A young farm girl undertakes a fantastic and perilous journey in a Medieval like world.
|The Lone Traveler
The festive meal began in earnest. First, fresh fruit including apples, pears, plums, and peaches were served, freshly cut and peeled for the nobles. Then the servants brought in assorted vegetables, lettuce, cabbage, and purslane accompanied by soups and many different broths, and frumenty, made of chicken and goat kid. Their food was mostly served on plates or in small stew pots and the diners would take their share from the dishes and place it on trenchers of stale bread, wood, or pewter with the help of spoons or, in the case of some of the men, bare hands.
Platters of cheese and heaping chunks and slabs of meat including mutton, whole piglets, tongue, hedgehog, rabbit, venison, whole birds, swans, peafowl, quail, storks, partridge, and chicken were stacked high on wooden platters in the center of the tables. There was a wide variety of wines, beer, ale, and fresh juices such as mulberry, grape, plum, and cider. This was later followed by pastries, pies, fritters, and honey sweetened custards.
Even though she merely picked at her small portions, by the time the pastries arrived Analia was more than full. She kept glancing around the massive room to see how her few friends and acquaintances were faring. Talina looked bored; obviously she missed Sean who was the life of any party. Pieter was preoccupied with listening to a fat knight who waved a chicken leg around like it was his sword. Most likely he was recounting some famous battle in which he won the day by his own personal bravery or daring. But, every time she happened to glance at David, his penetrating eyes were on her. She knew, for certain, he could not possibly be staring at her huge uncle.
Finally, the Master of Ceremonies slowly walked to the center of the great room and called for silence. When all was as quiet as it was going to get, he asked that the guest at the side tables rise so the tables and feast remains could be removed. A double score of servants quickly took the tables apart but left the benches arranged in a single row along the outer walls. The select guests at the high and second high table were allowed to remain sitting in their comfortable seats. It was time for music, entertainment, and dancing. A band of musicians, consisting of a mixture of stringed instruments; several harps and fiddles, a rebec and psaltery, and a mingling of half a dozen flutes and pipes, several trumpets and a few crumhorns took a place in one elevated corner.
The dancing started with a few volunteer pairs doing a quadrille, followed by a baladine and progressed as more and more couples joined in, into a cinque-pace, then a galliard, the roundel and a tridion. By the time they got to the official sanction dances, the double quadrille and longways dance, everyone was in the mood to get on the floor and burn off some of the massive amount of food they had consumed.
Prince Robert asked the Queen Regent to dance; however, she waved her gloved hand, indicating that she was too weary or too occupied. He glanced over at Analia. “Will you grant me the honor of dancing with me, my Lady?” Analia knew that refusal was completely out of the question, not that she wasn’t greatly honored to be asked by the Prince, but she had very little dance instruction during her short captivity in Alataria. She was also highly self-conscious of the poor white gown she was wearing.
Analia was aware of all eyes on them as they made their way down to the dance floor. Prince Robert signaled the band to play a country dance. As the musicians started the tune, only he and Analia possessed the floor. She kept her eyes on the young prince’s face and away from the gawking guests, which wasn’t at all difficult as he was a little shorter than she was. At an unnoticed signal, other couples joined in, Couples were arranged to face one another in a line. The dance was a moderately slow country dance in triple time involving spinning and clapping. Incorporated in the Camalund version of the dance was additional hand clapping and turning more often and skipping a step, normally danced only by serfs and country folk.
After the dance was finished, Prince Robert escorted her back to her seat next to her uncle. Over the next hour, Analia was inundated with dance requests from minor lords to rotund knights. When a Sellingers Round was called, she noticed that David quickly jumped from his seat and raced to be the first at her side. This dance was a circle dance where couples form a circle with the women being on their partner’s right. Men and women alternate steps and turns. It was less popular than the country dance because it was considered slower and more formal.
As they glided through the dance she was surprised at how proficient David was. He was a very gifted dancer. She looked into his handsome face and greeted him with a bright smile. “I’ve been waiting for what seems like forever to get you on the dance floor with me,” David suddenly stated. “I was extremely jealous and filled with envy each time one of those fat old lords drug you around like a marionette.”
