MELNOR’S TOWER

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Chapter 29: THE PRINCESS

It took days to learn the area and some of the people. They were traders looking for business. Of the King, they saw nothing, but they did learn that he had two daughters of marriageable age and that they had been very lucky. A major trade period was soon to be held and it had been announced that at the trade that all eligible bachelors would be introduced to the girls. In a very short time, there would be no place at all to keep their horses, much less, to sleep. Barrett asked his brother if he would be going to the introduction ceremony.

“Not on your life! They are probably spoiled brats. I’ll find a woman that appreciates the outdoors and life in the woods.”

“I believe that you would find such a woman attractive. For myself, I think that I would like to meet the Princesses. I’ve never met a Princess before, even if you are probably correct.”

Although they all played the trader, Grimley and his woman friend spent time in the back alleys looking for the darker side of the kingdom. His size if not his happy demeanor, lead credence to his assertion, that he dealt with the darker side of civilization. The occasional argument usually won his point as he fought quickly, and dirty, though he rarely did any harm unless they came at him with a vengeance. The woman never left his side; looked dangerous and exotic. Any who wished to sample her, walked away limping, if they walked away at all.

It was in this fashion; he met the master trader that was in charge of the town behind the scenes. Curiously, this man was named Parry, the same name as their friend. He was late middle aged and well in control of the people in which he surrounded himself. Through him, they learned of the existence of paths to other towns, in the south to the plains trading area and some of the easier paths to reach Red Valley and Oman. What he didn’t know about, was the existence of the bridges. They were too new for the news to reach this far out. He gave them rough directions for the routes.

Garrett visited the farmers and ranchers, especially the ranches that specialized in horses. He finally took a part time job as a groom’s man. Essentially, he took the job to meet the wealthy that rode horses out of that more prestigious barn. This barn handled many of the king’s horses as well. He hoped to meet someone that could help him meet the King. As a Prince of Oman, it might be valuable to know the man or at the very least, his advisers outside his home as a man and not as a King. Indeed, he did meet many of the advisers and many guests and was on a first name basis with those who did not look down on him because he was only a ‘grooms man’. Late one afternoon after mucking out the stalls, sweaty and shirtless, he saw a carriage pulling up to the building. There was no other course but to handle the carriage as he was, suitable or not.

“Sir, Miss, may I take charge of your animals?”

The young man that escorted the girl took full charge without a care to her wishes. “The carriage needs to be wiped down for the road was dusty. It has a permanent place out back.” Pointing at the side of the carriage, he said, “This emblem is to be matched with the emblem at the back of the barn. I suppose you can do that. This is where I keep the carriage. The leathers must be lightly oiled, and hung outside the stall. The same emblem will identify the stall. Walk the horses before you do anything after taking off their tack and then brush them down.”

Bowing lower than the man deserved, Garrett replied, “It will be done as you have instructed, sire. Do you wish me to increase their oats when it is time for their feeding? I am sure they worked hard for their meal.”

The man never caught on to the sarcasm, but the girl did and smiled where the man would not notice.

Over the weeks, it became a cat and mouse game, in which Garrett would verbally snub the man lightly when he deserved it and didn’t see it because of his officious nature. He varied his tactics enough, so that he would not be caught out.

The girl was apparently one of the Princesses. Eventually, he was able to identify her as Serena the eldest and not her younger sister Karina. They were twins, but nobody would mistake the older for the younger sister because they were not identical. Serena was taller, looked much more regal and would be Queen when she took her father’s place. Her sister would remain a Princess and live in comfort without the strains of leadership unless something happened to her sister.

Serena should be protected for the good of the kingdom and although this was not his kingdom, he had standards that he would live up to. He would always be Prince to his older brother. He did what he thought was right, he watched over Serena and protected her just as a Prince was supposed to watch over those who needed watching. So far, none of the young men that took her on a carriage ride were worth her time, and it was rumored, she only took the best prospects out on a carriage ride. It seemed that she was taking carriage rides more and more often instead of dining out or going to a dance.

Barrett and Parry Cooper worked as a team. They looked for, and found people who produced product that could use barrels for storage. They also looked for different trade items that they could take home. Their stock from the Woodkind, guaranteed that they would have easy trading.

