The Snowy-Haired Maiden

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

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Amyra risked a peek over the top of a barrel, ensuring that the brothel guard still searched the marketplace throng and hadn't seen her duck inside the fruit stall. She shivered in the chill morning breeze, fragranced with fruit and spice. Her eyes shot a desperate plea to the dark-skinned woman who’d stopped arranging her baskets and stared at her with fear and condemnation. The unplaited blond hair, skin unmarked by the sun, and low neckline revealed just what Amyra was. A customer approached and the seller turned to greet him. Amyra let out the breath she’d been holding.

Her arms ached from carrying the laundry bag, trying to make it look no heavier than if it contained delicate silk garments. She pulled one of those garments free, tied it around her head, and tucked her distinctive locks into it. Dropping to her knees, she pushed the bag under the back flap of the merchant's tent and slipped under after it. A quick look around, and then she ran for the gate as fast as she could manage. The wagon waited for her just outside the city. She could see it, Sir Gareth leaning casually against the side while his driver faked a problem with the horses. She was almost there...

Callaway stepped out from behind a wall, blocking her path. Caught. Her stomach lurched, threatening to disgorge her meager breakfast. The sallow bookkeeper raised an eyebrow. "Did you think Stanner wouldn't notice that someone had been in his office, or what was stolen? And after you so eagerly volunteered for the laundry run."

Amyra clutched the bag to her chest. "I earned this." He was soft, paunchy. She knew she could overpower him, but she couldn't risk him yelling for the city guards. Her blue eyes flicked over his shoulder to the hedge knight's wagon. Will he wait?

"Ah, yes, you're quite the stellar whore, it's true. However, there's a fee for leaving before your contract is up. And one for ensuring my silence regarding in which direction you fled."

"I'll give you half if you just let me…"

He tsked at her and wagged a finger, a habit she despised. "All of it. We own you for two more years, my dear girl, unless…" He reached out his hand.

She glanced again at the wagon. Gareth and the driver had climbed in and appeared ready to leave. She couldn't miss this chance. Stanner would make sure it never came again. "It's yours." She threw the bag at him as hard as she could. He staggered back as it hit him in the chest and knocked the air from his lungs. She fled, sprinting through the gates toward the wagon as it started to move, screaming for it to stop. The driver reined the horses to a halt. Two sets of hands—one dark, one light—reached from the back of the wagon and hauled her up.

"Go, go," she yelled. The horses took off at a good clip and she looked back toward the gate. I'm free. She told herself, but the reality of it wouldn't sink in. All she could think about was the three years of earnings she'd just left behind.

Sir Gareth looked back at her and smiled. "Well, boys," he said to the other three members of his retinue, "we've got ourselves a cook for the tournament season. And much longer, I hope." He winked at Amyra, reminding her of the other part of their arrangement, negotiated during his last visit to the brothel. She'd readily agreed, certain she could get away from him soon enough. As long as she had her earnings.

 

ONE YEAR LATER

King Edmund Unsworth II wore a grave expression on his round face. "You're certain you can't come along, Sir Adam? You know the Stenhouse brute—I'd much prefer you were there."

"I'm sorry, my king, but I cannot," his chief adviser said. “I must return home immediately.” The two of them, along with the high priest, sat in a sweltering chamber off the great hall.

"Going into hostile territory without either of you is far less than desirable." King Edmund sighed and rubbed a hand over his graying beard, clipped short as always during the hot months.

The high priest cleared his throat. "I am certainly willing to accompany you, Your Highness. I've made that clear at every step. I don’t fear that heathen."

"And, as you know, Gladwich and I agree that it would be unwise. Duke Reynard is contentious enough—he’d take it as an insult simply that you were on his property." His Majesty's tone made it clear no further argument would be tolerated. He turned back to Sir Adam. "Gladwich, who there is most likely to show support for our cause?"

