In the castle the King called his council of advisors. Riders went as fast as they could to the four corners of the kingdom. Snow was already flying in the north country. It had begun there before it began in the capitol. They had to be very fast to get to Lord Palton. But they managed it before there were too many snow drifts. In other areas, it was easier. In the west, they were on the seaboard. That meant breezes that seldom got cold enough to snow.
In the east, the young men rode into the rising sun. That area got about as much snow as the northern parts of the kingdom. But they also got tremendous wind storms. Wise people thought that it was because of the wide flat plain that was there and extended to the east. There was a river there, which was the border between the land of Shinna and the land to the east. The lords began to come to the council one and two at a time. Some of them lived quite a distance from the castle. It would take time for word about the condition of the queen to reach them. After all, Lord Ghino only knew because he had been in town the day it happened. Lord Palton was on the king’s council and had to be recalled from his hold. He had headed for home immediately after the trial. He did not know about the Queen. There were other lords coming from other parts of the kingdom.
Lord Tibor came from the south. He sometimes joked that he never got a winter where he lived. It’s true that his winters were the shortest and the warmest. However there were times when summer never ended where he lived.
Lord Aban came from the west. His people were fisher folk and did not know much about fighting on land. On the sea, they could be real brawlers. They sometimes had to swing from ship to ship to defend their catch. They could be mean with the boat hooks and boat knives. These they would use to handle the nets and the fish and sometimes as weapons to push boats that were infringing on their fishing grounds away. Sometimes they used them to kill the other fishermen.
Lord Curito came from a more eastern hold. He was known for his graciousness. He could also be the stickler for details. He was one to remind all the people of the various laws and traditions that bound the lords together and the lords to the people. He hurried towards the meeting. He wanted to be the one who arrived first, before anyone but Lord Shann .
For old Lord Shann was the easiest to get to the council. He lived in the capitol and the castle was an easy winter’s day ride for him. He was an old warrior who had fought in many campaigns with this king and with his father. He had been wounded many times and his bones were still more than a bit stiff. But he insisted that he could still get along and, he though, still show up the younger warriors from time to time,
Mother Hulder looked at the queen again. She was not happy with what she saw. The Queen was still unconscious and still feverish. “She is not recovering as she should do,” Mother Hulder told Denisha. I need to do something more to help her. Is there a small room where I can work undisturbed for a while?” “There is the stool closet,” Denisha said. “No,” said Mother Hulder, “too stinky in there, another place.” “There is the queen’s robing room. With her so sick, no one is using it.” “Show it to me,” Mother Hulder said. When Denisha did Mother Hulder said, “This will do fine.”
Then she stepped to the door and gave orders to the pages outside. “I will need a small table, you run and fetch it for me,” she said to one of the pages. To the other one she said, “You go to my neighbor, Mother Leala. She keeps a healing garden like I do. Tell her I am doing a healing working for the queen and will need some of her best healing flowers. She will know what to send me.”
The two pages scurried to do her work. When the page came back with her table, she said to him, “I need some light blue candles. Fetch them.” The master candle maker for the castle had candles of every color. When he heard that it was Mother Hulder who needed them, he asked no questions. They were in the castle for her in no time. “Now, I need some salt from the cook, in a small dish, and some water.” The page ran to the kitchen’s to fetch what she wanted.
“I need a cloth to cover the table,” she said to Denisha. The girl found her one among the things that the queen kept for when the nature of women was on her. “I don’t know if she will ever need these again,” Denisha said. “You might as well have the use of at least one of them.” It fit the table just fine. Then Mother Hulder took the candles out of their holders and put the light blue ones in. Then she sat down and waited.
At Mother Leala’s the page knocked at the door. The good Mother herself answered it. “Mother Hulder sent me,” the page said. “She is healing the queen and she needs some flowers for healing from you. She told me that you would know what she needs for a healing working.” “Indeed I so,” Mother Leala said. Again she was much older then she looked. Her business was healing too. “Come in boy,” she said. “I’ll fetch the things for you.” The boy sat down by the fire. “Here boy,” an elder man said. The page figured that it had to be Father Leala. “Have a bit of this to drink. It will keep you going on a frosty night.”
