focused on anything. Behind him, his mother was staring at him, still on the floor. She wanted to ask him a million questions at once but when she opened her mouth all she could do was gasp. At the end of the hall he stopped. Without turning towards his family he said in a stale voice:
"I want both of you in the throne room at sunset. Send the servants to their chambers early tonight. We must speak alone. It is a matter only for our Farenhall ears to hear." He opened the door and entered the throne room. As the door was shutting he added "I will not be disturbed until then."
As soon as the king was gone, chambermaids and royal servants came running from behind the pillars. The hall was long. At one end was the royal chamber invaded by servants aiding to the queen. At the other end was the throne room. After the servants passed Jacob, the young prince, a crippling silence fell upon the hall. He stared out at the sea. He looked down and saw the waves crushing upon the walls and stones. For a short second his eyes searched for the body of his brother. He chuckled.
"You did it to me again, brother" he said. "Rest in peace."
They were never really close. They always presented themselves as being close brothers to make a good impression and to prove that the Farenhalls were noble people. The truth was unfortunately disappointing. His bigger brother had no opinion of his own so he took those of his father. Alvehr even sent a letter in his father's name suggesting an arranged marriage between the son of Andrew, the king of (upper north city name) and "their daughter" Jacob. His father laughed himself to tears hearing the angry response. Nobody ever saw the king laugh like that before. Nor did they since. But Alvehr's finest joke was, in Jacob's eyes, his death. He was not a bright child, Alvehr that is, therefore he accepted the destiny his father had in mind for him without understanding what that would imply. Jacob, on the other hand, was smart and sensitive, too sensitive for a Farenhall. His mother was often accused of sharing another's bed cause of him. His father did not see himself in Jacob at all.
Jacob learned not to speak his mind and in time he became the ghost of Farenhall Castle - as the chambermaids called him. His skin was white as snow making him look constantly ill. Still he was worthy to look at and he would have been married or at least promised to another family by now if his father would have presented him in another way than "his other daughter". Marriage was never really on his mind. He was heavyhearted as it was without the tangles of love. Even more so now with the death of his older brother …
As he was gazing at the crushing waves he felt his head weary and his eyes lost their focus. He was soon brought back down to earth by the hysterical crying of an old woman in the distance. The noise was coming from the docks. The king blamed all the sailors of the expedition for his child's death. The sentence for their crime was death. They were being beheaded across the bridge in the marketplace. The crying woman was a mother who just lost her son of twenty four. As Jacob was crossing the Royal Bridge towards the docks he heard crying widows, mothers and orphans. With every woman bursting in tears he felt his knees weakening for second. But his walk was that of a confident man. He had his mind set to what had to be done and no weeping peasants were to distract him. He got used to the idea of death sentences from the age of five when he saw the beheading of his uncle, a ladies' man who risked his life by proposing to the queen to share his bed while the king was on a mission at the Green Keep. Her response to his advances was a shout calling for the guards. He always remembered his uncle when he heard a beheading taking place. The people in the market saw him. He was unescorted but unafraid. The people knew the king and how he terrorized his own family. Most of them did not resent the boy but pitied him. It was not a thing to be proud of. He was a noble man yet he was pitied by his father's people. He felt the eyes of the women in the marketplace staring at him. But he did not have time for them. He reached his destination, the Tower of the Crow. Each city had one. It made sending messages across easier and safer. A bird does not talk in exchange of gold. And people are easier to spot … or kill.
He decided to write to his sister, Alessandra, who married the prince of the Free City, Derek. She was always the one who would make peace between brothers and her beauty made her father proud of her. Things took a turn for the worse when she left her home last year to be wedded to Derek. Her motherly kindness was the cornerstone of the family and when she left Jacob knew he could no longer hide from his father unreasonable hatred towards him. Alvehr's death meant Alessandra was to return home for a few days. Jacob saw comfort in that. Yet he feared for his father's future actions.
I fear I must ask a favor of you in these harsh times. Our brother's death brings another dark cloud upon our family and, most of all, upon our father's judgment. I fear for what is to come and that is why I ask your permission to come and live in the Free City for the next six months. I know father will listen to you.
Your brother, Jacob."
