The men head for Sandway.
Flora was sitting with Baldwin and Elfwine when Morgan returned to the inn.
“So,” Elfwine said. “We have just come from Sandway and now it looks as if we might be going back again.”
“It’s as we thought," Morgan said. "But the Militia will arrive from the coast track and the Duke’s men will arrive by sea. The Vialians and their followers are to be wiped out to a man. We have been invited to go with the Duke.”
“I’m not going on the boat," Elfwine said. "I’ll go with the Militia.”
“Why do you have to go at all?” Flora said. “Haven’t you three done enough? Let the others sort it out this time, there is enough of them.”
“We have a duty to go,” Morgan said.
“Morgan, you are employed by the Mayor,” Flora said. “It is your duty to stay here and protect the town.”
“Go and clear some tables or something Flora, you don’t understand.”
“Oh, I understand all right. I understand that I am the least of your priorities. You care little about me just as Baldwin seems to care little about Erica.”
“That’s not fair, Flora, and it’s not right,” Baldwin said.
“I’ll tell you what’s not right and not fair. Us worrying every time you three go out to fight and not knowing if we’ll ever see you alive again. Well, I’ve had it. If you go, Morgan, then Erica can move in with me permanently. You and Baldwin can take the room by the small gate and then you can play your war games as much as you like until you are killed.” Flora stormed off.
“Bit feisty today,” Elfwine said.
“Take no notice,” Morgan said. “It’s just an act. She’ll be all right once we have left.”
“Anyway,” Baldwin said. “We know that the Advent Militia are all trained swordsmen and skilful in close combat. But they are actually a police force. What are they doing here? They can’t be going through all this trouble just to re-capture a few escaped prisoners.”
“The Badlands are an embarrassment to the council at Advent. Sandway is known as a breeding ground for raiders and other undesirables. That is the reason the ditch was dug and the fence erected at Mossley. Sandway used to be a normal friendly town like Mossley. That’s why the Militia are here. It’s a cleansing. Once the Vialians are dealt with they will go through the whole town seeking out the undesirables. Some of the Militia will remain and The Skate Inn, with its stables, will become their headquarters as well as a dock office.”
“When the Vialians are done with, I suppose we will return home and leave them to it,” Baldwin said. “So when do we leave for Sandway?”
Thomas walked in and interrupted them. “The Duke wants to see the three of you right away.” The men stood up and Thomas took them to meet the Duke in the guard master’s office.
“We are setting off in the morning. We will have to leave here in the middle of the night because I want to set sail at first light.”
“The militia will head off at dawn onto the coast track. They have asked for a volunteer to check out the old Vialian base camp. A job for you perhaps, Baldwin?”
“No, that’ll be for me,” Elfwine said.”
“If you want to, Elfwine. We don’t think they will be there but we need to make sure. We don’t want them creeping up when the Militia make camp for the night. Just observe, don’t get too close, and then get across to meet up with the Militia and report to the Militia lieutenant. The thing is you will have to leave right away so they won’t have to wait about for you.”
“I’m all right with that. I prefer to travel in the dark.”
"Do you want me to let the seafarers know?" Morgan asked.
“No, they left me their addresses and they have already been told. If you can just go and gather them up in the morning to make sure they are awake. So we’ll meet up at the small gate at two hours past midnight.”
Elfwine set off for the old Vialian camp and Baldwin and Morgan started back to The Bull Inn.”
“Are you looking forward to telling Flora?” Baldwin asked.
“Not really, I thought you were going to do that.”
They were soon walking into the inn. “Looks like she hasn’t come back to work,” Morgan said. “I’d best go across and tell her.”
Morgan tried to open Flora’s door but it was bolted. He knocked and Flora opened the door but stood in his way.
“Well?” Flora said.
“We’re leaving at two in the morning.”
“Okay, but I can’t do this anymore. If you are not willing to settle down at your age then you can get your stuff and go and get a room at The Bull. You don’t live here anymore.”
“Come on, Flora, don’t be silly. I’ll be back in a week at the latest.”
“I said get your stuff and get out.” She stood back and let him in to gather some of his belongings.
“We’ll talk about this when I get back,” he said.
Erica was sitting by the fire and she looked over at him. “Tell Baldwin I don’t want to see him either,” she said.
“But you have his child.”
“Well maybe he should be thinking of that,” she replied, and then looked away. She looked back at him. "My child will grow up not knowing his grandparents and if Baldwin carries on there is a good chance he might grow up not knowing his father."
Baldwin and Morgan left their room at The Bull Inn in the early hours. They went around the town knocking up the old seafarers. On the way back Morgan looked over at Flora’s dwelling. The place was in darkness and he imagined the girls tucked up in bed. “Maybe we were a bit harsh, Baldwin.”