The boy realized that indeed, it was getting to be frosty out. “Thank-you sir,” he said. He had been taught to be polite. Mother Leala came back with some flowers in her arms. She said to her husband, “Dear, spread a cloth for me.” The man did as she asked. She spread Orris on it along with garden mint, and some Frau Holle, and Larkspur, enough of the flowers for two bouquets. She also put a philter of oil in the packet. “Now be careful with these,” she said. “Be sure you don’t break the philter and come right back to me when you have given these things to her. I have some more items that I believe she will need.”
“What are you going to send to her,” Mr. Leala asked. “Anything I can to help her heal the queen. You know the physician stopped by and had a word with me only a bit ago. He said that the queen had been raped. If it went the way I think it did, she is at deaths door and will need all the help we can give her.”
“You’re too soft hearted, woman.” Mr. Leala said. “You would never have married me, man,” Mother Leala responded. They both laughed a little and looked at each other softly. Then they smiled and went on about house hold chores that needed doing.
The page got back to the castle with his burden. “What did she say?” Mother Hulder asked. “She said for me to be careful with these and she sent this too,” he held up the philter of oil. “Then she said for me to come right back because she had some other things that she wanted to send to you.”
“Good,” said Mother Hulder. “She is a good neighbor. Tell her I would greatly appreciate some orris root, and more Son-before-the-Father.” The boy did take those instructions to Mother Leala. “She knows what she is doing,” Mother Leala said. She added the requested plants to the bundle. “Now get these to her as quickly as possible,” the good Mother said. “Tell her I’ll help with whatever I can provide.”
In the castle Mother Hulder finished with her prayer. For it was a working that was in fact more of a prayer then anything. She came back into the chamber where the queen was still lying, gravely ill.
She just stepped to the queen and heard her delirious mumblings again, “No, knight, no, knight.” Then there was a knocking at the door. The King was there. Mother Hulder stepped outside the door to speak to him. “She is not much better,” the good Mother explained. “But she said something,” King Jehan said. “She keeps mumbling two words, no and knight. I can make nothing out of them,” she said.
“Well I can make something out of one of them,” the King said. “Knights form an important part of the castle guard here. They will be gathering at noon for the change of the guard. The portion that has been on guard this night will go off and there will be another portion that will go on,” he said. He paced and thought for a moment. “I shall inspect them myself.” He hurried off to do just that.
In the bailey the people coming in from the countryside were asked if they had seen anything unusual today. But they had not. The three erring knights had acted so usual and normal, that no one thought anything of it. One man did say that there seemed to be a lot of knights on patrol this time. But he could not prove anything. So the knights managed to get further away without any pursuit.
When the King came to inspect the men that were going on duty to guard the castle until noon tomorrow, the sergeant of the guard approached him. “Yes, Sergeant of the guard?” the king said. For the sergeant was trying to get his attention. “Sire,” he said. “You have been so concerned about the Queen, and we have thought that it might be no account, but…” He let his voice trail off a little then, seeing that the King’s whole attention was not yet here. “So what?” said the king. “Sire,” said the sergeant “Three knights have been absent from roll call since the Queen was attacked.”
