The Only Hope

Another short story based in the world of the Legend of the Stars. This one follows after “Elwyn’s Daughter,” and also focuses on Rayne and Rolf.

——-

The Only Hope

It was still dark outside when Rolf woke to a painful jab in his side. The elf lord groaned, then lifted one eyelid and glanced over at Rayne. The child had come crying some time in the middle of the night, frightened by a nightmare, and Rolf hadn’t found the heart to send her back to her room. Now here she lay, one leg thrown across his chest and a knee in his side as she sprawled horizontally across the mattress. Though the bed was decidedly too big for the child to take up all of it, she certainly didn’t lack for trying.

A movement stirred at Rolf’s feet and he glanced down at Kadin who stretched, yawned, then curled back up in a ball. The pup was, by far, the wisest of the two of them, Rolf thought, for the little creature had conveniently placed himself far out of the way of Rayne’s flailing limbs.

Heaving a sigh, Rolf gently shoved Rayne’s legs away and turned her until her head was back up on the pillow where it belonged. The girl whimpered slightly and buried her face in his shoulder, but it was a moment before he realized his robe sleeve had become wet with freshly-cried tears. Quietly the elf lord moved his arm, reaching around the child’s tiny frame and pulling her close to him, his thumb rubbing across her cheek and wiping away her tears.

It had been about three months since the Stars and their wives had disappeared. Rolf and King Dorrian, and even Sloan, chief of the Valley Elves, had exhausted their resources searching for the missing heroes, but to no avail. Rayne had been remarkably strong so far, no doubt helped along by Kadin’s suggestion that they would eventually go searching for the girl’s missing parents. But it was at night that she broke. This wasn’t the first time the child had come crying because of a nightmare, and Rolf wondered how she would take it when she discovered that her parents had been declared dead. He wasn’t going to tell her that a human spy had found an execution order about a week earlier. No, just telling her they weren’t coming back would be bad enough. Worse still, he had something else to tell her, too: she wasn’t going to be living with him much longer.

With the Stars gone, King Dorrian had met with Rolf to discuss the fate of the children. Cael’s remaining family had chosen to leave his son, Gavin, in the hands of Effie, a close family friend. Delwynn had long ago lost ties with most of his remaining family, and as such, his daughter, Razi, had also been sent to Great Oak Valley to live with Effie. That left the two remaining children, Lance’s 5-year-old son, Eryn, and Elwyn’s 8-year-old daughter, Rayne.

***

“The children know each other well,” Dorrian had said. “Despite living in various places, the Stars seem to have kept their families in close contact. It would be best, I think, if all four stayed together. Their common experience should also help them to overcome the loss of their parents.”

“What of Rayne?” Rolf had asked, frowning slightly. “She has already lost one home. Would it not be more traumatic if she were moved again?”

“Perhaps for a time,” the king had nodded. “But with her friends there, it should not take long for her to adjust. And besides,” the man leaned forward, lacing his fingers together, his copper brows narrowing in concern, “we have a very serious issue to consider.”

“What kind of serious issue?” Rolf questioned.

“The fact that the Gauls have managed to defeat four powerful warriors,” Dorrian replied. “If they are that strong, our armies may have difficulty facing them in open combat again.”

“I fail to see how this concerns the children.”

“Their fathers were legendary,” the king responded, standing and crossing over to a window, his hands behind his back. “And while their mothers were not magical warriors, they were strong, too. The children, with the right training, could potentially grow into powerful warriors. Perhaps they will even inherit their fathers’ magic abilities. No one knows the true nature of the Star spell, and if the Gauls are truly as strong as we fear, these four could potentially be the only hope we have in defeating Ceallach and his armies.”

“These are children, Dorrian,” Rolf argued. “They are not warriors, and neither were their grandparents. The Stars were unique, their power inherited not by blood but by a spell. There is no guarantee that these children will grow to become that powerful, that they will choose to be warriors, or that Ceallach will wait long enough for them to become a threat. And if Ceallach knows, or if he were to find out about the children’s’ existence, you know their lives would be in danger. He would not wait for them to grow up.”

“As far as I can tell, he knows nothing about them,” Dorrian shrugged. “Of if he does, he certainly shows no interest in them. Besides, if we kept them at my palace and trained them to be knights, they would certainly gain the skills needed to defend themselves.”

“Drumach is the first place Ceallach would go,” Rolf responded with a shake of his head. “Treat them like heroes and they will neither be safe, nor will they grow with the humility and honor of a true hero. Ceallach will know and he will target them, and if it turns out that they are not made of the material you believe they are made of, they will either be crushed by this realization or become insufferably arrogant with the belief that they are greater than they actually are. Furthermore, if you force them to do something they never desired to do, they may learn to resent you, and then they will be no more help to you than they would have been if they were normal children living normal lives.”

“And yet,” Dorrian sighed, “they might also truly turn out to be our only hope. Where would we be if we let this resource slip by us?”

“They are neither resources nor tools.” Rolf could feel himself becoming just the slightest bit angry. “They are children, innocent beings who have been dealt a fate they never deserved. I swore to protect Rayne in particular, and I feel I would be doing her an injustice by treating her in the way you suggest.”

“You know that Rinba would be a target, too,” Dorrian added quietly, turning to look at the elf lord sympathetically. “I know, Rolf, how close you were to Elwyn and that you want the best for his daughter. Believe it or not, I want the best for her, too. For all the children. But you know as well as I do what we are up against. All our victories against the Gauls were due primarily to the efforts of Lance, Elwyn, Cael, and Delwynn. Without the Stars, I don’t know where we stand against Ceallach. My soldiers are scared, Rolf. We have been fighting the Gauls for years, and the loss of the Stars has stolen what little resolve my men originally had. They need hope, Rolf. If the children are to survive, they will need protection, and if they are to be protected, they will need defenders who will not turn tail and flee at the sight of danger.”

Rolf had sighed, then. He knew Dorrian was right. The whole of Livania knew that the heroes had been killed by the Gauls. Fear was a deadly thing, particularly in battle, but the hope of new heroes would give the soldiers the courage they would need to put up a good fight.

“I understand your point,” Rolf said after a few moments of silence. “But perhaps there is another way.”

“What do you suggest?” Dorrian inquired, returning to his seat.

“Effie,” the elf lord responded. “Two of the children are already there. If she is willing to raise the other two as well, the children could stay together but would be well removed from the attention of the world as a whole. They could grow up with as normal lives as possible, and when the time came, they could choose to follow in their parents’ footsteps.”

“They wouldn’t learn to fight, though,” Dorrian frowned. “Nor would they have guards to protect them. Great Oak Valley is incredibly secluded.”

“Precisely,” Rolf nodded. “Secluded, far enough removed from the attention of the public eye, but not so far that the castle and capital city would be out of reach. Don’t worry about their training or protection. I can take care of that, and I’m sure Sloan would be willing to play a part in that, whatever he can do. We can tell the children enough to satisfy them: that their parents were strong soldiers who died fighting the Gauls. As far as I know, the Stars spoke little of their powers. I don’t believe the children know the extent of their fathers’ abilities, and I think it would be best if we kept it that way. As they get older, we can train them if they so desire, and should it appear that they have inherited some special gift, we can send them to train at Drumach or Kelga. For the moment, let them grow up innocent.”

“And what of my men? What should I tell them?”

“Tell them there is still hope, that the stars left us a safeguard that may yet save us should the Gauls decide to invade again. They must trust us despite having no visible proof of protection. If our soldiers do not trust us, how can we call ourselves lord and king? We have been too dependent on four men, men who were great, indeed, but still merely men. We are all mortal, and we all must die eventually. In order to maintain a stable kingdom, we must be able to be courageous and strong with or without magical heroes at our side.”

King Dorrian rubbed his bearded chin thoughtfully for several moments, then nodded slowly.

“I can accept that,” he agreed, reaching for a piece of paper and an inkwell with a quill pen protruding from the top. “I will write a letter to Effie explaining our plan. In the mean time, do prepare Rayne for the change. I hear she has become quite attached to you.”

***

Quite attached, indeed. Rolf had always been fond of Rayne, though his stoic nature had made it difficult to express it. But since the loss of Elwyn, who was at once a friend and a son to him, Rolf and Rayne had nearly become inseparable. Who, then, was more attached, Rolf wondered.

By now, grey morning light was filtering through the bedroom window. The sound of low voices talking out in the hall caught the elf lord’s ears, and quietly he scooted away from the sleeping Rayne, throwing on his outer robe and slipping out of the room. There stood Arin, who was talking quietly with a human man, a royal messenger by all appearances. The pair turned when they heard Rolf’s bedroom door close quietly behind him.

“Father,” Arin said softly. “We have a letter from the king.”

She held up a small sheet of paper that was folded and sealed over with wax drippings.

“Thank you,” Rolf nodded, accepting the letter from his daughter’s hand.

He nodded in acknowledgement to the messenger, then turned down the hall to go to his study. He paused after only a few steps, however, and glanced over his shoulder at the elf girl who watched him closely.

“Arin,” he said in elvish. “Rayne is sleeping in my room. Would you watch over her? I fear she will be frightened if she wakes to find no one there.”

“Was it another nightmare?” Arin questioned, also in elvish.

Rolf nodded.

“She was crying in her sleep, too,” he replied. “Do make sure she is all right.”

Then with that, he turned and continued toward his study.

***

The servants had already lit the fire in the fireplace by the time Rolf entered his study. He lit a couple of candles on his desk before settling down and opening the letter in his hand. Quietly his eyes scanned over the message, then he set the letter aside and leaned back in his chair, staring absentmindedly at the fireplace nearby.

