Arric folded up the letter and tucked inside his notebook. “Why is his mother forcing him to marry Count Asgreen’s daughter if she is so horrible?”
“I forgot you’re not from round these parts. The Queen isn’t Prince Blaise’s mother. King Merrick was the late King’s grandson and he was only sixteen when he inherited the throne. When he was eighteen he married his childhood sweetheart, Lady Amalie, and they were as happy as can be. A year later Prince Blaise was born. King Merrick was a good ruler who cared for the people and Queen Amalie; she was as sweet natured as you could want. Prince Blaise takes after her in that.” Jed sighed “She died when the Prince was four. They say the heel of her shoe caught in the hem of her dress and that’s what caused her to tumble down the stairs but no-one knows for sure. She died instantly from a broken neck. Poor King Merrick was overcome with grief. He was a shadow of his former self but he looked after the kingdom and he was devoted to Blaise. When Blaise was seven King Merrick married the current Queen. Once she’d got him wed she showed her true colours. She got rid of Sir Hugo who was Chamberlain and installed Count Asgreen. The King never had a day’s illness in his life before he married her. He never had a day’s good health after. He died when Prince Blaise was ten. A few months before he died the King and his council passed a decree that Queen Karmella would rule in her own right until the prince reached twenty one. I doubt it was what King Merrick wanted but by then everyone on the Council owed their allegiance to Asgreen and the Queen.” Jed lapsed into silence and stared into space with a grim expression.
Arric was appalled. “That’s awful. Of course I’ll do what ever it takes to get Blaise out of there but I’m only learning and Count Asgreen could easily recapture us.”
“He could. We haven’t got long because the Lady Letitia is due back from the south in three weeks time. There will be a grand ball at which the betrothal will be announced. Now I’ve had an idea. Sir Hugo was the former Chamberlain. He’s getting on a bit but he’s still alive. You have to go and see him. You can ride there in two days.”
“I can’t ride. Also I must tell Beattie so she doesn’t worry.”
Jed tutted “You’re a magic user. You can ride and heal yourself if you get sore. I brought one of the horses that are kept for the servants to use. It’s in the stables at the Three Feathers.” He fished in his pocket “Here’s the directions to Sir Hugo’s manor and five silvers which should be enough to cover the costs of staying at Inns.”
Arric had some sympathy with Blaise’s gentlemen in waiting as he dismounted or more accurately fell out of the saddle outside the Drum and Monkey. He’d never ridden a horse in his life and the ground seemed a long way down. He’d got the hang of the reins and steering after about ten minutes but mostly he’d just bounced along hoping Mayfly wouldn’t suddenly decide to get rid of the sack of potatoes on his back. He paused for a bit of swift healing on his backside once his feet were safely on the ground. Beattie looked up from her mending in surprise.
“What are you doing back so soon?”
“I need a week off. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t vitally important.”
“So why do you need time off?”
Arric explained that he needed to visit Sir Hugo for Prince Blaise and Beattie’s expression grew more astonished by the minute. When he paused for breath she interjected
“The palace suddenly run out of servants that they need you?”
“No this is sort of unofficial because I’m Prince Blaise’s friend.”
Beattie fixed him with an accusing stare “Since when have you been friends with royalty?”
Arric squirmed. He felt guilty and embarrassed about not telling her. “Nearly a year.” He muttered. “I didn’t know who he was at first. He started popping in for an ale on Monday afternoons.”
Beattie shook her head. “Wonders will never cease. Well go on then you’d best get about His Highnesses’ business not dawdling in a common ale house.”
Arric ginned “Thank you Beattie and I’ll be back soon.” He hurried off to pack a spare shirt and a few other necessities.
He rode north until he reached the town of Longstane where he took the east road that crossed the river Alcher. He got to Bearwood as it was going dark and staggered into the Dancing Bear. After some serious muscle healing he was able to sit down to eat his meal. The next day he kept heading north eastwards and the countryside gradually became more wooded. Mid afternoon he found the three standing stones and as directed took the track that headed down into a large valley. The woods were beautiful. The trees were mostly oak and beech and he rode along feeling pleased with himself. His apprehension about riding had proved unfounded. He hadn’t fallen off and the use of magic removed soreness at the end of the day. While he’d never be an expert horseman like Blaise he felt he’d mastered the main principles which were to relax and listen to the horse who knew what it was doing.
He almost missed Sir Hugo’s manor since he was looking for gates and a driveway. Instead there was a board tacked to a tree that had the words ‘Redfern Manor’ and an arrow painted on it. If the board hadn’t been bright pink he probably would have failed to notice it. He turned Mayfly on to the grassy path down which the arrow pointed. Ten minutes later the woods opened into a large clearing in the middle of which there was a ramshackle, thatched and half timbered house that looked more like an overgrown cottage than the sort of imposing residence he’d expected a retired court chamberlain to inhabit. There were flowerbeds and shrubberies all of which were a bit overgrown. In front of the house was stretch of grass that could almost be called a lawn.
He dismounted wondering what to do. Three steps led up to a terrace in front of the door and he could hardly take Mayfly up there, on the other hand there was absolutely nothing to tie him to. While he was hesitating a man burst out of the shrubberies and panted to a halt in front of him. He was clad in a red and yellow floral pattern robe with a roll collar and two big patch pockets. It was tied with a blue cord and on closer inspection it looked more like a dressing gown than a wizards robe. He was wearing rubber boots with a daisy pattern and clutching a big pink floppy hat with more daisies.
“Have you seen Timmy?” He mopped his brow and looked hopefully at Arric.
Arric shook his head. “Sorry, no. I’ve come to see Sir Hugo. It’s urgent.”
“Well I’m Sir Hugo but whatever it is will have to wait until I’ve found little Timmy. Hang on a minute. I’ll get my apprentice.” He took a deep breath and bellowed “Mordi!”
An answering yell floated out of an upstairs window “Yes. What?”
“We’ve got a visitor and little Timmy’s done a runner.”
A man’s head appeared at the window. He was wearing a black beret and the shoulder length hair that stuck out from underneath it was a startling green.
“Yes come and welcome him. You know tea and stuff. Got to find Timmy.” Sir Hugo darted back into the bushes as the man jumped out of the window.
Arric had a heart stopping moment until he realised the man was floating down rather than falling. He landed in front of Arric and smiled
“I’m Mordi. Hello. Who are you?”
When Sir Hugo had said apprentice Arric had expected someone about his own age but the man in front of him must have been fifty if he was a day. He was tall and thin and if Arric had thought Sir Hugo’s attire was unusual Mordi’s out did it. He was clad in a peacock blue dress with a pink sash tied in a bow. The outfit was finished off with sturdy boots; pink, sparkly, sturdy boots.
“I’m Arric. I’ve come on urgent business for Prince Blaise.”
“Well if it’s for the Prince we’ll do what we can. Tea?”
Arric nodded and a cup appeared in front of him. He stared at it in confusion for a split second then as it started to fall he reflexively made a grab for it. He caught it without spilling much and breathed a sigh of relief. Mordi turned towards the house and Arric said “What about my horse?”
“Oh sorry didn’t know he liked tea.” A bucket appeared on the ground in front of Mayfly who eyed it dubiously. After a good look at it he stuck his head in and started drinking noisily.
“I didn’t know he liked tea either” Arric said “I was more thinking about him wandering off if we left him.”