02-01 Parting Ways
Five days had passed since Eva Marie agreed to destroy Sui Saor, the only bridge that connected Bon Abbi to the rest of Rylie Glen. Graybard, the seasoned warrior, Josah, Conall, and Caleb, the Evermores, stood by the rushing waters of Gilley Run. The river swelled twice its width, with swift, flowing water and a deafening roar.
Josah waved his arms, attempting to get the attention of the few sojourners, women, children, and one man standing on the opposite side. Without the bridge, those seeking the safety of the Wall became futile.
“You need,” started Josah, realizing he wasn’t loud enough. “You need to go back to Midland!”
Graybard tied the end of one sack, before swinging it overhead. With one fluid move, he released the bag into the air, grinning when it landed on the other side. He repeated the task with the second one.
“That’s bread!” shouted Josah, gesturing with his hand as if eating. “Food! Go back to Midland!”
When the second sack landed on the shore, the man in the background wearing layers of clothing, pushed his way to the front. He elbowed his way until he held the two bags. But before he could run, an arrow pierced a sack, making him turn.
Caleb, with a second arrow loaded and his short bow pulled back, convinced the man to drop the bags. No words were necessary. A woman with children untied one sack, reached in, and gave the man a loaf. Begrudgingly, he took it, then started his journey back to Midland.
Graybard shook his head, “How safe will these people be when that man is no longer in our view?”
Without hesitation, Caleb sent a few arrows over. He looked at the bow in his hand, scuffed and worn, unlike the one Graybard gave him back when they first started their journey to Bon Abbi. With some effort, Caleb flung it across the river.
One small bounce on the soaked ground and the weapon rested on the dry land. Crossing his arms over his chest and pointing to the women, he hoped they knew what he meant. Nodding their heads, they retrieved the arrows and bow.
Conall looked up at a dark, angry sky, wondering how long the rain would hold off. “They’re never going to make it to shelter before the rains start again.”
Josah turned to the city gates, holding back a response. “Do you think they’ll be safe?” asked Caleb, running to catch up.
He shook his head, thrusting his hands into the thick winter cloak Eva Marie provided. Josah could feel the anger and anguish he felt, unsure if those sojourners would make it back to Midland, unharmed.
“They’ll be fine,” Graybard offered.
It was more than Josah could bear. “How do you know they will be fine? What we’ve seen this morning has occurred every day since we lost Sui Saor! Nobody thought about the people who would suffer because we decided to destroy the bridge!”
Graybard slowed his pace, making Josah stop. “What other choice did we have? What alternative didn’t we think about before we blew up the bridge? Luka was coming to Bon Abbi, and we had to stop him!”
“We could have defended that bridge. We had an overwhelming force to overcome Luka!” Josah retorted.
“Against twenty trained soldiers? At best, we would have delayed the inevitable when Luka’s other twenty men returned. Many would have died, and Bon Abbi lost!”
Josah shoved his hands back into his pocket, then turned. “At least it would have been over!”
“Over?” repeated Graybard. “Now, who’s been drinking too much Ale!”
Running to Josah, who continued to the city gates, the soldier grabbed the boy’s cloak and turned him around. “You’re just mad that Eva Marie didn’t take your advice!”
Somehow, confronting that reality released some of the steam building inside. “Well,” Josah paused. “Not only am I ignored, but I’m also the last person to know what is happening.”
Hearing Josah speaking in softer tones made Graybard respond in kind, releasing his cloak. “Perhaps everything happening around us is more significant than you and me. Every day we confront Luka, and no lives are lost, is a great day.”
Josah glanced at Conall and Caleb, who seemed concerned about his well-being. “You’re right, Graybard. I lost sight of what is essential, and I am happy no lives were lost.” He shook his head, looking down. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong,” Caleb offered. “We came here to say farewell to your father, but we never left. You were essential in getting Eva Marie declared as the Lady of Bon Abbi, twice took a stand against Luka, then rescued Graybard and me.”
Conall added, “What you need is time to rest and replenish.”
