By Catherin Elizabet Belle
It was in the year of our LORD, 1154. When the destruction and bloody Civil War ended. It was then Henry Tudor, of the House of Lancaster, married Elizabeth of the House of York, and therefore securing the Tudor reign. At that time, he dismissed his armies and lowered taxes, which pleased the masses. As Henry II reigned, and through strict monetary strategy amassed surplus money in the treasurer. As the years pass under Henry II, life in the country returns to normalcy.
Over time, alliances came to pass between the House of Devon Shire and the House of Black Shadow with the marriage of Lady Lenore to Lord Darwin. This was an arranged marriage and Lady Lenore dwelled in a tower of darkness. Bound by tradition and a contractual agreement between her Father and Lord Darwin.
Desire to escape and loneliness were her constant companions. Upon rare occasions Lenore escaped and took brief jaunts into the forest. There she would find solace in the solitude with only the animals of the forest as companions. This is her story penned in her own style.
While betrothed, I find the Master domineering, dictating, and selfish. In the two years, I have met all his requirements except one, and in that I am relentless in my defiance. The only punishment is my constant guard and never allowed to travel outside the castle walls. My life is filled with silks and satins, the finest cuisine, are the things he offers in this otherwise pleasant castle.
As for the Ladies of the realm, they dream of love, caring, sharing, and romance. And my ladies-in-waiting, they spoil me with each passing day, fragrant warm oil massages, tender ripe strawberries, or black cherries as I languish among silk pillows and flowing drapes. Soft music sweetens the cool breeze flowing through the open windows. Then there are jewels to adorn my favorite gowns of pure silk when the Lord orders me to attend his social events. But not one of these things fills the ache deep in the abyss of my heart.
In the night's stillness, I creep to the small forest against the castle walls deep in the garden. I sit on a rock listening to the animals searching for their supper. The owl flies through the trees, keen eyes searching the forest floor. Swooping with sharp talons, he grabs the small rodent and soars to his nest high in the aspen. Beyond the walls of my prison, trees lie in silhouette against the pale glow of the silvery moon. A coyote's lonesome howl reaches my ears. A single tear moistens a warm cheek as his loneliness touches mine. Time eludes me sitting in the night's quiet. Near dawn I enter the castle through the garden gate behind the servant's quarters and on a tiptoe scale the stone steps to the hall near my quarters. Lara sleeps against my door. I touch her shoulder and ask, "Why are you here?"
Alert at once she stands answering, "My Lady, when you go out, I guard your door, so no one will discover you are not in the castle."
Nodding approval, we enter the room. As Lara lights a candle she says, "My Lady, let me help you." I relax as she helps me into my nightdress. Lara has been with me since I was a girl. The one thing I brought from my home; and the only one in the whole of Black Shadow that I trust.
The hours turn into days until one morn Lord Darwin is away from the castle. To plan my venture into the forest outside the castle fortress, I dress in the attire of a page. I slip a dagger into my boot and a rapier at my waist. Tonight, the moon hides behind the wisp of clouds and shadows deep and eerie darken the forest floor. Ensconced in a black cape of home spun pilfered from the stores used for the villagers, I make my way to the servants' stairs. With the scones shielded by Lara, I enter the garden. There in the shadows, I carefully open the gate as to not let the hinges squeak; I step onto the grassy walkway between the castle wall and the moat. Fear holds my breath captive as I move around the edge of the moat, searching for the small boat one servant hides when he visits a maiden. At last, I find it tied to a bush overhanging the moat. The small craft pulls easily to the bank, I place my small valise in the bottom; climbing aboard, I row in silence to the other side near a clump of small bushes. I watch the castle for any evidence someone saw my crossing; no lights or guards are visible as I make my way to the shadowy tree line across the open field.
Beneath the stately oak gazing toward the castle, I watch to see my absence is undiscovered. I stand a few more minutes knowing it will be the last time I shall gaze upon my prison. Seeing no one moving around, I follow the deer trail into the ebony stillness of the woods. Not far into the forest, the sound of rustling leaves halts my steps, I listen.
I continue my stroll, enjoying the solitude and the calmness among the trees. As I stand on the edge of a pond of crystal water, the light of the moon glimmers on its surface. I lay my knapsack and valise beside a gray rock, perching atop the boulder, knees drawn to my chest, the cloak keeping the chill at bay. As the echo of my steps fade, the silence of the forest seeps through my mind soothing weariness begot by a passionless world.
As I watch the clouds drift from the moon, its golden glow glistens off the surface of the placid pond shimmering diamonds on silk. Growing weary with the calmness in my soul, I lay in the shadow of the rock wrapped in my clock. With the echo of the coyote's lonesome howl, sleep closes my eyes in slumber.
Startled awake, I glance across the pond where two golden eyes glow in the shadows alone at the edge of the water. I dare not move as the bobcat laps the cool water, sending ripples racing across the once placid pond. As a soft breeze rustles the pine needles, the cat listens, then slithers into the gray shadows of the early dawn. I stay prone, wrapped in my cloak lest I draw his attention. At a reasonable lapse of time, I stand working out the stiffness from sleeping on the damp ground. At the water's edge, I stoop dipping my hand into the cool elixir bringing it to my mouth. So clean and refreshing, I wonder if the pond is spring fed.
I open my knapsack to see what Lara placed there for me, fresh cheese and bread. I move back to the edge of the trees, leaning against an aspen as I nibble the repast. It is strange to be at peace with the sound of the owl's wings as he returns to his nest from his nocturnal hunt. The sun's rays turn the shadows to gray soaring higher, soon its glow will chase the darkness away and warm the earth with its heat.
Lara will be frantic when I do not return to the castle, as I did not tell her of my plans. I shall continue my travel among the forest of vibrant green oaks. Deeper into the woods I wonder, fascinated by the fresh pines, aspen and oak scattered along what might have been a deer trail. Within the hour I reach a small glen a glow with the warm rays of the sun.
As I lay basking in the heat, a commotion garners my attention. I raise my head and jump grabbing my sword, side stepping the vagabond charging from a gap in the trees across the clearing. His weapon misses my shoulder by a mere inch as I turn prepared to meet his attack. "En Garde"! the shocked expression on his face when I counter his attack brings a wee bit of excitement to my heart. I dare not relax my guard as I advance toward him, he moves back shifting his position advancing toward me. Back and forth we go, parry, lunge, retreat, parry, lunge, retreat. The assailant makes one false move as I lunge forward, my sword plunges through his heart. An utter surprise and shocked look crossed his face as he drops his rapier, falling to the ground.
Exhausted, I dare not stay rapidly moving through the trees. The path narrows as I move farther low-hanging branches pull at my cloak. Ducking under a low limb, the going is more difficult as the brush thickens, impassable is a better word. The birds become silent as I draw near their melodic singing.
My hands and face become scratched and itchy with specks of blood oozing from the wounds as I push my way through the tangle of fallen limbs. My knapsack falls to the ground. I find it hard to turn in the knot of limbs and brush to retrieve it. Spent from the earlier battle, I curl up in the surrounding tangle, laying my head on the knapsack; I sleep.
The sun creeping through the branches feels warm on my face as I open my eyes, remembering the snarl that held me fatigued as dark fell across the land. As I sit, I pull my knapsack to me and take the bread and cheese for sustenance.
I struggle to get out of the brush. I push and crawl, leaving my clothes in shreds. At last, reaching a point where I can stand, I move further into the woods.
Hour after hour I trudge through this tangle of nature's fury. Exhausted, I don't think I can go on when I fall through the brush and gaze on a small cabin.
With a sigh of relief, I approach the cabin, stepping on the porch, I rap on the door; I rap again; with no answer, I turn the knob and to my surprise it opens. I enter with only the pale glow coming through the window; no one is here. In the cabin is a bed, a fireplace, a table with chairs opposite the bed. An ebony lush bear rug lies by the dark hearth with no warmth of fiery embers.
Near the hearth, a wood box sits with a bucket of kindling. My knapsack sits on the table, I lay a few pieces of kindling in the hearth then lay two logs on the twigs. I search the cabin for a tender box; alas, none. With my cloak pulled around me to ward off the chill, I sit on the bear rug near the fireplace. The chill seeps deeper into my weary bones as I lay curled and sleep.
When I awoke the sun was sinking in the west. I watched as the sky turned into brilliant colors of red and orange that glistened through the window. I knew then I must return to the castle as I looked at the silent hearth that offered no heat shivers racked my body. Upon picking up my knapsack, I move toward the door. There I pause gazing across the glen and ask myself, "Where am I?"
I move toward the lengthening shadows at the edge of the forest. The castle was to the northeast and I move in that direction. At the tree line, I find no entrance but thick undergrowth that blocked my way. I push my way through limbs that snag my cloak, tug at my hair, and scratch my arms until blood oozes from new wounds. The forest turns to ebony as no moonlight seeps through this dense, invisible path I had chosen. I pushed, pulled, and stumbled my way, until with exhaustion I fell to my knees. The breeze rustles through the trees, and small critters move across the forest floor. With a sob, I accept that I am lost. Too tired to move, I wrap my cloak around me and lay against a fragrant pine before falling to sleep.
The night passes uneventfully, with the gray dawn stretching across the timbers and the heavens. As I open my eyes, the chill of the morning air rakes across me. With my cloak tighter around me, I reach for my knapsack and eat part of the cheese and bread I still have. I long for a passionate fire and a cup of mead to warm my insides. The sweet chirp of birds reminds me I'm alone; and I wonder could I find my way to the small cabin. The brush I crushed through getting here should guide me there if I follow it. I look not to the return trip as my hands and face sting with scratches from the scrub brush. Alas, resolved, I must try.
With the knapsack in hand, I move back onto the trampled trail whence I traveled last night. Wisps of hair flies around my dirt-streaked face, my tunic and breeches torn and dirty, soaked with perspiration. My body aches. No one must see me, or they'd think me a runaway servant. I must find the cabin! Calm yourself. I say to myself and take a deep breath to relax. Serenity courses through my soul as I traverse the smashed trail. Warmed by the heat of the day, I Glance skyward to see the sun high in the sky. I long to stop and rest as my tongue is dry and my lips parched. Hunger and thirst haunt my mind, but I must continue.