“Which three knights?” the King asked. “Sir Joopi, Sit Kendrew and Sir Matyes,” the sergeant reported. The King’s attention came back to the Sir Fridolf. “Why?” he asked. “We thought perhaps they just went to the tavern and got a little too drunk,” the Sir Fridolf said. “We have had the tavern searched, upstairs and down, even into the cellar. There was so sign of them. We also had the stables searched. There was no sign of them there, but their chargers were missing from the Knights Stable, also some weapon and shields are missing from the armory. Then one of the guards reported to us that more knights then usual went on patrol this morning. When the knights patrolling the town came back, they were the usual number. The knights patrolling the roads will not be back until night fall. But there is this, the local sheriff had reported that a calf was stolen from one of the farmers. He thinks by now it has been killed and cooked. I think our missing knights did it.” “And you did not think it necessary to tell me,” the King was somewhat indignant. “Forgive me, Sire, we knew that you were so worried about the Queen and we too are worried for her. It has been a distraction for us all,” the sergeant of the guard replied. “Well perhaps you were,” the king let go of some of his anger. He would forgive them for now. After all the circumstances were unusual.
“So what do you say now to all of that?” the King asked. “That the knights stole the horses,” one of the knights, Sir Fridolf said. He rode up during the conversation between the sergeant and the King. “And why do you think they would do that?” the King asked. “To get away from here,” the Sir Fridolf said, “perhaps to desert.”
“The queen is beginning to become conscious again,” the King told the Sir Fridolf. “She is still delirious, but she says two words, no and knight. Now what do you think that might mean. The Sir Fridolf thought for a moment and responded. “That the knights are trying to get away from here because they are somehow responsible?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the King, “I am beginning to think the same thing. And I’m thinking we will have to find them in the winter. I have called my advisory council to meeting. They shall be arriving in the next few days. See to it that the guard is informed and that they get safe passage through.” This required that the town guard as well as the castle guard be informed. The King could easily inform the castle guard, but the Sir Fridolf was the best way to inform the town guard.
Indeed the King did inspect the men, and he did say to them,” We believe that the queen was abused and forced by three of your compatriots. Please inform your commanders and the Sir Fridolf here which ones you think most likely guilty of this heinous crime. Also I have called my advisory council to meet here. They shall be arriving over the next few days. See to it that they get safe passage into the castle.” The guard went to take up their duty posts with those instructions.
Then the men coming off duty were inspected. The king said to them, “First we want to know about anything unusual that was reported to you.” “Nothing,” the sergeant that was in charge of this particular contingent of the guard reported. “Except for the fact that we are short two men and the other watch one.” “Do you think this had anything to do with what happened to the Queen?” the King asked. “Aye,” the Lieutenant said, without prompting.
“You think if we got after them soon enough, we could catch them?” the King asked. He spoke like an idea was just occurring to him. “I do sir,” the Lieutenant said. “I cannot go right now,” the kind said. “I have my nobles coming for an advisory council. Can you go and search for them further afield?” “I can if your order it, sir,” the Lieutenant said. “I do so order it,” the King said. “Take the best direction that you think they might have gone in and search in that direction.” “We’ll be ready to leave within the hour, sir,” the Lieutenant assured him. “That will be the greatest help to me that you can be now,” said the King. The Lieutenant came to attention and saluted.
The king returned inside the castle then. Again, he went right to the Queen’s chamber. He knocked one more time on the door. Denisha came to the door. “Mother Hulder is making prayers for the Queen’s recovery,” Denisha said. “But the queen is still delirious and still says only those two words. Mother Hulder has changed the poultices twice now, and the Queen’s fever is no worse,” she reported.
“Thank-you,” said the King, “I think I will go and check on my son now.” He went to the prince’s chamber. The nurse immediately handed the boy to his father. The King took his son and embraced the babe. It was at that time that he broke down and cried. He was so full of tension about what had happened to his queen. “Little boy,” he said to his son. “Little boy, I pray that you never have to see such a terrible thing as has happened to your mother. I pray that when you become king these things will be a part of the past.” But, he thought, it probably would not be.
At the promised time, the Lieutenant and his men were ready to go. They had their horses and had packed their saddle bags with food and warm clothing and money. They would demand hospitality from the various lord holders that they met. That was part of what their oaths of fealty to the king demanded of them.
