Read Two Heirs (The Marmoros Trilogy Book 1) Online
Authors: Peter Kenson
It was to one of these wagons that Falaise had ridden at such speed and disappeared inside while a crowd gathered in the square as people started to emerge from tents and wagons. A few of the men who had confronted them before, had stayed to watch them unload the supplies but the majority of the men had followed Falaise through the camp and now joined the crowd in the square.
“I wish I knew what the hell was going on down there,” he remarked to Bern.
“You need Kemon, milord. Send Kemon down there and he’ll soon tell you what’s going on.”
“Kemon?” he said puzzled. “I remember the name from this morning but I can’t for the life of me put a face to him.”
“That’s Kemon,” Bern laughed. “The most forgettable face in the company. But anybody will talk to him, tell him all sorts of things and then, five minutes later, think ‘
who was I just talking to?
’ Whenever we’re unsure what sort of reception we’re going to get in a town or a village, we send Kemon in and within the hour we have the whole lot, chapter and verse. Who the local bigwigs are, who hates who, who’s hard up and who’s not. The men call him Kemon the Ear.”
“Okay, is he here?”
“No, milord, he’s back at the camp with Feynor.”
“Right, Jaks. Ride back to the camp and fetch Kemon back here. Smartly now.”
Held turned back to Bern. “This Kemon, is he one of Feynor’s swordsmen?”
“Not exactly, milord. He can handle a sword all right but he’s not one of the best. Hasn’t got the stature for it. But put a knife in his hand and he’ll gut you before you can blink.”
“Alright, Bern, this is what I want you to do. If I pass Kemon on the way, I’ll brief him. Otherwise, you brief him on the situation and send him in. I want an early report on what’s going on down there.
“When you’ve finished unloading the wagon, post two men to keep watch on the village but from the outside. Make sure they’re out of sight of the villagers; I don’t want to cause any more trouble. Then bring the wagon and the rest of the men back to camp. Is that okay?”
With that he cast one last look over the village but he could not make out any sight of Falaise from that distance. He wheeled his horse and started back down the trail towards the camp.
Kemon was as good as his reputation. A little over an hour later, he rode into camp just as Ash and his man came in from the opposite direction. Held was in his tent with Feynor and Bern discussing some maps they had found in one of Manny’s chests. They looked up as the other two entered the tent and stood, unsure who was to speak first.
Held looked first at Ash. “Success?”
“Yes milord,” and then stopped as Held raised his hand.
“You can give me the details later. Right, Kemon, what’s the situation in the village?”
“It’s bad, milord. The village had a visit yesterday from Duke Henry’s tax collector. Routine visit, nothing out of the ordinary. So they pays their taxes, some grumbling but then there always is.
The taxman had come with a heavy guard, most people agree it was between twenty five and thirty soldiers, so everybody paid up.
“But then, after all the taxes were paid, the captain of the guard announced that they were taking every boy in the village between the ages of five and fifteen, back to Paelis to be tested by Duke Henry.”
There were gasps of shock in the tent from everyone except Held. “Did they say why they were being tested or who or what the Duke was looking for?”
“No, milord. But when they started rounding up the boys, that’s when the trouble started. Scuffles broke out around the village and blades were drawn. More than a few of the villagers are nursing cuts and bruises today. But the worst of it is that the village leader, Lord Brantyen, comes out in an old-fashioned and badly fitting set of armour and challenges the captain.
“Well it weren’t no contest by all reports. This Lord Brantyen gets
cut up pretty bad and the resistance fizzles out like. The soldiers round up the boys, loaded the smallest onto a wagon and tied the rest together in a chain gang. Then they headed out towards the river.”
“And Lord Brantyen?”
Kemon wrinkled up his face. “That’s the really bad bit. Some of those cuts he took were real deep. He survived the night just barely; seems like he was waiting his lady’s return, ‘cos he died in her arms, five minutes after she got there.”
“Oh shit,” Held muttered. “So the Lady Falaise’s son is now the leader?”
