Morgan and Baldwin arrive at The Flashes.
A few hours after they left the inn the men reached a fork in the track. “Which way?” Morgan said.
"The right track looks more used," Baldwin said. "The left track might lead to a dead end through some farmland." Baldwin put a hand up. “Shhh. I can hear some horses. It might be the sheriffs.”
“If it is they will want to question us,” Morgan said. “We'd better hide in the bushes to be on the safe side.”
The two men hid in a ditch behind the bushes. When the riders stopped at the fork they were within yards of the men. “The two fleeing rebels must have passed this fork. But which way do you think they would have gone?”
“There’s only a beach that way and a few fishermen's dwellings. The fisherfolk will let us know if strangers turn up there. No, they must be heading for the port. The defeated foreigners will be trying to flee the country by getting on a ship.” The riders set off on the right fork.
“We go left then,” Morgan said.
“Yeah, but I think it would be better to rest here and only travel when it gets dark.”
"I think we could have taken those two sheriffs."
"Can you ride a horse, Morgan?"
"Not much point then is there. And if two sheriffs went missing there would be a big manhunt after us."
They rested in an oat field and managed to get some sleep in the sunshine. When the sun was setting they set off and in the early hours they stood outside a small fishing settlement. “Have you ever sailed a boat, Morgan?”
“No, but how hard can it be? Easier than riding a horse I'll bet."
“One way to find out I suppose. But we must be quiet. They are probably all sleeping at this time of night and we don't want to wake them. I don't think their menfolk are back yet. The women won’t be happy with us taking one of their boats and it would be wrong to kill them.”
"No more talking; we need to be extra quiet. They might have dogs and the slightest noise will set them off barking.
They crept through the settlement extra vigilant. They decided if they were discovered they would flee if they got the chance. Killing unaccompanied women was to be avoided at all costs. They made it to the shoreline undetected and waded through the water to the nearest boat. The movement as they climbed aboard rocked the boat and the oars clattered together.
A dog was alerted and began to bark, quickly joined by two others. The men rowed fast and were soon clear of the sheltered cove before raising the two sails. “Which way?” Morgan said.
“We are heading straight out to sea, so it must be the right way. Straight across."
Morgan looked back to the shore. "It doesn't look like they are following us out. Might have been different if the men were back from the battle."
"Then with their sea-skills, they would probably have caught us up." Baldwin said.
"In that case, they would die. Unless one of them was a skilled archer, then we might have had a problem."
"Well it's not a problem now. This time tomorrow we should be on the other shore."
However, two days and two nights later, they were still at sea and they encountered a storm that ripped off their sails, almost overturned the boat, and took the oars into the sea. They had run out of food, their two pouches of water were dry and they were starting to weaken.
"I don't understand," Morgan said. "We should be there by now. It only took a day to cross on the ship."
Baldwin looked at the water lapping at the boat. "Can't we drink seawater?"
"No, it'll just make your thirst worse."
"Are you sure?" Baldwin asked.
"It'll kill you quicker than not drinking it. We were taught that at the Militia survival training."
The following day they could just make out the land in the distance.
"If only we had managed to keep hold of the oars," Baldwin said. "It's much too far to swim. So we can either try to swim to land and drown, or we can die on this boat with no water, but surrounded by water. This has not been one of your better ideas, Morgan."
No," Morgan said. "And it gets worse. There is a fog drifting over so we won't see the shore soon and by the looks of those clouds there might be another storm on the way."
Their luck changed when the following day they were washed up to a beach, but their health had deteriorated and they were only semi-conscious. If they didn't fully regain consciousness there was a chance the tide could take the boat back out to sea again.
* * * * *
Erica, a twenty-year-old woman walked out from the entrance of her family’s cave-dwelling to take in some of the fresh sea air. Inside her family were sitting at a table in the room-sized cave eating bread and some rabbit broth re-heated from the previous night. The fire in the hearth was burning nicely with the smoke dispersing through the roof of the cave. Further along, the sleeping area had alcoves cut into the dark red rock to accommodate bed spaces. It was a comfortable place and as good as any of the better houses in the nearby town of Mossley. Erica loved her life here and felt she could stay here forever. She looked towards the shoreline and saw a boat bobbing on the water. “Elfwine, come quickly,” she called. “There is a boat in the bay.”
