A boy with soft brown eyes, brimming with questions, peered over the edge of an old and worn salt merchants case watching his mother prepare for a journey. She quietly and efficiently moved around the small room behind their family bakery gathering odds and ends and checking weapons. After several minutes of covert observation the boy could no longer contain his curiosity and asked, “Where are you going Mommy?”
The mother was neither surprised nor startled by his sudden question. She had heard her son get out of bed and sensed him enter the room then hide behind the case. Pausing in her preparations for a moment to kiss the dear child on the head she responded, “Down to the coast for a few days?”
“Why?” the boy asked.
“To help a friend of grandpapa’s, and to keep a promise.”
The little boy of about four seemed satisfied. Growing up almost entirely within Terrasylvae he was familiar with answers that sited Honor as reason in and of itself. Honor was reason enough to do almost anything. Including, answering messengers in the dead of night, leaving your family immediately, and traveling three days to the coast, just to help an old family friend.
A curly brown haired two year old sister wandered into the small room rubbing her eyes and yawning.
“Mama go?” she asked.
“Yes, my dear, Mama has to go.”
The little girl reached both arms up into the air as high as she could, the universal sign of a child who wants to be held. The mother bent down and hoisted her onto a hip as she stood back up. Looking very seriously at her mother, the little girl put both hands on either of side of her mom’s cheeks and stared her right in the eyes saying,
The mom hugged the little one closely, and laughed a full, joyful laugh, before gently putting the sweet girl down next to her brother.
“No, my darling, not this time. I’m afraid it is a little too dangerous outside of Woodland for you just now. Those Greek demons are still looking for you two, and Daddy. And we can’t let them have you.”
The two kids, sitting cross legged side by side, folded their arms in unison looking very defiant. Again the mother laughed in sheer delight and tousled their hair lovingly.
A tall Greek looking man entered the room with a small sack of provisions and a false internal drawer for the salt merchant’s case.
“There are a few coins, some hardtack, and apples in the sack my dear and I waxed the runner on that drawer. It should fit better now.”
“Thank you sweetheart, I really need to get going. Do you have that translated manuscript of Luke? I plan to stop by the Lollards camp on my way back from the coast.”
“It’s already in the case. You just need to slip in the drawer.”
She thanked him with a kiss. Then with a familiar motion fit the false drawer into place covering up a precious English translation of Luke’s Gospel. She quickly filled in the rest of the case with an impressive array of different kinds of salt from all around the world.
With well practiced ease, the wife and mother tied on her belt and slipped her rapier into a sheath at her side. As the woman finished making little adjustments for her comfort she looked at the concerned faces of her family.
“I’ll only be gone a few days,” she assured them, “I’ll be home in time for the Solstice Ball. There’s no need to worry. I’ll be fine.”
After several hugs and a few soft words of loving kindness the mom tucked the two children back into their beds kissing them farewell. She strapped the salt merchants case onto her back and her tall, Greek husband followed her out the door of their bakery to the edge of the path that led away from their home.
“Remember, my dear, you’re just looking for Fifer Folley’s daughter. She’s supposed to be staying at the Cannon Inn. You’re only there to fetch her and bring her back. You’re not going out there to pick any fights all on your own. Keep your head down, please, for our sake.”
“I promise I won’t go looking for a fight, but if Blackoven’s minions or those Greek demons get in my way…” She trailed off looking into her loving husband’s eyes.
He smiled and shook his head a little, capitulating the point. “Just be careful.”
“I will, I promise. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
With that said, and one more sweet kiss, she was off into the midnight darkness. She quickly fell into her tried and tested routine of six hours walking to one hour resting. She knew the paths to the seaside well and, as promised, she kept her head down. Only briefly stopping here and there as fellow travelers or townsfolk called out to purchase her salts.
At the end of three days she came to a backwater village on the English coast that no one cared about except the people who lived there and even then that wasn’t a guarantee. Officially and on the King’s maps the name of the place was Carefon but everyone called the rundown seaside settlement Gooseneck Point.
Here a thin shoal of rocks jutted out from the mainland into the sea several hundred feet and crooked at the end like a goose neck. At low tide, small ships could use the smooth rocks as a reliable dock for the unloading of illegal goods and peoples who wished to enter jolly old England without the notice of the law. The woman knew the place well, and so, was on her guard.
