15 Making His Move
Luka surveyed the Common Court outside the city walls. He took in the sounds, smells, and sights of merchants and commoners selling and buying wares. His decision to expel them from the Inner Courts pleased him. He reserved those spaces for the nobles of Casselberry.
Waves of people acknowledged Luka as he strolled by, bowing their heads. They paused long enough to greet him as “My Lord.” He walked over to a cart filled with fruit, where a young girl cried, clinging to her mother.
“Why is she carrying on so?” asked Luka.
The mother curtsied and replied, “She’s hungry, my Lord. I’m trying to barter for some food so she can eat.”
Luka grabbed an apple, squatted, and presented the girl with his gift. Still clinging to her mother, she reached for the apple and took a bite. He looked around, realizing that the court was now quiet.
“Listen to me,” Luka shouted. “Everyone should have one solid meal every day. And you peddlers must provide it, no matter the cost. Don’t let me walk into this court again and hear a child crying for food. Do you understand?”
There was a unison response accepting his request. But many merchants weren’t thrilled. The mother curtsied and thanked Luka for his kindness. He tilted his head and nodded.
Leaning over towards the mother, Luka whispered in her ear. “Don’t ever let me see you are begging, or your child will learn what it means not to have a mother.”
Holding his hands behind his back, Luka stepped away, returning to the main entrance. He glanced down the cobblestone path leading to the Algora gate.
His soldiers controlled who could enter the city from this point. Vendors from Southport traveling with their carts paid a tax before they could sell. Another fee awaited them if they planned to go beyond Neardore.
Luka continued through the second gates leading to the Inner Courts. Selected merchants set up shops to provide the best produce and goods to nobles. No coin ever exchanged hands. Vendors received monthly stipends from Casselberry for their services, always the same amount.
Musicians with string instruments at various locations strummed a light, enjoyable tune. The Inner Courts were pristine, filled with nobles and the privileged. These pledged their undying loyalty to Luka.
Walls protecting the center of the city had towers built every fifteen meters. Guards could watch all activities from above. Nobles settled in multi-storied buildings, with narrow streets leading to Villa Nobilis.
Luka nodded his head occasionally when greeted by the nobles. His thoughts returned to his encounter at Bon Abbi, no matter how hard he tried to forget. How could a young girl outmaneuver him? And what about that Chronicler?
He felt his anger rise within, as he stomped his feet up the staircase and entered the Villa. As servants ran to meet Luka, he said, “Send someone to the garden with a meal and drink for me. Tell Hodius and Ludda I want to see them now!”
Villa Nobilis, richly decorated, offered open and private spaces for its ruler. Servant quarters and storage rooms occupied the lower levels. Luka never changed his pace as he continued to the back of his home. He pushed through a massive door then stepped down to the garden. Flowering trees, trimmed hedges, and flowing fountains offered Luka comfort.
Servants carrying food, drink, and vessels ran down the stairs. They laid out the table with urgency, making sure they didn’t make Luka wait longer than needed. He sipped his mid-morning wine, remembering what happened eight years ago, to the day.
Lord Edmund Robion refused to control his anger when he heard two people from Bon Abbi died. Not because he valued their lives but that his son compromised his plans. He knew this was Luka’s doing.
The Mayweather boy would marry and return to Mercil. He would never stay in Bon Abbi when the larger city offered him more. Lord Rando would lose his heir to Mercil. But Luka changed everything.
Killing Nolan Baye was both tragic and a warning. Lord Rando would find someone to rule in his place, should something happen to him. Lord Edmund knew vanquishing Bon Abbi would now become difficult.
Luka took another sip of wine. “He deserved what happened,” he spoke softly.
After berating him in front of his mother, Lord Edmund hurled his son from his presence. Luka sought solace from Sola, the Healer. He always had time to listen, but that day, he was gone. Perusing through vials, some with labels, the young man found one called “Death by Cap.”
Luka read the back of the label, warning of imminent death if swallowed. Taking the vial to the kitchen, he sprinkled the refined power onto the food prepared for his father.
Trying to brush away this memory, Luka stood up and walked toward the shallow fountain. It was here his mother would give him a coin to toss into the water. “You can wish your sorrows away,” she would say.
Luka had no way of knowing his father would share his meal. He never meant harm to his mother. Today, there were no coins to toss into the fountain.
He turned when Hodius and Ludda made their way down to the garden. “You made me wait for you!” he shouted.
Luka raised his hand to make them stop with their excuses. “I need your demented minds to help me out. Tell me, how can I get rid of Eva Marie?”