He tied the piece of paper the message was written on to a crow's leg while it flapped its wings as if it knew of the flight to come. When he saw the bird fly off towards the Free City, he felt at ease. He took a big breath and released it thus letting go of his worries. It felt like it was the first breath that whole day. His entire body somehow felt easier now. His walk was relaxed as if all his problems just faded away. He did not hurry back to the castle. As he walked out the Tower of the Crow, he saw the marketplace. It was empty by now and the guards were cleaning up the blood. No matter how hard they scrubbed there was always blood between the paved stones of the marketplace. The few widows still sobbing were being told to move along. The prince looked at the headless bodies. He couldn't tell who was who but as the heads were put into a sack he recognized two adventurers from a royal feast his father held in their honor after recovering elven gems from the abandoned city.
"Did he send you here to show you his accomplishments?" someone said sarcastically. He turned around and saw a woman, eighteen of age perhaps. He could tell by her clothing she was of no noble family. Yet she carried a dragon bone dagger in her long baggy sleeve. He caught a glimpse of it as she pointed out to the corpses. He would have turned pale if he was not already ghostly white.
"The man in that castle may be my father but I share your hatred for our king. His blood in my veins is more of a curse than a blessing."
"Curses are easier to bear when you have servants to carry them out for you." said the girl unimpressed.
"A-are you going to kill me?" he asked with his voice shaking. "Cause if you are, you are not punishing anyone else but me. And I have not harmed any of you myself." He had innocence in his voice as he said this. The girl could tell of this. Yet she could not let herself be moved.
"What do I care? You are all Farenhalls in our eyes you stand as one … That was my brother." she said as the guards picked up a head.
"Are you part of an assassins' guild?" the boy said while looking as the guard threw the head carelessly in the bag.
"My reasons are strong enough of their own. Even if I were member of a guild I wouldn't tell you of it. I fight for no greater cause but my own revenge. My brother thought me that. An eye for an eye." The dagger slid from her sleeve into her hand.
"You can try and take an eye for an eye but my father has both of them closed. It has been so all his life. Maybe it is that very saying that made him close them. Besides, the one worth killing lies dead beyond this city. If you were to kill my brother, that would have made my father open his eyes. Killing me would just free him of a burden. Unfortunately for you, my brother lies in the belly of some fish. The sea beat you to it. The sea beat us all to it. We all had our impulses of killing him. He brought that out in people."
"Shut up!" said the girl. She was naive and despite being older than him he managed to gain the upper hand in their small dispute by stalling. She knew this and had her dagger shaking. The more he would speak, the more he would bring her down. This was only her second kill, and, in truth, her first one was by mistake - a lucky series of coincidences for her, not so fortunate for the victim. She kept looking down at the guards fearing one of them might have spotted the dagger. No one saw them up on the platform, therefore she gained back some of her lost courage. "Did your bitch of a mother give you that silver tongue? Words have it hers has been around places."
"A small insult" he thought "is a clear sign. She is growing desperate."
"Very well then, kill me! It may not wound my father but it would put an end to both our problems." The girl looked interested in what he had to say.
"Go on!" she gave a small nod while pointing her dagger.
"Who do you think will inherit my brother's destiny now that he is gone? I am to become a monster on the face of human history. I do not wish that but I have no control over my life."
"And you think those people down in the bazars had? Your father has power to end anyone's life. That is everyone but his kin. He cannot harm you, not while the other cities have no respect nor fear for the Farenhalls. You have power … if there's anyone who can take control of his life is you."
"Why are you telling me this if you are going to kill me?" The boy proved himself to be quite persuasive if one would just listen to him.
"Because … "said the girl as if he had offended her. "Holding this dagger here is not my choice. But we are being watched and either I stab you here and now or we both have our melons pierced by arrows ... Tell me, prince, how fast can those thin sticks of yours run?"
"If it can save our lives, fast enough." She smiled at the idea of a prince caring for her life.
"Then I will aim for your neck …"
"Well, that's not much of a plan" the boy said quickly.
"Let me finish! I will aim for your neck at the count of ten. When I say ten you are to turn and I will only cut the skin from your shoulder while you run away yelling. The guards will be alert and I will run in the other way. One, two … you count." said the girl after she just remembered she did not know how to count past five. Her eyes looked down for a second. Jacob counted and at ten her plan worked perfectly. As he was running across the Royal Bridge he turned around for a second to make sure the girl got away. When he turned all he could see were the guards confused.
"Wits she lacks but she does have stealth." thought the prince.
Three arrows hit the stone around the prince. When he looked up he saw the girl in the Tower of the Crow with a longbow aimed at him. The keeper of the tower who was just making his way to the market saw her at the window and knocked her down with a glass bottle of mead over her head. A forth arrow however came from a warehouse from the docks. This one scraped his leg.
