12 Taking Action

Three days had passed since Luka confronted Eva Marie. Having a Chronicler confirm she was the Lady of Bon Abbi threw him off. It would take time for him to respond.

Graybard yawned as he sat on the horse blanket, looking around the barn. He decided it had been too long since he found comfort laying on something other than hay. Somehow, bunking with Josah and Ena was his only choice.

He looked around and didn’t see or hear anyone. “They must be outside,” he muttered to himself as he slipped on his boots.

He stood and stared at his chainmail in the corner, something he wore most days for self-defense. But today, he convinced himself that danger was not coming their way. No, he’ll leave it for another time.

Stretching for a moment, Graybard made his way out through the back door. He found Josah sitting on the short wall watching Ena, then greeted him from a distance.

Josah turned and asked, “Where have you been these last two days? No one could find you. Then you show up at the barn late evening.”

The Warrior scratched his chest while he walked, glad he wasn’t wearing any armor. “I’ve been busy,” he said without an explanation.

Josah looked at Ena, enjoying the cool morning and grass wet with dew. She shook her head and then stared at Josah. There was something different about the way she looked at him.

“Is something wrong with Ena?” asked Graybard. “You seem concerned.”

The young man shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. I kept her in the barn too long when Luka was here. She’s letting me know she didn’t like it.”

Graybard grunted. “We may need to start writing a list of things we don’t like.”

Josah hopped down on the opposite side of the wall facing Ena. “What do you mean, Gray?”

“Well, I was out surveying the walls these last two days, both sides. I decided I better inspect its condition.”

Josah crossed his arms, leaning his hips against the wall. “And what did you find?”

Graybard tapped his chest. “You know that the wall protecting this city stretches between two mountains. It’s about one kilometer on either side of the city gates.”

He paused for a moment and watched Ena chase her meal. “The good news is that no one can scale either end of the wall. The mountainsides are too steep to climb.”

Josah knew bad news was on its way. “That’s good to hear. But I suspect you found a problem.”

The Warrior nodded his head. “Indeed. A section nearest Alder Woods on the west has collapsed. The logs hewn to form the core are no longer stacked.”

“The east wall going toward the Filgore range is weak. It would take some effort, but a battering ram could reduce a section to rubble. We can’t defend the gates, let alone the rest of the wall.”

Looking over his left shoulder at the seasoned Warrior, Josah asked, “Then tell me. What will it take to repair the wall and gates? And do we have time?”

“Josah, I’ve been very fortunate anticipating what Luka will do. But that’s because I knew of his plans. He never expected to have a Chronicler declare Eva Marie as the Lady, or that we would be here to defend her.”

“Isn’t that something good, Graybard? As you said, ‘keep him off balance.'”

Gray hopped on the wall and swung his legs over. He couldn’t help noticing Ena paused long enough to watch his movement. While staring at Ena, the Warrior responded. “We can’t rely on reacting to Luka’s plan. If we make the wrong choices, he’ll have the advantage.”

Josah whistled for Ena, lifting and waving his hands. Without hesitation, the big cat burst into a fast run. It amazed Josah to see her speed, slowing down before she would have collided with him.

“Good girl!” he exclaimed as he rubbed her head. “I’ve watched Ena catch field mice this morning. She feints one direction, forcing the vermin to go where she wants it to go. And in two quick steps, Ena has her meal.”

Graybard grinned at Josah. “I’ll make a soldier out of you in no time!”

He slapped his back, not expecting Ena to growl her discontent. “It’s fine, Ena,” Graybard said softly. “We are all friends here.”

“There is more going on than Ena cooped up in the barn too long,” admitted Josah.

“That cat has connected with you since the first time you saw her,” Graybard pointed out. “She must be feeling your stress. Figure out how you can calm yourself before she hurts somebody.”

Josah waved his hands, giving Ena permission to go out into the field. With reluctance, Ena trotted to the first grove of trees, then sat down. “So, like I was saying, how do we get Luka to go in the direction we want?”

Graybard thought for a moment. “What we don’t want is Luka trying to find another way into Bon Abbi. The steep mountainsides will keep him from going around the wall.”