“Aye,” agreed Graybard, placing his hand on Josah’s shoulder. “Nothing will happen until planting season. So, we have time to slow down, plan and prepare, then maybe enjoy whatever time we can while in Bon Abbi.”
Not seeing the smile he expected, Graybard grimaced, then looked into Josah’s eyes. Almost in a whisper, he warned the young boy. “You cannot be two different people. Decide if you want to return as Michael John Mayweather or remain as Josah Evermore.”
Josah winced, not knowing how to respond to Graybard’s astute observation. All he could say was, “I know.”
Tapping his shoulder twice, Graybard turned to the city gates. “The Council of Seven is holding a quick meeting by the Statue. Dali asked me to attend. Plan to join us, or wait until someone decides to tell you what was said.”
The Evermores watched as the warrior walked up to the guards, articulated something to them while pointing at the river. He waved at the boys before crossing the open gates and entering the Square.
“Is everything fine with you?” asked Conall.
Josah ran his fingers through his hair and nodded. “I’m just tired.”
Both brothers took the opportunity to punch Josah’s arms, grinning. “I’ll head out to the barn and let Ena out,” offered Caleb, surmising that the big cat needed romping time.
Glancing beyond the gates, he could see people gathering around Lady Silvi’s statue. “Don’t forget the Council’s meeting!” he shouted back.
Conall took a step in front of Josah, motioning him to stay. “Before you go to that meeting, I need to talk with you.”
Josah watched Caleb glance back as he entered through the gates. “Something tells me your brother knows what you are going to say.”
Clearing his throat, the eldest Evermore nodded. “Yes, he knows.”
When Conall didn’t speak right away, Josah urged him to start. “Don’t forget, I still need to join that council meeting.”
Exhaling deeply, Conall squared his shoulders. “I want to go back to the Molly Red, as soon as I can.”
Josah closed his eyes for a moment, not sure he heard Conall correctly. “What are you asking?”
“Father and Mother are sailing, looking for a new home. And when they find a location, I need to be there to help them.”
The way Conall looked away told Josah he hadn’t heard the complete story. “Help them with what?”
“Well,” said Conall, not sure the words he should use. “Clear land, build a house, help Father regain business.”
Josah stood taller, pulling back to let Conall know he didn’t believe him. “You do remember there are one hundred in your Father’s crew? There are more hands than work, once they decide where to settle.”
Conall looked up, feeling the first raindrops. “I know. But I would like to be there to help.”
Shaking his head, Josah asked the obvious question. “How would you find your Father? Even if I took you to Southport, the Molly Red wouldn’t be there.”
Conall admitted he was right. “I would wait for one of Father’s ships. They’re still making deliveries and picking up cargo.”
Josah started to walk to the gates. “You’re not thinking clearly. Southport is near Casselberry. By now, Luka has everyone watching the pier for our appearance.”
Grabbing his arm, Conall slowed Josah’s pace. “All right. This request isn’t about Father.”
Stopping long enough to discern Conall was struggling, Josah encouraged him to continue. “There is nothing you could say that would surprise me.”
“Well… I want to go back to find Captain Brie. I didn’t realize my feelings for her until I watched the way you cared for Eva.”
Josah couldn’t hold back his reaction. “I stand corrected. I am surprised. Of all the girls you have met, you have decided on Brie?”
Captain Brie was the youngest and only woman to command an Evermore ship called the Willowese. It was the single vessel of its kind, a modified Caravel, lighter, faster, with two masts, fore and aft sails, fast and sturdy.
“I can’t explain it, Josah.” Conall looked at him, hoping nothing more needed to be said. “I told Caleb I might be leaving, and he didn’t seem to care one way or another.”
Pulling up his hood, he started to run to the gates, as the rain fell steadily. “Let’s talk about getting you to Southport after I meet with the Council. Wait for me at the barn.”
Josah separated from Conall, watching the Council enter the nearest Blacksmith’s barn once he went through the gates. Weathered but well-maintained, the building housed several smithies, with stables at the end nearest the gates.
The hinges groaned as Josah pulled the door open. Several smithies worked wood paddles with leather bellows to stoke their fires, making the area warm. Some stuck iron bars into the burning pit, causing the ends to glow white-hot.