“I know nothing of you, but your first name,” Analia gently probed. “Your brother whisked me off so quickly there was no time for a proper introduction.”
“David Alwaythe, youngest son of Lord Martin Alwaythe, my Lady,” he replied. “I have been unable to get you out of my thoughts since the second I saw you.”
Analia blushed. She was unaccustomed to such blatant frivolity. For certain she had never been the object of such ardour from a young and handsome man. She was too young and plain to have given thought to being the subject of a paramour. She quickly changed the direction of the conversation. “Are you here as a squire to your father?”
David’s attractive features suddenly clouded over. “I am nothing in the eyes of my father,” he replied with a bitter scowl. “My half-brothers await his beck and call. I understand he has been appointed as second in command to, Ser Thoragild. I dare say he will have a score of grovelling squires attending him.”
“You sound so bitter when you speak of him,” Analia stated, noticing that the dance had abruptly finished.
“Because he is nothing,” a voice cut in from behind her. She turned to see Ser James Alwaythe scrutinizing David as if he were something nasty that had crawled into the room. “He is a bastard son and has the temerity to be in this company, among his betters. He is far above his station.”
“I am a guest of Ser Pieter Schermon,” David sharply retorted.
Ser James pointed to their father, Lord Alwaythe, sitting next to Lord Smythwaite at the high table. “Guest or no, our father told me to inform you that if you did not leave the chamber post haste, he would see to it that the guards forcibly remove you.”
Ser James held out his arm to Analia. “I would be honoured to escort you back to your seat, my Lady, while David quietly makes his exit. No need to create an unsightly disturbance.”
She glanced at David but noticed only resignation on his face. “With your permission, I will leave as my father demands,” David bowed. “I do not wish to cause you unnecessary embarrassment in front of the guests. I sincerely hope and pray that I may see you at a more opportune time.”
“What was that all about?” Ser Thoragild asked as she resumed to her seat next to him. “He appeared to be a likable young man. Did he insult you or upset you in some manner?”
“He is the bastard son of your Deputy Commander,” Analia replied. She glanced down the long table at the bulky form of Lord Alwaythe, who was glaring at the back of David as he slowly made his way to the massive doors at the far end of the room. He was a tall, powerfully built man with a thin wisp of moustache decorating his upper lip and a pointed goatee covering his bold chin. His dark penetrating eyes and bushy eyebrows gave her the shivers.
Analia quickly broke eye contact with Lord Alwaythe before he noticed her stare. Instead, she glanced down to the lower high table. Pieter was standing and watching as David left, unaware of what had transpired on the dance floor. He was still surrounded by half drunken knights who were already heavily into their slopping mugs of ale. As he sat back down he glanced in her direction and smiled, then shrugged his shoulders.
Several more rounds of the country dance and another quadrille followed. Analia pretended to be eating her dessert to ward off any would be dance partners. She was upset and in no mood to be drug around the dance floor, like a marionette, as David had accurately stated. Soon after, the band struck up another, much livelier tune. It was the jig. The Jig was a rustic old dance involving skipping, kicking and leaping. The music was played in in three-four time. This was a dance that the people in her small village loved and she knew it well.
Ryykon noticed her face suddenly perk up. “Come little one,” he stated, offering her his massive hand. “It’s time we enjoyed ourselves.” He led her out to the dance floor where very few couples were gyrating to the lively tune, mostly young knights and their ladies. Although many ladies enjoyed the dance, their massive formal gowns were not designed for such gay frivolity.
Analia lost herself in the dance. She skipped and hopped and pranced around, bobbing up and down, to and fro. As the pace rose to triple rhythm, her movements became more outlandish and faster. She did not care what the pompous lords thought of her, and obviously her uncle didn’t either for he was matching or copying her every move. Had she but noticed she would have seen that almost everyone in the room was practically hopping up and down in their seats and clapping their hands to the fast rhythm. They were thoroughly enjoying the demonstration that she and Ser Thoragild were unintentionally putting on.