“Filgore Valley and the Dragoons are a natural barrier. Luka wouldn’t try sneaking in from the south,” offered Josah.

“Right,” Graybard agreed. “That brings us back to the wall and gates. If we repair the wall, then the gates are all we defend. That’s about six to ten meters of space. Let’s make Luka come to the gates.”

Josah felt hopeful. “Why hasn’t Luka come back? I expected him to bring his army.”

Graybard shook his head. “No, you’re not thinking like Luka. Remember, he had twenty men on horseback in the city. He could have attacked then but didn’t make the call.”

“Alright then, tell me what Luka is thinking.”

Graybard was in his comfort zone. He loved strategy and planning. “Luka is efficient. He is always measuring and calculating. He planned to use a Chronicler to discredit Eva Marie. Then he could swoop in and take Bon Abbi without lifting a sword.”

“But then, the Chronicler confirmed she was the Lady. Luka never anticipated that would happen,” Josah commented.

“That’s correct,” agreed Graybard. He placed his hand under his beard and pulled it forward. “So now, why hasn’t Luka come back?”

Josah kicked his heels at the wall a few times. “He should come now while we are ill-prepared.”

“True, but think like Luka,” advised Graybard. He looked around to confirm an idea he was formulating in his thoughts. The red barn provided an answer. “This is a farming community, is it not?”

The Warrior didn’t wait for a response. “The harvest will be in full swing in the next five to six weeks. People will be busy bringing in their crops, trying to beat the rainy season.”

Josah pushed away from the wall. “Luka will wait. When we are good and tired, he’ll attack.”

“That’s his only play, “Graybard said. “Otherwise, he’ll wait until Spring. He’ll want to avoid the winter in Midland.”

“So, what are you saying?” asked Josah. “We have to get the wall and gates repaired in four weeks? Is that possible?”

“There’s a lot of work to do. We need to cut down three to four trees, about three meters long, for each damaged area in the wall. And I have no idea how to patch up the gates.”

Josah made a whistling sound, confusing Ena. She stood up and stared at the boy. “The only place to find trees that tall is in higher elevations. That will take effort to cut them down and bring those trees to the wall.”

Graybard rubbed his belly. “I’m famished!” he declared. “How about heading to the Manor and getting some food?”

As he grinned, Josah motioned Ena. The large cat trotted a few steps, then decided to take her time. “Go on. I’ll get Ena settled and meet you at the Manor.”

The Warrior didn’t hesitate. He hopped back on to the short wall. Swinging his legs over, Graybard jumped down and made his way to the Square.

Josah took a little extra time looking at Ena. He rubbed her back and marveled at the thick gray coat dabbled with light and dark specks. Ena arched her back and leaned against his leg.

He squatted and massaged behind her long, pointed ears. Her eyes, half-closed, were golden and mesmerizing. “I can’t believe I made friends with someone like you,” he whispered, tugging at the long hair around her jowls.

The boy stood up, then looked around before he hopped over the wall. Ena followed without any signals. Closing the barn door, he led her up the ramp and into the loft. Josah fluffed the hay before spreading the blanket over it.

Signaling Ena to stay, Josah worked his way down while Ena stared. Her belly was full, and the barn cool. These were perfect conditions for the cat to settle down. Josah walked out the front, closing the door with care.

There was some activity around the Square, with a few people leaving the city. Josah wondered where these people were going, something he would ask Eva. His walk to the Manor was quick and uneventful.

Graybard and Caleb sat at the table in the garden. As the cooler days were ahead, the brisk morning was a nice break from the intense heat of the day. “Where’s Eva and Conall?” Josah asked as he grabbed a bacon crisp.

Caleb had his left arm on the table, propping his head. The day had barely started, and he was already bored. “Conall’s walking around asking people for the girl’s name who danced with him a few nights ago.”

Graybard took a long drink before answering Josah. “Spoke with Eva Marie for a few minutes. I told her we need help getting the gates and wall repaired.”

“And what did she say?” Josah asked, crunching on the bacon.

Lifting a slice of muskmelon to his mouth, the Warrior slurped it before chewing. He wiped his mouth and said, “She walked away without saying anything. I’m waiting for her return.”

