23 Execution Day

Draft 2019.11.10.01 — The boys watched as the Molly Red prepared to leave Southport. Yeva and Munro stood on the quarter-deck, waving their farewell. The sun announced the start of the morning, brisk with scattered clouds. Gulls squawked above, fighting for any scrap of food they could find on the pier.

Yeva and the Captain decided that Caleb would be safer going with Conall and Josah. He wasn’t sure where to take the Molly Red, or how the McKanzels would respond to their rescue.

At the very least, Jeera would tell Lord Vilo that the Evermores raided one of his food warehouses. The Liez ships docked further south in Lila Bay, where the sea separated the East and West Mainlands. Captain Munro didn’t like their proximity to the Mercil port. So, he needed to find a better place to call home.

Josah and Conall both shoved Caleb, reminding him he was to follow their directions. The young Evermore pulled back, exclaiming, “I know! I know. Can we get out of here before someone recognizes us?”

The pier and King’s Road were empty, except for a few merchants stirring about, getting ready for the day. The boys ran down the cobblestone road to Cornor. They slowed their pace once they met people and carts, making their way towards the pier.

Hurrying past the Square and Pubs Row, they ran into the open field. The ringing bell in the distance announced Casselberry gates were opening.

“Hurry,” shouted Josah. “We have to get to Filgore Valley.”

“Do you think Ena will be there?” asked Caleb, huffing as he ran.

“I don’t know,” Josah responded.

“Let’s hope we make it through and find Eva Marie waiting for us at Promise Gorge,” said Conall.

When they reached the edge of the Valley, Josah, extended his arms to halt the brothers’ progress. “Let’s slow down. We may get attacked if we try to run through the Valley.”

Except for the conifers dotting the forest, the trees dropped their leaves. Now, it easier to see longer distances. The boys walked down into the Valley, single file, with Conall at the end.

It was impossible to hide their presence in the Valley, as the crisp leaves crunched under their feet. Josah stopped where he last saw Ena. He whistled three short blasts, hoping to get her attention. Instead, the boys heard the rush of Dragoons heading toward them.

The mature cats stomped their feet, warning them not to proceed. One of them took extra steps closer to the boys. Fresh scratches on its face and shoulders concerned Josah. This Dragoon had been in a fight.

The boys heard a slow, steady rustling of leaves behind them. Josah turned his head slightly, then cut his eyes in the direction of the sounds. It was Ena, walking, and yowling, ignoring the boys as she went past them.

The two cats stood face to face, challenging each other. Their yowl started slow, then worked their way to a loud pitch. They stopped for a few seconds before repeating the call. With one swift move, Ena swatted the challenger, forcing her to retreat.

Ena stomped a few times before backing down. She turned to Josah, then rubbed his leg. “Look at you,” Josah said as he dropped to a knee. “You’ve had your battles, didn’t you, now?”

The cat placed her face into Josah’s hands. Josah examined her as best he could, but only found superficial wounds. These would heal over a short time. When she looked at Caleb and Conall, the two brothers reached out, much to her delight.

“We have to go,” Josah said.

The Dragoons backed off as Josah moved forward, clapping his hands. But it was Ena walking beside the boy that made them run farther into the forest. It was all Josah needed.

He ran down the familiar path leading to Promise Gorge, with Ena running ahead of him. Conall and Caleb followed behind. The sun remained low on the horizon, as the morning had just started. So, there were places where the shadows embraced the darkness.

The boys slowed down once they exited the forest. They would reach Promise Gorge about the time the sun peaked over the mountain range. With horses waiting for them, they should arrive in Bon Abbi by midday.

When they reached the waterfall, the boys paused long enough to catch their breath. Down below, they saw Dali waiting in a wagon, along with three horses, saddled and grazing on the grass.

Josah expected to find Eva waiting for him. “Something wrong,” Josah said as he ran down to the lower elevation.

“Welcome back,” said Dali as the boys and Ena made it to the wagon. The horses neighed, pulling at the reins tied to the cart, at the sight of the big cat.