When the tune finally ended, both she and her uncle were thoroughly winded but still in lively spirit. Before they could leave the dance floor, the band struck up a lively reel. Seeing the interest in her eyes, her uncle said; “I cannot possibly do another one like that.” He smiled, pretending to wipe sweat from his forehead.
“I can!” a voice shouted. The Dwarf Commander, Lord Culloden boldly walked over to them and bowed deeply to Analia. “It would be an honor, Your Ladyship, if would dance with me?”
“She’s all yours, Ruolf,” her uncle smiled and headed back to his seat at the high table.
Analia forgot her fatigue as the rhythm of the music quickly brought her back to life. They made circular moves and gliding steps and incorporated steps from the jig. Ruolf was surprisingly agile for his small size and much stronger than she gave him credit for as he grasped her waist during some of the reels. As the tempo grew faster and faster and turned into a vigorous fling, they were joined on the dance floor by many of the other dwarfs who put on an amazing show of agility for the audience. When the dance was finally over, Analia was escorted back to her seat by a puffing and sweating Ruolf. “You’re the best partner I have ere the chance to be a dancing with,” he stated, bending over to kiss her hand.
“A murdering wench and deformed half man,” Lord Smythwaite muttered from his seat next to the Queen. He obviously had not intended for his obnoxious remark to carry so far, but half the table heard it and was frozen in place.
Lord Culloden quickly turned to resemble a feral beast. He slowly walked over to Smythwaite’s seat and eyed him up and down. “All I see is an arrogant tub of lard,” he stated, “a fat, balding pig with flabby jowls, piggy eyes and a lack of balls. Insult me you may, mister pig, but I think you owe the lady an apology.”
Lord Smythwaite slowly forced his massive bulk up from the chair. “How dare you!” he shouted. “My sons will carve your little carcass to pieces.”
“And you will have a few less sons!” Lord Culloden shouted in return.
Queen Denize suddenly placed a hand on each of their arms. Her stare was ice cold. She did not say one single word, but noticeably glanced at her guards who moved closer to the high table.
“Another place, another time,” Lord Culloden whispered spitting at Lord Smythwaite’s feet. He returned to where Ser Thoragild now stood with anger on his face. “There will be a reckoning,” he stated, glaring at Thoragild. There’s always a reckoning.” He bowed and turned to join his men who were clustered in an angry group on the dance floor.
Lord Culloden got no more than half a dozen steps when a figure ran past him. The man screamed something incoherently and raised a dagger to thrust it into Analia’s throat. Lord Culligan turned and tackled the man just as he made the thrust, causing it to miss his target and bury itself deep into Analia’s right shoulder just above the collar bone. Bright red blood poured out running down the pure white gown she had borrowed from Talina. Ser Thoragild quickly caught her before she could fall and lowered her into her seat. He checked for arterial damage, then jerked the dagger out of her shoulder and threw it into a bowl of soup on the table.
The would be assassin had gotten to his feet with Ruolf hanging on to his waist. Ryykon grabbed the heavy set man by the throat and lifted both of them into the air, his iron grip digging vicelike into the man’s throat. Everyone at the high table had stood in shock at the outrage. Lord Smythwaite yelled something at the Queen. Suddenly, guards grabbed the prince and led him away while four others grabbed Ryykon’s powerful arms. They slowly forced him to release the man, which he did with reluctance. The man stumbled over to Lord Smythwaite holding his throat and cowered behind his seat. He was obviously one of his sons.
Nania bent over Analia and dabbed a white strip of cloth on the wound to help stop the bleeding. “I don’t think its serious Ser,” she addressed Ryykon, “but she must be in a lot of pain.” Analia sat up half in shock from the unexpected assault. She looked puzzled as if she did not know what had just transpired.
Suddenly, a loud banging could be heard at the main double door to the massive room. The guards froze at the loud sound then quickly rushed forward to find the answer. Before they reached the huge doors, both doors burst open, flying off their heavy hinges to land in a cloud of dust and splinters on the main floor. A massive dragon slowly sauntered into the room, glancing right and left and threatening the guards with small puffs of fire.
“Whiff, “Analia mind-spoke, “why are you here?”
