Tamir awoke to the fading echo of the knock on his door. “Come in.” He got to his feet.
The young man who had shown him to his room earlier stood in the doorway. “Milord, Steward asked me to wake you in time to prepare for the feast this evening.”
“Thank you, Cailean.” Tamir saw a look of surprise on the young man’s face, and suspected it was the use of his name. “But you don’t need to call me ‘milord’. The Freehold
doesn’t have an aristocracy. ‘Captain’ is more than sufficient.”
“No nobles? How can that be, Milord?”
Now he had really shocked the lad. “It’s not really all that different from your system. The farmers own their land just like your barons do, and the merchants own their ships and
warehouses, so the rich farmers and wealthy merchants live much like your royalty. We simply believe that a man should be judged by his actions, not his blood. Although my family is
wealthy, I went to sea at eleven as a cabin boy on a merchant ship owned by a friend of my father. Several of my crewmen are from wealthy families sent to sea to learn the trade.” He
smiled. “Fortunately, most of my crew are seasoned sailors. They keep me from making too many mistakes.”
“Is there anything you require in preparation for the feast tonight, Captain?” The young man seemed more comfortable, back on familiar ground.
“No,” Tamir replied. The he remembered the beautiful woman in the garden. “On second thought, could I get a bath sent up?”
“Certainly. I’ll have one sent up, Captain.” Cailean bowed and left, closing the door behind him.
A half hour later three boys in uniform arrived with the tub and hot water. Tamir relaxed in the hot bath. Other than the quick dip he’d taken after arriving home before his father
sent him on this mission, it had been over a month since he had bathed at all, and that just a dip in sea water while he helped fix a fouled rudder.
When he finished, he dressed in his best clothes—tight brown woolen trousers and white ruffle-collared shirt, covered by a laced, dark brown leather jerkin. He stood gazing at his
reflection in the mirror, wondering how his clothing would compare to the courtiers of King Ragnon’s court. The Freeholder belief in equality resulted in a uniformity of dress among all
classes, with the distinction going to cut and fabric, while in other countries the nobility reveled in clothing that the lower classes couldn’t emulate.
He smiled. Lieutenant Beowyn would almost certainly appear tonight dressed as a courtier. If I’d not been briefed on the lieutenant’s history, including his duel with Count Landis
in Anglia last year, would I have assumed Beowyn was no more than a young fop instead of the exceptional warrior he is? How will the king’s court judge me? He turned
away from the mirror to sit in a chair by the bed. Perhaps my father would have been better served by sending one of his foreign service fellows.
The knock on the door a few minutes later brought Tamir out of his chair. “Come in.”
Sir Beowyn stepped into the doorway and smiled. “Ready, Captain?”
“As ready as possible.” He held his arms out from his sides. “I hope my clothing isn’t too out of fashion in King Ragnon’s court. I didn’t have time to shop for something more
“Not at all, Captain. It’s the man who makes the clothing, not the other way around. Besides, most of our courtiers have spent time in the Freeholds.” Beowyn stepped back into
the hallway with a flourish of his hand. “If you’re ready, Captain.”
As they walked down the hall, Sir Beowyn asked, “By the way, Captain, my cousin Roselyn tells me your people are called Freemen, not Freeholders, and I wondered why. I mean, we’re from
Hawkland and are called Hawklanders, and you’re from the Freeholds. So, why not Freeholders?”
“My people were called Freemen long before we settled here. Our country actually got the name ‘Freeholds’ from your ancestors. It’s what you call land held independently from any
lord.” After a few steps, Tamir continued, “Speaking of your cousin Roselyn, I met her in the garden this afternoon. She’s very beautiful. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn she is also
betrothed to a foreign prince, like your Princess Evaughnlynn.”
“Roselyn?” Beowyn shook his head. “Pity the poor prince who does marry her. She’s twice as smart as any man I’ve ever met and as stubborn as a rusty bolt. Fortunately for
mankind, she’s determined to go with Evaughnlynn and me to Anglia.”
“Beautiful, self-willed, intelligent, and determined.” Tamir smiled. “She sounds just like my mother. Are you sure there’s no Freeman blood in your family?”
“Not in mine,” Beowyn replied as they reached the stairs. “Roselyn is the king’s niece by blood. I’m just his nephew by marriage. I don’t know if there’s any Freeman blood on
“Oh, then you are not blood relatives. You’re extended family.”
“What?” Beowyn stopped and tilted his head to one side. “I guess you’re right. I seem to recall someone saying that to me before.” He shrugged and started forward again.
Beowyn led Captain Tamir down the grand staircase to the second step from the bottom, where Steward announced the Captain to the applause of the room. Then a page led them to their seats at
the head table. Tamir was placed left of the king’s chair, followed by Roselyn, then Beowyn. Evaughnlynn was on the right of her father’s chair, with Beowyn’s father next to her,
followed by the king’s sister, Hilda. Beowyn noted his aunt wore her usual unhappy face.