Dali tugged on her reins, calming the horse harnessed to the wagon. “Where’s Eva?” asked Josah, gasping for air.

When an answer didn’t come right away, he looked up. “Josah, you need to hear what happened while you were gone.”

“This can’t be good,” Conall commented to Caleb.

Dali took a deep breath. “Eva went to Casselberry, seeking peace with Luka.”

“What!” shouted Josah. “Why did you let her go?”

“Because I agreed she should try. Luka held an event in her honor.”

Josah was afraid to ask what happened. Dali looking away, taking short breaths said everything he needed to know. “She survived and attack. But, a young girl from Tuva traveling with Eva died.”

Walking away from the wagon, Josah jerked his head a few times, attempting to release his anger. “She would have been here if she wasn’t injured,” he thought.

Turning to Dali, he asked, “How bad is she hurt?”

“She will be fine. Sola is caring for her,” Dali assured him. “But that’s not the problem we’re facing today. Graybard heard about the death in Neardore, and he thought it was Eva Marie.”

“And where is Gary?” asked Conall.

Dali held her breath. “He disappeared for a few days. A herald came to Bon Abbi, saying they executed two people responsible for the attack. Then he said they captured the third person.”

Placing his hands on his hips, Josah leaned forward. “And this person, waiting for execution, is Graybard.”

Wiping tears from her eyes, Dali nodded her head. “They plan to execute his today in Neardore, where the attack took place.”

“We have to rescue him!” shouted Caleb.

“You’re not doing anything,” Josah reminded him, “Except what we tell you!”

He laced his fingers and placed his hands behind his head. Leaning back, as if looking for inspiration, Josah said, “Well, at least we know Luka isn’t marching to Bon Abbi. He wants Graybard dead, so he can’t help defend our city.”

“You must help him,” Dali pleaded.

“I agreed,” Conall said.

Josah walked over to the wagon. He swung the door open, then said, “Caleb, get in. We need you to take a few wagons to Northport and retrieve those crates.”

Without hesitation, Caleb jumped in, flopping onto the bench. He turned to Dali, who leaned to her side so she could see Josah. “We need you to arrange two wagons and volunteers. Four body boxes filled with weapons are waiting for us.”

“I can do that,” Dali nodded.

Looking at Conall, Josah couldn’t help but grin. “We’re going back for another rescue. Let’s tie the horses by the tree so that Dali can be on her way.”

Conall untied two horses and walked around Ena stretched out on the grass. Josah held the reins of the last horse, waving Dali forward. She navigated the wagon around, pausing long enough to thank Josah.

“Come back safe,” she shouted as she urged her horse to Bon Abbi.

Tying the reins of his horse, Josah looked at Ena, content for the moment. “Conall, I’ve got an idea,” Josah said. “But you may not like it.”

“If it’s reckless and unexpected, let’s do it.”

The morning sun disappeared behind some angry clouds. Winds increased, making the air feel colder. But, that wasn’t enough to keep the crowds away from Neardore.

They built a platform, somewhat unstable, for today’s execution. It stood 20 meters from the gates leading into Casselberry. King’s Road continued northwest, beyond to Midland, and then south to Bon Abbi.

The crowd was restless. Some chanted prayers, as they waited for the executioner. Others demanded the execution to happen now. On the platform was a masked man, holding an ornate ax attached to a simple wooden shaft.

Finally, the gates into Casselberry opened. The accused man wore heavy chains wrapped around his shoulder and midsection. Leather straps bound his hands and feet, then tethered together. Barefoot and cold, the prisoner wore signs of a beating.

Four guards, dress in armor, hid their faces by wearing sallet helmets. These didn’t have hinged visors, but a narrow slit for vision. Each one carried a long spear, walking in step with their prisoner.

Those shouting for the execution now withdrew in silence. The accused man walked with dignity and confidence. His hair, unkempt and matted with blood, couldn’t hide his stern stare.

They walked him to the platform, released his chains, but kept the leather straps in place. One guard held his arm as he helped him up. “Lord Luka will join us soon,” he told the executioner.

He grabbed the prisoner and shoved him in front of the chopping block. “Stand there!” he demanded.