“I heard your cry and felt your pain, Little Lady,” Whiff sternly replied. “I thought these humans were trying to harm you.”
“A mistake,” Analia returned. “I am wounded but by a mad man, not the others. I will be well as soon as I can get to an apothecarius.”
The room was in an uproar. Men were yelling, women screaming and fainting, others rushing to grab weapons hanging decoratively from the walls. The Queen’s guards and the squad of soldiers stationed in the alcove advanced towards Whiff, their intentions obvious.
“I’ll give them a taste of fire,” Whiff mind-spoke. “They’ll run screaming when their ugly backsides have been roasted a tiny bit.”
“No Whiff,” Analia stood. “Do not harm them.” She didn’t realize she had shouted it out loud, but the Queen an everyone else in the room heard her. “Go back to the rookery, everything will be well, I promise you.”
Whiff snorted then casually turned around and strolled back through the massive broken door. “Next time I get to lay next to you,” he mind-spoke. “If men can have their ugly hounds lie at their feet for protection, I see no reason why you can’t have your best friend close.”
“Have the Guard escort the royal family from the chambers,” Ser Thoragild ordered the Guard Commander. “As for the rest of you, the party’s over. Go back to your chambers or wherever you crawled in from.” He was still very angry and glanced at Lord Smythwaithe with a withering stare. He motioned for Pieter, who had been standing nearby ever since Analia had been stabbed, to join him and Nania. “Come with us, she’ll need help and a guard while I seek the apothicarius.”
“I’m coming too,”Ruolf demanded. “I’ll nae let the wee lass be harmed again, that is a promise.”
Ser Thoragild lifted her in his massive arms. As they made their way from the huge room, the Dragon Riders and Valkyri surrounded them. Talina had a pensive and worried look on her face. Most of the guests had quickly departed, except for a dozen or more knights passed out drunk on the corner benches.
Once through the fractured doors and into the atrium, Ruolf and his men secured their battle axes and Talina directed the Dragon Riders and Valkyri to return to the barracks. They made their way through the royal keep and finally arrived at Analia’s small set of plush quarters. Ruolf had also dismissed his men, except for Ser Lieur Allanack and Ser Anolf MacLurig, whom he posted outside her chamber doors with instructions to let no one enter without his permission.
In her private royal chambers, the Queen Regent was seething. “Why did you allow this fool to attempt an assassination right in front of every knight and noble in the kingdom!” she demanded. “What kind of idiot sons are you raising?”
Lord Smythwaite glanced at his son, Byron, slumped low in a seat next to him. The man was still rubbing his neck from the iron stranglehold that Ser Thoragild had held him in. He was a younger image of his father but not yet as obese. “When Byron saw the dwarf dare to accost me in the way he did, he temporarily lost his senses,” he smugly replied. “He was just protecting his family and he is aware that the witch killed his brother.”
“It was not the place or the time!” Queen Denize snarled. “We will rid ourselves of the little wench in good time with a plausible cover. You of all people know how important it is to deflect guilt away from yourself and onto someone else. You would do well to teach that to your remaining sons, especially this simpleton standing here.”
Lord Smythwaite sombrely nodded. “The wench grows more powerful as time goes by. I take it you did not know that the Dragon Riders and Valkyri made an oath to protect her and that filthy rabble of misfits and Khelti that Ryykon pardoned? They took an oath to her, not to the Queen Regent and Prince Robert. Also, the Sidhe have taken a shine to her and although they are small, there are many of them and they can be a force to reckon with.”
Queen Denize tightly squinted her eyes and a cunning and devious look clouded her features. This pretty little wench has tried to take Robert away from me. She wants to be a queen. She has alienated me from Ryykon, turned the Dragon Riders and Valkyri against me, consorts with known outlaws and Sidhe Nobility, and entices the lords and knights to bow to her pretty little acts. She also has some kind of power over the dragons, the Queen thought. I am the one they should look up to, smile at, and obey. I should be the center of their world, not her.
You’re right, Lord Smythwaite, “the girl is a dire threat and may have to be taken out sooner rather than later.
If you enjoyed this chapter, please read on for Chapter 14.