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Ghosts in Checkmate -Book III - Book Cover and Part One

Started by Laurna, August 20, 2022, 01:31:11 PM

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Dear Residents of Rhemuth Castle

It is my pleasure to offer The Book Cover and Title page for Ghosts in Checkmate
Book three of our Ghosts of the Past Deryni Adventure Quest.

Our story continues from the rescue of Sir Washburn Morgan from the evil clutches of Grand Duke Valerian's dungeon, and introduces Fiona McIntyre, cousin to Darcy Cameron. She is doing her utmost to overcome the foothold the rebels have taken against her uncle, Mackenzie Stuart, and his manor house. The rebels are gaining power and it all hinges on the imminent battle to take the coastal walled City of Laas in Meara.

I do hope you enjoy the third segment to our story.

As before, our book cover highlights the incredible portrait art of our very talented member Nezz, and the photography of our wonderful member Revanne. I had a lot of fun putting these together.

I have added detailed Quest Map and converted these to PDF for easy download and viewing.

Please, just click on the links below:

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Thank you Everyone.


Ghosts in Checkmate

31 July,1164 Friday   

Laurna « Reply #650 »

Elaborate plans for a feast had been well underway in the spring of the forty-third reign of Rex Kelsonus. The celebration was to be held in the seaside castle of Laas, with the view of the shore line, the cool ocean breeze, and the long romantic sunsets. A better setting could not be offered for the hosting of the 36th wedding anniversaries of the Duke and Duchess of Ratharkin, Viceroys of Meara, and the Duke and Duchess of Laas, holders of the cadet line of Ramsey of the ancient lineage of the Prince of Meara. The preparations had included invitations to the royal family to join the celebration; sadly those invitations could no longer be accepted. The festive plans were shattered by the unforeseen threat of rebellion across the province of Meara, which came on the heels of the capture of the Meara city of Ratharkin. As the feast day approached, the families of coastal Meara became separated; wives, daughters, and children were sent away from their homes by ships out of the Bay of Laas, to find safer harbors as far away as Desse and even the Isle of Orsal. In a matter of days, the bay was emptied of all but its smallest fishing dories; the usually bustling harbor devoid of ships at anchor seemed surreal.

There was one other avenue to bypass the road blockades that seemed to have been erected overnight. A small Portal stone within the castle main residence. This means of travel was being used as often as was determined safe, but truth to tell there were few Deryni within the Castle who knew of the Portal's existence. A jump directly to Rhemuth took far too much energy when so many people had to be moved. Therefore, small jumps to loyal manors much closer had become necessary. Finding a route of portals known to be loyal and uncompromised had taken a good deal of time. Once established, Duchess Richelle Haldane and her son Richard used the trusted route to the extent of their abilities. It was exhausting transporting family and close friends out of Meara. But to their credit, neither mother nor son had failed to return to Laas after they were assured the younger members of their family and friends were safe. This was Duchess Richelle's home; the threat of rebellion would not cause her to abandon it.

Seven stressful days following the fall of Ratharkin, after much of the preparatory work to protect Laas had been accomplished, a small dinner was held for the two couples' wedding anniversary.  The guest list was small indeed, no royal visit was to be had, no entertainment but a single lute player, and the repast was a simple modest fare. That wasn't important. What mattered was that two dukes of the realm, related by marriage and good friendship, shared their duel celebrations of thirty-six years of marriage with their respective beloved duchesses. On the thirty-first day of July in the Year of Our Lord Eleven Twenty-Eight, His Majesty King Kelson had, with joy in his heart, wedded two Haldanes to the daughter and son of the Ramsay-Quinnell line of Meara. Duchess Richelle Ramsay-Haldane, sister of the Queen of Gwynedd sat to the left of her beloved husband Brecon Ramsay, Duke of Laas. While to her left sat her honored guests, Prince Rory Haldane, Duke of Ratharkin, and his beloved wife, Duchess Noelie Haldane-Ramsay.  Both couples dined at the head table of the great hall. Their first sons, heirs both, sat at the table's outer edges. Joining the solemn occasion were loyal retainers remaining in Laas, these Laas natives would never subvert their loyalties away from the King of Gwynedd. Not for such treasons as were now being rumored about with this new Mearan Pretender Queen. Of the few who sat in the hall during this quiet dinner, most were men of high standings in the city. As of this night, few women of any station remained within the city walls. For the walls of Laas were certain to be under siege in a few days' time.

