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| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| October 8, 2020 Views: 15|
Chapter 7 of the book The Search
The hunt continues for the Lady Lenore.
"No sign of the Lady"
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.
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