Two Heirs (The Marmoros Trilogy Book 1) (7 page)

BOOK: Two Heirs (The Marmoros Trilogy Book 1)
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“Sam Wainer, milord. He and Manny were best friends…. Oh my god.”

“Exactly. Ash, I want you in the saddle now. Get after him. Take one of your best men with you but don’t tell him where you’re going until you’re clear of the camp. Find
and check that bag of provisions. If it is only provisions, let him go. If not bring it back and I don’t care what you do with him.”

Ash bowed and was out through the tent flap in one fluid motion.

“I’m sorry, my lord,” Bern stammered. “I should never have let him go.”

“No, it’s not your fault. You can’t blame yourself for this. You weren’t to know. None of us were. And we’re not even sure that’s where the money has gone. But for now it has to be business as usual. Bern, can you organise the village’s provisions onto a wagon to go back and then call the men together. We need to bury Manny and then I’ll talk to the men.

“Marta, can you stay for a couple of minutes longer please.”

Raising his voice he yelled, “Jaks. I take it you’re lurking somewhere within earshot.”

A couple of moments later a tousled head appeared through the tent flap.

“Yes, milord,” he grinned. “’Ow can I help?”

“Run and find the Lady Falaise and ask her if she would be kind enough to spare me a few moments of her time.”

“Course she will, milord. She’s got nothing better to….”

“Jaks. Just go and ask her, please. And be polite.”

He turned to find Marta looking at him curiously. “Well?” he enquired, raising an eyebrow.

“Leyla told me what you said to them last night.”

“And…Is it going to cause a stir?”

“Oh, it will cause a stir alright. But I don’t think it’ll be a problem.” She paused for a moment. “What are you planning on doing about the slaves?”

He gave a little laugh and smiled at her. “I knew I was right to invite you into my council. You’re quicker than most of the men round here. Well then, you tell me. What do you think I’m going to do about the slaves?”

“I think you’re going to free them.”

“And is that going to cause a problem?”

Marta shrugged. “It will generate more work which will have to be shared around. There may be some grumbling at that.”

“And the slaves themselves… Are they from around here, this region or from further afield?”

“Most of them are from places I’ve never even heard of, milord.”

“So if I freed them and then offered to keep them on as servants, those that wanted to, how do you think they would react?”

She thought about that for a minute. “I don’t know, milord. I’ve never been a slave myself and so I can’t say for certain how they would react. What does freedom mean to someone who has been a slave? What would you do with your freedom if you had it? You might lose some of them… probably will. Others might have been slaves for so long that they don’t know any other life. Or have anywhere left to go back to.”

“And will you support me, Marta, if I do this?”

“Milord, you are the leader of this company now. If you want my oath of allegiance, I will willingly give it alongside Feynor.”

“That’s not what I mean. In order to lead this company, I will have to make decisions on all sorts of different matters. But I’m not infallible. I don’t want your allegiance Marta. Or at least I don’t just want your allegiance. I want your advice. If you think I’m going down the wrong path at any time, will you tell me?”

“Well I’m sure I don’t know why you think I can advise you, milord. But I give you my word that I will always speak my mind.”

“That’s all I ask, Marta. That’s all I…” He broke off at the sound of voices raised outside the tent.

“Please tell Lord Held that I am here but that I will not, under any circumstances, set foot inside that tent.”

He looked at Marta and smiled. “First it was the chair. Now it’s the tent. I think I’m starting to get a complex about this.

“Shall we”, he said, holding open the flap for her to pass.

Outside they found Falaise standing with her arms crossed and Jaks hopping around from one foot to the other, looking most uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry, milord”, he began.

“That’s all right, Jaks. That will be all for now.”

Jaks turned to go but as he reached the corner of the next wagon he turned to give a wink and his broadest grin.

Held shook his head in despair and fought to keep a smile off his own face as he addressed Falaise.

“Thank you for coming, my lady. And I’m sorry if I caused you any embarrassment.”

Her face softened slightly. “You didn’t. I was just being silly. I know it’s not
tent anymore.”