Noelie Ramasay-Haldane had, like her hostess, refused to leave her husband's side in this time of conflict. When Rory and Noelie learned of the loss of their home to rebel separatists, they mourned and grieved for their people.  Rory begged the king to allow him to strike back immediately, but the king's orders were to prepare Laas and hold the seaside castle firm. Rory was none too pleased about Noelie's choice to remain, but once it had been decided upon, he held her in high regard for her bravery. Noelie was Brecon's sister; she proved the Ramsay bloodline was made of sterner stuff than most. But then that was a known trait of the Mearan nobility for centuries past. The very reason why the splintered bloodline was once again in contention.  Thus the dinner was a subdued event, a pause in the preparations underway, a moment of shared friendships highlighted by stories of old times and repressed smiles.

As the evening wore down, tensions in the hall eased. Many excused themselves for early morning preparations that needed to be completed. Wine flowed freely for those who remained at the lower tables, but those at the high table drank little. A lutest played somberly in the corner, and more and more both ducal couples clasped hands under the table, where few others would notice. The time was getting late and soon it became apparent that the evening should end in more private comforts. Brecon's son, Earl Richard stood to give final orders to his father's men on duty.  Rory's son, Earl Bearand took the cue to do the same. A moment later, both dukes stood to close out the evening with a gracious word of appreciation for those still within the hall. That long awaited moment for the rebel strike had come. All four men standing made for easy marks from the two skilled archers hidden in the gallery above.

Two arrows, shot with deft precision, pierced tunics, chain-mail, and flesh of both incumbent dukes.  Few heard the sounds of the bow strings, but all stood witness to both men falling back into their high backed chairs as if a giant hand had pushed both of them down at the same time. The piercing scream of the duchesses in unison echoed through the hall. In a time span of three heart beats, two more arrows flew. Only this time the Deryni powers of Earl Richard, son of Lady Richelle, grandson of Prince Richard Haldane and Princess Sivon von Horthy, used his trained ability to deflect the incoming projectiles. One skimmed just passed his ear and the other smashed into the stone just beyond his cousin's head. The rebels' intentions were clear, to rid Meara of its Haldane influence.

Everyone was moving then. Earl Bearand took swift command of the castle guard. He and a handful of men were quick to bound up the gallery stairs and to corner the two assassins who had little time to flee. Richard cast out with his powers to determine if any others in the room sought to take his family's lives. He found no others broadcasting such ill will. The noble ladies were quick to regain their wits, both kept their husbands in their chairs and surveyed the damage done. The wounded men were conscious, neither wound fatal, the wearing of light chain mail, rather than silk finery had saved lives, yet still both wounds continued to bleed and time was passing rapidly. It was fortunate that the battle surgeon was in the hall. Instantly sober, he rushed forward from a lower table to attend to the royal men.

In the turmoil within the great hall, the rebel archers were dragged down the stairs and forced to kneel in the center of the floor. The first questions put to them by Earl Richard had powerful persuasion behind it, which in turn caused both men to convulse in seizure. A stunned hush followed the pronunciation that both assassin's were dead. The only glimpse into their minds that Richard could obtain was that a Deryni death trigger had been placed upon each of them. The one who had placed such an evil thing could only be a high Deryni practitioner. It was more than rumor that the sons of Teymuraz led this current unease among the Mearan people.

They now had proof that the rebel cause was more than unease. The quiet of Laas was shattered. War for the very heart of Meara had officially begun.

