06 Preparing for Luka Dey

Evelyn twisted until Josah released his hold. “The only way you can rescue me is by becoming Michael John Mayweather again.”

She stepped back, mumbling, trying to understand how a noble’s son could take on a new name and reject his own. “What happened to you? How could you have changed so much?”

Josah looked down for a moment, not sure how he should answer. “I was ten years old, alone and afraid. Never been away from home. I found myself on a ship, the Molly Red, sailing away from Rylie Glen. The Evermores took me in, and I just…”

“You just what?” repeated Evelyn. “Decided to abandon who you are, your family, your heritage, your responsibility?”

Josah turned away, frustrated, and kicked the first bundle of hay. Evelyn followed, not easily deterred. “Talk to me, Michael!” she yelled.

Realizing this wasn’t helping, she paused, and spoke softly, “Please, tell me. I do want to understand.”

Nodding his head, Josah acknowledged Evelyn’s desire to connect. “I know. It’s hard to explain. I saw Nolan die. I was there and couldn’t stop it. I tried, but all I got was this scar for my efforts.”

Evelyn looked under Josah’s left eye. She could see a partial imprint of an arrow, with a deeper scar continuing down and around the cheekbone.

“A healer would have sewn that wound,” she said, shaking her head.

“Believe me when I say that the salty sea spray stung. Captain Evermore watched over me while I worked with his crew. It wasn’t too long before he invited me to his home. The Evermores were kind to me, took me in, and made me part of their family. I refused to give them my real name at first, so the Captain gave me his father’s name.”

“Then you took their last name, “Evelyn finished. “I understand. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up who you are, Michael.”

“It’s Josah, Evie! Michael died the day he saw his brother murdered by Luka.”

“You can’t abandon your name. Think of your Father.”

Josah turned his head away from Evelyn. “He abandoned me long before I disappeared. I was his disappointment. I’m sure he wished it was me who died and not Nolan.”

“You don’t know what it was like when you didn’t return,” Evelyn said in low tones. “The two sons of the Mayweather family died that day. It was difficult. For everyone, and not just your father.”

Tears rolled down her cheeks as they both stared at each other. Ena, who watched Josah closely, stood up and walked to the back of the barn.

“She needs to go out,” Josah said, relieved he had a reason to get out of the barn.

“Let’s take her to the other side of the wall. Something tells me she has been there before, ” Evelyn said with a smile. “I’ll go with you.”

As they walked to the door, Josah slipped his hand into Evelyn’s. She looked back into Josah’s eyes and stared without blinking. Words weren’t necessary.

“I’ll go out first and make sure no one is around,” said Evelyn.

She walked out, closing the door behind her. A few moments later, Josah heard three taps at the door. “Come, Ena. That’s our signal.”

Pushing the barn door open, Josah ran with Ena following behind him. When they reached the wall, Ena lept over and tore into the fields. With bursts of energy, the big cat ran a long distance before stopping. Her keen eyes then focused on a cluster of trees.

“You know she would be safe on that side of the wall during the day,” Evelyn told him. She watched as Ena disappeared into the grove of trees.

“I don’t know how to tell her to stay on that side of the wall.”

“Why don’t you begin by deciding to stay here first.” Evelyn grinned. “Then, you’ll have plenty of time to show her.”

Josah leaned on the wall, looking at Ena, who caught vermin, shaking her catch before eating. “Alright. I’m not going to argue with you. I’ll stay.”

Evelyn could barely contain her joy. “But, on two conditions,” Josah said. “First, you must never tell anyone who I am.”

She nodded her head. “And second, you must agree to leave with me, once Luka Dey is no longer a threat to Bon Abbi.”

“Where would we go?” asked Evelyn.

“Anywhere and everywhere. I’ll take you to the Molly Red, and we’ll sail the seas.”

Evelyn gazed into the afternoon skies, looking for direction. “Alright,” she said. “As long as Bon Abbi is free from Luka Dey, then I agree to leave.”

Before he could respond, Josah heard his name called. It was Caleb. “You were planning to come back?” he asked as he squinted his eyes.

“It’s my fault,” Evelyn told Caleb. “I’ve kept Josah too long. Why don’t we go back to the garden?”

The young Evermore lifted his eyebrows as a signal to Josah. He wanted to say something, but not with Evelyn present. Josah shook his head and said, “Caleb, Evelyn knows.”

“Knows what? Everything? Even about Ena?”

Evelyn smiled at Caleb. “We’re watching her out in the fields.”

“So, I don’t have to keep secrets anymore?” He looked across the field and saw Ena stretched out in the sun.

Josah reached for Caleb’s shoulder. “Not between us, but we do need to be careful. I need your help again. Stay here by the wall. Ena needs to be free for some time. Then put her back into the barn when she is ready. Join us in the garden afterward. There is much to discuss.”

