Vague memories of broth and the feel of warm, wet cloth on his skin crept into the prisoner’s mind with the return to consciousness. Light pressed against his closed eyes and he opened
them. The rising sun filled the animal-skin tent. A thin, old man with a long, braided, gray beard sat at a table working with a mortar and pestle just outside, bathed in the brightness
of the morning.
The old man turned and looked into the tent before standing and striding over to look down at him. “Rest easy, lad. You need to gain strength before you even think of sitting up.
After what you’ve been through it’s going to take time.” The old man examined the prisoner’s wrists, which were now wrapped in bandages. “I had to use quite a bit of lunar caustic on
your wounds to kill the infections. Try not to move or you’ll reopen them. I’m making a salve now to help your healing.”
Evaughnlynn came down the grand stairs into the great hall with Roselyn to the reverberating noise of the men and horses in the courtyard. Her father, Beowyn, and Captain Tamir, all dressed
in armor, stood together at the bottom talking quietly. Steward presided over the pandemonium in the hall as every courtier in the castle seemed determined to be the last person to speak to
the king before he left.
The large doors to the hall stood open, revealing Sergeant Bullnose and Artio mounted and waiting for the king’s signal to leave. Captain Tamir bowed to her father, then turned to face the
stairs. “Good morning, Your Highness, Milady. It would be my honor to escort you to the coach.”
“Certainly, Captain,” Evaughnlynn replied, sensing a sudden warmth radiating from Roselyn beside her.
Beowyn had followed the captain with his eyes, and now turned back to the king, but Evaughnlynn sensed her cousin was conflicted, probably by being put in charge of the security for the journey to
the border. The last time Beowyn had been in charge, Lares and Phylon scouted ahead and Sergeant Bullnose was at his side for advice. This time Bullnose and Artio would be the scouts
and he was on his own.
Beowyn bowed to her father and walked over to Bullnose and Artio. A moment later the big sergeant and the archer rode off. Her father touched her arm. “Ready, my dear?”
“Yes, Father.” She took his arm.
Captain Tamir offered Roselyn his arm and she took it. Then the four of them walked to the coach. When she and Roselyn had been seated inside, her father joined them. The captain
mounted his horse and rode to the rear where his men served as the rear guard. Evaughnlynn felt sorry for the captain and his men. The dust of the caravan would be in their faces until
they switched positions with Beowyn and his men at the border to the Freeholds.
A minute later the coach jerked forward to roll through the castle gates, and relief washed over Evaughnlynn. She was on her way to the Freeholds and Phylon was there. Her father
interrupted her thoughts. “So, what do you think of our young Captain Tamir?”
“He’s an interesting man,” she replied. “His mind is very strong and he guarded his thoughts carefully at both the council meeting and at the feast. Perhaps Beowyn or Rose have an
opinion. They were with him when he wasn’t on his guard.”
King Ragnon turned to his niece. “You met the captain away from the feast?”
Roselyn turned scarlet. “He came into the garden in the afternoon when I was there, and we talked for a few minutes.”
A smile played over the king’s face. “And this embarrasses you because?”
Evaughnlynn smiled. “He thought she was very beautiful.”
“So his eyesight is good.” Ragnon nodded. “What else?”
Roselyn’s color deepened and she looked down. Then her eyes came up to look at her uncle. “His emotions were those of a gentleman, unlike King Garthen’s sons, and when he spoke of his
mother, he did so with respect and affection.”
“So you think him a good man.” He nodded, and then looked up for a moment. “I wonder what kind of captain he is. For that, I think I’ll have to speak to Beowyn. He’s spent
time with him and his men.”
Evaughnlynn cocked her head to one side. “You’re wondering why his father sent a group of sailors rather than soldiers?”
“No.” Her father smiled. “Most of their best warriors are sailors. Pirates are a major problem for them. On the other hand, their military hasn’t seen a major battle since
my grandfather’s day. Mostly they deal with bandits. I was wondering how bad this illness is. Benami’s first son disappeared at sea some years ago and Tamir is his heir. I
think Benami sent Tamir to get him out of the country. I want you two to be very careful in treating it.”
“Don’t worry.” Evaughnlynn leaned forward and patted him on the knee. “Sorcha knows what we need to do to avoid exposure. Our concern is that it has left the Freemen dru at a
loss. Sorcha says they’re very knowledgeable.”
“That stone of yours,” her father said, “has been a useful addition to my council. Perhaps I should add Roselyn and her stone as well.”
Roselyn went scarlet again. “I don’t usually see people’s emotions. His were very strong.”
Ragnon fought back a smile. “I’ll bet they were.” He reached across to pat her on the knee. “I’d better find a husband for you soon or I’ll be defending the keep against your
Roselyn went suddenly pale and Ragnon added, “Don’t worry, Roselyn. I’d never agree to your marriage without consulting you first.” He glanced at Evaughnlynn. “I wish I hadn’t
been compelled to agree to yours, but our enemies were poised and ready to strike.”
“The marriage agreement has been to my liking, Father. It puts me where I need to be.”
