10 Making Choices
Traveling from Northport to Bon Abbi was challenging, but the landscape was breathtaking. Theotello, his travel bag slipped onto his right shoulder, gazed at the rolling hills. Wildflowers bloomed everywhere one last time before the harvest season would begin.
There were few travelers to Northport. Most came from Bon Abbi, who shared their bounty every month. Their wagons were enough to tamp down weeds and keep the road passable. Leena told Theotello before he left that it was a full day’s journey to Bon Abbi.
He stopped under the shade of a large tree to take some water. The late afternoon sun seemed to draw his strength, the longer he walked. Pulling out a cloth from his travel bag, Theo doused it with water then wrapped it around his neck.
Thoughts of Leena came to him as he gazed down the lonely road. She didn’t say much when they parted. There was something he wanted to say, but he couldn’t find the courage. Grabbing his travel bag, Theo started on his journey again.
The rolling hills gave way to a gentler slope, now that he was closer to Bon Abbi. If his calculations were correct, he should arrive at King’s Road in a few hours. To his surprise, a band of men, riding their horses hard, came around the turn.
Theotello moved off the road and waited for them to pass. Instead, the lead horseman slowed everyone down and trotted towards Theo. “Greetings, my friend!”
“Salutations,” Theo responded. “Are you heading to Northport?”
There was no other destination. The rider, bearing three shaved parallel lines on the right side of his head, smirked. “I’m Lord Luka Dey Robison from Casselberry. We on our way to request a Chronicler.”
Theo lowered his travel bag. “And why do you seek a Chronicler?”
Luka stared at the boy, his leather tunic and white linen shirt. “You’re from Northport, aren’t you?”
He scrutinized Luka before responding. “I am. I’m on my way to Bon Abbi.”
“Well, is that so? Are you a Chronicler?” Luka asked.
Theo didn’t hesitate. “I am.”
There were no distinctions between Chroniclers, whether seasoned or in training. Theo thought how running into these riders didn’t appear to be a coincidence. This group may be the reason why he needed to be in Bon Abbi.
“Well, no need to go further.” Luka turned towards his riders and shouted, “We have a Chronicler!”
The group reacted with a shout. They were ready to confront Bon Abbi. “What is your name?” Luka asked.
“I am known as Theotello.”
Luka swung his horse around. “Ludda Weik!” he shouted. “Get over here!”
The lanky man was at the back of the group. He urged his horse forward but was in no hurry. “Can you be any slower?” Luka was seething. “Let the boy ride with you! We’ll take him to Bon Abbi.”
Ludda waited for Theo to walk to him. He stretched out his hand, ready to pull him up. But, the apprentice felt uneasy. “Why are you seeking a Chronicler?” he asked again.
Luka pulled his reins and swung around. He gritted his teeth before pausing to answer. “There is a matter at Bon Abbi that requires attention. I want to confirm the noble selected to rule is the rightful heir.”
Theo thought for a moment since Chroniclers didn’t confirm successors. But he would like to arrive in the city before the evening. “Yes. I will ride with you.”
The Chronicler looked at Ludda, reaching out to him. As he took hold of his hand, Theo felt his body heaving. He saw this man’s cruelty flash before him through his gift of Dotek. Wicked conversations, pain, and murder filled Theotello’s head.
Releasing his grip, Theo fell back to the ground. Unable to rise quickly, Luka asked, “What is happening? Get up there!”
Theo stood and brushed off his leather tunic. “I cannot ride with this man.”
“What?” Ludda laughed with his mouth twisted to the side. “And why is that?”
“I can’t say,” Theo replied.
Luka grew impatient. “Choose someone else, and let’s go. We aren’t too far from Bon Abbi. We can catch them off guard if we ride now!”
Another rider came to Theo and extended his gloved hand. The Chronicler hesitated before he grabbed it. “I’m Julian,” he said, as he pulled Theo behind him. “You’ll want to stay on the horse.”
Without further delay, Luka led the group down the road to Bon Abbi. He determined to expose Eva Marie at all costs. “There is no daughter,” he muttered as he charged with abandon.
Theo hung onto a horn adorning the saddle, with one hand, and his travel bag with the other. Glancing at the other riders, he noticed no one was wearing armor. But they rode in unison as if seasoned warriors.
Bon Abbi was deep into their celebration. The community brought tables, chairs, and food, expressing joy and solidarity. The blacksmiths added two more firepits, as volunteers prepared meals.
Eva Marie sat quiet, staring at her drinking vessel, as music and dancing occurred around her. Conall joined the circle of people holding hands, moving to the rhythm. He shouted out to his brother to jump in and take hold of a fair maiden, but Caleb was too shy.