They began by going south. “Why are we going south Lieutenant?” one of his men asked of him. “Because the men we are chasing had no time to prepare warm clothing to take with them, or food. So doesn’t it make sense that they would go south.” “Well it does,” the man said. “But Sir Joopi father and brother have a hold to the north. They might try to make it there. And Sir Kendrew’s father is to the west. ” “The way north is already closed by snow,” the Lieutenant said. “I believe that it makes more sense that they would try to go south and take some sort of ship across the waves.” The man had to agree that that direction made more sense so they continued that way.
The next day they met Lord Tibor coming up from the south. The Lieutenant called for him to stop. Lord Tibor brought his mount over to speak to the Lieutenant. “We seek three knights fleeing form the capitol,” the Lieutenant said. “We believe they committed a heinous crime against the Queen.” “I have not heard all of that,” Lord Tibor said. “I only know that I am called to council.” “Have you seen anything unusual on your way here?” asked the Lieutenant. “No,” said Lord Tibor. “But they might have holed up somewhere. That is very possible, what I would do? There are a lot of caves along our seaboard.”
“We are going there now,” the Lieutenant said. “We will check them out.” “Then adieu,” said Lord Tibor. “I have the advisory council with the king.” “Yes,” said the Lieutenant. “Please tell the king of our meeting and that there is nothing to report so far.” Lord Tibor gave a quick salute and spurred his mount on. The Lieutenant did the same.
The men continued. They crossed one of the passes that connected Lord Tibor’s lands to the rest of the kingdom. This pass was referred to as the Inland pass. There was also a Central Pass and an Eastern Pass. The Western Pass belong to another Lord.
The Lieutenant continued to the hold of that other Lord, Lord Rusk. He arrived at the hold about sunset. He knocked on the door and was admitted by the major domo. “I must see Lord Rusk,” the Lieutenant said. “Aye,” said the major domo. “Come,” he led the way into the main hall where his lordship was relaxing after having taken his evening meal. For the man was a very early riser. Therefore, he was also early to bed. “What is it Lorandt,” he asked the major domo. “Some men to see you,” the servant said. “I’ve no doubt they bring news from the capitol.” “Indeed I do,” said the Lieutenant striding into the room.
“Sir,” the Lieutenant began, “have you heard the news about the Queen?” “No,” said Lord Rusk. “We have heard that there was some trouble, but not that it included the Queen.” “It is believed that she was raped,” the Lieutenant tried to put it as gently as he could. “On no,” said Lord Rusk. “Who would have done such a dastardly deed?” “We thing three knights,” the Lieutenant said. “And we think they have escaped from the capitol and we think they are trying to escape from our land.” “Oh my goodness,” the elderly lord said again. Then he became a bit distressed. “Do I know your name boy,” he said to the Lieutenant. “No, sir,” the Lieutenant said. “It is Fridolf.”
Sir Fridolf continued, “We believe that the men might have come south and could be hiding in your caves here, waiting for a ship to take them out of the country. That is the only way they will be able to escape death.” Well we would not know or be able to check all the sea caves,” the Lord said. “With those that have openings to the sea, you’ll have to ask the sea people about them. I would accept their answer. It is better than risking the lives of your men.” “Will you come with us to the harbor to speak to them?” Sir Fridolf asked. “Yes,” said Lord Rusk said. “But why go there. You can see them from here.” “What do you mean,” Fridolf asked. “Come with me to the crenulations,” Lord Rusk said. He got up and put on a cloak. For him it was cold out there.
At the crenulations, he pointed to a large rock in the crashing surf. “There,” he said. “Do you see them there?” Sir Fridolf looked and then squinted a little against the glare. Then he saw them. There was a male sitting with his back to the castle and turned slightly to one side. His bluish skin could be seen along with his long white hair. It parted slightly around his pointed ears. Some of his scales could be seen around his waist. His fish’s tail could not be seen, but Fridolf knew it had to be there. All the stories he had heard about these people mentioned that. These were the Mer people and this one was a warrior. That could be told by his muscular frame and the trident he held in his right hand. The person who was with him on the rock could not be seen, but it was obvious that there was someone there. He was talking to someone.
