But there was no help for it. When King Jehan moderated his temper a little more, he knew it. He would simply have to wait for spring and the chance to gather supplies for his forces. In the south, Lt. Fridolf talked to the Mer people. He was getting used to looking at their long white hair, their pointed ears and their bluish skin. Getting used to the tridents they used for weapons was another story. “We can stab with them,” one of the Mer warriors demonstrated. “We can also cut,” again he demonstrated. “We can even throw them. We use them a lot in catching our dinner.” He looked into the sea and suddenly launched his. When he went after it, he came up with something wriggling that would be for their dinner.
The next day, at Lord Rusk’s home he said, “I am sending a note to Lord Tibor’s wife, Lady Honalee, to let her know you are coming.” “And what will I do there?” Sir Fridolf asked. “Speak to the Mer people there too,” Lord Rusk said. “For those who prefer to rest here on my rocks are not the same as those who live in her area. These are just visitors planning on moving further south in another few days. Her’s are locals that stay here most of the year. They will only move on when the situation gets very bad. The Mer people only move when the ice and the cold drive their food away.”
“Aye,” said Sir Fridolf, understanding again. He ordered his men to be ready to leave in a few days, to go to Lord Tibor’s hold. That evening Lord Rusk sent the message off. The next day Sir Fridolf and his men were ready to ride. They were sad to leave Lord Rusk, he had been a gracious host.
At the castle, Mother Hulder stayed one last night with the Queen. She wanted to be sure that there was no relapse. Indeed, when her majesty wanted to use the stool room, she had to have help. She walked awkwardly there, got the job that she’d come to do done, and then went awkwardly back to bed. In the morning, Mother Hulder told the king, “I must go back to my own family now. They have need of me. But if the queen should relapse, I will not be far.” “I understand,” the king said. And he was well aware that the blacksmith was Mr. Hulder. Mr. Leala was the stable man and their two businesses, being so close together, benefitted both. So Mother Hulder gathered up her things. She had some further instructions for Denisha. “If she should start crying again, which I believe she will, make her a tea of chamomile. That will help her overcome this great sadness as much as anything.” Then she was off home with the royals the king had given her.
A few minutes later the king went into the Queen’s chamber, put his arms around her, and gave her a kiss. “I had an advisory council meeting while you were sleeping yesterday,” he told her, speaking softly. “What did you do there?” she asked. “Lord Curito made out warrants for the three men that attacked you and I signed them,” the king told her, still keeping his voice low and soft. The Queen pulled away a little. She was not really aware she was doing it. But there was a memory of what had happened to her that surfaced for just a moment. “What is it?” the king asked. “I’m not sure,” the queen said. That was true. She was not sure then. It would be sometime before she did know what it was.
In the south, Sir Fridolf went to the home of Lord Tibor and the Lady Honalee. He really needed to speak to their Mer people. They would be the ones who would know if there had been any strangers there lately. It was about a half-day’s ride. When they got there they were challenged at the gate. “Who goes there,” the guard called out in a rough voice.
“Sir Fridolf from the capitol,” he said. “Her ladyship has been told of our coming and is expecting us.” “Pass,” said the guard. The gate was open-ed and the portcullis raised. They went into the courtyard and dismounted. The men would put up the horses and they would be quartered nearby. Sir Fridolf went into the castle itself. The major domo, a man named Alford, introduced him. “What is it, Alford,” the lovely Lady Honalee asked. “Sir Fridolf, about whom you had the communication from Lord Rusk, is here.”
He stepped aside and allowed the man to enter.
“So you are Sir Fridolf,” the Lady commented. She was young, younger then Lord Tibor, and very pretty. It seems that she was well aware of those attributes too. She was sitting at the table, having just finished her dinner. She still had a goblet of wine in her hands. It was about half empty. “Come here,” she said. “Let me look at you closer.” Sir Fridolf was actually close to her age, in the full strength and vigor of his youth.