"I've been unable to locate any in the duchy who will openly oppose their Duke." He paused, the calm expression on his chiseled face concealing his irritation over the matter. "However, his eldest son, Reginald, is a sensible and levelheaded man. I believe he's our best option not for convincing his father—the old man is far too stubborn—but for urging a more moderate stance."

"What good does it do," the priest asked, "to bring others around while the Duke holds firm? "

The adviser sighed. "It's you, Father, not I, who insisted the trip take place now. However, I’m hearing whispers that the Duke’s health begins to fail. So, while I see no way for us to succeed at present, if it's handled well, perhaps we can lay the groundwork for success once we're dealing directly with Reginald. Gods willing, that will be soon."

“We must make haste, Sir,” the priest said, his ruddy complexion growing redder as he worked himself up, “if the kingdom is to stand united against the threat of sorcery.”

“I maintain that these rumors in which you put so much faith lack credibility.” He looked from the priest to the King. “I’ve seen nothing to convince me these foreign charlatans have any real power or that they’ve established a presence on the continent.”

The priest puffed himself up. “I cannot take the chance of my followers being corrupted by evil. We must eliminate the heathen presence in our kingdom in order to keep the sorcerers out.”

Sir Adam feigned patience as the King and priest bickered. To his relief, at last, the bells rang, announcing the evening worship service. The two older men went to join the rest of the castle inhabitants in the throne room while Adam slipped out the back.

Minutes later, he emerged into the late-spring sun and the bustling city outside the castle walls and crossed the short distance to his elite neighborhood, the guards saluting as he passed through the gate. He was pleased to see his jet-black horse saddled and ready in front of his house, along with a pack horse.

"You're later than I expected, Sir. Everything is ready for your journey," his top servant said as he walked inside.

"Ah, Madelena, what would I do without you? After yet another afternoon lost to those two nattering, I do believe you're the only one in my life with any sense." She followed him into his bedchamber, changed his coat, and picked a bit of lint from his close-cropped beard. She then brushed his brown wavy hair back and secured it with a ribbon so it would stay out of his face while he rode, then replaced his hat.

"Do you know when you'll be returning?" She handed him his riding gloves and they returned to the front hall.

"A week, nine days at most." He grinned at her, green eyes sparkling. "It's been some time since you enjoyed a truly empty house."

"Hmm, yes,” she said, lips pursed. “Should I be preparing for another long-term guest, Sir?"

He shook his head. "I've been too busy of late to give it any thought. It seems you have a reprieve." He shared her sentiments about the young woman who’d recently moved on—intellectually, her dullness had exceeded even that of her predecessor, and her constant demands for money had drained away what little enthusiasm he’d had for her. She’d seemed happy enough to move along, as well. He’d heard she was now with an earl.

These vapid social climbers weren’t to his taste. Perhaps it’s time to be through with mistresses, he thought, when an empty bed is more appealing than yet another tedious dinner conversation.

Madelena opened the door and waved in the footman who’d brought the horses. “Fetch Sir Adam’s bags and make sure they’re well secured.”

Adam bid Madelena farewell and swept out of the house.

#

Amyra awoke to the cocks crowing in the market and groaned, sitting up on her bedroll. She was half frozen, thanks to Sir Gareth’s habit of stealing her blanket. Why the second tournament of the season would be far enough north for the mornings to remain chilly, she would never understand. She looked down at the lanky hedge knight, limbs sprawled everywhere, snoring and disheveled on the ground, and almost wished she’d never met him.

To think I once viewed him as heroic, she thought. The drunken fumblings, the humiliation of knowing the others heard it all... The last had been far worse since Rendell had joined them as Gareth’s squire. The others weren’t innocent like that boy. She almost longed for the brothel.

She threw on her dress, a sensible gray thing that did precious little for her figure, tucked her flaxen curls up under a snood and left her little curtained-off area of the tent they all shared. It was just inside, so she could slip out quietly to start breakfast. Gareth’s much larger area was across from it, giving him easy access to her as well as allowing him to stumble in late, well in his cups, without tripping over any of the rest.

