21 The Miller’s Wheel

Leena looked for Theotello during vespers, and then at 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.

Entering the building, Leena looked inside the library rooms, but everything seemed fine. She returned to the Mercil library. This room was the last place Theo visited before going to Bon Abbi.

This library had several solid wood tables along the right side. Chroniclers used them to read and write their documentaries. Empty inkwells remained uncovered on the table, refilled later by the evening staff.

The Mercil room had fixed shelves above low cabinets along every wall. Labels designated the type of content found in each section. When ready, Chroniclers grouped and stacked unbounded parchments into appropriate areas.

On the far-left side were boards attached from the floor to the ceiling. Flat poles stretched between the boards held bound materials ready for reading. Those returning a bound chronicle would spread the pages and slip the book over the poles.

It took several glances before Leena noticed what was wrong. Most of the bound chronicles, suspended on poles, were missing. “Theo!” she called out but didn’t hear a response.

Thinking out loud, 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.

Leaving the Mercil library, she hurried down the hall to the kitchen. Two cooks were busy cutting vegetables, kneading 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 and avoiding the squeaks, Leena descended the stairs. She felt the cool, damp space, a perfect place to hide flammable materials. The stairway was broad and dark, but Leena could see some light at the bottom. She paused on the last tread to survey the cavernous room before stepping down to a stone floor.

The cellar had many rows of shelves, filled with barrels along the bottom and odd-shaped flasks at the top. Labels identified the wine and the day placed in storage. Leena saw candles mounted on scraps of wood set on shelves, crates, and the floor 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 an entry to another room. Leena pressed her ear to the door but heard nothing. With one deliberate motion, she swung it open.

Melting candles lit the space, with flames sputtering as they burned closer to the end of their wicks. 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.”

“Start explaining!” Leena warned. “Why are you down in the cellar sleeping with these documents?”

Theotello yawned. “Leena, I already told you 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 mattered.”

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

Theo picked up the books he knocked over, grabbed the linen sheet he covered with, and threw it over the stack. It floated gently down, ready to protect the chronicles. He looked at the young girl, dressed and prepared for the day, unlike himself. Theo took a deep breath and said, “I did.”

Leena waited for more information. When he offered nothing, she tapped her foot, her way of urging 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 his answer wouldn’t please Leena, as she would demand more details. 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 discarded 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 did what was easy first. That way, I could concentrate on what would be difficult.”

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

“No, no.” Theo lowered his head and exhaled. “I didn’t mean to imply you were difficult, quite 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 candle and held it closer to the young man. Leena wanted to make sure she could see his face. “Why did you come back to Northport?”

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

“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.”

“It requires an effort to keep things that matter. You should 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, the young girl 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 to save your companion.”

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 sewed 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 how people have responded to 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. His other secret was the quern-stone used to grind the grain.”

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

“Your father knew that the quality of processed grain depended on the type of quern-stone. Roylo used a large, heavy stone to crush wheat to a powder, and a smaller one to produce cornmeal.”

The young girl closed her eyes. She couldn’t find the energy to confront the lesson Sola presented to her. “I know you’re trying to tell me something, but I’m not understanding.”

“Eva, the weight you are feeling now is your quern-stone. Think of everything that has happened to you in such a short time. You became the Lady of Bon Abbi, defied Luka, and now grieving the loss of Gira. These experiences are all grinding you down. Don’t fight it. Let your quern-stone 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 go with you. You need my help if you are to recover from your wound.”

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

With his hand at the door, Sola paused. “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. I instructed the herald not to 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 and nodded her head. “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’ll see what I can do. 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?” Leena asked.

Theo stopped. He touched her arm and said, “I have to get you out of Northport. The longer you stay, the greater the danger. I planned to take you with me to speak with Brother Lawrence once more.”

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

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

Theo let his hand slide down Leena’s arm, catching her hand. She held it long enough to say, “I’ve always known your intentions were good. Sometimes, it’s better to hear it spoken. It won’t take me long to get ready.”

“Whatever you do, 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. With Leena’s living quarters near the parkway, Theo decided not to take any chances. He would meet Leena on her way back.

Walking east, Theo saw Brother Lawrence running, waving his hand, much to his surprise. The older Chronicler carried more weight around his middle, making him more winded. He laid his hand heavy on Theo’s shoulder.

“I dreamed 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 to the sky. “Talking is not necessary. But I do need your help. I must send everyone away to safety.”

“Brother Sammil left you in charge. You can 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 about sending them through the east gorge 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 Ferndale and Wassberg. 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 stay 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 a pine body box, with leather straps holding it in place. Sola requested heavy cloth to cover the glass in the carriage doors. He didn’t want anyone to see who rode inside.

Wearing a blue tunic with a dark linen shirt and trousers, Sola stared at Eva. He brought her clothes, as promised, but not what she expected. Sola had Eva dress as a boy in a linen shirt, leather pants, and a tunic with a hood.

