Lady Red vs The Great Beyond

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Chapter 4

Chapter IV

When I came to my senses I was lying on my side in a straw bed, resting my head on a little pillow in a large room. Before I even opened my eyes I knew I was back home in Hudson’s Landing; surrounded by the wonderful smell of ham cooking and a wood-smoke scent in the slightly damp air that a stone house gets after a hard rain.

I opened my eyes and waited as my vision came around and I perceived a large, blurry shape shuffling toward me that eventually sat down on the foot of my bed. I blinked hard, expecting Beef with a plate of ham and toast for my breakfast.

“Lady Stanton, you’re awake,” said the man, and it was surely not Beef. I was profoundly confused, but after a moment’s dazing I remembered the events of yesterday: drinking at the inn, fleeing from town on Master—but to where I couldn’t remember—and now there was a large man, with a thick beard and a kindly smile that looked after me. I surely recognized his face and I knew him to be a friend.

“Bernard,” he said and pointed at himself with a smile.

“Hello,” I managed.

"Follow me." He said, rising. I followed, but slowly, like floating. We went outside and I perceived not one but two Bernard’s, swinging axes into a huge tree. Their sound was rhythmic, like a heartbeat, but far from comforting. One of them stopped and approached me. He leaned close and for a second his face was unrecognizable, fading for the faintest second into the face of my papa before Bernard's face returned and he smiled. He neatly tugged on the little coin that hung around my neck and turned it over and over, his eyes fixed upon it. “Lady Stanton," he said in a raspy voice that was not like his own, "you are in terrible danger. Copperheads run rampant in Angland, hidden in every town and every wood and every ruin. They look like you and I. Some are peaceful and wish to be left alone, some are brutally violent. And all hunt you. You are the key to a lost secret that they crave. They need you. Like a thirsty man lost in a desert needs water. They will come for you and they will take you to the Beyond, where your father has gone.”

“Papa?” I tried so hard to remember Bernard’s words, but everything was so hazy. Bernard’s face began to twist and pop out-of-shape and I realized with a fright that I couldn’t draw a breath, but desperately needed one.

“You must find your father, Lady Stanton. He can protect you and guide you. He has gone before you to pave your way and he has left clues that you must follow. I’m one of those clues. And so is this." He held up the little coin, still turning it before me. "It is not as it seems. Nothing is as it seems. Do you understand?”

“I do,” I said, but I surely did not.

Bernard raised a huge hand in front of my face and snapped his fingers. The sound was like a thunder crack and I recall the feeling of falling backwards over a precipice. I gasped and sat up with a start.

It was morning and I was in the little bed I had seen in my dream. I was awake properly now and I looked around to get my bearings. I was at Bernard’s house, or so I surmised. I was dressed in a long nightgown that was so large it could have fit three of me. There was a fat black stove in the middle of the room and the sound of fat popping out of a pan on top. I was overwhelmed by the most incredible smell of frying ham. I tried to get up, but I found that there was an enormous pain in my upper back, just above my right arm. I tried to raise my arm without thinking, but as my elbow reached the height of my shoulder I experienced such a shock of pain, I was left without breath and I had to slowly lower my arm to my side and rest for several moments to recover.

I got up out of bed with wobbling legs and I realized I was barefoot on a very cold, stone floor. I was determined to find my things and figure out who was cooking the ham and if could I eat some. If no one showed up soon I would claim it all for myself and apologize later.

As I began to gingerly walk towards the stove, any sway in my right arm sent waves of pain up my back into my neck where it would thud into the back of my head, like a hammer driving a nail deep into my skull. I made my way, with care, to the frying pan and saw three round slices of fat ham that was so pink and perfect I wanted to snatch them right out and eat them there. I reached for one, but as soon as I did I heard a woman’s voice from an adjoining room, “Hand’s off the bacon!” She cried.

“I was just going to flip them for you.” I lied.

“Mmmhmmm,” crowed the woman in the deeply sarcastic tone of all Mothers. “May I ask, ma’am, am I at Bernard’s house?”

A woman of middle-years instantly poked her head around the corner of the doorway. She had a weather worn, but kind face, with bright green eyes and a head topped by grayish hair. “Bernard Garrett is my husband,” she said coolly, “but rest assured young lady, this is my house.”

