Caleb lit a candle, cupped his right hand by the flame, and made his way into the room. He handed it to Josah, as the others followed. “We’ll need a few more candles,” Josah whispered as he looked around.
The hidden room was about four meters in width and depth. The ceiling height was approximately six meters. There were shelves, cabinets, and dozens of leather-bound documents hanging on poles.
“The room is spotless, “observed Evelyn, “except for a little dust.”
“I’m sure no one has been here since my father passed away,” offered Josah. “Don’t wait for me. Start opening cabinets and look at the documents. We need to find papers of nobility, a signet, anything to help Evelyn.”
“Will someone enter the office and catch us in here?” asked Graybard.
“No,” whispered Evelyn. “No one enters this office except with permission.”
“Why are we whispering?” asked Caleb.
“Shut up and look!” ordered Josah.
Conall, who remained quiet, stepped to one of two tall cabinets. He pulled the door and found clothing. The cedar lining kept everything pristine. “Look at all these clothes, Evelyn. Will these help you dress the part of a noble?”
Evelyn hurried to the cabinets, sorting through the clothing folded on shelves. She pulled out a dress, thrilled it was something she could wear. “I can’t believe we found these in time for Luka’s visit.”
A small chest of drawers rested on a table next to the tall cabinets. Caleb pulled one drawer and found necklaces, rings, and bangles. “There are rings in this drawer. One may be a signet.”
Josah and Graybard carefully removed documents from their resting poles. The leather bindings had an imprint on each cover, a circle with two characters inside. They didn’t appear to be letters.
Opening the documents, Graybard flipped through the pages with care. “The writing is not Common'” he expressed. “I can’t read it.”
He referred to the universal language adopted by many cities, generations ago. A few, such as Buberra and Los Terra, still spoke in their native tongue, while embracing Common.
“See if you can find documents without that imprint on the covers,” Josah directed Graybard.
Returning the documents to their poles, Josah and Graybard looked at the other covers. They found three with a different marking. The covers for these smaller bindings had an intricate swirling ‘W’ with a sunburst to its left.
“This is my family crest! Caleb, come here. Look for this symbol.”
Caleb looked at the cover. “Does it have to be a ring? I found two heavy objects with that same look.
He went over to a drawer and pulled out two small but hefty metal stamps. Each had a holding post, but one was flat and the other curved at the end. Caleb turned them over to show the same elaborate ‘W’ with a sunburst.
“That’s it,” shouted Josah. “The hammer striking the flat signet makes the same impression as those on the leather covers.”
He took the signet from Caleb and matched it to the markings on the leather binding. “Documents, such as papers of nobility, would have the seal made by that curved metal.”
“Providence has smiled upon us,” Graybard exclaimed. He lifted one of the bound documents in the air. “Here are your family papers.”
Everyone gathered around him. “Careful,” warned Conall. “Don’t get wax on these pages.”
“Conall is right, said Josah. “Take the document out of the room and let’s look at it in the light,”
As they exited the hidden room, those holding candles blew out the flame. Graybard pushed the fireplace until he heard a clicking sound. Their secret would remain safe for now.
Josah placed the leather-bound document on his father’s oak table. The page was taller than its width, also leather, but lighter in tone. There were only three pages bound together. He turned the leather binding to make it easier to read.
The very first page bore the name of his father and mother. Below those names were Nolan Baye, Eva Marie, and Michael John. “This is what we needed to find,” Josah said with confidence.
“I don’t understand,” said Evelyn. “How will this help?”
“Your name is now Eva Marie,” explained Josah. “There is a record of the birth in your possession. Show the document when you must but never let anyone take it. This paper decrees you are of nobility.”
Josah saw Evelyn remained doubtful. “There is no description, year of birth, or other considerations to worry over,” he explained. “No one, but the rightful heir, would have access to this type of document.”
“And as long as no one goes to Mercil, they won’t find any record of Eva Marie passing away, correct?” asked Evelyn.
Josah sighed in relief. “Yes. You will be safe for now. Luka can’t argue with these papers.”
Caleb looked at the document and wondered why there were only three pages. “I thought you said your family was one of the first to arrive in Rylie Glen. Shouldn’t there be more pages?”
Josah looked at Caleb before surveying the others. “Yes, it’s rather odd. The pages only include three generations. There should be two more.”
“Let’s not worry about that right now,” said Graybard. “What do we have to do to get Evelyn, I mean, Eva Marie ready?”
