17 Leaving Bon Abbi
“Again,” shouted Graybard. “Remember your stance. Spread your feet shoulder-width, with one foot slightly in front of the other. Always keep your balance!”
More recruits joined his training sessions since Eva Marie survived an attack. Most were young, with a handful of older men. It pleased Graybard to see their progress, swinging their walking sticks with force. But they weren’t the same as swords.
“Alright, stop! Quench your thirst, then gather around.”
There were thirty men under Graybard’s tutelage gathered at the Square. Some curious villagers watched along the edges, shouting an occasional word of encouragement. He looked around but didn’t see any sign of Dali.
“Enough water. Gather around,” Graybard commanded.
The men quickened their steps towards the warrior. “Quiet down, ” he said. “You have learned the first vital steps when engaged in a sword fight. But remember, the man in front of you is one of many in the battle.”
Pulling four young men from the crowd, Graybard asked everyone to step back. He positioned two men, side-by-side, and the other two in front of them. “This is how you have been lining up. Now, why is this the wrong way to fight?”
When no one ventured a guess, Graybard drew his sword and pointed towards the back of the nearest trainee. “Nobody is protecting this man’s back.”
He stowed his sword and continued with his lesson. “When two armies face each other, each will send a line of soldiers. Both companies have men in front of them. But when you as soldiers break through the line, men opposing you are at your sides and behind you.”
Graybard, dressed without his armor, pulled up his linen shirt. He revealed his long scar below his rib cage. “This is what happens when you think you only have to watch the man in front of you.”
A soft murmur began as volunteers whispered to each other. “How should we defend ourselves?” asked an older man.
Graybard demonstrated by placing two of the men standing, back-to-back. “You pair up with someone in the field, like so. You move as a team, always turning towards the immediate danger.”
“Isn’t Casselberry going to do the same thing?” another asked.
“No,” Graybard said. “Casselberry has no reason to believe anyone would oppose them. They only know how to surge through a line but not how to defend themselves afterward.”
He asked two men to become the attackers. “Don’t stay in one place. Try to separate the two standing back to back.”
At first, the would-be attackers hesitated, unsure of what they should do. But as each stood in front of the men in the center, they swung their sticks. “Stay with them,” shouted Graybard, as the outside men continued to move.
Holding up his hands, Graybard halted the match. “Good. You performed well. Separate yourselves into groups of four. Practice defending and attacking!”
To his delight, he saw Eva Marie and Dali observing the training with the villagers. “Be sure to switch roles,” Graybard shouted as he walked towards the women.
“How are they doing?” asked Eva.
Graybard shrugged his shoulders. “Difficult to say. Nothing is the same as facing a real foe. But they swing their walking sticks with authority.”
“Do you think Luka will come before long?” Dali hoped Graybard would know.
He surveyed his trainees, performing as demanded. “You can count on Luka doing the unexpected. He may test us during Harvest, but he’ll wait for Spring to bring all his soldiers.”
Dali thought of her son back in Tuva, who stayed with her Mum while in Bon Abbi. Her future seemed uncertain. She was ready to talk about something else. “How did you say you got that scar?”
Lifting his shirt, he chuckled, “This scar? I told my sister once she hit like a girl. But the men don’t need to know.”
The two women laughed. “I agree,” said Eva. “This story is better left as a battle scar.”
Graybard proceeded to tell them that Lady, his older sister, gave him most of his wounds. Yet, he couldn’t mask his pride. “She’s the best blacksmith in Buberra.”
He caught a glimpse of two people entering the Square. It was Josah and Caleb. Walking towards his trainees, Graybard thanked them for their hard work. “Go now. Get your work done, and we’ll meet again tomorrow.”
Returning to the women, he welcomed Josah and Caleb back. They were dirty, covered in tree sap and dust. “I hope the trees are in better shape than you,” Graybard chided.
All Josah could do was smile. “The trees to repair the wall by Alder Woods are in place. We harnessed the horses and dragged the logs to the roadway. The Ruelanders didn’t need us to finish the work, so we walked back.”
“Tomorrow will be one fortnight when we promised to meet the Molly Red,” Caleb told them.
Eva could feel Josah wanted to tell her unfavorable news. “Are you leaving us?”
The young man brushed debris from his hair. He looked around and decided this wasn’t the place to discuss plans. “Let’s go to the barn and talk.”