Graybard and Dali walked back to the gate, where Josah kept watch. Luka was going to Northport to retrieve a Chronicler. The late afternoon sun would soon dip behind the Alder Mountains on the west and cast shadows.
“Josah, my friend. Staring down the road isn’t going to keep Luka from returning.”
Turning to Graybard, Josah saw Dali and asked if they could have a moment alone. She nodded her head. “I’ll keep Eva company.”
This time, it was Josah who watched Dali walk away into the crowd. “You are fond of her, are you not?”
The warrior shifted his feet before looking at Josah. “I am fond of these people.”
Josah sighed. “Then this is going to make it harder. We must leave Bon Abbi now.”
“And go where? Southport?” asked Graybard. “We don’t even know if the Molly Red will be there. This city will fall if we don’t take a stand.”
“Gray, we have four swords and a short bow. I don’t even know if you have ever killed a man in battle. Luka will be here with twenty men, soldiers you trained. How can we defend against that force?”
“My battles have been few, but enough to say fighting campaigns are never easy. I don’t know how we defend Bon Abbi,” he admitted. “But it doesn’t mean Luka is invincible. He has his weakness, which we need to exploit.”
Josah took a deep breath and nodded. “A bear could take him down before he returns.”
Graybard laughed as he directed Josah towards the celebration. “That may happen, but we must prepare if it doesn’t.”
“I’ve got one more question for you, Gray. How did Luka know Eva’s new name?”
“What do you mean?
He stopped walking and placed his hand on Graybard’s shoulder. “While sitting at the table, Luka asked,” Josah paused and whispered,” ‘Evelyn’ if he could call her Eva. He was somewhere between Midland and Bon Abbi the evening she took on her new name. How could he have known?”
Graybard pursed his lips. “There is only one way. Someone told him. I was at the Blue Door pub when Dali told everyone to start calling her Eva Marie. She told the patrons to spread the word.”
“Luka has a scout here in Bon Abbi?” asked Josah in disbelief.
“What else could it be?” Graybard saw Dali motioning them to come. “I’ll ask the guards later if they saw anyone leaving the city last evening. Meanwhile, let’s join the celebration. Trouble is coming our way, whether we worry or not.”
They walked to the center table where Eva Marie and Dali sat alone. Josah grinned as he watched Caleb jump into the circle of villagers swaying to the music.
“Never thought Conall could talk him into dancing,” Josah said to no one in particular. He sat down next to Eva, who sipped her wine but didn’t touch a morsel of food.
“How are you?” he asked with a soft tone, knowing Dali was nearby.
She nodded her head but never spoke. Graybard pulled out a chair, sat next to Dali, then leaned toward Eva. “We have a spy in our midst reporting to Luka.”
“How is that possible?” Dali gasped.
Graybard filled in the details, adding, “If someone is telling Luka what goes on in Bon Abbi, then Eva Marie isn’t safe.”
“I still say we take Eva Marie out of the city,” Josah said, lowering his voice.
“She can’t leave,” Dali challenged. “We need her here.”
A tear rolled done her cheek as she motioned everyone to stop talking. “I’m not the leader Bon Abbi needs,” she confessed. “I don’t know how to defend these people.”
“My Lady,” Graybard spoke with determination. “You have displayed more courage than anyone here. Luka thought he could ride into Bon Abbi and take the city. You stood up to him and made him leave.”
She wiped her tears with her hand. “The day isn’t over.”
Josah placed her hand on top of Eva’s and said, “Look, I want to take you away. But if you stay, then I’ll help you defend the city.”
Dali placed her hand on top of Josah’s, followed by Graybard, correcting Josah. “We’ll help you defend the city.”
Their encouragement helped Eva find her smile, making them all grin. She pulled her hand away, ready to start planning. “Alright. What do we do now?”
All eyes turned to Graybard. “Well, we must keep Luka off-balanced. He gets frustrated when things don’t go his way. That’s when he makes bad decisions.”
“So when he returns, how do we confront him?” Dali asked.
Graybard laced his fingers and tapped his chin. “Luka only knows how to charge forward. Let him ride through the gates and into Bon Abbi. He’ll stop at the statue. Dali and I will meet him there.”
“I thought Luka on a horse was a bad thing,” Dali commented.
“It is, but the gates don’t close, and we have guards armed with sticks. Luka will ride into Bon Abbi. We must let him think it’s his idea.” He turned towards the gate and pointed. “We’ll have Conall come from the right, with his sword at the ready. You and Eva come in from the left.”