This last part she said with a straight face, but it made me smile and then she smiled and I felt at ease.

“Look at you in bare feet on this stone floor.” She came into the room and fetched me a pair of house shoes, which she dropped onto the floor in front of me. Bernard’s wife was portly and ungraceful, her stringy hair was tied back, but those green eyes were so shiny she seemed much younger than her forty or fifty years.

“You shouldn’t be out of bed,” she said as she began to guide me back to the little cot. I let her take me gently by my good arm and I shuffled back to bed. After, she sat me down and ladled me a cup of water from a bucket nearby and asked how my arm felt. I explained the pain in my upper back and that I couldn’t raise my arm.

“When Bernard brought you in, you both looked like death. It has been a long time since Bernard was in a fight. His face was pale and his arm was a mess, but he insisted on treating you first.”

“I wasn’t injured in the fighting,” I said.

“You had an arrow sticking out of your back!” cried Bernard’s wife.

Well, that was news to me! I raised my arm again, thinking to touch the spot in my back, but it flashed with pain like lightning and I stopped.

“Don’t touch it, foolish girl.” She said with a cry and gave me a little cuff on my good shoulder. “I’ve stitched it shut for now, but if you move around it will open up. Your arm will come back in time. You lost a lot of blood though, which is probably why you’ve been asleep these past two days." She clicked her tongue and leaned close, inspecting my face. "You’re such a pretty girl, I’m sorry that I couldn’t do much for your cheek. It’s a small cut, and I don’t think it will scar, but you never know.”

I put my hand up to my cheek and felt the thin diagonal cut that swooped near my ear. I had forgotten that Bernard nicked me with his knife when I was trying to rescue him.

“Gods! Don’t play with that either. Your hands are filthy, it will get an infection!” She cried. She was just like Mama, except bigger and livelier. Her fussing on me made me feel a little homesick. Mama would have rolled her eyes at my getting hurt, but she would have patched me up just the same. She was an expert seamstress and she had sewed shut my lower arm one time when I rolled off a horse into some barbed wire. Come to think of it, I had quite a few scars at this early stage of my adventures. I sat on Mrs. Garrett’s little cot and tried to count them by touch. Left forearm, barbed wire; right hand, horse bite; right index finger, torch burn; two left knuckles, flat from punching Morris Middle; puncture scar on my stomach, falling out of a tree onto a fallen log. Now I had two more. The one on my back would probably be two or three inches, but it didn’t bother me. The one on my face upset me greatly. I’m not vain, and I usually don’t care too much about my looks, but every girl wants to be pretty. I wanted to be pretty and deadly. That was my childhood dream; breaking hearts and breaking bones in equal measure, and now I would have a scar that was going to ruin that. I almost cried.

Mrs. Garrett did not have a mirror, so I had to content myself with imagining it and willing myself not to touch it. I knew if it got infected it would most definitely scar.

She fetched my clothes from the line outside. She showed me my shirt, where the arrow had gone through, which she had mended. There was still a faint outline of my blood where it had poured down the white cloth and pooled in my lower back. The stain seemed impossibly large.

“I couldn’t get all the blood out,” she said. “I used lavender and fennimus to get the smell out. I thought you’d been wearing it for a month!”

Mrs. Garrett had cleaned my whole outfit; she even got the mud off my boots and brushed my hat. Bernard was lucky to have such a woman around, especially in those days when men outnumbered women, and in some places two-to-one.

I dressed myself, with the help of Mrs. Garrett, and it only took ten minutes to get my shirt over my head. Walking was difficult, unless I kept my arm perfectly still, and even then every jostle or misstep sent a bolt of pain up my back. When it wasn’t stabbing me, it ached like an old horse on a cold day.

As the ham was ready and Mrs. Garrett fetched the tableware, Bernard came stomping in from outside, letting in a cool breeze that refreshed the room. He saw me awake and called in his clear voice, “Lady Stanton! Thank the Gods you’ve rejoined the world of mortals!” His smile was so big and genuine that it warmed me all over.