“As you have said before.” He tilted his head and smiled. “But I would rather have seen you plead with me to agree to the marriage.” He shook his head. “You’re wise beyond
your years and as strong-willed as your mother. I think Prince Thrall will find himself bent to your will and not the reverse.”
Evaughnlynn smiled weakly and leaned back to look out the window. Prince Thrall had been on her mind much of late. She had seen the shadows forming around him. The pattern clearly
showed that the Chamberlain, Lord Arnol, wanted Prince Yaldar on the throne, and Yaldar hated his brother. Prince Hagarn, Thrall’s younger brother, was the right choice, but the king would
never agree. He knew Hagarn would not marry, and he wanted to found a dynasty.
She glanced over at Roselyn. Since her cousin’s power had begun to grow, and her stone of power become more independent of Sorcha, Roselyn was seeing slightly different patterns than
Evaughnlynn. But they both thought the Freeholds were the key to understanding future events. Forces and hatreds, old and new, were gathering around the Freeholds. She knew her
intervention would alter the course of events, but whether for better or worse, she wasn’t sure.
Phylon was waiting for her there, because she had asked him to. Once again he’s the key. But to what? She could not yet see the whole pattern, but she suspected that his
living in Hawkland had figured in Lady Gwerydd’s decision to give her Sorcha. The elfin queen was still affecting events years after her death.
Evaughnlynn leaned back and glanced at her father to see his eyes blink twice and then close. She smiled and winked at Roselyn sitting across from her. Roselyn held out her hand and a
ball of yarn appeared in it.
Evaughnlynn shook her head, and then crossed her wrists and flapped her hands. The ball of yarn in Roselyn’s hands disappeared and a sparrow appeared in its place. Roselyn leaned back
and closed her eyes. A moment later the sparrow flew out the window.
Evaughnlynn let her own eyes close as she reached out for her cousin, now flying in a circle around Captain Tamir and his men at the rear of the caravan. Then Roselyn flew to where Beowyn
rode at the head of the column before heading south along the road, looking for Sgt. Bullnose and Artio. Evaughnlynn wondered why Roselyn didn’t land on Beowyn’s shoulder, as she had before,
to let him know she was flying ahead.
Evaughnlynn was sure that dark forces were behind the illness in the Freeholds, and wondered if they knew she was coming, and if they planned an ambush on her way there.
“The world does not rotate around you,” Sorcha whispered in her mind. “I agree the sickness may well be the work of the dark. And if it is, they won’t like your
interfering. But sickness is common and this is the season for it. And why are you hoping your cousin’s bird is attacked? It seems a cruel thought.”
“This is the fourth time she’s flown,” Evaughnlynn thought, “and she’s yet to be attacked by as much as another sparrow. Just about every time my sparrow flew I was
“So,” Sorcha interrupted, “you want her to learn to defend herself.”
“That, and I’m a little jealous.” She smiled as she pictured her prim cousin as a tiny sparrow wearing a small green cloak desperately dodging a falcon whose outstretched claws were
but inches away.
“The reality would be more painful,” Sorcha replied.
“I have confidence in Rose, she’s both observant and careful. She’ll not be caught by a predator.” Evaughnlynn sighed and opened her eyes. Yardland farms separated by
stands of trees covered the rolling hills. She knew that even if there were an ambush somewhere ahead, it was unlikely to be this far inside Hawkland. In addition to raising another
company of men-at-arms, her father had strengthened the border posts and the internal patrols since their return from Anglia. She was content to let Roselyn stretch her wings on this stage of
Evaughnlynn sensed when Roselyn found Sgt. Bullnose and Artio scouting ahead. There were only a limited number of places where an ambush large enough to attack the caravan could hide, and the
two scouts knew them all. After checking each, the scouts would backtrack and leave an all-clear message at a place the point rider would check before the caravan arrived.
Roselyn arrived back in the coach before the first rest stop. Evaughnlynn thought it funny that she had to wake her father so he could get out and rest. But it felt good to walk around
after the hours in the coach.
Captain Tamir rode up to talk to Beowyn and her father, but he soon dismounted and walked over to them. “I hope your journey has been comfortable so far, Princess, Lady Roselyn.”
“Very comfortable,” Roselyn replied quickly, “but the confines of a coach do leave one stiff and in need of a walk. Would you care to join us?”
“I would be honored to do so.” He smiled. “Where shall we walk to?”
“Perhaps along the stream,” Roselyn said before Evaughnlynn could speak.
“You two go ahead.” Evaughnlynn waved her hands at them. “I need to speak to Beowyn and my father for a few minutes. I’ll join you later.” She watched them walk away, arm in
arm, then turned toward her father and cousin. She noticed Beowyn’s head nodding as her father spoke, but his eyes followed Roselyn and the Captain, talking and laughing as they walked along
When she approached, her father glanced at her, then turned to follow the couple by the stream. “The captain seems somewhat taken with your cousin. What do you think of him, Beowyn?”
Tension radiated from Beowyn as he watched the couple. “He’s a good man and a good leader according to his men and first mate. I found him a likeable and intelligent fellow on the ride
from the outpost where I intercepted then.”
