Yes, I have made the FYOG and Parky Espionage e-books free for Sunday and Monday.
Parky’s Lunch; Parky’s Teatime; Parky’s Afters, Magic Midnight, FYOG – Don’t Wait Up, FYOG – I may Be A Long Time and The Good, The Bad, And The Awful Poetry Book.
On Mi Kee – it’s nearly 34K words and slightly edited. I’ll post some of it below.
I’m posting some cuts on Twitter but fairly happy with progress at 34K words.
The night looked at Alisia who then looked at her escort and Jinny, who was leading the guards, “isn’t it dangerous to ride across cornfields in the dark?”
“We need to head east, my Lady but someone inconveniently built the road from Matira to the west – taking us in the wrong direction and in what will be public sight in a few hours. We need to move to the east and remain out of sight – King Martan already holds one Spy Master in his dungeons plus several who came to find him. It won’t be long before whoever employs knows he has disappeared. Quite severe questioning has highlighted his employer as Sir Charles Dastry. If we follow the sea coast until it ends, we are some ten miles from the road but eighty miles closer and undiscovered. We can ease your condition by riding slowly – on the road, we would have to move at speed. The Drunk and I also have a Cat and he will be prowling and scenting for anyone following.”
“Who chose this route?”
“I did, and with the Cat I have more chance of guaranteeing your safety than by blindly following a road in the wrong direction. Are you ready to ride?”
“You seemed frightened?”
“I am alive and I have been, as a trooper, for many years. I would not tell you how to act as a concubine, please don’t tell me how to act as a trooper and King Martan considers me a ‘lucky trooper’ as I usually win. That is why I have this job, now please mount your horse and will we move out before we alert the whole country and don’t think that no-one is looking for you. An exhausted rider from Charguar reported to King Martan shortly before he spoke to you, and I know what the King heard. Sir Charles Dastry recently landed in Toshonia and is now raising a guards of villains and two black hounds the size of the Cat to move on Matira and the King …? You would be a bonus and hurt the King more than anything.”
“So menace stalked me before I even left the castle; together with two killer hounds.”
“Yes. That is another reason why we take this route. There is only one way they can follow our tracks if they pick this route, otherwise they must use the road; travel the extra distance and face the extra patrols that King Martan has on the roads; also the Cat is watching our backs. It was obvious that Sir Charles has his own spies in the castle and you went to bed with King Martan as a concubine and left as a guard. In some hours, someone will be on their way to Charguar to inform Sir Charles that Lady Alisia has not made her usual toilette visits and this will alert them. It won’t take long for a late night patrol to be connected to this and that is also why riding directly towards them is not a good idea. We also need to move slowly and the dogs, if they follow will smell us and they will move faster than can and once they get close enough they can take out horses and people. Our only hopes are that it will take them time to get here and pick up the scent or else they will lose any scents on the roads – one reason for the extra patrols. The black hounds don’t need to kill and the hounds take a lot of killing. Even Cat can only handle one but Cat does have a brain and he uses it, amongst his other tricks. Let’s move; we are wasting time.”
Sir Charles, after a good bath, good meal and a bottle of rot gut wine that he donated to the guards still at Margo’s house, slept well, which was hardly surprising, considering his trip on the broom and he was breaking his fast with Margo when they heard the messenger arrive and Margo was the first out of the house.
“What news, Trevor?”
“Routine, Margo. No sign of the Spy Master and anyone asking vanishes. King Martan is still in the castle. Alisia appears to be staying with him in the King’s bedchambers, and that has been known to happen before. More patrols than normal on the roads but no reason as far as anyone knows. It is said, ‘Princess Routani will be arriving shortly’, but no confirmation of that. Everything seems to be quiet and no real signs of anything. If there are any changes, a rider is available and will be here. It is only eighty miles from Matira and the rider would kill his horse to bring news so you will hear within six hours if anything changes.”
“Rest yourself and your horse, Trevor, head for the tavern and I’ll summons you if I need you.”
“Thank you, Margo,” and Trevor headed back down the road as Sir Charles looked at Margo.
“Can you trust him, Margo?”
“As much as any of my sons, Sir Charles.”
Alisia’s escort progressed some ten miles through the cornfields, which were a little lower in some places and even lower, where the horses trampled. Eight miles from the road that Alisia demanded so turning south was her demand. Once again, Alisia hit the wall of Jinny, “No, Alisia. It is only eight miles to the road but just another fourteen to the small copse adjoining the road. The longer we stay off the road the safer we are and the hounds can’t pick up scent unless they know our route and target. It should leave us seventy miles ahead of them if they use the road and these cornfields should make the hounds work, a lot heavier, but they will be on our trail by the time we reach the copse. Sure as a rooster’s crow in the morning.”
“And when they find us?”
“We will have some hounds and people to kill,” and much to Alisia’s chagrin and bowels, they continued east across the cornfields, avoiding any farms.”
It was some eight hours later when both Alisia, her escort, and Sir Charles’ second messenger finally found their respective destinations.
Alisia’s destination, to her disgust, was the copse by the road and Alisia was finally realising that her running a kingdom, as she felt she had, was dependent on King Martan sleeping with her.
Sir Charles’ messenger almost became a corpse when Sir Charles’ temper exploded, until he found himself looking into a small stirrup crossbow he didn’t realise Margo was aiming at his head, “You don’t shoot the messenger, Sir Charles, although given that Bostrus is my son, I have often felt like it myself. I may shoot you, if you continue to threaten him!”
“My apologies, Bostrus. Do we really know Alisia has left the castle and in what direction she has gone?”
“All we know my Lord is that she has not made her usual visits and that they are something she can not avoid making. No-one can remember seeing her this morning so she is either dead or has left the castle.”
“How in all the nether-hells that we have can she have left the castle with all your diligent watchers, Bostrus?”
“Without the orders of your vanishing Spy Master, my Lord, we had no instructions and my Lord, and we are weak without regular meals, like others who haven’t been paid, either. A guards of guards left the castle late last night; we can only guess they were her guards and the odd thing was that they set across the cornfields to the east. They may then have taken ship; travelled to the roads or settled at one of the farms; carried on to the east?”
“How soon can we travel, Margo?”
“My sons, who you are abusing, my Lord, prepared carts with clean clothes, good armour and good horses, overnight. They hold the honour of the Droga’s high. The dogs are already fed and on reins to the carts. The best scout I could hire – Mansly, also my son – is already being raised from his bed and he knows the hounds and scouting people – how do you think we’ve survived without any resources from you, who now demand instant obedience. There are twenty six people in your escort, excluding anyone your Spy Master employed and these are quality people who will want paying, my Lord!”