“Come on with me down to the beach,” Lord Rusk said. “I’ll try to call them over, then we will be able to ask them. But I warn you, they may not be locals. The Mer people are beginning their annual autumn migration to their mating grounds.”
“They migrate every year?” Fridolf asked. “Hmm,” Said Lord Rusk, nodding his head. “Twice, once to their mating grounds then back north to their feeding grounds.” “But why do they do that?” Sir Fridolf asked. “Because of the food supply I think,” his lordship said. “It is getting poor up north now that the sea is shrinking due to the ice. They rest here on their way further south. That’s where the big food supply is. At least I think that’s
where it is.”
As Fridolf was doing this, in the wee hours of the morning of the a 4th day, the Queens fever finally broke. She slept peacefully for the first time in a long time. Mother Hulder had slept fitfully that night, as she had done every night since it had happened. She stepped over to the bed and checked the Queen’s forehead. It was cooler.
She went to where Denisha was sleeping. Mother Hulder woke her. “Your mistress is better today,” she said. “But we need to change the linens again.” So Denisha went back down to the laundry and brought the two servants back up. They changed the linens again as they had done so many times before.
Mother Hulder went to the King’s chamber and softly knocked on the door. The Kings valet, a man names Arly, answered the door. “The Queen is better today,” she said. Arly went and woke his master. “Sire,” he said, “Mother Hulder is here with good news.” He indicated the lady standing in the doorway, which the King could see while still laying in his bed. “What news?” the King asked. “The Queen’s fever has broken,” Mother Hulder called out a little louder then she had first spoken. The King leaped from his bed and Mother Hulder closed the door. She returned to the Queen’s chamber with the King there a minute later, in a dressing gown.
He knocked and was immediately admitted. He rushed to her side, “Darling, darling,” he said shaking her a little. She woke, recognized him and smiled. But they she fell back to sleep again. “She is very exhausted,” Mother Hulder explained. “Besides she needs her sleep in order to finish recovering from this.”
“Call me the moment she is awake again,” the King ordered, At that moment Arly stepped to the door of the room. “Sire,” he said. “Your advisory council is arriving.” The King looked out over the bailey and the town. He saw old Lord Shann riding towards the castle. The old man had waited a few days because he knew that it would take time for the other members of the council to get there. But beyond the castle walls there was another knight arriving. By his colors and coat of arms, which were displayed, it was Lord Curito. “The stickler is here,” the King said. Arly knew what that meant. The King did not always like Lord Curito, but often the Lord was right.
Just about noon, Lord Palton was within sight coming down from the north. His men were better at breaking trail then the pages were. They had made a way through for their master. And he had some news. His men had run into one of Lord Ghino’s men who told them that Sir Joopi was expected before the snow got too deep.
The day after Lord Palton passed, Sir Joopi and his friends awoke in the trolls cave. “Can you believe what happened last night?” Sir Matyes asked. “Of course I can believe it,” Sir Joopi said. “Wolves were around here all night. They set up a terrible racket, and they worried the horses half to death.” “Worried me a good bit too,” Sir Kendrew said. “Why was that?” “Do I look like I know,” Joopi almost jumped down his throat. “I’d say it was because of the troll bodies that we threw out there,” Sir Matyes said. “And what do you know about wolves,” Sir Joopi almost jumped down his throat. “Well it was just a thought,” Sir Matyes backed off. But it was true. The wolves were disposing of the trolls bodies.
By the setting of the sun all the Lords were there for the advisory council. Those who came from out of town looked to Lord Shann. “Alright,” he said, “I will put you up. Come,” he said. He did not have a castle, but rather a large house. If it was attacked, he would not defend it, but he and his would retreat to the bailey. The rest of the town would do the same.
