Slight re-org and as usual some kind of edit as I re-read some stuff to do with Mi Kee actually arriving on Dagril with a Saltie, Parrot and two Cats.
Main reason for the changes was I finished the unbonding, by Mari, of Mona Roc to Rona Matira and that freed up the way for other changes.
My notes afterwards were something like:
Alisia on her way to Toshon with Jinni, Cat, Drunk and Smashroot.
Sir Charles on his way to Charguar.
Alison, Joan and troops on their way to Frania.
Kyle and Tare Nonsat still fighting because she can’t get pregnant and he is sleeping at Mari’s at the moment.
Rona now living with Mari who want’s her as a daughter.
Marriage of Routani to King Martan needs, like any marriage, planning.
Drufus and Arturo now established at Du Storme Castle although with those two, how longer will the castle be established.
Destraight still there.
King Machael’s daughter in the temple and Laseith trying to kill her.
Just some ideas of the ways the plot might be moving and I have deliberately missed out a lot of what might happen.
Consider broomsticks aren’t much use over seas. Is a flotilla of boats good as it visits.
Time will tell.
The next few hours were hastily spent as Laseith and Arturo filled their bellies and packs until Arturo struggled both packs to the top of the tower; strapping them onto the broom which complained non-stop.
There would be no refreshments on this flight.
Ascan as a town was unfortunately spread over two major barbarian routes and with ports – new, as well as old – it was an easily ravaged target but they didn’t go far beyond Ascan, leaving Sir Charles and Sir Facid untouched.
King Machael’s dreams were usually none he cared to share. He was often woken up; sweating yet again, until he realised it was another bed and he still wore his armour, and it was one of his generals waking him.
His dreams haunted him as men encircled him that he should trust … his bowmen were now firing at him: his ‘horsemen’ should be sweeping in from the east to take out the bowmen but now shield-men died sacrificing themselves for their king, as allies turned against, yet again. Lower your shields was his command: allow the betrayal; watch the arrows rise and fall, and die for what, ‘some belief it would be better.’; they could hang him if that were true and save his people; it seemed to be more than he could.
Laseith and Arturo flew slightly to the west. The broomstick still appeared to have problems flying over water. This part of Ascania was mainly grassland and miles of it but Jablax was a short hop after that and then a turn to the East brought them via another short hop to Dagril. Drufus’ description of where the Roc landed was to the East side of Dagril and Laseith and Arturo intended to land where the mountains stopped by the short lake.
The scrolls were supposed to be in saddle bags and coated in some solution to preserve them – the horse – something else – the saddle bags being leather would probably have fallen apart but the horse would have the bubble and live; but where – so the scrolls should still exist, even if the horse didn’t …?
Arturo wondered where the ‘immortal’ they were. With the upheaval and tidal waves probably swept out to sea along with the horse.
Still at least they could test out Drufus’ travelling scroll but Arturo dare not read the scroll on the broomstick.
If the scroll left the broomstick, Laseith would have him following the scroll downwards to retrieve it.
It took about 3 hours before Laseith saw the mountains of Jablax approaching and veered to the East; leave Arturo’s stomach to the west and landing them in the trees on the west side of a very small island. There was some smaller vegetation nearby but Laseith chose to avoid that and took them into the trees on a downward slope.
The trees were obviously not informed of the potential landing and didn’t move.
Arturo’s stomach had been so informed and so had his arms ready as he found himself hanging from a tree branch as his stomach erupted in various ways and grim death seemed an understatement. He was just grateful the trees were there. A small mountain range rose in the middle of the island – it was a pity Laseith disliked shrubs – they were a lot closer to the ground. It takes a short armed dwarf a long time to reach the ground and by that time the broomstick and Laseith had eaten everything, leaving Arturo to the pleasure of in-flight snacks when you are travelling DwarfAir.
Arturo finally made a landing and a voice shattered his pain, “get off your backside. You’ve had your exercise. I need the camp built!”
“I need a knife, thought, Drufus but that ‘bloody’ broom won’t let me near her!”
“All you have to do is read the words of the scroll, Arturo.”
“Then give me the scroll to read, Laseith! You know a dwarf holding the scroll must read it – give me the scroll to read!”
“We need to find the rest of the scrolls, Drufus. You find them and I want to know each scroll you find?”
Drufus watched a sun rise and the beauty of life and being alive delivered some feeling of the trees to his west; the mountains looked impenetrable to the north although he could see a gap between two sets of mountains as he peered between some small trees which hadn’t grown too well in the rocky soil. To the west were more trees for the broomstick and Laseith to explore; preferably without him.
A small lake only a short distance beckoned him for the drink he needed, if nothing else as he felt something very strange. He could feel magic and yes, he’d used magic, knives, axes and hatchets to kill for Princess Laseith as he clawed his way out of the depths she had plummeted him into.
After finally drinking some water he stood and looked at some more trees to the east but the problem there was again mountains that also settled on the end of the lake and the trees were beyond that with the mountains proving a barrier unless he swam across the section of the lake which narrowed to about 30 foot at this point, still it would move him away from Laseith and that broomstick and he now looked around for some …? The magic was in the trees – high up in the trees, and he needed to swim across and then climb into the conifers to …? Well, stripping off and climbing nakedly up conifers was not his idea of pleasure and especially climbing for Laseith but he might do it for the broom which petrified him, but all that boomed apart as Laseith, complete with broom started shouting, yet again, “where are the scrolls? You are no use, Arturo …? Just take yourself somewhere else; do it now!”