“With these four and nine in the forest, their is another thirteen – a significant number, so forty – including myself – will find the Lady Alisia and kill her.”
“As you wish, my Lord.”
“You doubt my success, Margo?”
“Alisia has survived over eight attempts to end her life in the last year. Martan may become erratic if she dies and seek those who killed her. That would include myself and my family. You are the rightful King of Matira, my Lord and your dagger proves that. I sacrifice everything I have for the oaths we once gave to a Droga King of Toshania. Do not squander that, my Lord!”
Sir Charles looked at Margo … the only reliable person he could trust and she considered him a useless traitor to his heritage. Sir Charles and his guards finally moved, although Troupe seemed a little more realistic to him as he reviewed them watched them canter off in front of him.
It took a while before they finally found the bandits in the forest and he could not think of them as otherwise. His Spy Master had been good. He would never have employed these people. So what had happened to his Spy Master.
King Martan was in his dungeons and especially the one containing Lusus Mariettas – Sir Charles’ Spy Master – Lusus lived; currently or lately was a future decision, if Martan released him, having extracted, previously, Sir Charles funds and information, and thank you very much, Lusus, thought King Martan. King Martan’s real enjoyment as his own spies arrested all of the people who came to find the Spy Master was their talking … yes … he did enjoy listening to it: and did they like to talk as they hung from their feet over his tower, but he also had dogs to feed and dog food wasn’t cheap and they were trying to undermine his kingdom, so the dogs ate, and he learnt.
The Spy Master had now admitted to anything and Martan decided Lusus couldn’t be turned any further. They knew all his contacts – virtually everyone he’d ever met and Martan needed Laseith within reach; Routani was the means but Laseith’s greed the attraction, and the method. Martan would need more priest and priestesses than he could probably afford to protect him but Sir Charles’ money would go towards that. They would be trying to kill him and Alisia, and Sir Charles should interfere with both Routani and Laseith’s plans if allowed enough leverage. He felt he’d built enough protection for the moment.
They were following and concentrating on Alisia, who would lead them a merry chase?
She’d led everyone else merry chases for years!
All he needed now, were their Spy Masters and networks: much as he loved Alisia, she would be a fool to think he would put her life before his or his rule; Sir Charles’ guards would follow her, and he would regret the deaths but he would rule, and she would die, and that was a fact of ruling!
Sir Charles didn’t even bother to leave his horse. Watching this made some of his worst days, seem brighter. Burning the forest with this bunch in it seemed a fair option but it wouldn’t make them move any faster: they weren’t capable of it; some were grateful to have decent clothing and armour for a change; some did not seem to know the difference and started to fight and gamble over the clothing and armour – the forest might as well be a low tavern for these people, “Mansly, find out the description of those who hired these peasants, and then sent them away south to the roads. The King’s patrols will find them and feel we are following the roads to find Alisia – let them! At best, they can also feed the hounds and keep my food bills down?”
“Do you want me to set the hounds on them, Sir Charles. The hounds can be choosy on food?”
“We have use for the hounds, let us not destroy their taste for meat! We move across country with your mother’s guards. The rest follow the road to Spragend … it deserves them, but give them some money – they must be able to pay their way and take the time up of the Matira road patrols.”
Sir Charles, who was by now, finding levels of calm he’d never understood nor wanted, finally watched the refuse of his Spy Master’s recruitment rid off towards the roads. With luck they would meet and be killed by the Matira patrols which would divert the patrols from following him across country.
Matira was only twenty five miles away – rough riding.
Sir Charles was surprised as they were on several occasions forced into hiding as large patrols of sixty to seventy armoured guards rode across the countryside towards them as if they knew the route he was taking. The hounds did play a part in disrupting the patrols and then as Mansly whistled, disappearing again but it became fairly obvious that the patrols were not interested in people in the country and would rather be on the roads.
Finally, after eight hours hard riding, added to ten hours hiding, plus to fifteen hours lost waiting for news, with another eight hours delay before they finally skirted Matira castle; they finally headed into the cornfields conveniently broken for them by Alisia and her escort. The escort had some thirty one hours of time ahead of them, at least but Sir Charles didn’t need dogs to follow this trail and their speed was a lot faster than Alisia’s and her escort. The dogs had also picked up the Cat’s scent and wee and were roaming over the cornfields like hounds looking for a Cat. The Cat did move across the country a lot but Mansly had no problem with the dogs and once he heard their howl of scent whistled commands to bring them back. They were following a bunch of horsemen treading down a crop field and with the crop field flattened they were able to canter with very little effort even with the hounds smelling the Cat.
The time advantage was being worn down by Alisia, who unused to not getting her own way, was now playing King Martan’s deathly games for him. She wanted to head for the road so it was more comfortable, and was increasing her toilet stops to make her point that cornfields were causing her to stop too often. They were barely making five miles an hour – courtesy of Alisia – whilst unknown to her, their pursuers were making between twelve to fifteen miles an hour as they galloped through the cornfields and ate the distance between them. Finally they made the copse by the road and Alisia with a sigh large enough for everyone to hear, said, “we have made the road!”
“What we have made Alisia, is someone threatening your life; our mission, and the lives of this escort for nothing more than your tantrums! Our scouts are already reporting that nearly forty men are pursuing us and they are eight miles behind us. You have wiped out any advantage we had!”
“If you had taken the roads, they wouldn’t have found us.”
“Alisia. We would be twenty miles closer to them and dead by now, if we had. As it is, your arrogance will probably kill all of us, and that includes you, my proud lady!”
“So how will you defend me now, my proud leader?”
“Possibly, by wringing your neck but that wouldn’t affect your brain, since that is in your loins and your death is all they desire.
“If you, Alisia, do not delay us any longer with your death wish, there is a second branch from the road about twenty miles ahead. The first branch is eight miles ahead. We need the Cat to spray scent around, and we’ll have to hope they have a Scout who will seek where the horses leave— …? Gods, what am I thinking of? They’ll expect us to leave the escort and the escort then draws them away. We need some decoys to carry on through the trees and be where the road turns off on the bend at eight miles. Others will turn off after twenty miles and the first team will join them. The rest will stay with the plan. The Cat needs to spray its scent through the trees across country for the next twenty miles to attract the hounds. We, Alisia, stay with the main party although we’ll lose half the force over the two roads but if you could do your business in the trees for their hounds pick up, some should follow the guards through the trees; they will take their horses through it and the rest should follow the escort. Hopefully we’ll be able to turn right at the next bend and finally might make Spragend—”
“You’re not trying to make Spragend, so why have you headed this way?”
“Didn’t King Martan tell you anything?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Ask yourself this question. If the road to Toshon Village lies to the West, why do you think have been moving east?”