“Please call me Sam. I saved your life; you have to do as I say!” I said.

“I saved yours first!” He said with a laugh.

“Alright, that’s true. How’s your arm, mine hurts like hell.”

At this cuss Mrs. Garrett clucked her tongue and gave me such a glare. “I hope that this house doesn’t look like a brothel or a swill-house that such language would fall into common use, especially by a young girl.”

“Sorry, ma’am,” I said and touched my forehead in salute.

“Can you lift it?” asked Bernard, ignoring his wife.

I explained that I could not and he lifted his right arm to his shoulder, which clearly hurt him. I smiled; somehow it was so fitting that my saviour and I should be injured in the same spot. I wanted to ask him how bad the cut on my face looked, but I thought perhaps he would feel guilty for making it, so I figured I'd just forget about it.

We three sat down to eat the breakfast of ham and fresh eggs with goat’s milk and it was some of the best food I have ever eaten, not accounting for the fact that I hadn’t eaten a thing in two days.

After breakfast, Bernard had his wife fashion me a little sling to keep my arm from swaying overmuch. He then took me out on a tour of his apiary, which I learned was far more than just beehives. Bernard had two dozen goats, a few sheep, and an apple orchard. He explained that the bees pollinate the apples and the pollen feeds the bees. He had quite the farm and we talked a long while as we walked the bounds.

I asked him if he knew who had attacked me and how he showed up just in time. He clicked his tongue in a sad way and shook his head.

“What kind of time do we live in when men take advantage of any young lady they see?” He paused and I urged him to continue. “Well, when you left the bar, I ordered another drink to allay suspicion of us meeting in secret. As I watched from the bar, I spied two men—bastards, both of them—leave a few minutes after you. Both were watching you and keeping their eyes on me, in case I should prove to be your protector. I guess, in the end, their spears won out over their helmets. Excuse my crudeness.”

“They meant to-” I started and then gulped.

“Yes, but they didn't. And will not again.” He replied, gravely.

I had guessed it might have been the reason, but to hear it confirmed unsettled me deeply. I felt a chill spread across my shoulders.

“To think that if you hadn’t come along…” I started, but did not finish the thought. I did not want to give voice to the image of those two sweaty hogs thinking they could have their way with me.

“I gave one of them a hell of a surprise though," he smiled. "And you gave the second an equal surprise.” There was a flash of something in my head. Something I had wanted to ask Bernard about the encounter, but I could not close my mind around the question.

“Once you were on your horse the custos came. I was face down in the mud and I doubt he recognized me. He jabbed me with a spear and I was getting ready for him to flip me over so I could give him a cut, but you came instead and I cut you. I’m terribly sorry about that, Sam.”

I had forgotten about the cut on my cheek and I now touched it without thinking.

“It was an accident and I forgive you. But the next time I save your life I shall be far more careful.” We both laughed and he patted the top of my head roughly, in a kind, fatherly way. I felt good being there with Bernard and his wife, but deep down I knew I had to leave soon or else I would put them in more danger.

“Would the guard care that we killed two rapists? I mean, they attacked me first, don’t I have the right to defend myself?”

“Normally, yes. But one of those men was Tilar Harkour.”

My jaw must have dropped a hundred feet. Bernard and I stopped walking and he gave me a serious look.

“Harkour? As in the shipping company Harkour and Sons?” I gaped. The Harkour family was well known, all over Angland, as powerful, wealthy traders and merchants. It was said that the Harkours had many Lords in their pockets from Clover to the Forthlands, and they were even known in ports beyond the sea.

“Tilar was a bastard,” continued the big man. “He came to Gatewater a year back; some said because he was causing so much trouble for his father that he was banished from the company and the Capitol. Tilar hung off the Governor’s coat tails and terrorized the townsfolk. No one could do anything about it. The custos were his friends because he had money; they let him get away with anything.”

“I don’t believe that your status in Hudson’s Landing will earn you any type of reprieve from our Governor, Lady Stanton. The pressure is already on him to find Tilar’s killer. I’m certain that old Constantine Harkour will get word of what happened, if he hasn't already. He’ll probably guess that his stupid son got himself killed, but he’ll still want someone to pay.”