“I don’t care, Arturo; nowhere near me,” Laseith for some reason seemed frightened and that was unusual, given her arrogance and self-belief; Laseith had some magical qualities but they are seemed nothing without her broom. Arturo might think of himself as a dwarf rising but that was usually just before he became a dwarf falling and vomiting after the broom attacked him.
He needed to think: he needed to see Drufus and understand a dwarf who could write magic scrolls and whether there was any that could destroy Laseith. He moved to face, Laseith and ducked as the broom swung at him, forcing him away.
Arturo looked at her taunting face and the broom; took the scroll out from inside his jerkin and started to read the scroll.
“What are you doing, Arturo! I didn’t tell you to read that scroll! What are you doing you slimy little rat-faced dwarf! You’ll die slowly for this!” Laseith and the broom both launched themselves at Arturo with Laseith then falling over the broom which had move first and now both lay in a heap.
Arturo finished the words and felt magic fly from the scroll and for a moment he seemed to be in two places at once as an explosion launched bolts of lightning at the shore and Arturo learnt there are worse things that brooms for travelling as his feet seemed to touch his head and then unwound and he travelled, and so did the broomstick, Laseith, Mona Roc, and Rona as Drufus’ code screwed up once again or did it?
Drufus had made sure only a dwarf could read the scroll and a captive spell generated, moving the Dwarf to where the scroll was written – co-incidentally to where Drufus was. Drufus had listened to Laseith and heard the imperious tones of the Matira’s that he hated. He’d not forgotten the death of his love by Griselda. He’d made sure the dwarf was safe but incorporated his magic into the spell to try and destroy Laseith. Drufus, however, had got it wrong, yet again!
Mi Kee in his life administered justice according to the rules. The rules were laid down and Mi Kee was absolute in his belief in the rules; he felt he administered according to the law and the rules of his office.
Only now did that start to bother him as he’d lost all of his organisation and alone was facing the results of his actions.
The rules and the law had been laid down: the culprits were guilty or they wouldn’t have been before him …?
No matter what he felt it was laid down and he ruled accordingly – often amongst heaps of bodies but everything according to the rules.
His destruction of villages was never personal and the law proscribed that if they broke the law you killed them and destroyed their village – it was never personal and he always believed that, now he remembered watching the lovers and the lovers watch the pool as they were forced to. No water could be in the pool before they were brought here and then they were forced to watch the water flow knowing that when it reached the mark their heads would fall into it.
The families had paid for their adultery trial and justice would be on their side. The complainants were honourable families – very honourable families, and as the money flowed into his mentor’s benevolence; perhaps justice would flow out and his white cap button might change it’s colour.
He watched the lovers look at each other as they watched the water rose. Yes, they looked at each other and he could see the love in their eyes and that told him, if nothing else, they were guilty … as an act of kindness he’d allowed them to face each before they were beheaded. A gentle impulse but one he wanted to make even if it broke the rules – Mi Kee was only human, after all. Mi Kee moved towards the pool.
He always felt he should observe the process and judgement at close range as the heads floated in the water …? Well, this was something he felt and he’d seen too many pieces of water used to prove adultery when the Magistrate wasn’t there – the law would be upheld and not used to kill any more than was required.
Perhaps this was his thought as he watched the pool fill and move towards it to check, catching his foot on one of the blood gutters surrounding the pool and finding himself slipping into the pool which raised the level above the law’s requirements and freed them. Perhaps there was nothing to hang onto as head-first into the pool, he fell; to awake and find himself lying on a beach with a spinning storm – almost a face in his face with the colours watching him as they spun.
A large log said, “get this damned parrot off my back … it’s driving me spare with its screaming!”
Mi Kee confusion increased even more as he understood what the log was saying and it wasn’t mandarin and his panic erupted as the log suddenly stood up and moved towards him with the parrot screaming even more.
Mona awoke still holding Rona in her claws. Mona could see some signs of life in Rona but they were few and feeble. Bonded to Rona, Mona sat there.
This wasn’t a castle or walls; just rocks. To the north was green. Behind Mona was water and beyond that more rocks and more water.
In front of her she could see smoke rising and decided it needed, what she hoped, were humans?
She could also see smoke rising to the west of the trees but they were old folk and the Roc’s tolerated them, but little else.
She picked up the body and flew towards the smoke; settling down to the west of the village and laying Rona down beside a path and then rose up into a thick tree to watch.
Mona Roc could feel her kind near her and this would take a lot of ancient time explaining.
She was now an interloper and her kind killed interlopers but her only crime was time.
She was already sensed and opened her mind to the minds seeking her as she watched and waited.
The trees around moved as Rocs appeared and settled. She tried to portray what had happened and the bonding that made her flee instead of warning her tribe … that was a death penalty before she thought of anything else – failing to warn her tribe; putting a mind bond with a human before her tribe – two death penalties and if she was judging, she would not have hesitate to enforce the penalty; now she waited for judgement as Kyle Nonsat found Rona Matira.
Kyle looked at the body … he thought the woman was still alive and he should take her to Jacque and Mari – he was threatening her life and Jacque and Mari would help but they should not be touched.