In the distance, Josah could hear hammers striking anvils, with an occasional whinny of horses. He closed the door when those gathered by the far wall glanced his way. Graybard waved him over.
Josah could see Eva Marie was uncomfortable with his presence, but she nodded slightly. He slipped next to Graybard, then apologized. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. Please continue your meeting.”
The man he interrupted stretched a toothy smile. “Yes, as I said, we are fortunate to have avoided what would have been an attack by Lord Luka. What some of the Council are asking is at what cost?”
Dali leaned in front of Graybard and whispered, “That is Marvis, the Council from Henley.”
A few grunts from the Council emphasized their support for the sentiment. “Now, that is not my position as I support what Eva Marie has done. But, my Lady, I do have to ask.”
Marvis paused to make sure he had everyone’s attention. “Some of the Council want to know on what authority did you decide to destroy the bridge? They never heard any details before the destruction occurred!”
Josah could tell that Eva didn’t expect the question. Looking to Dali for support, she started with a simple excuse. “Most of the Council wasn’t in Bon Abbi, but in their villages. Luka appeared before there was time to discuss options.”
An older man, tall with large hands, a square head with a cleft chin spoke. “You found time to discuss it with Sola and the blacksmiths here, did you not?”
Those smithies nearest the group stopped what they were doing to hear Eva Marie’s response. Graybard didn’t wait. “It was my plan. Eva didn’t hear about it until the next morning.”
Marvis smiled even broader. “So, it wasn’t Eva Marie’s plan? But, she must have approved it, right?”
“Wait!” shouted Eva. “I decided on the plan. I endorsed it and sent it into motion. As it was, Luka was on his way while we made preparations.”
Those with dissenting thoughts mumbled between them, while a few smithies pounded their hammers on their anvils with strong vocal support. Marvis appeared to be disturbed that the meeting was getting away from him.
Waving his hand for attention, he raised his voice, “None the less! None the less, the Council was excluded from the details and the decision. That should never happen!”
It was too much for Josah. He walked up to Marvis and poked his finger on his chest. “And where were you when we had to defend the gates?”
He gazed at the group, pointing at each one. “Except for Dali, none of you were in Bon Abbi. You sheltered in your villages, knowing the rest of us would keep you safe!”
Marvis objected. “We had no idea Luka was on his way!”
“And if you had an opportunity to know the plan, what would you have done differently?”
When no one offered any suggestion, Josah glared at the Council. “Rather than defend against Luka, you prefer to attack our Lady because she is kind. Well, I’m not! You’re all cowards, the lot of you!”
“Who are you to accuse?” Marvis said, standing closer to Josah. “We are the Council, and this is our meeting! You’re a guest, so act like it and keep your thoughts to yourself!”
“Don’t do it, Josah,” Graybard said under his breath.
“Step back, or these smithies will have to hammer your teeth back into your head!’
“Josah!” shouted Eva as she stepped between them. “Enough! Tend to Ena and wait for me.” She nudged him, then whispered, “Please. Wait for me at the barn.”
The gentle touch on his shoulder calmed Josah down. He stared at Marvis a few more seconds before heading to the door. As he swung it open, Josah thought about slamming it but decided to close it quietly behind him.
Eva turned to Marvis. “You are right. I should have consulted with the Council. But, we would have come to the same decision, as there was no other choice. So let’s not waste time talking about what we can’t undo, but what we need to do now.”
Josah sat on a bundled haystack, rainwater dripping from his long hair. Rubbing the Dragoon’s jowls made Ena rumble with delight. She, too, was wet due to the heavy rain.
The barn was ready for the cold weather, with thick tapestries hung along the walls, and hay bundles stacked in front to keep the cold out. Eva had the smithies install a stone firepit in the corner, with a chimney to draw the smoke from the burning flame.
Responding to Caleb’s question, Josah motioned with his fist. “I don’t know. I might have punched that Council’s face a few times if Eva didn’t intervene.”
“Don’t get upset when I tell you that you’re like the kegs of black powder we used to blow up the bridge,” said Caleb. “Except, you may have a shorter fuse.”