Bernard patted my good shoulder and smiled. I found little reassurance in his gesture.

“I shall fly from here, but what about you?” I asked. “Won’t the custos find out that you left the tavern after Tilar? They’ll put one and one together, won’t they? They’ll find you out.” I began to grow very nervous; it was a different kind of nervousness than when I was in danger on my own account. “This is all my fault.” I said.

“No, Sam. It was fate that led you here and led you to me. You must find your father. Events have been in motion for decades and they’ll...,” he drifted off and looked far away before continuing. “If you run from here and hide in some distant town, you may miss your chance to find your father." He continued walking then turned to face me. “Besides!” He laughed loudly, “No flying until your wing is mended!"

"You didn't happen to see a tall, slim man with a coal-black moustache come through around mid-winter?" I asked with a smile.

"The town gets many visitors, but I rarely meet them. Unfortunately, your best chance at a clue is down in Gatewater." I must have looked a little down for he changed the topic. "Did you know I cleared these hundred acres by hand?" He pointed to his orchard and to the pretty hill where his house sat curled around the hill's top, its thatch roof making it look like an old dog curled around on top of his bed. “When the Mrs. and I inherited this land, it was all woods. It took me two years to clear enough ground to start the apiary, then another two to get the apples going. I must have felled a thousand trees."

"Well, no wonder you're such a sure stroke with that hammer." I said.

"That hammer was my old axe until the head came off felling a tree."

"What kind of tree breaks an axe?" I asked with curiosity.

"Not a native tree to be sure, there was just the two on the whole property. I swung my axe with all my might. The tree came down, but the axe head was in pieces. I decided to top my axe with a chunk of that wood. Hard as iron. There's the one that still stands." He said with a smile.

We walked along the edge of Bernard’s apple orchard just as the apple blossoms started opening up for spring. He pointed out the iron tree perched on the edge of his orchard. As we approached it, I saw a heart carved onto the bark with initials inside of it. How romantic, I thought and I wandered over to see the initials. S.S. + E.D. it said in very neat, well-made letters. It instantly made me feel better. I had never been in love, well, once with my old Professor, and I imagined it was so sweet and wonderful—with hand-holding and picnics—that I let my mind wander to how this couple may have had a picnic in this very orchard. It took me a second, but as I looked upon the letters I realized they were the same as my parents and I smiled; Samuel Stanton and Emily Drake. I touched the letters, running my finger through each one as if carving them again, this time into my mind. I traced the heart with my finger and breathed deeply, wondering if maybe it was Papa and Mama. More than likely it was another couple with the same initials who picnicked there and left their mark, but I got caught up by the moment and my throat got a lump. I didn't cry, exactly, but I got tears in my eyes.

“That’s been there for years.” Bernard called from behind me.

I jumped a little; I had been lost in my own world. I wiped my eyes quickly with my sleeve and caught up with Bernard, who was loping along with great strides. "Who carved those initials?" I asked.

"I don't know, but I hope he broke his knife doing it. If I ever catch yonder ruffian we shall have words!" He sounded as if he were joking, but there was something else too.

"I had a dream about you. You said that copperheads were rampant in Angland and they wanted me for something. Nothing is as it seems, you said." Bernard stopped walking and turned to me, looking serious. "Those are my parent’s initials. Samuel Stanton and Emily Drake. Do you know my parents? Were they here?"

"No. I don't know your parents." He replied slowly and quietly. Then, with a half-hearted smile he said, "You were feverish; you lost so much blood we thought you might expire. I imagine the mind could conjure up all kinds of things in such a state." He stopped and looked out over his orchard, picking at a low branch as if it interested him. "I don't know why you came to Gatewater, Sam. Why did you sit next to me, why did you trust me with your tale... why, why, why. I have many questions and few answers. One thing I know for certain: nothing happens in this world by chance. I was there to help you, and it can only be to propel you along your journey in some way. I don't know where you should search for your father, but I know you must search."

"What did you mean before when you said events have been in motion for decades?" I stopped and looked up at him imploringly.