Amyra went out the front opening and to the growing knot of cooks emerging from their respective tents to stand together in the center of the make-shift lane between the rows, a stew of fair faces borne by those native to Langerwyn, dark-skinned descendants of long-ago southern refugees, and all the shades in between from many generations of living together. None other had hair as pale as hers and she preferred to keep it hidden.

She’d met many of these women at different tournaments in the past year, but others were new to her. A few of them—all fair, many with ginger hair—nodded politely and walked on, toward the noble and wealthy section with its god worshipers. About as many walked over from the noble tents to join the ancestor observation.

All together in a circle, they joined hands, looked to the sky and chanted in unison.

“Mothers, light our fires and guide our hands. Fathers, protect us and those we love.”

They all fell silent save for the eldest. “Mother of mine, take the cough from my chest.”

The woman to her left spoke next. “Mother of my mother, nourish the child within me.”

They continued around the circle, most appealing to a grandparent or great-grandparent, eventually coming to Amyra.

“Mother of mine, help me to keep those in my care well fed.”

After the last woman voiced her need for the day, they separated and went about lighting their cookfires, keeping their routines in near silence so their knights could sleep.

“Hard to think of a new need some days, isn’t it?” muttered the cook from the next tent as she passed by.

“What do you mean?” Amyra asked.

“You’ve had the same one every morning we’ve been here.”

Amyra nodded. “I have, and will continue to for as long as it’s my need.”

The woman stopped and looked at her. “You’re young to call to your mother. I’m sorry you lost her so early.”

Amyra thanked her and turned her attention to the fire. When she leaned over, a lock of flaxen hair slipped loose and dangled before her face.

"Oh, my," the lingering cook said. "It's the snowy-haired maiden!"

Amyra clenched her jaw. She despised that poem. "So I've been told." She tucked the hair away and turned her back, dismissing the nosy cook and her conversation.

She had her fire going, a pot of water on, and her meager breakfast ingredients arranged on the low table before the market wagon reached the poor section. Hoping it wasn’t too picked over, she hurried toward it and managed to be just third in line. Double checking her coin pouch, Amyra mentally set aside a few copper for the apothecary stall—Sir Gareth wouldn’t accept “no” just because she was out of herbs. She winced as the woman ahead of her bought the last of the sausages. Sorry, boys.

“Any eggs?” she asked, stepping up. The vendor shook his head. She sighed. At least I still have three. After selecting a bit of kidney and talking the vendor down on the price of sage, Amyra hurried back and ladled hot water into the teapot and got the meat in to boil. She’d already set out cups and added most of what was in her herb pouch to her own so she wouldn’t forget. Heating her last pinch of fat in a pan, she cracked the eggs into it and sprinkled in the sage along with some salt. Oh, mama, what I wouldn’t give for some saffron, or enough flour to turn this into a pie.

As she scooped the meat from the kettle and added it to the pan, she heard clanging armor and gruff conversation, too low to make out but too loud for the hour. She looked down the lane and saw several men moving that direction, two guards pushing a smaller man in front of them, and a tall, nobly dressed man to one side.

She squinted to make out the nobleman's colors and then registered that they were red and black—add in the cocky gait and thick black hair, it could only be Wallace Garwyn. That caught her attention since Gareth was supposed to have bested Sir Wallace the previous day. Not that Gareth had near the skill that would take, and Amyra couldn’t understand why a well-respected knight such as Wallace would throw a bout to the likes of Gareth, no matter the potential winnings.

“Amyra!”

It wasn’t until he called her name that she noticed the pale, slight man—or rather, boy—pushed along by the guards was Rendell.

“Amyra! Wake Sir Gareth,” he called, his voice cracking.

Amyra shot up from her stool, eyes wide, and paused just long enough to yank the pan off the fire before she hurried into the tent.

“Gareth, wake up!” When his snoring continued unabated, she nudged him in the ribs with her foot, harder than necessary.

He snorted awake and looked up at her, bleary-eyed. He opened his mouth to say something and she cut him off.

