21 The Miller’s Wheel

Draft 2019.11.08.01 β€” Leena looked for Theotello during vespers, and then the morning meal. He seemed to have vanished after returning from Bon Abbi three days ago. She even looked at the pier.

Not sure where to look next, Leena came back to the Meeda building. Maybe she would see something she missed last night, with the help of the morning sun. She entered, then looked inside several library rooms, but nothing seemed out of place.

She returned to the Mercil library. This room was the last place Theo visited before going to Bon Abbi. That’s when Leena noticed what was wrong. Most of the bound chronicles were missing.

“Theo,” she called out, but no response. Speaking to herself, she said, “You took the documents to protect them. But where?”

Then it dawned on Leena. When Theo first told her about his vision, Northport was burning. The only safe place she could think of in the Meeda building was the cellar. The stone foundation walls would never catch on fire.

She left the Mercil library and hurried down the hall to the kitchen. Two cooks were busy cutting vegetables, kneading the dough, and stoking the fire. Neither looked up when Leena entered the room. To her left were the cellar stairs, its door slightly ajar.

Taking small steps, trying to avoid the squeaks, Leena descended the stairs. She felt the cool, damp space, a perfect place to hide flammable materials.

The cellar had many rows of shelves, filled with barrels along the bottom and odd-shaped flasks at the top. Labels identified the type of wine, and when they poured it for storage. Someone had placed lit candles around the stairs.

“Theo,” she called out again.

Lights around the steps told Leena that Theo had to be nearby. Tucked away under the stairs, partially hidden by the shelves, was another entry to a room. Leena pressed her ear to the door but didn’t hear anything. With one deliberate motion, she swung it opened.

Melted candles lit the space, with signs the flames were near the end. The room appeared empty, except for the stacks of chronicles along the walls. Sheets covered each one, with a small parchment fastened by drops of wax.

Swinging the door toward her, she looked behind it. There was Theotello, sleeping soundly on the floor, covered with one of the linen sheets. Leena stomped her foot and shouted. “Theo!”

The young Chronicler sat up, knocking over a stack. He blinked his eyes a few times, then focused on Leena. “What are you doing here?”

“Me? What are you doing here? And why are these chronicles in the cellar?”

Theo stood up, then straightened his tunic. “Sorry. I’ve been up most of the night, so I may not be as coherent as I’d like.”

“You better start explaining, ” Leena warned.

Theotello yawned. “Leena, I already told you that I saw Northport burning down. Marauders will be on their way soon. They’re coming to destroy the city, the writings, and the people. I can’t save everything nor everyone. So, I had to select what matters.”

Leena placed a hand on her face and closed her eyes. “Did you talk with Brother Lawrence, as I suggested?”

Theo restacked the chronicles he knocked over and covered it with the linen. “I did.”

Leena waited for more information. When he offered nothing, Leena urged him to say something. Theo shrugged his shoulders. “I spent the night moving part of the Mercil library to the cellar. How well do you think it went?”

Theotello knew Leena wouldn’t back down. He closed the door, then moved his hand downward. “Let’s keep our tone down. I don’t want anyone to know what is in the cellar.”

Leena was angry. “What would keep marauders from discovering this room?”

“Good point. There are some discard barrels down here, cracked and unusable. When we leave, let’s stick them in front of the door. Come, help me gather the candles so we can go.”

“Wait a moment, Theo. You came here three days ago, told me you saw me die in a vision, then you disappeared. I thought you would put more effort into trying to convince me to leave with you. Instead, you’re in the cellar sleeping next to the Mercil chronicles.”

Theo nodded. “Yes, all true. I chose to do what was easy, first. That way, I could concentrate on what was going to be difficult.”

“What are you saying,” Leena pouted. “You consider me to be difficult?”

“No, no.” Theo lowered his head and exhaled. “You’re not difficult, on the contrary.”

Leena looked up at the low ceiling. “As long as I can remember, all I have done is wait for you, Theo. I guess I’m tired of waiting.”

She took one of the candles and held it closer to the young man. Leena wanted to make sure she could see his face. “Why did you come here?”

Theo drew back. He knew the moment he dreaded had come. He knew he needed to say something, but there were no words. “Why did you come back, Theo?”

