Chapter 4When Baldwin returned from his ablutions at the cascading spring, Erica woke Morgan and began to poach some eggs leaving the two men to chat between themselves. They finished their breakfast and the family returned from the shore. The family warmed their hands by the fire and Elfwine went to a shelf and brought out the two swords and daggers and gave them to Morgan and Baldwin.
“I feel dressed now,” Morgan said. “If you direct us to town we will leave you in peace.”
“Me and Elfwine are taking our produce to town,” Dunstan said. “You can come with us.”
“I want to go to town,” Erica said. “I haven’t been for weeks. Can I go instead of Elfwine?”
“You will struggle with the load?” Dunstan said.
“No I won't," Erica said. "And even if I do, I am sure Baldwin will help me with it.”
Morgan laughed. “And I will help you, Dunstan.”
“I don’t like it,” Elfwine said. “You will be at risk on the way back.”
Dunstan laughed. “I am old, Elfwine, but I can still handle my sword.”
“And I have my sword too,” Erica said.
Elfwine gave a sarcastic laugh. "Your short sword is no more than a large dagger."
"It could still kill a robber," she replied. Elfwine shook his head and walked through the cave to the small bay.
They set off with Morgan and Dunstan at the front chatting. "I must apologise if I seemed a bit mistrusting last night," Dunstan said.
"No need," Morgan said. "You have three women to think of and you invited two strangers into your home. You needed to be a bit cautious as I would have been myself. We are grateful for your hospitality and for saving us from the sea. Had the tide taken us out again we would have surely perished. Thanks to your family we live to fight another day."
"So you really are soldiers?" Dunstan asked.
"You could say that. But we do not belong to any particular force. People pay us for our skills and when our job is done, we move on. Or at least we used to. I think we are both looking for a less adventurous occupation."
"So you want to settle down."
Morgan laughed. "I wouldn't go that far."
Baldwin and Erica followed behind with Baldwin amusing Erica with tales of his adventures. He told her of the disaster at Pavillion but she was more interested in the rescue of Lady Margaret. She suddenly took hold of Baldwin's hand and he responded with a kiss on her cheek, nearly dropping the basket of seafood in the process.
The route started through marshland, then began rising through some woods before opening up as a pass through the twin peaks. It started to drop down again through another wooded area and out onto a clearing where the town of Mossley came into view.
The town was protected by a deep ditch and a post fence with the main gate on the landward side, and a smaller access gate on the seaward side. The gate at the seaward side of the town was small, just a people gate. The group stood at the ditch and Dunstan called across. “Come on then, put the walkway out.”
“Only the two of you can come in. The two strangers have to go around to the main gate.”
“They are my guests, I can stand for them.”
“I don’t care,” the guard shouted back. "To get in they must report to the main gate and get checked in by a senior.”
“No, that’s security for the safety of the townsfolk.”
“It’s okay,” Baldwin said. “We’ll go to the main gate. But can you two manage with the produce?”
“Yes, we can manage," Dunstan said. "It’s not far to the market from here. Farewell then and don't forget to come and see us some time.”
“I will definitely call in soon,” Baldwin said.
“I’ll look forward to that,” Erica said. “Don’t leave it too long.”
Baldwin and Erica smiled and kept eye contact for a long moment. He took her hand and kissed the back. “I’ll be thinking of you until we meet again.”
The men walked off around the perimeter towards the main gate.
The guard put out the walkway and opened the small gate for Dunstan and Erica. It was a small town of a couple of hundred people. Most of the buildings were single storey with thatched roofs but in the centre there were a few with two floors. The town hall being one also had a spotter's cabin on top where the alarm was sounded in the event of a probable attack.
Dunstan looked at Erica. “It seems you have a soft spot for our warrior friend.”
“No, just being friendly.”
“It looks more than friendly and you could do a lot worse than Baldwin.”
Why, whatever do you mean, Father?" Erica grinned. “Is it that obvious?”
Dunstan laughed. "It is, now you have called me Father. You haven't done that since you were six years old."
Baldwin and Morgan arrived at the main gate. The bridge was down, but the gate closed. They walked up to the gate and were let in by two guards and taken to the guard master’s office.
“What is your business here?” the guard master asked.
“Looking for work,” Morgan said.
"Where have you come from?"