“Eh, not exactly, milord. This is where it gets
complicated. Jeren, Lord Jeren I suppose it is now, that’s the son of Lord Brantyen and Lady Falaise, weren’t in the village when the soldiers came. He was off hunting with his best friend. Anyhow, he wasn’t taken with the other boys in the village but equally, he hasn’t been seen since. Didn’t return to the village last night. So nobody knows what’s happened to him, whether he was picked up outside the village by Duke Henry’s men or whether it’s something worse.
“And then we gets into the politics of it. According to what I heard, Lord Brantyen names Jeren as his son and heir on his deathbed and says Lady Falaise is to act as regent until he comes of age. Apparently this Jeren has only just turned fifteen. But the main man on the council now is this Lord Gaelan, the cousin of Lord Brantyen. He’s convinced the council to declare Lady Falaise’s regency invalid, ‘cos no woman has ever served on the council, and declared
hisself regent in her place.
“Now we comes to the really tricky bit. Rumour has it, and mind you this is only rumour, but rumour has it that Lord
wants to replace Jeren with his own son. The problem is, his boy Raslo I think his name is, was one of the lads taken by Duke Henry’s men. So, what we got here, is a disputed regency, a missing heir and a pretender who’s a prisoner of Duke Henry.”
Held stared at him in amazement. “You got all this information in an hour?”
“Uh, yes milord.”
“Kemon, I don’t know what we’re paying you but it isn’t enough. You’re going to get a bonus for this.”
“Thank you, milord.”
“Now, can you go back in there safely?”
“Oh yes, milord. No-one pays any mind to Kemon. The village folks are basically okay. They’re just scared and worried for their kids.”
“Right. So get yourself back in there and keep your ear to the ground, particularly for any developments on the political front. And I want you to keep a close eye on Lady Falaise. In my experience, disputed regencies and the like tend to end up with one of the candidates suddenly departing this life. I would hate that to be the Lady Falaise.”
“I understand, milord.”
“You’re a good man, Kemon. Now go and get yourself some food before you head back.”
When he had left, Held turned to the others. “Gentlemen, I am disappointed.”
They stared at him. “How so, milord?” Feynor asked.
“There is a large band of professional soldiers, twenty five to thirty men, certainly large enough to provide a significant threat to this company, within a day’s march of here, and I find out about it from a spy that I sent in to the last village they attacked.
“Scouts are your department,” he said to Ash. “Tighten it up. I would hate to stumble across a force of that size, completely unprepared.”
“I’m sorry, milord. It won’t happen again.”
Held nodded. “So tell me, what happened with
“We found him, milord but it was a hard chase. He saw us coming and lit out at full stretch. We rode him down eventually but I had to put an arrow in his back to stop him.”
Held nodded. “And the provisions sack?”
“Well, there were certainly provisions in there but that sack was way too heavy.” He opened the sack and took out the layer of supplies from the top. Then he tipped the remaining contents out of the map table. “This is what we found.”
The men stared at the pile of metal bars and coins with a mixture of surprise and pleasure. Two of the smaller bars gleamed gold; five tael
bars worth two hundred and fifty talons each. There were eighteen five
bars of silver worth another ninety talons. And amongst the coins there were six golden eagles worth three hundred talons and another ten silver owls of five talons each.
“Well that should boost the company funds somewhat,” Held said. “What happened to
“We left him by the roadside,” Ash replied. “I don’t bury thieves.”
“Okay, good job. We still say nothing of this to the men. They don’t need to know about this but, at least now we are in a position to buy provisions, if we can’t earn them any other way.
“Now you all heard what Kemon said. Ash, there is a troop of Duke Henry’s men within a day and a half’s march from here. Find them. Send two men, one to report back when they have them, the other to stay in position until you
relieve him. Don’t go yourself;
you need some rest and I want you here until we have more information. Feynor, you get some rest too. I have a feeling we may need your skills before too long. Bern, you have command of the camp.”
The scout returned about an hour after dusk much to everyone’s surprise.