Josah didn’t acknowledge the statement. But he was acquainted with the feeling, the same he experienced when he first came to the Molly Red.
Instinctively, he rubbed the branding on his upper right arm, remembering how Captain Munro marked him as an indentured servant. He was losing control over his future, the same frustration he knew eight years ago.
“Josah, perhaps I should stay,” offered Conall.
It was enough to break the boy out of his stupor. “No, I’ll be alright. Tell me, have you ever told Captian Brie how you feel?”
Conall glanced at Caleb, who grinned. “No. I wasn’t even sure how I felt, until now.”
Closing his eyes for a moment, Josah thought about his unexpressed longing to be with Eva, those eight years of separation. “Then, let’s not make you wait.”
“I should probably stay and help defend the city,” Conall suggested.
“One extra pair of hands isn’t going to make a difference,” Caleb ventured. “You leaving Bon Abbi may mean one of the Evermores will survive what’s to come.”
“All the Evermores will survive, as long as I have breath!” shouted Josah, surprised at how mature Caleb had become.
Standing tall, he extended his right arm out, waiting for Conall and Caleb to join him. Each grabbed one another’s forearm, forming a triangle. “Forever an Evermore!” Josah shouted.
The boys laughed. “It’s been a long time since we performed our handshake,” said Josah, something Caleb conjured up when he was younger. “Today, it may mean something more.”
As they released their grip, the barn door opened. Eva Marie closed it behind her. She paused, struggling to find the words. “How could you insult the Council, knowing I have to work with them?”
She released the cloak, shaking off the rain while walking toward the boy. “You threatened Marvis Addewid, your Father’s most trusted advisor!”
All Josah could do was stare, as Eva was right, but he knew she wasn’t ready for an answer. “Defend me from Luka,” she continued, “as that makes sense. But leave the Council alone!”
Releasing his grip on Ena, the big cat immediately trotted over to Eva Marie. “If the Council is still around, I’ll apologize.”
Eva stomped her foot, pointing at the boy. “What did I just say, Josah? Leave the Council alone!”
Conall shrugged his shoulder when Josah tried to get some support. “Alright! I won’t approach them. But I won’t allow Marvis or the Council to make you wrong so they can be right. You’re the Lady of Bon Abbi and not the servant of the Council!”
Eva exhaled, tugging at her braided hair. “Graybard told me you feel like your the last to know things.”
Ignoring his head shake, Eva continued. “He’s taken the Council to the Blue Door Pub. That’s where they will meet with Sola and the Ruelanders. They are talking about rebuilding the bridge, even if it’s a temporary one.”
Caleb broke the silence that followed. “Should there even be a bridge, come spring? Luka and his soldiers shouldn’t have an easy way to get to the gates.”
“My guest is the water levels won’t go down much until later,” Conall speculated. “Cold, swift waters will deter Luka for some time if there isn’t a bridge.”
“Well, we need a way to help those coming to Bon Abbi for now,” Eva concluded, still agitated with Josah.
She swung her cloak around her shoulders, then started for the door. “Wait, Evie,” Josah said.
He walked toward Eva, with Ena following close. “I’m leaving today to take Conall to Southport. He wants to rejoin his father on the Molly Red.”
Eva gathered her thoughts before responding. “We certainly need you here, Conall, but I understand if you want to go. Thank you for everything you have done for us.”
Conall nodded his head, unable to explain why he was going. “Caleb and Josah will remain.”
“Well, travel safely. As you make your way to Southport, see if you can impart something of your sound mind.”
Grinning, Conall took pleasure in Josah’s discomfort. “I can’t do in a few days what hasn’t happened the eight years I’ve known him!”
Pulling up her hood, she glared at the boy. “I need you to come back to Bon Abbi like you were before, and not this crazed man angry at everybody and everything! And Ena could use some time away from the city!”
All Josah could do was nod. “There is no place to leave horses at Promise Gorge while we venture into Filgore Valley, so we’ll have to walk.”
Eva started to say something but decided to keep it to herself. She turned to the barn door, then slammed it shut.
“She’s becoming more like you, every day,” Caleb commented. Josah couldn’t disagree.