05 A Lady to Lead

Josah took a step away from the wall, still trying to hide his identity. Offering his hand, he felt an electric charge run through him when Evelyn placed her hand in his. The sudden realization that he missed her over the years was overwhelming.

With his hair still obscuring his face, he said almost in a whisper, “My Lady, I am Josah Evermore. May I ask your name?”

She tilted her head as if finding something familiar about Josah but didn’t know why. “I am Evelyn.”

As she withdrew her hand, she said to Josah, “Now my turn. Why were you on the other side of the wall?”

The question took Josah by surprise. “I wondered about the purpose of this wall. Not high enough to hide behind or keep eyes from looking beyond. The land on the other side seemed to call me over.”

“Well, I am not sure. The wall was here long before me.” The young girl looked behind her for a moment. “There are horses, wild and tame, that run the plains east of the wall. The wall may have been to keep them on the east side and away from the farmlands.”

Evelyn looked at Caleb, who was still holding on to the pot of water. “Are you brothers?” she asked, pointing at Josah.

Caleb quickly answered. “My Lady, I have two brothers here, Josah and Conall.”

Conall nodded his head when Evelyn gazed toward him. Graybard raised his eyebrows as this was the first time he heard the claim that Josah was an Evermore. Then the soldier said, “We are here to pay tribute to Lord Mayweather.”

“How did you know Lord Rando?” asked Evelyn.

Caleb, again, intervened. “Our father operates the largest fleet of ships in Liez and services Rylie Glen. He asked us to make this journey.”

Josah walked over to Caleb and took the pot of water. He poured some of it onto his boots as if to wash the dust and dirt away. Conall took this as his cue to do the same.

“Maybe now she won’t ask why we needed the water,” Josah thought. He wanted to look over to see what Ena was doing but didn’t want to bring any attention to the wall. Ena was still hiding.

Evelyn revealed a gentle smile, and waved her hand, motioning them to the Square. “We lost Lord Mayweather about six months ago. There is a family plot by the Manor. I will take you there, but I need to say a few words at the Square.”

She turned and led them beyond the barn. Josah slowed his pace, allowing Conall to catch up to him. Then, he whispered, “Is the barn safe for Ena?”

Conall nodded his head, pointed to Josah, and then back to Evelyn. Josah understood. He needed to stay close to the Lady. Conall pulled Caleb closer and huffed, “Get Ena into the barn, now!”

Caleb raised his hands, questioning the request. The Dragoon only wanted Josah near. How could he get that big cat into the barn? But without hesitation, Caleb ran back to the pot, picked it up, and came to the wall.

He placed the container on top of the wall, jumped up, and leaned over. The big cat waited patiently. “Ena, I have something for you.”

Splashing some of it over the wall, Caleb hoped her thirst would drive her to the water. But Ena didn’t move. He pushed himself off the wall, then whistled two short blasts, like Josah. It was enough.

Ena stood and jumped over the wall with minimal effort. Caleb grabbed the pot and tried to present the water, but the big cat appeared confused. She hissed and stomped the ground.

Caleb placed the water vessel on the ground and stepped back. With one look, the Dragoon stopped her aggressive action, sniffed the pan, and lapped the water. It quenched her thirst.

He turned his head when he heard Evelyn in the distance addressing the people in the Square. It was Caleb’s chance to get Ena into the barn unnoticed. He repeated Josah’s hand gestures and whistle, walking backward toward the barn.

The cat looked at Caleb but didn’t move. Undaunted, the boy shouted,” Come, Ena, come.”

He continued to walk back toward the barn while motioning with his hands and whistling. Finally, Ena trotted to the boy. Caleb turned and ran to the barn, swung the door open, then called out to the large cat.

Ena seemed to welcome the barn as she slowed her pace to a steady walk. Once she was inside, Caleb shut the barn door, then looked around. Like the one in Tuva, this barn was empty except for bales of hay stacked along the left wall.

Windows above the doors on either side of the barn allowed plenty of light into a vast, open space. Freshly cut bales of hay filled the air with a pleasant aroma. A ramp, halfway to the other door, led to a loft above the empty stalls below.

Caleb ran up the ramp, motioning and whistling for Ena to follow him. The Dragoon jogged up the incline and followed Caleb to the second floor. There was plenty of straw and blankets strewn about, enough to keep Ena happy.