“Do you know where Charguar is, Alisia?”
“In the mountains to the west.”
“Sir Charles Dastry’s guards are actually in the forest bordering the road you would have to take from Matira with no means of escape and Sir Charles aiming to kill you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Leaving Matira and heading west would take us past Sir Charles’ guards in the forest who could ambush us with archers from north and south of the road. The aim, which you have deliberately thwarted was to head through the cornfields; build up a lead of some miles; head towards Spragend and turn back to the west across some thirty of the Spragend sea. Then we head for the Matira sea and finally make the Toshonia sea which would then allow us to sail Rocs Revenge and be within walking distance of Jacque and Mari.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Let’s get on with the job. We need to gallop across this land like a wind passing more than these guards do. Go between the seas and there are no roads, just rough country. Hopefully by the time they realise, they’ve little chance of catching us as it will be boat and horse and the Drunk should have the first boat hired by the time we get there and he’s had his last drink. The main problem, now, is that we’ve lost our time advantage and King Martan did not plan this route. His plan was for you to use the roads and be caught by Sir Charles.”
“That is a lie. You are a traitor! You are sacrificing my life.”
“I am not prepared to sacrifice the lives of my guards for you, and King Martan does not want your child born and I am to cut its throat if it ever—”
“That is a lie. He told me he loved me—”
“—Then why did he lie to you. Why did he tell to move slowly. Our only hope was speed and you wiped that out. My guards with you are just a decoy and Martan thinks you’ll die on the road or in Spragend and my guards with you – we are all a sacrifice and I’m trying to take you to where you are safe.”
“Why would he lie to me. He loves me.”
“Why would he marry Princess Routani if he wanted you as his Queen and his is King, and can decide who he marries. There is no law against a King of Matira marrying a commoner.”
“There is a law. He can only marry a Princess. That is the law.”
“The law is the King and he is the law. He can do whatever he wants and you have no political value and bearing a child, you have the ability to plunge his kingdom into even more warfare. You got yourself pregnant, thinking to control the King. He decided you were disposable and I’m not prepared to risk my life for the antics of a King and concubine.”
“You are disloyal—”
“But still alive, in spite of you. Our guards will now reverse and head across cornfields, bypassing yet another forest and we would finally join up with some guards: surprisingly, at the bit, you wanted to meet with Sir Charles and his guards – forecast at some twenty behind us but in fact only eight miles. You left us little chance with your tantrums but they will follow your scent: your urine, and perhaps end that when the hounds find your throat!”
“Are they really that close?”
“Tell Lady Alisia.”
“They are drawing closer the longer we sit here! No matter what plan we decide, we need to move. None of us wishes to die, sat here.”
Jinny rode up to the three guards she’d selected, “go through the trees. Make sure you create a trail. They probably won’t follow you but at the turn-off after that, you move across country again; another six guards will move to join you there. You wait for them. I don’t think they will attack you as they should follow Alisia’ smells and that will lead them to us. You then harass them from behind. All of you have horse bows – use them. They Cat will go with you. If nothing else, it will confuse them and slow them down, and they will wonder how many guards we really have left if we can squander guards? You have leave to run, once you engage them but don’t run to Matira – that should, with luck, confuse them even more and hopefully split their forces. This is your note of authority should you meet patrols on the roads. It requires them to assist you,” They took off and the rest of the guards moved on at a far faster rate, after Alisia had once more excused herself.
Jinny watched them go. There wouldn’t be any guards for them to meet up with but maybe a couple of guards who were useless could be targets and join them; you never know, they might survive, or even be of some use, afterwards.
Alisia had actually tried to fool King Martan, thinking that if she became pregnant he would not marry Princess Routani. Martan did not want a child as it complicated things and he decided her escape would be her death-trap or at the very least a miscarriage and the problem was over. He knew Sir Charles had guards in the forests to the west of Matira but it was too close to comfort for him to arrange her death there – it had to be far enough away to blame someone else – she was far too well known as being close to him. Instead the idea was to move her across country on a horse for some forty miles whilst word of her leaving was released to the remaining spies of Sir Charles to make him move.
The guards were as much a sacrifice as anyone else … Jinny had realised that quite early on. The whole plan was a shambles and the Drunk had slipped away earlier whilst the Cat had followed her hand directions to go through the trees with the small band of guards.
Convincing Sir Charles was the next target and in this she was aided by the tantrums of Alisia who’d deliberately slowed them down. Now all they could do was run and hope to split Sir Charles’ forces. They carried on with her towards the west of Toshania.
Sir Charles and his guards had made good time through the cornfields and with the path conveniently beaten down were hardly breaking wind. The path was straight and the hounds were picking up the scent with no trouble at all. They seemed to just love running and were easily outdistancing the horses. Sir Charles was also impressed by Margo’s sons: Bostrus looked after one hound called Trusty; Trevor watched the second hound call Evil, like a hawk and often spent his time chasing it and forcing it to return, while Mansly, who was an excellent scout seemed to look after his two brothers like hounds. Still they were making good time and after Mansly had checked some horse droppings he established that the party some four hours ahead but looking at the signs some appeared to have started for the road; some carried on into the trees and towards the coast and some carried on straight ahead.
Sir Charles asked Mansly for numbers?
“Sir Charles, they are deliberately messing up the horses on damp ground and the corn gives little away … I think about twenty— no … my gut feeling is thirty but they have some feline with them and what I don’t understand is that someone who is pregnant, is stopping every few miles to pass water; I have children and my wife did not pass water that often when bearing any of my young. It makes me that someone is deliberately slowing them down – as if they want us to reach them – it makes no sense my Lord – no sense at all?”
“How long before we catch them?”
“I would say four hours, my Lord—”
“Then we move—”
“Where my Lord. They’ve split into three parties? One towards the coast; one towards the road, and the third through the trees towards the road?”
“Follow the scent of the one who keeps passing water.”
“That is the one heading to the coast.”
“My Lord. If we are wrong, we will never catch them. There are only three and they are making good speed through the trees. Better than they should. They must be a decoy my Lord.”
“And if they are not, Mansly? What if they are not?”
“I can only advise, my Lord. If we are wrong she could live. If you are right, they still have four hours to reach the coast and take a boat.”
“If they take a boat, they will drowned at sea – that will happen.”
“As you say, my Lord.”
“We head for the road, Mansly, and with all speed.”
Alisia, now in a full guard’s uniform was finding the metal across the chest difficult, but not as difficult as passing water standing up in guard’s breeches but she was a lot faster now. The pursuers however, were also faster and they did not appear to be stopping for anything. Jinny looked back and looking at Alison – her third in command, said, “we leave now. Through the trees to the south and we’ll pick up a small village on the Spragend Sea. Fifteen miles and we should just make it. The Drunk should be there, or he and I will have words in hell; over his dead body.”