Chapter One
31 July,1164, Friday   

DerynifanK  « Reply #578 »
Fiona McIntyre was worried. The evening saw her walking quietly through the corridor behind uncle Mac's small withdrawing room. There was no one around, as the baron and his wife had gone to their quarters after supper, and the servants were in the kitchen having their own suppers. Drawing near to the door to the room, she heard voices, not the loud, harsh voices she had heard so often lately as the baron and his son argued, but quiet male voices, pitched low to avoid being heard. One of the voices belonged to Michael, a second to his closest friend Martin, and a third voice she did not recognize. She decided to get closer to hear what was being said. She eased closer to the door, hiding behind a curtain that partially concealed the doorway

Fiona was a maiden of 17, ward of her first cousin, Iain Cameron, Baron o' Isles. After Fiona's parents had died and then her aunt, Iain's mother, became too ill to care for her, Iain had sent her to live with friends of his family, Baron MacKenzie Stuart and his wife, Lady Olivia. The couple had been kind to the orphaned heiress over the last six years, treating her almost as a daughter.  Fiona was devoted to her cousin Iain, who had become her guardian after the death of her aunt, but she seldom saw him as he was frequently away on missions for Kelson, the King of Gwynedd. She had been happy here until the last few months. Michael Stuart, the baron's son and heir, had become a major source of concern. He was arrogant and heedless of the concerns of others. Since rumors of rebellion had begun to be whispered in the taverns, he had become increasingly fired up, wanting to join the rebel's cause with an eye to earning lands and titles from the rebels. The biggest obstacle for him was his father, who remained loyal to Kelson, as was Fiona herself.
There had been increasingly violent arguments between the baron and his son, as Michael tried to push his father into joining the rebellion so he could satisfy his own ambitions. The tension in the manor was palpable and everyone was affected by it. Lady Olivia had tried to talk to her son and convince him to give up his idea of joining the rebellion, but without success. Fiona said little to Michael and had been avoiding him as much as possible.

The first voice she heard coming from the withdrawing room was Michael's. "If we could find a way to join the rebellion, taking with us men and committing the manor resources, I know we would be welcomed and perhaps even given a command. We could then set about earning lands and perhaps titles as rewards for our service."

This was followed by Martin's voice. "But your father is dead set against it. Have you had any luck persuading him that it is to his advantage as well as yours to join the rebellion?"

"No, he is Kelson's man and not open to change. He would regard such an action as treason. He has even threatened to disinherit me if I do not give up this idea and give my allegiance to Kelson as he has. I have argued until I'm hoarse, to no avail. So I have another plan to enable us to turn the manor over to the rebels and to join them."

"What else can you do to persuade him?"

"I will lure him to one of the remote attic rooms, by telling him that I have discovered a leak in the roof that needs attention. Once he is inside, I will lock the door and keep him confined there. I will then give out that he has become ill, had a seizure and must be confined to prevent him from harming himself or anyone else. As he is incapable of managing the estate, I will take over."

"What about your mother?"

"I'll tell her that he has become ill, and I have sent for a physician. There is a man sympathetic to the rebellion, and I will summon him to examine my father. He will not actually see my father, but he will be able to tell my mother that he is indeed gravely ill and must be allowed to rest. Any upsets could cause a worsening of his problems and might even kill him"

Fiona listened in horror to this diabolical plan. She had to do something to thwart Michael's plan, but what? She silently and quickly snuck to her own quarters. She was frightened. It was vital that she inform someone of what she had heard, but who and how could it be accomplished? She considered sending a message, but who could carry it? She didn't want to get any of the servants in trouble, and Michael was aware of her own loyalty to the king and to Gwynedd. He watched her closely, and any written message would be intercepted. And who would be the best person to trust with what she knew?
After much thought, she decided that her guardian Iain was the person she needed to try to reach. However, it seemed impossible. She had no one to send that she could trust, and she did not know where to find him. Then she had an idea. She remembered Sir Roland Althorpe, who was Iain's steward and highly trusted by him. He would know how to reach Iain. He would help her. He and his wife, Lady Maev, had been so kind the last time she had visited with Iain. Although it had been quite some time since she had seen them, she was certain that they would remember her and be able to help her to reach Iain.