Caleb started to object, “How will I know when she is ready?”

“I’m not sure,” Josah admitted. “I don’t know anything about Dragoons, except that this one is unusual. She is also learning about us. Whistle for her. If she returns, then she is ready.”

“Fine, but I am worried that someone will see Ena when I take her to the barn.”

“No need to worry,” Evelyn assured Caleb. “Everyone is busy getting ready for our guest. Most of the preparation will be away from the Square.”

“Alright,” Caleb finally agreed. “Ena will be full by the time I whistle for her and won’t look at me as her next meal.”

Josah grinned and pushed Caleb as brothers would do. “I don’t know if Dragoons ever get that full.”

As the boys clasped forearms, Josah whispered, “We’re staying long enough to help Evelyn. Get Ena in the barn as quick as you can.”

After patting Caleb’s shoulder, he turned to Evelyn. “Let’s get back to the garden.”

Neither one talked as they made their way back through the Square. On the other side of his mother’s statue was the start of a massive wall. Two men stood by the opened wooden gates, armed with long wooden staffs.

The wall, covered with mixtures of clay, sand, and limestone, hardened over time. Josah knew the wall extended between the Alder Woods and Filgore mountains.

It kept the city safe at night against unwanted beasts, like the roaming bears of Midland. A young boy waved at Evelyn as they continued to the garden. She returned the wave and told Josah he was the runner who was to let her know when anyone new entered the gates.

Approaching the gardens, Josah heard laughter, with occasional bursts of straining noises. He saw Graybard and Conall clasping hands, as each attempted to force their opponent down. Graybard let Conall struggle before he slammed the young boy’s hand onto the table.

“About time,” said Conall, rubbing the back of his hand. “We sent Caleb to find you, and now he’s gone.”

“He’s watching Ena, and yes, Evelyn knows about Ena and me,” Josah said to ease the concern on Conall’s face.

At that moment, a young girl ran out of the kitchen towards Evelyn. She curtsied, apologizing as she rose. “Ma’am, we cleared the table. We didn’t know you were returning.”

“Becca, no need for concern. Tell the others to rest, and I’ll go into the kitchen, get some bread, cheese, and wine when we are ready. I’ll see you during the evening service.”

“Ma’am, if you don’t mind, I’ll stay and help.” As Evelyn started to challenge Becca, the young girl stood straight with resolve. “Please. I want to serve. Don’t take this opportunity from me.”

Evelyn looked at Josah before she agreed. Becca made her way to the kitchen, ready to tell the others their services were no longer required.

“Amazing,” Josah commented. “People in Bon Abbi connect with you. How is this possible? Don’t they know you’re the Miller’s daughter?”

Evelyn sat down at the garden table next to Graybard, a signal for the others to follow. “Like your story, Josah, this is difficult for me to tell. I was overcome by sadness when you didn’t return, so much that my father sent me off to Midland.”

“Midland? Why there?” asked Josah.

“It wasn’t Bon Abbi,” Evelyn said as she shrugged her shoulders. “While in Midland, I became an apprentice to Sola del Sol, the healer. After he taught me to write, I began scribing his formulas and learning the art of healing.”

“Why did you return to Bon Abbi?” asked Conall. He glanced at Josah, who gazed down at the table. Graybard loved stories, quietly taking in every word, while softly stroking his beard.

“My father would visit me in Midland as often as he could. Then he stopped coming, almost a full planting season ago. A runner from Bon Abbi told us that an illness overcame my father and some other people. They all passed away.”

“It wasn’t an illness but poison, right?” asked Josah as he finally looked at Evelyn.

“Yes. After the runner described what he saw, Sola said it was poison. When he worked for Casselberry, Sola created strong brews, poisons to fend off wild beasts. After learning Luka was going to use them on people, he refused to serve him any longer. Sola escaped to Midland.”

Josah slammed his fist on the table as he rose from his chair. “This man has killed so many with no consequences. How is this possible?”

Hearing Becca approaching, struggling with place settings, and drinking vessels, he stopped talking. Josah hurried to help the young girl. Becca pushed her burden into his hands and ran back to the kitchen.

Josah walked back to the table, allowing things to fall. “Take your vessels before Becca gets back, so she doesn’t have to do it.”

“No, no!” Evelyn protested. “She wants to serve. Let her have this pleasure.”

As expected, the young girl returned with a cheese wheel, bread, and two flasks of wine. Becca distributed vessels and plates to everyone. “Ma’am, please enjoy your meal. If there’s nothing else, I will retire until the evening service.”

“This was lovely, Becca. You may retire.”

The young girl grinned at Evelyn and returned to the kitchen. Just then, Caleb made his way into the garden. “Ena’s back in the barn. Oh great! Food!”