“Move, Jinny, and we’ll have more chance,” and Jinny grabbed the reins of Alisia’s horse; pulled it off the road and into the forest. The Cat, as if by magic, now appeared.
Alisia started her instant and continuous complaints and had her helmet rattled as Jinny hit it, “Any more out of you and I’ll gag you,” Alisia immediately started to argue and found chains around her hands linked to her reins whilst a gag was forced into her mouth; stopping all conversation.
“You are not killing me, Alisia. You are just a deposed concubine with no more rights than a beggar. These people better be prepared to take you in or you’ll wonder the streets. We’ll head for a boat that the Drunk should have hidden or the Cat wouldn’t be here. The three guards – I don’t know – maybe just the north port. I will think the Cat has gone missing, and they will be right or not? Now we ride.”
Sir Charles’ guards finally stopped as the hounds barked and Mansly leapt down from his horse to inspect their point of interest, “Two horse, Sir Charles, have come off the road and headed into the forest. I can’t say any more.”
“So three headed through a forest towards the north coast; two head through a forest towards the south coast and the rest follow the road … what I wonder, is the difference? The north gives an ability to escape. The south effectively goes nowhere, and the main guards are heading to Spragend by the look of it. Is there any smell of the Cat?”
“I can set the hounds on it but we lose time, my Lord.”
“We will catch them, Mansly. Stand the guards down but one patrol – have them follow the remainder of the guards and report back after ten miles; we need a rest and they won’t be able to avoid us. Find if the Cat is around and then we’ll know whether it is another decoy.”
Alison and her guards made one mistake as they reined up and looked back to check their pursuers. The decoy to the north had not been followed and now headed back to the road to take the patrol from the rear. As the patrol passed they unleashed arrows from their horse bows into the ten guardsmen of Sir Charles. Alison now headed back to join in the attack, however two of the guards had been instructed to ride back to the main guards if they were attacked and now, while they killed his guards, Sir Charles knew Alisia was no longer with those guards who were attacking his guards, meaning she was one of the two people heading for the Spragend sea and he immediately gave orders for his main body and the hounds to hunt them down.
Jinny kept dragging Alisia’s horse towards the point she agreed to meet the Drunk. It wasn’t easy as Alisia kept trying to pull her horse up and Jinny heard the noise of the following guards moving closer and closer until finally she could see the bay and a small boat. Looking over her shoulder she could see movement in the trees behind her, and then the Drunk was running towards her from the beach and then stopping as if shot when he saw the chains and gag, “Cut the reins, Drunk; throw her in boat and get us away. We’ve only minutes; they have crossbows and she’s sabotaging us.”
The Drunk slashed the reins with his knife and threw Alisia, chains and all over his shoulder as he started to stagger towards the boat.
Jinny stopped to cut the saddlebags loose and then followed the Drunk; vaulted into the boat and put the saddlebags in the stern whilst the Drunk pushed the boat out and leapt in.
The boat was only some 60 foot from the shore when Sir Charles and his guards arrived and began firing at the boat. Jinny held up the saddlebags as some kind of protection; feeling several bolts hit them as riders tried to force their horses into the sea to get closer and use their horse bows. She would have liked to use Alisia as protection but the Drunk still had some feelings.
Sir Charles watched from the sea as they moved away, “They’ve escaped but we’ll find them and kill them. Where is that bitch heading, I wonder?”
“Which bitch, Sir Charles? That bloody guards leader or Alisia. The sooner we find both of them and kill them, the better. Only problem is that, that guards leader has a brain, and where is that bloody Cat that’s been creating havoc?”
People often think that big Cats don’t swim; perhaps they’re right and paddling doesn’t really count as swimming.
In the Cat’s case, he didn’t care and just followed the boat which once out of the sight turned to the north west and headed for a narrow inlet which eventually measured some eight miles hard rowing. As they neared the inlet the Drunk was feeling in need of several trees to fall on him and that large foaming froth that revived him. Jinny: sick of a spoilt Alisia; showed no signs of wanting to remove Alisia’s gag or chains; the Drunk’s raised voice finally crept over the laboured sound of the oars, “She needs to drink and breath, Jinny, and so do I for that matter although you would possibly disagree?”
“I’ve had enough of her, Drunk.”
“I’ve had enough as well, Jinny, but I’ve just found a boat that I rode, for nigh on eight miles with two of you doing nothing but staring at each other. I can appreciate the gag, Jinny and I’d laughed, if the energy was there, but why the chains?”
“Think for a minute, Drunk. Why was Alisia trying to make sure Sir Charles caught up with and killed us and believe me she was!”
“I always believe you, Jinny but what could she hope to achieve, my occasional love? Sir Charles would kill her as quickly as us. He isn’t going to take Martan’s throwaways or is he? Sir Charles didn’t cross Gods’ know how many seas for to kill a concubine. He came here for something else and I don’t have the faintest idea what he came for? You’re supposed to be the thinking person, Jinny, and she’d derailed you as she does others: her only skill; apart from her body is her mouth, and kingdom politics?”
“Assume for a moment, my Drunk, that Sir Charles came for something and it isn’t Alisia – why would he pursue Alisia to kill her? Why would Alisia feel she has something of interest to Sir Charles that would protect her? There are one or more almighty questions here, and Alisia appears to know something that she thinks will see her safe my drunken friend?”
“There is only the baby, Jinny, and that from a concubine who is being replaced by a Princess who will be a King’s wife.”
“Yes, my friendly Drunk but Sir Charles has bigger fish to fry and he will not wish to share his Kingdom with Martan’s throwaways.”
“Why does he think this is his Kingdom and does Alisia know that?”
“The Matira’s kept the core as Dwarf held and controlled it and then as they tried to control it, they twisted it into something, the still don’t understand. They adopted other species to dilute challenges but control was always with the Matira’s and using people is never a good idea – they tend to object; Droga’s ceased calling themselves Droga’s but Matira’s killing anyone who spoke against them, also fooled no-one. The Matira’s as part of control, drove the Droga’s underground, or so they thought. The Droga’s were widespread with ‘Old Magic’ and they protected themselves in ways they knew. The Dwarfs failed to kill them. That is why we have the ‘Old Stock’ and the Cats. Alisia can’t keep her mouth shut any more than her bladder but she has learnt something and I prefer not to know, otherwise I will cut her throat for her knowledge.”
“We can’t keep her in chains and gagged. We have move three miles to the second boat on the Matira sea and then finally five miles to the Toshonian Sea to finally pick up the last piece of road – Unchain her.”
