Chapter One. A Slow Beginning.
The four men were all who were left in the common room of the inn, their feet stretched out to the roaring fire in the grate.
“I think the pair of us will go to our beds my Lord.” Said the blond one of the two young men. “Goodnight my Lord, goodnight Sir Henry.”
The dwarf lifted a hand.
“Goodnight boys but be prepared for an early start tomorrow we have two more villages and a town to visit tomorrow.” He gave them a wide toothy smile.
“Goodnight Peter, goodnight Paul, sleep you well.” The Holy Knight said his large long face gentle and kind.
After they had gone he reached across and filled his compatriot’s glass with pale yellow ale from the large jug on the table.
“How is the beer Sir Henry?” He asked.
“Nothing like good dark Dwarven mead ale but palatable just the same and how is your wine my Lord Tomas?” His voice was deep and full of good humour.
“Like your beer palatable with out being anything special.” He nodded his thanks as his friend refilled his glass.
Both men fell into an easy companionable silence staring into the fires flames, both lost in their own private thoughts.
Prey is a relatively small town deep in the farmlands and forests in the Languedoc valley on the Engle main land and home of the Farmer family.
It was early spring with all the potential that that season brings at nearly midday when Tomas was born into the world. His parents where not surprised that he was a boy as his two year old sister had told them.
When she was asked how she had known he would be a boy she had replied simply ‘Our Lady told me.’
She looked up into her parents faces her bright blue eyes sparkling and said with unusual clarity.
“He will be a brave Holy Knight.”
She then ran away to play with her wooden doll her father had carved for her leaving her parents opened mouthed.
“His name is Tomas mummy.” She called.
He wasn’t given the name Tomas, much to little Sophia’s displeasure, at the naming service but instead was called Louis Henri, but it made no difference as she persistently called him Tomas and soon everyone did the same.
Sophia was ten and Tomas was eight when they were going through the market on that fateful summer’s day.
Ever since Tomas was born Sophia had spoken on occasions about the Holy Lady speaking to her but now things were to get very interesting indeed.
“Are we going to get some cheese Sophie? I like cheese.” Tomas asked excitedly making sure he had her hand securely in his.
“We shall see Tomas after I have got mummies shopping.” She said seriously.
“Hello Sophia, hello Tomas, what would your mother like today.” The stall holder called with a cheerful smile on her face. Most of the stall holders loved the two of them for their cheerful politeness and willingness to help.
“Some Almonds and flour please? Mummy said you’d know how much flour. We’re going to make some bread and cakes.” She smiled up at the woman and then spotted Tomas picking his nose. “Stop that that’s not very nice, Goodwife Veron doesn’t want to see what’s up your nose.”
“Sorry Goodwife Veron.” Tomas piped up while he craftily wiped the offending article of his finger on to his tunic side.
The woman laughed good-naturedly as she hobbled around to the barrel that contained the flour and then proceeded to weigh some into a small bag Sophia had given her.
“Is your leg still poorly Goodwife Veron?” Sophia asked sweetly.
“Why bless you for asking dear child.” She smiled warmly down at the diminutive figure and patted the braided corn yellow hair. “I’m afraid my old donkey has left its mark on me the stubborn old thing.”
She lifted up her shift and displayed the hoof shape cut and bruising on her thigh.
“It will heal in time my dear though Father Jules isn’t having much success in speeding that day closer.” She patted both children on their heads with affection.
“Have you prayed to Our Lady to heal you?” Sophia asked.
“Oh bless you child she has many more important things and people to deal with for me to bother her with this little thing.”
“You should you know.” Tomas piped up. “When I cut myself bad Sophia prayed for me and it all healed up.”
Sophia laid her hand on the woman still exposed thigh.
“I will pray for you.
Holy Lady, mother of all, heal this good woman leg and see the goodness I see in her soul.” She said seriously.
Veron felt a deep warmth flooding her leg as black smelling ichors dribbled out of the cut as the bruising diminished, then the cut sealed itself.
“There all better now. Come on Tomas mummy wants some eggs and garlic. Thank you Goodwife Veron.” Sophia took the bag of flour and almonds and carefully leaving the correct number of coppers behind skipped away leaving the astonished stall holder still staring at her leg.
“Why did you do that Sophia?” Tomas asked.
“The Holy Lady told me too. She wants me to do some preaching but not yet though.” Sophia replied with a beaming smile.
Later as they were leaving the market their baskets loaded with their wears, which included a small piece of cheese freely given to Tomas from one of the stall holders, they met up with two heavily gravid ladies with their servants.
They were the two young wives of the Chief Ranger Françoise Venison. Though it wasn’t against the law to have two wives it was very unusual, in fact they were the only ones for at least one hundred miles.
Another unusual fact was that the two women got on so well with each other and seemed like sisters rather than rivals for their husband’s affections.
Both ladies were in their late teens but there the similarity ended. Aurora was four foot six with dark hair and a willowy frame despite her pronounced gravid stomach, her almond slanting eyes, pointed lobeless ears and fine hair showing clearly her elfin lineage. Natalie was a powerfully build woman of a towering six foot six height with an open face that was swift to smile and a fountain of blond hair that poured down to her waist.
Sophia curtsied and Tomas made a good attempt to bow after being prodded in the side by his sister’s bony elbow.
The two ladies laughed cheerfully to see them.
“I am afraid nether of us are flexible enough to reply with curtsies of our own children.” Said Aurora.
“What’s flexible mean?” Whispered Tomas loudly.