Parry Cooper still made hard bargains and gained his fair share of respect for his barrels. Only a few had made it this far and the ones that he brought with him were welcome, with or without the contents. This was a fertile plateau and ripe for outside traders that brought new trade stock. Barrett eventually left the trading to him and pursued his own interests. A young woman had caught his attention.

Back at the stables, Serena came riding bareback on one of the carriage horses across the field. “Quick! Go get an arms man. My escort was attacked by a boar!”

Garrett nodded as he ran into the barn. He came out riding, fully armed and sporting a long shaft. Reaching down to her, he grabbed her by her off hand and swung her up on the saddle behind him. She gave what help she could as he gave her no choice. Riding off into the direction that he had seen her come from, they were well down the road before she even had time to catch her breath.

“How far, do we go…?” He began to ask when he saw the carriage. The carriage was fine but the man lying by its side was not. “What happened? You weren’t hunting and boars do not attack for any reason.”

Behind him, he could feel her tense before she spoke. Normally, a Princess would not speak ill of a man courting her. “He was trying to show his bravery. I say he was simply being foolish. I think that the boar was protecting her young.”

Looking behind the wagon, he saw a spot of blood that must have tracked from her feet when she left the scene. Pulling the horse into a full gallop, they sprinted the short distance until they found the man. He was gored in the leg and would have been bleeding profusely, except that he had managed to tie it off before falling into a faint. Looking to her as he jumped off the horse, he asked; “Can you call on M’Lady?”

Trembling at the sight, she replied, “I can only try.”

“Good enough. You try, I’ll try and we will ask him to try if he simply wakes up. In the meantime, let’s get him over to the wagon. It isn’t large, but will have to do.” The carriage was tandem rigged and she had taken the front horse. This meant that the heavier, wheel horse was the one still harnessed. Managing the weight of the man by himself, he had her arrange a spot for him to lay the man down in. Helping her into the seat, he turned to mount his horse and join them on the short road home.

“Watch out!” Serena called.

Garrett started to turn and then jumped straight up! The boar passed under him and he landed reaching for the long pole. Spinning to face the boar, the boar turned to face him, steadfastly, he faced the boar as it charged! The back of the pole, he planted firmly into the ground behind him. He caught her straight down the throat and the shaft plunged so deeply into the shaft that when it stopped, his hands were practically inside the mouth and blood gushed all over him!

“Go! He needs help!”

“But all that blood?” She questioned.

“It will all wash off. Where do I go to find you?”

“Go to the main doors of the big house. Ask Joseph, in the name of M’Lady, where the healer is. I will have sent a message over for you. What is your name?”
He smiled. He had actually gotten her to notice him. “My name is Garrett VoJohn. My brother is Barrett.”

She was a bit puzzled as to why he so easily mentioned his brother’s name but let it go. Maybe, the solution would be easier than the question. She rode off with a backward glance. He was field stripping the boar and preparing to bring in the meat. Not a bad idea. Sadly, she wondered if there really were young.

Serena made it back in time to save the man’s life, though he would be a bit scarred and limp for the rest of his life. She was glad that he lived, but wanted little more to do with him. However, she wondered about Garrett. He seemed to be intent on keeping the meat and probably took it to the kitchens. It wasn’t until the next day, she was told to meet her mother and father at lunch.

“Serena, who is this young man, that has invited us to lunch?”

“What do you mean? When were we invited to lunch?” They walked into the dining room and saw the table dressed with a fully cooked boar, vegetables and four wine glasses. Her mother went to one end of the table and held out a note to her “I believe that this is addressed to you, daughter.

The note written in a clear, legible hand, bold in script and quite to the point, said;

Princess Serena:

I gift to you and your parents this meal.

I would most respectfully request my presence.

Sincerely, Garrett VoJohn.

Both parents turned to look at her. “I was meaning to speak to you about yesterday.”

“Perhaps we should talk with this young man and see what he remembers about yesterday.” Her father was a stern man and although he knew the value of making bonds with other families, he was protective of her.

Serena spoke with the server and one of the arms men came over. “If there is a Garrett waiting outside, please invite him in.”

Shortly, Garrett came striding in, towering over the other man with a big grin on his face. “That boar is cooked to perfection. I watched the cook set it up and checked on it when they said it was ready. Thank you for having me over.”