My journey continues as the shadows lengthen. Then a small clearing opens before me and the cabin I left stands before me. With relief, I run to the porch darting through the door coming to an immediate halt. Everything is as it was twenty-four hours ago, and the hearth still stands unwelcoming and without warmth.
My knapsack is empty as I scrounge the cabin looking for food to eat. There's a small pantry, yet I find nothing edible. The water pail is near empty; I take it and step outside looking for a source; listening to the night, the sound of running water echoes through the glen. Fifty yards in front of the cabin, a trail leads into the woods that I had not seen. As I follow it, the sound of creatures moving through the forest floor around me as the sound of water gets louder. In the darkness, I trip over a root. I fall headlong into a small clearing only twenty feet wide and lose my hold on the pail, dropping it. In the darkness I grope through the leaves and pebbles for the pail, relief overwhelms me when the tips of my fingers tough the rough metal. I stand entranced by the painting before me as the moon shines into the small clearing. There is a small waterfall that takes the breath away with its beauty; it cascades and sparkles ten feet above the pond, flowing into the pond. The crystal elixir, the rocks, the green pines, and the moon glinting off the water, creates a shimmering glow the pond.
I walk to the pond, filling the pail and traipse back up the trail to the cabin. Inside, I drink my fill of water sitting in front of the ember less hearth. Weariness overtakes me as I sprawl out on the bear rug and sleep.
By Catherin Elizabet Belle
The sleeping lady tired from her trek from the cabin and struggling to return hears not the clop of the horse's hoofs as a rider approaches through a hidden passage. His attire is that of a nobleman as he sits atop his steed, proud and regal, dressed in the finest velvets
He dismounts, and he ties his horse to the rail. He approaches the door, pushing it ajar as he peers into the interior. As his eyes adjust to the darkness, he spots a lad lying by the hearth. He notices the rough quality of dress of the intruder. What is he doing here in the forest and in my cabin?
As he enters the cabin, the stomp of his boots alarms the sleeping body of what he perceived to be a lad. As she scrambles to her feet, turning, fear written over her face as she holds the cloak tight around her, "Who are you?" with the authority of the Lady of the Manor.
With a slight grimace removing his gauntlets, he responds, "Tis I should do the asking." He moves his hat and continues, "You are in my cabin and uninvited; the question is why?"
As she straightens to her full height of five feet four inches, she demands, "Who are you?"
"I am Jonathan, The Earl of Fantasia, at your service." With that declaration, he moves to the fireplace and soon has a fire blazing on the hearth. "Now, who are you? What are you doing here? I will stand for no more delay, answer me."
Edging closer, I sit on the corner of the hearth and with a sigh, "I am Lady Lenore of Black Shadow Castle."
He gasps with this news, "Woman, do you know they are scouring the entire realm for you? How did you get here?"
I jump from the hearth ready to bolt, but where do I go? "Sire, I snuck out of the castle for a few hours of solitude and wandered further than usual till I became lost and stumbled upon this cabin. I tried to find my way back to the castle and found myself lost again. I drank from the pond and waited until dark. There, in exhaustion, I spent the night by a tree. More lost than ever, I pushed on til I found this cabin." With no more to say, she lowers her head, sitting back on the edge of the hearth as she waits for him to speak.
With a deep sigh he says, "Lady Lenore, I must return you to Black Shadow at once. Though I am not welcome at Black Shadow, I will return with you. Your Lord is frantic for your return."
"NO! NO! You must not, it means the dungeon." Falling to my knees on the rustic floor of the cabin, "I implore of you, Sire, just go away, say nothing of finding me."
He moves toward me and grabs my arms causing me to rise, "My Lady, what dost thou mean?"
With my hands over my face, a tear slides to my cheek. The knight places his arms on mine sitting in the chair by the hearth he kneels before me, "My lady, you must be in err, Lord Darwin searches as we speak."
Looking into his eyes, I haughtily toss my head before replying, "I'm sure that is what he tells his army; but my Lord of Fantasia, I assure you it's the dungeon or the convent, for he keeps me as a prisoner."
"Calm yourself, Lady Lenore, when was the last time you ate?" She says not a word, but only stares at the floor as tears run down her cheeks. He stands and walks to the door, "I have food on my horse, I will fetch it. We shall sup, then you will tell why you believe this to be your fate."
While Sir Jonathan is outdoors, I wipe my eyes and straighten my attire; parts are in shreds from crawling through the undergrowth in the forest; tattered breeches and leggings, hair shagging, and dirt smeared face, I am a sight.
With his knapsack in hand, he lays bread and cheese on the table and pours a tankard of mead, bows gallant and says, "Please, My Lady."
When I stay seated, he places cheese and bread on a cloth holding it for me to take. I nibble the cheese and bread. With a sip the mead warmth spreads through my body, riding the inner chill that haunts me since I became lost.
He takes a sip a sip of mead, "My Lady, please tell me why you do not wish to return to the Castle of your Lord."
As her shoulders droop, she begins, "The marriage was not of my choosing. But fostered on me by the Earl of Black Shadow who desires an heir and promised my guardian a tidy sum of gold and land for my hand in marriage."
"Why do you believe the dungeon, or the convent is your fate?"
With a blush of embarrassment, she replies, "I refuse his advances. I am guarded day and night."
He stands and walks to the window staring outward then turning he says, "My Lady, I will be blunt! Are you saying the marriage there was no marriage bed?"
With my head lowered, I whisper, "Yes."
He walks to the hearth laying a log on the embers, turns saying, "Yes, I can see the dilemma. He will not rest until he finds you."
I pace back and forth across the room, "Oh, yes, my Lord! That is why I must get away. I only walk after everyone has retired and my lady-in-waiting always helps me and watches for me. This time, I wandered further than usual and found myself here."
The lady is distraught, and I must help her. There are few who have knowledge of my private retreat. "My Lady, for now you can stay here, few know the location."
"NO! NO! I found it others will." With her head bowed, she says, "Your kind, Lord Jonathan. I have nothing, no clothes, no food; only the pond for water."
A shadow crosses his countenance as he asks, "Is there one whom you trust?" Waiting for her to answer, he moves to the door.
"Yes, Sire, one! My lady-in-waiting, Lara. She has been with me since I was a babe. But, my Lord, how will you get to her?"
For a time, Jonathan sits before the hearth then says, "Lady Lenore, I will go to Black Shadow Castle and offer my services in the search." He rises, "Come with me, My Lady, I have a secret place where you can hide until the search ends."
Hesitant, I allowed him to take my hand as he led me toward the waterfall.
As we approach a pile of rocks against the falls he stops, "Follow close behind me with your back against the rock wall."
He moves to slide under the waterfalls, I stop. He takes my hand to lead me behind the cascading water. I am a foot from the entrance when my foot slips. Quick of wit he catches me, before I fall in the pond drowning.
As he holds me in his arms a fiery sensation spreads throughout my body, I'm sure my face blushes a deep ruby.
As he stands there with this maid in his arms, he finds an unwillingness to release her. Her face radiant and rosy, he ponders dare I kiss this charming and beautiful lady belonging to Lord Darwin. Aware of the temper of the man, he removes my arms from around her and steps further into the cave where he lights a candle and motions for her to follow.
As we move further into the darkness, illuminated by the dim glow of a candle that Lord Jonathan carries, we enter a cavern. When he ignites two or three scones on the stone wall, I am shocked by the things I see. Bear skins on the floor, table, bed, fire pit and a large chest. "Sire, what is this? Whom does it belong?"
With a frown Lord Jonathan replies, "Tis mine, My Lady."
When he says no more, I am curious what he does not tell me. Yet, if I asked, I doubt I'd receive an answer. I still my curiosity. "Will I be safe here, my Lord?"
Shivering from the wetness of my clothes and the chill in the cave, I wrap my arms around myself. Lord Jonathan moves to a dark corner of the cave, returning with wood to start a fire. Soon the cave is warm, and my chill disappears.
"Lady Lenore, before I join the search, I will bring sustenance for you. Fear not, I shall return in two days." He lays his knapsack on the table saying, "Until then this will have to suffice." He doffs his hat, continues, "Until I return, my lady, stay inside the cave. Do not venture even to the falls."
I gaze at him for a moment then reply, "Yes my Lord, it shall be as you say."
|Author Notes||Edited 9.26.2020|
By Catherin Elizabet Belle
From the cave, he returns to the cabin. Mounts his steed, rides toward Fantasia. He knows he must hurry if he is to get food for the Lady and get back to Black Shadow before they continue the search.
Riding hard, he arrives at one of the outlying villages. There, stopping at the blacksmiths, he calls out, "Gaylon!"
Rushing from the interior, "Yes me Lord, what is it you need?"
"A fresh mount; and make haste."
Gaylon sprints to the corral, bringing a sorrel to replace my black. Saddles switched, I'm soon riding at a gallop, as trees gliding by in a multifaceted blur of green. I switch mounts four more times before arriving home, where my groomsmen meet me at the stables. "Sawyer, prepare four mounts ready to travel at once."
As Sawyer goes to prepare the horses he asks, "Me Lord, will you have need of my company."
I reply, "Nay" as I rush toward the kitchen. I enter through the back door and meet Mary at the counter kneading bread flour up to her elbows and a touch on her cheek. "Mary, prepare food for two week's journey. Quick lass!" turning, I say, "And blankets for my journey."
"Yes, me, Lord," and scurries off to do my bidding.
I dash up the stairs to my chambers, and with haste pack a knapsack of extra clothing. At the arsenal, I pick out my weapons. When I return to the kitchen Mary is finishing the required food.
With my hands full, I return to the stables where Sawyer has brought the mounts I requested. "Sawyer places these items on the black. I'll ride the bay."
"Aye me lord." With the three horses held by their reins, he lead them from the stable.