“You are a knight?” she asked. “Yes ma’am,” he said. “From a good family?” she asked again. “Yes ma’am,” he repeated. “You know how to eat properly at table when there is a lady present?” she asked. “Yes ma’am,” he said a third time. “Have you eaten today?” she asked. “Not since this morning,” Sir Fridolf answered. “Alford, bring this man some meat and mead,” she said. “and also a little bread.” “What about my men?” he asked. “You have men in the courtyard with you?” “Yes ma’am,” he said. “How many?” she asked. “About a dozen,” Sir Fridolf answered her. All this time he was standing at attention just within the room.
“Alford,” she said as the man returned with the meal for Sir Fridolf, “send some meat and mead to the courtyard for Sir Fridolf’s men.” “Yes ma’am,” he said. He hurried to do just that. “Well,” she said somewhat petulantly, “don’t just stand there, come and sit beside me and eat your meal.” She finally took a sip out of her goblet.
Fridolf did come and sit beside her to eat his meal. He immediately got the impression that this was a mistake. She became friendlier then she should have been. She took another sip of wine from her goblet. “And why have you come here, Sir Fridolf. “I came to speak to your people and to your mer people,” he answered. But she was getting friendlier and he was getting more uncomfortable around her. He set about eating his meal with purpose. After a few minutes, when he was nearly finished, he looked up and said, “Ma’am, don’t you think we should retire now. It has been a long day and I believe that we are both tired. I can assure you that I am.”
She laughed and said, “It’s still early.” But she was more than a little drunk now. “Please ma’am,” he said, “I should like to retire with my men.” “Very well,” she said, sad at not getting what she’d hoped for. “You will sleep here in the castle, your men can sleep in the stables with their horses.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said. He left the table then to tell his men. “She said you can sleep in the stable with the horses. And to tell you the truth, I wish I were going with you. I am to sleep in the castle this night, and am very larry of that. The lady seems to have a difficult time behaving like a lady.” The men knew, that meant there might be difficulty in the next day or so and they would have to be ready to leave in a moment.”
That night Sir Fridolf went to sleep in the room he had been assigned to. He was not disturbed for the whole night. In the morning he was up early to go down to the sea shore. There he found the surf was not so rough. The Mer people were hunting for their breakfasts. He could see the fish tails on all of them as they dove, and surfaced, and dove again. They caught fish and all sorts of wriggling things and began to tear them apart with their teeth. He got the attention of one of the males. “Sir,” he said respectfully, “may I ask you a question?” The male swan nearer. “You may,” he said. “Have you seen any strange men around here lately?” “What do you mean by strange men?” the mer man asked. “Men that you have never seen before. Men doing things different from what you have ever seen men do before?”
“No,” the mer man said. He swam away then, continuing his hunt for food. Sir Fridolf decided to accept that as an answer. He went back to the castle. By then Lady Honalee was awake. She wanted to see him. When he finally did see her he noticed something that he had not seen before. Her dress seemed to pouch out a bit in the area of her belly. He wondered if that might indicate a child on the way.
“What did you do this morning?” she asked. “I went to have a talk with your mer people,” Sir Fridolf said. “And what did they tell you?” she asked. “That they have not seen any strange people about,” he answered. “Why is that important?” she asked, sounding a little sulky. “Because we are searching for three renegade knights,” Sir Fridolf answered. “Here I thought my husband might have sent you to keep me company. This lonely old castle is so dreary. Please be so kind as to keep my company for a day at least?” she asked. But Sir Fridolf thought that he could not and thought that it might even be dangerous to. So he said to her, “Ma’am, I am on the kings business. On that business I may not tarry a day. It is finished here, so I must be on my way back to the capitol.” “Oh pooh,” she said sadly. “I beg of you ma’am, I must be on my way.” So she dismissed him. He and his men mounted in the courtyard and began their return to the capitol.