Your people are dying in war, do you save them if discovery means being burned as a witch?
The knife blade nicked Lindsy's ear, bringing a drop of blood before embedding itself into the ancient oak tree behind her. She reached up and grabbed the cut, removing her hand after a few seconds, leaving her ear healed.
"Father, why do I suspect that was not an accident?" she said, looking insulted.
Her father laughed, his eyes twinkling. "I hope that's the worst thing that happens to you at the King's camp." He shook his head. "You should stay here and help your mother while I'm gone."
Lindsy folded her arms and narrowed her eyes. "You know how important this is to me. If I help, more of your men will come back to their families. Besides, you already said I could go and the Warden of the Southern Marshes never breaks his word."
The older man sighed. "You are of age and should be here starting a family. Even though we know your healing gift can save lives."
"Father!" she hissed, glancing around quickly.
"Lindsy, wouldn't I know if someone could hear us? I haven't kept your secret all these years to be careless now."
The oak trees surrounding them had stood for centuries. The gloom and the soft loam covering the ground helped hide their many training sessions. The villagers avoided this part of the woods, believing it to be haunted.
"Poppa, I would love a family, but since Andrew returned to his father's lands, I have had no interest in anyone else."
Her father arched his eyebrows remembering that Lindsy and Andrew had been twelve when he left.
Lindsy continued, "I must go save our men and help the surgeons, then I'll be ready to settle down."
"Perhaps, little one," her father sighed.
"Did you forget that I am sixteen? Not so little anymore."
Bowing his head, the Lord of the Marshes whispered, "You will always be my little girl." Louder, he added, "If they catch you healing, the Inquisition will take you. I cannot stand to lose another loved one, and my only child. Why must you take such a risk?"
"They will never know. War camps are in too much commotion for anyone to even notice what I'm doing. I cannot do nothing and let so many of your men die."
"I believe you and understand your need," he said, sounding defeated. "Yet I lost my mother the same way."
Lindsy turned and pulled the throwing knife from the tree behind her. "Poppa, we discussed this. Did you bring me here to polish my fighting skills, or to talk me out of going?"
"Both, dear one. I will not be able to protect you while leading our levies. Promise me you will never show your fighting skills except to save your life. If anyone knew that I had taught you knife fighting, my men would... lose confidence in me.
"You worry too much Poppa." She flipped his knife embedding it in the branch just over her father's head. "Let's practice. I still have to go through the bandages with Mother and check my herbs before we leave."
Her father pulled the knife from the limb, faced Lindsy and waited. "You will never change your mind, so let's finish." A minute passed, and her father didn't move. The scents of the forest reminded her of time spent here playing with Andrew, her childhood sweetheart.
Suddenly, her father rushed her with his knife hand forward. Lindsy stepped deftly to the side and shoved her father past her, pulling a knife from her waist sheath, quickly turning to face him. Before he could recover, she stepped toward him and swept his legs from under him. In one move, she jumped to straddle him, pinning his knife arm to the ground and bringing her blade against his throat.
"Got ya," she said smiling.
"Oh really?" he said smiling back. It was then that Lindsy felt the pressure of a blade against her neck. She stood, spinning her knife in the air.
"It's a draw," she huffed.
"True. But since we'd both be dead, I find little comfort in that."
Lindsy tilted her head and frowned, bringing a wry grin to the Warden's face. "I know just the thing to cheer you up," he said. "Let's go to the bog and practice in knee-deep mud." The girl groaned and returned the blade to its sheath.
"You are the Warden and my father," she said. "And I, your humble and obedient daughter will follow." Laughter burst from her father as he turned to disappear into the trees. Lindsy smiled to hear his voice drift back, "If only."
The odor of the stable calmed Andrew with memories of carefree times from his childhood. Unlike his siblings who claimed they could not stand it.
The Ostler led the chestnut gelding from the paddock, handing the reins to Andrew. "Thank you, William," the heir said.
"No need to thank me, mi-lord. It is always a pleasure to work with one who understands that their horse is a companion and not a servant."
Andrew smiled. "Who taught me that, my friend?"
"Aye, with you constantly hanging around my stable hiding from your family, something could have rubbed off." The Master of Horse turned and pointed to the wall by Red's stall. "I have your grooming tools and tack ready for you." Before Andrew could answer him, the Ostler had disappeared into the stable behind him.
His horse snickered and bumped him playfully. Before Andrew began to saddle Red, he pulled from his cloak the apple he had stolen from the kitchen. Red expected a treat and turned to take the offering. Andrew patted him on the neck, thankful for the horse's loyalty.
As he rode out for Red's last run before they left on the morrow, his thoughts turned to Lindsy. Word had reached him that the King had levied Lindsy's father, and the Warden intended to lead his men to the King's camp. Andrew knew she had taken a liking to nursing the wounded and was fast becoming a skilled healer. His sister had brought that tidbit from the King's Court when his father had recalled his family to prepare for the coming conflict. Funny I still think of Lindsy, even though I haven't seen her these past three years.
When Andrew finally arrived at the King's camp, he intended to ask the Warden about her. Andrew knew her father was an unusual man and would not take offense. He felt that as incredible and beautiful as she is, Lindsy's father had likely betrothed her to some unworthy and pompous Lord's son. Andrew wondered if she was still unmarried. News of her betrothal should have reached his ears.
When Andrew neared the edge of the horse run by the open gate in the short stone wall, he could see the abandoned keep towering above the surrounding pastures. The windows glinted in the morning sun. I'll ride there to exercise Red. A grassy slope bordered the west side of the track leading from the edge of the road to the walls.
Red warmed up enough that the heir urged him forward into a canter. Andrew felt his horses desire to run, so he gave him his lead. Red's powerful legs pounded against the ground surging them forward. As his horse galloped, cold air flew past his face making his eyes water, but he didn't slow. Andrew needed to feel free, if only for a moment.
Eventually, Red spent his excess energy and Andrew pulled him back into a walk to cool down. They reached the old keep, and he dismounted in the high grass with the ease of practice.
"Stay here and enjoy this treat my friend," Andrew said removing the bit from Red's mouth. The horse leaned his head down and closed his teeth and jerked a mouthful loose. Red sneezed, shaking his head, and Andrew patted his side.
"I'll only be a short while," he said, "Enjoy."
One side of the massive double oak doors stood open; waiting to be barred to protect a family— that would never return. The keep had been abandoned years ago for the new Manor House below when peace had descended on the kingdom.
Andrew entered and stopped, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness inside. Beams of sunlight streamed in a multitude of colors through the still intact windows high on the walls. His grandfather had insisted the valuable stained glass be left in place. The rays of light were highlighted by the motes of dancing dust that floated in the air, stirred by the breeze moving through the open doors.
As he stood in the deserted Great Hall, in his imagination he heard the voices of the happy children he and Lindsy had been as they played alone together pretending to be the Lord and his Lady, rulers of these lands.
When Andrew's time as page to the Warden was complete, Lindsy demanded that she be allowed to accompany him home. That was when they'd walked these halls—the last time he'd seen her.
"My days as a child are over," he said to the darkness. He turned and walked from a hall of memories into a world of war, afraid he also would never return.