Caleb picked up one of the blankets, snapping it until it spread across the hay, then invited Ena to lay down. But all she wanted to do was sniff the cloth covering the straw.

Convinced that Ena wouldn’t listen anymore, Caleb walked around the big cat and back to the ramp. “Ena, stay.”

The Dragoon flopped on the hay and looked at the boy. Caleb grinned, pleased that he got Ena into the barn, and he was still alive. He ran down the ramp and stopped at the door at the front of the barn. Taking one last glance, he waited a moment to see if Ena would come down.

Satisfied the big cat was happy in the loft, Caleb opened the door and closed it behind him. A crowd had gathered in the Square, listening to Evelyn speak. Spotting Josah standing on the road near the barn, with his arms crossed, he walked over and nodded his head.

Josah exhaled, relieved he didn’t have to worry about Ena, at least for now. He cast his eyes back to Evelyn, who continued her announcement. Luka Dey was to arrive in Bon Abbi in two days.

“Good,” mumbled Josah. “That’s enough time to convince Evelyn to leave with me.”

Becoming disinterested in the speech, Josah glanced at the center of the Square. That’s where the statue of Silvi Willa welcomed newcomers to the city, as she may have done in real life. Josah never knew his mother, having died days after giving birth. While the stone statue could never replace his mother, it always drew his attention.

Graybard, who wandered around the crowd, worked his way back to Josah. “My friend, these people cannot defend themselves. Farmers, former nobles, and old folk are all we have in Bon Abbi.”

Without thinking, Josah retorted, “There are women.”

Graybard nodded for a moment. “Yes, there are women here. And they may have to join the others on the frontlines.”

“I’m only worrying about one,” Josah sighed.

As Evelyn finished her announcement, she bowed to the villagers. It was an extraordinary act for sure, as nobles never stooped to commoners. Yet, the Villagers drew near to her. Different people promised to prepare the city for the coming visitor.

Rubbing the side of his beard, Graybard turned to Josah. “So, when were you planning to tell me you were an Evermore?” he asked.

“I wasn’t trying to hide it. It never came up.”

“There’s more here than what you are willing to say,” said Graybard. “But the Lady is coming our way. We’ll talk later.”

Josah wasn’t worried. Once they all got back to the Molly Red, Graybard would be on his way home. Traveling back to Buberra was enough to make him forget about his curiosity.

The Lady of Bon Abbi played her role very well. She extended her hand to people encouraged by her presence and sheer commitment. But she kept glancing over to Josah.

The group waited for Evelyn, as she was to lead them to the Manor. “My apologies. That took me longer than expected. There are challenging days ahead for Bon Abbi. Follow me to the Manor.”

The young girl led them into the Square. Josah followed behind Evelyn, taking notice of how she had changed over the years. She became a young woman, pleasant to the eye, with a gentle way about her that was infectious. He couldn’t help but grin when he thought how Evelyn had always been taller than him, until now.

Looking back to Josah, the young ruler asked, “How is it that you entered into Bon Abbi? I’ve been at the Square all morning, greeting newcomers as they entered through the gates.”

“You were busy with other people,” Josah offered as his explanation. “We tend to blend in with a crowd when we want to remain unseen.”

She nodded as if to agree. But Josah sensed his answer didn’t please her. Attempting to change the subject, he asked Evelyn how she came to rule Bon Abbi.

As if prepared for this inevitable question, Evelyn stopped and whirled around. “Are you questioning my role here in Bon Abbi?”

Blood rushed to the young girl’s face, causing her cheeks to become red. “No, my Lady. That was not my intent,” Josah fumbled. “I was curious if you were kin to Lord Rando.”

Evelyn turned around and continued walking. Every step she took encouraged her to reject the question. “Josah,” she spoke without turning around. “How we manage this city is not your concern. What brings you here is the Mayweather family resting place.”

Passing the last building in the Square, Evelyn turned into the next cobbled stone street. The road led to the Manor, two rectangular buildings connected by a courtyard. Trumpet vines and other blooms covered the front of the two-storied structures.

The Manor had fresh whitewash, contrasted by the stone foundation and wood trim. Josah recalled fond memories of servers who occupied the building on the right. The central kitchen, food storage, and water source were on the first floor. Servant quarters were on the second.

The left building housed the dining table, meeting parlors, and his father’s office. With his brother gone away to school, Josah stayed on the second floor alone most evenings. City business had kept his father busy through many nights.