As I mount, I say to Sawyer, "If anyone is looking for me, I am own my way to Black Shadow Castle to aid in the search for the Lady of Black Shadow." Touching spurs, he and his bay gallop across the bridge into the forest.
Switching horses along the way, he soon is back at the cave. There he circles the around the cabin for any unwanted visitors. He takes the horses behind the falls into the outer chamber of the cave. He unloads packhorse and carries the packs into the inner cavern where he left the Lady Lenore waiting. "My lady, Lady Lenore, I have returned."
From the dark corner of the room she says, "My Lord, you came."
I move to the small fire burning in the center of the room, and sit, the radiating warmth taking the chill from my bones.
With the packs placed near the table, "My Lady, I brought supplies for two weeks. I should return in that time. If I am to reach Black Shadow before the Lord returns to the search, I must leave at once." He picks up a pack of jerky and continues, "Stay in the cave, you have wood and for water there're the falls."
As I move to the edge of the cavern, she says, "God speed, my Lord." Doffing my hat, I move into the outer chamber taking the horses with me.
The horses are frisky as we exit the falls, touching spurs to his flank, we ride toward the Black Shadow Castle. The Lord may not welcome me, but protocol demands he offer me lodging. Lady Lenore's wandering took her two leagues from the castle moat. With luck, I will arrive as they are ready to leave.
The boundaries of my lands adjoin to Black Shadow, I am two leagues from the castle gate. There's a chill in the air as I approach the castle, riding in the middle of the road until I halt at the edge of the moat. A guard on the parapet calls out, "Who goes there?"
"Jonathan, Lord of Castle Fantasia, I beg an audience with Lord Darwin." Sitting in plain view, I wait for a reply from within the stone walls. There is no response, but the drawbridge lowers for my crossing. As I pass through the gate, Lord Darwin sits his steed twenty feet forward.
Moving his horse near mine, he asks, "What do you wish here, Sire?"
"In yon village of Kent, they said Lady Lenore was missing. Lord Darwin, I came to offer my services."
As he steps from his horse he says, "Dismount, Lord Jonathan, and joins me in the dining hall." Turning to his companion, he continues, "We'll be riding within the hour."
He stomps into the hall and yells, "Winch, bring drink and a small repast." She curtsies, scurrying to obey his command.
"Sire, how long has the Lady Lenore been missing."
He motions for me to join him at the table; and waiting until I am seated, he replies, "Three days; Lara, her lady-in-waiting, said she went to the garden before retiring after dismissing her." As we receive the mead and slices of cheese and bread, he continues, "We searched the castle without finding her."
"Lord Darwin, is there an enemy, anyone who dare to steal her away?"
Rage darkened his continence as he jumped to his feet. He places his hand atop the hilt of his sword, "No one dares."
"Please accept my apology, Lord Darwin, a man of your stature offers the lady a fine castle and riches of fine silks and jewels, it doesn't appear she wished to leave."
As the anger leaves his face, he removes his hand from his sword sitting, "Lord Jonathan, nothing is impossible; an enemy could have taken her away." He calls his attendant, "Gordon, send for Lady Lara at once."
The lady enters the chambers, her eyes red from weeping she courtesies, "My Lord you sent for me?"
"Yes, may I present the Lord of Castle Fantasia, he has inquired if the Lady Lenore may have left against her will?"
She burst into tears anew, "I don't know me Lord, she spent most of the day in her room; and no one came to call." Wringing her hands, she stood waiting for him to dismiss her.
Gordon burst into the room, "My Lord, you're needed in the stable."
Lord Darwin rose at once, "Lord Jonathan, wait here for my return." Close on the heels of his man, he exits the room.
Glancing at Lara in a low voice, I say, "Move close, Lady." I saw fear cross her face, but she did as I bid.
I placed the ring lady Lenore gave me in her palm, touching my finger to my lips for silence.
Recognition glowed in her eyes and I could see a thousand questions. I speak in a low voice, "The Lady is well. She became lost in the woods and begged me not to return her to the castle. She has need of clothing... simple things, nothing too fancy; and food until I return."
With a hand at her breast she sighs in relief then asks, "Will he find her?"
Noise of the lord of the manor returning, I reply, "She is safe."
Lara moves away from me and says, "Lord Jonathan, I'm sure Darwin will appreciate your offer of help. He is most distressed over the Lady Lenore's absence, as we are." As the Lord of the Manor approaches, she curtsies asking, "May I return to my chamber, Lord Darwin?"
He snarls his reply, "Yes. If we do not find her you will return whence you came. I will have no need of your services without the Lady Lenore."
Lara moves toward the stairs, her head held high as she places her foot on the first step. She turns and glares at the Lord. But I see a dark shadow flash across her eyes as she moves with grace and dignity one step at a time until she reaches the landing where she touches the ring I gave her and with a slight nod, continues on her way.
Turning, Lord Darwin says, "Jonathan, your help is welcome. You say you came by Kent. Did you notice a stir?"
After his informal comment
s I reply, "Nay, Darwin. No unusual activity." Wondering if I should pose the question in my mind, I ask, "Sire, do you think her lost in the forest?"
He straightens to his full six feet and wide girth his face turns a crimson with rage as his hands fisted at his side he replies between his clamped teeth, "This must be true, the guards report there were no visitors to the keep." His features relax as he continues, "Jonathan, you came through the forest from Fantasia, did you see an unusual disturbance."
"Nay, Darwin, two trails where deer trampled through to a small pond. No sign of man's presences."
As he strides toward the door he calls, "Gordon, it's late, we shall ride at first dawn." Turning, he addresses me, "Jonathan, you will stay the night and join us in this search for my Lady."
Internal I breathe a sigh of relief and reply, "I'm honored, Sire. I've had a long ride, may I refresh before the evening repast."
He goes to the corner, he pulls the bell, and a young maiden responds at once, "Tillie show the Lord of Castle Fantasia to the guest room at the end of the landing." He turns to me and says, "We sup at nine."
I move toward the castle entrance to retrieve my raiment when Darwin speaks, "Gordon retrieve Lord Jonathan's things and stable his horse."
Retracing my steps toward the stairs following Tillie, I say, "Thank you, Darwin."
She shows me to a large room of elegance allowing me to enter she asks, "Will you require more, Lord Jonathan."
I glance around the room to discover a water closet smiling with satisfaction I open and see a tub, "Tillie, boiling water for a bath, please."
As I pull my boots off Gordon enters the room with the foofaraw from the barn. "Sire, your horse has been grained and given a rubdown by the head groom. Will there be anything else?" I dismiss him with a shake of my head.
Within the hour, I had a tub of steaming water to wash away the dust. It had been a long, dusty ride. Refreshed with clean clothes, I hear a commotion below and look to see what causes the ruckus.
Below a rider dismounts as the Lord approaches him asking, "William, what brings you here at this hour?"
He doffs his cap, "Lord Ranier wishes to know if the rumor is true that his daughter is missing."
I watch as Lord Darwin's shoulders sag and in reply, "Yes, Donald! Come with me."
Turning, he says, "Gordon, ask Lord Jonathan to join us in the premier room."
Hearing a rap on the door, I wrap a robe around me before answering, "Enter."
As Gordon steps into the room he says, "Lord Jonathan, Lord Darwin requests your presence in the inner ward at once."
Turning, I pick up sword buckling it around my girth and reply, "You may tell Lord Darwin, I will be there anon." As I dress Gordon exits the room. That takes care of my rest this afternoon. He must have word of the Lady Lenore. Turning, I buckle my sword around my girth and descend the staircase to meet with the Lord of the Black Shadow Castle.
As I approach the door, angry voices echo from within and as I take a deep breath I enter saying, "Lord Darwin, you sent for me?"
Turning toward me, his face flushed with anger with a calm voice says, "Yes, Lord Jonathan, let me introduce Lord William Ranier of Devon Shire Castle. Lord William is the father of Lady Lenore."
I bow, then step forward with a proffered hand, "Lord William, a pleasure to meet you, Sire."
William accepts the offer of my hand asking, "Where do you hail Sire?"
As a dark shadow of concern cross his eyes, I reply, "Sire, I am Lord of Castle Fantasia. My lands lay ten miles to the east of Black Shadow."
With a smile he says, "Yes, I recall. Your father was Lord Duran, was he not?" As I nod in the affirmative, he continues, "What brings you to Black Shadow?"
As a grave look crossed my brow, I reply, "A few days ago, I was stopping in Kent and heard that the Lady Lenore was missing. I came to offer my services and those of my men."
Turning to Darwin, he asks, "What are your plans to recover my daughter?"
Without hesitation he answers, "Gordon and my soldiers are ready to ride. We leave at dawn." Pulling the bell, the maid enters, "Tillie, bring mead for my guest."
With a courtesy, she leaves the room to obey his command. When she returns, we sit with a fire burning in the hearth. Taking the goblet sipping the sweat elixir my thoughts turn to the Lady Lenore hidden in the cave awaiting my return. I must get the Lady Lara to her ladyship. But how without arousing suspicion from the Lord of the Manor or her father.
Soon night has fallen; as the servants bring food to the tables, the soldiers gather at the tables below the Lords.
Lord Darwin stands, "Gentleman, you will join me at my table." As his custom he seats William and I on either side of him and Lady Lara to my side. What of luck! The meals of the castle are a time of gaiety, but tonight a gray pall shadows the feasters. The food is abundant and well prepared.
Near midnight Lord Darwin rises and says, "Gentleman, I will check on preparation for our departure at dawn. Please continue to enjoy your repast. Gordon, join me."
Turning as he reaches the corner of the table he says, "Lady Lara, when Lord William is ready to retire, show him to the blue room."
Lord Darwin had only left the chamber when Lord William asked, "Lady Lara, it has been a long hard day, please show me to my room for the night."
"My Lord, come with me, please." As she starts up the stairs she turns saying, "Lord Jonathan, a word with you when I return."