“Rendell’s been arrested. What did you make him do?”

Gareth swore, grabbed his pants and pulled them on backward, then slipped on his boots without lacing them. Hopping up, he ran his fingers through his graying, tousled mane.

From deeper in the tent, Amyra heard the others muttering and moving around. Good, she thought, we’ll all get to hear what mess he’s made this time.

Gareth staggered out of the tent, followed closely by Amyra, then Rupert, Jarek, and Bennett.

The guards stood in the lane, a terrified Rendell still before them, waiting. Sir Wallace glowered off to the side.

“Sir Gareth,” a guard said, “is this your squire?”

“He is. You’d best unhand him—that boy is Rendell Stenhouse.”

“I care not about his name. We’re here to discuss his crimes,” the guard replied.

Gareth blanched. “What crimes do you speak of?” he asked, his voice anemic.

Amyra glared at the back of his head, knowing Rendell would never do something dishonorable unless Gareth put him up to it.

It was Sir Wallace who answered. “My men caught him attempting to steal back what I won from you yesterday. Under your orders, I presume?”

“Of course not!” Gareth said. “The win was fair, I’d not besmirch my honor trying to recoup the loss.”

Amyra rolled her eyes and Jarek, the armorer, coughed to cover up a derisive snort.

Rupert stepped forward, his close-cropped brown hair tidy even just up from bed, his pale, doughy face placid. “Good gentlemen, let’s speak about this with cool heads. Please, Sir Wallace, would you tell us what happened?”

Amyra cringed, hoping Rupert didn’t make things worse. He was by far the most learned and intelligent of their retinue, but he did, at times, lack common sense.

Sir Wallace, somewhat calmed, told of his men hearing a noise and catching Rendell as he gathered up the armor, coin, and gear that Gareth forfeited to Wallace after losing the joust and being unable to pay his debt.

“You, guard,” Rupert said, “what did you find when you arrived?”

“Two of Sir Wallace’s men held the boy at sword-point. He was dragging a trunk,” the guard shot Gareth a condescending look, “that contained shoddy, much-dented armor and gear along with a few coins. Nothing worthy of a proper knight.”

Sir Gareth lunged forward, face red. Jarek grabbed him by the waistband and hauled him back as Rupert moved between Gareth and the guard.

“And what did Rendell say when you questioned him?”

The guard sighed. “He said he’d come of his own accord to get back his master’s rightful possessions.”

Rupert closed his eyes, his head falling, then looked up at Rendell. “Rendell, is it true that you confessed, saying it was all your doing?”

Rendell, fear in his eyes, stood up straight and tried to look brave. “It is true. Sir Gareth had no involvement in this. I’m the guilty one.”

Amyra wanted to gut Gareth like a hog, wanted to yell that Rendell would never do something like that on his own. Instead, she leaned forward and said something low enough that only Gareth would hear. “You’d best stand up for him, if you ever had a shred of honor.”

Gareth brushed her off like a mosquito. “Very well, the boy has been caught and has confessed. Rendell, I must say, I’m gravely disappointed in you. Now, what’s to be his punishment?”

#

“Your Majesty, welcome to Stenhouse Hall.” Duke Reynard Stenhouse bowed, not as low as one may expect before the king, one hand clutching his back. Sweat beaded on his brow. “Pardon my boldness, but at my age, I never know when I’ll fail to live through a conversation. So I must ask Your Highness—what is the purpose of this most unexpected visit?”

King Edmund nodded at the elderly duke and sat, a servant stepping up to fan him. Stenhouse made a show of bending himself into his chair facing the King’s. Both men ignored the row of advisers behind each of them and the guards who lined the walls.

“Duke Reynard. As you’ve requested, I will state my purpose plainly: it is past time that there be a temple in Berwick.”

Reynard’s nostrils flared. “I’ll not abandon my ancestors by allowing deism in my lands.”