“You mean that girl from Bon Abbi?” asked Hodius.
“Yes! How do I get rid of her?”
Ludda slapped Hodius’s shoulder. “My Lord, we had twenty men inside the city at our disposal? Why didn’t you order an attack?”
Luka took a deep breath. “It may have been a good idea. But once word got out that I attacked Bon Abbi, Midland and their army would become our greatest threat.”
“Why don’t we send our soldiers to Bon Abbi?” offered Hodius.
Ludda shook his head. “Don’t mind him, my Lord. What he lacks in thought, he makes up in strength. Let me ponder a moment.”
Sitting at the table, he tore a piece of Luka’s bread, chewing as he considered the options. He waved Luka to sit. “If we can’t attack Bon Abbi now, how about bringing Eva Marie to Casselberry?”
Luka sat and pushed his food toward Hodius, who plopped down on a chair. “I like the idea of bringing her here, but she can’t die in Casselberry for those same reasons.”
Lacing his hands together, Luka squeezed and released his fingers, repeatedly. “Wait. We should bring her to Casselberry for an event.”
“How about announcing her as the new ruler of Bon Abbi?” Hodius suggested as he ate.
“Stop thinking, Hodius!” demanded Ludda.
“No,” Luka said. “Hodius is correct. I’ll invite her to Casselberry to a reception, where we’ll announce her as the Lady of Bon Abbi. She can’t turn me down.”
“But I thought you said we couldn’t kill her in Casselberry,” Ludda reminded him.
“Of course. I’ll arrange it, so Eva Marie has to stay in Neardore. When she leaves to return from the event, ruthless thieves will attack her.”
“That is excellent, my Lord! But she can’t be the only one to die.”
Luka looked at Ludda, giddy at the thought. “You are correct. If the thieves attack other nobles, then no one can accuse me of the act.”
“I sent word a few days ago for the cook to poison everyone eating at the Manor,” Ludda told the ruler. “But if Eva Marie or any of the others died, we would have heard by now.”
Luka leaned forward. “It doesn’t matter. They won’t know it was on my orders. Can you find men willing to attack and kill for you?”
Ludda smiled. “For the right amount of coins, they’ll kill their mothers!”
Luka grimaced at the remark, a reminder of what he had done. “Find the right people and pay them well. I’ll provide whatever you need.”
As Luka shook Ludda’s hand, Hodius finished the last piece of bread. “Seems to me,” he said to Luka, “Some of the thieves should die. That will prove you tried to protect everyone.”
Both men stared at Hodius. “We should feed you more often,” Ludda snorted.
Luka waved at a servant standing by the doors. “Bring some more food for my friends!”
Hodius grinned at Ludda. “That’s right,” the thin man nodded. “You did good!”
Turning towards Luka, he asked, “My Lord, I’m curious. Why do you hate the Mayweathers so?”
Ludda cringed for a moment when he saw Luka’s scowl. “Yes, I despise them. I’ve watched my father cower to Lord Rando for years. Before we started shipping from Liez, we depended on Bon Abbi to provide food for a price. And yet, they gave it freely to those claiming sanctuary.”
The thought of his father’s leniency toward Bon Abbi angered Luka. Grabbing a drinking vessel, he threw it across the garden. “He had no issues sending soldiers to secure Midland territories for our farmers. And now they have an army!”
“Why didn’t he go after Bon Abbi?” asked Ludda. “They can’t even close their gates.”
Luka smirked, tapping on the table. He mocked his father by repeating what he often said, using a high-pitched voice. “We have a signed agreement to keep Bon Abbi as a sanctuary for those less fortunate.”
Luka stood as the servants brought food and drink to the table. Pointing to one of them, he said, “Get word to the Captain of the Guards, I want to see him. I’ll be waiting for him in the garden.”
His two companions didn’t wait to start eating. Luka sat down and grabbed a cube of salted meat. “Do you remember Lord Rando sending a herald to announce his son’s wedding?”
Ludda shook his head slightly, warning Hodius not to respond. “Lord Rando stopped in every city, while Nolan and his bride-to-be sat like royalty. Everything came so easy for him.”
Luka seemed to drift away with his thoughts. He slammed his fist on the table, shouting, “How does it feel to be dead, King Nolan?”
The two companions looked at each other, knowing they needed to move Luka away from his dark thoughts. Ludda cleared his throat and asked, “My Lord, when you overtake Bon Abbi, what will you do?”