“This isn’t the triumphant return to Bon Abbi I hoped for,” she told Sola.”

“Even so, it is a return.”

Eva understood why Sola wanted to hide the fact that she was alive. No doubt by now, Luka heard someone from Bon Abbi perished because of the attack. No one knew for sure she was alive. But that meant Dali and Graybard didn’t know either.

“Tell me again. What should I 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.”

The young ruler shook her head at the thought. Eva started to interrupt, but Sola spoke over her. “Bashan… Bashan will bring the carriage to the Manor. I’ll get out of the carriage and lead the people to the garden. Bon Abbi sent word this morning that they prepared a burial site by the Mayweather family.”

“Everyone believes it was me who perished,” Eva gasped.

“For now,” agreed Sola. “Wait until you are confident everyone has followed me to the garden. Get out of the carriage and enter the Manor. Change your clothes and wait until I return.”

“When do I tell everyone I am alive?”

Sola grimaced, then smiled. “That’s not for me to say. You will know when it’s the proper 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?”

Sola released her arm, then 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 other wounds to treat.”

“Yes,” said Eva with a nod. “And the more 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 to a stop as he waited for the double gates, now repaired and functioning, to swing open. The guards motioned him inside. As the carriage rolled into the city, Bashan looked around at the crowd gathered in the Square.

Torches lit the path. Pulling back on the reins, Bashan let his Shires canter across the cobblestone. People lined the roadway weeping. 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 had 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 covers aside, she looked out the window and saw four men carrying the body box to the garden.

Eva dropped her braided hair into the tunic’s hood, then pulled it over her head. She hesitated after stepping out of the carriage. Sola provided clear instructions to head inside the Manor, but Eva couldn’t do it.

Pulling her hood down lower, she walked to the garden. People held their torches as weapons thrust against the night. With every step, Eva looked for Graybard, who was missing from the crowd.

Standing next to Sola on a make-shift platform was Dali. Sola consoled the crowd, declaring how this death was one of courage and love for Bon Abbi. But the Healer never identified who they were honoring.

Standing next to Sola on a make-shift platform was Dali. Even from a distance, Eva saw her lips quiver with cheeks wet with tears. Sola shared with the Villagers that this death was one of courage and love for Bon Abbi. But never once did Sola identified who they were honoring.

Eva surveyed the people around her and decided she couldn’t allow this grief to continue. Stepping through the crowd, Eva made her way to the platform, then gazed up at Sola.

He saw the young girl dressed as a boy. It was time. Extending his hand to Eva, Sola pulled her up to the platform. “Thank you,” she whispered into his ear.

Eva turned, yanked down her hood, then extracted her long, braided hair. The crowd gasped, confused by what they saw. Those near the front shouted, “She alive!”

It didn’t take long for the news to make it around the crowd. “What is happening?” demanded a voice, followed by, “Who is in the pine box?”

Eva lifted her hand in the air, requesting silence. She looked at the faces she could see near the torches. “I’m sorry if I deceived you,” she said. “But I have reason to fear for my safety.”

Pulling back her left sleeve, Eva exposed her bandaged arm. “While attending the Event in Casselberry, someone attacked and wounded me. I would have perished if it wasn’t for Bashan and his trusty steeds.”

The crowd murmured at the news. Eva glanced at Dali, who smiled through her tears. The young girl clutched her left arm, wincing in pain. Sola stepped up to the edge of the platform and summoned the Villagers’ attention.

“Please. Eva is severely wounded and doesn’t have the strength to speak much longer.”

In a moment, the crowd stopped their chatter. Eva softened her voice, causing the Villagers to draw nearer. “I didn’t travel to Casselberry alone. Gira of Tuva came with me.”

She glanced at Dali, as several tears rolled down her cheek. “She was more than my companion. Gira was my friend. She lies in this box tonight because she protected me.”

Eva looked at the pine box. She brought her two fingers to her lips, kissed them, then pulled her fingers away. “She loved me.”

Turning to the crowd, they stared back in silence. Not sure what to do next, Eva motioned to a young man holding a walking stick. He presented the make-believe sword to the Lady of Bon Abbi.

Eva lifted the stick high into the air. “Listen to me!” she shouted.

With everyone watching her every move, the young ruler screamed as loud and long as she could. Eva took a few steps to the pine box, tapping it with the stick.

Brandishing it as a sword, Eva swung it into the air. “Tonight, let us honor Gira for her sacrifice. Join me when I say, if we must die, let us do so for the honor of Bon Abbi!”

Eva glanced at Sola as the people chanted, “For Bon Abbi.” Meant to discourage the city, Luka’s attack and the death of Gira changed everything. The work of the quern-stone had begun.

Written by Mike Arroyo

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