Jinny finally unwrapped Alisia’s chains and Alisia threw herself at Jinny as they chains came off to meet the chains colliding with her stomach as Jinny swung them.
The Drunk watched this, and wished he’d been able to take a drink.
You don’t mess with women when they’re fighting but he took the gag off and said, “I’ll cut both your throats if you carry on, and if I have to – neither of you will need a gag after that!”
“I’m just trying to protect myself.”
“You are trying to kill everyone because you think that is how you survive. King Martan wants you dead and you are not killing us as well – neither of you. We have a three mile walk to another boat and then hours of rowing to travel fifteen miles. Five mile walk after that and another fifteen miles rowing and then it really gets difficult, and I’m the one doing the work on the oars. Choose? Either stop these antics or I go on alone.”
“I could have saved everyone if I met Sir Charles. He would give anything for a son of King Martan.”
“And if it is a daughter?”
“It will be a son – I know that, Jinny.”
“When do you ever stop lying, Alisia. Had it been a son and Martan had his priests and priestesses checking on you, you would not be on the road nor would Martan be looking for another woman. A daughter, however, could in due course give birth to another son and a challenger for the Kingdom and Martan would not accept that, so you were offering Martan’s daughter to Sir Charles – you are having a daughter and you know that but you would sacrifice all of us for yourself. I keep my honour, Alisia, more you can keep anything. You will reach your refuge and let them deal with you because I have had enough of you, in all senses!”
In the meantime, Alison had chosen to forget his instructions since there seemed little point in following them and was now heading to the west following some way behind Sir Charles and his forces – there was also Jinny’s comments to Alison and that they weren’t meant to survive and Alison intended to.
Of her guards she’d detoured and picked up the other decoys and they now numbered twenty three in total – a sufficient force for safety but one that should be in Spragend and not in force on the King’s roads and there was possibly a problem if they met any of the King’s guards – assuming they lived. Reaching Toshon Village – most of them had thrown off their armour already – Jinny would have spoken to them for that but she’d kept her armour bright and on – well it had taken a few drinks – and in battle, you might need to be free. The slice down so you parried ready as the blade and a few other things happened. She rode up front; they weren’t bandit but the word had obviously gone out; they were dead and she didn’t understand that as they met the first bunch of patrols met who attacked them. How could they be bandits; already they were bandits and if not bandits, they treated as bandits.
Maybe they could make their way to Frania. They always needed guards in Frania.
Kyle was already reeling with a mind entering his and saying, “I have bonded with you.” He’d already had the Women’s Committee virtually accuse him of attacking the woman he found by the road and tried to help. Now he was told he could not hunt Roc eggs unless allowed.
What were they trying to do to him. He’d done nothing wrong. He’d tried to help a girl in trouble; tried to feed the village with old and dead Roc eggs, and caught fish for the village. Were the fish going to start talking to him, now? He went back to the trees he tied his nets too and looked for any catch – nothing – it made, not only his day, but a complete month of isolation – even his toes were giving him grief and Tare wouldn’t touch them until she was pregnant. One thing, however, was dying, whilst his toenails were bidding for freedom, and that was his belief in anything.
It was a hike to Jacque and Mari but Jacque often had some fish left and Kyle could do with a bit of luck after today and getting away from the rocks and the Rocs …?
What a can of life is this when a Roc is in your brain and watching you like a hawk; maybe she, or he watches you like a Roc and the Women’s Council or Committee used every way they could to attack any man who achieves and ‘Old Stock’ – maybe he was ‘Old Stock’ like Jacque and Mari – forced out unless needed; he was certainly ready to leave everything and everyone!
His leaving, however, was subject to getting some fish; walking five miles to Jacque and Mari with his toenails grating the ends of his boots and then back into his toes … perhaps Mari would cut them and he’d see if there was anything he could exchange for a little relief although Tare would yet again, go berserk when she found out his toenails were cut.
Visiting Jacque and Mari took him a good way from the village. They were on the coast and that was not by choice.
They were, in the words of the Women’s Council, ‘Old Stock’ – to be ignored – as if they didn’t exist but you might then ask why members of the Women’s Council walked about eight miles at night to find people who did not exist and one thing you would find were completely blank looks if you dared ask where they going, and where were the rampaging wolves who it appeared, knew better than to face the Women’s Council, still Kyle needed some fish. With no Roc eggs – not allowed; nothing from his nets; his wife not expecting; a Roc bonded with him which would put anyone off mating as three of you would be enjoying it he have even more grief from the women.
Kyle wondered what Gods he’d offended – there must be a lot of them to offend and he’d obviously found everyone, and they’d obviously found him despite his hiding from the Woman’s Council, who acted like Goddesses?
Jacque and Mari lived a hundred yards back from the coast and the Franian Sea and eventually he was almost there. You approached them through a copse of three large pines where their Hawks were based and lived wild. Why they did not fly off, Kyle never knew but the Hawks knew him and so did the large Cat who wandered up and sniffed him with Jacque looking up as Kyle approached.
Jacque didn’t look more than forty years old yet seemed to have been around for longer than anyone knew. Sandy haired like the Cat, blue eyes as opposed to the Cat’s black eyes, Jacque match Mari in everything but shape and height – in strength, maybe they were matched but both kept to themselves, tended their herbs; trained their hawks and fished.
They lived fairly simply but over the years had added to their home and now there were two conical roofs spread across a wooden framework. One had a trough filled with both fish and water to keep the fish fresh and this was just below one open side of one hut. Everything was built on stilts although the water never came this far – perhaps it once did? The two sides of the huts were joined by a wooden walkway but stretched some fifteen foot across by some eight foot in length and there were hooks inside for four hammocks if you were desperate and Kyle when faced with Tare’s renown temper, sought a hammock – often moving at speed. There were steps down the sides to the sand and a walkway from the front of both huts towards the sea – it again looked as if the sea had once swept this far in.
Jacque smiled as Kyle approached, “if you are running from the Women’s Committee, they are already on the way. Mari’s hawks saw them,” Kyle realised that the hawks would have seen him, too.
“Is no-where safe?”
“You seem selected for something, Kyle, but to put your mind at rest, you are not ‘Old Stock, you are merely in the wrong or right place at the wrong or right time.”
“If I am, I don’t know what. I went to find some fish and Roc eggs; instead I find a girl lying by the road and then, when I get her to the village they attack me. I head back to the fish pens and nothing; then a Roc bonds with me and Tare wants me to get her pregnant. Now I have no fish; no Roc eggs and something in my mind whether I like it or not.”