He turned to the barn, expecting everyone to follow, which they did. Ena jumped down the loft and greeted Josah with muted yowls. She rubbed against his legs and rumbled her delight. Caleb sat down on the loose hay, hoping the cat would welcome him.
“We are here,” Graybard said. “What’s the plan?”
Josah glanced at Eva, knowing his departure would disappoint her. “As soon as Conall comes back, we’re heading to Southport.”
Eva Marie and Dali started objecting, reminding him that Luka could return any day. “I understand,” Josah said. “But I’ve been thinking about everything. I don’t see Luka coming to Bon Abbi on a sunny day.”
Graybard stroked his beard. “If he is to choose the day to attack, he’ll select one when the conditions are miserable. He’ll come on a cold, rainy day.”
“Why would he expose his soldiers to such conditions?” Dali asked.
Eva squatted and rubbed the big cat’s ears. “We’re a farming community. Those are the days we go inside and hide from the weather.”
Caleb was curious. “When does the rainy season begin in Bon Abbi?”
“Harvest begins by week’s end,” Dali reminded everyone. “The rains start in less than a fortnight.”
“So, there is little time to prepare for Luka. He will return. What do we need to defend ourselves, Graybard?” Josah kept watching Ena enjoying Eva Marie nearby.
“My lads need more than sticks. They need proper weapons, and I know where to get them!”
“Please tell me they are nearby,” Josah pleaded.
Everyone looked at Graybard, making him uncomfortable. Josah sat on one of the toppled bundles of hay. He tapped the side of his thigh, calling Ena to him. The large cat came without delay.
Eva stood and walked over toward Graybard. She tapped her leg and whistled, drawing Ena towards her. “Where are the weapons?” she asked.
Graybard exhaled and winced. “It’s somewhere in Liez.” When everyone groaned, he held his hand up, demanding attention. “Listen to me. There is a warehouse in Liez that supplies Luka with his weapons. And it’s near the pier!”
Josah stood and whistled for Ena. But after one looked at him, she decided not to play the game anymore. Ena found Caleb and laid down next to him.
Graybard confused Dali. “I’m not sure what you are saying. Do you want them to steal weapons?”
“Well, they are not going to give them to us, are they now?” he responded. It sparked a contentious discussion about the merits of the plan. Battle planning was Graybard expertise, and he insisted he knew best.
Frustration started to build inside Josah. He walked away, unsure if his anger was with Graybard or Eva Marie. Eva Marie held her hand up and said, “No more discussion. This plan is not for us to decide.”
Josah returned. He rubbed his face on his sleeve. “The first thing we do is clean up. Caleb, Conall, and I will meet the Molly Red in Southport. We’ll leave right away. Captain Munro must know where to find this warehouse.”
“Do you think Father will agree to steal from a merchant?” asked Caleb as Ena edged closer to him.
Josah closed his eyes and said, “I don’t know.” Then he looked at Eva. “I can’t stay here if we are going to protect Bon Abbi.”
“I understand,” was all she could say.
Graybard counted to himself before he brought up a problem. “There may not be enough days, Josah. It took us two days to walk from Filgore Valley to here.”
“Let’s shorten the time by getting you horses,” Dali said. “You can be in Southport by evening.”
Graybard ignored Dali and continued. “Assuming the Molly Red is waiting for you, and it takes another day to sail to Liez. Even if you can get there in two days, raid the warehouse the next day, and return to Bon Abbi, it will take five days.”
The young man acknowledged what Graybard said with a nod. “Then, let’s hope the rains hold off a few more days.”
“What will happen with Ena?” asked Eva Marie.
Josah looked over towards Caleb. Ena surprised him by how comfortable she was around people. Even so, the big cat couldn’t stay in Bon Abbi while he was away.
“Ena has to come with us,” he said. “Otherwise, we won’t make it through Filgore Valley.”
Caleb voiced his concern. “What if she follows us to the Molly Red?”
With both hands in the air, Josah shrugged his shoulders. “Ena knows how to protect herself. I’m confident she’ll stay in the Valley and wait for us to return.”
There was an uncomfortable lull in the conversation. Each had things to say but lacked the courage. “Why are we waiting? Let’s not waste time,” Dali interrupted. “I’ll get three horses ready unless, Gray, you plan to leave as well?”
Graybard remembered how he wanted to leave Rylie Glen. Now he would miss his first opportunity. “No, I’m staying. I have to keep training.”