The group looked at Josah for an answer. Pausing to think through the options, he turned to Evelyn. “We need to start calling you Eva Marie. The people in the Village need to hear it and start calling you by that name.”
“Conall, you write better than Caleb or me. Compose a letter as Lord Mayweather stating Eva Marie is his successor. Make it simple. We’ll stamp it and give it to the Council of Seven.”
“Won’t they get suspicious I gave them the letter now and not before?” asked Evelyn.
“Tell them you found it in Lord Rando’s office when you sorted through his documents, “offered Caleb.
Conall chuckled. “Show them the cabinet. There are plenty of documents already there.”
Josah continued. “Caleb, help Eva Marie learn her history. She needs to recite family names in their proper order. It’s a simple precaution. The Council may request to see these papers and ask questions. But we must keep this document in the office for as long as possible.”
“What should I do?” ask Graybard.
“What you do best. Walk around the Village and find the safest location for Evelyn, no Eva, to greet Luka.” Josah turned to the young girl and asked, “Where was this meeting going to take place?’
“We planned to welcome Luka at the square and proceed to the Manor.”
“No, you can’t take him to the Manor,” said Graybard. “That would put him deep inside the city. You must keep him at the Square. I’ll look around and see what we can do to keep him there.”
“Alright, then. We have our assignments. Let’s get busy as the day is ending. I’ll head out and let Ena out of the barn. She must be hungry by now.”
Graybard and Josah left the office. Conall took the curved signet stamp and went to the left cabinet. There he found several leather sheets, an inkwell, and a quill. He needed to convey as Lord Rando, his wishes for Eva Marie to become the Lady of Bon Abbi.
“Eva, how would Lord Mayweather address the letter to the ‘Council of Seven’?” asked Conall.
“He would say ‘Dearest Council.’ Also, don’t sign the letter. Lord Rando only signed letters to nobles in other cities.”
“Good to know,” responded Conall. After thinking it through, he spoke the words as he wrote. “Dearest Council, I have named Eva Marie to be my successor and the new Lady of Bon Abbi.”
He found a red candle inside the cabinet, then lit the wick. With care, he dripped the wax onto the letter. Taking the curved signet, he aligned the right edge with the wax. With one smooth motion, he rolled the seal from right to left and pulled it away.
With the letter written and sealed, Conall joined his brother at the table. Caleb drew the nobility papers closer and said, “This can’t take too long, Eva Marie. There are only three pages.”
“I’m not accustomed to hearing that new name. We need a plan to get the Villagers to use it, at least when Luka arrives.” Eva paused and then pointed to Caleb and Conall. “I’m ready to start.”
“Oh no,” exclaimed Caleb, as he looked at the two remaining pages. “There are seven brothers and three sisters on the second page. The third page shows Lord Isa had fourteen children with someone named Dezanna. Then, he fathered three more with another woman.”
“Then you better start,” quipped Conall. “Luka is to arrive in Bon Abbi by morning.”
Eva Marie sighed. “We’ll be here for some time.”
Josah and Graybard left the Manor, making their way to the Square. They stopped and looked around, imagining where Luka would go, once he entered the city. Three paths, wide enough for carts and wagons, started at each corner of the Square. One led to the Manor behind them, and the other two continued to the adjoining villages and farms.
The fourth corner of the Square led to the wall, gates, and the main roadway. The road continued beyond the wall, across a wooden bridge, and another hundred meters. That’s where the passage became two. The left path led to Northport, while the right went towards Midland. Luka and his escorts would come from the right.
The statue of the Lady was at the center of the Square, adorned with flower beds, benches, and the shared water well. Rows of merchant carts stationed around the edges of the Square and other buildings.
Villagers stood by food merchant carts close to the gates. Some obtained fresh produce and other delicacies for their evening meal. Graybard shook his head. “This doesn’t fair well, Josah.”
He turned toward the seasoned warrior. “What do you mean?”
“Well, there is no place to keep Luka at the Square. There is the open area you said your father spoke to the Village, but that’s close to the barn. Ena must remain hidden. We’ll need to stretch canvas across the area if we are to provide relief from the afternoon sun.”
Josah smirked. “I say leave him in the heat!”
“I understand,” Graybard said, smiling. “But Evelyn…”
“You mean, Eva Marie,” Josah corrected him.
“Yes, Eva Marie won’t hesitate to invite him to the Manor. We can’t let Luka become familiar with the city layout. He isn’t just meeting our Lady. He’s planning to invade the city!”