“I always keep a few fish back for you. It’s not easy when you try and help people. You succeed and no-one gives you credit – fail and they’re all on your back, but I’ll tell the Women’s Committee the fish are yours; you are repaying a favour to me, and they can carry them back although the men will get the job. Follow the Cat when he gets back, into the trees, and hide, he’s watching the women at the moment, along with the hawks.”
Kyle looked up as he heard another shout and saw Mari pointing back into the trees, it sounded like, “go, Kyle,” and Kyle wasn’t waiting for the women to arrive; running for the trees like a bat out of hell, with the Cat overtaking him – maybe they crossed the finishing line together and if not, it wasn’t for want of trying. They barely made it before the women arrive with four men carrying a stretcher with a body on it and Mari met them as they arrived.
The Women’s Council were a fearsome bunch. Tare had the tolerance of a snake guarding its young and it was made worse as she felt Kyle was failing in her desires for children. Half the time she couldn’t even keep him awake at night as he roamed further and further afield in his mental search for food. Tare was five foot two inches; blue eyes again and she hated that; as she did the blond hair that marked her and she wanted children.
Sueshar was famous for refusing any man who could not wrestle her.
Greta usually wrestled them with her mouth which never seemed to close.
Tonya, on the other hand, or usually a male, seemed to have no problems with her mouth or men, until she wore them out.
Minine usually worked from where she couldn’t be seen. Causing trouble where she felt it could not be tracked back to her and Stort her husband; leaving Sophia, who considered herself worldly-wise having lived in an isolated village all her life.
Together, they spent more time either fighting or gossiping or in a lot of cases planning for themselves and not the village to be little more than trouble!
They’re were four stumps of trees behind the first hut-like building and the makeshift stretcher was finally laid down there. Tare – self appointed but unchallenged in the Council stared at Mari until her eyes were virtually watering.
There really was no point in try to out-stare Mari – it was like staring at a rock-face, “Kyle brought this woman to the village and then ran away!”
“You mean that you and these women attacked him without thinking because he was a man and this was an injured woman?”
“No-one attacked Kyle, he ran!”
“Faced with Harpies like you, anyone with any sense would run. Most of you are only interested in yourselves and attacking men. Leave her and go. Take the fish Kyle caught earlier – he cares more for your village more than you ever will! Go before I lose my temper – go!”
To say the Women’s Council ran would be inaccurate. They gathered their skirts to their thighs as the hawks swooped down over them and overtook each other as they left; the men who knew their job, looked at Jacque and Mari, and waited: “at the side of the side; there; put the fish into the bags and I want the bags back – Kyle is helping me and will sleep here tonight. Tell that to this bunch of Harpies!”
Jacque watched them put them put the fresh fish into the bags. He hated this long death for the fish, who would probably be dried by the time they reach the village and suffer the worst deaths you could imagine but the villagers never seemed to think of anyone but themselves.
They finally left and he watched Kyle and the Cat move from the trees as he walked towards Mari and the body – still alive – but not for long he felt.
Mari looked up as he arrived by the body, “She is wandering but there is very little left. Thinks she is a Roc and keeps trying to fly in her mind. Only thing keeping her alive.”
“What Roc is she flying with, Jacque?”
“I have no idea, Kyle … Mari is doing the work …?”
“Tell Mari what you know about Rocs.”
“A Roc bonded with me, Mari. I have never bonded with anyone but Tare; if that was ever possible but a Roc came into my mind as I looked at the fish and told me she had been instructed to bond with me.”
“Then we need to find your Roc. Who she is flying with?”
“I don’t know but if she is bonded she must know of this conversation and her name is Mona Roc.”
“From your description, Mona Roc wasn’t just an outcast from the Rocs who lived here, she is excluded completely – she can’t even sit in the rocks.”
Like Rona, there was a time and family gap and in any case, they were both four hundred years older without the pleasure or experience of knowing it.
Mona Roc was being held liable for mistakes she’d made four hundred year before in moments of panic as everyone’s world failed. Even her own kind didn’t, wouldn’t, and couldn’t know the decisions she made in seconds. There wasn’t a Council of Rocs to guide, just very little, if any time to decide and act.
Now, there was nothing for her and she kept a tight hold on Rona Matira’s mind to preserve her own sanity, and now in Kyle’s mind he saw Rona and the senseless and lifeless state Mona had put her in to.
Mari just gently touched Rona’s head and looked at Jacque, “Often they drive us away because we’d uncover them – too many ‘Old Stock’ in the old areas – maybe we should have gone to Frania … ‘Old Stock’ are prized there and not prised out.”
“The girl needs attention, Mari, not history!”
“History is killing her, Jacque. I need the Roc whose in her mind and I think it’s the one in Kyle’s mind as well. The Roc also feels that Kyle has killed the sick and old – there’s more but without the Roc I can’t do anything.”
Mari placed her hands on Rona’s head, listened and again heard a screaming voice as a Roc forgot there was someone on their back in the sheer exuberance of feeling she could fly everywhere she had been denied and only as she soared did she realise her back was lighter. She turned her head to look at her back and realised there was no-one there. She sought for the mind as it fell and then seized on it as she sped down, aiming at a dwindling speck … maybe … maybe—
“Now we call Mona Roc and she will come, Jacque – she will come and she will join us!”
“How will you call her? We can link to hawks and an old Cat but we cannot link to Rocs?”
“Kyle is linked to this Roc— I know it … I damn well know it Jacque. This Roc has taken over this girl’s mind but the Roc is linked to Kyle and Kyle must call her,” Kyle looked at them once again and ruffled Cat’s mane. What was going on? Everything seemed to be his problem?
The question was swiftly answered when Mona Roc landed in the trees and looked down at Rona lying there. Mona searched around for minds.
Kyle’s she knew but she’d also embedded herself in Rona’s mind and Rona’s death would kill her in agony if she stayed, “then a voice echoed in her own mind. You are killing this girl; leave her or die with her, Mona Roc!”
“You do not tell me what I do. My bond was before your birth!”
“Was it, Mona Roc. How many others were outside of the bubble when it sank. How many were frozen a bubble but did not sink or died as the land sank, and the earth and water swept in, summons for the Matiras in the revenge of the Dwarf. You flew; others fought, died but some survived. Your bond to Rona Matira was a personal choice; our lives were a fervent desire and little you cared for that. Release her, Mona Roc. She will bond again with you again, should she choose – release her or she will die. You now occupy her whole body as well as her mind. There is nothing left in her to provide what is necessary for her to live”
“If I release her, Mari. I will die.”
“How do you know, Mona Roc?”
“I put myself into her body as she fell. It was the only way I could find her.”