“I’ll get food ready for your travel,” Eva offered. She stopped when the barn door swung open. It was Conall.
He was tired, dirty, and overheated. “Don’t get comfortable,” Josah said. “Get cleaned up. We’re heading to Southport.”
Theo spent most of his days in Lord Rando’s study, writing the events that led him to Bon Abbi, as they occurred. He included details on what he perceived to be the threats that made him choose to support Eva Marie.
He separated completed parchments across the table. Dipping his writing utensil into the ink well, Theo dated and signed the last page. He picked up the paper and waved it in the air, attempting to hurry the drying process.
The document he put together was for Brother Sammil, should they ever meet again. “If I have compromised my calling,” Theo whispered, “He’ll know I do so to preserve lives.”
He gathered the parchments, shuffling them into order, then laid them down. Theotello rested his elbows on the table and folded his hands in front of him. He thought about his last meeting with Brother Sammil in the Mercil library.
Was it more than a coincidence how often the city of Mercil surfaced? He was born in Mercil. His father met Brother Sammil in the same city’s library. That was where he told Brother Sammil of his vision.
Theo poured over the documents in the Mercil library before leaving for Bon Abbi. But he found nothing unusual, other than Mercil was the oldest city on record. Tapping his chest with his folded hands, he thought, “Maybe it’s not about the city but who came from Mercil.”
Eva Marie allowed him to use Lord Rando’s study, so he left his documents on the table. Everything he had written down was already known. He blew out the candles, ready to walk out.
Holding the door handle, Theo felt something beckoning him back towards the table. The study was dark. He shuffled back to the table with his hand in front of him. Once he found the edge, he placed his hands on top of the table.
Theo felt his heart beating through his fingertips. His eyes glazed over, and the darkness gave way to light. It was as if the fireplace he knew was in front of him didn’t exist anymore. He tried to look around, but he fixed his eyes on bound books resting on poles.
The room returned to its former darkness, but Theo’s vision wasn’t over. He heard a familiar voice to his right. It was Leena, running through the memorial trees. He could see Northport, the docks, and nearby buildings, all on fire.
Leena cried as she ran, bumping into trees and slowing her forward progress. Theo saw a close-up of her face, riddled with pain. Then she dropped to the ground, revealing the arrow that pierced her back.
“Leena!” Theo shouted as he dropped to his knees. He sobbed, unashamed of his tears. “This can’t be her future! Why are you showing this to me?”
He looked to the dark, silent ceiling, but there was no reply. Then he heard one of the parlor apprentices knocking on the door, asking, “My Lord, are you alright?”
Theo found the table and pulled himself up. “I’m fine.” He couldn’t find a coherent thought, so he repeated himself. “I’m fine.”
When he was confident no one stood by the door, Theo opened it to let in some light. Unable to find a way to light the candles, he stood looking into the room. Not sure how long he remained stationary, Theo felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.
It was Eva Marie. She had returned from the barn, getting food ready for the Evermores to take with them. “My apprentice said she heard you scream. Are you hurt?”
The Chronicler wouldn’t face Eva, so he just nodded his head. “Can you have someone bring some light into the study? I need you to stay.”
Becky, the young server, stood behind Eva Marie. “I’ll have someone fetch some lanterns, ma’am. You stay here, and I’ll gather the food.”
“Thank you,” Eva whispered.
“Is there anyone behind you?” asked Theo. When she said no, he said, “You’re hiding books behind that fireplace. They shouldn’t be here!”
Eva gasped, surprised at his ability to know things. “We’re not hiding anything. That’s where we found them.”
When Theo turned to face Eva, she could see he had been weeping. But there was also anger she didn’t expect to see. Without warning, Theotello grabbed her hand.
“What are you doing?” Eva objected as she tried to pull her hand away.
Theo kept apologizing as he continued to sort through Eva’s past. When he found she spoke the truth, he released her. She rubbed her hand, demanding an explanation.
“I’m sorry,” the young boy said. “I thought you and Josah hid something from me that I needed to know.”
“That doesn’t give you the right to invade my thoughts, my past,” Eva said. “I would have volunteered if you had asked.”
He hung his head. “I had two visions tonight, one of the books hidden behind the fireplace. The other was of Northport. The city was on fire…”
Theo couldn’t finish his confession without a break in his voice, so he waited. When he was composed, he continued. “Someone I care for will die unless I do something about it.”