Elfwine, a family friend, ran out with his bow slung over his shoulder and a sword in his hand. “Get inside, Erica, it might be the pirates.” But Erica had no intention of getting inside and she watched as he ran across the beach towards the boat.
Her father, Dunstan, soon followed with his sword also drawn. “Be careful, Elfwine," he shouted. "It might be a trap.”
As Elfwine got near the boat it started to drift out and he waded into the water to pull the boat back in again. “There’s two men in here," Elfwine shouted. "And they look in a bad way." He turned and called across to Erica. “Fetch some water, hurry."
Erica rushed through the cave and came out at a back entrance to a smaller bay where a spring ran out of the rocks. She filled a jug and hurried back while the two men hauled the front of the boat up to the dry land. She poured water onto her hand and rubbed it on the men’s faces. They responded to her care and she lifted Baldwin’s head and gave him a drink, and then the same with Morgan.
The water and care from Erica seemed to revive the men and after a few minutes, Baldwin was able to stand." Erica and Dunstan helped him across to the cave. Elfwine tended to Morgan until he too was able to walk and he helped Morgan across to the cave as well.
Soon the pair of them were sitting by the fire with bowls of hot broth and fur blankets around their shoulders.
“Where are we?” Baldwin asked. “What’s the nearest town?”
“This bay is called The Flashes,” Erica said. “The town of Mossley is just a few miles away.”
“Mossley Town. I’ve heard of it." Morgan said. "The people there are paranoid and have a stockade-type fence and a moat as if they were in the Middle Ages."
"It's not a moat it's a ditch," Elfwine said. "Have you ever been there?"
"No," Morgan said. "But I heard about the place when I was living in Advent."
"Well, if you do visit you will find they are not paranoid. They are good people but have been plagued for a long time by Vialian raiders. They did ask for help from the Militia at Advent, but were told they were too busy."
"I apologise," Morgan said. "I didn't wish to be rude or cause offence."
“So, have you come round the coast from Advent in that boat?” Dunstan said.
“No, we've come across the sea. We were fighting at the Pavillion uprising.”
"That's some distance," Dunstan said. "No wonder you looked weak, you are lucky to be alive."
“Are you real soldiers then?” Erica said.
“More like paid fighters," Baldwin said. "Anyway, the uprising is finished and the wrong side won. So, Vialians, do they ever bother you here?”
"No," Dunstan said. "There's nothing here for them and it's probably too far for the little we have. It's the pirates we have to watch out for. We sometimes see them out at sea, but luckily they have not ventured ashore here for years. Even then they were only interested in going to raid Mossley"
Erica's brother, Osbert, came running in. “Elfwine, we are losing the boat.”
Elfwine ran out and looked out to the sea. “It's too far out now. The sea is too rough and if I try to swim out to it I could be dashed on the rocks. Shame, but I’m afraid it is lost.” The two men returned to the cave.
“I'm surprised at how you have adapted this cave to live in," Baldwin said. "It's better than a lot of houses I have been in. This huge fire is great and I like the way the smoke disperses through the roof of the cave. And the space you have inside here is as good as a palace.”
“Yes, I agree,” Morgan said. “But surely you would all be better off living in the town.”
"But you wouldn't," Elfwine said. "If we weren't here you would be drifting back out to sea by now."
“My family have lived here for generations,” Dunstan said. “This is where we earn our living. This is my wife, Matilda, and my daughter and son, Erica and Osbert. Elfwine and Arabella are friends who have moved in with us. Over the years we have dug out the alcove shelves to sleep in so we are comfortable.”
“But are you safe?”
“We have gates which we close up at night and if they are broken we have another defence.”