Before Josah could respond, Eva Marie walked into the garden with Theotello. “Greetings, Josah,” she said. “Gray mentioned you need help repairing the wall and gates. I’m going to Midland and ask for their help.”

“What?” Josah protested. “You can’t leave Bon Abbi.” Graybard agreed loudly.

Eva raised her hand. “You both don’t have a say. Sola De Sol has some Ruelanders working for him. I’ll return with a few accompanying me.”

Known for their ingenuity and building skills, Ruelanders were in high demand. Their city, located on the east coast of West Mainland, was the smallest. So, they devised ways to do more with fewer people. It was rare to have Ruelanders on Rylie Glen.

“What are Ruelanders doing in Midland?” asked Caleb with interest.

“They’re working for Sola. Somehow, they are bringing water from Marablain into the city,” Eva explained. “He may send a few to help us with our repairs.”

“Well, you’re not safe outside of Bon Abbi,” Graybard expressed with concern.

“She won’t travel alone,” Theotello interjected. “I will go with Eva Marie.”

The statement silenced their objections. Theo stood tall behind Eva as if stating he would take the role of keeping her safe. Josah looked to Graybard, who shrugged his shoulders.

“If you must, plan to stay the evening,” Josah suggested. “With this late start, I don’t want you coming back during the night. Remember, Luka and his men camped around Lake Marablain.”

Eva nodded her head before Josah grabbed her elbow and moved her a few steps away from everyone. “I don’t like this at all, “Josah whispered.

“Well, we can’t rebuild the wall without help,” she huffed out.

He glanced at Theotello, who turned his back to them. “Can we trust him?”

Without any hesitation, Eva said, “With my life. He’s already defended me once.”

Eva pulled her arm away from Josah and began walking toward the Manor. She paused long enough to shout instructions. “Graybard, you’ll find Dali at the pub. She goes back to Tuva in the morning. Ask her to find men to help you with the trees.”

Graybard stood up and shouted, “How about soldiers to train?”

Eva ignored him with a wave of her hand, continuing to the Manor with Theo following. Her determination surprised Josah. All he could say was, “She isn’t leaving Bon Abbi any time soon.”

Turning to Graybard, Josah repeated the instructions to find Dali at the pub. “We’ll need people tomorrow at those two locations. We start felling trees in the morning. I’ll help Caleb find Conall.”

“And then what?” asked Caleb as he stood.

“Let’s meet at the Square. There may be enough men to start training,” the Warrior said. But he kept his thoughts to himself. What if nobody wanted to train?

Two lean horses, strong and swift, pulled the open carriage down King’s Road. Eva didn’t get her way when she tried to make the run to Midland on her own with Theotello. The Council insisted someone else needed to take the reins.

The Chronicler sat with his back to the horses. “I can see you are uncomfortable letting people make decisions for you.”

She cast her eyes to the Filgore foothills on her right and the Gilley Run with its steady flow of water. The horses running at full speed would shorten their journey.

“You remember what I told you,” Theotello continued, ignoring her silence. “You must accept the good with the bad.”

Eva wasn’t sure if their driver could hear their conversation, so she spoke with care but with an elevated tone. “Do you know what will happen next?”

Theo shook his head. He thought of Leena and how he needed her near, someone to trust. At that moment, Theo decided to take a chance with Eva Marie. The speeding carriage made it difficult, but the Chronicler stood and sat next to her.

He leaned over and spoke in her ear. “Do you trust me?” She pulled away and looked at Theo before nodding. “Then I will confess something to you.”

Eva leaned toward Theotello, who spoke without shouting. “I’m an apprentice, still a Chronicler in training. That doesn’t make me any less a Chronicler. But I am learning my way, as you are, too.”

The young girl couldn’t hold back her laughter. “I’m laughing because I am relieved. I don’t know what I am doing.”

When the driver looked back, Eva signaled for him to slow his pace. “There. We can now speak without shouting.”

“Eva, what you are doing is surviving. And it is good. You have changed the course for your city and its people.”

Eva was uncomfortable, so she pointed to the road up ahead. “This is one of the prettiest areas on the island.”

The foothill gave way to the rolling meadows of the Palouse. The prairie grasses and wheat fields made this her favorite location on Rylie Glen. Horses running at a slower pace allowed them to enjoy the scene.