The only way she could think of to deliver her message was to do it herself. She would have to run away from the manor and make her way to where Sir Roland and his wife lived in the country, in the hills east of Ratharkan not far from the border with Gwynedd.  It shouldn't be more than two days' ride from the manor. She was an excellent rider, better than most of the young men she knew, including Michael, and she was sure she could do it. She could disguise herself as a boy to avoid being stopped and questioned. She would have to lay her plans carefully if she was to succeed, but she felt that this was her only chance to reach the king and inform him of what was happening.

Jerusha  « Reply #570 »

Sir Roland Althorpe studied the three people before him. Iain, his liege lord, gave a determined yet exhausted greeting. At a nod, Roland turned and led the new arrivals through the single story farm-shed, toward the outer doors. It was not unusual for the Baron o'Isles to arrive unannounced by Portal, but it was unusual for him to bring guests with him.  Guests?  He noted that Iain maintained his grip on the woman's arm; she walked quietly beside him, and he recognized the signs of someone under another's control.  Sir Iain had no need to be subtle about it here.  The other man followed behind, his manner restrained, looking like the movement caused pain.  Did Iain control them both?

They left the shed and headed toward the back of a sturdy home typical of a country craftsman, though more isolated than most.  The yard was well maintained; there was a woven pen to keep a few chickens from roaming freely through a sizable vegetable garden.  A well-stocked herb garden was planted on the other side of the worn path that led to the door.

Sir Washburn Morgan thought he saw a face glance at them from the side of the rear window.  It drew back quickly.

"All's well, Maev," Roland called as they approached the door.

The door was opened by a stout woman of a similar age to Roland.  Her face looked kindly, but her eyes were sharp.  Her grey gown was covered by a large linen apron and her hair covered by a matching kerchief.

"It's good to see you again, Lord Iain," she said as she greeted him with a slight curtsey.  "Though I have seen you looking better."

"You have no idea how glad I am to be here," Iain replied.  Sidana, still in Iain's grip, gave the woman a haughty stare.  Washburn nodded in acknowledgement as they passed through the doorway.

Inside, the house was neat and tidy.  There was the main living area with a stone fireplace and hearth against the outside wall.  A sturdy wooden table was flanked by benches and two chairs.  A second room was walled off for privacy, although the door stood open.  A ladder gave access to the upper loft.  Not quite as simple a dwelling as it seemed from the outside.

The woman looked at Washburn and picked up a wooden bucket. "I'll start heating the water," she said in a pleasant voice.  Washburn looked abashed and Iain managed a tired chuckle.

 "If it makes you feel better, I probably smell just as bad," he said.

Sidana looked at him with disdain. "You do."

Iain shrugged and considered his options.  Should he tell Roland and Maev the identity of his "guests"?  Roland had served him faithfully as his steward for years, and no woman was more capable than his wife, Maev.  Or cunning, if she needed to be.  Both Washburn and Sidana were a danger; Washburn because he was a danger as long as his memories were still distorted, and Sidana, pawn or not, because she was the Pretender Queen of Meara.  He made his choice; the more they knew, the better they could ensure his safety and theirs.

"A moment," Iain said, and Maev halted just inside the door.  "Lady Sidana, may I present Sir Roland Althorp and his wife, Lady Maev Althorp. Sir Roland is my steward here.  Sir Roland, Lady Maev, may I present Sir Washburn Morgan, former prisoner held under duress in the fortress of this lady, Sidana de Paor, Pretender Queen of Meara...."

"My proper form of address is 'Majesty.' and I am no pretender!" Sidana hissed, unable to raise her voice to the level she wanted due to her captor's controls.  "You forget yourself!"