“How will that keep him off-balanced?” asked Josah.
“He will have to confront Eva Marie so Luka will move from the statue away from his men. With no one around him…”
“Let me guess,” Josah interrupted. “Caleb will hide somewhere and shoot his arrow. But I tell you that he won’t kill Luka.”
“He doesn’t have to kill him, but he must wound him. Luka knows how to inflict pain but doesn’t like it when he’s the one suffering.”
Josah shook his head. “Caleb is to shoot only if Luka’s men attack.”
Eva leaned on the table, seeking support. “But Luka is coming with a Chronicler.”
“Never met one, “Graybard told the group. “I know you cannot lie to them as they have a way of discerning the truth. If an arrow hasn’t pierced Luka by then, ask the Chronicler to walk with you.”
Dali ran her hand across the linen on the table, smoothing it out. “Eva, I know who you are. I’ve known for some time.”
Eva looked at Josah in dismay. “I’ve never denied it,” she said in a quiet tone. “The Council never asked anything about me. They assumed being with Lord Rando was reason enough to select me as the ruler.”
“Listen to me!” Dali said with vigor. “Your secret is safe with me. You stopped being this other person the day the Council chose you to lead. You’re the Lady of Bon Abbi. If a Chronicler is all about the truth, then I am confident he can read your heart. Don’t let fear cloud your judgment.”
Eva bit her lip, determined to rise to the occasion. Graybard agreed. “These people need you to be the Lady.”
At that instant, the young runner from the gate came to the center table. “My Lady, we have horses crossing Sui Saor.”
Graybard rose from the table. “I’ll get Conall and Caleb in position. You and Eva Marie get to the cobblestone path and hide. Wait until the horses stop. Then make your way to the group.”
Dali followed the warrior, who pulled Conall and Caleb away. He explained what was happening and pushed them into action. Then he led Dali to the statue.
The young Evermore ran to the barn and retrieved his bow. Ena wasn’t happy he came and left. She seemed agitated, but Caleb didn’t have time to calm her down.
As Graybard and Dali reached the statue, Luka and his riders pushed past the guards who shouted for them to stop. There was enough daylight for them to see the smirk on Luka’s face.
“We are here requesting an audience with the Lady of Bon Abbi!” shouted the leader from Casselberry. He dismounted, turned toward his riders, telling them to stay on their horses.
Luka saw Graybard and walked over to him. “Where is she?”
There was a threatening look Graybard didn’t like, so he stepped in front of Dali and pointed to his left. “Eva Marie is coming down the path.”
As Graybard anticipated, Luka worked his way to the path, his riders no longer behind him. “My Lady, providence has smiled on us today.”
“How so?” asked Eva Marie.
Luka glanced at Josah with his hand on his sword. “Why, we ran into a Chronicler who was making his way to Bon Abbi. It seems he, too, is seeking the truth.”
Without looking behind him, Luka waved. “Theotello, come forward.”
Eva watched as the young Chronicler dismounted and walked toward her. She expected someone older, with harshness in his eyes, and an attitude. But what she perceived was a gentle spirit embodied in a young man.
“Well?” asked Luka. “Do your magic!”
Theo took exception to his comment. “There is no magic, Lord Luka. No cantations, spells or potions to prepare. There is merely the truth.”
“I don’t need you to instruct me,” said Luka. “Tell me the truth. Is she the rightful heir and Lady of Bon Abbi?”
Before he could answer, Eva Marie took a step towards the Chronicler. “Walk with me, Theotello. We should share a few words between us before you answer Lord Luka.”
Luka started to protest but changed his mind when Theo glanced at him. The setting sun may have caused the Chronicler’s countenance to appear brighter. But it was enough to silence Luka’s disdainful attitude.
The Chronicler followed Eva as she walked down the cobblestone path, away from the crowd. He clung onto his travel bag with two hands, wondering how he would start the conversation.
“Go no further,” Theo gasped, dropping his bag on the path. He took the damp cloth from around his neck and wiped his face.
“I have seen you before in a dream. You were trying to tell me something, but you had no voice.”
Eva’s heart was pounding. What did Theotello know about her? She looked down the path and could see people lighting torches as evening was on its way. “Before you say anything, I need to confess something to you.”
Theo shook his head and extended his left hand. “No need. Please, give me your hand.”
She hesitated before laying her hand on top of Theotello’s left palm. He then placed his other hand on top. With his touch, Eva felt a warmth radiate through her being.
The Chronicler closed his eyes and shifted through years of conversations. He felt the pain, confusion, and fear that filled this young girl’s life. And then, he found what he needed.