She gazed at Theo, not much older than her wondering of the pressures he carried. “Will Bon Abbi survive what is to come?”

He raised his right palm to the sky. “There are things we cannot know and must trust the Ancient One. Only He can see the beginning and end.”

“But you said that war was coming to Bon Abbi. How do you know?”

Theo took a deep breath. “I have a gift to see visions of the future. They are incomplete glimpses of what will be if left unchallenged or unchanged.”

“So, what did you see that night when Luka departed?” asked Eva.

“I saw Luka returning to Bon Abbi before the winter season, and he wasn’t alone. This vision is why I agreed to go to Midland with you. You need to be ready.”

Eva Marie shivered even with the sun providing ample warmth. She paused before asking, “What do you know about Josah Evermore?”

This time, it was the Chronicler who looked away. “You don’t need any gifts to know he cares for you. But he is challenging to read without a touch. I sensed his anger and frustration this morning.”

In the distance, Eva could see Marablain, one of the deepest lakes on the island, and the walls of Midland. Ruelanders over the years help build the city over its waters and banks. Unlike Bon Abbi, very few people lived outside of the walls due to the marauding bears.

“Before we get to Midland, I need to tell you somethings about Josah.”

Theo shook his head and jutted his chin toward the driver. “There’s no need to say things out loud.”

He reached out his right hand and turned it palm up. Eva knew what he wanted her to do. She placed her hand on his palm and waited for his left. A sudden rush of heat entered her body.

It wasn’t long before Theo released his hold. His silence weighed heavily on her soul. “Who else knows about Josah?” he asked.

“Only a few people.”

Theo stood and returned to his original seat. He leaned forward and whispered, “I now understand his hatred for Luka.”

“I know,” she responded. “I’m afraid Josah will lead us into trouble.”

“That may be true. But you are the rudder, Eva Marie. Where you go, we must all follow.”

More people gathered around the Square to watch Graybard training a few young men to be soldiers. Dali found eight willing volunteers and marched them to the gates.

Caleb and Conall found walking sticks for those in training, as well as themselves. They were as long as swords but without the unforgiving cutting edges.

Graybard demonstrated the standing position, and the strike moves, using the Evermore brothers. They handled swords since they were young, practicing daily with Josah.

“Do you see Caleb’s stance? His feet are spread at shoulder width, one foot slightly behind him.” Graybard swung his stick and struck his arm.

“Oww.” Caleb lowered his staff and rubbed his arm.

Graybard cleared his throat. “Well, yes. Notice that he didn’t lose his balance when struck. Now, take your stance opposite someone else.”

He walked around adjusting individual stances, while shouting, “I didn’t say cross swords! Just stand!”

With his patience tested, Graybard swung his stick, knocking young men off-balance. Most of them sat on the cobblestone, waiting for instructions.

“Get up! Don’t ever stay on the ground unless you want to die!”

He moved a few steps away, then waved his hand. “Alright, gather around. Let’s watch Conall and Caleb. Will you two take a starting position?”

The brothers took their stance, wooden swords lifted before them. “Observe. Conall will make the first move, called the ‘Advance,’ by lunging forward and swinging his sword. Caleb will block the sword while stepping back. We call this a ‘Retreat.'”

Graybard nodded his head to proceed. The brothers performed as expected, repeating the moves several times. “Now pair up and practice. Take turns advancing and defending.”

As the new soldiers stood up, Graybard walked over to Josah and Dali standing by the statute. When he turned, he saw dropped swords, a few taking many steps before lunging forward. More troubling to Graybard was they swung their wooden sticks, as if not to cause harm.

He lifted his hands and covered his eyes. “These aren’t soldiers!”

Dali intervened. “You are right. These aren’t soldiers. They are boys who, until today, never thought they would learn how to harm someone. You need to be patient.”

Graybard grumbled. “Of course, be patient. Now, if I can get someone to convince Luka to wait a little longer!”

As he started walking toward the young men, he thought of his promise to Eva Marie. “What was I thinking? There’s no way we can defend ourselves against Luka. Josah is right. It may be time to run.”

Written by Mike Arroyo

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