“And what is that?”
“I'm afraid I can’t tell you but it keeps us safe should we be attacked from the land or the sea. Anyway, we have an early start tomorrow so we are turning in for the night.”
“I’ll fix you somewhere to sleep,” Matilda said. “I’m sure you could use some rest in warmth and comfort after that sea journey.” She found spare blankets and furs and made the bed spaces up on the floor.
“Our swords and daggers; where are they?” Morgan asked.
“They are stored safely away,” Elfwine said. “You can have them in the morning.”
“Your people have nothing to fear from us, Elfwine,” Baldwin said.
“I know, but we don’t know you well enough.”
“I understand, and I thank you for your hospitality. We will leave for Mossley in the morning.” Morgan was eager to bed down, but Baldwin was more interested in Erica as the rest went to their bed spaces.
“You don’t have to leave so soon, Baldwin,” Erica said. “Why not wait a few days until you have built up your strength a bit? It's a good three-hour walk to Mossley.”
Morgan pulled the fur cover over his head, knowing her words were more for Baldwin than for him.
“Our strength will be fine in the morning and I am sure you have not seen the last of me if you will allow me to call back to visit you that is.”
Erica gave a broad smile. “Of course I will. I would love to see you again. Good night, Baldwin."
“Good night,” Morgan shouted out from under his cover.
Erica laughed. “Oh, I’m sorry, Morgan. Good night.”
“Erica!” Matilda called out.
“All right, I’m coming.”
Dunstan walked over to Elfwine's bed space. "These men are very tired and I don't think they will give us any trouble. But keep your dagger close tonight," he whispered.
"You should have sent them away after they had been fed, whether they were tired or not. Remember, these men are professional killers," Elfwine said. But their fears were unfounded and their two guests slept soundly.
Baldwin woke the following morning and looked over to Erica who was loading some logs onto the fire. She had her back to him and he could see the curvaceous shape of her body through the thin gown she was wearing. He smiled as he imagined what was beneath the gown. The logs began to catch alight and the flames gave a flickering light around the cave. He sat up and on hearing the rustle of his covers Erica turned to look at him, smiled and then sat on a bench next to the fire.
“What a wonderful sight, your pretty face picked out by the flickering flames,” Baldwin said. He threw the covers off and stood up, still fully clothed, and walked over to sit beside her.
“Don’t tease me,” she said.
“I’m not teasing you. I have been attracted to you ever since I opened my eyes on the boat yesterday and saw you. I thought at first I had died and you were an angel looking down at me.”
Erica laughed. “And I looked down at you thinking what a scruffy sad-looking man. Now let’s stop being silly. Would you like some wine and some cooked eggs to start your day?”
“I’d like to freshen up first. Maybe take a swim in the sea.”
"You can if you like. But that's not how we do it here."
He looked around the cave. “Where is everybody?”
“They are out on the shore, harvesting.”
“Fruits of the sea my father calls it.”
Baldwin laughed. "What sort of fruit is that?"
"It's not real fruit," she said. "Cockles, mussels, winkles and we also get a lot of edible seaweed. Even the odd crab, though most of the shore crabs are too small. She stood up and took hold of Baldwin’s hand. “Come on, if you want to clean up.” She led him out the back exit of the cave where the freshwater spring was flowing from halfway up the cliff. “Get yourself cleaned up and then come inside and we will wake up your friend for breakfast.”
He looked at the cascading water. "I could stand under this and wash my whole body."
"Help yourself, that's what we do," Erica said. "No one will bother you."
"Maybe you could join me and scrub my back."
Erica laughed. "Another time perhaps."
"I'll look forward to it."
Erica gave another laugh. "And so will I."
Baldwin took off his shirt and Erica seemed transfixed on his bulging muscles and his highly developed chest.
"Are you sure you don't want to scrub my back, Erica?"
Erica grinned widely. "I think I'd better go and prepare the eggs," she said. Without another word, she turned and walked off but could not help but to turn her head for another glance.