“Put yourself into my mind and body, Mona Roc. I need to know your true and complete identity so I recognise your pattern in Rona Matira and by putting yourself into my body you will have another body pattern and then we can remove you from others and keep you alive and you need to leave the mind of Kyle Nonsat was well.”
Mona Roc flew to the raised walkway at the front of the first house and her message to Mari was, “If I leave the mind of Kyle Nonsat the other Rocs will kill me. It is their instruction that I bond with him to stop him killing unborn and sick Roc children. I cannot leave Kyle Nonsat’s mind.”
“Kyle’s wife wishes to be pregnant. He does not want you in his mind when he is with his wife.”
“I will set my mind to only be with him when he approaches Roc’s Revenge. That should satisfy him, but my sin was to let my love of air and flying over-rule my feelings for Rona Matira who was never of Matira stock anyway, but adopted, and then excluded by the Matira’s. I befriended her because she had no-one and it suited me to feel her young mind, and then through my own stupidity I nearly killed her and caused this.”
“Pride is a sin you don’t mention, Mona Roc, and I can do nothing about that but with your help I can save this young girl, although what I save her for, is another matter. Maybe that she was young and abandoned when you found her will save her: you took her as a mother with she as your child but we have no children and you are always welcome; we know of her time with her, so perhaps she will stay and have a life again with us and you.”
“I would like that. What do you want me to do, Mari Hawk?”
“First, you must never utter my real name. I take a risk by even allowing you to enter my mind as it has knowledge no-one must know or our lives are forfeit throughout the land. You must blend your mind and self to me as you did with Rona Matira and Rona must adopt the name of Hawk. She cannot use the name of Matira. I will change her understanding as I use your presence to enter her body, spirit and mind. She must live a different life under a different name – she cannot go back four hundred years and believe she is a Princess.”
“How will you stop that, Mari. I don’t want her mind changed!”
“Then take her back four hundred years, Mona Roc!”
“When do you wish to mind-meld?”
“Now is as good a time as any.”
Mari sat herself by the steps that led up to the fish pool. Mona by some strange contortions settled on the peaked woven roof.
Two powerful minds sought each other and each tested the other. Mona still could not give up herself but she could almost hear a little voice in her head, “please, Mona. I want to live!” Mona wanted and would have sought support from fellow Rocs but none would touch her. She had abandoned Rocs some four hundred years ago and her name was legend as she saved herself and a human, and left Rocs to die.
Any Roc could take her life and would if they found an excuse but instead they gave Mona the role of protecting sick, young and old Rocs. Now this humiliation would be known to a non-Roc and that hurt her.
She was young when she made those mistakes and four hundred years later she must pay for them. She was still young and it didn’t seem fair but she had nearly caused Rona Matira’s death and then occupied her body, mind and soul – leading her to a slow death. She slowly melted into Mari Hawk’s mind.
Mari was waiting but even she cringed at the full knowledge of the Matira’s and the Dwarf –Drufus – as it echoed into her mind, body and soul.
Mari took the colours, blends – the sheer impact of so much emotion, threats and finally, agreement and then Mari felt, almost like a fragrance in the air, the subtle sense of Rona amongst the thoughts of a young Roc and the temptation to take and own, another body. She could understand why people desired and took over minds and bodies but Mari was from sterner stock and knew that owning someone meant you no longer owned yourself.
She could feel a sore that ripped and tore into her as she absorbed more than she would ever want as spiracles of colour remonstrated with faint slivers of feelings she couldn’t catch but must, as a faint sense of a fragment of Roc mind passed her by but Mona Roc still fought the mind-meld and giving up her control of Rona. Finally it was not Mona Roc melding with Mari but Mari melding with Mona as Mari tried entering Mona’s mind and body, Mona fought her – Mona could not or would not fully release or meld with Mari unless it suited her and as Mari tried to take her over she now found strong resistance.
Mona had embedded herself so much into Rona Matira that they were one person and if Mona died then so would Rona. With the resistance from Mona it would kill Rona if she kept trying force the meld and Mari stopped; pulled herself out of Mona Roc, and staring at Jacque said, “I must leave this girl and Mona Roc. Mona would rather die than lose control. We can do nothing!” They both walked away.
Mona still sat on the roof – she couldn’t let go but Rona would die if she didn’t, and she knew that. On the one talon she was in control; on the other claw … what was she playing at. She could have melded with Mari Hawk and it would have been finished but she’d fought the meld and then fought Mari Hawk melding with her.
She looked at the body lying across the tree trunks on some kind of travois. She could see the heart was just beating and flew down to the body where she sat looking at Rona Matira. She didn’t have the sensitivity of Mari Hawk and she now offered the mental thought to Mari, “I am finally ready,” Mari was in her in seconds before Mona could even think of anything else.
Mari had identified the string of colours connecting Mona to Rona before and immediately followed them down into Mona’s brain. Roc’s had always had some mystical being and now she followed Mona’s colours down into Rona and found the knots in the brain that tied her to the Roc. Mona had taken no risks when she fully bonded and now controlled virtually all organs without understanding that humans aren’t birds. Now Mari followed the coloured stream to Rona’s heart which to Mari’s surprise was actually grey and began untying the knots that bound her heart to Mona. Now slowly but surely she followed all the other colours and shades. Some to the lungs; others to the legs, and many to the brain. All knots she carefully and slowly untied.
She watched Rona as she worked and started to see colour move into her face and her chest began to rise and fall more easily. There were still other areas and she now worked through the body until there were no colours connecting Mona to Rona Roc. By now Mari had sunk to her knees and was held upright by Jacque who watched her with more and more worrying looks – finally she stopped and only Jacque now held her upright; he finally cradled Mari in his arms and carried her into the second hut and onto a bed. For hours afterwards he sat and watched her, wiping her face with a damp cloth and feeding a thin broth he’d eventually made.
Mona sat there with an overwhelming sense of loss. Rona had been almost like a daughter to her and now she was gone. Mona no longer had a tribe to live with and she had nothing. She flew up to the top of a tree and sat there watching. She could at least watch over Rona who was now also being fed broth by Jacque – it looked as if Rona would now live and also have a life.
At least Alisia had the good sense to keep her mouth shut for the five mile walk to the next piece of water. She and Jinny were like two cats with their tails tied together and it was a relief to find the next boat was where it should be although Alisia once again bridled at having to pass over five golden pieces for the boat and trip, but at least the Drunk had someone to row with him.
The exit from the inlet to the Matira sea was virtually non-existent and all of them stood on land as the men manoeuvred the boat across the rocks, possibly scraping off more than a few barnacles until finally the ladies decided to seat themselves as far away from the oars as they could. They finally pulled away, carefully watching the shore to the north and the island to the south – the island was only a mile long but an odd shape and a hundred yards across. Once they passed it, unless they went deeper into the Matira sea, they were relatively safe, providing they weren’t seen from the cornfields and they should be okay as the corn was already two foot high.