Rising, I reply, "Yes, my Lady."
|Author Notes||Edited 9.26.2020|
By Catherin Elizabet Belle
As I sit in the chamber gazing into the roaring fire in the hearth, I wonder how Lord William feels about his daughter's absence. His eyes flashed with fire, but no other change of expression, with the bit of information known about her disappearance.
The sound of Lara's return breaks my revere as she says, "Lord Jonathan, tell me how you came to have my Lady's ring."
Leaning toward her I begin, "Lara, she said she wandered too far and fell asleep. When she awoke, she could not make it back before daybreak; and explored further into the forest. The deeper she traveled the denser the undergrowth became. She fought her way crawling along the ground at last pushing through to a small clearing with a rustic cabin where she took refuge. At dusk she made her way back through the tunnel of brush where she had entered the clearing, but soon became even more lost. Turning around, she retraced her journey to the cabin. That's where I found her." Pausing when Lara gasps in shock at her lady's trial touching her hand in comfort I continue, "She refused to return to the Castle Black Shadow."
Fear in her face she asks, "Oh, Lord Jonathan, Will they find her there?"
The smile crossing my face distresses Lara. As my smile changes to a smirk I reply, "They might if she were there but since she is not, no danger of her discovery exists."
An audible sigh escapes the lady as Lord Darwin enters the great room demanding, "Where is Lord William?"
Lara answers, "Sire, He wished to retire, I showed him to the guest room at the end of the hall across from your chamber."
In a gruff voice he says, "You may retire, I have no need of your presence."
Bowing her way out she turns without a word ascends the staircase.
Standing in front of the huge fireplace warming his hand he says under his breath, "Where could she have disappeared?"
Knowing what he said but unwilling to admit I heard I ask, "You said something, Sire?"
Turning from the hearth he replies, "No, no, Jonathan. Will you be ready to ride at dawn?"
Rising from the chair I reply, "If that is your wish, Sire." As I prepare to go to the chambers assigned he continues.
"Jonathan I shall ask the Lady Lara to accompany Sir William to Devon Shire Castle on the morrow. Would you do me the honor of escorting them?"
Perfect! I make a show of giving it consideration then reply, "If the Lady wishes to return to Devon Shire, it would be my pleasure to escort the Lady. Will not Lord William join the search?"
Irritated he responds, "Yes! Yes, that is true." Hesitating but a second, "Tis still my wish that the Lady Lara return to Devon Shire. Plan to leave after my army has departed."
"Your wish is my command. With your permission I will retire." He nods and I take my leave.
The ebony night turns to gray as the sun rises in the eastern sky. Standing at the window I watch as Gordon brings the Lord's stallion to the keep. My possibles are packed, strapping on my sword I descend the stairs.
As I enter the great room Lord Darwin steps through the door. "Jonathan, we'll be leaving soon, Gordon is bringing the carriage. Rake will drive the rig."
"When the Lady Lara is ready, we'll ride." He seems eager for us to be off and I wonder why. "Sire, when the Lady is safe at Devon Shire I'll check the border between our lands. I doubt she wandered so far. The undergrowth is thick and difficult to traverse."
He responds, "So be it." Turns and leaves. It is then when I hear the army ride out swords clanking and horse hoofs clopping on the cobblestone.
Lara appears on the landing above me as Jake comes in the door. She calls down, "Ted, please take my trunks to the carriage."
Ted is a small lad struggling to carry the heavy trunks. As I move to take the load from his shoulders, I hear a wee sigh of relief. "Come lad, don't lag." When Lara's things are all on the carriage, she saunters from the kitchen with a knapsack of food for the journey.
Rake appears from the stable taking the provisions from her stowing then he assists her into the carriage. "Lord Jonathan, will you ride in side?"
Mounting my steed I reply, "Nay, I will ride behind the carriage." Nodding to Rake he slaps leather and the horses leap in readiness. Whipping out the gate and across the moat he lays whip to their backs making haste. At the edge of the forest road he levels them out and sets a steady pace allowing us to arrive at Broadhurst mid-afternoon where stop to rest the horses.
"Lady Lara, would you care to refresh yourself, perhaps a cup of warm mead." Taking her hand I aid her from the carriage.
"Aye, Lord Jonathan that would be nice." She takes my proffered arm. "Rake, see to the team, then you and Ted join us."
Entering the Inn, "Innkeeper, warm mead for the Lady, perhaps cheese and bread; Ale for myself."
"Aye, My Lord." Helping the lad down from the top, "Come, lad." Entering the stable he calls, "Stable boy, feed and water for the horses."
Seating ourselves at a table near the fire I ask, "Lara, do you ride?" Her answer may decide what happens when we arrive at Broadhurst.
"Her eyes show concern yet she smiles before she says, "Aye, Jonathan, I ride"
As the innkeeper's wench approaches with the small repast, I wait until she moves away then ask, "Do you wish to see Lady Lenore?"
A small gasp escapes as she claps her hands with joy replies, "Aye, I do. Is it possible?"
Keeping my voice low I reply, "If you're up to a bit of secrecy and deceit, it might be." As we're alone I continue, "First is there a back way out of the castle where you could leave unseen?"
"Yes, my lord."
"When we arrive at Blackhurst, you will retire to your chambers distraught over the disappearance of your ward with instructions not to be disturbed. I will leave with in an hour after our arrival to continue the search from this direction. Just before dawn you will leave with no one seeing you, a horse waiting at an appointed place. At the edge of the forest I will wait for you, we will journey to the Lady."
The door opens admitting Rake and the lad, "Here have cheese and bread; Innkeeper, a tankard of mead for my groomsman and milk for the lad."
Tarrying for two hours to give the horses a rest I glance at Lara who nods in answer to my unasked question. I say "Rake, Lady Lara is eager to reach Devon Shire, we shall travel through the night."
"Aye my lord."
Leaving payment for the repast we leave the inn with Rake whipping the horses to a steady gallop. Riding beside the coach we should reach Waverly Tavern by dawn. We meet few Travelers. The sun is just breaking the horizon as we near the Tavern. Slowing the carriage Rake approaches with caution.... Waverly Tavern's reputation is seedy known to be a hideout for rogues and scalawags. I hear Rake calling to the horses, "Whoa! Whoa there."
Stepping from the saddle, I open the door saying, "Lady Lara, Tis not a fit place for a lady. Please remain in the carriage while I purchase a change of horses to continue our journey. Banging on the tavern's door I rouse the keeper who opening the door screams at me, "Who goes there?"
"Lord Jonathan of Castle Fantasia, I have need of a fresh team of horses, now, man! Hurry to it!"
Opening the door full, he steps out in his night shirt brushing his hair from his face he says, "Yonder in the barn there's a fresh team in the back four stalls. Sire, will you require anything else this night"?
"Nay, David." Nodding to Rake, "Change out the team, we'll leave when you are ready."
Turning I say, "Good night, tavern keeper, nothing else will be required." I wait until he closes and secures the door, then go to the carriage and in a low voice, "My Lady we'll be leaving in a few moments. How are you fairing?"
She touches my hand as it rests on the window saying, "I'm fine Jonathan. I can endure most anything to see my Lady." Rake climbs up on the box with Ted beside him and calls down, "Lord Jonathan." Catching his eye, I nod and he lays whip to the team. By dusk we should arrive at Devon Shire Castle. As the sun climbs higher in the sky more travelers are on the road. The crest of Black Shadow Castle on the coach attracts attention with several inquiring about the Lady Lenore. The sun is overhead when I call to Rake to pull up in the stand of trees ahead to the left of the road. Pulling the team into the shade with grass for the horses to graze, he steps down taking the water container watering the team.
Opening the door of the carriage I ask, "Lady Lara would you like to stretch a bit. We need to rest the team."
"Aye, Jonathan that would be nice." Picking up her knapsack she says, "Let's have a repast of bread and cheese. There's mead for you and Rake, Sire." We join her in the shade enjoying the feast she prepares tarrying for two hours giving the horses a much-needed rest.
Looking to the sky I see clouds building to the east, "Rake, we'd best be going." Standing I offer Lady Lara my hand, "My Lady."
We have not traveled far when raindrops pelt the land settling the dust from the wheels of the carriage. We are still a few hours from Devon Shire. Lightning bolts shatter the peaceful sky as thunder roars across the heavens. Rake lays whip and the team bolts forward at a full gallop; soon he slows the team to a trot and continues to Devon Shire.
As we approach the castle, the guard on the parapet recognizes the crest on the carriage and orders the drawbridge lowered. Rake doesn't slow as he enters the castle walls until he pulls up in front of the main building. William's groomsman steps to aid Lady Lara in leaving the carriage. As her feet touch the ground she gives instructions, "Unload my luggage take them to my chambers."
Entering the building she is bombarded with questions, "Is Lady Lenore truly missing? What has happened to her?"
Holding up her hand she silences the ladies and the servants alike. Placing her hand over her heart she swoons before saying, "Yes, she is missing. No, we have had no word."
As I enter she continues, "Lord Jonathan of Castle Fantasia was my escort home; and will continue the search for my lady when he leaves here."
Calling to Anna she says, "Prepare a repast with warm mead for the Lord; and a knapsack of the best we can offer at once." Taking hold of the newel post she starts up the stairs her feet heavy with grief. At the landing she turns, "Connie I am not feeling well, this has all been too much; please see I am not disturbed."
"Yes me lady."
Anna moves toward the kitchen, "me Lord if ye'll be seated in the grand hall I'll bring your repast."
"Nay, Anna, I will join you in the kitchen." She nods her head and moves down a long hall filled with warm and aromatic odors associated with a kitchen.
Entering the door she says, "Laurie, the mistress has retired to her room. This is Lord Jonathan he will have cheese and bread; and a tankard of warm mead."
Smiling I say, "Laurie, I do not wish to be any trouble but I could use a bite then I shall continue the search for Lady Lenore."
"If ye be looking for the wee lass, you be no trouble. We do miss the lassie."
Seated at the kitchen table Anna and Laurie pile cheeses and breads for my repast; the warm mead taste good after being out in the rain.