It was as he had suspected. Effie had been more than willing to agree to Rolf’s plan. Lance’s son, Eryn, had already been moved to Great Oak Valley. All that remained now was for Rolf to bring Rayne.

“Friend Rolf?”

The elf lord glanced over toward the door in surprise to see Rayne, her small hand in Arin’s, Kadin pressed protectively against the child’s right leg. The girl’s free hand rubbed at one swollen eye, which was as likely swollen from crying as it was from having just woken up.

“She would not go back to sleep,” Arin explained, looking down sympathetically at the little girl at her side. “She must have woken shortly after you left the room.”

Rolf tried not to cringe at the thought. He hoped the child would not hold it against him when he took her to live with Effie.

“It is all right, Banné Rayne,” Rolf said, standing from his seat and walking over to kneel in front of the little girl. He patted Rayne on the head, then offered her his hand, which she readily took.

“Let us go for a walk,” he continued, starting out into the hall.

Quietly he glanced at Arin and nodded as he passed her. She nodded in reply, then turned and headed off in the opposite direction. She knew what his look meant.

“Where are we going, Friend Rolf?” Rayne asked as they stepped out into the front yard of the mansion.

“Oh! Are we going on an adventure?” Kadin yipped as he bounded ahead of them.

“Of sorts, I suppose,” the elf lord nodded.

“An adventure?” Rayne’s eyes lit up at the suggestion. “What kind of adventure?”

“I have some place I wish to show you. A special place.”

“Is it a secret?”

“Right now, it is.”

By this point, the trio had come to the stables, and a whinny met them as they came to a stop next to the open doors. Out stepped a servant leading a black horse with a white star on its forehead. The horse had already been saddled, and the servant bowed when Rolf approached.

“My lord,” the servant said in elvish. “Lady Arin instructed me to saddle a horse after the messenger arrived. She said you might need one.”

Rolf chuckled slightly. Of course. Arin was sharp. She knew what was going on.

“We get to ride a horse?!” Rayne gasped excitedly.

Quickly she released the elf lord’s hand in favor of petting the horse who stood placidly as the child stroked her hand over the white spot on the creature’s forehead.

“Atha?”

Rolf turned to see Arin. She held a long bundle in her arms, along with two bed rolls, and there was a satchel slung across her shoulder.

“I have brought what you desired.”

“Thank you, dear one,” Rolf smiled. “We should attach this to the saddle for easier transport.”

Arin nodded, and a moment later the bundles she carried had been secured at the back of the saddle.

Rolf swung up onto the horse’s back as soon as this was done, then he held out an arm toward Arin and Rayne. Quietly the elf girl pulled Rayne into a quick hug, then picked her up and handed her to the elf lord. She then handed Kadin up to Rayne before stepping back.

“Have fun, Little Rayne,” Arin smiled. “Safe travels.”

“Bye, bye, Sister Arin!” Rayne grinned, waving at the elf girl enthusiastically. “See you later!”

Rolf and Arin exchanged glances, then Rolf spurred his mount forward, the horse’s reins clasped in one hand and his opposite arm wrapped tightly around Rayne. It was now or never.

***

It was several days before the trio at last made it to the top of a hill overlooking a winding valley. A small stream curled like a river along the valley’s grassy floor, and off in the distance Rolf could see the towering branches of a great tree rising above the edges of the surrounding cliffs.

“Shall we rest here?” Rolf asked as he pulled his horse to a stop next to a small brook.

Yes,” Rayne groaned, drawing out the word dramatically. “We’ve been riding forever.”

Actually, it had only been perhaps an hour since Rayne had insisted on taking a break, but to a child of 8, Rolf supposed an hour might have seemed like forever. And then, of course, there was always the fact that they had been riding, off and on, for 3 days. Even Rolf, who rode consistently every day, was just the least bit sore.

Quietly the elf lord slid from the saddle, then turned and stretched his arms out toward the little girl. Far be it from Rayne, though, to dismount without fanfare. Before Rolf realized what she was up to, the child had coiled up and taken a flying leap into his arms. The elf lord gasped in surprise, quickly reaching out to catch her before she hit the ground or knocked him over.

“That was fun!” the girl giggled as Rolf stumbled back, visibly startled as he wrapped his arms tightly around his young charge, all the while trying not to squish Kadin who Rayne still held firmly in her arms.

“Rather dangerous,” the elf lord replied, setting the girl down on her own two feet.

“I wanna do it again!”

“Best that you don’t.”

Rolf half-expected the child to protest, but already she and Kadin were off exploring, and the elf lord had to quicken his usual pace just to keep up with the pair. He led his horse to the small brook to drink, then stiffened when he spotted Rayne as she climbed up on a boulder that hung over the ledge of a nearby cliff.

“Little Rayne, please be careful,” the elf lord warned, releasing the horse’s bridle and hurrying over to where the child sat.

“That’s a really big tree,” Rayne said in awe, completely ignoring Rolf’s warning as she dangled her legs over the cliff’s edge.

Quietly Rolf knelt beside her, then turned in the direction the girl was looking. Even from this distance, they could see a tall oak, broad branches stretching out left and right, towering to heights that no mortal-made object had ever achieved. The base was a good 50 feet broad, thick roots protruding from the ground only to plunge deep inside the earth again. To one side, smoke curled from a chimney at the oak’s base, and Rolf could just barely make out the shape of a round window on the opposite side from the chimney.

“It is a very big tree,” Rolf agreed, gently taking Rayne by the arm and pulling her away from the ledge. “It’s a special tree, and an old tree.”

“A special tree?” Rayne questioned, Kadin trotting quietly at her heels. The pup was listening intently, no doubt trying to understand the strange language his mistress seemed to prefer to speak.

“Yes, a very special tree,” Rolf nodded, moving over to a pile of dry branches at the forest’s edge. “It was planted by someone very special.”

“You know who planted it?” Rayne asked, eyes wide in wonder as she followed the elf lord like a shadow. “Who?”

“An elvin princess,” Rolf smiled, kneeling and beginning to build a campfire.

“Oh!”

A broad grin spread across Rayne’s face, and she squatted next to Rolf, her eyes sparkling with curiosity.

“Tell me, please!”

At this, Kadin yipped.

“Please, what?” the pup asked in elvish. “I want to know what you are talking about.”

Rolf chuckled, then reached into the satchel he had slung over his shoulder and pulled out a striking stone.

“A long time ago, long before the two of you were born, there was an elvin princess who loved adventure,” the elf lord said in elvish, watching as sparks leapt from the striking stone to the pile of leaves he had put beneath the pyramid of sticks. “Her father, the elvin king, worried about her a lot, but even though he told her not to go far, she did not always listen.”

“The elf king sounds like you, Friend Rolf,” Rayne giggled. “You would be him if you were a king. You always worry.”

Rolf smiled softly at this, then sat back as he watched the weak flame before him slowly grow in size and reach out to the branches surrounding it.

“The elf king loved his daughter very much, though,” Rolf continued, reaching out and drawing Rayne close to his side. The girl curled up against him, pulling Kadin into her arms before settling down to listen to the story.

“Her mother loved her very much, too, right?” Rayne asked, looking up at the elf lord. “Did her mother worry?”

Rolf closed his eyes for a moment and heaved a sad sigh. Then he looked back to the fire.

“Yes,” he said softly. “The princess’s mother loved her very much. But the elf queen never worried as much as the king did.”

“I like the elf queen,” Rayne grinned. “I think she would be fun to play with.”

Rolf smiled at this.

“She would have loved to play with you, I think.”

“Did you know her?”

“Perhaps.”

“Did the elf queen help the princess plant the big tree?”

“No.”

Rolf reached for a thin stick nearby and poked at the fire absentmindedly.

“No, but the princess did not plant the big tree alone. You see, back then, humans and elves did not like each other. The elves believed the humans would hurt them and the humans believed the elves would join with the humans’ enemies to take Ardenia from them. Most humans and elves would not speak to each other, and some even hurt each other because they were angry and afraid. But the princess just wanted to be friends with everyone. She thought her father worried too much, so one night she ran away to the human kingdom to make friends with the humans.”

“Did she find human friends?” Kadin piped up, craning his neck to look at the elf lord. “Were the elves and humans just being silly in not liking each other?”

“Silly, they were,” Rolf nodded, glancing up at the darkening sky above them. “But they very much did not like each other, all the same. Some very mean humans hurt the elf princess and chased her into a valley not far from here.”

Rayne jumped up at this, dropping Kadin in the process, and turned to look at the elf lord with an appalled stare.

“Why did they hurt her?!” she exclaimed incredulously. “She only wanted to be friends.”

“Some people hurt others when they do not like them. There are elves like that, too. Some choose to be mean. I do not know why.”

“Hmph,” Rayne frowned, crossing her arms over her chest. “My father would have scolded them for sure. He always told me that a person’s heart is what matters most.”

“Your father was a wise man,” Rolf replied softly.

“So what happened to the elf princess?” Rayne asked, coming back to sit next to the elf lord.

“A human hunter lived near this valley back then,” Rolf continued. “He rescued the elf princess and hid her so that the bad humans could not find her and hurt her again.”

“So there were nice humans back then, too,” Kadin said, wagging his tail.

“Yes,” Rolf nodded. “Now, this hunter had a daughter who was also very kind, and she and the elf princess became friends. One day, the two went exploring together and they discovered the secret entrance to the place where the valley elves were hiding. They snuck inside, but some guards caught them and took them to their chief. When the chief learned who the princess was, he told her he would let her go free, but the human girl he was going to keep as a prisoner. The elf princess, however, became very angry. She told the chief that what he was doing was wrong, and that if he kept the hunter’s daughter as a prisoner, he would have to keep her as well. The valley elf chief was impressed by what the princess said, and so he let both of them go free. While they were there, though, the two also made friends with the chief’s son, and for a time, he went on adventures with them, too.