The return of his brother from school was to bring new life to the Manor, but that lasted one evening. By morning, everything had changed. An arrow pierced Ayla May, a sword ended Nolan’s life, and Josah became an indentured servant. All because of one man coming to Bon Abbi. Luka Dey.

They followed the polished stones leading to the courtyard. Evelyn continued across the path toward a second trail that went behind the Manor. She stopped and turned to the group. “I offer you privacy for this moment. Follow this path, as it takes you to the Mayweather family site.”

With a wave of her hand, Evelyn directed the group to continue. Caleb peeked at Josah, who hesitated for a moment. The young Evermore took the lead, causing the others to move forward, including Josah. The path continued behind the Manor and beyond lush gardens.

Next to an old, weathered oak tree were simple wooden markers. Each one included a round, flat stone with a name and inscription. To Josah’s surprise, there were five grave markers. There was only one, the last time he was here, eight years ago.

Evelyn followed quietly, watching them from a short distance. She saw the group allow Josah to make his way to the front. He paused at the first marker and stone, which inscribed the name of Lady Silvi Willa. She was the beloved wife who died after giving birth.

Josah bowed his head, wishing he had a single memory of his mother. He took a sidestep to his right and Lord Rando Braedon’s stone. “Father and defender of Bon Abbi,” read Caleb. “Died from poisoning.”

He looked at Josah and watched as a tear ran down his cheek. Josah brushed it with his hand and turned from the marker. He brought his two fingers on his right hand to his lips, and in one motion, kissed them and pushed them away.

Lifting his eyes, he saw Evelyn with her hand covering her mouth. He turned back to the markers, moving on to Nolan Baye, who died by a sword, followed by Ayla May, pierced by an arrow.

Josah’s eyes moved to the last marker and stone, surprised by what he saw. He couldn’t walk any closer. Caleb read the inscription out loud, “Michael John, died in Filgore Valley.”

“Josah,” Conall whispered. “No wonder no one ever inquired about you. They thought you died, probably by a Dragoon.”

All he could do was stare. Josah convinced himself all these years that his father never cared for him. Consumed by Nolan’s death, Lord Rando wouldn’t search for his youngest son. But it became clear to Josah. He was wrong.

“Yes,” he spoke softly. “Why would anyone search for someone who never made it out of the Valley.”

“Aye, lad,” responded Graybard. “So, it’s true? You were a Mayweather long before becoming an Evermore.”

Josah turned to Graybard. He parted his lips to speak, but words never came. “No need, my friend,” he said, as he laid a hand on his shoulder. “Your secret is now mine.”

Dropping his head, the boy nodded. “Thank you, Graybard.”

After a few more moments in silence, the group returned to the path and walked toward Evelyn. She stared at Josah with a new determination. “Please stay with us a little longer. It’s midday, and you must be hungry. Surely, you will break bread with me this day before you start your return.”

Josah accepted the invitation for the group, but added, “I’m afraid we have a long journey ahead of us, so we can’t stay long.”

Evelyn smiled and led the way through the gardens. Near the courtyard was a long table and benches. White linen stretched along the top and draped on the sides. Vases with flowers cut from the garden held the linen down.

“I’ll return in a moment. Let me tell the staff we have guests in the garden.” Evelyn walked to the courtyard and disappeared into the kitchen.

The boys and Graybard sat around the table, unsure of what to do next. “You’ve got to get back to the barn, Josah,” Caleb said. “Ena has been there too long by herself. Someone may have discovered her already.”

“No, Ena is still a secret, but she must be hungry by now.”

Josah looked to the courtyard Evelyn stood by the kitchen door, talking to the staff. “I have an idea. I’ll go to the front of the Manor and wait for Evelyn to return to the garden. Once she is with you, I’ll ask the kitchen for meat, run to the barn, and feed Ena.”

“What do we tell Evelyn when she notices you are gone?” asked Conall.

“Come up with something. I’ll try to hurry,” Josah shouted behind him as he ran.

Working his way to the front of the Manor, Josah peered behind the blooms and into the courtyard. He heard Evelyn thanking the servants for prepping the meals.

“She’s too kind to be a Noble,” Josah thought with a smile. He pulled back when Evelyn stepped away from the door. Two servers followed her, each carrying bread and drink.

He waited a few moments before stepping into the courtyard, then made his way into the kitchen. The doors opened wide revealed men and women working with determination.