He needed his wife – she possessed skills he would never have but Tare wanted to be pregnant – like a wounded animal – to say she was touchy around other women, never mind men, was not something you said to Tare if you wanted to live and they were trying … sometimes he was surprised to crawl out of the house.
The direct route was not an easy one but if Kyle left her for the wolves, the Woman’s Council would hang him upside down for the wolves to play with.
If he approached Jacque and Mari, it would be even worse but luckily the village was the closest and Kyle with immense reluctance picked up the body; put it over his shoulder and made his staggering way through the smaller trees shouting, “woman here; hear me; still breathing; need help!”
He didn’t have much breath to shout anything else because no-one crossed the woman’s council and stayed in the village; especially not a man who allowed a woman to die because no woman heeded his cries – they would blame him for not shouting loud enough.
Mona Roc waited. Someone had taken Rona Matira and that at least paid for her stupidity. How long had she waited to really fly high and then she sacrificed her bond mate to achieve it. Mona felt she deserved to die at least three time: one for deserting her brothers, sisters, family; her tribe; she knew magic was there when she took off but her care for her tribe and also for her bond wasn’t there. She had cared for nothing else but for herself and for that she felt she deserved to die.
To herself and to the Roc’s watching and judging, she said, “I left my tribe to die and never thought of anything else; I abandoned everything for a young girl and then I abandoned the young girl for the pleasure of soaring. I abase myself. I deserve death – to be ripped apart and eaten until only old bones wither.”
The Court of Roc’s justice sat in the trees. The Roc’s Courts sat in groups of eleven. The highest never really sat in judgement but she, who was the highest, knew, as did every Roc, that justice was in the mind but some minds never knew justice or would accept it and then, known as Matron Roc, she was forced to interfere and direct justice. Sheria Roc ruled over the nine: Daried; Petro; Angil; Oline; Joc; Salean; |Majeen; Roam, and Shewan. They sat in judgement but they also sat to administer the law, not change it. Matron Roc with Sheria Roc would decide on the law if there was a failure to uphold it.
The nine would judge and after lengthy mind images put their decision in Mona Roc’s mind, “This is our verdict, Mona Roc. Your decision is death but postponed. You must die for your actions – your sins must be repaid – you will die but binding and the bonds must always be honoured. You will live until you die although any Roc may kill you, but not under our decision.” The Tribe must be repaid for your treachery; your bond to Rona must be honoured. Kyle Nonsat also has a sentence of death. He prowls amongst our weak and kills them – you must stop this and his life depends upon you. We will not kill either of you unless we have no other choice! You will honour your people. Stop him killing our weak; you will bond to him. You will work until we, nature or a Roc decides your death. You will never leave your bonds with Kyle Nonsat or Rona Matira unless in your death. Those of our number who die in their shells may be used by Kyle Nonsat and no other but you will him stop killing our weak and infirmed – their death is a matter for the Great Roc, not a human. That is our judgement under this Court of Roc’s. This Court has judged – do Matron Roc and Sheria Roc wish to speak?”
The silence was broken as Matron and Sheria Roc raised their wings and rose into the sky.
Kyle heard the wings but staggering on his way he couldn’t watched more Rocs that he had ever seen before rise into the sky; he needed help and it wasn’t there.
He laid Rona down and shouted yet again; still waiting for an answering call – he gave up and picked up the failing body, trying to force his way through small conifers towards, what it his village – at times he didn’t know.
There were some 15 homes in the village but no-one seemed to be paying any attention to him and that to a degree summed up his own feelings.
He didn’t belong and nor did Tare but they tolerated him for Tare’s ability to cure and his ability to kill wolves and bring back Roc eggs.
To the north-east were two small farms and Jacque and Mari to the north-west but Jacque and Mari did not exist as far as the villagers were concerned – unless they needed some medicines for things the women’s council could not provide – Jacque and Mari were old – old stock …? Different, but to who – not those you knew in the lights of the more stringent women council members eyes; nevertheless, they were the most ardent buyers of those packages left amongst the trees and never touched by anyone, yet they seemed to vanish … how else would you describe the old stock.
They did nothing and to the villagers, did not exist and that was the Women’s Council’s decision, often thought of as meeting their supplies so they could claim the solution; although that never stopped villagers making their way to fish by the small spread of Jacque and Mari who kept hawks and other things and often carrying fish they had never caught however no-one discussed their fishing expeditions but to the north was wood-cutting and joinery, and a small source of income for the village. There was also some wood and marble cutting to the south and the farms supplied wheat, fresh vegetables to all and some managed to hew stone and wood for the houses. For a small villages it was survival on a small scale … not enough to attract attention but enough to survive.
Merchants did stopped to buy but the wolves in the rocks to the east were a menace – attacking their horses and when hungry, even people; the merchants often came and left at speed.
The Rocs did do some work in keeping the wolf pack numbers down but the tended to kill them if they went near the rocks to the west and left those to the east for the merchants to fight.
Kyle often went to the west and produced Roc eggs for a feast night but to some of the villagers, this seemed stupid when the Rocs were protecting them. Now people saw Kyle walking towards them with something slung over his shoulder and immediately they thought of food. They’d heard Kyle shout earlier and thought he found some really good meat; now they realised the meat was a girl and she must be alive if he had brought her back. If Kyle expected to be welcomed, he was in error. The women’s council almost pounced on him, “What have you done to this poor girl, Kyle Nonsat; where are these Roc eggs you were bringing for the feast tonight?” As if carrying a woman’s body and Roc eggs at the same time was feasible.