"Run, my prince, run back to the castle" yelled out one of the guards. And run he did. Soon enough the whole castle was alerted by the shallow wound he had on his shoulder. There was no trace of an arrow wound though. Only his baggy silk pants were damaged. He didn't quite understand the girl's intentions. It puzzled him why didn't she kill him when she had the chance to and why did she make a second attempt. He tried not to focus on that for now. However she was caught and soon enough she would talk one way or the other. After being patched up he felt tired. It was barely noon but the entire racket tired him. There was still a good side to all of this. Being threatened with a dagger completely took his mind of his dead brother or his growing insane father. So he slept. It was long since he slept that well. When awakened by a chambermaid he felt better; even better than the morning before the incident with the dagger.
"Forgive me, my prince, but your mother, my queen, sent for you. She wishes to see you before meeting your father tonight."
When he got up he lifted the blankets with his wounded arm feeling a slight pain that reminded him of all events that day, including his brother death.
"Where can I find her?"
"She is in the library, my prince."
"Thank you." He added. The chambermaid bit her lips to hide a smile. She was not accustomed to politeness. A smile would have offended the prince perhaps especially in those dark times.
When he entered the library his mother was looking around the shelves as if she was searching for a book. She was admiring the leather stitching. The context of those books remained a mystery to anyone in Davon'his. They were written in the elven language and only few elves from the Free City knew it and even fewer spoke it. Yet the Farenhalls had no human books to replace the elven ones in the library. And considering how no one in the castle used the library it had an ancient look to it. It was dark and tall. As he entered the prince could not see its high ceiling. The height of the room was given away by four tall, yet narrow windows. Each one laid a strip of light upon the red carpet. From it there was dust rising with every footstep; but he did not notice this until he stepped upon the light strip.
"I am here" said his mother from behind a cloud of dust. She stepped into the light. "I wanted to have a word with you earlier but when I entered your chamber you were asleep. Are you feeling alright?"
"Yes, mother, I am well." His voice seemed bored with this conversation already.
"Then the gods are kind, my son." She said slowly touching her chest with the tip of both her hands crossed one another.
"The gods are long gone mother."
She slapped him.
"Words like these got your brother killed." She said angrily. "The gods may be beyond the mountains but they have not forsaken us. Upon their return each shall receive that which he deserves."
"I hope you are right, mother." His mother gave him a look. She knew what he meant yet she allowed small outbursts as long as they were properly masked.
"Your father is going through very dark times now. And we must be supportive of this. You see, my darling, Davon'his is only as strong as his king and we must keep your father strong. His happiness is our happiness and the happiness of all our people. You saw yourself today what happened when your father is struck with grief. It is the job of every queen to make sure that her king's mind is unclouded by neither hate nor grief. Will you aid me, my son?"
"What am I to do, mother?"
"You are to do as your king commands! You are to be his heir. The loss of your brother saddens us all, yet in his death, you are the next in line. Listening to your father will shape you in a true king by the time the crown will sit upon your head."
He knew arguing with her would only make things worse. He nodded and his mother gave him a proud smile in return. When she looked out the window she saw the sun going down.
"Come now." She sighed. "It would be wise not to leave the king waiting."
When they entered the throne room, they both took a bow. In the right side of the throne there was a man, built as a warrior. Next to him was the girl who tried to kill the king that day. She did have bruises upon her. Jacob couldn't help but compare the bruises on the assassin with the bruises on his mother.
"The king seems kinder to his prisoners" he thought.
"I thought this was a family matter." said the queen.
"So it is." the king replied without looking at her. "Tell me, Jacob, is this your attacker?" he pointed to the girl.
"Yes, my kind" he said.
"We also caught her father nearby in a warehouse aiming a fifth arrow from a small window. He lies in the dungeon. Tell me, boy, if I were to trust you with their punishment, what would you do to them?"
The girl looked at the king and crunched her fist.
"I will not fall for this." She knew the king's intention. Afterwards she looked at the boy and nodded as approval of what he had to say.
"D-death?" she stuttered. The king smiled in somewhat disgust.
"Death is the right answer, boy. Death for failing their mission." he added. "If they would have succeeded my own punishment would have been five years working in the mines."
This was the punishment for a peasant killing another of his kind and rank.