He furrowed his brow and looked at me square. Then he smiled weakly and said, "It's just a feeling I get, Sam. Like when you feel as if something you've dreamt is coming true. I get the feeling like I was meant to be in the tavern to meet you." I thought about it for a moment and it made sense, actually. I felt this trip was my destiny and this was the first part. I just didn't expect destiny to be out to kill me so quickly.

I suppose I shouldn't have been disappointed by what Bernard said. What were the odds that the first friend I would find would be able to tell me where Papa was? He did give me some comfort though, as he felt the same way I did about finding Papa. I simply had to, come what may.

What about Bernard then and his wife? I thought. I’m endangering them every day I remain. Perhaps I should leave sooner than later and save everyone a lot of trouble.

“I’ll be fine.” He said, answering my thoughts. “I have friends in the Watch if they come here, which I doubt. I have most of them convinced that bee stings are fatal, so they’re scared to come within a league of my stead.”

I laughed a little and he laughed too. I had been stung by many bees when I was little and they hurt like hell, but nothing a little raw onion couldn’t take away.

“Seriously though Bernard, I owe you my life. I can't have you blamed for my actions. Either I leave now and save you the trouble or I’m not leaving until I’m certain you’ll be safe.”

“Then I would anticipate a long stay, Lady Sam, for nothing in this world is more certain than uncertainty.”

We walked back to the house as rain was threatening. When it did come, it was with a sigh of weariness that echoed my own.

It took a week or more before I could lift my arm above my shoulder. It still hurt something awful, but Mrs. Garrett was a genuine country wife in that she could cook, clean, and mend wounds. On top of that, she was absolutely insistent that I stay until I could mount and dismount Master without aid. At first, the thought of staying made me nervous and I spent the first few days standing watch on the hill that looked down on Gatewater’s cemetery. Every tiny horse and rider that I watched pass on the main road looked menacing and gave my heart a jump. Any minute I expected to hear a thunder of hoof beats, from in front or behind, coming at me. I held my monoscope up to my eye to keep watch—it made far away objects look much bigger—though it was not Tech, it was close. I watched the road faithfully and saw no one turn up on Bernard’s little road, so I spent time thinking on Papa and my adventure to find him.

I was still overwhelmed with whom I had killed and I thought long about it as I kept watch. Papa had a run-in with Harkour and Sons in the Landing. A couple of years ago they wanted to buy some land to set up a trading port. Papa said the company always started with a little dock, but then used underhanded tactics to run other companies out-of-business. Papa called them a pack of liars, thieves, putrida, saboteurs, and snakes. They were not above bribery, arson, or murder; nothing was off the table when it came to making money. No one in the whole town wanted Harkour and Sons setting up so much as an outhouse.

I recall how half of the town showed up at our doorstep one night prior to Papa making a formal decision. They were yelling and carrying on; some had painted signs on boards and they chanted and carried torches. I thought they meant to burn us out and I remember Mama looking frightened and fetching Papa’s gun belt from where it hung in their bedroom. She rushed down the hall with the iron out, holding it clumsily and spinning the chamber with a free hand, blowing hard into it to clean the dust out of the ignis or firing caps.

She rushed up to Papa and handed him his belt. She looked so desperate I thought she would throw her skirt over her face and run around in circles. Papa calmed her down with a look. He had that way. He stroked his big moustache and said, “Not today, Emily. I will talk to these people, not shoot at them.”

“Don’t go out there, Sam.” She cried to him, “If you don’t give them the answer they want, they’ll burn us out!”

“And that will make them no better than the Harkours, would it not?”

“It’s a mob out there, Sam, not one man. You can deal with one man. Don’t go out there, at least make them send someone in!”

“You mean like a hostage?” Papa smiled. “That is not my way, Em.” Papa settled his wide hat on his head and opened the front door to a wild cry from the angry mob. In my memory, I can see a thousand faces outside our front window, but in reality, I don’t think there were a thousand people in our entire county.