Toshon Village looked towards the south, north, east and the west and in fact it look everywhere since there was very little else to look at. Kyle saw the village as he tried to look everywhere else. The wolves weren’t the only ones hunting for something new at the moment and as they took the body out of his arms he made his way towards the western path, away from the women.
If the Women’s Circle were going to behave like that he didn’t want them near anything he cared about. He and Tare were trying for a child and the Women’s Council around his house again with their advice and instructions were enough for him to stay childless and single – it was bad enough with the bandits and wolves; at least he understand them, which is more than he could say for the Women’s Councils. They seemed to be running shifts to harass him and from the look of these women they were prepared to take off their shifts and strangle him with them. If the bandits ever faced these women, they would run but the women never appeared when the bandits did. He made his way down to the south and the small inlet from the sea. He’d cast some nets there yesterday and with luck his pots and nets would have something in them as well.
Kyle was born to a difficult life. Kyle’s father beat him until he could fight back. When he could he was dragged off his father by men from the village – something they didn’t do when his father was beating him.
Looking up at the blue skies he could see very little hints of wind. Ideal for rock climbing if the Rocs weren’t around and he could get at the eggs. He’d almost been here earlier until he found the body and took it back.
Now he made his way past the trees to the east and onwards up to the rocks and the inlet. Again conifers were in the way but there were gaps in the trees and his traps were tied to the trees as were his nets … if there weren’t enough fish he’d try climbing the rocks and face the Roc’s anger.
Kyle didn’t feel he wasn’t despoiling; he might be trespassing but if the eggs weren’t hatched then the Rocs weren’t producing good eggs and he was keeping the species clean but he shouldn’t have been was surprised when as he leant forward to look at his nets, a voice spoke in his head, “I am instructed to bond with you, Kyle Nonsat. I am Mona Roc and I am part of your mind. I will direct you to dead eggs but you do not touch a Roc egg without my permission. I am also bonded to Rona Matira, who you carried back. You will look after her and I will know that you do.”
Alisia, was fulfilling her duties with King Martan and she saw him once again shake his head.
“Have I failed you, my Lord?”
“You have never failed me, Alisia – I failed you.”
“How could you fail me, my Lord?”
“I should have stopped making love to you when I knew you were with child, Alisia.”
“I’m not with child, my Lord.”
“Charles Chastry via my future wife Princess Routani, has informed me, you are expecting.”
“You didn’t know, my Lord; how could the toad know?”
“The toad jumps everywhere, my love, and I assume one of my loyal subjects who observed you, saved a pigeon from an early dinner; Dastry normally eats slugs and now he would appear to want to eat more nourishing food!”
“One of your people betrayed us?”
“Why do you seem so surprised, Alisia. Betrayal, never surprises me.”
“I will never betray you, my Lord.”
“I know that, Alisia and that is why I must lose you, and loose you.”
“Keep me by your side, my Lord. I do not seek more than that.”
“Kings, Alisia, are as much in love with you as they are with their responsibilities and beliefs. Don’t ask me to explain, I don’t know if I could, or if I would if I could; I must marry Princess Routani to be stability – there must be a Queen or the attempts to kill me will achieve even greater success by civil war and this country destroyed if I die without someone on the throne. I think even now that Sir Charles Dastry is on his way by some magic of Princess Laseith. My only hope is to make sure Princess Routani knows she is as much a victim as I am. I will marry Routani but you must leave and seek whatever sanctuary you can find and bring our son or daughter to a better ending than they will have here and I will always love and treasure you, and our child.”
“Can you be still my Lord, or we lose a moment’s love?”
“We have peace for the moment, Alisia but I have to head east for yet another battle. People should protect me.”
“Will they, my Lord? You don’t want me with you to watch over your back?”
“Our child will live, and hopefully so will you – watching my back in a battle is beyond your skills my love and so you must leave, Alisia and now.”
“I will never leave you, my Lord. My body may but I will never leave you, my heart.”
“The sooner your body leaves me, the sooner my heart will stop leaving my body. Take what you need, Alisia, there is a bag of crowns on the table – take them; head for where you feel safe!”
“Quietly, my Lord. Perhaps it is better I leave now – I know someone of the old beliefs; she knows how to hide …? She and her husband have hidden for years.”
“You would trust one of them?”
“We killed and destroyed them, they didn’t kill us and we forced them to …. Jacque and Mari keep and breed hawks now but I wonder if they will keep me?”
“Perhaps they will but I doubt it. The Matira’s were the biggest killers of the old races … those they found; and, yes, they found a lot. Those they didn’t kill, they imprisoned and worked to death as slaves; people of this country fought to have only three races in Toshonia – elves, dwarves and humans – they killed, or tried to kill everyone else! Why would anyone of the old stock help a King of Toshonia?”
“Perhaps they will help me. Can I leave in the morning, my Lord. We still have time.”