All eyes focused on the man ready for execution. Then, someone shouted, “Gray, what a great day to be alive!”

The prisoner looked to his right. It was Josah. The crowd gasped in unison when they saw a Dragoon walking by his side. “Ena, stand by Graybard, ” Josah shouted, pointing to the prisoner.

She looked at Josah before jumping onto the platform. The executioner and guard shuffled away from the prisoner. “Good girl,” Graybard whispered.

Ena crouched, twitching, staring at the two men holding weapons. “I would drop those weapons if I were you. Dragoons don’t like it when you challenge them.”

The guard started to move his spear forward. Ena yowled, stomping her feet, at the same time. The executioner dropped his ax and jumped off.

Undaunted by the display of aggression, the guard continued to move his spear forward. Ena lept into the air, pushing him off the platform and into the ground. The spear sailed away, and the crowd moved back.

Josah jumped up on the platform, grinning as the other three guards ran back to the Casselberry gates. He withdrew his shipping knife and cut the leather straps.

Graybard rubbed his wrist, happy to be free. Josah sprang to the ground and grabbed the spear. He tossed it on the platform while staring at the guard. Ena kept stomping on the man’s breastplate.

“Make it stop. I can’t breathe,” the guard pleaded.

Josah whistled a short blast, motioning Ena back to his side. Graybard hurried down the steps and to the guard. “Before you get up, I’ll need your boots.”

Unsure what would happen if he didn’t follow the request, the guard pulled off his helmet. “Ah, if it isn’t Merek. Not your finest moment, is it?” Graybard asked.

The guard pulled off his boots and threw them toward the freed prisoner. “Get up!” Josah shouted, “And run to the gates before I change my mind.”

Needing help getting up from the ground, Gray pulled him up. Pushing him towards Casselberry, he shouted, “Run!”

The guard never looked back. “Let’s get out of here before we get caught,” Josah said.

With the gates closed, Graybard raised his fist in defiance. “Tell Lord Luka, his days of ruling this city are almost over! If he wants to talk, he knows where to find me!”

Josah, Graybard, and Ena ran into the crowd, causing them to move out of the way. The crowd watched as the three ran along the tree line. Then they disappeared behind a grove of conifer trees.

Out of sight, Graybard stopped to catch his breath. “Where’s Conall and Caleb?”

Josah huffed while patting Ena’s back. “Conall waits for us by Promise Gorge, with horses. He wanted to be here but trusted me to save you. Caleb is on his way to Northport.”

“What’s he doing there?” Graybard asked, gingerly touching his head.

Placing his hand on the warrior’s shoulder, he looked into his eyes. “We have weapons!”

Exuberant, he grabbed Josah’s arm, but then let go. Shaking his head, he said, “I have to tell you something.”

“Don’t waste your breath,” shouted Josah as he walked toward Filgore Valley. Eva Marie is alive.”

Eva Marie kept herself busy by straightening the make-shift hospice in the parlor. She couldn’t think about Josah and Conall trying to rescue Graybard. Yet, she worried about what to say when they did arrive in Bon Abbi.

To her comfort, Dali came into the room. “Nevaeh and Malcolm chased me out of the Blue Door Pub. They could tell I had other worries on my mind.”

They both smiled but returned to their melancholy thoughts. Evenings already started early with the rainy season almost upon them. “How are the villages doing with their harvest?”

Dali shook her head. “The last I heard was Tuva needed a few more days. The other villages were either done or close to finishing. But I haven’t received the latest news since moving here.”

“The delayed rains have worked in our favor,” Eva said. “How does Milo like living in the city?”

“Well, the room behind the Blue Door Pub is a bit cramped, but Nevaeh needs the help. Milo enjoys playing with the other children. He likes exploring the granaries and getting into trouble.”

Eva smiled, remembering those days when Michael John led her into adventures. But the memories only increased her concerns. “Shouldn’t they all be here by now?” she asked.

Dali walked to her and touched her arm. “Remember, it’s half a day’s journey through the plains of Vandeer. Then, there may have been complications to delay things. But I am worried, as well.”