I looked at Mama and she looked from the gun to me and back again. “You take it, Sammy. Just in case.” She shoved it into my hand. I had never held it before then, but I had seen Papa do so numerous times. It was heavy and I wondered how anyone could hold it up long enough to aim it straight. I took the gun in both hands and ran upstairs to my bedroom. I stood on my clothes chest to see out of my window and onto the little courtyard below. Papa was standing below and a little left of me, a few steps up from the mob. He was just as cool as a mountain creek as he regarded the angry faces before him. A burly fisherman named Bartholomew Custar was standing in the no-man’s-land between Papa and the mob, and he seemed to be speaking for them. I could not make out what they were saying, and I did not want to risk being spied by opening the window.

Bart Custar was throwing his arms up, pointing at Papa and yelling something that I couldn’t make out over the mob that yelled in reply to him. Bart then strode up and down the line, yelling something like, “No more Harkour,” and every time he did the crowd yelled it back in reply.

During this wild display from the mob, Papa stood there and regarded them from beneath his hat with a curious and concerned expression. Well, his body was curious and concerned, so it seemed. I could not see his face from my sharp angle. I ventured to open my window just a tiny bit so I could hear the exchange. When no one looked up I opened it further and I could hear old Bart chanting clearly and watched him turn towards the mob with his fist in the air.

“Well, what’s your answer, Governor?” Cried Bart at the top of his lungs. “Will you allow the Harkour bastards to infest our town like a pack of pestis rats? Or will you protect your people, as you have sworn to do?” From somewhere in the back of the mob a bottle came flying forward and smashed on the front steps of our house. I held the gun tightly and without aiming, cocked the hammer with both thumbs.

Papa did not flinch when the bottle exploded. Even Bart was furious and turned to the mob, screaming, “Enough! No violence upon our Governor! We wish only to speak and be heard!”

Papa looked back and forth over the angry faces and waited. One minute. Then two. He waited for them to quiet. And they did. One-by-one they shut themselves up until Papa was looking out over a silent crowd of cowed townsfolk. He took a deep breath and then began to speak, but quietly, in a normal parlour voice, like he was teaching me a history lesson or telling Mama how good a job she did of supper.

“People of Hudson’s Landing,” he began. “I am your Governor. Though I was born far away and the title was passed to me by my uncle, I have always endeavoured to govern in a just and fair manner. You wish to impose upon me your will with a show of force and I will not be swayed. I have never made a decision for a citizen of the Landing that wasn’t in the best interest of all Landers and I will not start today. Bart, when you wanted four boats to test the fishing waters up-coast, I gave them to you because it was in the best interest of the Landing. When the ale-house burnt down we rebuilt it, and I threw in my own labour alongside you Bart, and you Thomas, and you, Charlie Meeker.”

“Folks, mob rule is dead. It died with the Old Ones who used its idleness and its sloth to fashion the copperhead menace that still threatens us centuries later. They twisted it to ignore the suffering of many to benefit the rich. Democracy preyed on the ignorance of the common man, using it to fashion a world that he did not understand. Democracy poisoned the rivers and oceans and air. It obliterated great forests and hollowed out mountains. Our system is not perfect either and you may think it creates corruption in the leading man, and it may. But not this man. I cannot be swayed by mobs or money. If Harkour rode up here with a hundred armed men and tried to persuade me to sell him the land, should I listen to him?”

“No!” Screamed the angry mob.

“Then why should I listen to you? A man is intelligent, well-spoken, and a friend to other men. A mob is ignorant, angry, and violent. When you appear before me in this guise I cannot but rebuke you. My fellow citizens, for I am one too, you must trust that I will make the right decision for Hudson’s Landing. I will not be swayed by you or Harkour, but only by what I believe is right for all of us. With this, I bid you goodnight as my wife and my daughter need their sleep.”

He looked over and up to my little window and I instantly shrank back into the shadows. I heard the front door open and shut and I crept up to the window again. For a moment or two the mob stood in silence and then, slowly, they began to turn and walk away. Only Bart stood facing the house, looking crestfallen and lonely. Another of the townsfolk, his brother I believe, gave him a big pat on the shoulder and with that they both turned and left. Fear will make people crazy. Bart was a good man facing the unknown. Some men face it with nobility and some turn to passion and recklessness.