“It’s not a problem, my lady. We can speak just as well out here. You know Marta, of course.”

“I do.” Falaise nodded in her direction. “She has shown me some kindness in my time here.”

“I’m glad of it and not in the least surprised”, he continued. “As you know this company is now under my leadership and, as such, some changes have been made already and more will be made over the coming few hours.

“Firstly my lady, I wish to apologise on behalf of the company for the treatment you have received over the last week. If I could give you back that week, I would but I’m afraid that is not within my power. All I can do is offer my sincere apology and my regrets.”

“What was done was not under your command, my lord,” she acknowledged. “And I would like to think that, had you been in command, it would not have happened at all. Nevertheless I am anxious to be reunited with my husband and my people.”

“Of course. The supplies that were taken from your people are being loaded onto a wagon as we speak and will be returned also. We will set out as soon as I have completed some formalities around the camp.

“However”, he continued. “I am reluctant to return yourself in the same manner as the supplies, riding in the back of a wagon like one of the sacks of grain. You can, of course, sit a horse?”

“I can,” she agreed. “But there is no need. I would not be discomfited riding on the supply wagon.”

“With respect, my lady, you miss the point. Changes must not only be made, they must be seen to be made. Leaving your people as a hostage in the back of a wagon and returning as a lady on horseback would send a powerful message, not only to your people but also to the men of this company, that things really have changed.”

“I see. So you, my lord Held, are in reality no better than that barbarian before you. You both seek to use me to your advantage.”

“No, no. It’s not like that”, he began then stopped, looking down at the ground. “Well, yes I suppose it is like that really isn’t it. I started off trying to do something for you, to compensate you in some small way and I suppose I saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Lady Falaise, I am truly sorry and I humbly ask your forgiveness. You may, of course, ride in the supply wagon but I hope you may, at least, consent to sit upfront with the driver.”

“Wait,” she commanded. He looked up in surprise to find that the expression on her face did not exactly match the tone of her voice.

“I didn’t say that I wouldn’t do it,” she went on. “But there are some practical difficulties.” She moved her arms to indicate the figure hugging dress she wore.

“I was given no opportunity to bring a wardrobe with me. Marta was kind enough to provide
me with a change of small clothes but, other than that, I have only what I stand up in and certainly nothing suitable for riding.”

“Ah yes… um, Marta…”

“Men”, Marta joined in with a smile. “Full of grand ideas and not a clue about how to deal with the little practicalities of life. Milady, if you would like to come with me, I’m sure we can find something suitable that will allow you to sit a horse with a degree of modesty.”

Held shook his head again as the two women moved off talking about different types of cloth and the cuts and styles that best suited them.

“Jaks,” he said as the gangly youth appeared from behind the wagon. “Let that be a lesson to you. Never try to do a favour for anyone unless you’re sure that they also think that it is a favour.”

“Uh, yes milord. What?”

“Never mind. I’m going to talk with Feynor. We need to deal with Manny’s burial and then I want to speak to all the men together. After that we ride to the village. Make sure that Manny’s horse is saddled and ready to go.”

“You’re taking Manny’s horse, milord?”

“No, not me. I’ll keep my own horse; we understand each other. No Manny’s horse is for the lady Falaise.”

“That’s a big horse for a lady, milord. And quite spirited.”

“Then they should be well suited to each other”, he said, looking at where the two women were disappearing into one of the covered wagons. “I’m sure she’ll be able to cope.”



Chapter 4

The two boys threw themselves down onto the grassy bank, panting with exertion. After a few moments the stockier of the two rolled over onto his back and took a deep breath. “I hope your father gets here soon. I never thought we’d have to follow them this far. It’s killing me.”

“You’re fat and out of condition,” the other one retorted in between gasps of breath. “That’s your problem.”

“I’d fight you for that, if I had the energy,” the first one replied. “But I don’t. The trouble is, they’re all walking along a flat trail at the bottom of the valley, while we’re scrambling up and down hillsides trying to keep up with them and stay out of sight of the guards at the same time.”