"Still" he carried on "I have never seen stealth like hers. And stealth you'll need in what is to come for you ... You, my son, are next in line. This is not my call as you know it. I am running old and tired. You will take this throne one day and if you don't the city of Davon'his will fall in the hands of our enemies. But you, you are far from ready. That is why you are to be remembered of what our legacy as first humans is. I am sending you on an expedition to the City of the Fallen Dwarves, to our home since the beginning our race."
His mother widened her eyes. Jacob felt his throat closing up.
"But the north if forbidden by the pact all the cities signed more than a hundred years ago." said the girl forgetting he was king.
"And that is you will travel in small numbers. You will have no house seal upon your horses."
"But the dragon … my king, he will kill us!" added Jacob. There wasn't fear in his voice. He already talked his way out of death once that day. He was hoping for a second time.
"The dragon is asleep as he always is. The threat has always been blown out of proportions. Farenhalls do not fear the snow or the dragon that brings it. When the first heavy snowflakes were falling we wanted to go back to the dwarves but our kind was too scared. The priests probably never came back. They had no love for their brethren."
"But the dwarves of the Lonesome Mountain …"
"The dwarves of the Lonesome Mountain are traitors for their people … a whole city of traitors! The other dwarven cities closed their gates towards the Lonesome Mountain the day your beloved dwarves opened their city to the surface for trade. They are exiled just like our people were. But we paid for our crimes while they stand by theirs. They are closed off from the tunnels of the Underworld. That, my boy, is why they even call it the Lonesome Mountain."
Jacob never understood the pride of the Underworld Dwarves and their hatred towards the surface. But being born a Farenhall, he saw that hatred did not come from reason, but from the lack of it.
"My king" said the queen in a soft persuasive voice. "I beg of you to reconsider you decision. I trust your judgment to be the wisest of these lands yet I cannot help but think you might find a better solution to teach our son of his legacy." She had tears in her eyes.
Only now did Jacob understand how dire the situation was. He never heard his mother taking his side. He felt a cold sweat running on his back. The assassin girl was keeping her head down yet her eyes followed the conversation from one member of the Farenhalls to another. The other man was relaxed yet he kept his arms crossed as a sign of power and confidence. It was an unfitting posture for one to have in the throne room, even more so in the presence of the king. But he didn't seem to mind. There was a sense of familiarity between the two.
"You … You are the one who sent my beloved Alvehr to the Sea of Unknowing in search of your dreams and legends. You, Melissa, have lost your right to speak to the king. Your tongue shall be held in this house unless I give you permission to speak. And I don't recall giving you my permission so far. Another slip and I will make sure your mouth will remain closed. Your venomous mouth shall remain shut for as long as you walk these halls and share my chamber."
The queen stood there. She said nothing and she had no expression upon her face. The boy was disappointed by her crushing silence but if there was one thing he understood about his mother was their shared helplessness when it came to family matters, to royal matters. Besides the bruises on her face and her darkened eye spoke loud enough to him. He knew any rebellious actions on his behalf would lead to her punishment. Her eyes did not dare meet his. She was scared her look might talk as well.
"What will happen to the girl upon our return?"
"If" shouted the king "you return safe from harm, she and her father will be sent off to one of the villages. She will never be allowed back in Davon'his. Disobeying her exile from the city would bring certain death upon sight. The same goes for her father. During her journey he will remain in our dungeon. That might guarantee her return." He said turning his eyes at her.
"If her father is in the dungeon who might this be?" Jacob pointed out to the overly confident man.
"You will show this man respect, boy. He will be your protector and he proved himself a very powerful friend and ally to our family. He comes from the Green Keep were we fought together against the beasts of the Untamed Forest. One of the best swordsmen I ever met."
"So another enemy." thought the boy.
"You are my king and I trust your judgment. I will do as you ask and travel to the North to learn of our past."
The king was unimpressed. It was easy to obey when you have no other choice but he wanted his son to be excited about the journey that would have made him a man.
"So be it. I will give you a map of the city, probably the last one there is. You are to find our ancestors' house. There you will take back anything that will prove our mighty history to these younger families that obtained their royalty not by age but by coin. You are to learn of the city and sent us a message at the shifting of every moon, reporting your situation. You are to listen to Arthur. He knows his way in the wilderness."
"The wilderness? But the old road leads to the north."
"The old roads are part of the wilderness. Snow and roots covered them. And the main roads are not safe for you. A prince with just two escorts means easy gold for every bandit on the main roads. Davon'his does not have money to spare and neither do I. Understood?" said the king who angered himself at the idea of his son a hostage.
"Yes, my king."
"Good then. You are to leave before the rising sun, tomorrow's morning."