Sir Charles had watched them row away with almost a feeling of peace. If they were rowing into the Spragend sea, good luck to them and let them die – the seas were as dangerous as the shores – if he had his way with it. He’d enough to worry about without Alisia and her baby bothering his thoughts – let her die for all she was worth.
His next question to himself was a simple one, ‘What do I do until Routani marries and kills Martan?’—I can’t sit around all day waiting for that … even with these guards, we only number forty and already there is some dust on the road behind us—not a time to hang around … I think. With Alisia dead or captured I might have had some sway with Martan as he doesn’t want a daughter at large but she’s escaped and all I now have left are believers and forty guards. Time to head back to Charguar.
Alison saw the dust rising from the cornfields. She’d finally managed to turn her guards around and now with a warrant from the King she’d amassed almost a hundred guards. What she hadn’t amassed was food or money and she felt there was no choice but to head to Frania and she signalled to the guards to head along the road – just as Sir Charles and his glorious forty finally erupted from the cornfields in front of them.
They attacked without thought as Sir Charles and his guards ran and King Martan’s guards followed and attacked them – the hindmost were cut in their hinds as they ran and finally thirty of Sir Charles’ guards headed back into the cornfields towards the start of the Matira sea.
Alison called her guards back as they started to pursue, “Don’t follow! They can ambush us.”
Johan: previously number four in the hierarchy; now number two to her; looked at her, “there is nothing but the sea there. If we follow them, they have nowhere to run. We can kill them all.”
“No, Johan. If we can get to the Franian coast then we can get a boat to Frania, freedom and riches.”
“We are sworn guards of King Martan, Alison. You are asking us to betray our oaths!”
“Your king betrayed you, Johan. None of us were meant to survive.”
“None of us, Alison?”
“No. Jinny told me that King Martan wanted Alisia dead; he’d told Sir Charles where we were; the direction we were taking, and then Alisia, who thought if she sacrificed us to Sir Charles would live, was the last straw. We can’t go back to King Martan nor to Matira Castle. We were a sacrifice as if we no longer had a right to live. Martan broke his oath not us!”
Johan looked around the camp. Over a hundred guards had heard that statement and eighty of them were king’s men and road guards. It was likely to get nasty and the king’s guards could easily overcome Alison’s guards and take them back for execution if they chose.
Johan looked at the guards and Alison noticed that they looked to him rather than her, “Choose, guards. Did your King betray you or did Alison, Jinny and the Drunk betray you? I watched Alisia hold us up so we would be caught by Sir Charles! I watched Sir Charles know our secret routes and follow them at speed! I watched deceit and treachery lure us to destruction! I say, Frania! I am too fond of my live to sacrifice it for deceit!”
Alison and Johan watched as guards unsheathed swords. Some rested blades on their shoulders whilst others rested across their horses saddles while they watched, and they almost smelt the air as they watched.
The Drunk and Smashroot with their backs bent were trapped between the island and the shore as the remainder of Sir Charles’ guards finally reached the sea bank in complete panic and then with horses rearing to avoid the water saw the small boat between them and the island half a mile from the shore – out of range of bows and now the boat with screams from the women closer to the island.
Of all the luck, Sir Charles thought. I lose them and then I’m driven into them but too far away. They are obviously going to out somewhere so we’ll ride along the bank and see where it ends. They must come out of it somewhere and then we have them, “Ride along the bank until the water ends, then we wait up.”
“They can wait for us, Drunk and we’ll be like Trout for a tickle.”
“Smashroot and myself were not planning a fifteen mile paddle while you ladies just sat there and gave directions. Once past this island we move to the north west and a piece of land sticking out in the sea. Horses are already there and by the time Sir Charles and his guards have moved along the bank and failed to find us, we will be in another boat crossing the Toshonian sea and then with fresh horses we hit the Toshonian road whilst Sir Charles can either wait for us on the bank or follow the road until it is too late to catch us as we head from Toshon Village.”
“Nicely thought, my Drunk.”
“I do have some uses, Jinny.”
The Drunk was expecting Alisia’s tantrums but funnily enough they didn’t happen and finally the made the outcrop and Jinny stood there open-mouthed as a wooden carriage was hitched to four mules and the boat manhandled onto it; looking at Jinny’s lower lip flapping, the Drunk laughed, “We didn’t know what we might find and thirty miles is a long way with Sir Charles trying to outdistanced us. This way our thirty miles are more like his forty five miles and then he is too late, once again. I wouldn’t want to be within reach of his temper.”
People thought Sir Charles was a fool, but not usually twice. Once again he watched his prey escape and herded his guards to the gap between the Matira and Toshonian seas. The gap at the top of the land space was only ten mile but he didn’t believe they could be that stupid – perhaps it was time to let the hounds run and then return to Margo Desay but he still have this bunch of guards trying to ride him down – could Martan be that intelligent? Would Martan have really been able to think like that?
Perhaps he could. Sir Charles still didn’t know where his Spy Master was, or why all the recruitment had been of the worst and lowest caste with all the funds disappearing. That could not be an accident. Someone had been turned and badly, but who? Margo and her family seemed loyal but again, Margo kept everything under her and her son’s control. He would find out in time and then quietly take his revenge as his leisure but there probably wasn’t anything to do but wait at the gap; let the hounds lose see what turned up.
That probably mirrored the Cat’s thinking, who didn’t like water and had swiftly turned himself around in the Spragend sea and headed back to land. He was fairly attuned to the Drunk, however and could follow him on land as the Drunk and company slowly made their way. The Cat did make sure he hitched a lift behind the mules on the boat but took the long way around as the boat, once again went into the sea. It was more fun on land and there were a lot more trees.
The Cat finally caught up with them just after the road that turned north to Soskea. There were lots of trees and the Cat felt at home as he blessed as many as he could – what was urine for if you couldn’t spray it everywhere and now he took a short-cut south-west, leaving them to follow the road.
The Cat liked a quiet life and from the sound of Alisia, that was the last thing she wanted and judging by the sound of horses behind him, something else she wasn’t going to easily get. He thought he should turn back and help but the vibrations he was getting from Alisia, Jinny and the Drunk meant it was time to explore as only a Cat can and he carried on running.
Alison kept pushing them hard; that way they didn’t have time to talk or argue, or fight. This way they’d be too tired to do more than sleep. The only piece of luck was blundering, yet again, into the same set of guards and another brawl. There were only twenty left of the guards they’d met although it had certainly sorted out her weaker guards who were now left behind – some still alive.