“One day, the three friends met a mysterious traveler. He looked hungry and cold, and so the princess and her friends asked him to join them at their campfire and offered him food to eat. In return for their kindness, he gave them an acorn from a far-away land. The acorn, he told them, was from a great old oak that had been planted at the beginning of time and that if they planted the acorn, it would grow into an enchanted tree.

“Now, what the elf princess did not know was that her father had been looking for her all this time. One day, the elf king also met this mysterious traveler, and so he found where the princess had been hiding. When he found her, the elf king told the princess that she had to return home, but she did not want to leave her friends. She also wanted to find the perfect place to plant the acorn, and she wanted to watch it grow into an enchanted tree. And so the elf king found a place in a hidden valley, a valley that was hard to get into by foot. There he let the elf princess and her friends plant the acorn, and he told the princess she could come to that spot whenever she liked.”

“Did the princess ever see her friends again?” Rayne asked worriedly, pulling Kadin back into her arms and close against her chest.

“Yes,” Rolf nodded. “And she also got to watch that acorn grow into the big, strong tree you saw in the valley.”

“Where is the elf princess now?”

“Not far from here.”

“Can I meet her some day?”

“Perhaps. Or, yet, you may have already met her. One day you will see.”

Rayne pouted at this.

“But I want to know now,” the girl protested.

“Ah, but patience will make it that much sweeter.”

“I hate patience. Patience is boring.”

Rolf chuckled at this, then stood up and went to remove the saddle and pack from his horse’s back. He should have known better, he thought later, for when he turned around, Rayne had gone back to the rock hanging over the cliff.

Quickly the elf lord hurried toward the girl, but he hesitated at the far-off look in her eyes.

“I want to see my friends again,” she mumbled quietly as he approached. “Razi would have liked to hear your story.”

A sad expression crossed Rolf’s face, then he held out a hand toward the little girl.

“Banné Rayne,” he called softly, “come here. I have something I need to tell you.”

The girl cast him a quizzical look, then she and Kadin stood and trotted over to him. He didn’t say anything, however, until they were both standing by the campfire and a good space away from the cliff’s edge.

“Little Rayne,” Rolf said, kneeling down on one knee so as to be on eye level with the little girl. “Your friend, Razi, is waiting for you down there in that valley.”

Rayne’s eyes lit up at this.

“Oh! Is that all?” the girl laughed. “Well, why are we not going to find her? Why are we camping here? I thought you were going to tell me something bad. Let us go, Friend Rolf! I want you to tell Razi that story.”

The girl turned to rush off, but Rolf grabbed her by the wrist and gently pulled her back.

“No, Little Rayne, that is not all,” he said softly.

“What do you mean?”

Rolf swallowed hard as he looked into those confused brown eyes. He hated to tell her, but she had to know.

“Little Rayne,” the elf lord spoke slowly, “some very bad people took away your parents, and Razi’s parents, and Gavin and Eryn’s parents. King Dorrian and I have done all we can to find them, but…but Little Rayne, they are not coming back.”

All the excitement in Rayne’s face drained away at this.

“What do you…” she questioned, this time in trade language. “What do you mean? Father and Mother have to come back.”

“They can’t, Rayne. I’m sorry.”

“Then Kadin and I will rescue them.”

“Little Rayne, don’t you think I would rescue them if I could?”

By now, tears were running down Rayne’s face, and she broke down into violent sobs when he said this. Gently, Rolf pulled the girl into his arms and held her there as she cried against his chest.

“Razi, Gavin, and Eryn are all living in that valley now, together, and they are waiting for you to come live with them, too,” the elf lord said softly.

“I don’t want to!” Rayne nearly shrieked, clinging tighter to Rolf’s robes. “I don’t want to. I wanna stay with you. Please, please, can’t I stay with you?”

By now, it was all Rolf could do to keep himself from crying, and he pulled the girl tighter to him, pressing his forehead to the top of her head.

“Little Rayne, I am so, so, so very sorry. But I promised your father that I would make sure you were taken care of, that you would be given the best that I could possibly give you, and this is the best I have. You will have your friends to live with, and you will be safe as you can be there in that valley. I will make sure that you are protected, even if I can’t always be there myself.”

“I don’t wanna leave you,” Rayne cried, shaking her head for emphasis. “Can’t you protect me in Rinba?”

“Not like I can here,” Rolf replied softly. “Don’t worry, little one. I will not be far away, and if you need anything, I will do what I can. I don’t want to let you go, Little Rayne, but I must.”

“Will you and Sister Arin come visit me?” Rayne sniffed, rubbing at the tears in her eyes.

“As often as we can,” Rolf nodded. “You will never be alone, Little Rayne. You will have Kadin and your friends and a whole valley to explore. You won’t even notice I’m gone.”

“Of course I’ll notice,” the girl whimpered in response.

Rolf sighed, then brushed at the girl’s tears with his thumbs.

“You think that now, but I doubt it. But don’t worry about it too much just yet. We can go say hello in the morning.”

Then with that, Rolf went to retrieve the bed rolls and set them out for the night, all the while keeping an eye on Rayne who sat dejectedly poking a stick into the campfire. He sighed, then smoothed out Rayne’s bed roll next to his own. He hoped he was doing the right thing, but the way he felt right now? Right now, he wasn’t so sure.

***

The morning was still grey as Rolf and Rayne approached the great old oak in the hidden valley. From up close, it looked even bigger than it had from the previous night’s campsite. That the tree was also a house had not been lost on Rayne, for even her protests on having to leave Rolf had traded themselves out for awed silence.

The pair hadn’t even managed to reach the door when the handle turned and out stepped an older woman with snow-white hair and a youthful face.

“Do you remember the story I told you yesterday?” Rolf asked as he felt Rayne’s grip tighten on his hand.

“Mm-hmm,” the child replied quietly, nodding her head slightly.

“The chief’s son and the hunter’s daughter, the elf princess’s two friends, they fell in love and got married. This woman here is their daughter. Her name is Effie, and she is the one who will be taking care of you.”

Rayne’s jaw dropped at this, and she gawked up at the elf lord for a moment before turning back to stare in awe at the old half-elf before them.

“Good morning, Lord Rolf,” Effie smiled. Then she squatted down to be on Rayne’s level. “And this must be Rayne. Your friends have been so excited to see you.”

At this, a red-headed child appeared in the open doorway. Both Rayne’s and the red-head’s eyes lit up when they saw each other.

“Razi?” Rayne questioned.

Effie stood and backed away as the red-head at the door let out an excited squeal and bolted over to Rayne.

“Rayne! I’m so glad to see you!” Razi gasped. “Come inside! I want to show you the tree house! It’s amazing!”

At first, Rayne hesitated as Razi pulled her toward the door. The girl’s fingers clamped tighter around Rolf’s hand and she glanced back at the elf lord. Quietly, Rolf smiled.

“It’s all right,” he said, giving the girl’s hand a gentle squeeze. “I will see you again.”

Another split second, then Rayne let go and followed after Razi, Kadin loping excitedly at their heels.

Rolf and Effie watched them go, then the woman turned back to the elf lord.

“Do not worry, Lord Rolf,” Effie said softly in the dialect of the Valley Elves. “I will take care of her, and you are welcome to visit at any time.”

“I appreciate that,” Rolf replied, removing the long bundle Arin had given him from where he had slung it across his back and handing it to Effie. “When the time comes, would you give these to her?”

“What is this?” the half-elf questioned, cautiously accepting the bundle handed to her.

“Her father’s old swords, from the time before he was a Star,” Rolf replied quietly. “He inherited them from his adopted father, an old valley elf who lived in a small village to the south. They are of dwarvish make and should serve Rayne well if ever she chooses the path of the warrior.”

“I see,” Effie nodded. “I will put them away for safe-keeping.”

Rolf nodded in reply, then turned to leave. He paused after only a step, however, and glanced over his shoulder at Effie.

“Thank you, Effie,” he said quietly. “If there is anything you need, anything at all, you have but to ask. I may not be able to raise the children myself given the circumstances, but I will do what I can.”

“I know you will, Lord Rolf,” Effie smiled. “Give Arin greetings from myself and my father.”

“I will,” Rolf responded, smiling slightly in reply. “Good day.”

Effie waved, then turned toward the great tree, and Rolf set his gaze toward the sky. The first hints of sunlight had gathered to the east, but the valley still remained shadowed.

Quietly, Rolf climbed up to the top of the cliff where he had left his horse and turned toward the great oak. The tall, spreading branches glittered in gold sunlight at the top, and already Rolf could feel the warmth of the morning sun on his skin. He hated to leave Rayne behind. Every fatherly instinct he had inside him told him to go back and get her. But that was just an emotion, selfishness on his part. He knew that. And as he set off on horseback for home, he couldn’t help but believe he had done the right thing. And right now, that was all that mattered.

Elwyn’s Daughter

It is very interesting to watch the growth of a young writer, especially when that writer is myself. When I first began self-publishing books, I was finishing roughly 1 book a year. Of course, looking back on it, that may not have been such a great thing, as it meant that my books did not quite get the planning and polishing they needed.

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, you know about my old series of books, Legend of the Stars (Also known as The Star Trilogy and its sequel, Ancient Vengeance). I wasn’t kidding when I said I still wanted to rewrite and republish them, but I may have been a little overzealous when I said I hoped to have all of them redone by this year. To be honest, the rewriting process has been slow, not just because I’m trying to make the stories and facts make sense (I tended to start up with one idea and end with another in my early books), but also I have poured a great many hours into developing the world as a whole. This includes a brand new elvish language (which is woefully uninspired at the moment, being largely based off of Irish Gaelic), and three alphabets (the progression of the elvish writing system that is mentioned in the original stories). Along with this, however, I have taken to writing short stories based around my books which are meant to fill in details and develop characters so that I can more clearly write about them in the rewrites of my books.