“You’ve found them already?” Held asked.
“It weren’t hard, milord. They’re making very slow progress. They’re no more than a few hours ride beyond the village, even now. I think the prisoners are causing them some trouble.”
“How many soldiers are there?”
“It’s what you said, milord. Just under thirty;
ten on horseback and the rest either on foot or on the wagons. All of them appeared to be well armed and armoured. There’s a fancy coach up front with a coat of arms on the side, two supply wagons and an open wagon with a load of little kids jammed inside. The bigger kids are roped together behind the wagon.”
“How many boys are we talking about here?”
“Hard to say exactly, milord. The little ones are packed tight into the wagon and it was difficult to get an exact headcount. But I’d say there were about eighty in total.”
“Eighty. Bloody hell.”
“There’s one other thing, milord.”
“Well the trail they’re leaving is so plain even a blind man could follow it. But then we noticed something odd. Somebody with some skill in trail craft has been marking the path even though it weren’t necessary. So we cast around a bit and up on the hillside, overlooking the trail we found a couple of lads, youths really, probably about mid-teens, kitted out for hunting but clearly following the group on the trail below.”
“Did they see you?”
“No, milord,” he replied most offended. “Anyway they were too busy concentrating on the trail below.”
Held raised his hand with a smile. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to question your ability. Describe the two lads to me.”
“Well as I say, milord, they was both dressed for hunting. One was tall, slim build, blond shoulder length hair. The other was shorter but stockier with dark hair cut shorter. They both carried hunting bows and knives but I couldn’t see any other weapons.”
“OK, who’s out there now, keeping watch?”
“It’s Jerome, milord.”
“Alright, you’ve done well. Go get yourself some food and some rest.”
As the scout left the tent, Feynor spoke up. “What are we going to do, milord?”
Held shook his head. “I don’t know yet. Ash, you’d better send a couple of men out to relieve Jerome. Tell them to keep a close eye on those two lads. I’ve got a feeling that one of them could be Falaise’s boy. Other than that, we just wait and see what develops.”
They did not have to wait long.
Held was sat round the fire with Feynor and a group of swordsmen discussing the merits of different lengths and weights of blades when they heard the challenge of the sentry. They rose to their feet as one, hands resting casually on the hilts of their
weapons as Jaks came running across the camp.
“Lone rider approaching, milord. Looks like
Manny’s old horse. I'd recognise ‘im anywhere but I can’t make out the rider yet.”
“Go and greet the Lady Falaise, Jaks and escort her to the fire.”
He was back a few seconds later leading the chestnut mare by the bridle. Held moved to help her dismount but she slid smoothly from the saddle with the grace of an accomplished horsewoman.
“Lady Falaise,” he began. “I am so terribly sorry about your husband. Please allow me to offer my sincere…” and stopped short as she slapped him hard across the face.
“Don’t you dare offer me your condolences,” she said through gritted teeth. “If I had been there, my husband would still be alive. So don’t tell me how sorry you are because it is nothing to the sorrow I bear.”
She looked around at the men and women, all now on their feet. “Where can we talk in private?”
He held his hands out helplessly and hesitated. “I’m afraid I can only offer you my tent,” he said.
“Then that will have to do,” she stated. She spun on her heel and headed off in the direction of the tent, leaving Held floundering in her wake. He raised his eyebrows at Feynor who shrugged.
“Go fetch Marta,” he whispered. “And stay close.”
Inside the tent he found Leyla and Mo standing in surprise and bewilderment at the sudden intrusion. “You may go,” Falaise commanded. “I would speak with Lord Held in private.”
“It might be better if they stayed, my lady,” Held interposed. “In order to protect your reputation.”
She whirled on him furiously. “You think I care about my reputation? My husband is dead, my son is missing. Who cares about my reputation?”
“I care about your reputation, my lady.”
“Why? Why do you care about my reputation? What concern is it of yours?”
“You have enemies, my lady. You need to protect yourself, now more than ever. You mustn’t give your enemies ammunition that they can use against you in your current situation.”