Several of the house staff brought a lantern and two lit candles to Eva Marie. She handed the candles to Theo but held on to the handle of the lamp. Thanking them for their help, Eva walked back into the study.
Theotello welcomed the light emitted from the candles. Entering the room, he closed the door behind him. Eva walked over to the cabinet on the left, then pressed the cache to release the fireplace. Grabbing the side, she swung it open, revealing the secret room.
Theo marveled at how the fireplace opened like a door, leading into a hidden chamber. He left a lit candle on the table, then leaned down so he could enter the room.
Pointing to two poles, Theo said, “These are the two books I saw. I’ll get one while you retrieve the other. Bring it to the table.”
The Chronicler felt comfort when he touched the first bound book. The leather cover was old and cracked along the edges, but pristine at the center. He pulled it off the pole and walked back to the table.
Eva followed him with the second book in hand. She placed the lantern on the table, making it easier to see the books. Looking at the circle surrounding two symbols, Eva asked Theo what they were.
He ran his fingers across the embossed symbols. “These are two emblems, pictures as it were, to identify the writer. Today, Chroniclers take on a new name. But, long ago, they gave up their names and chose symbols to represent who they became.”
Eva touched the front of the book she retrieved. The worn cover still bore the marks of a tanner. “These must be old,” she said.
“They are, indeed,” Theo admitted. “I have seen many bound Chronicles at Northport, but none like these here.”
He carefully opened the book to the first page. The handwritten text was legible, and the parchment free of defect. Yet, it was not a language Theo couldn’t read.
“I only know one person who could read this, and she is in Northport.”
“Can you bring her here?” asked Eva.
Theo took a shallow breath. “I will leave now and bring her to Bon Abbi. Leena is her name. She’s the one I saw die in my vision.”
Eva didn’t know how to respond. “Do all your visions become true?”
“As I told you before, what I see becomes the future when it’s left unchallenged. Don’t tell anyone. I must go to Northport.”
Theo returned the books to its resting places, one at a time, then stepped back, out of the way. Eva swung the fireplace facade close. “Go by the kitchen and take some food before you go. I’m sure Becky has prepared more than she needed.”
When he started to apologize again for his behavior, Eva made him stop. “You brought me no harm, but I understand the circumstances that caused you to doubt me. The people you have met here in Bon Abbi are sincere. All they want to do is protect this city.”
Theo offered a weak smile and walked out of the study. Eva blew out the candles and the lantern, leaving them on the table. “This has always been a dark room. You wouldn’t know there is still daylight outside. Once you get your food, stop by the stables near the smithies. Tell them to give you their fastest horse.”
With a quick slight bow, Theo left for the kitchen. Eva straightened her kirtle then lightly touched her hair to smooth it out. She walked out of the study, closing the door behind her.
Josah was about to leave with a dangerous task he needed to carry out. She wanted to tell him that her poor decisions contributed to his father’s death, but it wasn’t the best time. She vowed to get him to promise he’d returned to her.
The walk to the barn was burdensome. Every step seemed to take Eva’s confidence away. She would never have made it this far without Josah. And now, he was leaving.
Eva could see the three Evermores sitting on horses behind the barn on the other side of the wall. Graybard and Dali leaned over, looking at Ena. The big cat wasn’t sure about the horses invading her territory.
“When you get to the Valley, take the saddles and reins off. Free the horses and leave everything there,” Dali told them.
“We’ll be waiting there for you in five days,” Eva shouted, as she joined them at the wall.
Conall and Caleb placed their hands over their hearts then urged the horses to run. “Go, Ena,” Josah shouted, signaling her to go forward.
Ena started running but looked at Josah, who trotted his horse toward the wall. He looked at Eva. She couldn’t hide her worry from him. “There is nothing to fear,” he told her. “I promise I’ll come back.”
He pulled the reins and turned his horse to the open field. A light tap of his heels was all his horse needed. With its ear pulled back, the horse sprinted into action.
Josah never looked back. He glanced as he passed Ena. With little effort, the big cat followed by his side, running with great speed. When Conall and Caleb came into view, he slowed his pace.
Eva watched until they all disappeared behind the rolling hills. Dali came over to comfort her. “They will be back before you know it”
They watched the empty fields in silence. Graybard sighed and said it best. “I already miss those lads.”