There was a chance that they would be seen. They could not afford that now. Soon they would be hunted men. Their only hope was that they would not be noticed as they rode out of the bailey. They simply went out with the other knights going out to patrol. But they were the last in line, trying not to be noticed by anyone. If anyone spoke to them they murmured a noncommittal response. They were helped in their attempt to deceive by the fact that the sun was just rising. That made it hard to see anyone clearly. They went slowly through the town and down the road for a piece. Once they were out of sight from the town wall they got off the road and into any thickets they could find. They stayed off the road as much as they could. They came to a pasture with a fence around it. They jumped their horses over it. Some of these they would have to walk their animals around. Some fences went for quite a distance. When they thought they were far enough away they went back to the road. They drew no attention as yet.
In the castle King Jehan and the physician had remained awake all night. In the Queen’s chamber, she had slept fitfully. She was fevered. Mother Hulder and Denisha had also remained awake. She had cooled the Queen’s brow by the simple means of wetting a cloth, giving it a good wave in the air, and then laying in on her forehead. She also checked the poultices that she had placed. When she removed them the Queen bled again. But each time it was a little less. In that area, at least, the queen was beginning to heal up.
At dawn, she stepped through the door and spoke to the King. “She did not sleep well last night. But she is beginning to bleed from her hurts a little less. She has developed a fever.” “What have you brought for that?” the physician asked. “I have some Son-before- the-father and some all-heal,” she answered. “Very good,” the physician said. “I knew I did right when I called for you.” Mother Hulder hmmped as she moved away, back into the chamber, so very typical of a male, wanting to take all the credit all the time and do none of the work.
In the woods, the knights began to think of how to get away. They took an inventory of what they had. They had their swords and their daggers, spears, bows and arrows, shields and chargers. But they did not have any food, either for themselves or their horses. “We’ve got to have help,” Sir Kendrew said. “Your right,” Matyes agreed. “And I think I know where to get it,” Sir Joopi responded.
There was a farmer nearby with a field, at least that was what it looked like to them. They hid in the hedgerow and watched. Their horses stood silently there as they were trained to do. He put a cow in the field with a calf. Then the farmer left. He would fetch more animals as quick as he could in there. While he was gone, the three wanted men were over the hedgerow. They killed the calf and dragged it back to their side. The mother was hot after them. They got the carcass of the calf on their horses and were gone faster than she could follow.
They forced their horses to their fastest pace. But these horses were no racers. They were heavy, built for strength, not speed. Up into the woods they managed to get. They decided that was far enough. They would rest before they would go on. But the men did not care. They had meat and could start a fire now. They were far away from where anyone might be looking for them.
When the farmer got back to his field with another cow calf pair, the first one was just coming back to him. He could see that the calf was not with her. He let the cow calf pair that he had go loose. Then he investigated further into the pasture. He found the blood on the ground and called for his son. He did not do so too loudly, for that would frighten the other animals. But he was determined. When the young man responded to him, he said, “Take the horse and go to the sheriff. Someone or something has taken one of our calves. Tell him to look for thieves in the area.” The boy said, “Yes father,” and took off.
In the castle the physician said to the King, “Sire, let us take a turn about your garden. I think the fresh air would do us all good.” “You maybe right, sir physician,” he said. He opened the door to the chamber slightly. “We are going into the garden for a time,” he said. “If you need us, just call out the window. We will be right below.” “Yes, sire,” the maid said. She returned to attending on her mistress. There was a window in the queen’s chamber. It was long and very narrow, so that enemies would have a hard time firing weapons in. This time of year it began to be covered with leather made especially for that purpose.
In her illness, the Queen soiled her bed linens. Denisha ran down to the scullery and told the laundress. “Come and get the Queen’s linens off her bed. For she is very ill and she has soiled them.” The laundress sent two of her assistants to the Queen’s chamber. Between them, all four of the women who were looking after the Queen got her off the bed. They got the old linens off the bed and fresh ones on. The two laundry assistants took the old linens into the stool room and gave them their preliminary rinse in the bowl that was under the stool. Then down to the laundry for a more through washing. Denisha emptied the bowl into the guard robe. From there the dirt would eventually wash down into the moat.
In the garden all the pixies and fairies were now dead. The females died a day or so after the males. Whereas the males had died with the effort of mating, the females died with the effort of laying their eggs. But the eggs were impervious to cold. They could be frozen and still survive the winter. The king walked through the garden. A tiny part of him missed his friends, but most of him was worried about his queen. “I do not know,” he said to the physician right behind him, “what I’ll do if she dies.” “Well there is your son to be concerned about,” the Physician said. “He will need you more than ever now, having no mother.”