I pondered this and more mundane things in the days I spent with the Garretts’. Master was getting fat and my shoulder was healing enough for me to ride, but I had to climb up on a rain barrel to get on him without feeling pain. Getting off consisted of unsaddling left and sliding down with my arm pressed against my body, which was not graceful or easy. I was anxious to move along, partly to resume my adventure and partly to remove the Garretts from danger. And to my shame, I was mostly anxious to leave because I wanted to put the greatest possible distance between Gatewater and my hide, which the town surely wanted as well.

As if reading my thoughts, Bernard strode up to meet me on my little overlook. He was carrying a basket and I realized the sun was almost touching the hills and I hadn’t even had lunch. He was smiling as he always did and he demonstrated the strength returning to his arm by lifting the basket high over his head.

“Now, what kind of guest skips lunch and supper?” he said.

“The kind that is doing her level best to return a favour,” I sassed him.

“Lady Stanton, I appreciate your efforts, but my wife and I are more than capable of taking care of ourselves. If the Governor thought I was harbouring a fugitive, as you call yourself, then he would have sent his custos days ago. Are you sure you aren’t up here all alone just to be alone?”

“Maybe,” I said and looked back out over the road.

Supper was a hunk of fresh cheese with bread and honey and strawberries for dessert. I ate everything Bernard gave me and probably some of his portion too, but his manners demanded that he refuse to notice my overeating. As we ate and looked out over the orange horizon, I was surprised to see a dark shape, or speck properly, move off the main road and head up towards the cemetery. The speck was moving quickly and rounded the corner before it made its way towards Bernard’s road. It was a horse and rider and though he was small and I could not hear him, I knew the horse was winding hard. Beast and master were in a hell of a hurry.

Bernard motioned for me to pick up the basket, and our supper, and he pointed at a nearby grove of ash trees.

“Make your way there and stay deep inside until I give the signal.”

I did not reply, but quickly obeyed, if clumsily. I shoved everything into the basket and ran for the trees with Prick slapping against my back and me dragging the supper blanket behind. I dashed into the trees and kept going. The graying sky will obscure me, I thought, making me just one more shadow. The grove was thick with trees and underbrush caught my pants and shirt; more than once I threw my bad arm up to block my face from some stray branches. Pain teaches a lesson that the learner ought to learn; I could hear my Mama chime in my head.

About thirty paces in I stopped and turned around. I set the basket down and began to creep up so I had a half way decent view of Bernard. I had unsnapped the Professor without thinking and now held him out in front of me, low and at the ready. If the rider meant Bernard any harm I would first make my presence known, I decided, and then I would take life if needed. Twice now I had killed without a thought and I did not want that to happen again.

Bernard stood erect, facing the road with his eyes closed. I could hear the hoof fall clamouring up the dirt road toward us. It was a little horse with a quick gait, probably a superfell or a highland pony. The trees in front of me felt like a forest of bars and my breath quickened. I tried to calm it by taking long deep breaths, but that just made me feel short of breath. Papa had taught me to count to four with my breaths when shooting. Four in, four out. It was easier on the shooting range when there was little risk of the hay bale shooting back at you. Four in, four out.

The rider came into view, reining his little horse hard and cruelly. The little guy stopped about ten feet from Bernard and the pony crow-hopped and threw his head, nearly catching the rider in the face. I smiled.

The rider was middle age and small like his horse. I could not hear his speech, but he touched his hat at Bernard and Bernard nodded and smiled back at him. Bernard would smile at the devil himself, so I did not lower my gun.

I strained to eavesdrop, but it was in vain, so I decided to creep forward a few steps just to get a better vantage. I was sure the rider could not see me if I stayed low and quiet.

I took three steps and I came upon the most adorable little rabbit that was sitting up and twitching his nose at me. I thought he was just the cutest rabbit I had ever seen. He was still brown, with patches of his white winter coat swirled throughout. His back two feet were snow white, which made them look even longer. He had two short little ears, one of which he swung slowly from vertical to horizontal. In another time and place I would have caught this bunny and made him my pet, but then I watched in horror as the bunny decided I was a predator and sprinted away from me as fast as he could, straight toward Bernard and the rider.

I moaned an audible, “No,” which I quickly stifled with a slapped hand over my mouth. The rabbit crashed out of the grove and made straight for Bernard. The rider looked over to my very hiding spot and stared long... unnaturally long. He was staring directly at me, right through all the trees, and with the fading light he could still see me.