“Yes, time for you to die if you stay, Alisia … I think not. Sir Charles, I am told, is already on his way to murder. Leave now. Horses are ready and my Royal Own will escort you to safety. Ride, Alisia, ride and do not stop until you find your chances in life – let that be our legacy. Do not tell me where you ride – just ride. You must be gone but never from my heart or mind. I sacrifice you for the people of this kingdom … I have no choice, now ride Alisia, ride!”
The magic of Drufus did not bring Arturo to the main hall but with a gut wrenching motion, Arturo found himself facing an altar with soldiers behind him and behind the altar, Drufus sharpening a knife, “I’ve always found sharpened knives concentrate the mind almost as much as a hanging and that can be arranged, Arturo, if necessary – Sir Facid has no love of Laseith or her games, and my scroll was never intended to allow Laseith, her broomstick or you to travel anywhere unless I planned it. I had planned to try and open an inter-planetary hole to send Laseith to and with that broomstick to accompany her to some godforsaken planet where magic does not function but I do make mistakes in my magical coding and instead people and animals came from other worlds to Dagril; the scrolls are still there and you came here. Laseith and her broomstick, with my compliments, went back to Ascan.”
Laseith arriving back at Ascania, found herself back in the study opposite her bedchamber once again.
She looked around for Arturo and her broomstick. The broomstick seemed unchanged and filled the room with its presence but Arturo was nowhere to be seen.
After the trip to Dagril and the swift transfer back she felt she needed a bath – it had been a while since her last and perhaps a change of clothing might be of relevance. She moved out of the study to the bedchamber opposite and caught sight of guards outside King Machael’s bedchamber which was unusual as she had planned for him to be off to the east looking for foes, her agents had planted stories of – her agents would be hearing from her and with some force. She’d wanted access to Queen Amanda for a possible accident to occur without the King around – Machael should not be in the castle.
She stormed off to her bedchamber and that annoyed her as well – one bedchamber for a Princess!
Things would change once Machael was dead. His wife might be pregnant, she however would not bear a child; Arturo had seen to that – there would be no sons or daughters from King Machael as far as Laseith was concerned but why guards on his bedchamber door?
She headed for her bath with the broomstick trailing. It would sort out any slobbish lack of respect for her body from the servants. Despite the broomstick and Laseith’s temper it took a while for the bath to be ready and most of the servants ran for it when the broomstick decided to switch a few branches at them for the water being too hot; leaving Laseith facing a new technology called ‘taking a bath unaided’. Laseith wondered how the broomstick knew what she was thinking and then attacked? Whether she could ever control it was another question? The bath at least was decent and hot and she sank into it minus everything that went into another hot tub.
She tried to get her broomstick to wash her back, or, at least to try and herd the servants back so she had some soap. That was the last she saw of the servants for some hours and several of them could hardly walk then.
She really needed to understand the broomstick which had now taken off again. At times, it didn’t just have a mind of its own, it took over her mind, which was probably not a difficult thing to do. She had no regard for life; she killed as her mother had … maybe the techniques were a little different, but what did it matter if they were dead?
Arturo had been her preferred killer and was usually good at it until he’d disappeared but he’d be back and more determined than ever to follow her instructions, once she caught up with him. The broomstick would see to that.
The hot water made her relax and that released thoughts she’d never sought, as if a tapestry were re-writing her mind and the imaginary needles pricked her ideas – she never sought thoughts, herself – what was the point, she just did what she wanted; now she found herself thinking …? Why were there guards outside Machael’s bedchamber? Laseith rose from her bath like a surfacing whale and there was a lot in common between them.
To say she dressed quickly would be an understatement considering she had to get out of the bath and across the aisle, and then a long walk – north – to the door of her chamber and people would pay for her door being on the north side of the building while her bath door was on the south – behind her bedchamber with no door to access it. She chose the right-hand side away from the Guards as she still had problems dressing herself. Dressing herself for a change wasn’t easy with only the broom to assist, but she was out of her bedchamber as soon as she could, and with a swift left turn, on her way to face the guards outside of the King’s bedchamber, complete with the impetus of the broomstick now in front of her. Approaching the door she was stopped by guards who did not appear to be frightened of her and her brain was immediately, via her mouth spraying every insult and threat she could think of. Who were guards to stopped her – she was Royalty.
In the King’s bedchamber stood a priest of Astoron – his name was Myrow, which was not his fault since he could hardly have objected at the time but there was yet another substantial donation to the Temple of Astoron and he was working with two guards – Bonnie Leligan and Brunie Dumie facing the door as Laseith tried to force her way in.
Myrow knew he would lose either the child or the mother if he diverted his magic and his calling was to save the mother but Queen Amanda had specified the child over her own survival and now Laseith and her broomstick were channelling his magic away from Queen Amanda to Laseith and her broomstick, and the door was being forced open, no matter what they did.
Finally seeing Laseith’s face and the strong force beating against the door and guards, Myrow ripped off his religious emblem and hurled it at the door. It sparkled as it travelled through the air passed Bonnie but she felt the pressure as the star passed her hand and instinctively caught it, pushing the emblem against the door. Pressure immediately ceased.
Princess Amanda groaned and the baby appeared with nurses immediately rushing to her.
Myrow knew he’d lost Queen Amanda and looked up she died bearing the child she had called Mioned – Myrow knew that was Amanda’s decision – she’d told him that Mioned was the priority and he heard Amanda’s words at this point echoing in his mind, ‘they can kill me but my child will kill them’.