That night not all the Lords retired at Lord Shann’s. Lord Curito was awake and wanted to know, “What is going on?” he asked Lord Shann. “A terrible crime has been committed against the Queen,” Lord Shann answer-ed. “What happened?” Lord Curito asked. “I heard that she was raped by some of our knights.” Lord Shann responded. “Oh no,” Lord Curito said. “Have they fled?” “Yes,” said Lord Shann. “We think to the seashore in an attempt to get out of the country. But there is a possibility that they went north. It is believed that one of the knights is a younger son of one of the northern Lords.” “Which knight was it?” “We believe one of them was Sir Joopi,” Lord Shann answered. “That is Lord Ghino’s second son.” Lord Curito answered.
That evening in the Queen’s chamber, she was even more awake and was hungry. “I want some food,” she said. “Denisha,” Mother Hulder said. “Have some soup and bread brought up for the Queen. I do not think she is strong enough for anything else.” The girl ran to the kitchen. She was soon back. Three different pages brought three trays to the Queen’s chamber and knocked on the door. Denisha answered and said, “I’ll take the one for the Queen first. As requested, it had a nourishing soup on it and a good sized piece of bread. Mother Hulder stepped to the door and took the tray that the cook so thoughtfully sent up for her. It had a slab of meat on it with bread and there was a tankard of mead. The last tray was for Denisha. She also had meat, bread and mead.
In the cave, the knights were discovering that the snow was getting higher. It was warm enough in the cave that they would not freeze. They had flour for bread and some spices. Also leaven to make it rise. The problem is they did not know how to cook anything but meat. They cast themselves around the cave for a time. “Why didn’t we think to kidnap one of those tavern wenches?” Sir Kendrew asked. “They at least know how to make bread.” “Well we didn’t,” Sir Joopi said. They cooked up the rest of the calf meat. “Alright,” said Sir Joopi, “tomorrow we have to find a way to go hunting,” Sir Kendrew and Sir Matyes just mumbled.
In the castle the king had been wandering around somewhat aimlessly. Finally, he returned to the Queen’s chamber. She was just eating her food when he knocked. “Come in your highness,” Denisha said when she opened the door.
“Darling,” said the king, when he saw his wife sitting up taking some food. He rushed to her bedside and tried to sit on the bed next to her. He almost spilled the soup in doing so. So he moved around quickly to the other side of the bed. She stopped eating only long enough to give her a quick peck and then went back to eating. Mother Hulder and Denisha had taken their food in the other room so that they could eat while sitting down. Otherwise, they would have had to stand in the presence of the King.
“Darling,” said the King again, “I’m so glad that you are recovering. These last three days we have been so worried about you. How do you feel now.” “I hurt a little still,” she said. “But I am recovering.”
“Darling,” said the King one more time, “I have to ask you, who did this to you?” “Three knights,” she said. “Yes dear,” he said. “We have surmised that. What I want from you now is their names.” “Sir Joopi was the chief instigator,” she said. “And those who followed?” the King asked. “The same two that always do,” the Queen answered, “Sir Kendrew and Sir Matyes.”
“That is all I need to know,” the King said. “We will be after them in the morning.” He kissed her again. “Now I will leave you to sleep again. I will see you tomorrow.” The King went to his bed then, to get a better nights rest then he’d had in the last 3 days. Mother Hulder stayed over another night, again sleeping in the same chair. She wanted to be there if the Queen took a turn for the worse, as often happened at night. Denisha also slept in the other chair. At Lord Shann’s home now all the lords were asleep.
In the morning, something started for the Queen for which she had no name. She began to feel particularly sad. She didn’t know why. She saw Denisha asleep there in the chair of her room and tried to cheer up a little. But she could not manage to cheer up a lot. She poked the chair and woke Denisha. “Is breakfast coming?” she asked. “Yes, ma’am,” Denisha asked. “What would you like?” “Whatever the cook has ready,” the Queen said. But when the tray arrived, she did not have much of an appetite.