“I agree but you’re still fat and out of condition.
Ow,” he rolled away as a friendly punch landed on his shoulder. “Let’s make sure they’re still in sight.”

They lay flat on their stomachs and inched their way up the bank until they could peer over the top. The sight that greeted them was one of organised chaos. The caravan had stopped almost directly below them and soldiers were moving up and down the line with
allowing everyone, guards and prisoners alike, to take a drink. Some of the guards had taken up sentry positions and were scanning the hillsides for movement on both sides of the trail.

The boys hurriedly ducked down below the skyline and made their way along the bank to where some low shrubs broke the outline of the top of the ridge before resuming their watch. At the head of the caravan was an imposing coach, functional rather than beautiful, but emblazoned with the arms of Duke Henry of Paelis and surrounded by guards. This, the boys knew, was occupied by the Duke’s tax collector but there was no sign of the man himself.

Behind the coach were two covered supply wagons carrying everything the soldiers would need on an extended patrol and behind that was an open wagon jammed full of small unhappy children. Attached to the wagon and to each other by ropes around their necks, were two long chains of older children. As they watched, the smaller children were being allowed off the wagon in groups to relieve themselves by the side of the trail.

They had counted the guards many times before but they did so again now, out of habit. There were ten horsemen, eleven including the captain, eight foot soldiers guarding the prisoners and another eight on the four wagons. Two of the horsemen came riding up the trail behind the caravan and reported straight to the captain. The boys looked at each other hopefully but no alarm was raised, so obviously there was no pursuit in sight.

The two boys cautiously slid down the bank and sat at the bottom. They were very different in appearance. The older of the two had just turned his fifteenth birthday and was tall and slim with tidy but shoulder length blond hair. His companion, younger by only a month, was almost a head shorter but very much broader in both chest and shoulder and kept his dark hair trimmed in a much shorter style. They were both dressed for hunting with jerkins and leggings of mottled appearance which allowed them to blend into the background. They both carried a short hunting bow with a quiver of arrows over their shoulder and a long skinning knife strapped to their thigh. The packs they carried both looked suspiciously light.

“Do we have any biscuit left?” the older boy asked, rummaging through his pack.

“Not a crumb,” the other replied. “I refilled the
at that last stream we crossed but we finished the biscuit an hour ago. All we have now is the rabbit we caught in the snare overnight
and even I’m not hungry enough to eat that raw. Well, not yet anyway.”

“When we’re sure they’ve stopped for the night, we’ll move further away from the trail and risk a small fire. That is, unless my father arrives before then.”

“Well where is he? When is he going to get here?”

“He’ll be here,” the older boy said with more confidence than he actually felt. “It takes time to organise a pursuit, get enough men together, make sure they’re properly armed etc. There’s nearly thirty soldiers down there. He can’t just grab half a dozen retainers and ride out. He’ll need most of the men in the village to take on that lot.”

“Why didn’t they stop them in the village? Why did they let them take the boys in the first place? There’s nearly every boy in the village down there, including your cousin Raslo. What are they going to do with them, sell them as slaves?”

The taller boy looked sad as he shook his head. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “We’ve been through all this several times now. We don’t know what happened in the village; we weren’t there. But you know as well as I do that our people don’t normally go around carrying weapons. I’m guessing that they were caught unprepared. Against an organised force of trained and professional soldiers, resistance by unarmed men would have been futile and there would have been casualties.”

“Well maybe they
go around carrying weapons. This is the second time in a week that the village has been raided. First that group of bandits took a wagon load of supplies and your lady mother as hostage. And now Duke Henry’s men have taken all the boys as slaves.”

“Our people are not fighters. I can’t see them agreeing to walk round carrying weapons everywhere they go and I don’t see how the council could enforce such a rule. But you’re right in a way. We do need to be able to defend ourselves. When I see my father again, I will speak to him about forming a small force of guards to at least face those bandits when they return with my mother.”

BOOK: Two Heirs (The Marmoros Trilogy Book 1)
6.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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