“Well, it wasn’t to save the Mercil library,” he snapped.

“Then, why?”

Leena had the gift of discerning intention. The young Chronicler wished she would touch him so she would know instantly. “Do I have to say it? Don’t you already know?”

“If you want me to follow you to Bon Abbi, then I must hear you say it. Now!”

Theo squared his shoulders, determined to maintain his silence. Maybe it would force Leena to read his heart. But he was wrong.

Leena blew out the candle and crossed her arms. When he didn’t respond, she pushed the door open, forcing Theo to move back. As she walked to the stairs, the young Chronicler stepped into the cellar and shouted.

“Leena, I like you. Always have since we first met!”

She returned to Theo and gazed at the boy, beaten at his own game. “Leena, I came for you. I couldn’t bear to think of this world without you here.”

Grinning, Leena asked, “Now, was that so hard?”

He nodded his head and said, “Yes, it was.”

“As it should. You could have said ‘love,’ but we can start with ‘like.’ Let’s cover the door with those barrels.”

Eva Marie sat on a window ledge overlooking the courtyard. She watched nobles coming and going, wondering why they couldn’t feel her loss. Wiping tears from her eyes, she looked at her left arm, bandaged and throbbing with pain.

She stared at her surcoat on the floor. Wrinkled and stained with blood, Eva felt like it was a dream. A knock at the door startled the girl, making her run to the bed. “Eva, I’m coming in now.”

It was Sola. Dressed in drab-colored garments, the Healer pulled off his hood as he walked into the room. Eva sobbed, unable to control her emotions. She ran to Sola and buried her face into his shoulder.

“My child,” he said while wrapping his arms around her. “There was nothing I could do.”

Eva pushed away from the Healer. “I shouldn’t have gone to Casselberry!”

“Bashan told me you went there to seek peace with Luka. That was noble of you.”

Eva drew her arms close as if fending off unseen blows to her heart. “Careful,” Sola warned. “I had to stitch your wound, about the length of your hand. Don’t put any pressure on that left arm.”

“Sola, what am I doing? I’m not a noble. Pretending to be one cost Gira her life.”

The Healer walked over to her bed and sat. He padded it, beckoning Eva to sit with him. “I could call you by the name your father gave you, but you are not that child. You are Eva Marie, the Lady of Bon Abbi.”

As the young girl started to protest, Sola held his hand up. “You’re looking at this all wrong. Don’t see what you did or didn’t do. Rather, acknowledge what people have done for you.”

Eva couldn’t wipe her tears fast enough. “Gira, a commoner, gave her life to protect her Lady. Bashan risked what he valued most by taking you to Casselberry. I am hearing stories of how the villagers have rallied behind you. Only those with noble hearts could move people in this fashion.”

Sola pulled out a linen square out of his tunic pocket and offered it to Eva. He stood and walked to the window. “Ah, this is the first time I’ve been in this room. The courtyard never looked better.”

Turning to Eva Marie, the Healer pulled his arms behind his back and walked toward her. “Do you remember what made your father one of the best millers on the island?”

The girl shifted around on the bed so she could see Sola. When she shook her head, the Healer continued. “Roylo, your father, had a golden thumb. He would spend hours in those mill houses letting the grain fall around his fingers.”

Taking a few steps closer, Sola leaned to catch Eva’s eyes. “Your father could feel, by touch, the quality of the product coming out of the spout. The secret was in the quern-stone used to grind.”

Taking shallow breaths, she said, “I don’t understand.”

“Eva, the weight you are feeling now is your quern-stone. It’s grinding you down. Don’t fight it. Let it do its work so it can produce the quality product we all need.”

Sola sat back down on the bed. “You don’t think we need you here in Midland? Lord Tao has retreated for fear Luka will come for him, too. But he is a good ally, even when he can’t commit.”

He reached for her left arm, examining the bandages. “Let’s dress this again. I’m sure it’s hurting you by now. I have something to reduce the pain.”

Eva reached for her head. “Sometimes, the room feels like it is spinning.”

“This is a severe wound, Eva. Your life would have slipped away if Bashan hadn’t brought you to me when he did. Lie down, and I’ll bring what I need here.”