“Right,” agreed Josah. “I’ll look around the barn and see if I can find a canvas we can use.”
“Wait, there is more. Walk with me toward the city gates.”
Josah noticed the blacksmiths, and other services on their left had closed for the day. The cobblestone path leading to the main road was well maintained.
But, the wall and gates needed repair. Crumbled areas on the wall exposed the core of trees stacked on one another. Graybard pointed to those areas. “There is no telling how long the summer rain and the winter cold has weakened the core. The weather has compromised this side of the wall.”
Graybard ignored the guards’ greeting as he continued to the gates. “Step through the gates and take a look from the outside.”
Josah looked down the roadway to the wooden bridge spanning the river. “That’s a different problem,” Graybard said. “Look at the gates. The right gate cannot close. It’s propped open. You can’t defend a city without a wall and solid gates.”
Gazing on either side of the road, Josah could see two places where the wall needed repair. “Well, Luka isn’t invading tomorrow.”
“No, he will not. But that idea will come to him tomorrow when he arrives and observes the decay,” said Graybard.
As they walked back into the city, Graybard asked the guards, “Do you have any real weapons in Bon Abbi?”
Armed with wooden staves and no armor, they looked at each other before answering. “We’re a haven city, so no, there are no weapons here, nor a need to have them.”
Graybard huffed, as he walked away. He continued with Josah to the barn. “I don’t know how to defend this city, Josah.”
As Josah reached for the barn door, he sighed. “We only need to defend Eva Marie when she meets Luka. I can talk her into leaving with us when we head back to Southport.”
Graybard waved his hand in defiance. “She won’t leave. I’m going to find a pub.”
“Alright, but plan to be back at the barn by nightfall. I’m staying here with Ena.”
“I’ll come back in due time,” Graybard shouted behind him as he went back to the Square.
He walked to the blacksmith shops, hoping someone established a place to eat and drink nearby. Then Graybard heard faint laughter and music in the distance. “That has to be a pub.”
Taking quick steps, Graybard followed the scent of meat cooking on a spit, until he came to an open field. A trail cut into the tall grass led to a long, thatched building, adorned with blue doors.
A painted sign had a drinking vessel with a partial moon above it. As Graybard pondered on the similarity to the symbols at the Tuva pub, he heard his name called, “Gray. Is that you?”
He turned to a small gathering of people minding the fires and food on the spit. A woman with short red hair and green eyes waved, as she poked at the blazing logs with an iron rod.
He walked over to the fire and said with all the strength he could muster, “Dalia.”
Graybard couldn’t help but stare at her patterned kirtle and white linen.
“Gray, no need to be formal. Dali is fine. What are you doing here? I thought you and your friends would have been on your way, by now.”
She handed the poker to a young man, with instructions to keep the fire steady. Then she walked to Graybard. “Well? What are you doing here? Are you still traveling with, um, all your friends?”
Graybard cleared his throat, looking around before answering. “Yes, we are still here. Josah found another barn for his friend.”
“And you are here because…” Dali paused so Graybard could finish her statement.
“Oh. We are still here by request of the Lady. Eva Marie needs our help as she prepares for Luka Dey’s arrival.”
“Eva Marie? You mean, Evelyn?” asked Dali.
“Yes, the same young girl. We learned today that Eva Marie is her real name.” Graybard chuckled awkwardly, concerned he may have said too much. But he decided to take one more risk. “Will you join me for a meal and drink?”
Dali laughed, delighted at the offer. “This pub was open for patrons a few days ago. It was the dream of a young family in Tuva to open such a place here. It will be the first time I get to sit and eat at a pub.”
Graybard extended his arm. “Then, let’s not wait.”
Dali placed her hand on top of his arm as Graybard led her to the blue doors. They walked into the pub, already filled with laughter and music. People sat around tables, eating and drinking, to Graybard’s delight.
A young woman wearing a tan apron proceeded toward Dali with a broad smile. Without hesitation, she embraced Dali, making Graybard step back.
“Dali, welcome! How can we ever repay you? Malcolm is in the kitchen, making sure everything is flowing well. Please take a seat by the table at the window.”
She curtsied and led them to a clean table. “I’ll bring you the best we have for you and your companion.”
Graybard felt a welcoming warmth overcome him. A companion to Dali was a great start. As they sat down on either side of the table, Graybard said, “She seems to care for you.”
Dali nodded her head. “Nevaeh worked at my pub back in Tuva, but always wanted to have her own. I secured the land and had workers fix this old warehouse. Next to the Square seemed like the right place to have a pub.”