Roselyn was all smiles when the captain sat next to her, and quickly began asking questions, which the Captain seemed eager to answer. Beowyn was surprised to learn that there were four
small cities in the Freeholds, two on the sea and one inland, while the capitol, Bar Krouth, was on the Adara River some thirty miles inland. “We live by trade,” the captain told her, “with
people as close as Hawkland and as far away as the eastern end of the inland sea.”
“It must be hard on your wife,” Roselyn said, “when you’re at sea for long periods of time.”
“I’m not married.” The captain flashed a smile. “My mother ran our trading company when my father was at sea. Our women don’t sit and look out the window while their men are
“We rode through farm country when we went to Anglia,” Beowyn said. “Do you grow food for trade?”
“We grow food of course, but very little for trade,” Tamir replied. “We mostly grow grain used to brew our malt drink, which we sell to taverns all over the world, particularly in Anglia
and Cymru. It’s considered very good. You should try it.”
“Malt drink?” Beowyn shook his head. “What’s that? I confess to being tired of watered wine.”
“It’s a brew made of grains fermented in white oak casks. It looks like liquid gold. We carry it on our ships to mix with water rather than wine, which takes up too much space.
Once we began trading in Anglia and Cymru, the tavern keepers soon learned about it, and begged our traders to sell it. It’s now one of my family’s main trade items.”
As Beowyn listened to the captain, Rose turned and frowned at him. He leaned back, surprised at her. If he didn’t know better, he’d think she was flirting with the captain.
Evaughnlynn pretended to flirt with him and Phylon several years ago, to fool the dark wizard Padraig into thinking she was a silly girl. But, why would Rose want the captain to think
her a silly girl?
Just then the king came down the stairs and everyone stood. Steward banged his staff on the floor three times and announced, “His Royal Majesty, Ragnon, King of Hawkland.”
The king stopped behind Captain Tamir and placed his hand on the captain’s shoulder. “To help the festive occasion of this feast in your honor, Captain, we thought you should know that we
will spend tomorrow preparing for our trip to the Freeholds and leave the following morning.”
The singing in his mind had filled the prisoner with joy almost to point that the pain had been gone for some time now. He could almost hear individual voices. Perhaps this was the
day he would be allowed to join the music. Then the grating of the cell door disrupted the flow of sounds and he became more aware of the pain. It was not yet time for him to be
fed. The hunger barely burned in his insides.
Perhaps they intend to question me again.
He focused his mind on the music. The pain changed. He became aware of his arms and wrists. Weight returned and the feel of stone against his skin. He was no longer on the
wall. It must be time for him to be fed after all.
“Gods, he stinks.”
I don’t know the voice. It’s not the shadowed one.
“This one’s for the bone pit, Milord. He’s more than half in it now.”
“Carry him. I want to get out of this filth.”
This voice is arrogant, but not the shadowed one.
He felt himself lifted over someone’s shoulder like a sack of grain. The jolts as the man walked pushed against his stomach and he felt his face bounce against hardened leather armor.
“Remember, don’t speak to him and don’t let him speak to you.”
The arrogant one again. Was that a note of fear?
He was dropped onto the wooden bed of a cart, which began to move forward. His pain level faded. “Milord, there’s one in camp I’ve heard is good with treating wounds. An old
Herul warrior named Ingal. This one needs tending if he’s to be alive when we reach the ships.”
He tried to keep the music going in his head but the rhythm of the cart on the dirt road soon brought sleep.
He was dragged off the cart and again thrown over someone’s shoulder. Again, his face struck leather armor. A few strides and he was dropped on the ground. He had fought against
awareness of his situation for so long it seemed strange to wonder where he was and what was happening. So far the change has been for the better. Perhaps, one way or another, my
deliverance is at hand. He tried to open his eyes. The light hurt and everything was a blur.
“This here’s the one I told you about. Master Fulradt wants him alive when he reaches the ships. Can you do anything for him?”
“Let me see.” A blurred figure knelt down beside him and a hand rested on his arm. “Well, lad, you’ve been through the mill now, haven’t you?”
“We’re not supposed to talk to him or let him talk to us.”
The blurred face turned away. “Wasn’t talking to him, was talking to his body, what’s left of it.” The man stood up. “I doubt he can talk from what I’ve seen. Food and
drink, a lot of it, applied slowly, will do to keep his body alive. He has a lot of wounds left to fester. They’ll need cleaning and sealing. His chains need to come off so’s I
can treat the wounds they’ve caused.”
“He’s a prisoner. Has to be chained up.”
“Then he’ll die. Look at the wounds on his wrists and ankles. How he’s stayed alive this long’s a mystery. As to keeping him shackled, the shape he’s in, he couldn’t crawl out
of this tent if t’were afire.”
“Enough. Remove his chains. I need him alive.”
The arrogant one is here. He felt a surge of hope on the words, but despair followed right behind it. He had escaped before when he was in much better shape only to be
“Treat his wounds and feed him as needed. I want him on his feet when the fleet reaches its destination. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Milord.” He felt someone lift and carry him like a child. “I’ll keep him in my tent while I treat him. Have no concern, he’ll go nowhere except to the fleet.”