"I forget very little,"  Iain said dryly.  "Including the fact that Sir Roland served nobly with the forces of Gwynedd in the last Mearan Rebellion and was knighted for it in the field.  Do not mistake him or his wife for an ally."

With little ceremony, Maev returned to her task, not reacting to the message sent to her from Iain.  I will pass some control over both of them, especially Lady Sidana, to you shortly.

Iain guided Sidana to one of the chairs, and she sat obediently, although her eyes continued to glare.  He then approached Washburn.

"Lady Maev is Deryni," he told Washburn.  "I will give her enough control over you, and more over Sidana, to ensure you can do nothing to harm any of us here or lead others to us.  I know how much this chafes, but I owe it to...." He paused, almost referring to the king and then deciding on a better approach.  "I owe it to Darcy to get you both safely delivered to Rhemuth or to someone who will get you there."  It occurred to him that Lords Seisyll or Jamyl might be good choices for the latter.

Sir Washburn started to bristle with resentment when Roland exclaimed, "Your brother Darcy?  Is he alive?"

"Apparently so," Iain replied.

Washburn saw the smile that almost split Roland's face in two. If the man was so pleased that Darcy still lived, perhaps he should trust them, at least for now. He could not really fault Iain for his caution.

Iain looked thoughtful.  "I will, however, ease up a bit, if you will give me your word to keep within these rules I have set.  I want you capable of acting with me, if events slip beyond our control.  I have no idea how much your mind has been altered, but I will trust your word if you give it freely."  As much as I dare, Iain added to himself.

Washburn looked down at the smaller man who stood before him, so much like Darcy.  There was a good chance he could block his powers if the right moment presented itself, but to what purpose?  Again, he was left with no idea where he was, and what would happen if he attempted to contact any of his brothers?  Would they even bother to rescue him?

"You have my word, freely given."  Washburn reached out and gripped Iain's hand.  Iain winced; he had almost forgotten the scorched skin.  He remembered it now.  "I can Heal that," Washburn offered.

Iain shook his head.  "We both need to rest, and I would suggest you Heal your ribs first.  You will want to be recovered enough to enjoy Maev's stew."

Washburn touched his ribs gingerly.  "Good clean food will be welcome."

Iain nodded and waved Maev toward them after she had adjusted the wood of the fire below the pot of water that hung on the iron hook above it.  When she reached them, Washburn felt the lady's touch against his still unshielded mind; she was skilled, but gentle.  More gentle than Iain, at least.  Iain and Maev went next to Sidana, who looked resentful.  The pretender queen's face did not relax as the new controls were added, but she remained compliant, her defiance still apparent in her eyes.

Iain noted the movement as Roland went out the back door.  Soon he heard the familiar sound of his bathing tub being dragged to its accustomed spot.  By rights he should bathe first, but he was too tired and had no desire to drown.  Maev was stirring something in a second pot that hung over the fire, and the scent of her meat stew became tantalizingly evident.  But he desperately needed sleep first.

"Maev," he said.  "I need some sleep. I don't think I have slept a wink in four days.  Pray wake me before dinner.  Just before," he added.

Maev shook her head.  "Not until I see to that hand."  She ignored his protest, and ladling out some of the water into a bowl before it became too hot, bade him sit at the table.  Iain might have protested, but he knew the woman too well.  Washburn looked amused as Iain meekly sat and allowed her to clean the hand and apply ointment from a small jar. She bandaged his hand, but not so tightly that he could not grip sword or dagger if needed.  Iain mumbled his thanks and then headed to the adjoining room.

The room was furnished with a simple bed and several chests.  Sir Iain Cameron, Baron o' Isles, managed only to remove his boots before he fell back across the bed, asleep before he could raise his feet from the floor.

Laurna   « Reply #571 »

The water turning hot over the hearth and the bath tub set a few feet away looked so inviting. It was not nearly as palatial as the bath Washburn had recently taken, but this one was clean and did not come with evil eyes upon him. In fact, Wash felt no restraint about stripping out of his clothes and kneeling into the tub, of course keeping his back to the ladies. If the pretender queen was offended, he honestly did not care. With lye soap on a sponge, he happily rubbed himself down and let the soapy water fall into the tub. Sir Roland came over to pour clean water down his back to rinse the soap and the dirt away.