Anna disappears in the recesses of the kitchen. When she returns, she has two knapsacks filled to the brim with food and such saying, "Lord Jonathan you will need nourishment if you are to find our Lady."
Rake and the groomsman enter from the outside door, "We have a fresh horse for you, Sire will you need a second mount?"
"Yes. Where's Ted?"
"Sire he is asleep in the hay loft."
"Rake, are you returning to Black Shadow?"
"Nay me Lord, I shall stay here until Lady Lenore is found. Then I am to take the lady Lara to Black Shadow to care for her."
Finishing my tankard of mead I stand, "I am grateful for the fresh horses." Taking the knapsacks of food I take my leave going to the stable where the horses are saddled and ready to ride. As I approach the gate, the guard lowers the drawbridge and saluting I cross the moat to solid ground.
The drawbridge may be a problem for Lady Lara to make her escape. When we made plans, she did not mention it. I will leave the horse at the stable in the small village as we discussed.
By Catherin Elizabet Belle
In her chamber, Lady Lara's lady-in-waiting helps her to undress and climb into her bed. "Sara, I will rest, please serve tea at the usual hour." Settling into her pillows she calls, "Sara, you have been with me a long time, girl"
"Yes, me lady, five years." A puzzled look on her face twisting the cloth in her hands, she asks, "Are you dissatisfied with my services, madam?"
"Oh no lass, I will ask you to do something for me, telling no one."
The Lass rushes to her side vowing, "Whatever you wish, Madam, it shall be. What do you wish of me?"
"Sit here beside me, Sara. I will leave at midnight through the old tunnel under the moat."
As Sara gasps Lara continues, "You must bring my meals here to this room and insist that I gave instructions not to be disturbed. You will consume the small repast as though I had eaten." As she takes the lass's hands in hers, Lara says, "You must do this until I return."
"Oh, my lady, are you going to the Lady Lenore?"
A flash of mirth shines in her eyes as she ponders her answer, "Nay, lass, but I must search for her. She has been my ward since she was a wee babe. I know her better than anyone, and I can find her. I must at least try."
"Me, Lady No one will know you are not in your chambers." Crossing herself, she says, "This I vow."
At midnight, dressed warm in a dark cloak carrying a basket of cheese and breads, she slips through the darkened halls descending to the lower chambers. Deeper into the bowls of the castle she hears the scurrying of mice and hastens to the hidden door to the tunnel under the moat. She struggles to open the heavy door despairing until at last it breaks free. She steps into the narrow passage, the torch held high as she moves through the dank smell in the darkness. Relief washes over her at the glimpse of the sliver of pale moonlight ahead. As she nears the end extinguishes the torch, with a sigh steps into the cool night air. There she closes the door behind her and pushes herself through the brambles that covered the entrance. As the moon slides behind a cloud, she looks to the forest striding across the open field in search of the waiting Lord Jonathan and the horses. Near the woods, she sees a movement and halts her motion. There she waits and until when she hears a familiar voice.
"Here, Lady Lara, in front of you."
With haste she moves to where he is standing saying, "Oh, Lord Jonathan, you are a pleasant sight."
He takes the basket from her and attaches it behind the saddle; then lifts her a stride. "We will travel at night, less chance of being seen."
"How far, Sire?"
He replied, "Five day's journey with haste, staying off the roads." Moving into the trees as darkness engulfs the pair, critters scurry through the undergrowth to escape the stomp of hoofs. Jonathan leads toward his own holdings, The cabin, the waterfall, and the cave are on my land but only a few miles realm of Black Shadow Castle's.
Jonathan keeps a steady pace, staying off the major roads. Four hours into the journey he halts and asks, "Lady Lara, a few minutes' rest?"
Her voice low, she replies, "Nay, Lord Jonathan, I wish to reach the Lady at the post-haste moment."
Without a word puts spurs to his steed, moving deeper into the forest with the Lady Lara right behind him. The Lady is an excellent rider with good stamina. We could reach the cave early. The sky in the east is turning gray with the coming of the dawn and soon will turn to a shining day. He halts. The Lady moves beside him before he speaks, "We will rest the horses for thirty minutes." He dismounts going to help the Lady, only to find her standing beside her horse. A smile sneaks across my face at her agility and determination as she is a lady of width. At a large oak I sit with my back against the trunk, soon Lara joins me. In a short time, we are on our way traveling into a thick forest where we are less apt to meet anyone.
It is nigh on mid-afternoon when we come upon a small stream, dismounting we allow the horses to drink their fill. Lara hands me a repast of cheese and bread as we sit beside the water she asks, "Jonathan, why did you not tell Lord Darwin of the whereabouts of the Lady Lenore?"
Thinking before I answer, "Lara, she does not wish to return to Black Shadow Castle ever. Her determination was intense." After a drink I continue, "There's no honor in forcing the Lady to return to the Castle."
A strange expression shadows the eyes of the lady before she says, "Yes, I see."
Before the conversation went any further, I say, "Let us be on our way, Lara. We have yet a distance before reaching the cave."
On this jaunt we ride into the night with a full moon, visibility is good, stopping near the witching hour I could see the lady was tiring as she is slumping in the saddle. I say, "We will rest for an hour." The lady dismounts and sits against a tree wrapping her clock around her, she is soon fast asleep. With my sword at my side, I allow my head to rest on my chest as I doze.
Aroused by the snort of the horses my eyes survey without seeming to move, I catch sight of a wolf in the underbrush twenty feet from where I am seated. I quiet the horses as the beast wanders away. He wasn't interested in the tasty horseflesh. As I return from the horses, Lara is standing. "My Lady, when you are ready, we will ride."
She gives me a smile and says, "Jonathan, a few minutes and I will be ready."
As she moves into the brush, I caution, "Don't wander far my lady, our visitor might still be near the camp."
Laughing, she calls out, "If you are speaking of the wolf, he'd not want this old carcass."
I did not agree with her but did not offer the opinion. The horses saddled, we are ready to ride as I wait for her return, I wait. She traipses out of the forest saying, "Let's continue, Jonathan?"
The eastern sky is turning a pale gray as the sun begins its morning jaunt across the heavens. Once again, we keep a steady pace along a well-traveled deer trail riding until the sun is high in the heavens I halt.
Lara hands me a piece of cheese and bread from the saddle, saying, "Eat Jonathan." And she follows her on words, nibbling cheese and bread. From a small flask, she hands me a small vial of mead.
With a sip of the sweet nectar I say, "Ah my Lady, it well suits the occasion." We stay in the saddles with the horses sitting in the shade of a gigantic oak eating the small repast.
As the Lady finishes her meal, she asks, "How much further to the cave?" In her eyes is a deep longing behind the simple inquiry.
"We make good time, my Lady, but I fear you will grow weary if we keep up this pace."
"Nay! Nay, my Lord! Let us hasten."
Pondering the distance, we have come and the trail ahead I answer, "Continuing the hard journey, we could arrive there in two days."
She nods, touching her horse's flank as we move ahead. With respect for her determination, I put spurs to my steed and move forward, setting a faster pace as we moved into the ever-thickening woods.
Toward evening gray clouds darken, bringing a stiff breeze, and drops of rain drift through the heavy foliage. Lara wraps her cloak tighter around her tucking her head in the hood continuing on the ever-narrowing trail as I look for a suitable shelter. By midnight we will reach my own lands but still a respectful distance from the castle and the only shelter is ten miles at the cabin where I found Lady Lenore and we dare not stop.
We rest every four to six hours, giving the horses a respite and Lady Lara a chance to stretch. I know she is weary, but we are only a day's journey from the cave.
The search for Lady Lenore need not cross my lands. Being I told the Lord Darwin that I had traveled there stopping at Kent before arriving at Black Shadow Castle. Thus, we had encountered no one until I saw one of my hunters approaching. As Lady Lara rode up beside me, I say, "Lara, drop back into the darkness of the trees." Without a word, she does as I ask. As the rider approaches, I hail him, "Jacob, what brings you this far from the castle?"
As he doffs hat, he says, "Aye, me Lord, I have been trailing a wolf. He has led me a merry chase."
With a smile I ask, "Jacob, has he killed any of our stock?"
He shakes his head and replies, "Nay, Sire."
With thought on the matter I say, "Jacob, leave the wolf and return to Fantasia. I will pick up his trail."
"Aye, me Lord, I will return at once," turning his steed back whence he had come, he pauses saying, "Good hunting, Sire."
As he moves into the forest Lady Lara moves up beside me, "Who was the rider?"
With my eyes ahead I reply, "A hunter from Fantasia looking for a wolf; he will return to the castle." Turning to her I continue, "Let's ride, we are a day from Lady Lenore."
The rising moon in the east illuminates the night as we rest. I listen to the flap of the owl's wings as he swoops through the woods, searching for a rodent on the forest floor. Off in the distance, a coyote's lonesome howl echoes through the night as Lara sleeps. I imagine the sound of the falls, but it's an illusion we are too far for the sound to carry.
As the sun started its ascent, I saddle the horses while Lara nibbles on cheese and bread. I settle for a tankard of mead, which she was so kind to supply. "We should be there by noon, Lara"
"Oh, Sire, I am most eager to see Lady Lenore. I've been with her since she was but a wee lass." We move through the thick undergrowth, following a deer trail.
When we arrive, Lara dismounts and steps forward, wrapping her arms around the Lady Lenore. A dark shadow crosses her face and I swear I see a tear touch her cheek as she whispers, "I have no other place to go. I must stay here. Don't you understand?" Raising her eyes at me, she continues, "I can't, I can't go back to Black Shadow Castle."
Lara, her imploring eyes gaze into mine as she says, "Lord Jonathan, you must help her."
I stand, awed by what they ask. If I honor it, I will place my lands and people in great jeopardy. My army is small compared to Darwin's. But how can I refuse the Lady? Turning I move toward the outer chamber without saying a word, but as I reach the entrance, I look upon the ladies, removing my hat in sweeping fashion I say, "Your wish is my command. It will be as I say. Do you understand?"
Both ladies curtsey saying, "Yes Sire."