Graybard couldn’t help himself. “Master Caleb, no surprise, you appear whenever there is food!”

Caleb pulled bread and started eating, ignoring the comment. “What did I miss?”

Conall retold Evelyn’s story, adding, “We’re all sorry about your father. Please continue.”

Evelyn poured wine into her vessel, then took a small sip. She let the wine sit in her mouth before swallowing, thinking about how she would continue. “There’s not much to tell. Sola sent me with various concoctions, hoping that one would undo the poison. When I returned to Bon Abbi, I found Lord Mayweather in distress.”

“How did you know poison caused his distress?” asked Caleb.

“You look for signs. It appeared Lord Rando drank poison made from mushrooms. I gave him the brew to counteract the poison. In two days, Lord Rando returned to work.”

“Evelyn,” Graybard interrupted. “How is it people look to you as the Lady of Bon Abbi?”

Evelyn shook her head, not wanting to relive the moment. “Lord Rando had asked me to stay. I followed him throughout the day, writing things down, helping him when he didn’t feel well. People saw me with him every day. Most didn’t recall who I was when I returned.”

“Evie, why do you think poison killed my father if you were able to provide a cure?” asked Josah. He sat back down and looked at the young girl as she struggled to answer his question.

Evelyn’s blue eyes betrayed her confidence, as Josah saw tears forming. With her shoulders slightly slumped forward, the young leader exhaled deeply. “That’s just it. Lord Rando never got better. I treated him every day, but his strength left him.”

She captured a tear with her thumb before it escaped her eyes. “Your father called the Council of Seven. With no sons to entrust, he named me to become the leader of the city. He passed away shortly after, right before this planting season.”

Josah grabbed a knife and stabbed the cheese wheel. He carved out a chunk, took a bite and a swig of wine. “And now Luka is coming to challenge you. The six months of mourning is over.”

Graybard looked puzzled. “Why can’t the Council of Seven tell Luka they made their choice?”

“He’ll demand Evelyn to declare herself as a noble,” answered Josah. “When she can’t produce papers, he’ll accuse her posing as a noble, an offense worthy of death.”

“You’re a noble,” said Caleb. “Why can’t you take Evelyn’s place?’

Josah shoved the plate in front of him. “Because I’m not staying! To rule the city, you must stay. I’m leaving Bon Abbi as fast as I can and never coming back.”

“I understand,” Graybard spoke softly. “I’ve been where you are today. I couldn’t wait to leave Bubera. But remember, my young friend, time has a way of changing your mind.”

“I’m not changing my mind,” Josah said stubbornly.

“Are there other options that won’t involve Josah?” asked Conall.

“There are no options. There is nothing to do,” answered Evelyn. “But I plan to meet and challenge Luka, alone, if I must.”

Josah grabbed the knife, tapping it on the remaining piece of cheese, working out an idea. When he stopped his tapping, he looked at Evelyn. “What if we could convince Luka that you are a Noble?”

“How?” Evelyn responded.

Waving the knife in the air a few times, Josah stood and stuck the knife into the cheese wheel. “That should be easy. Evelyn, we need to go into my father’s study. That’s where he kept documents and items of value.”

Evelyn seemed confused. “I’ve been in and out of that room for months and never found anything.”

Josah started his way towards the courtyard between the two buildings. “He probably hid important documents from view.”

Everyone followed Josah to the landing between the two Manor buildings. But before he entered the house, Evelyn pulled on his arm. “Wait. Even if we found documents, how will that help?” She paused for a moment and stammered, “I’m, I’m not a noble.”

“Evie, it’s simple. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier.” He placed his hand on hers before continuing. “Most people don’t know I had a sister who was older than me. She never had excellent health. My mother sent her off to Mercil so that healers could tend to her. But she passed away before I was born.”

“Your father told me once we shared similar names, but that was so long ago.” Evelyn looked away, almost as if she could hear Lord Rando speak.

“She was Eva Marie. My father told me he never put a marker in the family plot for my sister. It would have reminded my mother how she died so far away. That’s why we rarely spoke of her.”

“But how is that going to help?” Caleb asked impatiently.

“Because there is a record of her birth here in Bon Abbi but not of her death. Someone would have to go to the healers in Mercil and know who to ask.”

“So, what documents or valuables would your father have to prove she is the proper Lady of Bon Abbi?” Graybard inquired with a grin. The warrior was partial to mysteries and intrigue.

“That’s what I don’t know. There should be papers of nobility at the very least.” Josah pushed the door into the Manor, greeted by a familiar scent. His mind flooded with recollections of life in Bon Abbi.

Evelyn nudged Josah into the darkened corridor, allowing time for his eyes to adjust. He made his way through the hall, trying to outrun his memories. Portraits hung every two meters of various Mayweather family members.