Both women paused when they heard someone coming down the corridor. The runner from the gates entered the parlor. “My Lady, the wagons that left for Northport, arrived with four body boxes.”

“Take a deep breath,” Dali told the boy.

He paused before continuing. “Caleb said I was to tell you that they were back and unloading the boxes in the barn by the Square.”

“Thank you, Nevel,” Eva Marie told the boy. “There’s some sweet bread in the kitchen. Ask someone for a slice. Tell them I sent you.”

The young boy grinned, bowed, then hurried out. “At least one group has arrived. If you’re feeling strong enough, let’s go to the barn,” Dali suggested.

Eva Marie closed her eyes. She was to rest and keep her wound clean. “Sola wouldn’t approve of me going to the barn. But, he’s at the stables with the Ruelanders. He wants to make the benches inside the carriage more comfortable.”

Chuckling at the thought, Dali said, “Then, let’s go to the barn.” She grabbed a blanket from the table and offered it as a wrap. “The winds make the evening feel colder.”

Together, they exited the Manor and made their way to the Square. It pleased Eva to see the guards closed the gates for the evening. A small fire burned to keep them warm during the evening watch. The brisk wind blew out some of the torches.

Eva could see the light coming out of the barn. Dali pulled the door open, then shut it behind her. The thick boards and stacked bundles of hay around the barn kept the cold wind out. Near the back door were the four body boxes.

To Eva’s surprise, Theo and a young woman said on a bundle of hay. “When did you get back to Bon Abbi?”

“It took a few days to convince people to leave Northport. Let me introduce you to Leena.”

The young girl stood and curtsied. “It’s my pleasure to serve.”

“So, you have changed the future,” said Eva, causing Leena to glance at Theotello.

“We’re here to change your future, my Lady,” Theo replied. “Caleb tells me Josah and Graybard will be joining us soon.”

Dali, worried that something went wrong during Graybard’s rescue, looked down. “They should have been here by now.”

Theotello stood up and waited for Leena. “We need a place to stay until we can make other arrangements.”

“Of course,” Eva said. “There are plenty of rooms in the Manor. The staff has ended their day, so I’ll help you with anything you need.”

He placed his arm around Leena’s shoulders, trying not to put his weight on his left foot. “Eva, walk with us if you please.”

Concerned he was in pain, Eva clutched her wrap and asked what happened. “Theo had a vision while we walked to Bon Abbi. He stumbled and fell into the raven, beyond the first bend. We laid in the field, hiding, the first time the wagons passed us.”

“That’s not important,” Theo whispered. “Luka will be on his way to Bon Abbi, very soon. Someone will suggest we destroy Sui Saor. Without the bridge, no one can cross over.”

Eva saw a flash of fear in the young Chronicler’s eyes. “Josah cannot confront Luka on that bridge. ” Theo whispered to Leena, keeping her from moving forward. “I can’t say why, but you need to be the one on Sui Saor.”

“What are you saying?” Eva whispered, trying to keep her voice down. She glanced back at Caleb and Dali, looking their way but not revealing any concern. “Luka had someone try to kill me several days ago!”

“Eva, I’m hurt, dirty, and tired. Please trust what I say,” Theo said. As the two walked together towards the door, Theo repeated, “You must do what I have requested.”

“Why?” Eva asked, following closely.

As Theo grabbed the handle, Leena turned her head to Eva. “Because, if you don’t, Josah may die.”

Eva covered her mouth to stifle her cry, while Theotello pushed the barn door open. Standing in front of him were Josah, Conall, and Graybard. Ena squeezed between them and ran into the barn.

Staring at each other for a moment, they exchanged pleasantries. Then Theo and Leena left for the Manor. Josah saw Eva standing by the doorway, fixed in place. He walked up to her with no plans to offer a hug, but Eva had other ideas.

Careful not to reveal her wound, Eva dropped her wrap and embraced Josah with her right arm. She couldn’t comprehend whatever he whispered to her. All Eva could think about was how she had to confront Luka. Josah’s life depended on it.

Written by Mike Arroyo

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