Had Laseith broken in, both would have died. At least this way the child lived. Without Laseith and her broomstick trying to break in, he might have saved both – another death on Laseith’s lack of conscience.
Laseith and that evil weapon killed another innocent woman – long may she rot in the hells thought Myrow. The priest closely watched the nurses cleaning up the baby and he summons the two soldiers – Bonnie Leligan and Brunie Dumie – to him, “take these two amulets; wear them at all times,” turning to the nurses he produced a chain, “this is for the child – she will wear it to protect her and my God will also protect her but anyone who harms her will suffer his wrath,” if Astoron can be bothered he thought – how many Gods were really there and how much of his magic was ‘old magic’.
Bonnie and Brunie put the amulets around their necks as Myrow watched, “never take them off and you will look after this child for the rest of your lives – as I lay this protection on you, so do I lay this duty and its rewards,” again his thoughts seemed at odds with his words. What rewards were they ever likely to know apart from a long life and as many people knew, a long life was always something to be desired.
To say Princess Laseith was happy with the sound of a child crying and her broom not being able to break into the birth-room would be an understatement. So far, Laseith had lost her killer; lost the magic scrolls, and now King Machael had a child – she would do something about that – no-one crossed her … no-one! The child would live a few hours and then die from complications – two of the nurses would arrange for mistakes – it often happened in those early minutes after birth!
Laseith was already back in the study with a glass scrying globe trying to watch Machael’s bedchamber however, for some reason she was having trouble. Everything seemed to be blurred and any image she caught immediately moved away from her until her eyes were watering and she still hadn’t seen anything. She moved the scrying to the bedchamber door with the two guards still outside and then she saw two guards move from inside the room, one of them carrying a saddlebag over her shoulder. So there were just her nurses, the baby and the priest. Soon it would all be over.
What she didn’t see in the saddlebag over Bonnie’s shoulder was a snuggled, well-wrapped baby on it’s way to a wet-nurse – the nurses were now on their knees and sleeping …?
The baby was, at least, safer now than it had been before and King Machael knew the baby would be safe and had agreed to this – Myrow had given his word and that was one reason why Queen Amanda died and the baby lived – the girl was certainly safer now than she would be as King Machael prepared for yet another battle.
Laseith watch the priest of Astoron leave some twenty minutes later, leaving the two guards at the door. It would take Princess Laseith and her broomstick some twenty minutes to find the sleeping nurses who would be moved very shortly; surrounded by guards – by which time – the baby would be feeding and on it’s way to the temple of Astoron.
Laseith’s temper, never good, was now incandescent and even the broomstick seemed worried, whilst Routani was quivering, “I will get those bastards, Routani Jamesson! No-one thwarts me. That idiot, Arturo, deserved whatever he got and those nurses are dead – they deserve to die for failing me – did you have them taken care of?”
“They’ve been taken care of, Laseith. As you ordered.”
All of the nurses were in fact pumped full of sleeping potions by Myrow, and Routani’s attempts to quietly kill them meant waiting for the guards and nurses to both wake up. The soldiers who were ready to carry out Laseith’s instructions were now quietly sleeping in the dungeons, and they had enjoyed the fruits of their potential labours – sent by Laseith, who didn’t know she had sent them and they would be ready for the front when the army finally left, and King Machael promised himself they would be in front of him!
King Machael was well used to the attempts by Laseith and Routani to kill people but killing Laseith and Routani would to himself, indicate failure and to the people of his country, a lack of succession leading to Sir Facid and Sir Charles Dastry looking to their own succession.
It was easier to have their attempts miscarry than try to stop them – in some cases, he couldn’t stop them but that was a price to pay for stability although the dead people would probably disagree.
If he ever found a way for both Laseith and Routani to pay with their own poison he would be interested, however for now, he had little choice, possibly it was a pity King Machael was not present at his adopted daughters’ little chat that followed soon afterwards as they realised they had been out-thought by a mere man.
Laseith, in a formidable temper as usual had found failure even harder to take ans was fighting the urge to use her broomstick and no longer have a sister, but it was too early claim both Ascania and Toshonia …? Well, maybe … No … maybe, but not like that. Finally she moved her temper to mere furnace level, “Routani, let us look at your marriage and subsequent widowhood to and of, King Martan.”
“I haven’t even married him yet, Laseith and you are killing him – should I have a succession first?”
“I like to plan ahead, Routani. Well, we need to sort out that concubine. We don’t want competition before he dies.”
“The Chancellor is still working on the marriage arrangements, it will be months before I am married to Martan. Why you are planning now?”
“I’m looking after you, my sweet sister. When I have finished I will rule Ascania and Toshania – we, my sister …? We! Yes, we will rule Astoria and no-one will ever say, ‘nay’ to us – we will rule!”
“How do we stop this birth, Laseith? I’m not even in the castle nor do I have people to kill her?”
“There are always people who will kill. We just need to find them but my broom will find her and kill her!”
“How will your broom find someone and kill them? It can’t even find you at times and it – I can’t even think of it flying over water without bringing a year’s meals!”
“You always were squeamish but perhaps you have a point and my need for the broom is greater in Ascania than Toshonia. We can always find killers, anyway, no matter where. Let us see what this concubine is doing? I found the scrying stone at the same time as I found my broomstick and it can see things.”