Two worked the fires, turning the chicken on the spits, making sure they cooked to perfection. A massive table at the center of the room held sapwood planks, ready for food. The servers placed mashed peas, sliced potatoes, brown bread, grapes, and cheese on each one.

A tall young boy scrubbed and dried plates and drinking vessels, placing them on the wooden table. “Everything is ready, ma’am,” he called out to the older, plumb women standing by the fire.

“Good,” she said without looking. “Get another boy and take the food out to the garden. I’ll be there with the meat in a few minutes. Mind your manners as these are our guests,” she shouted.

The kitchen maiden turned when she heard a sound. Seeing Josah, she curtsied and said, “My regrets, sir, I didn’t see you.”

“No need to worry,” Josah said. “I am one of the guests and need meat for my dog. Can you spare any?”

“A dog, you say?” The woman questioned Josah with a stern look. “We don’t feed animals, only people.”

“I understand. We have a long journey ahead of us. Anything would help.”

She turned back to the fire, ordering the two attendees to take the chicken away from the flames. Her black hair with streaks of gray pulled away from her binding with every movement. “These are ready.”

Without looking at Josah, she said, “Take two of those meat pies beside you and be gone.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Josah responded.

He grabbed two meat pies, warm to the touch, and made his way out of the kitchen. Running through the Square and to the barn, he thought his idea took too long to play out. Evelyn would be looking for him by now.

Before opening the door, Josah surveyed the area. With no one looking his way, he entered the barn and whistled for Ena. Worried she had left the barn, he called her by name, relieved when Ena stared at him from the loft.

“Come, Ena. I have food.”

The Dragoon jumped from the loft to the stack of bundled hay, then to the floor. She sniffed the meat pies, unsure about the meal. “Sorry, that’s all I have. Stay, and I’ll get you some water.”

Josah took his green hooded cape off and located a vessel that could hold water. He left the barn and ran to the horse trough in the Square. He drew water and made his way back to the barn. Taking a few steps toward Ena, who was eating the meat pies with some disdain, he heard the barn door open.

Ena stood erect and looked around the boy. Josah knew his secret was out. He placed the vessel on the floor, dropped down to his knees, and held onto Ena. Turning to the door, he saw Evelyn.

“You have a Dragoon?” she asked.

Before he could warn her, Evelyn came up to Ena and rubbed her head. The cat glimpsed at Josah before closing her eyes, enjoying the gentle touch. “This is Ena,” Josah offered. “We seemed to have bonded over the trip to Bon Abbi.”

“So, you didn’t come through the gate?”

“No, we didn’t,” said Josah. “We came through Filgore Valley and made our way here.”

Evelyn knelt and looked at Josah. “Nobody ever goes through the Valley.”

Her lips trembled as she pulled back his hair away from his face and kissed his cheek. With tears flowing, she asked, “Michael, is it you?”

Josah pushed away his desire to confirm her question. He released Ena and stood up. “If you’re asking who I am, I’m Josah.”

Refusing to believe his answer, Evelyn stood, wiping her tears with her hands. “I saw you at the family site. The way you kissed your fingers at your father’s marker. That was something Lord Rando did when he left on long trips.”

Josah looked down at Ena and said, “That’s a common tradition. You would know that if you ever left Bon Abbi.”

“Michael John Mayweather! It’s me! I’ve known you for most of my life. You may fool everyone else, but not me!”

Evelyn turned and started walking to the front of the barn but stopped before leaving. She looked at Josah, now questioning if she had been right. “We celebrated your brother’s arrival and his wedding announcement. Do you remember what you said to me back then?”

Josah straightened his stance in defiance to her question. “How could I? I was never here.”

“You asked me to marry you. We were only ten years old,” Evelyn told him, wiping another tear that escaped her control. “Even when we all thought you died, I-I…”

Josah closed his eyes. “You what?” he asked.

Evelyn shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. You’re not Michael. He would never be this cruel.”

She walked to the barn door and started to push it open. “Evelyn. Evelyn! Wait.”

The young girl paused but without turning around. “Evelyn.” Josah took a deep breath before he said, “Wait, you’re right. It’s me, Michael. I am still alive.”

Evelyn shut the door and ran to Josah, then stopping her forward motion abruptly. She fought the need to embrace him. “What happened to you? Why were you gone so long? And why are you back?”

Josah shook his head. “No, we’re not having this conversation today. I’m not ready.”