He lost control of his emotions and snapped at his father.
"But, my king, Alessandra's arrival is tomorrow and … "
"And you are to leave before her arrival." The tone of his voice grew deeper and his voice had changed.
"Could it be my note never got to my sister? Did the message end up in my father's hands?" thought Jacob. He knew the king had his spies around the city. Maybe the crow master called it back before it could fly off to the Free City. Or maybe a guard shot it down. Nonetheless, he complied. The girl was sent into her father's cell while her horse and pack were being prepared. Arthur remained in the throne room to receive further instructions from the king. The prince went up into his room. He realized he had not eaten all day, yet his stomach ached not form hunger but from fear and emotion and … excitement.
He never experienced this sensation before. It gave him a new perspective upon the world. He never thought his life would include an adventure especially one of this caliber. Despite being young, he understood it was not going to be easy. He was quite mature for his age. Unfortunately, wisdom and maturity are not as important as strength and stamina on such a journey. He thought about the possibility of dying. He imagined his corpse behind a tree in a forest. The image did not scare him. He remembered being young and waking up early in the morning. Nobody in the castle was awake so he preferred to stay in his chamber and stare out from his window at the marketplace. Some mornings he could see criminals being executed in the market. He got used to the idea of death, yet it never occurred to him that he might die … until now.
A knock on the doorframe interrupted his thoughts. It was his mother … the queen. The door was wide open but she had to knock to make her presence felt. She has not spoken a word since the conversation in the throne room. The castle was still full of servants finishing up their daily chores. She couldn't trust their silence so she kept hers. She looked at her son and wished she could tell him just how much she loved him and how much he meant to her. She knew she might never see her child again and for the first time in his life she wanted to let him know of her love. But she couldn't do that. Jacob felt as if his words are useless against her quiet presence. There were tears in his eyes. She wanted to hide them from her child so she hugged him while strengthening her heart.
"Having a nice chat?" asked the king who was standing in the doorway. He stood there for a while before letting them know. He wanted to see if the queen was to say a word. Hearing his words, the queen backed away from Jacob as if she was not allowed to be there.
"The horses are ready and you will need your rest. You will be awakened in a few hours by your chambermaid. I and your mother will not be there at your departure … your leaving must stay a secret. You never know who might find out of this. It is bad enough servants know of this …" he said softly turning his head to the left. Come, Melissa, and let the boy rest."
The door remained opened and the queen looked back at her son when the king was not noticing. Jacob smiled and raised his hand giving a small wave. He was tired. Even the small wave seemed like an effort to him. He hated to admit it but his father was right. It was time for him to rest …
A few hours later and Jacob and his companions were up on their horses. They wore light armor covered up by a black cloak with a hood that covered their head. The cloaks were dirty and smelled of earth, leaves and rain but Jacob didn't mind. Once upon his horse he started imagining the adventure he was setting off to. The smelly cloak added a touch of reality to what he was dreaming about.
They left the castle through a sideways entry, one used by the cooks in the kitchen when the merchants bring about supplies. The horses' hooves made an infernal racket in the night. The queen was awake. She could hear her son leaving and wondered which hooves belonged to his horse. She wanted to look out the window but her husband might wake up so she just laid there listening, feeling as if she was losing the last of her children.
"He has to do this" said the king. The queen just stood there facing the other way. "The Farenhalls were meant for greatness, a greatness we long postponed. But our soldiers are growing fat and our swords are rusting. I feel the rust upon them reaching its way into the night all the way to my bones. I am old, Melissa. I know I've been hard on the boy but we will lose the city otherwise … He must do this" the king repeated. "Now sleep. Alessandra will arrive in the morning."
One hour from their departure, the city of Davon'his was nothing more than a dark line in the light of the rising sun behind them. Not a word was spoken since their departure. Jacob was weighing up his companions but the black cloaks were hiding anything that might tell something about them. He was riding between them with the girl in front and Arthur in the back. She had a lock of hair blowing over her cloak. He could see it was dark read similar to the color of a poppy flower that passed her time. Other than that she remained a mystery for now.
"Step away! Make way for Alessandra of house Farenhall, daughter of our king" an approaching voice yelled. Jacob's heart instantly pounded with happiness without realizing his position. Arthur gave him a sign to move on and reality struck him. A deep sorrow fell as he was passing her well-guarded carriage. He saw her inside, half asleep as she was. Never in his life has he missed her so. The redheaded girl noticed the disappointment in his eyes …