I continue to the outer chamber standing behind the falls, as the spray touches my boots, I make plans for the return of Lady Lara. Ah, but the Lady Lenore is another matter. An hour elapses before I return to the cavern carrying the satchel that Lara had brought for Lenore.
As I place it on the ground by the bed I say, "Lady Lara, be ready to ride at dawn." I turn to Lenore saying, "I will talk with you when I return. Do not go beyond the falls. It is imperative you heed, or each of us face death."
With the pallor of doom permeating the cave, the ladies retire for the night, knowing not what the morrow holds. The silence echoes through the cave. Near the witching hour, I move to saddle the horses as Lara prepares to leave. She says, "My lady, you must do as Jonathan says. Do not leave this cave."
Lenore runs to Lara, who wraps her arms around the Lady as she weeps. With time she regains her composure saying, "It will be as he says, Lara, I promise."
As I enter the cave the next morn, Lara is ready, and Lenore is sitting by the crude table.
"Lady Lenore, I will return as soon as I can." Turning to pick up the valise I continue, "Lara, we must go now." I leave the cavern, leading the horses through the exit hidden by the boulder. At the falls we mount, moving through the gray dawn toward Devon Shire, avoiding the more traveled trails.
By Catherin Elizabet Belle
As she sat at the rickety table Lenore places her head in her hands and wills, the tears not to fall. What is to become of me? Where will I go? She creeps to the edge of the falls.
There, taking her hands, she catches water to wash her face and hands. Then she realizes: left the pail in the cavern. As she returns to the interior, she decides it will wait.
After a while she goes through the knapsack left for her and discovers her crewelwork. With the candle on the edge of the table, she sits close, plying her needle. Busy hands will help pass the hours until Jonathan returns. Her needle creates a pattern on the linen as her mind images. He said he'd return. No one has ever kept their word; not even my father, who promised I could choose whom to wed. Then he forced me into the marriage with Darwin. Alas, what is to become of me?
The days pass, I work on my crewel and wait. I dare not venture beyond the falls. Where will I go? Oh, was I not lost in the forest.
Jonathan left five days ago; has it been five days? It could be four more before he returns if he does. He was to help Darwin look for me. Oh! My, what a mess I've made for myself. The food is low, if I eat sparingly it will last four days.
The next few days are routine with sleep, sewing, walking to the falls, and more sleep. It's eve of the fourth day I am restless. Jonathan will return, he must. I crawl into bed; sleep is elusive, yet in the wee hours of the night I slumber. I am awakened by the neigh of a horse outside my cave; I freeze in terror. From the bed I move to the far recesses of the cave and hover in the darkness, trembling. I'm sure the rider can hear.
I fear I shall die of fright when a familiar voice calls, "Lady Lenore, Jonathan."
In an instant I am running toward the dim glow of the torch he is holding and slam into his arms, sobbing. With the light in one hand, he wraps his arm around me holding me close saying, "My lady, are you, all right?"
Shaking my head against his chest, I continue to sob, tears rolling glistening on my cheeks. He drops the torch to the floor of the cave and holds me by the shoulders as he looks into my eyes he asks, "What is wrong?"
With my weeping under control I reply, "Sire, I thought you might not return." Feeling the shame for what I have done I, in haste, move putting the table between us.
He turns and walks to the outer cave, returning with a bulging knapsack. As he puts things on the table he says, "My Lady, your food run before my return and for that, I apologize for my late return. Are you hungry?"
With a smile I reply, "Sire, I ate sparing. But yes, I could eat." I watch as he takes a container from the pack pouring mead into a goblet, he sits it in front of me. From the goblet I sip the sweet elixir saying, "Tis a welcome after nothing but spring water."
As he lays a small repast of lamb, bread, and cheese on the table he says, "Lara is back in her home with no one knowing of her absence." He glances at her before he continues, "My lady, do you wish to return to Black Shadow Castle?"
A tinge of fear crosses my face as I reply in a shaky voice, "I will not go back, never! Never! Do you hear me? Never!"
She was so distraught I move to her, kneeling in the dirt I touch the small hand lying in her lap of tattered pants and am shocked at the thrill that courses through my body as my cock jumps in response. My mind screams no as my body defies reason. With a deep breath, I say, "Lenore, you can't stay here forever. It's not fit for a lady."
As a tear falls from her eye, she says, "I have no place to go. You said I was safe here."
Without thinking, I wipe the saline drifting across the pale cheek. I still the desire burning to touch that finger to my lips for a taste of this enchanting lass. I move and sit in a chair across from her, knowing she is right. She and I both know anyone who hides her faces death. "Let's rest tonight, Lenore. Tomorrow, we'll decide what to do."
As soon as I have the horses tended, I settle near the cave entrance. Sleep is illusive, and I lay awake long into the night. Lenore is restless across the cave, tossing on the bed. By the gray light of dawn, a solution forms, but it will be dangerous for Lenore and fatal for me if caught. It hinges on Lenore's willingness to die. Well, in a manner of speaking.
By Catherin Elizabet Belle
The armies of The Lord of Black Shadow Castle, Devon Shire Castle, and Fantasia scoured the countryside for months looking for Lady Lenore. People were in despair. Darwin's mood was as dark as the somber name of his realm. He raided the homes and hovels of his serfs, threatening dire consequences if anyone harbored the Lady, or knew of her whereabouts, but not say.
I sent half of my soldiers to aid in the continuing search for the Lady while I rode to the far reaches of Darwin's holdings, pretending to search. Upon completing my mission, I returned to Fantasia and rest two nights. There, I received word that the hunters were near where the two Lord's holdings met. Just a week's ride from my castle. I called to my groomsman, "Sawyer, saddle the black and have the roan ready to travel at once."
Through the kitchen door I find Mary standing at the center table as she awaits my command, "Mary, I am of need of simple food supply for two weeks. I will leave within the hour."
"Yes, me Lord."
I sprint up the stairs to my chambers and pack a knapsack with changes of clothes, buckle my saber at my waist, my knife goes in my boot, and one in the scabbard. With my cloak in hand I dash to the kitchen picking up the food Mary prepared. As I step out the front door Sawyer has the two horses standing ready.
As I across the drawbridge, the captain of my army salutes from the parapet. Stopping only to rest the horses, I arrive in four days soaked from the rains that fell, refreshing the lands. Near the encampment, I locate the banners of my soldiers and I ride to my tent. As I dismount, a groom steps forward to take the reins, "Sammy, rub down the horses, I rode them hard."
Sammy responds, "Aye, your Lordship."
Upon entering my tent, the Captain of my army rises saying, "Welcome, Lord Jonathan." Turning, he fills a goblet of warm mead before handing it to me.
I sip the mead as I ask, "Has the Lady Lenore been found?"
"Nay, my Lord, nary a sign. Lord Darwin is frantic and refuses to admit that we cannot locate her."
I pace the width of the tent and turn saying, "Captain, I will see Lord Darwin. Please prepare a bath upon my return."
As I stride through the encampment to the enormous banner signifying Black Shadow, I pause before the opening while Lord Darwin is told of my arrival. His Captain announces me, and I hear him bellow from within, "Enter Jonathan."
As I step through the flap, he's on his feet charging me in his haste, "Damn-it man, what have you to report?"
I take his proffered hand in greeting and reply, "Darwin, I found no sign of the Lady Lenore. I covered the land from the boundary between us to the hills beyond Fantasia."
He slumps into his chair rubbing his beard, his face puzzled in thought, then he stands going to the table. He unrolls a map. "Come, Jonathan, show me where you searched."
Joining him, I trace the land which I covered with my hand. He peers at the map before moving his attention to the far reaches of Black Shadow Castle. "We have not searched here. Jonathan, we will rest here two days then continue the search."
As I look at the vast acreage to cover, I ask, "Darwin is Lord Rainer here?"
Watching his expression, I ask, "Are we not be able to cover more territory if we each searched a section and meet at a prearranged time and place?"
"Aye, Jonathan." He looks again at the map and says, "I will assign sections at dawn in two days."
With a bow I reply, "Lord Darwin, I will take my leave for the night. It has been a long, hard ride."
He slaps me on the shoulder, and he says, "Will you join me for breakfast?"
With no choice, I reply, "It will be my pleasure, Sire." Leaving the Black Shadow encampment, I return to Fantasia's encampment and to my tent.
"Your bath is ready, me Lord."
With my sword and knives removed, I sit on the stool near the bed prepared for me. "Sammy, have my Captains join me before midnight."
As I slip into the tub of scalding water, its warmth permeating my body jolted from the hard ride to the encampment. Feeling relaxed, I await my captains who promptly arrive. "Sire, what is your need?"
Greeting the captains as they arrive, I wait until they are present then say, "In two days' time, we will march. We will converge on the point where our properties merge from different directions, hoping to find the Lady Lenore. Lord Darwin wishes to assign our areas of search which he plans come the morn. Be prepared to ride with full armor and weaponry at the appointed day and time." I stand and continue, "Dismissed." As the captains leave the tent I state, "Thomas, stay."
"Aye my Lord," in silence he closes the flap with him on the inner side.
Thomas is the most trusted of my Captains. He has lived at Fantasia his entire life; his father served my father, and he serves me. "Have a seat, Thomas and help yourself to a tankard of warm mead. It's there on the table."
"Thank ye, my Lord."
When he seated across from me, I say, "Thomas, I have a special mission for you, one I trust only to you. See me after my meeting with Lord Darwin in the morning; I will give you the details of what I am asking of you. Mention this conversation to no one.... No one!"
A shadow crosses his face, but only in question of what I ask of him; "Aye my Lord, till the morrow." He rises, leaving my quarters with no further word.
The darkness of night has fallen upon the land and the encampment is quiet except for an occasional neigh from the horses. Off in the distance, the hoot of an owl on his nocturnal hunt whispers through the trees. The crack of a log burning in the fire near my tent; sounds of the night speak of peace, but the knowledge I hold deep in my heart causes me deep concern. It is late when I doze as I lay clothed.
