Location: Drullen Bell
Formendacil wrote:"Not too good, Thomas," said Brian, "but it's been a good year, and now that I've found you, it'll get better! But let's get inside. It's a nice day and all, but I'm freezing!"
"Just a second," said Thomas. "Brian, I'd like you to meet Lady Merina Valenti. Merina, this is Brian Broughton, our village cooper."
Once they were inside the Drullen Bell's great hall, and Brian had settled in with by the fire, and Sir Dractor and Bjarn had joined them, Thomas asked Brian to explain why he had come.
"Healer Melkan sent me," explained the cooper. "And thank Chodan I found you here! I don't know what I'd've done otherwise. Probably gone back and had Melkan beat the snot of me."
Thomas laughed at the idea of the old healer beating the large, strong cooper up.
"What's so serious that old Melkan wants me for?" he asked.
"Well, back a few months, in September I think," said Brian, "some Fright Knight came to the village and started asking nosy questions about your grandfather, and any papers he may have left. We got him drunk in the Pu', and the Korvalt boys beat him up, and Melkan got him out of town in a hurry, but it seems like he's come back now. He's camped out in the woods to the south, and keeping low, but he's sent a spy into town, asking about the same stuff, and he's got a couple dozen armed soldiers with him in the woods. Melkan's afraid that if they don't find something soon, they'll stop the subterfuge and attack the village."
"So why don't they just call in the army?" asked Sir Dractor. "Surely the Dark Forest soldiers could handle it."
"That's just the thing," said Brian. "Not everybody in the village knows what's up. Just Melkan, and whoever's he's told, pretty much. Most of the village can't see what's right under their noses. We've never been in danger in living memory, not even during the Fell War. What's more, Corporal Jarva is our local soldier, and he's a fool, and certainly wouldn't believe it if we told him- and without his approval, we'd never get a detachment to come down to little old Hemmerington, whether we went over his head or not."
"That's a rather sad state of affairs," said Bjarn, "perhaps I could put a word in at Hemlock..."
"Wouldn't do any good," said Sir Dractor. "By the time it got down through the bureaucracy, and to Hemmerington, it'd be half a year later. And I don't think that Queen Arabella is quite so likely to take your every suggestion as young Radjar was."
Bjarn snorted, remembering more than a few times when the headstrong Dark Forester had disagreed wiht him.
"So will you come back, Thomas?" asked Brian. "Your village needs you."
Thomas glanced for a moment at Sir Dractor.
"I'd come back in a second," said Thomas, "but I'm a squire, and I can't just up and leave."
"Then take your big knight with you," said Brian, "that'd be even better."
"If it weren't for other commitments," said Sir Dractor, "I would. But I am sworn to escort Estella Tendarl to Orion, and I've taken one detour already. I'd best not take another."
"Will you let me go, at least?" asked Thomas.
Sir Dractor studied the younger man for a moment, then slowly nodded.
"Very well," he said. "I suppose that you are able to take care of yourself well enough. You go back to Hemmerington with Brian, and stay there. I'll join you after taking Estella to Orion."
Merina's face was tight and inscrutable.
"What about me?" she asked.
"I don't think that you're well enough to travel..." said Sir Dractor.
"You're welcome to stay here," said Bjarn. "I'd be delighted to have your company for as long as you care to stay."
"I don't want to be left behind," said Merina. "It's too... depressing."
Sir Dractor frowned. Depressing was not a state that would be condusive to Merina's health, but travelling didn't strike him as any better.
"You can come with me, Merina," said Thomas. "We'll make sure to go easily enough for your health."
"Just a moment!" said Sir Dractor. "Thomas, I trust both you and Merina implicitly, but two young people travelling alone is a complication waiting to happen, and even if nothing does happen, the rumours it will inspire are most inappropriate for a knight to be. As a squire you are supposed to be learning the ways of honour as well as war."
"Nothing will happen," said Thomas, his voice hard.
"I trust Thomas with my life," said Merina. "Nothing will happen."
"The trust between you is enough to give me worry," said Sir Dractor.
"Anyway," broke in Brian, "they won't be travelling alone. I'll be with them."
"I'm not sure that you would count, in the eyes of the village," said Sir Dractor. "And I'd still rather have another person with them."
"I am going with Thomas, whether you like it or not," said Merina, her voice even more stubborn than Thomas's.
"Nothing will happen," said Thomas, "I promise you on my honour as a squire and on my grandfather's blade."
Sir Dractor sighed.
"You may as well give in," said Bjarn. "They're as stubborn as you are, and there are two of them and one of you."
"Very well," said Sir Dractor, resignedly. "You may go with Thomas- but only if William Jorgenson is willing to go with you. And make sure you have plenty of that druid's tea with you. Chodan alone knows what I'll do to Thomas if I arrive in Hemmerington and find you worse."
"Thank you, Sir Dractor," said Merina with a brilliant smile, as she jumped up and hugged the big knight unexpectedly.
"Merina, your health!" warned Sir Dractor, but Merina just grinned and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"It's settled then," said Bjarn gloomily. "You'll all be off and I'll be alone and bored again."
"We should leave as soon as we can," agreed Brian. "It took me nearly two weeks to get here, and I don't know how long Melkan reckons the Fright Knights will hold off using force against the village."
"I could leave tomorrow," said Thomas. "Merina?"
"I'm ready when you are."