"We were guests down at The Flashes," Morgan said.
"I know Dunstan well, but you couldn't have been there long. Where were you before?"
"We were guards for The Duke of Lovat," Baldwin said.
“Very impressive. There is always work for good men like you. You look strong and fit. Have you had much combat experience, though, by the look of your swords, you probably have?”
“Yes, and my friend here started his career with the Advent Militia.” Baldwin said. “But we have done our time now and we just want work.”
“I’m looking for men like you. More guards are needed. The pay is good, meals provided and you’ll have sleeping quarters in the guard’s compound.”
“Sounds good to me,” Morgan said.
The man looked at Baldwin. “What about you?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Put your names on the visitors’ list for now. You can get a bed at The Bull Inn tonight, and let me know if you want the jobs in the morning.”
The men got to The Bull Inn and stood outside. "So this is the famous Bull Inn," Morgan said.
"What's famous about this?"
"I don't know. But when I was at Advent the men there used to talk about The Bull Inn at Mossley."
"Maybe there is another Bull Inn." Morgan followed Baldwin into the Inn. There were a few men in there of differing ages and an old woman sitting alone. A fire was blazing with some dry logs in the hearth and the place seemed warm and inviting. "It's a clean place anyway," Baldwin said.
They walked to the bar. A serving girl was filling a jug. "A jug of ale and two mugs," Baldwin said.
Sit down somewhere and I'll fetch them over," the girl said.
They sat down, the girl brought their ale and Baldwin paid her.
Morgan stared at her as she walked off. "Now that's a woman," he said.
"Your observation skills are getting better then," Baldwin said.
Morgan laughed at the comment. “What do you think then Baldwin? Guarding this place seems the ideal job for us for a while.”
“No, it’s not for me. I think I’ll go back to the cave tomorrow and see if they have work for me.”
“Picking periwinkles! You’re a warrior Baldwin, not a winkle picker.”
“Like I said, I just think it’s time to settle down.”
Morgan laughed. “Who are you trying to kid? It's obvious you are after Erica, but when you have had your way with her a few times, you’ll get fed up and then you will come and work with me.”
“Maybe.” Baldwin drank a large amount of ale from his mug.
Morgan laughed. "Not maybe, Baldwin. It happens every time your heart flutters for a young wench. But the flutter always lasts about as long as a summer butterfly."
"What do you know?"
"I know you, Baldwin." Morgan said.
“Anyway, are you taking the guard job then?”
“I think I will, but only if he gives me a bit of rank. I’m not being a skivvy." After a pause, he continued, “or a winkle picker.” Morgan said.
"He won't give you rank straight away."
"He is struggling for men by the looks of it. He is desperate and if he wants people with our skills, then it has to be on our terms."
"You mean your terms." Baldwin laughed. “The jug is empty, your turn to get the ale.”
"Wench," Morgan called across to the serving girl. "Fetch us some more ale."
"My name is not wench," she called back.
"Then what is your name?"
"Flora, and if you can't be more civil then you can fetch your own ale."
"Can you fetch some more ale for me and my friend then please, Flora?"
"That's better. I'll be with you in a minute, you great lump."
She brought the jug over. "Why do they call this place famous?" Morgan asked.
"About twenty years ago an old woman went mad and stabbed five men before she could be restrained." She saw Baldwin looking at the old woman sitting alone. "It's all right it wasn't her. She only stabbed two. Any other silly questions?"
"Can I see you when you finish work?" Morgan asked.
"That's even sillier than the last question," she said and walked off.
The following day Morgan went to see the guard master and despite him trying to coax Baldwin to join him, Baldwin had no interest in becoming one of the town's guards. Morgan negotiated an immediate promotion to leader and Baldwin set off for The Flashes.
* * * * *
When Baldwin arrived at the cave the tide was in and the cave was cut-off with the waves crashing against the cliff face. He called out and Elfwine’s wife Arabella came to the gate, opened it, and walked out.
“Didn’t expect you back so soon,” she shouted across.
“Oh!” he called. “I don’t want to be a nuisance.”
“Don’t be silly. I didn’t mean it like that. I thought you might have spent some time in the comfort of the inns after your encounter with the sea.”
“I could have done, but the company here is much nicer. So, Arabella, is there another way in or should I wade across?”