Graybard didn’t respond, allowing an uncomfortable silence to befall them. He was happy when Nevaeh brought two drinking vessels filled to the brim. Planks of steamed potatoes, mashed peas, with generous slabs of pork and fowl, followed. Another server brought freshly baked bread, sliced for convenience.
“Please accept this meal as our gift,” she said, curtsied and walked away.
Dali looked at the bounty on their table. “I hope you are hungry. There is more food than I can consume by myself.”
Without hesitation, Graybard grabbed slices of meat and placed them on a wooden slab. He chugged some ale before he started eating. Dali grinned at his healthy appetite. “So, what do you know about our Lady of Bon Abbi?”
Graybard paused and took a drink before answering. “Not much, except she is rather feisty and determined to meet Luka Dey.”
“Well, she’s the only one,” Dali said as she continued eating. “I’ve heard stories about him that aren’t very good.”
“And they are all true,” Graybard responded, as he chewed on the tender pork. “I led his army for some time.”
Dali looked at Graybard with a surprised look. “How is it you came to Bon Abbi?”
Taking a slice of bread, Graybard pointed it toward Dali. “I couldn’t work for Luka anymore. He’s unstable. I ran across the Evermore brothers who wanted to travel to Bon Abbi. I decided to travel with them and keep the boys safe from Casselberry.”
Pushing her meal plank away, Dali slid her hand near Graybard. “Tell me, truly. Eva Marie is in danger, isn’t she?”
Graybard marveled at how quickly Dali adapted to the new name. He wiped his hand on a linen towel before placing his hand on top of Dali’s. “She’s in grave danger. That’s why we are still here.”
“Then, I will stop worrying. You are here to protect Eva Marie. I’m on the Council of Seven, as you know. You will have our full support.”
Dali beamed at the seasoned warrior. Graybard couldn’t help his response. “My dear, Dali. I have already pledged my support for Eva Marie. No harm will befall her as long as I am here.”
“Well, I must go and help Nevaeh. There are more people here than she can serve by herself.”
Pulling her hand away, she stood up. Graybard started to rise but sat back down at Dali’s insistence. “I will be there in the morning to greet Luka Dey when he arrives. Will you be there?”
He rubbed the side of his beard, then shook his head. “No, I need to keep my distance. Luka cannot find me in Bon Abbi.”
“Then, until we meet again.” Dali bowed her head, then walked to the center of the room. Stomping her feet and clapping her hands, she called for attention.
“Tomorrow is a big day for Bon Abbi,” she said. “Casselberry is coming to meet our Lady. They will arrive early morning. If you can, be at the Square bright, early, and with excitement.”
Patron and servants alike cheered with zest. “And when we speak of our Lady, be sure to call her by name, Eva Marie. Spread the word. If you do well, meet back here tomorrow night. The first drinks are on me!”
The people shouted “Eva Marie” in unison. Dali flashed a smile to Graybard, then turned to the kitchen. She wondered how much he knew about the Lady of Bon Abbi.
Graybard took one long drink, pushed away from the table, and left the pub. The shouting stopped by the time he exited into the crisp evening. He walked back to the barn under the bright moonlight, humming, questioning if he could ever make a home in Bon Abbi.
He knocked on the barn door, stuck his head in, and shouted, “I’m about to walk inside.” Ena still made Graybard feel uneasy.
“I’m up here in the loft,” Josah shouted back.
Graybard entered the barn and secured the door. He saw a canvas folded into a square, poles with leather straps, and an iron hammer. “You found some cover, did you now?”
He walked up the ramp to the loft where he found Ena sleeping on a horse blank. “We’re going to need some help setting up that canvas.”
“Already handled. Eva Marie stopped by while you were out. She is sending a group of men to stretch the canvas. We won’t need to do anything.”
Graybard grunted as he took off his sword and chain maile. He stripped down to his undergarments and pulled down an extra horse blanket. Making a bed away from Ena, he stretched and slipped his hand behind his head.
“I met Dali tonight,” he started, then shared the details with Josah. “Things will go right tomorrow.”
Josah sat on the blanket next to Ena and pulled off his boots. Blowing out his lantern, he let himself fall on the hay. “I dread the morning,” he said.
When there wasn’t a response, he lifted his head and looked at the far corner. Graybard was fast asleep. Josah laid back down, questioning his motive for staying. Yes, he would help Eva Marie. But he couldn’t deny his obsession to confront Luka Dey once and for all!