As my page enters the tent I am buckling on my sword. I am to meet Lord Darwin for breakfast. As I leave my abode, I see Darwin's Captain approaching. "Good day to ye, Gordon."
"Lord Darwin request your presences, Sire," and waits for my reply.
As I glance around the encampment I reply, "I am on my way there now; has Lord Rainer arrived."
"Aye, Lord Jonathan, he just arrived. They are waiting for you."
Not breaking my stride as I approach him, I smile saying, "Well, man, let's be off."
He falls in beside me as we cross the encampment to the Lord of Black Shadow's quarters. When we are ten feet away, his page announces us, and he bids to enter.
As I enter the warmth of the tent, Lord Darwin says, "Join me." As I move toward him, I hear him say, "Garth, food and drink for Lord Jonathan."
Conversation is light as we consume the repast offered. Garth passes around tankards of warm mead when Lord Darwin lays a map on the table before us. There is a point ten day's ride to where Lord Darwin's and my lands separate and the Grosberg' lands begin... a triangle of sorts. "Gentleman, the plan is thus. Jonathan, you are most familiar with your own lands and can search more thoroughly. Lord Ranier, we are twenty days' ride from your holdings. It pleasures me if you and your warriors ride with me as we cover this part of my lands. Ten days hence we will meet where the Targon flows into Lake Mirror." Sipping the warm mead, he continues, "I plan to send Gordon to the Grosberg Castle seeking permission to cross his lands."
I look at the map and his proposal and I ask, "Darwin, What if Grosberg refuses? And how will my Captains know?"
He mulls over the question for a few minutes, then he answers, "Hum, a good question. It might be wise to send your own emissary. Yes, that be wise. Will you do that, Jonathan?"
"Yes, Darwin, it's the prudent thing." It fit well to Thomas's mission. "When are we to leave, Darwin?"
"We will stay in camp and rest for today and the morrow at dawn we will march, but the riders to Grosberg should leave tonight if we are to receive permission before we arrive at his borders." Turning to his captain, "Gordon, I will address the army, have them assemble."
"Aye, Lord Darwin."
I stand and say, "Darwin, I will meet with my men. A messenger will leave at dusk."
I ask Thomas to join me as I return to my tent. "Thomas, choose your most trusted soldier; have him report at once." Pausing in thought, I continue, "You return with him, I have a special mission for you."
Thomas returns within the hour, "Sire, Jonas, he is ready to leave."
Jonas is a stout redheaded man; the scars on his cheek and forearm speak of his prowess with the sword. Thomas has chosen well. "Jonas, you leave at dusk for Grosberg's Castle. Take two mounts, hasten." Handing him the missive, "Give this to Lord Grosberg; await his answer."
"Aye me Lord."
"Jonas, Thomas will see you off at dusk."
"Aye me Lord."
"Thomas, stay, we've much to discuss. Pour tankards of mead." At my trunk, I remove a package, placing it on the table. "The task I ask of you could mean your death if caught."
"My Lord, I swore my allegiance; you've only to ask."
As I open the package, I continue, "Scatter these items on Lord Darwin's property leading to the river; the smaller items first, then strips of the petticoat with parts of the dress at the river's edge." I had torn the dress as if it had been rent in a struggle and shredded the petticoat. I continue, "Once you have completed the task, meet up with Jonas as he returns from Grosberg Castle and report."
"Aye, my Lord, when do you wish me to leave?"
As I look toward my trusted captain I say, "At the same time as Jonas after dark, unobserved."
"My lord, I will retrieve the package at the appointed time." With a bow, he exits the tent.
Thinking of the journey ahead, I wonder what the Lord of Grosberg Castle will say. I know little of him; they consider him tyrannical. They spend the rest of the day preparing for the trek in search of the Lady Lenore. I watch as Jonas and Thomas leave on their missions.
For the evening meal, I dine with my army around the campfire as they hone their swords and knifes. The aroma of the roasting boar mixes with the smoke from the fire for an intoxicating temptation to the hungry palate. The camaraderie reminds me of loyal, dedicated men. I am proud to they are in my service to Fantasia Castle.
The sky lightens to gray as the sun peeks above the horizon; dawn sees the armies of Black Shadow and Devonshire castles moving south while my own Fantasia force heads north. The camp followers are packing the tents and equipment following in our wake. When we reach the border, I deploy my men one hundred yards apart as we search every tree and blade of grass for the missing Lady Lenore. It feels strange to comb land I know does not hold the missing Lady.
The moon is bright with a cool breeze slicing through the air, rustling the leaves on the oaks and pines dotted throughout this acreage. A coyote howls over the next rise, calling for his mate.
Caleb, my falconer, rides close as we move through the high grass toward the tree line. With my page beside me I move ahead of the line of men saying, "Seth, ride back and locate the caravan, tell Caleb we will rest for an hour at dawn; we will need a quick meal of cheese and bread."
After a brief stop, our search continues. The men cover every known cave, overhang, or group of trees on the land. They are familiar with the land as they have ridden patrolling the borders to protect the castle and my people for years. The triangle where the three holdings converge is but a day's journey when Seth returns with the news that the camp's prepared and awaits our arrival.
After Tomas's report, I ask, "Seth has Jonas returned."
"Nay Sire." He stands waiting for my response.
"Seth, get something to eat and rest. We will reach the camp late tomorrow." He bows, backing away, going to the campfire where a hot drink awaits and a slab of roasted deer meat.
Seth is a good page; an orphan hungry, little more than an animal living wild in the woods when he came to me. Thieves had set upon the carriage traveling through one of my villages, killing his parents and the driver. Seth slipped away and hid in the forest. My captain and soldiers searched and found his parents. They buried them properly. Several years passed the thieves were before my court for punishment.
When we arrived at the camp at sundown, we had been out ten days. That is the distance to Grosberg's Castle. Jonas is for return. Seth directs me to my quarters with a pleasant fire in the pit and warm mead with roast pork, cheese and bread, a fine repast.
Lord Darwin's camp is not setup nor has his army arrived. I wondered, "What's the delay." I retire early. The sounds of the camp are a comfort, and I soon dozed.
In the wee hours of the morning I am awakened by a resounding ruckus. I grab my sword and dash outside the tent to discover the noise is Lord Darwin's cavalry with him in the lead and his entourage. Seth is at my side, letting me know he will have a repast for the Lord of Black Shadow Castle. As Darwin halts before me I say, "Alite, Lord Darwin, a light meal awaits you."
As his feet touch the ground, he doffs his hat saying, "Lord Jonathan, a glass of ale please." Seth leaves at once to secure the ale; and is pouring a tankard as we enter the tent.
I take the tankard of ale from Seth, Lord Darwin turns asking, "Was there any trace of the Lady Lenore."
With a shake of my head, I reply, "Nay, Darwin, we found no trace of her anywhere."
He sits at the table and picks up a piece of cheese looking up at me says, "Man, nothing. You found nothing?" Taking a large gulp of ale, he continues, "We found no sign of her. Has your messenger returned?"
Moving to the other side of the table, I reply, "Nay, he should have been here by sundown yesterday. Darwin, what do you know of the Lord of Grosberg?"
"Jonathan, he rides a tight border, either keeping everyone off the land or keeping his subjects on the land." As we sit quietly, neither speaking, waiting for our messengers, we wait.
By Catherin Elizabet Belle
It was midnight two days following the meeting with Lord Darwin when awakened by Thomas. He entered my quarters with Jonas draped over his shoulders. "Sire, I founded him dumped at the edge of Fantasia's lands, he's barely alive." He lay him on the cot and continues, "I did what I could for him, but he has remained unconscious."
As Seth enters, I say, "Send for my physician at once." Seth turns and with haste exits the door flap. In the time I take to pour Thomas a tankard of mead, Seth returns with the physician.
At once he looks at Jonas with extreme care, then turns and says, "Sire, he is suffering from a severe beating; they bust his arm." He washes his wounds and puts a poultice on the worse cuts, he stands saying, "Sire, we wait."
"Kane, will he regain consciousness?"
Before the words left my mouth, Jonas stirs and in whisper, "Sire"
I move to the cot, touch him on the shoulder saying, "Jonas, I'm here." When he tries to sit up, I push on his shoulder saying, "Rest easy."
Jonas lies back on the pillow whispering, "No, No time." With a labored breath, he continues, "Sire, he will kill anyone trespassing on his lands." In pain, he says, "Lord Grosberg" and passes out.
The physician says, "Sire, let him rest for a few hours. When he wakes, he will need broth."
Buckling my sword around my waist slipping my tunic on my shoulders I say, "Thomas, I must see Lord Darwin at once. Join me." Leaving the tent, we traipse through encampment to Lord Darwin's large quarters.
His captain of the guard halts our approach. "Lord Jonathan, the hour is late. What is your purpose?"
"Gordon, our messenger returns from Grosberg's holdings. Lord Darwin needs the information at once."
"Follow me." As he approaches the tent, he calls out to Lord Darwin, "Sire, Lord Jonathan wishes to speak with you."
From inside the tent a sleep riddled voice yells, "Enter." A light goes on inside as Gordon raises the flap for us to enter. Lord Darwin says, "Jonathan, this better be important for you to be here at this hour."
My eyes adjust to the light, Lord Darwin sitting in his nightshirt on the side of his bed. "Darwin, my messenger Jonas, that I had sent to Grosberg. One of my captains just found him at the property line between Fantasia and Grosberg, unconscious. They severely beat him."
As I spoke these words, Darwin rises pacing the full length of the tent swearing with each step. "Was he able to speak?"
"In a whisper he conveyed that Grosberg will kill any who trespasses on his property. They denied us permission to search for the Lady Lenore." Turning to face Darwin, I ask, "Has your emissary returned?"
As I move toward the tent flap I say, "Darwin, I wish to see to my man." I leave his quarters and walk through the encampment, listening to the men laugh and converse around the campfires. I approach Fantasia encampment as the men are stirring, the cooks have the coffee boiling and breakfast is being prepared. The gray dawn is breaking in the east, the grass damp with dew and the birds serenading the air.