As she neared the lane of closely built two story buildings that led down to the Cannon, a tumble of townsfolk came rushing out of the mouth of the street, stumbling and tripping over each other in a small stampede. There was a great deal of shouting and accusations being bandied about and everyone was clearly upset. As the crowd cleared off, the woman stepped in front of a particularly rough looking fellow making sure the hilt of her rapier was clear and in plain view. The man stopped abruptly and put his hands up to show he meant no harm.
With a low and dangerous voice she asked, “What is going on here?”
“There is an Irish devil in there causing trouble for a few fools,” the rough looking fellow answered as he backed away. Clearly he was not looking for a fight, today. A pity the woman thought.
She let him go and gently eased her rapier in its sheath to be ready for a quick draw. Nimbly she rounded the corner and into the narrow street that housed the Cannon Inn. There were half a dozen men laying on the ground groaning pitfully, or out cold taking an enforced nap judging by the welts across their faces.
The woman could see towards the end of the street another young woman who was facing almost entirely away from her bent in a dangerous half crouch beneath the gently swinging sign that indicated the Cannon. The agile young woman was dressed in light, Irish, sea faring clothes. She waited en guarde against two burly dock workers. Wielding only a knotted rope with a bit of sail cloth attached and a small sea knife, the ‘Irish devil’ was keeping the ‘fools’ out of range until she was ready to strike.
Curious, like her son, the woman moved forward along the lane drawing her rapier as she stepped over the fallen. She could plainly see the faces of the two dock workers at odds with the Irish lass. They were livid with rage. One man sported a nasty cut on his right forearm. These men were clearly seasoned fighters and intended real harm. Yet, the Irish lass appeared to be getting the best of them.
Before the woman could reach the fray the dock workers attacked from two angles and suddenly the Irish lass was fighting for her life. The sail cloth arched back and forth in sweeping motions like a fighting cloak and the sea knife flashed here and there deftly blocking the knife and club attacks from the dock workers.
While clearly untrained in any fighting school the Irish lass had obviously been taught enough to confidently defend herself. However she was giving ground too swiftly backing up the lane towards the already fallen. Within a few steps she would likely trip over those she had felled earlier and become prey herself to the unsavory intentions of the two attackers.
Seeing the imminent danger the woman called out, “watch behind you!” as she rushed to the aid of the Irish. The lass quickly changed her tack and pressed an offense of her own. She threw her rope and sail ‘cloak’ into the face of the knife fighting dock worker. This provided a single moment for her to step into his stance and throw him off balance completely. Throwing her shoulder into his sternum with all her might, she knocked him to the ground. The impact caused him to lose the grip on his knife and it was sent skittering harmlessly down the street.
The lass spun to face the remaining attacker with Irish fury flashing in her eyes. He fell back a step filled with fear. He looked at his fallen companion and he took another step away. He saw the woman with her rapier in hand coming to help, and fell back one more step.Once a retreat is begun it’s hard to route, especially if you’re a coward at heart. He took one final step backward, turned and took off down the street as though he had been fired from a cannon. He ran away from the fight like the Furies were behind him. What was really behind him was something much scarier.
The Irish lass shouted after the fleeing man, in her own tongue, words that could flay a man alive if he stayed to listen. With her back turned she didn’t see the other dock hand slowly get to his feet, gripping her rope and sail in his hands. Like a lion stalking his prey he began to sneak up behind the Irish woman until, quite firmly, he felt the unmistakable tap of a sword on his shoulder. He turned into the punch of a rapier guard and fell unconscious to the ground, this time with a badly broken nose.
The Irish lass startled by the noise of crunching bone turned in time to see the woman sheath her sword. She saw the fallen dock hand with the rope and sail still clutched in his hands, laying at the feet of the woman. The lass immediately recognized the danger she had been in and cocked her head in acknowledgement of the help she’d just received.
“Was it you that called out to me a moment ago then?” She asked in with just a hint of a musical lilting accent.
“Yes. Though, you don’t appear to have needed my help.” the woman replied.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, I thought I’d taken care of that one there,” she indicated pointing at the broken nosed dock worker with her sea knife. “It would appear I didn’t hit him hard enough.” She nodded to the woman and continued, “I thank you for cleaning up my mess. My name’s Miren Folley, who are you?”
The woman bent down and freed the rope and sail from the grip of the poor fool at her feet. Standing upright once more, she gently tossed it to Miren replying, “I’m Shayen Locke. I’m here to bring you to Woodland.”