Faolan pulled the buckboard off the road and into the camping area marked by a sign in the Freemen language. The moment he stopped, he jumped down and braced the wagon tongue. Gunther
jumped off the other side and unhitched the two horses. Meanwhile, Faolan released Nightshade from where he was tied at the rear of the wagon. Within a few minutes the two cart horses
were hobbled by the water trough and a fire stated.
As Faolan carried their bedrolls over to the fire, the large key to the blacksmith shop with its iron ring fell out. He stopped and picked it up. “Gunther, you did lock the shop when we
left, didn’t you?”
“Yes, sir. And I put the sign up, like you always do.”
“Sign? Which side, ‘closed until further notice,’ or ‘be back soon’?”
Gunther scratched his leg. “I can’t read, but it was the one you always put up when we left.”
Faolan shook his head. “Well, I guess it won’t matter. Whoever comes by will figure it out eventually.”
The following afternoon Faolan and Gunther arrived at Bar Elam. The quarantine sign hung over the gate and the black flag flew from the pole. Faolan stood up and called, “Permission to
enter. We have a mission in the city.”
A guard appeared over the gate. “Don’t you see the black flag, fool? The city’s quarantined.”
“I know,” Faolan replied. “We’re here to meet the dru who’s treating the sick. She sent for us.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” The guard turned and yelled, “Open the gate. They’re here to meet the Hawkland dru!”
When the gate opened, a guard stood in the roadway. “I’ll guide you there.” He swung up onto the seat, forcing Gunther to shift closer to Faolan. “You bringing her
supplies?” The guard looked at the tarp covering the back of the wagon.
Badger, curled up behind the seat on the tarp, sat up suddenly almost nose to nose with the intruder, who jumped to his feet with his sword half drawn, nearly falling off the wagon.
“He won’t hurt you,” Faolan said. “He’s my guard dog.”
“Man, that is the strangest looking dog I’ve ever seen.” The guard sat down.
Faolan waved the indignant badger down and smiled at the guard. “Haven’t been out of the city much, have you?”
When they reached the mansion gate, a guard took them to the lobby where a few moments later Beowyn walked out of a hallway on the opposite side. “I wondered when you’d show up.” He
strode across the lobby and grabbed Faolan in a hug. “I ought to slug you for leaving without saying goodbye.” He stepped back and nodded at Badger. Then he turned to Gunther with
his right hand out. “I’m Beowyn.”
“I’m Gunther of the Accetani.” He shook Beowyn’s hand.
“That’s quite a grip.” Beowyn shook his fingers off to one side. Then he turned to Faolan. “What are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to be in hiding.”
“Princess Evaughnlynn thought this was where the Dark Ones would strike next. So I came here. She was right. They attacked the Accetani tribe of Hollow Mountain on the western
Beowyn nodded. “Let me guess. You just happened to be there.” He turned to Gunther. “He has a way of just being there when trouble shows up. For a guy who says he
doesn’t want to fight, he gets in a lot of them.”
Beowyn waved back the way he’d come. “So let’s go find Evon. She’ll want to see you the moment she hears you’re here.”
Beowyn led them through the hallways to Evaughnlynn’s and Roselyn’s preparations room. The two young cousins and a young girl were preparing their potions. “But I don’t see why she has
to come with me,” Roselyn said as they came in the door. “Why can’t she go with you and Faolan.”
Evaughnlynn turned to the door and smiled. “Hello, Faolan.”
“Milady.” Faolan bowed.
Evaughnlynn put her hand on the young girl’s shoulder. “Neima, this is my friend, Faolan. He’ll be going with us to Bar Dor.” She smiled at Faolan again. “And, Faolan, this
is Neima, my new apprentice.”
Faolan also smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Neima.”
Neima looked at Faolan and then at Badger, sitting beside him. “May I pet him?”
Badger walked over to Neima and looked up at her.
Neima glanced at Evaughnlynn excitedly. “He understood me.” Then she squatted down by Badger and began to stroke his head. “He wants to be my friend.” She smiled widely at
“He has very good taste in friends,” Faolan replied. Then he looked at Evaughnlynn. “You said we’re going to Bar Dor. Why? And when do we leave?”
“Because the sickness is there, and tomorrow.” She waved at her cousin. “Roselyn and Morrigan will go to Bar Chof on the coast, then to the city to the north to treat the sick.
But it’s gotten into the city and countryside around Bar Dor, so that’s where I’m going.”
Faolan nodded. “Bar Dor’s in the north not all that far from the border with Mercia. It’s also where the military command for the Freeholds is based.” His eyebrows drew together
as he considered the situation.
“The Baron will be going with us while his ward goes with Rose and Beowyn. He has a load of armor he wants to sell to the army at a discount. He’s planning to expand his trade in armor
beyond that for knights. It’s very good, he tells me. But you’d be a better judge of that than I.”
Faolan smiled. “That, I’m not so sure of.”
Lady Morrigan turned toward Captain Tamir as he came up beside her in the large entry room, almost colliding with him in the process. Her hands flashed out to grip his shoulders. “Oh,
my goodness. I didn’t hear you.”
“I’m sorry, I tend to move quietly, I guess.” Tamir smiled down at her but made no move to remove her hands from his shoulders. “I had the same experience of nearly colliding with Lady
Roselyn on several occasions.”
“Are all Freeman as solid and strong as you are?” She dropped her hands and stood looking up at him but didn’t step back. “It felt like I’d grabbed a statue.”