“Bendy.” Sophia whispered back looking embarrassed.
“We have sent Henrik and Leon to help your father to plough the field, so he shouldn’t be too late tonight.” Natalie told them before clutching her stomach as she felt a twinge.
“Your babies will come soon.” Sophia said laying her hands gently on their stomachs.
“I hope so; mine seems intent to kick his way out. Did you feel that?” Natalie asked.
“Yes my Lady I did. They are boys and you will call them Peter and Paul after the Saints and they will become knights and protect my brother.” She said excitedly.
“Do you know we have just chosen those very names if they are boys just a moment a go.” Aurora said cheerfully. “We still can not agree on girls names though.”
Sophia looked up at the elfin woman sadly.
“I am sorry my Lady.” She said.
“Whatever for Sophia?” The other asked.
“Do not be afraid my Lady he will grow big and strong. He will help save the world and be loved and revered. Tomas will love him and look after him.” She curtsied once more. “We must go mummy’s waiting for us.”
With that they skipped away leaving the two bemused women behind.
The farmhouse where Sophia lived was nothing grand just a small croft building with a barn attached. It had two rooms on the first floor, if you could call it that, with the bedroom over the sheep pens in the barn.
Sophia was in the large kitchen where the bread oven was situated in the corner of the great fire grate where most of the cooking was done.
The bread was already made and Elizabeth was helping her daughter make some cakes with the spare dough and almonds.
Suddenly two large gnarled hands wrapped themselves around her waist and squeezed.
“I’ve missed you hansom. But don’t let my husband find you here he has a fearsome temper.” She warned with a sparkling laugh.
The man behind her was tall and powerfully built with a hansom lived in face.
“Then succumb to me now wench.” He growled deeply as he swung her round.
“Wench?” She replied with a imperiously raised eyebrow.
“Sorry it was the only thing I could think of.” He apologised before lifting her off the floor and whirling her around with a roar of laughter.
“I have missed you.” She said earnestly before giving him a long loving kiss.
“Oh that’s soppy.” Tomas said from the corner where he had been sitting chew on another piece of cheese.
“Yes, yes it is but I like it.” His father replied with a broad grin.
“It’s alright Tomas they are only playing.” Sophia explained with child like logic. “Mummies got to help the Ladies.”
Her father knelt down on one knee in front of them and spread his arms wide.
“Don’t I get a hug then?” He asked only to get bowled over by two charging bundles.
“Oh yes.” He said when he had extricated himself from the children. “The Ladies have actually started the early stages of labour and the birthing woman wondered if you could help her. I’m afraid I said you would before I knew what I was doing.”
Elizabeth looked across at her daughter with disquiet but only saw a little girl playing with her little brother.
At the Venison’s large home the births were progressing as expected in the two bedrooms.
At the ninth hour of the afternoon both women gave birth to a fine baby boy. They were to be called Peter and Paul. It was then that things began to go wrong.
“Goodwife Elizabeth I need your help!!” The birthing woman called from the other room.
With baby Paul in her arms she hurried into the Elf woman’s room to see her sitting in an ever expanding pool of blood.
“I can not stop her bleeding.” The woman was close to panic.
Working on pure instinct she scooped up the other boy and took the pair of them to the other mother’s room, placing them to her milk laden breasts.
Once back in Aurora’s room she called to the Birthing woman.
“Goudas has the afterbirth come away? Is it intact?”
“Yes. It came away as expected and is intact but I’ve never seen such as this before.” She looked up with fear on her face. “We need a healer!”
“There isn’t time. It is in our hands.” Elizabeth said trying to keep calm.
After working diligently for five minutes without success she looked up into her daughter’s angelic face and heard her speak.
Unable to move she watched as Sophia calmly knelt down and placed her little hand on Aurora’s forehead.
“It is all right my Lady the Holy one is waiting for you. Do not worry about Peter; he and Paul will grow up big and strong. They will be with my brother and he will love them and protect them as they will protect and love him.” She said gently. “You have nothing to fear my Lady see the Holy one is at the door to lead you through.”
Aurora’s eyes flickered open.
“Truly?” She asked hesitantly.
“Yes truly my Lady, he and Paul will help save the world.”
“I am glad. Bless you child.” Aurora closed her eyes and slipped away.
“Sophia what are you doing here?” Elizabeth asked once the frozen moment had passed.
“Sorry Elizabeth?” The birthing woman asked as she checked for life signs. “Oh dear lord she has slipped away. She’s gone.”
Elizabeth looked down at the woman.
“I was speaking…” She looked up to find that there was no sign of Sophia anywhere. “I was speaking about my Sophia she was very fond of the two mothers.”
“I see but I’m afraid that will have to wait. We have our respect to the dead and the care of the living to do first.”
It was the early morning when she slid into bed beside her husband and peered at her daughter in the other bed.
He rolled over and took her into his arms.
“Did everything go alright wife.” He kissed her forehead.
“No, the Lady Aurora died. The babies are fine but she just slipped away.” The tears that she had held back all this time began to flow. “How were the children?”
“Fine. I told them some stories and ate nearly all of Sophia’s cakes. They fell asleep on my lap bless them so I put them to bed, why?” He stroked her fine hair.
“Nothing my love just worried how we can tell them.”
He drew her to his hairy breast.
“That is for tomorrow now sleep darling.”
She nodded but couldn’t help looking across straight into her daughter’s deep blue knowing eyes.
She yawned and fell into a deep restful sleep.