“Where did you find it, Laseith and it couldn’t see a think the last time you tried. What can it see now, Laseith?”
“Watch, and you will learn something, Routani; just watch and be quiet!”
“It’s not doing anything, Laseith.”
“Be quiet; let me be the judge of that. Now shut-up!”
Laseith watched the image form in the crystal stone and saw soldiers riding from the castle, “The mirror never lies, there she is!”
“Where, Laseith? There are only soldiers. So we don’t know where she is, Laseith?”
“We will find her, Routani, and then she dies and her bastard with her!”
“How do we find her, Laseith?”
“There will be a way, Routani; just leave it to me!”
The problem with running away, when pregnant, Alisia realised, is that you prefer movement to be a little slower and preferably not on a horse but the armour had been suitably changed to fit her condition and two guards were staying very close to her, and so was a large Cat that no-one seemed to notice. No-one looked happy – not even the Cat. The horses were restless; the guards were restless and the two guards near her seemed stable until she learnt they were called ‘The Drunk’ and ‘Jinny’ and at this point she was feeling quite queasy herself – Rosanna had given her a potion to ease this but it made her sleepy and that was a luxury at the moment.
Alisia didn’t know where the Cat came from but there were other problems needing her urgent attention in her pregnancy and it was only ten minutes ago they’d left the castle.
She’d thought she’d hidden it well for five months but everyone watched her as a guide to her master’s moods and from that they watched her stomach, bottom and toilet habits – loose clothing could hide most eyes but she’d needed to make some visits that couldn’t be hidden and nor could the frequency of them and she couldn’t touch food in public with or without a taster although she did try but even that was wearing out as were the tasters. She had lost eight tasters so far this year and was regularly checked by Rosanna most evenings. Now she would need to check herself but her toilet habits wouldn’t change.
Sir Charles Dastry’s broom finally arrived in Charguar a few days before Alisia left. To say his journey was eventful would have made Sir Charles laugh, if that was possible. He’d taken off from Castle Dastry; making his way on the broom, gripping it like a Government on an austerity drive, when his broom almost parted from him over the Storme Sea, leaving his hands around its neck as if he was trying to wring it – a close description of reality – and started a rapid descent with the rest of his body a foot above the broom and floating in mid-air when he certainly didn’t expect it. They just made a cold wet mountainous island short of Zapril before the broom gave up completely – obviously a late night had beckoned to its bristles and everyone else was paying the cost for a late night out? After a cold wet night and still high up in the mountains they finally managed to take an early launch and arrived at Zapril – limping; that was a realistic statement and eventually they also arrived in Saspros although Sir Charles wasn’t really sure who arrived but there were no circumstances under which he would trust this broom to get him to Minet and he was finally forced to hire a boat to Minet and then together they manage a short hop to Woara and from there via several other mountain tops to finally land at Charguar – also just missing a few more mountains on the way. The broom changed directions from mountains to trees without consultation, hitting everyone and everything as it finally lowered itself down.
Sir Charles hired his guards on a pittance and as he finally made broom/ground level, he was living as they were.
It took some time for Sir Charles to find his guards as they were hiding in the trees away even further from the road but when the broom finally descended into the guards and camp and being one of Laseith’s brooms immediately started attacking everyone. The guards didn’t wait around. It was bad enough being attacked by villagers and driven out; now a Magician on a broom had turned up with a broom attacking them and they ran even further into the trees. Sir Charles finally managed to stop the broom and then tried to find his guards. It took him hours before anyone would come near him.
His guards proved to be awaiting his spies and also money – both of which seemed to be in short supply – his spymaster would be one of the people who did meet the broom as he appeared to be skimming the top, bottom and both sides of the pot.
Four of them still could enter Charguar – the rest were known as thieves and would meet a crossbow bolt if they tried and the impression he formed of them was that it would be well deserved.
The guards had managed to kill a wild boar and made him what they felt was a generous offer, “We’re roasting some meat tonight; building a large fire – please feel invited and your broom can warm your bristles.”
Sir Charles could see a certain gleam in their eyes as they said this and he saw them looking at the Golden Dagger of the Droga’s, “I think not. I will take the four who can enter Charguar with me and there are some other guards and dogs to pick up in Charguar. I must forego your offer and I will leave my broom behind.”
“As you wish, my Lord.”
“One question I do have. As you are so far from Matira why do you not have regular patrols to Matira? My spymaster appears to be in error, and I will correct that in terms of the lack of money, supplies and information but why have you not sought to provide regular patrols to Matira and challenge him?”
“First and foremost, my Lord, the lack of payment and supplies left us having to live off the land and steal. Four of our guards were killed within the first month and six others deserted, then the villagers complained to King Martan that bandits were living in the trees and preying on farms and hovels. He now has patrols on the roads. Only the forest stops them as they will not enter the forest on horseback, and that is how we are forced to live – they have to use the roads – we can not be seen on them or we get crossbow bolts.
“I gave enough money!”
“You gave someone enough money, Sir Charles …? I don’t think we ever saw it – no money, apart from a pittance, reached us. We live in the forest as outlaws and they treat us as such. We make do on what we can rob and steal. We don’t receive enough of anything to buy anything, Sir Charles.”
