08 Noble Challenge

Josah sat on the flatten hay as the morning sunlight broke through the darkened barn. Ena stretched and walked over to Graybard, who awoke to the large cat staring at him.

“Josah,” he whispered. “Do something.”

Smiling at the warrior’s dilemma, Josah chuckled. “Well, she hasn’t eaten yet. That’s why she is looking at you.”

Ena pushed her face closer to Graybard as he slowly pulled himself into a sitting position. “Hey, Ena.”

With extreme caution, Graybard raised his hand. Without waiting, Ena pushed her face into Graybard’s hand. “She wants you to rub her face,” Josah explained while pulling up his boots.

“Good, wild cat,” was all Graybard could say as he patted the cat several times.

Josah stretched, then yelled for Ena to follow. He hurried down the ramp towards the back of the barn. Opening the door with caution, he looked around before walking out. Ena ran to the wall and sailed over it in one fluid movement.

Breaching the short wall, Josah looked back towards the Square. There were all sorts of commotion and activity happening. The final preparation for Luka was underway. Relieving himself by the nearest cluster of trees, he watched as Ena fed on field mice.

“Josah,” shouted Graybard as he stood by the wall. “Stay out here as long as you can. I’ll go to the Square and keep all activities to the front of the barn.”

Josah waved his approval as he walked back to the wall. The day looked to be perfect with blue skies, light breeze, and bright sun. And yet, anxiety stirred within at the thought of finally confronting Luka.

He watched as Conall and Caleb came toward the wall with some food and drink. Jumping up to sit on the wall, he signaled the Evermore brothers. “About time!”

Conall unwrapped a wooden plank of cooked bacon crisp, bread, and cheese, then placed it on the wall. Caleb took a drink from the flask of warm milk before setting it down. “You looked rested,” Caleb comment.

“I don’t feel rested.”

“Well, I’m sure you had a better evening than us. We worked through the nobility papers with Eva Marie until the early morning. We slept in your father’s study,” Conall told Josah.

“And Evelyn was gone by the time we awoke,” Caleb added.

“Caleb, you have to call her Eva Marie until everyone catches on, ” said Josah. He ignored Caleb’s apology. “Where is she now?’

After drinking from the flask, Conall wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “She’s in the Square.”

Josah swung his legs over to the other side of the wall and jumped down. “Caleb,” he started.

The young Evermore looked up into the sky. “I know, I know. Watch Ena.”

Conall grinned. “I knew there was a reason why we kept you around.”

Caleb bumped his older brother as he and Josah walked to the Square. He glanced over and watched Ena chase some vermin, which was not fast enough to avoid capture. The young Evermore turned and saw his brothers disappear around the barn.”

Josah watched in awe as merchants cleaned their areas. Several emptied buckets of water and scrubbed the cobblestone path. A crew had stretched the canvas Graybard took from the barn. A man at every pole lifted the covering, as others strapped it down.

Graybard couldn’t provide a reason why the Villager shouldn’t set up next to the barn. The ‘Open Hall’ where Lord Rando often spoke to the Village was now covered.

“Look,” Conall pointed at the direction of the Manor. “There are people bringing tables and chairs. I guess we’ll be eating outside.”

They saw several blacksmiths setting up a temporary firepit nearby. Josah recognized Dali talking with Eva Marie over by the statue. “Let’s go.”

Conall followed. “It’s good to see you again, Dali,” Josah said with a slight bow. He stared at Eva Marie, who wore a stunning blue dress and her hair in an intricate braid.

“I see that beast of yours is not by your side,” Dali commented. “You will control her before our guest arrives?”

“Ena will be in the barn before Luka gets here,” Josah responded while looking at Eva’s surprised look. Gazing at her, Josah added, “Dali met Ena in Tuva when we first came to Bon Abbi.”

She nodded her head and turned back to Dali. “Well, I like your plan. I expect Luka, and whoever he brings, will arrive soon. Midland sent word last night that a large group from Casselberry passed them up on their way to Bon Abbi.”

“Wait,” interrupted Josah. “How many people were in this group? Were there only men?”

Eva Maria looked at Josah, unsure of how to respond. “I didn’t ask. The Midland rider and horse are still at the gate. You can ask him.”

Josah shouted to Graybard, motioning him to come. He ran to the gate, spoke with the rider, then returned. “What’s going on?” asked Graybard, still concerned about the stretched canvas.