The thin man’s question captured Luka’s attention. “My father told me many times of treasures beyond imagination in Bon Abbi. They have the largest territory, favorable weather, and fertile lands. Who knows what else is there those feeble-minded Abbis don’t understand.”
Hodius snickered. He rarely heard Luka call anyone, other than him, ‘feeble-minded.’ He returned to his food, knowing he should never interrupt Luka.
Ignoring him, Luka continued. “Casselberry can’t grow larger without confrontation. We have the Filgore Mountains and the sea on either side. Corner to our south and Neardore to the north keeps us from expanding.”
Ludda needed no more details. “I understand. You’re looking to make Bon Abbi your new Casselberry.”
Luka stood up, straightening his tunic. “You’re thinking too small. I will make all Rylie Glen my kingdom!”
It was already midday by the time the two teams made their way to the mountain ranges near the wall. Conall drove a wagon carrying men and tools toward the Filgore Mountains.
Josah and others rode horses towards the Alder Woods. The elevations were not quite as high, and they were closer to the Square. Caleb held the lead for a mule pulling a cart of tools, ambling next to his horse.
The riders went at a slow and steady pace to conserve the horses. They needed their strength when the time came to drag the big trees the men planned to harvest.
Josah battled doubts about leaving Ena behind. But Eva Marie insisted she could care for her while he was gone. She was right. His traveling companions wouldn’t like a Dragoon tagging along.
Soon, they came to the compromised section of the wall. Graybard was correct. The wall had collapsed, and the core of trees rolled on the other side. The two Ruelanders traveling with them dismounted their horses and inspected the damage.
One of them paced the opening, calculating the breadth of trees the men would need to cut down. The other Ruelander took a pointed metal bar about the length of his arm from the travel bag. He chipped away at the ends of the wall, still standing.
After conversing with each other, one of them walked over to Josah. “There is some good news here,” he said. “We need four trees to repair this section. They need to be eight meters long and one meter round.”
“That is great to hear,” Josah replied. “Smaller trees mean we can cut them down faster, and they won’t be as heavy .”
“Cut down twelve saplings about the width of your thumb. We’ll use them to join the logs together,” the Ruelander instructed Josah. “Leave someone with us so we can prepare the wall while you cut the trees.”
Josah asked one of the men to stay and help while they continued towards the end of the wall. Soon, they came to the steep mountainside that Graybard said was there. And, he was right. No one could scale the sides.
The ground near them was rolling, with plenty of trees to choose. “Let’s set up camp here, “Josah told the men. “Caleb, get the horses some oats. We’ll need them fed and rested by morning.”
The young Evermore dismounted and took the time to remove the saddle from his horse. He led him to a grassy area and tied the reins to a low branch. The mule brayed as Caleb pulled out feed bags. He filled one with oats and slipped it on the mule’s muzzle, pulling the loops around his ears.
The other men walked to Caleb, who distributed the feed bags filled with oats. Once done, he released the mule from his harness, then pulled the feed bag. Caleb slapped his backend to encourage him to leave the cart.
He fed his horse last before Josah called everyone to the wagon. “The four of us will cut down two trees each. Locate hardwoods and stay away from pine trees. They’re too soft.”
“What am I doing?” asked Caleb.
He placed a hand on his shoulder. “Find a fallen hardwood and cut out wedges. We’ll need three or four for each tree. Replace our axes when we need to, then sharpen the dull edges. We can’t stop. All the trees we need must come down before nightfall.”
Caleb pulled out and handed a two-meter ‘whipping’ saw, followed by an ax. “Pair up, then spread out,” he said. “Find your tree, and I’ll bring the second ax to you.”
The men carried the saw on their shoulders with the teeth point out. Every step made the saw bounce, creating a whipping sound. Josah found the first oak tree, about four meters long. Looking where to drop the tree, he swung his ax to cut a trench for the whipping saw.
Caleb leaned the second ax next to a nearby tree, then found the other team. With the starting trench already cut, the two men took hold of the whipping saw handles on the opposite end. They positioned it perpendicular to the tree. Once they adjusted their stance, each side pulled the saw towards them in a steady rhythm, back and forth.
Mesmerized by their movement, the young Evermore shook off the daze that held him in place. He located a fallen oak tree and started cutting wedges of different sizes. This task was something he did back home.
He gathered the first eight oak wedges and dropped them by the team. Having cut through half of the tree, one of the men swung his ax on the opposite side. He carved out a chunk of the tree trunk above the cut line. When ready, the two men grabbed the saw and started another cut.