Sir Charles took the Golden Dagger of the Droga’s from its sheath and said, “do you know what that is?”
“More money than you paying us, Sir Charles, and with that we wouldn’t be starving or buying used-up old nags to ride!”
“I’m here now, so we’ll get you decent horses and stop looking like scarecrows – if that is possible?”
Sir Charles decided to leave the broom behind. A rider entering a village cum small town with a broom would certainly attract attention, if not laughter, and that was the last thing he wished to do and someone or something needed to make sure these guards were still here when he returned, and the broom already had them terrified, and had the broom been reading his mind when it attacked them – the idea had definitely been there as he landed – amongst a lot of other emotions.
It was only a matter of some five to ten miles to Charguar according to his and Sir Charles felt the sooner he picked up some more reliable guards and the two black hounds the better he would feel.
His next surprise was that Charguar was not a small village cum town on the coast. As he left the depths of the forest he saw farms with timber build walls and not hovels as he’d been told. He saw some brick built houses on the farms and as he rode on, wooden framed building were lining the road; wells were dug, and rising in the distance he could see water catchment. This was not some poor wreck of a place, it was prosperous and it was no wonder that King Martan rang regular patrols here – his spymaster had either lied or could not be bothered to leave Matira to find out – there would be a reckoning. He carried on towards the mountains and even there, there were mines for ore, marble and gold.
As he near the mountains he finally found the buildings he was looking for and Margo opened a door complete with a meat cleaver as he approached, “I told you bandits not to come here again. I don’t warn twice!” Margo for a woman was large, almost as wide as she was tall and at five foot three did not appear to be frightened of anyone.
Sir Charles raised his dagger, “I am a bandit, Margo, and I’ll thank you not to call me one.”
Margo’s face fell as she recognised the dagger, “Sir Charles, I didn’t know you had arrived. I haven’t seen that useless spymaster of your for a good half-year and all these bandits do is come around here stealing.”
“Had Sargon paid them instead of lining his own pockets they would not have been reduced to stealing? Have you tried to contact Sargon to find out what he is doing?”
“I initially sent two riders – neither they, nor Sargon, nor any funds returned. I sent other riders to see if he still lived – none of them have returned – now the other riders refuse what the call a ‘kiss of the devil’ mission …? I don’t anyone of them will try that mission. So far you lost seven riders, Sir Charles.”
“Damn all spymasters. If he cannot protect himself, how can he protect me?”
“Would anyone know his identity, Sir Charles?”
“Possibly Princess Laseith, but she is in Ascania.”
“She may be, Sir Charles but even I know of the broomsticks arriving from Ascania and the news their passengers bring usually ends up in the taverns, and I now have my own Agents in the taverns – I had the money from the lost seven riders to spend. They have also seen little of your spymaster – if anything, if they could manage to tell the truth without embellishment!”
“How many guards do you have left, Margo, and please don’t shout the answer?”
“I have lost seven people, Sir Charles, which leaves thirteen – an evil number to shout about!”
“Calm yourself, Margo. That is an old superstition. I have these four with me and you can take them to make your numbers up.”
“Must I, Sir Charles? I would rather have evil luck than these bandits.”
“Where are the hounds?”
“We have to keep them in the huts, nowadays. When they were attacking the wolves, it was fine. When the wolves were gone, they attacked the livestock. It took a large payment and a promise to keep them locked up to save them. When you take them, and I wish you would, please keep them on leads or it will be my neck they hang, and probably yours as well. They don’t think that deeply around the mountains before they act.”
“I need a team of thirty people I can trust, plus those dogs and a scout. You are right about those in the forest but they will be cannon fodder. Thirty one from you, plus these and whoever is left in the forest, when I get back should give us the men I need.”
“I will have a room prepared for you, Sir Charles. These can sleep in the barn with the dogs – the dogs are used to smells.”
“Put them in a tavern with a bath; new clothes and an escort so they are ready when I want them. When can you get word to your people in Matira?”
“One of them should be here tomorrow. If nothing of importance is occurring, they report every two weeks. One is due tomorrow and I would suggest a bath is prepared for your Lordship and I will prepare a meal – let those bandits find a tavern as you instruct.”
“Thank you, I could enjoy a good bath and meal.”
“I also have a bottle of wine but I cannot speak for its taste.”
“An honest statement and I seem short of those as well.”
“This way my Lord,” and turning to his escort with little more than contempt, “To the tavern with you wretches and don’t abuse it or I will know and I will set the hounds on you – some coins for them, if you would, Sir, or they will only start stealing again,” Sir Charles took a small bag from inside his shirt and tossed it to his escort, “I will see you here tomorrow afternoon – follow the instructions of Margo’s people if you wish to live!”
Sir Charles watch them ride off, but not to the mountains, “Will they return, Margo?”
“My people will make sure they do and I do employ some capable people who they would never escape.”
“Your certainty comforts me, Margo. Let us see to this bath and meal. My needs, after journeying with that broom, are dire.”
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 if we travel in that direction we 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 the Spy Master. It won’t be long before whoever employs him knows he has disappeared and quite severe questioning has highlighted his employer as Sir Charles Dastry. If we follow the sea coast until it ends, we are still 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 guard, for many years. I would not tell you how to act as a concubine, please don’t tell me how to act as a guard and King Martan considers me a ‘lucky guard’ 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!