"Why, may I ask, do you have a spot of short hair at the top of your head?  Some nefarious magic that they needed a clump of your hair for?" the elder knight asked.

Wash let out a frustrated sigh, but then in a bright change of moods, he laughed and turned back to Roland with a genuine wide smile. "T'is my own folly, that." Wash replied. "I thought impersonating a monk would do us some good. Turns out it didn't. Just made me look funny. Someday, I will have to find Father Columcil and apologize for my audacious behavior of impersonating one of his brethren. He may set my penance for 50 Hail Marys or worse. At the time, he was very forgiving about it. Father Columcil is the best of men. As is Iain's brother, Darcy. I miss them. I hope Rhemuth is treating them well." Then Washburn's smile faded. "Aliset!" he whispered under his breath. "No, what I hope is that they have left Rhemuth and have found that vivacious young lady. There are not many women like that one."

Happily ducking under that last ladle of rinse water, Washburn stepped out from the tub and accepted a blanket over his shoulders that he wrapped fully around his body. He made one small attempt to find his Healing ability to remove the pain and bruising over his ribs. But the exhaustion of the last many days was unforgiving; his Healing gift was untouchable at the moment.

Lady Maev tossed his pile of clothes in the bath water and added more lye to give the clothes a good soak. When she picked up the green tunic, her nose twitched at the smell. "This is the finest heavy silk I've ever seen, putting this to launder may shrink the weave."

"Good!" Wash said with a hint of disgust in his voice. "Shrink it, so I can not wear it again. I hate green!" he added with true venom.

Roland bristled at that. "Green is your family color, is it not?"

"Exactly!" Washburn confirmed. Without his shields, his hate spilled out to those who could sense it.

"I will see that the tunic is well-shrunk. You be easy on that subject," Maev said softly with a hint of controlled power in her last words.

Abashed, Washburn hung his head low, "My apologies to you, Lady Maev, and to you, Sir Roland. I forget myself."

Roland went over to the stew pot and ladled out a fresh bowl then handed it across to the tall knight. With merely a blanket for clothing, it would be inappropriate for him to sit at the table, especially near the young pretender queen. Washburn sank down on the fur rug before the hearth and accepted the bowl of stew. "Smells wonderful," he said, while staring at it, yet he did not dare to pick up the spoon.

"Tastes as good as it smells, I assure you," Maev said as she washed his clothes. But still Wash did not eat it. Misinterpreting his hesitation, Maev commented, "Sorry, I do not have the spices that you courtly folk are used to."

Wash held the bowl up to his nose, it did smell so good. "Plain and simple is best. Spices hide all manner of evils. Like merasha or mandragoria. I ask you for the truth, Lady Maev. Are there any drugs in here?"

His hosts looked at him horrified. "Truth read what I tell you," Maev finally responded. "There is nothing in there but mutton, carrots, onions, lentals and green beans. I added leaves of rosemary and thyme with a dash of salt and pepper for flavoring. I've nothing else to add. And I would most certainly never drug you."

"Thank you, Lady Maev, I sense your honesty. I am so very, very hungry." With that he spooned up a mouthful and made pleasant humming sounds as he tasted it and ate till the bowl was empty. Roland gave him a second helping before he was done. Maev hung his clothes before the hearth to dry, the green tunic looking sufficiently smaller. "Sell that and make yourself a gold coin or two,"  he said, nodding with approval. "I'll wear the black shirt and trousers when they are dry." Then he curled to his side on the rug and was happily asleep in a non-drugged slumber before he had even found a pillow for his head. Maev rolled up a second blanket and placed it under his head. She touched his unshielded mind and reinforced his sleep. Unless someone woke him, the freed prisoner would not awake until dawn the next morning.                  
Jerusha « Reply #572 »
Sidana de Paor, Pretender Queen of Meara, looked with disdain at the sleeping man stretched out near the hearth, wrapped only in a blanket.  She watched his even breathing for a moment and then looked up as Lady Maev placed a bowl of steaming stew before her and set a spoon beside it.  Next she placed a round of fresh, brown bread in the centre of the table. Sidana wrinkled her nose in disfavour.