“No one is asking you to change your beliefs,” King Edmond said. “However, many of my subjects living in your lands desire a place of worship and your refusal to allow one is unacceptable to them, to me, and to the high priest.”

“None of that is my concern.” Reynard leaned back, shaking his head. “My family has overseen these lands for centuries, since long before your ancestors came here with their gods, trying to eclipse my fathers. Not on my land, not while I breathe, and not while my sons and grandsons call on me to guide them.”

“You’re refusing, outright?” The king remained calm, but anger flashed in his eyes.

“Yes, Your Majesty, I am.”

The two men locked eyes as a tense silence unspooled around them. In his peripheral vision, the King thought he saw Reginald, Reynard's eldest son, shake his head the slightest bit.

“I’d like to hear the opinions of your counselors,” King Edmund said.

Reynard was seized by a rasping cough, and the room around him fell silent until it passed and he could speak again. “Of course, Your Majesty. Henry, tell the King your opinion on a temple in our town.”

Henry cleared his throat. “Your Highness, I support my lord father’s position.”

“Sir Jonus?”

“I support my Duke’s position, Your Highness.”

“Lord Birch?”

“I support the Duke’s position, Your Majesty.”

“Sir—”

The King interrupted. “I’d like to hear from Lord Reginald, if I may, as he’s to be the next Duke Stenhouse.”

The old man turned in his seat and stared hard at his heir.

Reginald sighed, his eyes cast down, then looked up at the King and nodded. “Your Majesty, I support my lord father’s position.”

“So you, as well, would deny your people proper places of worship?” King Edmund asked.

Reginald opened his mouth to speak but his father cut him off. “Proper places of worship! What’s wrong with the houses where their mothers lived? The fields where their fathers toiled?”

King Edmund’s jaw clenched and his eyes narrowed. “Duke Reynard, I respect your beliefs and practices and ask that you respect mine—and those of all your people. For us, homes and fields are not suitable for worship. We need our temples and shrines that we may come together, hear the sacred stories, raise our voices together in song. Currently, worshipers in your lands are forced to meet in barns or even taverns. It’s unacceptable.”

“You’ve asked your question and heard my answer, Your Majesty.” Duke Reynard rose, coughing again for several seconds. “As I mentioned, my remaining time in this world is short. I don’t prefer to waste it arguing over matters long since decided.” He turned his back on the King and walked out. Edmund’s people gasped, while Reynard's eyed each other nervously, keeping their heads down. Reginald stepped forward.

“Your Majesty, my apologies. My father’s health falters and he sometimes forgets himself. I know he meant no disrespect…”

“Oh, he meant disrespect, of that I am certain,” King Edmund said. “But I thank you, Reginald, for your courtesy. I do hope you can persuade your lord father to do what’s right by his people. I would hate for the Crown's relationship with your house to deteriorate.”

“As would I, my king.”

Edmund stood and Reginald bowed deeply. Those behind him followed suit. The King marched out, his entourage behind him, and left Stenhouse Hall minutes before the feast prepared in his honor would begin.

#

“Trial by combat. Against Sir Wallace Garwyn, one of the finest knights in the kingdom.” Amyra and the others surrounded Sir Gareth inside the tent.

“What was I to do?” Gareth asked, his mouth full of kidney and egg. “It’s Sir Wallace’s right to demand it, and the boy confessed.”

Amyra poked a finger into his chest. “We all know Rendell would never have done it if you hadn’t told him to!”

Rupert and Bennett nodded over their plates.

“It should be you facing that trial.” Jarek, his massive arms crossed before his broad chest, glowered. Even at sixteen, the dark-complected armorer cut an intimidating pose. He stood inches taller than most men and his black eyes appeared bottomless.

“You know as well as I do that Wallace was supposed to throw that joust,” Gareth hissed. “I deserve to have those things back!”

“Let’s call the guards back here and explain that, then.” Rupert’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “I’m sure they’ll forgive everything.”