As the Healer walked to the door, Eva called to him. “Where is Gira?’

He stopped and turned. “I have prepared her body for burial. She needs to be on her way to Bon Abbi today.”

Eva nodded her head. “I must travel back with her, as well.”

Sola saw the determination in her eyes. “Then, I will travel with you. You will need my help if you are to recover from your wound.”

“I would like that,” Eva said with a weak smile.

“Then, I must tell you what I did early this morning. I sent a herald out to Bon Abbi to tell them that someone from their city died. He won’t reveal who perished.”

“Why would you do that, Sola? There may be people who think it was me.”

“Precisely, my child. Luka has spies everywhere, except here in Midland. I thought it would be an advantage for you if Luka thought you were no longer alive.”

Eva understood. “Then, we must leave for Bon Abbi this afternoon. I don’t want them mourning for me any longer than necessary. Can you find me a clean surcoat to wear?”

“I do better than that, in a moment. Rest, and I’ll return with everything we need. You’ll be in Bon Abbi before nightfall.”

Leena and Theo walked out of the Meeda building, feeling as if their burdens floated away. The young apprentice walked with confidence, now that Leena knew how he felt. He cut his eyes towards the girl, who couldn’t help but smile.

“What are we doing now?”

Theo stopped. He touched Leena’s arm and said, “I have to get you out of Northport. The longer you stay, the higher the danger. I was going to take you with me to speak with Brother Lawrence one more time.”

“Well,” reasoned Leena. “If Brother Lawrence didn’t believe you the first time, he won’t the second time.”

He agreed. “Then, go and pack a travel bag. Take what you cannot replace and some clothes. Bon Abbi will supply everything else.”

Theo let his arm slid down Leena’s arm, catching her hand. She held it long enough to say, “Your intentions are good. It won’t take me long.”

“Stay away from the parkway, and the pier. Meet me here by the Meeda building.”

She nodded her head, then headed west toward her dwelling place. Unfortunately, her living quarters were near the parkway. Theo wasn’t taking any chances. He would meet Leena on her way to Meeda.

As he walked east, Theo saw Brother Lawrence running, waving his hand. The older Chronicler carried more weight around his middle, causing him to be out of breath.

He laid his hand heavy on Theo’s shoulder. “I dreamt last night that Northport was on fire.”

The boy looked at him as if he spoke another language. “Brother Theo, the buildings burned, and I saw masked men drawing swords!”

Lawrence rubbed the sweat of his brow with his sleeve. “The Ancient One has sent you a warning,” Theo replied. “I was on my way to talk to you one last time.”

Throwing his head back, Lawrence glanced up into the sky. “No need to talk. But I need help sending everyone away to safety.”

“Brother Sammil left you in charge. You don’t need me to order them out of Northport.”

“But where should they go?” Brother Lawrence asked.

Theo thought hard. “These marauders are planning to attack Bon Abbi, so they can’t go south. How above sending them through the east gorge, and into Midland? There are some farming communities along the way.”

“Yes, that will work. Some Chroniclers can stay in the first villages we enter, like Kernville and Sassberg. The rest can work their way to Midland. I’ll announce the plan during the afternoon meal.”

“Brother Lawrence, disburse whatever coins you have at your disposal. The villagers may be happier to receive everyone if they pay for their room and meals. But they must leave today.”

Nodding his head, he confirmed it was a good idea. “Where are you going, Theo?”

“I’m taking Leena to Bon Abbi, as soon as we can leave.”

Brother Lawrence realized what Theo said. He was going to where the marauders were to attack. He extended his hand to the young Chronicler and said, “Grace and peace, my friend.”

“And may it last,” Theo responded.

Bashan held the reins with both hands, urging his majestic horses toward Bon Abbi. The carriage towed a flat wagon carrying the pine body box, with leather straps holding it in place.

Sola ordered heavy cloths to cover the glass in the carriage doors. He didn’t want anyone to see who rode inside. Wearing a blue tunic with dark linen, and trousers, Sola stared at Eva.

He brought her clothes, as promised, but not what Eva expected. Sola had her dress as a boy in a linen shirt, leather pants, and a tunic with a hood.