Theo released his grip, allowing Eva to retrieve her hand. She could feel the warmth escape. “What happened just now?” she asked.
Theo picked up his travel bag and gazed at Eva. “It’s a gift shared by most Chroniclers. We can extract your history with a mere touch.”
“Oh,” Eva responded, somewhat cautious. “And what did you learn?”
“You’re not what you seem,” he expressed. “You fill your life with contradictions.”
Eva Marie nodded as if agreeing with his assessment. “There is nothing for you to gain here. Why do you stay?” Theo asked.
She tapped her heart with her hand. “Because I care for these people. I want to keep Bon Abbi safe.”
“Ah, yes, and I know from whom.” Theo walked past Eva, looking into the skies. Some stars began their evening twinkle. He found himself in a dilemma. Luka was right, Eva was not the rightful heir. But his desire to rule goes beyond Bon Abbi.
Theo thought of Leena, who spent her free time listening to the fallen Chroniclers. How often she told him that intentions fuel the soul for action. And yet, he was more pragmatic.
He dropped his head for a moment and came back to Eva. Her eyes told Theo a different story, full of hope and fear. “Leena may be right after all,” he thought.
“Eva Marie, a choice will be made tonight. You might as well be the one to make it.” He cleared his throat before continuing. “You can run, leave Bon Abbi, and avoid the hardship that will come.”
Theo observed Eva’s reaction before continuing. “Or you stay in Bon Abbi. Before you decide, understand, you cannot undo your choice. You must accept the good with the bad.”
Eva hesitated. “How can I choose?”
“My Lady, you know what you must do but cannot do it.” Theo took a moment to reflect. He rubbed the back of his neck and said, “This choice is why I am in Bon Abbi. It is not yours to make but mine.”
Without waiting for Eva, Theo started walking down the cobblestone path. Eva hurried behind him, asking, “What are you going to say?”
Theo didn’t answer. He continued towards Luka and the growing crowd gathering by the statue. He didn’t know how Luka would react to his choice.
“What took so long?” Luka couldn’t wait any longer. “What can you tell us?”
Theotello stepped up to Luka with no fear. “Before I tell you my decision, understand that a Chronicler cannot lie. We don’t alter history or lessen the truth.”
Luka motioned him to go on. “It’s my decision, which is uncontestable, that Eva Marie…” Theo paused and pointed to her. “That Eva Marie is the Lady of Bon Abbi.”
Those villagers who heard the Chronicler broke out in a cheer. Someone shouted for music, and the celebration continued. The flickering torches cast shadows on Eva, hiding her relief.
“Well, it seems I owe you an apology, my Lady.” Luka feigned humility. He didn’t expect this outcome and had no idea what to do next. The riders watched for a signal that wasn’t to come.
He mounted his horse and guided it back to Eva. “We have a long journey back to Casselberry. We will meet again. May I offer you a ride back to Northport, Theotello?”
Theo sensed he would be in danger if he accepted. “My Lord, I must stay longer at Bon Abbi as there is much to write.”
“Of course.” Luka nudged his horse with his heels and trotted past his riders. “Let’s go!” he shouted behind him. They followed him through the gates, riding in a full gallop by the time they reached the bridge.
Josah embraced Eva Marie, as Graybard, Dali, and Conall ran to them. “Caleb, come out. It’s over now.”
Eva stepped away and thanked Theotello. “Why did you tell Luka I’m the Lady of Bon Abbi?”
Theo responded with little emotion. “It’s the truth, as the defender of this city. Though, I would have said something else if he asked me who you were.”
“So you know?” Eva asked.
“Of course. My touch allows me to see and hear your history. But I also know of your intentions. Before arriving at Bon Abbi, I had the displeasure of touching a rider called Ludda Weik.”
The comment piqued Josah’s curiosity. “What did you see and hear with Ludda?”
Theo shuddered. “He is a vile person, one who likes to inflict pain. But I also learned that he and Luka spoke about ravaging Bon Abbi.”
“We knew that was their plan,” Graybard said. “As I told you all, we never know how things will end.”
Still holding his travel bag, Theo rubbed his forehead. “Yet, this isn’t the end.”
Caleb joined them on the cobblestone path, holding his short bow. He looked around and noticed how everyone focused on the Chronicler. Theo dropped his travel bag and placed his hands on his hips.
“I chose Eva and her good intentions over Luka. In so doing, I may have compromised my calling. But that’s not all.”
Theo turned and looked at Eva, Josah, Graybard, Dali, and then Caleb. “I have changed our destinies. War is coming to Bon Abbi.”