“Shh, keep your voice down!” Gareth sat down hard on a chair and buried his face in his hands. “I feel bad about Rendell, I really do, but a sword fight? Against Sir Wallace? Oh, no. Me, he would kill. Perhaps, given Rendell’s age and inexperience, he’ll show mercy.”

Rupert threw up his hands. “As if any Garwyn wouldn’t rejoice at the opportunity to kill a promising young Stenhouse?”

“Oh, yeah—there’s some kind of feud there, right?” asked Bennett, the groom. His white skin had a green tinge this morning and his mousy hair stuck up at odd angles.

“Only one going back several hundred years,” Amyra said, smoothing his hair. “I’m sure that won’t enter Wallace’s mind at all.”

“It should be you,” Jarek repeated.

Gareth stood up. “Fine, I’ll go have a drink or two and consider it. Does that make you all happy?”

“It’s a start,” Rupert said.

“Gareth, wait,” Amyra called as he lifted the tent flap to go out.

“What now?”

“Your pants are on backward and you’re not wearing a shirt. If we must bear the humiliation of serving you, can you at least appear able to dress yourself?”

#

“Father, this is madness!” Reginald said after closing the door to his father’s apartments. “You swore to me you’d consider compromise…”

“Bah! There’s naught to consider.” Reynard, sitting at an elaborately carved marble-topped table, waved the suggestion away.

“It’s your children and grandchildren—and our people—who will suffer for this. If we just allowed…”

Reynard sneered at his son. “You and your damned compromises, Reginald. There’s too much of your mother in you.”

Reginald stood up straight, his head high. “My mother was wise and well-loved. I can think of worse qualities in a leader, father. Now I suppose you’ll tell me once again how you wish Leynard had lived.”

“Your brother wouldn’t expect me to grovel at the feet of a deist, I can bloody well guarantee that.” Reynard’s voice faded into a wheeze. He worked hard to clear his throat, making loud phlegmy noises. “I made sure he was ready to make the hard decisions, to stand strong against the invaders…”

Reginald threw up his hands. “Three generations we’ve been one nation with them, and still you refer to them as invaders!”

“By my fathers, it’s what they are, damn them,” his father countered. “Those cursed Unsworths and their priests. They have no right to come onto my lands and tell me how to run them.”

Reginald sank into a chair, his head in his hands. “He has every right to do so, father. He’s the King. Nothing is going to change that—certainly not in your lifetime, and likely not in mine.”

Reynold said nothing. They sat in silence, punctuated by coughs, for some time before Reginald rose, nodded to his father, and left.

#

Amyra couldn’t watch the fight. She stayed behind as Rupert, Jarek, and Bennett headed toward the arena, their steps heavy.

Gareth hadn’t returned after saying he’d consider taking Rendell’s place. Amyra wanted to have faith that he’d made the right decision, that he was, even now, preparing to stand in Rendell’s place, but she’d long ago lost faith in him.

To distract herself, she began cleaning a pheasant for that night’s dinner, imagining the bird was Gareth as her sharp blade sliced down its breast.

As much as she despised their employer, Amyra had—against her better judgment—grown fond of the others. Jarek was simple, straightforward, and had a nimble mind for a boy with no education beyond the forge. Rupert could be tedious and had no compunction about negotiating crooked contracts for Sir Gareth, but she respected his intelligence and he did a more than passable job of tending to injuries. And how could she, of all people, criticize his career choices? Bennett she knew the least, as he rarely said much and preferred horses to people, but he was a sweet boy. When it came to Rendell, though, something about him brought out Amyra’s maternal nature. He was naive, idealistic, and saw the best in everyone. He wasn’t ready for this world.

Tears welled up and she couldn’t force them away.

A commotion from the direction of the arena alerted her that the fight was starting. Without making a conscious decision to do so, she threw down the pheasant and ran through the encampment. Father of mine, for the first time, I beg you to hear me. Protect the boy, please keep him safe. Make Gareth a better man than I believe him to be.