“Midland’s rider said about twenty men rode with Luka. They settled last night somewhere between Bon Abbi and Lake Marablain. As the rider journeyed down King’s Road on his way to Bon Abbi, he saw distant fires.”

“Not good!” muttered Graybard. “They are hiding their numbers. How long with it take to get to Bon Abbi from that location?”

Eva Marie glanced at Josah. “Not very long, if they started their day as early as we did.”

“Think, Graybard! What does this mean? What can we expect?” asked Josah.

He took a step toward the gate and touched his sword. “That all depends, Josah, on how many people will be with him when he arrives.”

“What do you mean?”

Graybard focused back on Josah. “If he comes with a few people, and the rest remain hidden, then Luka is seeking a weakness. The others will ride in on his command.”

Dali looked around at the defenseless Village. “To do what?” she asked.

The answer was obvious. “We have no weapons to defend ourselves,” Eva Marie plead. “What can we do?”

Turning to the women, Graybard shouted his orders. “Dali, Eva Marie. Gather your Council. Get to the gate and wait for Luka. Don’t let them ride into the city.”

The women didn’t move immediately, looking confused. Graybard closed his eyes for a moment, not accustomed to explaining every detail. “Horses give Casselberry an advantage. They can cover more ground and swing their swords easier.”

“Understood,” Eva acknowledged. “I’ll wait for the Council at the gate.”

“Dali,” Graybard continued. “Only tell the Council when you get to the gate. We must keep the people working until Luka arrives.”

“But our people may be in danger,” Dali started to object.

“My dear lady, I know. But Luka isn’t expecting a crowd. Ask some to move the tables and chairs close to the statue. We won’t be eating under the canvas.”

“Why? I don’t understand!” exclaimed Dali.

“We are running out of time. Please do as I say now! I’ll explain later.”

The two women departed, Eva Marie to the gate and Dali to the men standing under the canvas. It didn’t take long for Dali to put people into action. Graybard stared at Dali as she hurried across the Square to the Council.

He grabbed Josah’s arm without looking at him. “Caleb still has that short bow and arrows? Tell him to hide behind a merchant’s cart by the gate.”

“He won’t shoot anyone,” Josah protested.

He let go of Josah’s arm, looked into his eyes. “Luka doesn’t know that Caleb won’t shoot him. Our only chance is to keep him guessing. You and Conall need to strap on your swords. Be at the gate when Luka arrives. Stay by Eva Marie and pull out your sword when necessary.”

Graybard walked with determination to the barn. He didn’t want to explain things anymore. “How can we defend this city?” he muttered to himself.

Josah watched the soldier walk with confidence to the barn. Conall, who stood by, said, “I left my sword at the Manor. I’ll run and meet you at the gate.”

Everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. Every step Josah took was cumbersome and deliberate. He felt relieved to find Caleb inside the barn, with Ena resting in the loft.

It took a moment for Caleb to understand what Josah wanted him to do. The younger brother remembered he set the short bow and quiver on a bundled haystack. Once he located them, Caleb slipped them on and went to the door.

“Josah, this is going to work. We’re going to be fine.”

Caleb left the barn before Josah knew how to respond. In his quest to confront Luka, he realized he placed the people he cared about in danger. He strapped on his double belt and sword, then checked his shipping knife.

Taking a deep breath, he stepped out onto the Square. All preparations continued, with no knowledge that danger was riding to Bon Abbi. Dali already gathered the Council at the gate, standing behind Eva Marie.

As Josah worked his way to Eva, her hand slipped around his arm. “Here comes Luka.”

Three horses crossed Sui Saor, the bridge spanning the waters of Gilley Run. The clumping of hooves echoed across the wooden bridge, as their riders slowed down.

Without hesitation, Eva Marie walked through the gates toward the men. The Council took their cue and followed her beyond the wall. It was enough to stop the visitors from proceeding any further. Josah took a position next to Eva Marie.

There he was, the man that changed his life. Luka Dey. He dressed in a purple tunic and linen with a red sash tied around his waist. Adorned in leather, Luka wore a howling wolf medallion around his neck. It was the Casselberry crest.

Luka’s most striking feature was his rectangular face. The right side of his dark hair was short, with three shaved parallel lines. The rest of his hair was straight and at shoulder length.

To Josah’s dismay, he recognized the two riders with Luka. They were the fellows that held his brother’s arms, the day Luka killed Nolan Baye. His hand found the hilt of his sword.