"There is nothing wrong with simple, wholesome food," Maev said calmly.

"I suppose you will force me to eat it.  I seem to have no choice in anything, now," Sidana responded.

"Only if I have to make that choice," Maev said evenly.

Sidana reached rebelliously for her belt knife to cut off a piece of bread.  "Hold," Maev said firmly and reached over to remove the knife from her hand.  Even after establishing his controls, Sir Iain must have been totally exhausted not to have checked for anything Sidana could use as a weapon!  She cut a slice of bread and placed it before Sidana but kept the knife. She would search for any other items that could be dangerous before her guest retired for the night. Sidana cautiously tried the stew and after the first taste, decided she was hungry and ate steadily.

Iain Cameron stepped out of the adjoining room and looked at Lady Maev with mock reproof.  "You were to wake me for dinner."

"You were next on my list, my Lord," she replied and smiled.

Iain looked down at the sleeping form of Washburn.  "Did he leave me any?"

"I think there might be an onion or bean left," she said as she took a clean bowl down from the shelf and filled it with hot stew.

Iain accepted the bowl and sat it down at the far end of the table.  "I shall endeavor to sit downwind, if it please you," he said to Sidana.

"Little pleases me at the moment," Sidana replied. Delicately she soaked the end of her piece of bread in what was left of the broth in the bottom of her bowl.

Iain made short work of his first bowl of stew, broke off a chunk of the bread and wiped his bowl clean with it.  Sidana frowned.

Are you deliberately trying to annoy her?  Maev sent as she filled the bowl again.

Iain grinned.  I may have misplaced my manners back in her dungeon.

Maev shook her head at him indulgently and turned to Sidana to remove the empty bowl before her.

"Would you care for some more, my Lady?" Maev asked.

"No, I think not," Sidana replied coolly.

"'No, I think not, my Lady,' is perhaps what you meant to say?"  Iain suggested.

Sidana said nothing, but her eyes shot daggers as she looked in his direction.

"I think perhaps it would be best if our guest retires for the night," Maev said, forestalling further debate.  "I'll put her on the spare pallet in the loft.  I'll sleep as usual up there and Roland will sleep down here tonight."

"Pallet?!" Sidana exclaimed, clearly aghast at the idea.

"It will be clean and comfortable compared to your dungeon floor," Iain said mildly.  Maev gave him a look as she shepherded the younger woman toward the ladder.

Sir Roland Althorpe entered from the back door.  "She's prickly enough, Sir Iain, without stirring her up more," he said, comfortable enough in his lord's service to reproach mildly.

"Aye, you are right, but I've seen too much death already in her Mearan rebellion, and there will be more before it's over.  She blithely sits and preens while those behind her manipulate her into more than I think she bargained for.  But enough talk of rebellion.  I want a refreshing bath to wash more from me than dirt.  And I'll need your help, if you don't mind, to contact the king  afterwards.  He needs to know what has transpired."

"Of course, my Lord.  I am at your disposal, as always."
DerynifanK  « Reply #580 »
                                        Fiona paced restlessly around her chamber, thinking about what she had heard and what she needed to do about it. Should she try to warn the baron about his son's plot? How would he react? If he confronted Michael, he would surely reveal how he had learned about Michael's plans, and that would put her in a bad position. It was possible that it would cause Michael to move sooner, and she thought he had support, not just from his friends but also from some of the manor staff. She had noticed a number of new faces among the servants, men she did not know and who might be rebel allies.