“That’s the effect of climbing in the rigging of my ship.” He slipped his arm through hers and led her over to the padded bench against the wall. “I understand from Princess Evaughnlynn
that you’ll be joining me and Lady Roselyn on the trip to Bar Chof and beyond. Do you ride?”
“Why, yes.” She sat down and patted the seat next to her.
Captain Tamir sat beside her. “Good. We’re riding with a pack horse rather than taking a wagon. We can move faster that way.”
“Since Bar Chof’s on the coast, and we’re on a river leading to the sea, why aren’t we taking a ship?”
“We will, to Bar Chof. But it’s faster to go by horse between Bar Chof and Mivchim. I wanted to be sure you were up to the trip.”
Morrigan patted his hand several times. “I’m sure I’ll be up for anything you suggest, even riding a horse.”
Captain Tamir’s eyes had turned down when Morrigan patted his hand only to find himself looking at her cleavage as she leaned slightly forward. He flushed red and quickly looked up.
She smiled at him. “Evon has promised that Rose will teach me what she can about being a dru on the trip so I can help her when we get to Bar Chof. That way I hope to be of some
help.” She leaned back on the bench. “Now you must tell me how a young man like you became a ship’s captain. I’ve heard that the shipping companies don’t hand out command lightly,
even to family members. And your father’s reputation as an outstanding and honest businessman is what got him elected as your people’s leader.”
Tamir cleared his throat, but didn’t look down again. “We lost our captain two voyages ago and I was first mate. So naturally, I became acting captain. The company decided to
leave me in command for the present. That’s all.”
“Really?” She smiled. “But wasn’t there a battle with a pirate fleet going on when your captain fell? I seem to recall hearing something about you winning the battle after that.”
He looked at her eyes. “Now how did you hear that, Milady?”
“My guardian is very interested in the Freeholds and tries to keep up on events here.” She stood and cocked her head to one side, almost touching him. “He said you wouldn’t talk about
the battle. You and Sir Faolan are much alike.”
“Faolan? You’ve met him?” He also stood.
“Yes. He was at Hollow Mountain when we were there. He traveled with us for some ways afterwards. Like you, he’s very shy about his abilities. How is it you’ve heard of him
here in the Freeholds?”
Captain Tamir chuckled. “The soldiers from Hawkland talked of little else on the way here.” He turned toward the door. “Perhaps we might walk in the garden. This will be our
last chance to enjoy it.”
“That was where I was just going.” She smiled.
He took her arm again and they strolled out into the garden. She looked around and sighed. “This garden is beautiful. Someone’s taken great care of it. I wonder how the
mansion came to be vacant when the illness struck.”
“It wasn’t. The family who owns the estate made it available for use as a hospital.”
“They gave up their home for the sick?”
“They’re still here. They’re helping with the sick.”
She shook her head. “You Freeman shame us Anglians. Our wealthy nobles would demand the sick be quarantined in their own homes, or at least in their own neighborhoods. They would
never expose themselves to danger this way.” She turned suddenly so that she was facing him. “I’m glad my guardian brought me here. I think your people are better than mine.”
He stopped walking. “I’ve been to many lands and met many people. They’ve all been the same, though their customs differed. But there were good people in every land I’ve visited.”
Her head tilted to one side. “You don’t believe your people are special? Didn’t your god single you out as his people?”
He pointed at a bench. “We should sit for a moment if I’m to explain that. It’s not a short story.”
“I would love to hear it.” She grabbed his hand and led him to the bench, where she promptly sat down, pulling him down beside her.
“Firstly, we’re not just one people.” Tamir turned the palms of his hands up on his lap. “We’re many different peoples, all of whom were enslaved by the Old Ones long ago in a land far
away over the inland sea.”
His hands came up as if he held a large invisible bowl. “There was a great city surrounded by farms and ranches holding herds of cattle and sheep. The people in it, and their slaves,
came from all over the Old Ones Empire. Then Doran appeared, a child of an unknown people, he was raised in the house of the Old One who commanded the whole area. As he grew up, he rose
in rank in the Old One’s house. By the time he was grown, the ruler had put him in charge of everything—the city, the ships, and the farms.”
Tamir’s hands came together and sank to his lap. “But when the ruler died, a new ruler came from the Old Ones capital and imprisoned Doran. The people of the city loved Doran. He
had been a wise and kind ruler, respected even by the Old Ones who lived in the city. Unrest struck when it was learned Doran was to be executed. One of the Old Ones, a great sorcerer
named Halone, broke into the prison and freed Doran and the other prisoners. The soldiers joined Doran and the city fell quickly under his control. Doran went into the square and told
the people that the empire would send and army to destroy him, so he was leaving with those who wished to follow a life of freedom. People from all over the empire followed him in a great
fleet, including Halone and his servants, several of whom held stones of power. They escaped to an island in the great sea where they established a new civilization based on the visions of
Tamir brought his hands palm up again. “So you see, we are not a people, but an amalgam of many peoples, and to this day we welcome any who wish to follow the wisdom of Doran.” He
turned to her. “Even those who don’t follow our God are welcome, as long as they embrace and accept our culture of freedom and equality.”
“But where did Doran’s god come from?”
Tamir stood. “That’s another, and much longer, story.” He smiled. “Another time, perhaps. But right now, I must meet this extraordinary, and yet ordinary man, Faolan.
The guard tells me he arrived this morning.” He bowed and strode back to the mansion.
Lady Morrigan leaned back on the bench and watched him cross the grass and enter the open doorway. She shook her head. “Remarkable.” Then she brushed off her skirts and stood up.
© Copyright 2020 R. M. Keegan. All rights reserved.