“Welcome to Bon Abbi, Lord Luka,” Eva Marie said, as she walked to his horse. “If you please, dismount from your horses here. I have asked my people to take them to the river for a cool drink. We’ll bring them into the city and feed them for you.”

Without waiting for Luka, Eva patted the side of Luka’s horse and grabbed one of the reins. Luka seemed confused but dismounted anyway. He waved for the other to follow his lead.

“Lady Mayweather, I am at your service.”

He extended his hand to Eva Marie, then kissed her hand when she offered it to him. Josah couldn’t hide his disdain any longer. He drew his sword and took a step forward.

“What’s this? I thought Bon Abbi was a safe-haven city, with no weapons! I wear no armor nor bear a sword.”

“No, you do not,” huffed Josah. “But, your men do.”

Luka turned to his men. “Yes, they do. Sheath your swords, now! My apologies.” Facing Eva, he commented, “You know how soldiers can behave.”

Eva placed her hand on Josah’s arm, pushing it down. “I am aware. Josah, please.”

With some hesitation, Josah slipped his sword back but kept his hand on the hilt. “I see I am unwelcomed,” said Luka. “We are here to celebrate the new Lady of Bon Abbi. And yet, I am outside of the city gates.”

“We were thinking about your horses,” replied Eva Marie. “As you know, we breed the finest horses on Rylie Glen. But we care for them all.”

“I understand,” Luka smiled as he walked toward Josah. “But this man drew his sword. Make sure to punish him after I leave.”

Eva took a step between Luka and Josah. “That’s for me to decide, my Lord.” She extended her hand to Luka. “Let us enter the city and welcome you properly.”

Luka allowed Eva to place her hand on his arm, then walked to the gates. Without looking back, he yelled out to his two riders. “Hodi and Ludda, walk the horses to the river so they can drink. Wait for me by the bridge.”

“Hodi, do as he says,” the taller but thinner man said.

The larger man with bushy hair and eyebrows took two horses and walked down to the edge of Gilley Run. He made sure the horses forced Josah to move out of the way.

“He doesn’t like it when someone points a sword at him,” Ludda snorted. “Hodi will remember you.”

“As I will you,” Josah said, pulling out his shipping knife.

Ludda laughed as he continued to the river’s shore with his horse. “My, aren’t you the bold one.”

Josah looked at the Council, who waited for instructions. “Why do you remain here? Stay close to Eva Marie.”

Dali turned and led the Council back into the city. Conall walked through the gates, waiting for Josah. “Well, we separated the men from their horses as planned.”

“Yes, we did,” Josah said through his clenched teeth. “Now, if I could only run my sword through each of them.”

Conall rarely saw him in this mood. Josah slipped the shipping knife back into its sheath, as the guards stood motionless.

“I thought you would have demanded all weapons stay at the gate,” Josah huffed as he made his way to the statue.

Villagers had moved tables, chairs, and place settings while the Council greeted Luka. They made sure the common area was ready for their visitor. Servers sat Eva and Luka at the center table, as food preparation was underway.

Conall walked around to the Council, who sat at a different table. A third table held food and drink. Josah continued to the center table and stood behind Eva and Luka.

The ruler from Casselberry looked over his shoulder. “I’m not accustomed to having someone who drew his sword stand behind me.”

Before he could respond, Eva asked Josah to take a few steps closer to her and away from Luka. “Josah has pledged to keep me safe. And I must say, he seems to know when I need protection.”

“Well, he needs to cast a shadow! The sun is hot today.” Luka reached for his drinking vessel, then nodded his head to Josah. The boy just crossed his arms, staring long and hard.

Servers carried meat from the firepit. Others brought fresh produce from the food table as everything unfolded as planned. The rest of the Villagers sat around the commons, watching the anticipated event. They would dine afterward.

As he began to eat, Luka was ready to start his inquiries. “Lady Mayweather, or may I call you Eva?”

“My friends call me Eva. You may call me Eva Marie.” Josah smiled at Luka’s discomfort.

“Eva Marie, I know everyone that comes to this island. How did you make it to Bon Abbi without me knowing?”

Without hesitation, Eva responded. “I can’t believe you aware of everything that happens on Rylie Glen. If so, you would have known I came through Northport.”

Josah wanted to close his eyes. Only a few people ever travel through Northport. Luka will capture Eva in a lie.

“Northport? I can’t believe it. There are only two captains I know who would sail those rough waters.” He speared his meat with a knife and drew it to his mouth.

“I am aware. I sailed with the, ah…” Eva hesitated for a moment. “The Molly Red.”