At the end of the long corridor was the Greeting Parlor. Josah slowed his pace when he heard unfamiliar voices. The room once adorned with grand furniture, and proper appointments had changed. Now, there were four laced covered tables, each with a cabinet and several chairs.

One older woman laid down on a table, answering questions asked by a younger girl. Several people sat in chairs as if waiting. The young girl bowed her head when Evelyn appeared into view. “My lady, I need your help when you are available.”

Evelyn nodded her head and turned to the group. “The Grand Parlor is more of a healer’s room. I’m training a few people as I was by Sola. Go to your father’s study. I’ll join you when I can.”

Josah watched as Evelyn extended her hand to comfort the distraught woman on the table. He couldn’t help staring. How could she push away all her concerns and fears of what was coming with such ease?

Graybard tapped his shoulder. “Come, Josah. We must not linger. Where do we go from here?”

Turning to the back of the Grand Parlor, he jutted his chin towards a door on the left. Caleb led everyone to an ornate door but waited for Josah. The door remained shut by a wooden leveler. He reached for the door latch, hesitating for a moment.

Josah never entered his father’s study without permission. The last time he stood inside the room was when his father reprimanded him for some careless prank. He lifted the latch and pushed the door open.

The room was the way he remembered, with a sitting area on the left and a big oak table and chairs on the right. A portrait of his father and mother hung above a massive fireplace in the back of the room. Two small cabinets with doors, anchored on either side of the hearth, looked promising.

Caleb ran to the cabinet on the right and swung the doors open. Stacks of leather-bound documents were inside. “There’s so much here.”

“Then you better start reading,” Conall snorted.

“He wouldn’t leave those kinds of papers unprotected. Look for a loose floorboard, a hidden drawer, or a small strongbox,” Josah said with conviction. “There has to be something here we could use to help Evelyn.”

Caleb looked under the oak chairs and table but found nothing. He moved the woven mat covering the floor but found no loose boards. “Nothing over here,” he announced.

Graybard and Conall lifted portraits and looked behind each wooden frame. The walls were smooth and untouched. Josah could move the cabinet on the right, but the left one remained fixed to the wall. Caleb tapped his left foot along different spots on the floor, hoping to hear a hollow sound.

Evelyn opened the door and stepped into the office. Closing the door, she asked,” Did you find anything?”

“Nothing unusual,” responded Graybard.

“Maybe we should look at the documents in the cabinets,” offered Caleb.

Josah straightened and stared at the fireplace. The wide hearth narrowed at the top before continuing to the ceiling. Unlike the others in the Manor, this one didn’t have a mantel.

“Evelyn, do you recall the last time someone cleaned this fireplace?” asked Josah.

“Why, no,” Evelyn responded. “I can’t recall anyone ever cleaning it out.”

“I don’t ever remember a fire burning in this office.” Josah squatted down and gazed inside. “This looks too clean. No trace of ashes.”

Slowly, everyone squatted down next to Josah. “What do you think this means?” asked Caleb.

“There is only one way to tell,” said Graybard. He crawled into the fireplace and looked up. “Well, no one ever burned anything here. The stones run solid to the top.”

He crawled back and looked at Josah. “Smoke would fill this room if you lit a fire.”

“It must be hiding something,” Conall offered. “Caleb, get in there and start pushing against the back of the fireplace.”

“Wait,” Evelyn called out. “Lord Rando wouldn’t be crawling into a space to hide his valuables. He would do something grander.”

Josah agreed. “There has to be something that swings open. The fireplace is massive. Stand in front of a section and press on the stones. One may open a doorway.”

Everyone stood up and stepped closer to the fireplace. Immediately, each began pressing on stones, but no results. Graybard ran his hand where the stones narrowed before continuing upward. “There is a gap here as the stonework narrows. Place your hands on the widest parts and push.”

They all struggled as they pushed against the fireplace. “Hold on,” Josah said as he stepped back. “My father wouldn’t have this many people helping him. Now, see how the cabinet on the right is no longer along the wall. Maybe the fireplace swings in that direction.”

Evelyn made her way to the left side of the fireplace. She ran her hand along the wall and stones, down to the left cabinet. “I don’t see a handle or feel anything that would swing this open.”

She looked at scrollwork on top of the cabinet. “Wait, I see something. There’s a seam separating the top right of the cabinet.”

Evelyn traced the seam with her fingertips, and then pressed down. She heard a mechanical sound as the bottom section of the fireplace moved away from the wall. Josah grabbed the side and swung it open.

The fireplace separated from the fixed, narrow chimney, revealing a dark room. Josah peered into the dark space as he shouted, “Someone light a candle. We may have found more than papers.”

Written by Mike Arroyo

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