She pushed her way through the crowd at the edge of the arena, hearing the clang of swords before she could see them. And then, there he was—16-year-old Rendell Stenhouse, looking skinny even in his armor and standing a full head shorter than Sir Wallace. The knight swung his sword and Rendell raised his just in time to block it from coming down on his head. The force of it sent him staggering back, fear and shock on his round face.

From nearby, she heard Jarek yelling instructions. Amyra was certain Rendell couldn’t hear him over the din of the crowd. Still, she pushed her way to Jarek.

“We have to make them stop! Sir Wallace will kill him!” she yelled.

“There’s no stopping it. Thrust, Rendell! Don't give him an opening!" Jarek shook his head. "Even if Gareth showed up now, it’s too late.”

Rendell dodged a blow and swung wildly at Wallace, who leaned out of the way with an insulting casualness.

What honorable knight would fight a young boy like that, rules or no? she thought.

Rendell blocked a thrust, then Wallace feinted to the left and Rendell followed him, leaving an opening for Wallace to lunge right and thrust his sword into Rendell’s side. The boy dropped his sword and took a few stumbling steps.

It’s survivable. Wallace will stop it now he’s drawn first blood, he must!

But Sir Wallace Garwyn didn’t hesitate. He lunged at Rendell and thrust his sword through the boy’s chest.

“No!” Amyra shrieked, falling to her knees. Wallace withdrew the weapon and Rendell collapsed face-forward in the dirt, his blood pooling around him.

Cheers and angry yells surrounded her as a smirking Wallace turned and sauntered out of the arena, handing the bloodied sword to his squire.

Jarek and Bennett helped her up as the crowd began to dissipate.

“Amyra, are you all right?” Rupert asked.

Forcing herself to gather her wits, Amyra brushed off her skirt and wiped the tears from her face, leaving behind fuzz from the pheasant feathers still clinging to her hands.

“Gareth will pay for this.”

#

Wearing a midnight-blue cloak over a plain but exquisitely tailored black doublet, the top adviser to King Edmund Unsworth II entered the ruined keep. He crossed through the main hall and descended to what used to be a dungeon. Removing a rusted key from his pocket, he unlocked the cell door and slipped inside.

In the shadows of the farthest corner stood a pillar covered by a black cloth. He yanked off the cloth, letting it fall to the stone floor. The black marble pillar stood waist height and featured a recessed area on top. Into the recess, the man poured water from a silver flask, then sprinkled in a fine, sparkling powder that swirled in spite of the water’s stillness and glistened even in the dim light of the dank cell.

“King Marten Llewellyn of the Seastrand,” he said in a calm, smooth voice.

The powder coalesced in the center of the bowl and began taking on color. A cloudy face became visible, then cleared to reveal King Marten.

“Your Highness.” Sir Adam bowed. “Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.”

“Of course. You have new information for me?” the King asked.

“I do. Unsworth’s demands fell on deaf ears at Stenhouse Hall, and he’s in quite a lather over the whole business.”

King Marten smiled. “Wonderful. Are plans moving forward with that arrogant knight, as well?”

“They are,” he said. “He is well in hand, as is Oldcastle. All of the pieces are in place; now, we need only wait to start them moving.”

“And what of the army you promised me?” the foreign King asked.

“I’ve a few details to work out, but that as well is just a matter of time.”

Llewellyn nodded. “Is there anything you or the order need from me?”

“There is not, Your Highness. How fares your son and his bride?”

“They seem happy, thank you for inquiring.” Voices came from behind the King. “I must go. Thank you for your continued good work, Sir.”

“’Tis my pleasure, Your Majesty.”

The King of Seastrand drew a black cloth over the pillar on his end and the water in the cell went dark.

Unsworth’s trusted man sprinkled a bluish powder into the bowl and said another name, and a new face appeared. Sir Adam gave his full report. “Have you orders for me, my liege?”

The voice that responded never failed to raise the hairs on the back of his neck.

 

<<<<>>>> 


Submitted: June 13, 2019

© Copyright 2022 Adrienne Dellwo. All rights reserved.

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