“Don’t marry her off just yet, Father,” Evaughnlynn said. “It’s a long journey to the Freeholds and back.” She turned to Beowyn. “Did you tell Bullnose that any ambush will
probably be near the border, on one side or the other?”
“I did that.” Beowyn grinned. “And he said to tell you he knows where any ambush is likely to be, but he’s more concerned with where one actually is. When he finds one, he’ll let
The caravan moved out after the horses were watered, fed, and rested. This time a hawk flew from the coach after the king fell asleep. Evaughnlynn was tempted to swoop down on Sgt.
Bullnose, but resisted and kept a course southeast. She reached the inn where they would stay that night and flew over the building to be sure it was safe.
The inn was very like the one they had stayed in on their way to Anglia. It was on a low hill and built of stone on the ground floor and whitewashed mud-and-wattle on the floor above.
The high-peaked roof was brown tile. A matching stable and two outbuildings were located in the rear. The buildings were surrounded by a tall stone wall. She flew to the large oak
tree in the courtyard and looked around. It was clearly Freeman owned—there was no shrine to the Hooded One in the courtyard. The workers hustling about their tasks were clean, well
dressed, and apparently happy.
Everything was peaceful, so she took off again to fly over the gently rolling hills covered with small woods and yardland farms that surrounded the inn. The local baron’s castle sat on a hill
near the inn. She glided over the wall and saw a busy but normal courtyard. There was no sign of a large force of men, so she flew back to the coach.
Shortly after she rejoined them, the caravan pulled off the road into a stand of trees close by a bridge over a fast-flowing river. All around were barley fields, stone walls and the
mud-and-wattle huts with thatch roofs of yardland farms.
Evaughnlynn and her father went to see Beowyn while Roselyn walked onto the bridge to look at the river. Beowyn turned and saluted as they walked up. “Sgt. Bullnose reports the way is
clear to the inn, Milord. He’s checking the area beyond now.”
Evaughnlynn said, “Be sure to tell Captain Tamir to be very careful tomorrow. I’m sure any ambush will be inside the Freeholds.”
Beowyn did not reply, but continued to gaze past her shoulder. She glanced back to see Captain Tamir now standing next to Roselyn on the bridge.
She turned back to Beowyn. “You’ll be sure to tell him?”
“What?” Beowyn’s eyes jerked to her. Then he nodded. “Oh, of course. But rest easy, Tamir knows the most dangerous point will be after we cross into Freehold
territory. He said as much to me before we left Hawk’s Keep.”
The inn, when they reached it a few hours later, was as Evaughnlynn expected after her earlier visit. The hall was large and well-appointed with pane-glass windows. The tavern portion
was in a separate room, so that ladies could sit by the fire in the hall, and the two chandeliers were of brass instead of wood.
A fire burned in the huge fireplace. Evaughnlynn and Roselyn crossed the room and stood warming their hands. Her father joined them while the servants carried their bags to the rooms
and the men-at-arms cared for the coach and horses. Captain Tamir arrived and walked across the hall toward her father, but his eyes kept returning to Roselyn. He bowed to her father,
then her and her cousin.
Her father nodded as he looked around. “This is a beautiful inn. I doubt the local manor house is better appointed.” He turned to the captain. “I didn’t realize this much
trade moved through here to warrant such an establishment.”
Captain Tamir nodded. “The road we’re following from here leads to all five of our major trading centers, so all the trade goods we sell to Hawkland and the Wildermarch come through
here. Good lodgings make the journey safer and more pleasant for the traders.” He shrugged. “Of course, once away from the hub, the accommodations are…catch as catch can.”
Roselyn asked, “Have you stayed here before, Captain?”
Tamir shook his head. “No.” Then he smiled. “But now that I know the way to Hawk’s Keep, I will in the future.”
Roselyn went pink, and the king said, “Shall we go into the dining room? I’m hungry.”
After a meal, the king’s party retired for the night. This time Evaughnlynn and Roselyn’s room had two beds. Roselyn stood by the fire staring into the flames while Evaughnlynn began to
undress. After she pulled her boots off, Evaughnlynn looked at her cousin. “Are you coming to bed?
“What?” Roselyn turned with a faraway look in her eyes.
“Bed?” Evaughnlynn patted the mattress. “Are you coming to bed?”
“Oh, yes.” Roselyn turned and walked to her bed and sat down. After a moment she looked over at her cousin. “It must be lonely—being at sea for months.”
Evaughnlynn stood up and took her robe off. “I imagine it is.” She pulled her nightgown on. “But we should get our rest. We must be prepared for an ambush tomorrow, and if
the last one is anything to go by, both of us will have our hands full.”
Roselyn took off her veil and shook out her long, red-blonde hair. “I think Tamir will find it before we ride into danger.”
“He, or you, had better.” Evaughnlynn climbed into her bed. “Or we’re in for it for sure.”
“Me?” Roselyn stopped with her nightgown over her head.
“You have the first leg of the journey tomorrow.”
“I thought you’d take it.” Roselyn pulled her nightgown on. “It’s the most likely part of the journey for an ambush.”
© Copyright 2019 R. M. Keegan. All rights reserved.