“This isn’t a triumphant return to Bon Abbi,” she told Sola.

“Even so, it is a return.”

Eva understood Sola wanted to hide the fact that she was alive. “Tell me again, what am I to do when we get to Bon Abbi?”

“A herald is arriving in the city, as we speak. He will tell them that Bashan is returning to Bon Abbi. When we get there, he will circle the Square. People will see the body box.”

She shook her head at the thought. Sola continued. “Bashan will pull the wagon to the Manor. I’ll exit while you stay in the carriage. I heard that the city has the burial site ready, next to the other deceased Mayweather family.”

“Perfect. Gira deserved no less,” Eva said.

“Then, while I speak to those attending the ceremony, you leave the carriage and enter into the Manor. Get changed and wait for me.”

“And when do I tell everyone I am alive?”

Sola grimaced, then smiled. “You will know when it’s time.”

Eva shifted her left arm to reduce the throbbing. She untied her cuff and pulled back the long sleeve to reveal her bandages. “That was a deep wound, Eva. Fortunately, the attacker didn’t use a serrated knife.”

“Why would that be good news?”

Sola reached over and lifted her left arm. “There would have been more damage and tearing. Your wound was clean. I didn’t see dirt or debris in the cut.”

“Bashan bound my wound with strips from his tunic,” said Eva.

Acknowledging what she said with a tilt of his head, Sola responded. “Yet, another act performed to save your life.”

“How long will it take for my wound to heal over?”

Sola released her arm and adjusted the way he sat. “These benches aren’t comfortable at all. I can fix this later. Meanwhile, you’ll regain full use of your arm by early planting season.”

Eva frowned. “And you’re staying with me until Spring?”

The Healer laughed. “When you say it that way, it sounds like a long time. I will stay with you long enough to show how to prepare the salve I placed on your arm. If war is coming to Bon Abbi, you will have many wounds to treat.”

“Yes,” said Eva with a nod. “And if you can help prepare us for the eventual confrontation with Luka, the better.”

Sola smiled, leaned over, and pulled the linen covering the glass on the door. The evening came upon them, as expected. The wooden wheels rolled across Sui Saor, making the sound Eva longed to hear.

Bashan slowed his horses as he waited for the double gates to swing open. Now repaired and functioning, the guards motioned him inside. He looked around at the crowd gathered at the Square.

Torches lit the path. Pulling back on the reins, Bashan let his Shires canter across the cobblestone. People lined the roadway and sobbing. Some flung colored ribbons across the body box, as the carriage and wagon passed them.

Sola motioned Eva to be quiet. As Bashan pulled the reins to stop the horses, the Healer stepped out. The crowd followed the carriage to the Manor. Eva couldn’t make out what Sola said to the people, but in a few minutes, she heard a scraping sound.

Daring to pull the linen aside, she saw four men carrying the body box to the garden. Eva drew her braided hair into her hood, then pulled it over her head. She stepped out of the carriage, then hesitated.

Confident no one would recognize her, Eva walked to the garden. She found Sola standing on a make-shift platform, consoling the attendees. Never once did Sola identified who they were honoring. Weaving through the crowd, Eva made her way to the front.

Sola saw the young girl dressed as a boy. It was time. He extended his hand to Eva and pulled her up to the platform. She yanked down her hood, then extracted her long, braided hair. The crowd gasped, confused by what they saw.

“I’m sorry if I deceived you,” she said. “But I have reason to fear for my safety. While attending the Event in Casselberry, someone attacked and wounded me. Most of you didn’t know that Gira of Tuva traveled with me. She lies in this box because she protected me.”

A few tears rolled down her cheek as she looked at the pine box. “She loved me.”

Turning to the crowd, she stared in silence. Someone yelled out, “We love you, too.”

Eva stepped down and asked a young man if she could have his walking stick. She lifted it into the air and stepped up to the platform. “Let us honor Gira. If we must die, let us do so for the honor of Bon Abbi!”

Eva glanced at Sola as the people chanted, “Eva.” Meant to discourage Bon Abbi, her attack, and the death of Gira changed everything. The quern-stone did its work.

Written by Mike Arroyo

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