I finally finished the first of these short stories, entitled “Elwyn’s Daughter,” today, so I thought I would go ahead and post it here. The story is based about 10 years before The Four Stars begins, and is told from the point of view of one of the series’ minor characters, Rolf, Lord of the Forest Elves. So while I whittle away at the mess I made of the original stories, here’s a short story to get you familiar with some of the characters and plot information.

——-

wolf pup

Elwyn’s Daughter

She looked so small and frightened, tears flowing like rivers from her big brown eyes.

“Rayne.”

Rolf knelt down on one knee and held his arms out to the crying child in front of him. Immediately Rayne released the hand of the villager who had brought her there and ran to the elf lord, throwing her little arms around his neck and sobbing bitterly against his shoulder. Rolf wrapped his arms around the girl’s tiny frame, and he could feel her shivering despite the warm morning air.

“So what exactly happened? I’m afraid the messenger you sent wasn’t very clear,” Rolf asked the village as he stood to his feet, holding Rayne tightly in his arms.

“They’re gone,” the woman replied, looking sadly at the crying girl in the elf lord’s arms. “Lance, Elwyn, Cael, Delwynn…even their wives. The houses all look like war zones, and no one is left. There are rumors that the Gauls are responsible for their disappearances. There was a small group of warriors at the edge of the Kassrdy Desert  who had stayed there after our armies defeated them a few months ago, but they broke camp and disappeared about a week ago, around the same time as the four Stars disappeared. I’ve heard people say that Lance and Elwyn were acting oddly not long before it happened.”

Rolf frowned, then closed his eyes with a mournful sigh and laid his cheek against the top of Rayne’s head. If the Gauls had killed the four heroes, and if they were the ones behind the disappearance of the wives as well, it could be assumed that the children were not safe either.

“What of the other children? You said it looked like the homes had been attacked. Where were the children when this occurred? I know of Rayne. Are the others safe?”

“The other children were not in the homes when the attacks occurred, as far as I know,” the villager responded with a shake of her head. “Cael’s son and Delwynn’s daughter have already been taken in by Effie of Great Oak Valley. I have not heard anything about Lance’s son since his mother disappeared, and Rayne…we found her this morning. She may be the only one who knows what happened to her mother, but she wouldn’t speak to any of us.”

“I see,” Rolf sighed. “Very well. I’ll look into it. Thank you for bringing her to me.”

The villager bowed, then turned and walked back down the road. The elf lord watched her go, then glanced down at the small child in his arms. Her sobs had died down considerably, though Rolf’s neck was damp with the tears she had already cried.

Banné Rayne,” the elf lord soothed in elvish as he turned to carry the child into his large mansion home. “Little Rayne, do not worry. I am here. Friend Rolf is here.”

He could feel Rayne tighten her grip around his neck.

“Would you like something to eat?”

The girl shook her head.

“Are you thirsty?”

Again she shook her head.

Another sigh escaped Rolf’s lips as he balanced the girl in his arms and reached for the door that led into his home. He wanted desperately to go looking for his missing friends. He wanted to know what had happened, and he wanted to be there when they were found. But right now? Right now, he had something else he needed to do. He needed to see to it that Rayne was comforted and safe. He owed Elwyn that much. Actually, he owed him far more.

***

Atha?” came a familiar voice as Rolf shifted position on a cushioned bench in the main sitting room of the mansion. The elf lord glanced up to see his dauhter, Arin, as she stepped into the room, her sharp blue eyes resting curiously on the little girl who had, by this point, fallen asleep in Rolf’s arms.

“Father, is this Rayne? What has happened?”

“Arin, I need you to take a message to Olivek. I want him to organize a search party. They should start at Elwyn’s home.”

“A search party?” Arin inquired, tensing nervously. “Atha, what is happening?”

“They are gone,” the elf lord replied, turning his gaze toward the grey morning that lay just outside his sitting room window. “All of them, save the children. Through luck or something greater, the children remain. But Elwyn and the others…they are gone.”

“Gone?” Arin inquired, coming to stand in front of her father. “Gone where?”

“If I knew that, I would not need a search party. And the longer we wait, the harder it will be to find them.”

“You are right,” his daughter sighed, turning to leave the room. “I will dress for travel and leave shortly. Is there any other message I should take to Olivek when I go?”

“Only this,” Rolf replied. “It may have been Ceallach.”

Arin’s face paled at her father’s words. She knew of whom he spoke, and what the mention of that name implied. And then with a nod, the elf girl darted off, down the hall and out of sight.

Rayne stirred a moment later, stretching briefly before curling back up against Rolf’s chest. The elf lord glanced down at the girl in his arms. She was small, very small, in fact, for an 8-year-old. She must have taken after father, Rolf thought, for her mother had been…no, was…a tall, heavy-boned woman with a fiery temper. “Mother Bear,” the other heroes had jokingly called her. Elwyn was quieter, though he had a temper, too. Rolf had seen it once or twice before. Yes, Rayne had always reminded Rolf of Elwyn, though he didn’t know if she always would. After all, it was said that girls, elvin and human both, took after their mothers as they grew.

Atha?”

Rolf shook himself out of his thoughts and glanced up at the sound of Arin’s voice. She was now dressed in a travelling tunic and breeches, her long, jet black hair pulled back into a simple ponytail and held in place by an ornate metal clasp. Yes, she looked more like her mother every day, too.

“Yes, dear one.”

“I am headed out. Shall I go to King Dorrian, as well?”

Rolf paused to think about the question briefly, then nodded.

“I am sure he knows what happened,” the elf lord said, “but it would not hurt if he were to send out some search parties of his own, if he has not already done so. I also need to discuss the matter of the children with him.”

Quietly, Arin nodded, then turned and hurried out the door. Rolf watched her go, then leaned back in his seat. If anyone could get the message to Olivek and Dorrian in time, it would be her.

Rayne coughed slightly, then sat up in Rolf’s lap, tiny hands rubbing at swollen eyes.

“Do you feel better?” the elf lord inquired, brushing a stray tear off the little girl’s cheeks.

The child didn’t reply, but only looked back at him through mournful brown eyes.

Banné Rayne,” he said, again speaking in elvish, as he cupped the child’s face in his hands. “Little Rayne, I need to know. What happend to your thaira? What happened to your mother? Can you tell me?”

A fresh stream of tears pooled at the corners of Rayne’s eyes as she shook her head.

“Mama and me were playing hide-and-seek before I had to go to sleep,” the girl sobbed. “She told me I couldn’t hide outside, but I did. Then some strangers came. I stayed hiding and heard mama scream, but I was scared. I went inside after the strangers left, but mama was gone.”

“I see,” Rolf mused, wiping at the child’s tears. “So you didn’t see what happened.”

Rayne began to cry harder at this.

“I’m s-sorry,” she cried, burying her face in Rolf’s shirt. “I was a bad g-girl. I didn’t do what mama said and-“

At this, Rolf wrapped his arms tightly around the girl, pressing his forehead to the top of her head.

“No, Rayne,” he said, this time in trade tongue where she could clearly understand him. “No, you are a good girl. This is not your fault.”

He pushed her away just enough that he could lift her chin and make her look at him.

“This is not your fault,” he repeated. “Do you understand me?”

The child looked doubtful.

“Rayne, you are safe because you went outside. Your mother would have told you to go outside and hide if she had known those strangers were coming. You are a good girl, and this bad thing that happened is not your fault.”

He could see a flicker of relief in those tear-glazed eyes, but this also set her off on another round of crying.

Pulling the child close, Rolf stood to his feet, carrying her down the hall toward a door located at the far end. He had learned long ago that sometimes children couldn’t be comforted with words. Once upon a very long time ago, he had had two children to comfort. Now, once again, he had a child to comfort despite his own grief. But at least this time, he had a better idea of how to handle it.

Rayne was still crying by the time Rolf reached the end of the hall, and gently he pushed the door open. A friendly yip was the first thing to greet him, and the elf lord had to stop just shy of the open door as 6 little bundles of fur swarmed around his feet.

Instantly, Rayne’s sobs died down as she sat up and glanced down at the puppies who yipped and jumped in greeting, licking at the girl’s feet despite the shoes they were clad in. At the opposite side of the room, two wolves, one large and jet black, the other small and fair as quicksilver, lay side by side on a cushion. Both creatures perked up when Rolf entered, and the quicksilver she-wolf, Arinya, woofed lightly at the pups who swarmed at the elf lord’s feet. The wolf pups backed off at this, but they still stood with tails wagging as they looked up into the faces of the elf and child.

“Would you like to see Randolf and Arinya’s puppies?” Rolf asked in elvish.

Rayne nodded, her brown eyes trained on one particular puppy with a coat like quicksilver and an unusually distinct white elvin dagger marking on its forehead.

One corner of Rolf’s mouth twitched up in a smile as he set Rayne down on the floor, and he chuckled when, almost as if on cue, the puppies swarmed on top of the girl. Rayne let out a surprised squeal, then giggled slightly as the wolf pups painted warm, wet kisses across her tear-stained cheeks.

“Down. Down, sillies,” Rayne giggled, pushing the puppies off her. Then she looked up at Rolf.

“Can they talk yet?” she asked.

“In elvish, they can,” the elf lord nodded. “They haven’t learned human speech yet.”