As I enter the tent, Seth offers me a hot cup as I ask, "How is Jonas?"
"Sire, the physician reports he has taken a cup of broth, and his arm shattered and needs removed."
I hear Seth's words and stand in silence. Jonas is an excellent soldier. Turning to Seth, I ask, "When will he remove Jonas's arm."
"Sire, he awaits your return. I fear that he wishes for your approval. He knows Jonas has been with you a long time." I sit the cup on the table and exit the tent.
As I enter where Jonas is resting, I see the physician rise to meet me. I approach Jonas and ask, "How you are doing man?"
With a glance at the physician, I ask, "What have you told him?"
Before he could answer Jonas says, "He wants to cut off me arm. I beg, me Lord, don't let him take me arm."
The physician moves to Jonas saying, "It will be useless, it's busted."
Jonas looks past him pleading, "Me Lord, don't let him take me arm."
I touch his shoulder and nod my head, then motioning for Harry to join me outside I ask, "If you don't remove his arm, will he live."
"Yes, My Lord, but he can never use it."
I return to Jonas's bedside and say, "Jonas, you keep your arm, but you won't be able to use it."
"Me, Lord, I will use it; that I vow." Closing his eyes, he drifts off to sleep. I stand beside him for a few minutes, then turn and leave.
Harry follows out behind me, shaking his head as he says, "Sire."
Before he can say another word, I state, "He keeps his arm, Harry" and continue to my quarters.
As the sun peaks over the trees the eastern sky is a golden brilliance washing the shadows from the land and drying the dew from the foliage. The encampment is a buzz and the smell of coffee boiling permeates the air. Lord Darwin's messenger has not returned; and Darwin has not ordered the march. Outside my quarters, I watched Gordon as approaches, noting he is not in battle dress.
As he reached me he says, "Lord Darwin asks that you join him in his tent."
"Let's go." Striding through the encampment, Gordon keeps pace; the greeting's he receives speaks of the men's respect as he acknowledges each by name. He doesn't hesitate but enters Lord Darwin's tent.
"Thank you for coming, Jonathan. The messenger has not returned, I'm sending out a troop to search along the border. If we do not find him, we will enter the Grosberg's holdings in full battle dress. I will search for my wife where I please." He walks to the table sitting to his breakfast. "Gordon, will you join me?"
"Nay, Darwin. I wish to meet with my captains. So, we will be ready to march."
As he leaves Darwin says, "Jonathan, you deploy your troops along the border of your holdings and Grosberg's preventing his escape. If he fights, you will have his rear covered."
I am relieved. My men will stay on our own holdings. I am not inclined to battle with Grosberg. "Darwin, I will leave a contingent along the border, but I must return to the castle."
Darwin is on his feet charging toward me yelling, "Ye, abandon me in my search for my wife."
"Nay, Lord Darwin, I'm only taking a small force back to Fantasia. It's time for me to go home."
He halts his charge; I see his face relax as he says, "Forgive me Jonathan, you are right. It is I who must continue the search." He asks, "When will you leave, Jonathan?"
"I will deploy my men along the border at dawn tomorrow. The rest will leave for home. Is that satisfactory, Darwin?"
Turning back to the table he slumps in his chair as a grave shadow crosses his continence he says, "Jonathan, I fear I may never find the Lady Lenore. After I find the messenger I may return to Black Shadow. I spoke in haste; I can't risk my army against Grosberg when we have no reason to believe she even came this far."
Following Darwin's outburst, Lord Ranier burst into the tent asking, "What is all the shouting?"
He turns to face Lord William saying, "I was chiding Jonathan for returning to Fantasia, but it's the best thing for him." He stuffs cheese and bread into his mouth chewing he says, "Take your entire army when you leave."
Relieved at his decision, I ask, "Darwin if that is your wish. I shall pull out in the early dawn."
As I move toward the tent flap I say, "God speed, Darwin."
As I exit the voice of Lord William asks, "Darwin are you giving up the search?"
"Nay, William, we shall search both sides of the river for my messenger and any sign of the Lady." Chewing before he continues, "William, it's time for you to return to Devon Shire. We can hope she will return to her childhood home."
Lord Ranier sips the tankard of mead Willie hands him tapping his fingers on the hilt of his sword. "Yes, Darwin, you are right. we will leave at sunrise." Sitting the tankard on the table he stands saying, "Farewell Darwin."
By Catherin Elizabet Belle
My men carry out their orders and worked into the night preparing to leave at daybreak. Seth brought my horse as the gray light of dawn whispered the rising of the sun; the trill of birds in the shadowy forest gave a pleasant sound, speaking of no intruders. Before mounting, I walked to the wagon where I expected to find Jonas. To my surprise, he sat astride his roan, a smile on his weathered face to match the gleam of his red hair. "Jonas, you're ready to ride."
"Aye me Lord, at your command."
While I doubt his ability to stay in the saddle as severe as his beating, I know better than to question his manhood or loyalty as one of my best soldiers; and let the matter rest.
Thomas approaches saying, "Sire, we're ready to march."
My horse mounted, I sat easily as I gazed around me and then said, "Thomas, have you seen Gaylor?" Before the words are silent Gaylor approaches. "Gaylor, you will take the army back to Fantasia. Thomas and Jonas will ride with me on an errand of utmost importance."
"Aye, me Lord, we're ready to leave. Will you give the command?"
Nodding, I ride to the head of the column, stand in the stirrups yelling, "Move Out." Turning my horse aside, I acknowledge each Captain and troop as they rode by in review while Jonas and Thomas waited beside me. Seth waits in the shade for my signal to join me. As the last of the troops pass, I nod to Seth who pulls up beside me with the pack animal in tow.
"We will trail the Army before veering to our destination" I spur my horse, moving forward in the dust's wake created by the marching hoard.
Lord Darwin dips his banner in acknowledgement as we move into the distance, then says,
"Gordon, have the Captains report to my quarters." Without saying a word, Gordon turns on his heels to obey the command.
Within the hour, troops assembled. "Gordon, assemble a contingency of twelve men ready to march at noon." Offering mead to those gathered, Darwin continues, "The rest prepare to march to Black Shadow upon my return. If I do not return in a week, leave without me. Is that understood?"
In an indignant voice one captain asks, "Sire, we are to leave without you?" Lord Darwin paces back and forth across the floor before responding, "That is my order. You will obey it."
Stopping near the table, he continues, "Return to your duties."
As the Captains leave Gordon remains standing near the exit as Lord Darwin says, "Willie boy, saddle my horse and a pack animal at once." Waiting until he leaves, Lord Darwin continues, "We will leave in search for Garth and any sign of the Lady Lenore as soon as Willie returns."
Willie soon returned with his master's mount, a packhorse, and his own steed and stood outside the tent waiting for his Lord. As Gordon arrives with Joshua, Lord Darwin steps from headquarters without a word mounts his steed, the armies in full battle dress.
By nightfall they reach the point of Targon, ten miles below the breaking camp, stopping to let the horses drink Willie bends picking up a piece of silk rag. Taking it to Lord Darwin he says, "Sire, did not the Lady Lenore have a dress of yellow silk?"
A shadow slides across his brow, "Where did you find this?" Dismounting!
His posture erect before Darwin Willie says, "Me Lord, it was hanging on a low branch by the water."
"Show me!" He follows Willie to the edge of the river and stops where his page points. Turning to Gordon he continues, "Have the men spread out searching both sides of the river upstream and downstream."
"Sire, we can't see in blackness of night. Across the river are Grosberg lands."
With a glare of hostility, Darwin yells, "We'll camp and begin the search at daybreak." Willie prepares his Lord a meal, but Darwin eats little.
Gordon sees to his men then joins Darwin near the fire Willie has prepared, "My Lord, we bivouac the men for the night." When Darwin nods Gordon remains in silence listening to the river flowing and the night sounds waiting for Darwin to speak. Time drags as the moon moves across the ebony sky where millions of stars glisten.
It is near the witching hour when Darwin speaks, "Gordon, rest now, we search at dawn." He returns to staring into the fiery blaze lost in a maze of his own thoughts.
Gordon rises from the fire and says, "Aye my Lord." Standing there he sees the hollowness of his master's eyes turns and walks away.
Gordon sits away from his men leaning against a tree, his sword beside him once again listens to the sound of water lapping the shore. The sound of the flowing water soothes his weariness as his eyes close in slumber.
At dawn Darwin is on his feet yelling at everyone and everything, he calls, "Willie boy, my horse at once." Turning toward the men he barks orders at the top of his lungs, anger guiding his words.
With his temper flaring, the men do as ordered, half crossing to the other side but staying in the water. Gordon nods his approval, taking the other half moving downstream. As they move through the shallows, Gordon's group has gone a mile downriver when they find a body half in the water and half on the bank. Gordon spurs his horse across the river and leaps to the ground. He turns the body over only to discover Garth's dead eyes staring at him. Lifting his body he lays it across the saddle as he leads the animal to where Lord Darwin is standing says, "My Lord, 'tis Garth, he's dead."
Just as the words escape Gordon's mouth, they hear one soldier calling back whence they came, but the words are unintelligible. He turns his horse in the direction and rides up on one of his warriors calling to him, "Lord Darwin, here! Over here, Sire." Approaching the man on foot, he sees he is holding a piece of clothing which he hands to him. As he touched the silken fabric, he knows before his eyes focus in the dim early morning light it belongs to Lady Lenore. It is a shredded piece of her gown, the yellow color of the scrap found earlier. Further search shows one of her small slippers snagged on a branch in the middle of the river where the water is deep.
Lord Darwin wails both in anger and grief. Willie stands with his Lord waiting for instructions, but he is too forlorn to think.
Gordon orders camp made. When Darwin's tent is ready, he leads him to his tent and tells Willie to stay with him. As the captain leaves Willie prepares a tankard of warm mead for the master saying, "Sire, drink."
In silence Darwin accepts the tankard and stares into the darkness of the tent where only a small flame of a candle flickers.
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