“Maybe you were. I didn’t even get the chance to speak to Erica.”
“Your fault. Just because she told me she didn’t want to see you, doesn’t mean that it’s true. Funny things women.”
“I’m sure she’ll be all right when we get back when she’s had time to think.”
Morgan laughed. “Yeah, and they would have both seen sense. I doubt if I’ll spend another night in The Bull.”
When they got to the small gate The Duke and his men had already assembled outside. “You're late,” the Duke said.
“It took longer than we thought to get all these old seadogs out of their beds."
Three hours later they were aboard the ship and were on their way as planned just as the sun was rising. Most of the men; however, had gone into the hammocks and bunks to catch up with their sleep.
Back in Mossley Flora woke early and got a fire lit. She sat in the chair and looked into the flames and began to get drowsy again.
"Good morning," Erica said.
"Sorry, did I wake you?" Flora said.
"No, I've been lying here thinking."
"A bit but mostly about the room. I've got to take it today or the man will let it to somebody else."
"You think Baldwin will move in with you then?" Flora said.
"Yeah. He says he won't but he will. Funny things men. Anyway, when Morgan gets back it'll be awkward again."
"So you think I'll forgive Morgan?"
"I know you will," Erica said. "But I think this is the last chance for both of them. If they go off again that'll be it, for me anyway."
"Yeah," Flora said. "I love him though, the bastard." Both girls laughed. "Get up then, Erica. I'll do us some breakfast and we'll go and sort out the room."
An hour later they walked up to look at the room. "It's a bit small, just like a square box," Flora said.
"It's a start that's all," Erica said. "And it's handy for the small gate."
"Don't you think that you should take a visit to The Flashes," Flora said. "You know, to get it all closed and finished with?"
Erica gave a big sigh. "Perhaps you are right. I feel I should visit Arabella and Matilda's graves."
"Come on, let's see if we can find Thomas and he can escort us there tomorrow."
* * * * *
Elfwine had waited for some time hidden in the forest and he stepped out when he saw the Militia coming along the coast track.
The lieutenant rode up to him and dismounted. “How did you get on, Elfwine? Are there any raiders at the old camp base?”
“Not now, though they have been there. There were fresh ashes from their campfires. Cold but fresh. They have also taken some of the tents that were stored behind an old cottage. I should think that they passed through maybe a day ago.”
“Good, so they must be at Sandway by now. I’ll give the men a rest here and then we can carry on for a few more hours before camping down for the night.”
“I’ve been here a little while; I don’t need to rest. I’ll just scout on ahead. You’ll eventually come to a break in the trees where you can get a clear view to the sea. There’s a path leading off into an open area and it makes a good place to spend the night.”
“Will you be waiting there?” the lieutenant said.
“Yes, unless there is something that causes me to hurry back.” Elfwine set off and was soon at the small clearing.
When the Militia caught up with Elfwine, the lieutenant's men set up camp for the night.
“We’ll find room for you in one of the tents, Elfwine,” the lieutenant said.
“No thanks, I’ll sleep under the stars,” Elfwine said. “You will need to post some sentries.”
“I think I know that thanks,” the lieutenant said.
Elfwine looked out to sea. Even from a distance, it looked rough and uninviting. “Rather you than me, Morgan,” he whispered to himself.
It was an uneventful night and they set off early for the last part of the journey. Elfwine scouted ahead again and early afternoon he waited for the Militia to catch up and suggested a stop just before the brow of a hill. The lieutenant dismounted. “We must be almost there,” the lieutenant said.
“Come with me,” Elfwine said and they walked forward to the top. They could see across most of the town and out to the sea. “Look, just outside town,” Elfwine said. “Looks like the tents from the base camp. Must be your friends from Advent.”
“I don’t suppose the leader will be there though,” the lieutenant said.
“No, he’ll be at The Mayfly Inn. Probably trying for more recruits, because you can be sure that the word is out that he is looking for men and they will know where to find him.”
“I suppose now is not the time to attack. We should wait for the Duke’s men.”
“Would be wise,” Elfwine said. “It’s best if we can attack at dawn and catch them unprepared. Hopefully, the Duke will hold back at sea until then so we can both attack at the same time.”
“We’ll set up camp here then but we will be ready to go just before daybreak.”
“We should set off when we see the Duke’s ship coming in. Whatever the time is.”
“No fires, lieutenant .”
“Of course not. And I’ll put sentries out before you suggest it.”
“You had better put some men out of sight back down the track in case of stragglers coming to join the Vialians.”
The lieutenant laughed. “Good idea. Who knows, Elfwine, one day I might get to like you.”