Rayne blinked back at him, then looked down at the puppies who watched her expectantly. Though she had spent all 8 years of her life in Alfedan, Rolf knew that Rayne likely was not incredibly familiar with elvish. Her mother certainly hadn’t been. Rayne could understand elvish, but she probably didn’t speak much of it. Well, perhaps learning to communicate with the elvish wolf pups would help get her mind off of other, more distressing things.

Rolf was just thinking this when Rayne bent down, propping her face up with her elbows on the floor.

“Jia duit,” she said, her eyes nearly mesmorized as she looked at the quicksilver wolf pup.

The puppies yipped excitedly at her words.

“She can speak elf-tongue!” one pup, a dark grey male, exclaimed.

“She can! She can!” the others agreed, bounding in circles around her. “Hello, friend!”

“Say! Say!” one of the females, whose coat was black as her father’s, said as she sat down next to Rayne’s right knee. “Why are your ears not pointy? Master Rolf and Lady Arin’s ears are pointy.”

“I am not elf,” Rayne giggled, sitting up and patting the pup on the head. “I am comeahn. I am human. Humans do not have pointy ears.”

“Human?” asked the little female pup with a dark, reddish-brown coat, the only one of the littler who didn’t have a grey or black coat. “What is a human? You do not look that different from Master Rolf and Lady Arin.”

“Humans are humans. We look mostly the same as elves, but not all the same.”

“I think it must be like our coats,” the male pup with a black coat said. “We look the same, but we are different colors.”

“Oh! I understand!” the last pup, a male whose coat was halfway between quicksilver and dark grey, piped up. “So human means round ears.”

“Yes! Yes, that must be it!” the black-coated female yipped. “Come, round-ears! Play with us!”

The other pups yipped their agreement, then bounded off after random trinkets scattered about the room that they could play with. Only the little male with a coat like quicksilver stayed beside the girl. He watched his siblings run off, then turned and looked at Rayne.

“Why were you crying?” he asked.

Rolf could see Rayne’s face become pinched, and he stiffened. He wondered, too, how the pup knew what crying was.

“Young one, will you go find Little Rayne a toy to play with?” Rolf asked, kneeling down and stroking the pup’s back.

The little creature looked at him quizzically, then turned back to Rayne. The girl bowed her head as warm, wet droplets spotted the hands that lay fisted in her lap.

“I…I lost my mother and father,” she cried softly. “I do not know where they are.”

Rolf sighed. He had hoped to get her mind off that fact.

For a moment, the silver pup watched the tears fall from the girl’s eyes. Then he stepped forward, his forepaws on Rayne’s leg, and licked a tear that rolled down her cheek.

“If they are lost, then we will have to find them,” he said, looking up at her and wagging his tail. “But can we play first?”

Rayne blinked back at the pup for a moment, then a smile came to her face.

“Yes,” she nodded, wiping away the rest of her tears with one hand and petting the wolf pup with the other. “Yes, we can. Then we will find my atha and thaira. I like that. What is your name, puppy?”

“I do not have one yet,” the pup replied. “My future master must give me a name.”

At this, Rayne looked up at Rolf. Perhaps she thought him to be the pup’s future master, but a smile came to Rolf’s lips as he thought about it. He had a better idea.

“Well, then,” he said in elvish, placing one hand on Rayne’s shoulder, “I suppose you will have to give him one.”

The little girl’s mouth dropped open in surprise and the pup yipped excitedly.

“Will Little Rayne be my real master, Master Rolf?” the pup asked.

Rolf could see the hopefulness dancing in the Rayne’s eyes, and softly he smiled.

“I believe Little Rayne would like that, yes?”

The girl nodded her head vigorously, a wide grin spreading across her face.

“Then it shall be so,” Rolf nodded, standing to his feet again. “What will you name your talking wolf, Rayne, Elwyn’s daughter?”

For a moment, the child sat with her hands in her lap, looking at the wolf pup thoughtfully. Then her eyes brightened and she said in trade speech, “Kadin. I will name him Kadin, since that means ‘best friend’ in elf-tongue. Right? That’s what it means?”

Rolf smiled slightly. The word mean “companion,” but it was a term Elwyn had always used with affection when speaking of those he was closest to, especially when speaking of the other 3 heroes who had been his best friends since childhood.

“Yes, that is a good translation of it,” Rolf nodded.

“All right,” Rayne smiled, leaning down toward the pup. Then in elvish, she said, “Little elf wolf, I name you Kadin. Will you be my best friend?”

The puppy yipped happily in reply.

“Yes! Yes!” he barked, bouncing back and fourth before bouncing right into Rayne’s arms. “And when I get big, I will protect you like my atha protects Master Rolf! I will be the strongest warrior wolf of all time!”

“Good!” Rayne giggled in reply. “Well then, warrior wolf Kadin, let us play!”

And with another yip and a laugh, the pair took off after the other 5 wolf pups. Quietly, Randolf, the big black he-wolf and father of the 6 pups, stood from where he lay next to his mate and came to stand at Rolf’s side.

“Would you like me to look for him, my lord?” the black wolf asked softly. “For the human girl’s father…your kadin?”

Rolf smiled saddly, then turned toward the door.

“I would appreciate that,” the elf lord nodded as Randolf followed him down the hall. “Though it may be too late, if it is Ceallach who orchestrated all of this.”

“All the same, you wish me to try.”

“For Elwyn’s daughter, yes.”

“For Elwyn’s daughter.” Randolf almost chuckled as he trotted ahead. His tone implied that he might have rolled his eyes if he could. “And for you.”

Rolf paused in the middle of the hall and watched as his long-time companion left to do his bidding. The elf lord closed his eyes as a solitary tear trailed down his face. Yes. And for him.

Writing Prompt: Ruler of the World

So my friend, Sarah, and I have started doing writing prompts to keep our writing skills honed. Today’s writing prompt was the following:

You rule the world and you’ve been given the power to change one law of nature. What do you change?

We gave ourselves a time limit of 20 minutes. Wasn’t sure what to do at first, but it turned out pretty fun. So, here it is. Also, if you would like to read Sarah’s interpretation of this prompt, you can find it here.

——-

Sun glittered off the decorative pool in the courtyard below, but I had long ago given up trying to hear the sound of the pool’s many fountains above the din of the crowd gathered around it. I fidgeted slightly with my costume as I peeked around the corner of the door that led to the balcony, then drew in a deep breath, trying to still my nerves. It didn’t work. Whose funny idea was it to make me ruler of the world? Me, the same girl who used to hide behind pianos at church socials. Ok, so I wasn’t that bad now, but still. Ruling the world had never been on my bucket list. Still, though, the job had come with its perks, and it was one of those perks that had brought the huge crowd to my castle palace in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Of all the crazy things I had been given when I was made ruler of the world, this perk would definitely go in the Guinness Book of World Records for achieving an entirely new level of crazy. I had been given the power to change one law of nature. Yes, that’s right. Forget physics, and science, and all those white-haired men who had poured their hearts and souls into the theories I think I might have learned once upon a time in some class that I no longer remembered. Yes, I was about to change nature itself.

The giant clock on the tower above my palace chimed noon and the crowd outside quieted down. Now or never.

I stepped out onto the balcony and plastered as convincing of a smile as I could muster onto my face, waving as the crowd roared to life, making every concerted effort to bust my ear drums. I waited until I thought their voices must have become sufficiently sore before I motioned for silence.

“People of the world!” I shouted, hoping that the people in the back forty of the courtyard could at least tell that I was speaking English, if not understand what I was saying. “Today, I use the greatest gift that I have been given. No longer will you have to worry about falling from cliffs or dying from plane crashes. From this day forward, gravity will be at your command!”

More ear-piercing cheers. These people sure had good lungs.

I waved my hand and felt the energy flow out of me as nature bent to my will. Then, tapping one foot on the floor of the balcony on which I stood, I willed myself to fly. Instantly I soared skyward, coming to pause roughly a hundred feet above my cheering subjects. Yes. Now this was a gift.

11 Inspiring Quotes from the World’s Best Writers

lyngilleland:

Everyone needs a few good quotes to remember when the going gets tough. Here are 11 that have been collected and commented on by a fellow blogger. Hope you enjoy!

Originally posted on Catherine, Caffeinated:

The last time we had a guest post from Laura Pepper Wu (11 Signs You’re Meant To Be A Writer), things went a bit nuts, with her post getting nearly 100 comments and being shared nearly 200 and over 400 times on Twitter and Facebook respectively. Today she’s back to share news of her new app, Write On! Daily Kick-Ass Writing Inspiration: 365 Tips & Quotes from the World’s Best Writers, and 11 of her favorite such quotes for those self-doubt-filled, motivation-lacking, no-amount-of-coffee-can-get-this-going bad writing days. Welcome back, Laura!

‘Having a bad writing day? Read (and bookmark!) these 11 quotes.

We all have ‘em once in while – awful, dragging, low writing-motivation days. The last thing you want to do is open up that folder on your computer, the one marked ‘WIP’.

You're a writer

Sometimes it helps to know you’re not alone (you’re definitely not), and that this too…

View original 942 more words

The Cathedral

Toledo Cathedral

The Cathedral

Shadows grow long and solemn
In cool columned halls of stone
While pale footsteps echo like voices
And dim candles flicker and glow

The ceiling stands distant and lofty
With carving that dances like lace
While stone clouds sit still and silent
And gather round a blank, white stone face

The organ now rumbles and whispers
From pipes that are fashioned of gold
Aged, but yet still remembers
The sound of the myst’ries untold

In aisle and alley and corner
In prominent angle and space
Great figures of eras long passing
In stone, find their last resting place

Visions of great Bible stories
In varying tones and hues
Spread like a gilded curtain
There before dark, age-worn pews

A figure stands here on the altar
Welcoming all who are lost
With arms spread in patience and comfort
Whose shadow there covers the cross

The saints here all line every window
Madonnas stand silent and nod
I see the Christ suff’ring and bleeding
But where is the living God?