Luka sat straight in his chair. “Captain Evermore? He is a pirate and a scoundrel. Not someone to trust.”

Conall couldn’t hear the full conversation at the other table but saw Josah’s face. He started walking toward Josah and then stopped when he signaled him to stay.

Eva picked up a strawberry from her plate. “And yet, I arrived safely to Bon Abbi and without you knowing.”

Luka raised his drinking vessel. “Well, here’s to Captain Munro.”

After taking a long drink, Luka set his tankard hard on the table. “Now, why did Lord Rando choose you to become the Lady of Bon Abbi?”

Eva pushed her plate and waved a hand for a servant to take it away. “Lord Luka, don’t mistake my demeanor. I already established my lineage with the Council. I don’t need your approval, nor is it welcomed.”

As she stood, Josah pulled Eva’s chair out and placed it between her and Luka. He struggled to pull away from the table as Eva walked to the Council’s table. “Eva, Eva Marie,” he shouted.

Eva turned and pointed behind Luka. “Your men have entered the city with swords drawn. It’s time for you to leave.”

Luka rushed to Eva but tripped over Josah’s feet. “You fool!”

Josah knew Caleb was ready to send arrows to defend him, so he didn’t draw his sword. Hodi and Ludda made their way to the tables, standing on either side of Josah.

When Ludda grabbed his arm, Josah pulled him off balance and into the looming bulk of a man. Ludda fell as Hodi stood unmovable. “Ludda, Hodi! Put away your swords. Now!”

It was Graybard, armed with a wooden staff. “I’ll beat you into submission if you don’t withdraw your swords!”

“Gray? What are you doing here?” Luka asked as he brushed the grass from his tunic. “I’ve been looking for you for days.”

Graybard chuckled. “I’ve been in Bon Abbi all this time.”

“Alright, then. I’m about to leave. Return with me, and I’ll restore you to your post.” Luka walked to Graybard, then looked at his two men. “Put away those swords!”

Graybard looked at Josah. Life was less complex at Casselberry, but he grew to care for his companions. “I cannot Luka. I serve the Lady of Bon Abbi.”

Luka couldn’t believe what he heard. He gazed at Eva Marie. “You are serving her? She may not even have a right to rule Bon Abbi!”

Eva repositioned her stance. “I am the daughter of Lord Rando, sister to two brothers who died too soon. My line goes back to Lord Isa Mayweather, the first to rule on Rylie Glen.”

“Lord Rando’s daughter? I wasn’t aware he had a daughter,” Luka said in disbelief.

“Well, today, you have learned many things you never knew. I am the defender of these people and will always fight for Bon Abbi.”

No encouragement was necessary. The Villagers stood, shouting “Eva Marie,” while clapping hands. It was more than Luka could bare. “Let’s go,” he shouted to his two men.

The people followed Luka to the gate, shouting Eva’s name. Walking to the bridge, the three men untied the reins from the post and mounted their horses. Luka turned toward the gates for one last look, then bolted across the bridge.

Eva Maria found the young runner by the guards. “Go with speed. Come back and tell me which road Lord Luka is taking.”

The young boy ran down King’s Road, disappearing at the turn, where the trees hid the path. It wasn’t too far away to the fork. She would have to wait for the boy.

Turning back to her people, Eva Marie raised her hands in the air. The chanting turned to a murmur before stopping altogether. “How can I ever repay you for your service?” she shouted.

Graybard shook his head. He’s never heard a noble speak this way. “Today,” Eva continued, “We let Casselberry know we will defend our city. Go back home, bring more food, and drink. Then return to the Square. We will celebrate this day from now on!”

A loud cheer rose from the Villagers. As they withdrew, Dali and Graybard walked to Eva. Conall brought Caleb with him to the gate. Josah kept his eyes on the road, expecting Luka to return.

Instead, he saw the runner returning to the city. “He’s coming back, Eva,” Josah shouted.

When the runner finally arrived, Conall took a flask from one of the guards and gave it to him. After gulping down some water, the young boy paused to catch his breath. Eva crouched down and placed a hand on his chest. “Slow your breathing. Tell me what road they took when you can.”

“My Lady,” the boy said between breaths. “They took the road to Northport. There were many horses.”

Eva stood up and looked at Josah. She embraced him and whispered, “They are going to Northport to retrieve a Chronicler.”

“I know,” Josah whispered back. No one ever hides the truth from a Chronicler.

Written by Mike Arroyo

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