“There is that,” the king said. In the town, things were starting up for the next day. In some cases, the sound of that could be heard even in the castle. Certainly, the smell was discernable even in the garden. The leather tanner was at work, even though they had been forced out of the town because of the stench of their work. The blacksmith was at work. You could hear the clanging of his hammer. Some horses always wanting new shoes, one almost wished each hoof on each horse would grow all together. That way one could get all new shoes for the horse at the same time. The King thought of that every time he needed new shoes for his chargers. But it was always first this foot, then sometime later that one.
But at the last his thoughts came back to his queen. “I don’t know what I will do if she dies,” he said again. “Deep breaths,” the physician said to him. “You need fresh air, so you will have to take as many deep breaths as you can.” He breathed deeper himself as an example. Then the maid opened the casement and called down to them. “The cook has sent us our breakfast,” she said. “I suspect that he has sent some for you too. You must come up and get it.” “Right,” said the King. “We’ll be right up. Has the queen eaten anything?” “No,” said the Maid, “She is still not awake.”
The king and the physician went back into the castle and, indeed, their breakfast was there on the floor stones waiting for them. The physician picked it up and ate with gusto. But the king had little appetite. A couple of mouthfuls and he was finished. The day was somewhat dark outside, but It was darker still in the heart of the worried King. In the chamber, Mother Hulder checked her poultices again. The bleeding from the Queen’s vagina had stopped, but not yet her anus. She replaced the poultices.
In the forest, the men began to cook the meat from the calf. It would not be as good as if they had stolen the meat at least partially prepared. But they did not care. They were so hungry that any meat at all tasted good. But the smell of the cooking meat brought something else in. There was something dark and sinister in the branches of the tree.
Sir Joopi just happened to see the winged panther in the tree. “You,” he spoke with an aire of confidence to the panther. It was necessary to command the panther. “Come,” he said. The panther responded. As he looked at it, he realized that it could also talk. Its head was larger than most. Those who lived in the woods and knew these panthers said that they were smarter too. Then he also realized that he knew this panther. It was a male called, Heniek. “Heniek,” he said. “You must take a message to my father.” Heniek came to a low branch and crouched over Joopi. “I must take a message to your father,” he repeated. “Joopi is coming, be ready for him,” Sir Joopi said. “Joopi,” was all the panther repeated back. “Joopi is coming, be ready for him,” Joopi repeated. “Joopi is come,” was what the panther repeated the second time. “Joopi is coming, be ready for him,” Joopi repeated a third time. “Joopi is coming be,” was what the panther repeated again. It took time and a lot of patience to teach a flying panther anything. “This does no good,” Kendrew said, taking Joopi’s arm. “Give it minute,” Joopi said. “It takes time to teach a winged panther anything. This one is smarter than most. He should learn it soon.” Then he remembered something else that his father used to do. He tossed Heniek a piece of meat. The creature ate it and Joopi tried again. “Joopi is coming, be ready for him.” “Joopi is coming, be ready for him,” Heniek repeated back. “Good Heniek,” Joopi said. “Now go,” he made a clattering noise to send the panther on his way, his friends helped him.
The panther knew what he had to do. Take word to Sir Joopi’s father as soon as possible. He liked the smell of fear and anger in the air. It excited him. He dashed up to the highest branch he could manage, with his sinewy body. The birds were far above him. Then he checked the wind direction. Then he gathered his body together and leapt. He spread his skin and feathers wide. He caught the wind just right and made it to the ground in front of the other tree. Then he went up to the next larger branch and did it again. The winged panther was soon out of sight.
By the next snow fly in the low lands, the panther was well into the high. He reached the castle of Lord Ghino. There was more snow there. It was just full day when he actually landed on the top of the wall. He hollered out his message. “Joopi is coming, be ready for him.” Then the panther left the wall. Down he went, heading fast for the low lands. His extra layer of fat and the black color to his skin and his feathers would only give him so much protection against the cold. He could not survive the winter here and knew it.
In the courtyard, the servants and Lord Ghino had noticed. So had Lord Doan, the elder brother of Joopi. “Do you think he was involved in that mess at the castle with the Queen?” he asked his father. “I am rather concerned that he is,” Lord Ghino answered. “But I think neither he nor the king will make it to us until spring. Let’s just pray your brother survives, where ever he is.”
Heniek took a calf from Lord Ghino’s herd. After all he had done something that rated a reward and had not gotten it. Lord Ghino had allowed it in the past. So why not now.