Willy’s Covenant: Chapter 4

<<< Chapter 3

————————————-

Chapter 4

The sky was already tinged with shades of red and faint gold when Willy at last directed Bonnie down the lane that led to the house of one Mr. Crenshaw, the owner of a small shipping company and a friend of Mr. McKenzie. The large stone house loomed like a grey ghost in the remnants of morning fog that surrounded it. There didn’t seem to be any movement from within, but that wasn’t incredibly surprising considering how early it still was.

The house was old, though not as old as the McKenzie house, and was set up on a hill that looked down on the seaport town of Irvine. Even from that distance, Willy could still see the white sails of the ships resting in Irvine’s relatively new Fullarton Harbour.

The shadow of the Crenshaw house fell over Willy like a cloak, and he pulled Bonnie to a stop not far from the front door. The young man tried to rub the exhaustion out of his eyes before he slid from the saddle, his boots crunching in the dirt of the driveway. The satchel he had slung over his shoulder began to wiggle, and Willy could barely undo the latches before Artair poked his little head out from beneath the flap.

“I know you want out, but you had best stay there a wee bit longer, lad,” Willy chuckled, patting the puppy on the head. “Though I must say, you’ve been a good boy. This is far too small a bag for you.”

The puppy whined and licked the man’s hand.

“You must be hungry, as well,” the young man sighed. “I certainly am.”

Tucking Artair back into the satchel for the time being, Willy stepped up to the front door and knocked. A few moments later, he heard rustling from inside, and the door opened to reveal a middle-aged man still clad in his nightshirt.

“Can I help you?” the man inquired cautiously.

“Are you Mr. Crenshaw?” Willy inquired.

“I am.”

“Mr. McKenzie sent me.”

A light of recognition came to Mr. Crenshaw’s eyes.

“Put your horse in the stable,” he said as he motioned toward a partly stone, partly wooden edifice not far from the house, his voice hushed. “Then come inside. Be quick about it.”

š***

Mr. Crenshaw had already dressed for the day by the time Willy stepped into the main room.

“Take a seat, lad,” the older man said, crossing over to a bottle of what looked to be whisky and pouring some into a couple of small lead crystal glasses.

Quietly Willy sank down into a chair. He hadn’t been sitting long, however, when Artair began to squirm in his satchel, and before the young man could react, the puppy had jumped out and onto the floor.

“Artair,” Willy growled, reaching for the puppy. “Get back here.”

Mr. Crenshaw paused in surprise, blinking at the pair as the younger Scotsman picked the greyhound puppy up off the floor.

“I’m sorry,” Willy apologized, sitting back down in his seat. “It’s a long story.”

“I’m not asking a thing,” the older man replied, shaking his head as he handed one of the glasses to his visitor.

“Now, then,” he said, taking a seat opposite of Willy and sipping at his brandy as he eyed the younger man before him. “You look pretty well done in. I take it the dogs have been at the old McKenzie place, then?”

“Aye,” Willy sighed. “Last night. About 9, I’d say. Was a miracle they didn’t find me. I can’t stay here anymore. I’m putting everyone in danger. Mr. McKenzie said you’d help me.”

Mr. Crenshaw pursed his lips in thought, nodding slowly.

“Aye,” he said, glancing out the window to his right which looked out over the port city beyond. “Aye, there might be something we can do. I’m no use in a fight.” He chuckled slightly. “At least, not in a fight that uses anything other than fists. But I respect you, and your mission. It’s a shame you can’t even be safe in your own country.”

Mr. Crenshaw downed the last of his whiskey in a single gulp, then set the glass aside and stood to his feet.

“I’ll go down to the port. See what I can do. The king’s got the harbor locked up tight, though. Been that way ever since Bothwell. There are patrols out seaside, too, and they’ve got no qualms about boarding and searching any ship bound for Ireland.”

“Have other Covenanters gone there as well?” Willy inquired. He wasn’t sure whether to be frightened or excited about the thought.

“Aye,” Mr. Crenshaw nodded. “Or at least, that’s the thought. Fine, wild country, that. A man could hide for years and no one would ever be the wiser.”

The older man started off toward the door, but Willy quickly stood to his feet.

“Mr. Crenshaw,” he said.

Mr. Crenshaw paused to look back at him.

“Aye?”

“Is there somewhere I might be able to sleep?”

Artair yipped and bit lightly at the young man’s chin.

“And, if it isn’t too much to ask, some food for myself and my dog.”

“Ah,” Mr. Crenshaw smiled slightly, turning in a different direction, presumably toward the kitchen and larder. “I suppose we could find something for the both of you.”

***›

Thunder rattled the windows nearby as Willy woke to the feeling of a large hand shaking him awake. The young man sat up quickly, causing Artair, who had been sleeping peacefully on the young man’s chest, to whine as he slid down into Willy’s lap.

“Easy, now,” Mr. Crenshaw said, chuckling. “No need to hurt yourself.”

“Is something the matter?” Willy asked, rubbing his face with his hand in an attempt to bring some life back into it and wake himself up.

“That depends greatly on your meaning,” the older Scotsman replied, stepping back as Willy threw his legs over the side of the bed. “I’ve already loaded your horse onto one of my ships. It’s moored now just up the coast past the harbor. Getting there should be no trouble, but…”

Mr. Crenshaw glanced out the nearby window as another bolt of lightning struck across the sky, lighting the landscape up as though it were daytime.

“The storm is getting bad. It’s risky business, sailing tonight, but the Royalists have been watching me closely since early this afternoon. Most likely because they suspect Mr. McKenzie. We’ve all got our necks on the block with this. I’ll not go down without a fight, but I hope you are aware of what may come.”

A lump began to form in Willy’s throat, but he swallowed it down and, scooping Artair up under one arm, replied, “Aye.”

For a moment, Mr. Crenshaw eyed him. Then with that, the older Scotsman turned on his heels and motioned for the younger man to follow him, saying, “Get what you need and follow me. We’ll take a pair of my own horses down as soon as you’re ready.”

š***›

Heavy drops of rain had already begun to fall as Willy jogged into the stables a few minutes later. Already Mr. Crenshaw had saddled two of his horses – a large bay and a smaller chestnut – and the man swung into the bay’s saddle when Willy stepped through the door.

“Hurry and get up, lad. We don’t have much time to spare.”

The younger man nodded in acknowledgement, then flipped open the top of the satchel Lizzie had given him and placed Artair inside. The puppy whined in protest as Willy closed the flap back over him and tied it firmly shut.

“I know, lad,” the young man said as he grabbed his mount’s reins and swung up into the saddle. “Not for much longer, now.”

“Ready?” Mr. Crenshaw inquired as the horses danced with the rumbling of thunder outside the stable.

Quickly, Willy pulled the hood of the coat Mr. McKenzie had given him up over his head.

“Aye. Let’s go.”

Mr. Crenshaw dug his heels into his mount’s sides, and Willy followed suit as they took off at a lope out the stable doorway. The horses’ hooves rumbled like a drum roll down the gravel drive. Ice-cold rain droplets stung Willy’s cheeks as the wind sang past him, and with each flash of lightning he could easily make out the contours of the boiling black clouds above.

The two men slowed their horses to a fast walk as they swung around a curve in the road and down the hill. A flash of lightning lit up the harbor beyond, the white sails of the moored ships shivering like a ghostly retinue in the wind, and Willy’s mount shied slightly to one side. The young man pulled back on the reins, trying to regain control of his mount. Not a moment later, Mr. Crenshaw had pulled up beside him, motioning urgently to the side of the road while nodding his head in the direction of Irvine. Willy glanced up in time to see the glow of a couple lanterns flicker at the bottom of the hill, bright red coats glimmering like blood with each flash of lightning. Immediately, the pair swerved off the road and down behind a rise in the hill, away from the patrol they had seen only moments before.

Already cold driblets of water coursed down Willy’s bare neck and his coat felt heavy with rainwater. The foul weather was beginning to make his arm ache, making the ride that much more difficult to bear.

Another flash of lightning struck across the sky, illuminating the form of a small sailing vessel moored in a natural harbor up ahead, and a moment later Willy slid to the ground a few feet from a small skiff held in place by one of Mr. Crenshaw’s servants. Another man, who looked to be a sailor, sat at the oars of the skiff, his expression grim.

The servant trotted up to Willy the moment his feet hit the ground, nodding briefly at him before taking hold of his mount’s reins. Boots sloshed against the wet earth as Mr. Crenshaw dismounted and stepped forward, leading his horse behind him.

“Mr. Gilliland,” the older man said, holding a hand out toward him. “God be with you.”

“Thank you,” Willy nodded, shaking the man’s hand firmly. “You as well.”

At that he turned and hurried to the skiff, stepping carefully inside as it rocked against the crashing waves. The oarsman didn’t say a word as he pushed away from the shore. Angry waves dashed against the skiff’s sides, tumbling over the edges in what seemed to be bucket loads and soaking Willy’s feet even more than they already were, if that were even possible.

A particularly large wave knocked the skiff against the hull of the ship, and the oarsman pulled the oars into the little craft, grabbing a large, waterlogged rope that hung over the side of the ship before the waves could carry them further out to sea. Shadowed faces appeared over the rail above them, and a moment later a rope ladder clapped against the wooden hull, hanging just above Willy’s head.

“Climb,” the oarsman instructed, motioning with his hand toward the rope ladder that fluttered in the wind.