Caleb scooped the remaining wedges and his ax, then went back to Josah. With the cuts already made on both sides, he was ready for the wedges. Using the back of the ax head, he hammered the wedge into the cut line.
He stepped back and let the other man swing his ax as he removed more of the tree trunk. Snap. The sound confirmed that the tree moved towards the main cut. Josah hammered the wedge further into the cutline, then forced another wedge into it. The tree shook with every hit.
“Keep cutting at the truck,” Josah encouraged the man, as he gasped for air.
After a few more swing, they heard a loud crack. Josah waved the man to help him push the tree. It was enough, as the tree twisted and started to fall in the direction they wanted. “Clear!” shouted Caleb.
Landing with a thud, broken branches from nearby trees followed. Leaves floated to the ground. Josah grabbed the second ax and joined the task of chopping away all unwanted branches.
Some of the thicker branches were harder to cut, but they became easier the closer they got to the top. Once cleared, Caleb paced the length of the fallen tree. At eight meters, he marked the spot using broken branches. “The tree’s too long,” he told Josah.
He nodded, then turned when he heard a tree fall in the distance. “Let’s get some water before starting on the next tree.”
As the two men made their way back to the wagon, Caleb pulled out a grinding stone and sharpened the edges of the ax. He walked back to the other team and repeated his duties.
Once all four trees were down and extraneous branches removed, Caleb handed the men iron bars. Each took a tree and hammered the pointed ends at the base of the trunk. In the morning, they would fasten ropes around the bars and to harnesses worn by the horses.
As the day drew to a close, Josah gathered dry branches and lit a fire. Soon, those preparing the wall joined their camp. They drew drinking water from a covered washbasin at the back of the wagon. Each man broke out the food they carried from home.
The stories of the Bon Abbi horses shared by the men fascinated Josah. The horses they rode to the wall weren’t as large as the draft animals that were sixteen hands tall. But when harnessed together, they could drag the tethered trees back to the Square, if needed.
When the end their day came, each man checked their horse before finding a spot by the fire. Caleb, not quite ready to sleep, laid near Josah. “Are you tracking how many days we’ve been in Bon Abbi?”
“Yes, I have. In two days, it will be the fortnight we promised to meet your father,” he said.
“Hey,” Caleb corrected him. “You’re an Evermore, too.”
Josah grinned and pretended to throw pine straw his way. “If we are late, he’ll wait another day. But after that, he’ll start looking for us.”
“Are we heading back to Southport?” asked Caleb.
Josah slipped his hands behind his head and stared at the stars. He exhaled and said, “Let’s get through tomorrow. We should be back to Bon Abbi by mid-morning. They can finish the wall repairs without us.”
Eva Marie walked away from the barn, leaving Ena and Graybard alone. The warrior expressed his concern in staying with the wild cat. But after a challenging day of training young men to be soldiers, he desired solitude.
She felt relief when she found Dali waiting for her nearby. The Square was empty, and the guards alert. “I must say,” said Dali, “I find I am impatient as we wait for the gate repairs.”
“As I,” admitted Eva. “I have grown accustomed to having the Evermores here. Of course, I would never tell Josah!”
The women laughed. “Nor I, Gray.”
Dali reached into a pocket and drew out a folded correspondence. “A runner from Casselberry delivered this at the gate while you watched Ena.”
Eva took the letter, turning it over to examine the red wax. The wolf’s head seal made it clear that the message came from Casselberry. “Who would be sending me correspondence?” Eva asked as she broke the seal.
She unfolded the letter, reading it twice before telling Dali what it said. “Luka is holding an event at Casselberry to introduce me as the Lady of Bon Abbi in three days.”
“What?” questioned Dali.
Eva handed her the letter. “He says he wants to discuss how we can work together to improve Rylie Glen for everyone. Attending the event would help us avoid any conflict.”
Dali dropped the letter and hand to her side. “You can’t trust Luka. How can you be sure this isn’t a way to get you away from Bon Abbi? We now know Casselberry poisoned Lord Rando.”
“But we can’t prove it was Luka,” Eva Maria pointed out. “He could have ordered his men to slay us when he brought Theotello to Bon Abbi. And yet, he left peacefully.”
The women walked to the Manor. Dali looked at the letter several times, then asked, “What are you going to do?”
Eva stopped and shook her head. “I don’t know. Let’s keep this to ourselves for now. The Evermores, nor Graybard, would like the idea. But if meeting Luka in Casselberry means we can avoid an all-out war, how can I not consider going?”