The King and Queen were awestruck. The man looked and spoke like royalty. He had manners and the wit and ability to save her and the guest.

His daughter interrupted his thoughts. “Garrett. Were there young?”

He nodded. “Five babes are waiting for your attention at the pig sty. They are being suckled by one of your prize hogs.”

“Would someone please tell me what is going on?” The Queen asked.

“Mother; I was being escorted by one of the young fools that are knocking down our doors. While on our ride, he got foolish enough to shoo away a boar. Big mistake! She had young and attacked him. I rode back for help and instead of getting an arms man, this groomsman saddled up and rescued him, killed the boar; field dressed it and brought it back for dinner.

“I suggest that we eat before it gets cold.”

Serena looked to her father to take the lead. Not shy to do so, he said, “Sit. Tell us a little about yourself, where you come from and what your business is. You know my daughter Serena and have possibly met Karina.”

Nodding, Garrett began. “My brother Barrett, Trader Parry, our friend and I came this way to begin trade negotiations with your kingdom. I come out of Oman, but Trader Parry comes out of Red Valley.”

“What type of traders are you? You didn’t bring enough trade items to survive on trade alone. There was one other in your party.”

Garrett paused in his explanation. “Parry is the trader. The rest of us came along to help him find a safe trade route. We also traveled over to the Woolfolk and made our introductions there. We recognize M’Lady as does our guide from that land. She brought us across the divide.”

Their eyes opened a bit wider, he asked. “How many tendays did it take you to cross?”

“She showed us a pass, so it only took a tenday to cross. We fed ourselves on the trail. Along the pass, we left the wagon behind and had to cut up some of our hides, but we found when we got here that we could have just left all of them at home. You have some fine hunters here.” Apparently, this was a good answer, because the older man stopped asking questions and began eating. The Royal Family and Garrett joined in.

Garrett spent the next tenday at the trade fair being escorted everywhere by Serena. Many men were disappointed by their difficulty in gaining an assignment with her. Garrett came to know and love the region as much as his home. He thought his desire for her was private but their outward body language gave them away. Confronted with their growing attraction, they were eventually forced to face it.

Barrett, on the other hand, was actively pursuing the ladies. One in particular caught his attention. She was dark of hair and full of figure to the point of being a little overweight. He had heard that she was the younger Princess but didn’t believe it. She mixed well with the people, took verbal abuse like a normal person and walked without any guards. The few times that he interacted with her, he found that her sense of humor was a bit ribald, but mostly fun. When she thought nobody was watching, she seemed to be a bit self-conscious. How could he get her attention?

His chance came far sooner than he expected. Karina loved buying treats from traders and visiting a wide range of people. Since Barrett and Parry were visiting many of the same people, they ran into her quite often. It took quite some time for them to realize that she was someone important and let her handle her own affairs until finally there was an emergency.

“I’ll give you five for a sausage.” Karina offered small coin for the food.

“Six.” The man’s voice was adamant.

“Four,” Karina insisted.

“Seven.” He sounded a little nasty.

Getting in his face, she replied, “Final offer. Three coin!”

He pounded on the counter. Before he would act, another man came along and interceded. The man was bigger than Grimley but not quite as big as the blacksmith and he was preparing to pound on the trader.

“HALT!” Barrett barked. He used a command voice. Few people that heard him command could fail to pause. “Consider what you are interrupting. This trader is only practicing his trade and Karina is trading with him. If you check her hand, you will find three coins, and he has a sausage ready and waiting, the way she likes it, underneath the counter. He made it and put it there just after she walked in.”

The big man gave him a curious look. Karina looked back at him, causing the traders hand to fall away. As they separated, the big man backed off, leaving a neutral tableau. With peace suddenly returning, the tenseness dissipated. Barrett walked outside to give everyone peace. Shortly, Karina followed everybody else, her business here concluded. Tiptoeing up behind him, she asked, “You came in after I did. How did you know that he was prepared and that I already had my coin ready?”

Barrett shrugged a little too innocently. A slight blush crossed his face and she looked him in the eye. “You’ve been watching me!”

“Yes.” Barrett spoke under his breath. She made him feel…different.