Willy swallowed hard as he looked up at the flimsy series of knotted rope strands, then reached up and shakily pulled himself to his feet. The skiff dipped down on a wave and the young Scotsman tightened his grip as he felt his footing give way, and it was several moments before he found the balance to begin climbing. Horses, he was accustomed to; walking, he was accustomed to; anything regarding a ship, however…

The young man floundered on the rope ladder as he slowly worked his way up, flopping from one side to the next each time the ship rose and fell on a wave. He could almost hear James laughing at his comical display, and he might have laughed at himself if not for the gravity of the situation. He was beginning to think that he would never make it to the top when he felt several pairs of strong, calloused hands grab him by the arms and hands and pull him up onto the deck. Some of the sailors threw more ropes over the edge, and a moment later the oarsman who had been guiding the skiff appeared over the railing, the other sailors hauling the skiff up onto the deck simultaneously.

Willy stood shivering on deck as he watched the sailors busy themselves with the ship. Honestly, he knew that he probably ought to be doing something to help them, but ships were far from his specialty.

“Here, lad,” came a deep, gravelly voice from behind him.

Willy turned as he felt a heavy hand come to rest on his shoulder. The man standing next to him was obviously a sailor, but his style of dress was slightly different, and Willy wondered if he might be the captain.

“Follow me,” the man said, motioning toward a set of steps that led down below the main deck. “It’s best you not stay out here.”

Willy was more than happy to oblige as he followed the sailor below deck and into a dank chamber with several hammocks hanging from the ceiling. The room smelled strange, heavy with odors both familiar and unfamiliar to the young Scotsman. Most likely, Willy thought, because it couldn’t be aired out and was generally inhabited by multiple unwashed men.

The hammocks swayed to the side as the ship dipped on a wave and Willy stumbled back into the wall behind him. He was beginning to think that even standing was a hazardous endeavor. The sailor, though, seemed unfazed as he walked across the tiny quarter and pulled a blanket off one of the hammocks.

“Here,” he said, returning to Willy and holding the blanket out toward the young man. “I’ve got to go back on deck, but you should take some of those wet clothes off and wrap up in this. Likely to catch a chill otherwise. We’ll come get you when we land.”

“Thank you,” Willy nodded appreciatively as he shed his coat.

The sailor nodded back, but didn’t wait for further conversation as he set off back the way he had come.

Carefully, Willy sank to the floor, untying the latches of his satchel. Artair spilled out in a heap and quickly skittered to his feet, sparing no time in exploring his new surroundings as Willy shed his shirt and boots and wrapped up in the blanket. The puppy wobbled as the ship pitched, and he seemed to be growing accustomed to walking on uneven ground until one particularly violent wave crashed against the hull of the ship. The craft shuddered with the impact, then took a surprisingly fast dive in one direction, crashing the puppy’s nose against the wall before sending him sliding backwards across the small space.

Willy braced himself to keep himself from tumbling to the side, and he couldn’t help but chuckle when Artair rolled up against him. The puppy righted himself as the ship evened out again. The little creature shook himself as if to be rid of the entire experience, gave the wall one very disdainful glare, then laid down against Willy’s thigh with a huff.

“That’s a good lad,” Willy smiled, patting the puppy on the head.

The puppy wagged his tail and pressed himself even closer to Willy.

Quietly, Willy leaned his head back against the wall, listening to the roaring of the waves and the shouting of sailors outside. The ship creaked and groaned as the sea battered it from all sides, and more than once Willy had to brace himself and grab Artair to keep them both from sliding around the small room like helpless toys.

“What do you think it’ll be like?” Willy asked at length, his voice barely audible above the creaking of the ship and the roaring of the elements outside. “Ireland, I mean. What will I do? Where will I go?”

The young man could feel a knot forming in his stomach as he thought about it. Ireland. To the English, Scotland was a wild place. How much more so, then, would Ireland be? How could Ireland be better than staying and fighting in his own homeland? Only, the English didn’t have as firm a hold on Ireland as they did on Scotland. And, of course, there was talk that other Covenanters had fled to Ireland, too. Perhaps…

Artair stirred next to him and Willy bit back a flood of emotion that nearly overwhelmed him. He was going to a country he had never known, a foreign land where he had neither hearth nor kin. He had fought for God, and now he was to be a stranger in a foreign land, a hunted brute separated from everyone and everything he had ever known and loved. He hadn’t even gotten to tell his mother or father good-bye. Not since leaving for Bothwell, at least, and even then, he had been so sure of victory that he hadn’t really given them a proper good-bye. If he had only known… But how could he? How could he have known that God would give them a victory at Drumclog, only to watch them slaughtered and scattered at Bothwell Bridge? How could he have known that James would have been captured and practically enslaved by the English? How could he have known that he would have to hide like a criminal in his own country and run away, all alone, to a foreign and wild land without knowing if he could ever return? He couldn’t have known that, because he had been so sure God was with them.

Again Artair shifted, this time turning and flopping the front half of his body in Willy’s lap.

“Well, lad,” Willy said, picking the puppy up and looking him in the face. “You’re all I’ve got now.”

The puppy snorted and cocked his head to one side, but wagged his tail some at the same time.

“You don’t think so?”

The puppy yipped and squirmed. Willy set Artair back on the ground and immediately the puppy sprawled across the young man’s lap again, heaving what seemed to be a sigh of contentment and wagging his tail for effect.

Willy smiled slightly as he watched the puppy. Perhaps Lizzie had been smarter than he realized. If he had nothing and no one else, he at least had Artair, didn’t he? A feeling, almost like a whispering touch, passed over Willy’s body and he shivered slightly. There was someone else though, wasn’t there?

Again Willy thought of the battle that had gone so horribly wrong. “If God be for us…” he had said, but had they actually been for God? He thought about all the in-fighting, about Mr. Hamilton’s insistence on brutal punishment of any and all who opposed them, and about Willy’s own pride after the victory at Drumclog. They had won with preachers and pitchforks, they said. But hadn’t they really won with God? Had they, in the end, given the preachers and pitchforks more praise than the God who had used them to win the battle? Was it not a question of whether God was for them but, rather, whether they had been truly for God?

It was then that Willy realized the wind had died down, and that the sailors had become quiet as well. At first he was worried that something terrible had happened, but a moment later the muffled sound of a sailor shouting caught his ears.

“Land, ho!”

Letting Artair slide to the floor with a protesting whimper, Willy stood quickly to his feet, pulling the blanket tighter about his bare shoulders as he stumbled up the steps and back out onto the deck. A brisk breeze met him as he exited the hold. The storm clouds had rolled back some, lingering in the distance to the south, but behind the ship the sun rose like a warm golden disk, highlighting the first lines of a rolling emerald green that rose up on the horizon to the west.

“Would you have a look at that,” came a voice from nearby.

Willy glanced over at the sailor from before, the one he assumed was most likely the captain.

“Almost looks as though there was never a storm about,” the man continued. “And that was no mere storm, either. I’ve never seen the like of it.”

For a moment Willy stared at the sailor, but as the other man strode off, the young Scotsman turned his eyes back toward the horizon. Already the rolling emerald green had grown, stretching north and south as far as the eye could see. Slowly, a half smile crept onto the young man’s face. If God could get him through that terrible storm, could He not also get him through the storm of conflict he now faced?

“For a persecuted church and her martyrs, against a godless church and king, I will take my stand,” he breathed silently, his eyes trained upon the rolling green of the new land before him. “But more than that, for the God for whom we fight, I will lay down anything, even my life. May He be first always and never forgotten. This…this is my covenant.”

Willy’s Covenant: Chapter 3

<<< Chapter 2

——————————————-

Chapter 3

Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance as Willy gingerly stretched his arm out, testing the muscle that had been damaged by the musket ball. He winced slightly at first, but the pain soon subsided as he worked his arm back and forth. The wound was still sore and would need more time to heal, but it had already healed enough that he could use his arm some.

It had been just over a month since Willy had come to live with the McKenzies. He ought to have been in Ireland already, but a recent series of storms had delayed his departure. It had been a tense five weeks, as the Royalists had been scouring the land for those who had managed to escape the battle at Bothwell Bridge, but so far they had seemed to miss the McKenzie household. Willy could only pray that Dalzell and Claverhouse would be so preoccupied with finding the elusive James Ure that they wouldn’t have time to bother with someone as inconsequential as Willy himself.

Now having endured as much stretching as he could for one evening, the young man lowered his hand, gingerly resting it on the shoulder of Lizzie, who lay sleeping with her head on his lap. It hadn’t been long after the evening meal that the little girl had come to him, puppy in her arms, insisting he tell her a story about fairies. As if he knew any stories about fairies. She had settled for a tale about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and now Willy had both Lizzie’s and Artair’s heads lying on his lap, the pair the perfect image of contentment.

Just then, the sound of footsteps caught Willy’s ear and he turned as Mrs. McKenzie came into the room.

“You’d make a better governess than a soldier, I’d say,” the woman teased, poking the logs in the fire with a metal rod, stirring the flames back to life. “Perhaps we should hire you. Keep Lizzie out of mischief. Though knowing you, you’d be causing as much mischief yourself, aye?”

The woman smiled first at him, then down at her daughter before taking a seat in the chair next to the fire.

“And when have I ever caused mischief?” Willy laughed, giving Mrs. McKenzie a lopsided grin.

“When, indeed!” the woman chuckled.

A crack of thunder shook the mansion, and both Mrs. McKenzie and Willy jumped as the sound of the front door opening and slamming shut erupted from down the hall. The pair turned at the sound of quick, heavy footfall, and a moment later Mr. McKenzie appeared in the entryway, rainwater dripping from his coat and the brim of his hat. His chest heaved with labored breaths, as though he had been running for a very long time.