"There's no other way in. If you wade across it can be dangerous. If the waves lift you they could throw you against the jagged rocks at the cliff face. It's best to wait.”
Baldwin just laughed and then jumped into the water and forced his way across before following Arabella into the cave.
“There is a nice chicken broth cooking in the pot, so you are welcome to join us later. For now, you might want to stand by the fire to try and dry your clothes a little.”
“No, I’m used to getting wet. My body heat will dry my clothes soon enough. So where is everybody?”
“Matilda is having her afternoon sleep, and the others are crafting and tending to the crops outside.”
“That end of the cave never gets cut off then?”
“No, it’s too far away from the shore.”
Baldwin walked out to the small bay and was greeted by Dunstan. “Good to see you again my friend, but what brings you back so soon?” He briefly looked over at Erica. “Apart from the obvious.”
Baldwin chose not to comment on his feeling for Erica at this time. “I like the life you have here. I would like to settle down and this seems the ideal place for me if you would allow me to stay. But if you want me to move on I will respect your decision.”
“You are very welcome to stay as long as you please, and we can always use an extra pair of hands.”
Elfwine and Osbert made their way over and they both welcomed him. “What of your friend Morgan?” Elfwine asked.
“He has become a guard at the town. He’s happy with that.”
Erica was pulling weeds from the crops and vegetables but was continually glancing over.
Dunstan called out to her. “Erica, don’t be so rude. Come over and greet our new member of the family.”
Erica walked over. “It’s good to see you again, but I’m sorry I look so scruffy.” She tried to brush the dirt off her gown and hands.
“You still look pretty to me.”
“Leave the field, for now, Erica,” Dunstan said. “Take Baldwin round the shoreline and see if any logs or timber have been washed up.”
As the couple walked off to the shoreline, Osbert looked at his father. “We have plenty of logs. Why are you trying to pair Erica off with the stranger?”
“He is a fine specimen of a man and it is time I had grandchildren.”
“Enough, you just carry on sharpening the blades.” Elfwine looked at Osbert and grinned before going off to continue making his arrows.
Baldwin and Erica walked no more than a few steps along the shore when Baldwin took hold of her hand. "You don't mind?" he said.
"I didn't mind before, why would I mind now?"
"They can all see us now."
"I'm not a child, I can do as I please." She surprised him by throwing her arms around him and giving him a long and passionate kiss. Just as suddenly she pulled away and led him by his hand as she continued to walk.
"Well I wasn't expecting that," he said. "You seem like my kind of woman."
"And we will have to wait a little longer to see if you are my kind of man."
Baldwin spent another night on the cave floor. He was comfortable but frustrated knowing Erica was lying only yards away from him.
It was early morning when Elfwine woke him. “I’m going out to get some rabbits if you want to come along?”
Baldwin jumped up. “Of course.”
Elfwine looked him up and down. “You look about the same size as me. I haven’t seen you out of those same clothes since you came here. I have a lot of clothes that the women made. We’ll sort you some out when we get back.”
They set off through the marsh and into the wooded area. It was not long before Elfwine spotted his first target. His aim was true and the kill was instant. They walked over, Elfwine retrieved his arrow and dropped the rabbit into a bag. A little further on Baldwin whispered, “there, over by that broken branch. It a good way off but we can creep up on it and hopefully, it won’t run off.”
“No need,” Elfwine said and he took aim.
“You’ll never hit it from here.” No sooner had the words left Baldwin’s mouth when the rabbit was killed.
“That’s amazing. Where did you learn to shoot an arrow like that?”
“My father taught me, bless him. He was the best archer in the land. He could shoot an acorn out of the mouth of a squirrel.”
Baldwin was not sure it was true but he kept the thought to himself.
“Two more then we have enough,” Elfwine said and he soon made the number up. "I have a spare couple of bows, Baldwin. Perhaps next time you can have a try at getting some game?"
"I'll look forward to that," Baldwin replied.
Baldwin settled in well with his new friends and his desire for Erica grew ever stronger.
A month later Osbert was sent out to gather some eggs for breakfast. He soon came running back in. “Pirates!” He shouted.
"Don't be silly," Matilda said.
Dunstan looked out from the cave. “It's pirates all right. The pirate ship is in the bay flying their flag and two longboats are heading for the shore. Probably sixteen or so raiders. We have to move quickly.”