“That’s not good enough! Give me some details, Michael. Tell me what happened to you that day when you decided to run down to the Valley?”

“Alright, I will. Only stop calling me Michael. The grave marker was right. That young boy died a long time ago. Call me Josah, and I’ll tell you what happened when I went to the Valley.”

Josah walked over to an empty stall and pulled a bench over to the middle of the floor. He ran his hand over the top to clear the dust and debris. “Come and sit with me. Telling the story is not going to be easy.”

Evelyn walked over to the bench. Josah never noticed until now that the Lady of Bon Abbi wore the clothes of a working maiden. She wore a brown sleeveless kirtle over a white linen shirt. A long, dark leather band wrapped twice around her waist. Her boots bore scuff marks that revealed they were her only pair.

Pulling the kirtle to the front, Evelyn sat down. Josah saw how frail the young girl looked but with determined steel-blue eyes. Her light brown hair braided to the side was the only adornment needed.

“Well?” she asked impatiently.

Josah sat next to Evelyn but looked away. “What was the last thing you remember about me?”

“You grabbed a kitchen knife and waited for me to find you. I remember your anger at your father for not going after those who killed Ayla May. “

“Yes, I was angry. I guess I still am. But when father decided not to go after Nolan, I did. I told you I was going and ran down to the Valley with that knife.”

Evelyn smiled as she wiped another tear. “You were always stubborn. I yelled for you to come back.”

“‘Determined’ is the right word. And yes, I heard you yelling for me. There were many evenings over the years when I heard you calling.”

Evelyn slipped her hand into Josah’s. He couldn’t look at the girl but was happy she reached for him. “Go on and tell me what happened next.”

“Well, it started raining. I made it to the Valley, not sure of which way I should go. I only knew that if I could make it through to the other side, I could reach Nolan, who traveled on horseback.”

He cleared his throat before continuing. “I got lost in the forest. Don’t know how long I wandered around. And that’s when I found Ena, ensnared by one of the Casselberry traps.”

“And how do you know this is the same Dragoon?” asked Evelyn.

“Ena, come,” Josah called.

The big cat came over and flopped on her side. Josah stood up and went around the cat. Kneeling, he realized he never got this close to Ena. But the Dragoon calmly rumbled, staring at the boy.

Pulling on her right front leg, Josah said, “Ena bares the scar where the wire wrapped around her paw. She has no fur all around. The wire had cut into her skin. She would have lost her paw and died over time.”

“It gets dark early in the forest, so I wrapped her paw with strips from my tunic. Somehow, we slept together that evening. The next day, I awoke to the stomping and yowling from Ena’s pride. They surrounded me. I thought it was the end.”

“What did you do?” asked Evelyn.

“What could I do? I started walking. The young cat followed me, while the others followed. Somehow, I made it to the other side of the forest. Ena wouldn’t leave the safety of the trees, and I couldn’t stay, so I left her”

Evelyn looked at Ena, wondering how a wild and dangerous animal became so docile. “And this was the first time you have seen her since that day?”

He nodded. “I should have stayed in the forest. Then I wouldn’t have seen Nolan die.”

“I know he died by the sword, but not by whose hand.”

Josah stood up and walked back to the bench. He took Evelyn’s hand and pulled her to her feet. “Evelyn, I was there. Luka Dey killed Nolan. When I tried to help, he struck my face with the hilt of his sword. By the time I woke up, I was an indentured servant.”

“Someone branded you?” Evelyn asked, as if too difficult to believe.

“Yes,” Josah said, rubbing the branding on his right arm.

“And that’s what happened? Were you a servant until now? Where did you go? How did you escape?”

“There is plenty of time for me to tell you everything. Right now, you need to take some belongings and run with me.”

Evelyn looked puzzled for a moment, not believing the words she heard. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“You have to, Evelyn!” He grabbed the girl by her shoulders, looking straight into her eyes. “Luka Dey killed Ayla, Nolan, and now I find that he poisoned my father. And in two days, you may be next!”

Evelyn, as the Lady of Bon Abbi, and not the scared little girl Josah remembered, pushed him away. She objected vocally and with vigor.

“Evelyn! Evelyn! Evie!” Josah shouted.

The girl gasped at the sound of a name no one has ever spoken in years. “Evie,” repeated Josah. “I’m here to rescue you!”

Written by Mike Arroyo

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