The baron's long-time steward had retired during the summer after long and faithful service. She did not care for the new man, Maclin, a withdrawn and secretive man who carried out his duties efficiently enough, but who rarely spoke and who seemed to be watching them. She had recently surprised him in a remote part of the manor house where he had no reason to be. When she asked him what he was doing, he replied that he was exploring as he needed to be familiar with all parts of the manor to be able to manage it efficiently. But she did not trust him.

In addition, she was worried about the baron's health. He had aged during the summer, tiring more easily and looking more frail. Uncle Mac, her name for him since she had joined his household six years before, had always appeared vigorous and capable despite his age, but the constant arguments with his heir and worries about the growing rebellion had taken their toll. She was afraid that they might restrain both the baron and her, keeping her from being able to get word to anyone of the situation at the manor.  No, her choice to slip away from the manor and try to reach Sir Roland and through him, Iain, was the best decision.

Having confirmed her decision in her own mind, she had to focus on her preparations and move forward. She needed a way to disguise herself, to look like a young man. She thought she could use some of Michael's discarded clothing which he had outgrown. She needed hose and a tunic, a cloak, and a cap to cover her hair.  She would need food, a means of protecting herself on her trip, and a horse.

She needed to have her route mapped out in her mind. Fortunately, she loved riding and had been allowed to explore the lands surrounding the manor widely and knew the area well. Iain's manor was not far from the Mearan border, between Culdi and Trillick. She would need to head North along the Cuilteine road toward Ratharkan. She knew that Iain's retreat was in the mountains east of Ratharkan, in an isolated area near the Gwynedd border. She was sure she could find it. However, the Cuilteine Road was a main route into Meara and she would need to avoid bands of travelers, particularly soldiers, official looking parties, or neighbors who would recognize her. She could make use of several smaller roads and paths that branched off the main road but roughly paralleled it. It should not take her more than a few days to reach her destination.

First, where could she find suitable clothing? She carefully opened her chamber door and listened. All was quiet, so she hoped everyone was asleep. She slipped quietly through the halls to the back stairs used by the servants to reach the kitchen and scullery. Through the scullery was a door leading outside to the nearby washhouse. Carefully shielding her candle, she entered the washhouse and looked around. To one side, on a shelf, she saw clothing that appeared to be removed from regular wear. She found two pairs of hose and a plain tunic that Michael had used when going hunting. She took them and retraced her steps. In the kitchen, she provided herself with two small loaves of bread, some cheese and a few apples. Then she returned to her chamber, carefully securing the door and placing her candle in a corner where its light would not be readily seen from outside.

She removed her own clothing and put it away so when the room was searched, it would look like she had prepared for bed as usual. She then put on the hose and tunic which fitted well enough to pass as her own. She braided her hair in one braid and pinned it on top of her head; she would take a cap from the main hall to hide the braid. She packed the food in her bag and took her water skin to fill it as she left.  She wanted to be away before dawn, to be as far away as possible before her absence was discovered. If all went well, she should have several hours before she was missed, and no one would have any idea where she had gone. She secured her knife in the belt of her tunic, picked up her bag and waterskin and snuck out of her chamber, securing the door. At the bottom of the stairs, she turned briefly to add her bow and quiver of arrows to her equipment. As she passed through the main hall, she took one of the caps hanging there and put it on, hiding her hair. She also took an old cloak of the baron's that was plain but warm.

She crept silently out of the manor heading for the stable. The darkness was just beginning to lighten, enabling her to find her way. When she reached the stable, she quickly filled her waterskin and then moved down the row of stalls to stop by a sturdy bay horse named Edric, who was steady and reliable. She would take him instead of her own Arondel, who was too high bred to be a squire's horse. She quickly saddled him and led him from the stable toward the approach road to the manor. As soon as she felt safe, she mounted and walked him down toward the main road. She looked back at the sleeping manor, but there were no signs of life. She had accomplished the first part of her plan. She reached the main road and turned toward the hills and Ratharkan.
May your horses have wings and fly!