“I have seen a lot of you with Trader Parry, the Cooper.”

“Would you care to tell me about yourself, since you already know much about me?”

“Actually I know almost nothing about you except rumor and guesses.”

“Where are you from?”

“My name is Barrett. I, and a few others, came here to establish a trade route between Oman and your fair land. We have already determined that trade with the Woodkind will only come on their terms and at their own pace. They are too private and live in a different world.”

“You are too correct. We have been trying for generations to simply, gain an emissary for trade with them. We seem to have nothing they want, except possibly peace. We have at least, given them that much. What is it you would trade with us?”

Again, the blush appeared lightly on the side of his face that his beard did not cover. “We trade with a variety of islands and smaller ports as well as Red Valley. They trade more often than do we with the Plainsmen. Regular trade would enhance communication and spread ideas. Sometimes a new discovery only awaits the simple knowledge of a stranger to create the solution to a problem that has been around for years. Both of our peoples would benefit from breeding stock from another land.” His voice softened as he continued. “There are opportunities available here that are not available at home.” His eyes cast downward, avoiding her gaze, forcing her to notice his interest in her than more than a trade representative.

For her part, she had noticed him as well. As her father’s daughter, her mate would not likely be a choice in the bedroom. She would probably marry for the necessity of politics. This still did not keep her from looking and wishing. “Perhaps, I can have you speak with my father. If he so allows, we can spend time together building a plan for trade.”

He looked up, directly into her eyes and she felt her heart skip a beat. The blush on her face would be much more apparent, so as she turned away to pick up something, anything nearby, she asked, “The route to Red Valley is blocked by the Red River. The trip to that port is long enough that the trip to Oman would likely be prohibitive.”

“The river has been spanned by a bridge that cuts travel time by quite a bit. The real problem is finding a good path that can handle a wagon. Parry has already established a wagon path to the south and I am sure that the Guild has a few paths already established, but we don’t know them here.

A gleam in her eye made him pay particular attention to her next statement. “Father may know someone that can get that answer. Wait! Didn’t you say Parry?”

“Yes, Parry the Cooper. He is a trader in our town. He trades to the south on a regular basis and wants to expand to the north. Why?”

She smiled and shrugged. “It’s nothing. My father deals with a man named Parry all the time, but I haven’t heard that he was a cooper. In fact, there are no coopers in the area. He does make the barrels that I’ve seen occasionally?”

“Probably, he learned the trade while he was on a trip down south.”

They found themselves walking side by side as they moved through the town, she linking her arm in his. They seemed to have no destination, but they ended up at her residence. She turned to him and asked, “Why don’t you come in and meet my father?”

The place was grand, almost as huge as the grounds that he grew up on. It didn’t have the defensive knee walls that surrounded his home, but it had the barns, fields and practice areas for soldiers and guards. The gate was not watched, but it could be barred and the brush that took the place of the wall was tall and well-tended. “This reminds me of home.”

“You live on a ranch?”

“Long ago it was a ranch. These days it is a bit more.”

She asked no more as a messenger interrupted them. “Your father was asking for you. He is in the reception room.”

Looking at the messenger, she asked, “Is there a problem?”

“Not unless you, or this young man, bring him one. He has a guest that your sister brought in. I fear that she is smitten with him. Excuse me if I speak out of turn.”

She nodded as she fully expected him to speak candidly. Barrett smiled. His mother and father frequently accepted such light gossip from their help and he had grown up expecting it. It was only that the man was apologizing that made him notice.

With her arm still hooked in his, she dragged him into the room. Immediately inside the room, she stopped cold. The man that her father was talking with was obviously the missing brother. While she stood there, her father stood to invite her over.

As perceptive a man as a King must be, he was a bit flustered when he noticed the protective stance that his second daughter took with yet again, another stranger. Definitely, this was the brother of Garrett. Their build was similar and many features were alike. “Well met Barrett. Please come and join us. We have some serious discussions about trade to finish. Your brother explained Parry’s plans. We have much to consult with.”

The six of them talked into the night trading tales of the lands they each lived in and visited. Barrett and Karina sat at the table companionably building family bonds that would carry them through many troubles, successes and start a trading venture that enriched all of their lives and kingdoms.

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