“John!” Mrs. McKenzie exclaimed. “What in heaven’s name? Where have you been off to?”

“Willy, get up,” Mr. McKenzie said, his tone nearly frantic. “I was just at the Burns house when a troop of Royalists came through. Turned the whole place inside out looking for Covenanters. We need to get you out—”

His voice faltered as someone began to pound on the front door.

“Open up, in the name of the king!” came the muffled command.

Lizzie sat up sleepily at the commotion, and she was still rubbing the sleep from her eyes as Willy bounded to his feet.

“What should I do?” the young man asked, his head nearly spinning with fear as cold adrenaline washed like blood into his veins.

“We need to get you out of here,” Mr. McKenzie whispered, moving back down the hall. “I’ll hold them off as best I can. Now hurry!”

Willy turned a pair of wild eyes toward Mrs. McKenzie, hoping she would have some useful advice, but she looked nearly as frantic as he did.

“Try the back door,” the woman said, pushing the young man toward a second entryway on the opposite side of the room.

“Wouldn’t they be watching that door already?” Willy inquired, pausing to look back at the woman.

Mrs. McKenzie paused at this, but their momentary stupor was broken when Lizzie trotted up to Willy, tugging on his shirt to get his attention. She motioned as if she had a secret to tell, so Willy bent down to listen to what she had to say.

“Go through the window in the bedroom with the blue curtains,” the little girl said in a whisper loud enough for even Mrs. McKenzie to hear. “There are big bushes there that never get trimmed. No one’ll see you.”

“I’m not even going to ask how you know this,” Mrs. McKenzie whispered with a shake of her head. “Thank you, Lizzie. And not a word about it to the soldiers, you hear?”

The little girl set her jaw firmly and nodded.

Then with that, Willy took off down the hall, being sure to move as quietly as possible. Already he could hear the sound of the Royalist soldiers pushing their way into the house, and if he hadn’t known any better, he might have been afraid that the wild beating of his own heart might give him away.

The room Lizzie had indicated was dark as Willy entered. Moving like a blind man, he felt his way toward the faintest outline of a window on the opposite side of the room. The soldiers’ voices began to draw nearer as his trembling fingers found the edge of the window pane and he began to inch it up as quietly as possible.

The sound of loud banging and shouting in a room nearby caused Willy to jump, and it was all he could do to keep himself from falling noisily out the window in his haste to get away. It sounded like the soldiers were throwing furniture around now, and the young Scotsman could only imagine the mess they must be making.

Being careful not to step on any twigs or leaves that might betray his location, Willy slowly crawled through the window and lowered his feet down on the other side. A guard nearby coughed slightly and the young man froze in place, but it didn’t seem that the soldier had noticed him. Willy then turned to close the window behind him, sliding it slowly down so as to attract as little attention as possible.

Just then, the sound of loud voices and heavy footfall came to a stop outside the door to the room Willy had just come from. At the same moment, the window caught in its track, and short of yanking on it, the young man was sure there would be no way to close it now.

His heart beating a wild rhythm in his ears, Willy clenched his teeth and strained to close the window, putting in as much force as he dared. The door knob on the other side of the room began to turn, but it seemed the soldiers were distracted talking to each other. If only he could get this window closed. If he didn’t, the soldiers would most certainly suspect something. The night was cold, and even now Willy could feel a steady drizzle soaking his hair and shoulders. No one with any sense would leave a window open in weather like this. It would be too suspicious.

“Lord,” he prayed silently, “if you’re listening, please…please don’t let them find me.”

Immediately the window began to slide again, and Willy barely had time to close it and sink below the window sill before the sound of soldiers’ voices flooded the room inside. The young man exhaled a quiet, shuttering breath, and it was only then that he realized how long he had been holding it.

The bush truly wasn’t all that big. It was more suitable for hiding children than it was for hiding adult men, but with the night being as dark and dreary as it was, Willy hoped that the soldiers wouldn’t think to look behind a bush for their runaway rebel. The young man was almost to the point of relaxing when the sound of booted feet came his way, and he froze when one of the guards came to a stop not more than three yards away from him. A moment later, another soldier appeared around the corner of the house, his pace brisk and stiff.

“Did you check the barn?” the second soldier asked tersely.

“Yes, sir,” the other soldier replied, standing up straight and saluting what appeared to be his superior.

“All the plants? And the garden? You’ve looked everywhere?”

“Yes, sir, we’ve checked every bush and corn stalk on the property. We’ve found no one.”

The man Willy assumed to be an officer turned and scowled into the darkness.

“They act as though they have something to hide,” he said, his voice low. He paused momentarily, then turned to leave, adding as he went, “Fall in. We will return in the morning to be sure.”

Willy watched as the soldiers disappeared around the corner of the house, then leaned his head back against the stone of the wall behind him, his whole body trembling.

“Thank you, Lord.”

š***

“You heard them say that?” Mrs. McKenzie asked as she and Mr. McKenzie watched Willy saddle his horse.

“Aye,” the young man nodded, tightening the cinch on his saddle. “They couldn’t have been standing more than a few meters off. Lord knows they should have found me.”

The couple stepped aside as Willy led his mount toward the barn door. He paused at the entrance and swung up into the saddle, ignoring the throbbing in his arm.

“You have the map I drew for you, aye?” Mr. McKenzie inquired as Willy settled in his seat.

“Aye.”

“Here,” the older man said, handing a hooded coat up to the Covenanter. “This should help keep the chill out, at least. Can’t say much for the rain, though.”

“Thank you,” Willy smiled, gratefully accepting the coat. “I’m sure it will be better than no coat at all.”

The young man moved to put the coat on, then paused and glanced around.

“Where is Lizzie?”

Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie exchanged sympathetic glances.

“She’s taking your leaving rather hard,” Mrs. McKenzie replied. “Refused to come out of her room after we told her. I suppose, being a child, she thinks that if she doesn’t say good-bye, you won’t leave.”

“Poor lass,” Willy sighed. “I can’t stay, though. It would put us all in danger.”

“We understand that, lad,” Mr. McKenzie nodded. “She will, too. In time.”

“Well, I had best be off,” Willy said, turning back toward the barn door. He was about to spur Bonnie forward when he spotted movement from across the yard.

“Wait!” a voice familiar voice shouted.

A moment later, Lizzie came puffing into the barn, a satchel clutched tightly in her arms. Her pale cheeks were tear streaked and her bare feet were muddy, but she still had that familiar, determined gleam in her eyes.

“Child, what are you doing out here with no shoes on?!” Mrs. McKenzie exclaimed.

The little girl didn’t respond as she held the satchel up toward Willy.

“Take it. It’s a going-away present,” she said, her eyes trained on the young man who loomed above her. “And don’t open it ‘till you get to your boat.”

“What is it?” Willy asked, accepting the gift hesitantly. It was rather heavy, he noted.

“It’s a present. That means it’s secret ‘till you open it,” Lizzie replied, her bottom lip quivering.

“Ah,” the young man smiled, looping the satchel strap across his chest. “Thank you, Lizzie.”

Mr. McKenzie picked up his daughter as tears began to pool at the corner of her eyes again, lifting her up so she could give Willy one last hug. The girl threw her arms around the young man’s chest as she began to sniffle.

“I’ll see you again, won’t I?” she asked, looking up at him through her bright green eyes as tears trickled down her cheeks.

Willy swallowed hard as a knot began to form in his throat.

“I don’t know,” he replied honestly.

“You had better come back,” Lizzie commanded, frowning at him. “And bring a fairy back, too, if you catch one.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Willy chuckled as Mr. McKenzie stepped back.

“Thank you. For everything,” Willy said, looking around at the three people who had been like family to him for so many years. “God be with you.”

“And you, lad,” Mrs. McKenzie replied, giving him a sad smile.

Taking one last look at the people he was leaving behind, Willy raised his right hand in salutation, then bent low over Bonnie’s neck and spurred her forward. Abandoning himself to the rain and the night, Willy finally allowed a few tears to slide down his face.

š***

It might have been midnight by the time Willy drew Bonnie to a stop under a stand of trees tucked just out of view of the road. The sky had cleared up some, and small slivers of moonlight glittered between the rolling clouds above. The journey had been slower than Willy would have liked, but it was imperative that he keep as far away from the road as possible should a Royalist patrol decide to travel down that same road.

The young Scotsman slid to the ground with a groan. It was surprising how out of shape he had become in the past month, and the soreness in his muscles attested to the fact that he had done no riding since the battle at Bothwell Bridge. After tying Bonnie to one of the smaller trees, Willy sank to the ground. His movement stirred something in Lizzie’s satchel, and the young man jumped several inches sideward as whatever was in the satchel began to squirm.

Quickly undoing the latch, Willy flipped the satchel open and sat stunned as Artair crawled out of the bag. The puppy stretched and yawned as though he had just woken up from a nice, peaceful nap on a pillow and not from a long, desperate trip by horseback.

“That little imp,” Willy finally said as the realization of what Lizzie had done finally hit him.

Artair jumped up and began licking his face.

“Lizzie…what is a fugitive supposed to do with a puppy?”

Artair yipped at the question as though he had some sort of answer, though if he did, Willy certainly couldn’t understand it. The young Scotsman shook his head in disbelief.

“Well, I suppose you’re stuck with me now,” he sighed at length, lying down on the wet earth in an attempt to get some measure of sleep before continuing his journey. “You can keep watch, aye?”

The puppy yipped and began to chase his tail. A sigh escaped Willy’s lips as he threw one arm over his eyes to shield them from any dull silver moonlight that might slip past the clouds.

“Or not,” he muttered, “as the case may be.”

—————————————

Chapter 4 >>>

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