I froze, not trusting my instincts. Slowly, the rider turned back toward Bernard and saluted him again. He turned his gasping pony back toward the road and spurred him on. I waited, quiet as a miner's purse, for Bernard to give the signal. After an age or two of Bernard watching the rider go, he turned and nodded very slightly in my direction and then pointed secretly toward the farmhouse. I took it to mean that I should make my way back without leaving the woods.

I secured my gun and made my way back through the ash and birch toward the apple groves that bordered the Garrett's house. When we were both back at the house, I stepped out and met Bernard. He looked downcast for the first time that I had known him. His eyes were full of worry and he paced a little in front of the door.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

He looked at me and frowned, "It's worse than I thought."

"Are they coming?"

"Worse. I’ve been told to deliver you to them."

"How could that be, Bernard?" I whimpered, suddenly scared for my friend and for myself.

"That man was Boniface of the Carter's Guild and a lackey of Constantine Harkour. He told me the great fat slug himself is in Gatewater. Someone must have played the rat. He knows that you’re here and that I was involved in the death of his son. I’m to bring you to the Governor's office, unarmed, tomorrow at noon. If I don't deliver you then, my land becomes Harkour’s by default and he will still pursue you. If I do deliver you, then I am no better than the monster himself."

Bernard was chewing at his great forefinger while he spoke and it seemed he was only half talking to me. Meanwhile, I formulated a plan. Of course the first plan I came up with was terrible. As was the second. And the third. This was not Bernard's score to settle, and he and his lovely wife had already done so much to aid me when it seriously endangered them.

"I'll give myself up." I blurted out, surprising us both.

"You shall do no such thing!" he barked back.

"Hear me out! They know I'm here and that can't be undone, though I'm mighty sorry that I got you and your wife tangled up in this mess. There’s only one way to work this. I must surrender. If I fly, they will hold you responsible and hunt me anyway. If we fight, we will surely lose in the end. So the only thing to do is surrender to the Governor. Maybe I can talk to him and convince him to let me go back to Hudson's Landing or to give me a trial, at least! I’m sure that if we explain our side of the story—" I stopped and Bernard looked at me with doubt. "Those two men attacked us and meant to ravish me. Surely they deserved their fate. Papa had trials in the Landing where five people would decide the fate of the accused person.”

“There will be no trial, Lady Stanton. Gatewater is not a lawless place, but it’s not your Hudson’s Landing. If you surrender, you will surely be executed with no public forum to state your case. Harkour will see to that. The people of Gatewater are impotent to assist you, even if you could convince them that you deserve freedom. If you walk into that town you will not leave upright.”

Bernard frowned deeply and hunched his shoulders. It was so unlike him that it startled me. He slowly turned and plodded heavily into a little shed that rested off the house. Mrs. Garret, who stood by the door, dropped her ample frame into a worn chair by the entrance and refused to look at me, not from anger, but worry.

I followed Bernard to his shed. This was where he worked on his fishing lures, woodcraft, and such. The shed was so small and Bernard so big that his hunched shoulders looked like they would touch the walls of his shack if he were to inhale sharply. Sensing me behind him he spoke, "You know I always wanted a daughter. If I had one I imagine she'd be just like you."

I admit I didn't appreciate the weight of his words that day and only across the great distance of time do I understand the effect my adventure had on the Garretts. One thing I knew for certain was that I had placed them in great danger and the only cure was to face Constantine Harkour, face the Governor of Gatewater, and face my destiny.

“What’s the Governor’s name?” I asked. Bernard had never mentioned it and I hadn’t asked.

“Ember. Thoroughgood Ember.” He replied after a moment’s distraction.

“Ember, like Lord Roger Ember?”

Bernard half-turned. “Yes, Thoroughgood is his nephew. Do you know him?”

“I met Lord Ember when I was little. Papa spoke well of him.” I thought that perhaps I could speak to Governor Ember and impress upon him my status in the Landing and impressing on him that my papa and his uncle were friends. Perhaps I was going to be okay after all.
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