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A surprise helper
A surprise helper
“What’s that noise?” said Mickelmas.
“It sounds like a chicken,” said Tommy Stanhope.
“Chickens in the forest?” said Mickelmas. “Preposterous!” (Some might say, ‘plain silly!’) They were riding slowly as the forest was growing dark, and the horses stepped with care.
There was a thud, and before them in the poor light they could make out a chicken.
“Chickens in the forest!” said Mickelmas again. “And flying at dusk.”
The chicken ruffled its feathers, dusting itself in a small patch of snow and then flapped its wings. The two men watched it fly up and up through the branches of the trees after it had looked around.
“I’ve never seen a chicken fly that high before,” said Tommy. “At least, not that I can remember.”
“This might sound very odd,” said Mickelmas as he studied (some might say, ‘looked hard at’) the young man. “But did you recognize that bird?”
“Well. Yes and no,” said Tommy.
“Yes, that’s what I thought. You recognized it, but you didn’t at the same time?”
“Yes, that describes it. Don’t know why I’d recognize it though. We don’t have hens like that at home or at the barracks,” said Stanhope.
They both looked up. They could hear the chicken but it sounded like it was getting further and further away. The sound blended with another. It seemed at first it was thunder, but it wasn’t.
“A horse?” said Tommy.
“Agreed,” said Mickelmas. He turned his mount to face the direction the sound was coming from and reached behind himself. Mickelmas felt for his wooden staff and pulled it from the saddle roll. He muttered something under his breath and the head of his blackthorn stick, sputtered and shone brightly in the darkness in front of him, as if it were a focused lantern. The cloaked and hooded rider came upon them and was startled by the bright light. They raised an arm to protect their eyes and pulled up their mount. Stanhope rode to the rider with his sword drawn.
When the rider lowered their arm they immediately drew their own sword. The rider’s reaction was so fast that Stanhope, already armed with his sword, found the rider’s blade at his throat.
Mickelmas smiled. “Your Highness, Princess Riley,” said the old man as his bowed on his horse and lowering his staff the light from it dimmed. “I see your parents presented you your sword.”
Princess Riley blinked and as her eyes adjusted, she said: “Mickelmas. I was hoping to catch up with you. I’m going to help you rescue my sister.” Riley’s breath was short.
“You’re assuming, Your Highness,” said Mickelmas, “she needs rescuing.”
|Map of Lindyline by Simon Brooks (I love maps!)|
Stanhope was flustered. He had just put the sharp edge of a sword up in a threatening manner to the Princess. “Your Highness I am so sorry,” he said sheathing (some say, ‘putting away’) his sword. “I thought you were the enemy.”
“If I were the enemy,” said Princess Riley, “We would not be talking at this point.”
“Quite right, Your Highness,” said Mickelmas.
“And please, stop calling me Your Highness,” said the Princess.
“Good idea,” said Mickelmas. “We don’t know if there are spies out here in the woods, and we don’t want word getting to the enemy you are out relatively unprotected, with just Private Stanhope and myself.”
“I have you, Mickelmas, and Stanhope here. And besides, I can look after myself,” said Princess Riley.
“I see,” said Mickelmas. “Do your mother and father know you are here?”
“I left a message with Glenda, mummy’s top advisor, my maid Leia, and I wrote a note which I left in my parents’ chambers.”
“I see,” said Mickelmas. “Well, let’s move.”
Tommy Stanhope was opening and closing his mouth. The young man looked first at the Princess and then back at Mickelmas. “But, but er, shouldn’t we take Her High. I mean the Prince. Er, what should I call you?” he stuttered.
“Riley. Plain and simple.”
Stanhope looked at Mickelmas and back at the Princess and at Mickelmas again. “Shouldn’t we er, take Riley,” Stanhope bowed to the Princess. “Back to the Castle, to The City?”
“Why bother?” said Mickelmas. “We’ll be wasting our time. Riley will come back to find us as soon as she can. Am I right, Miss Riley?”
“Yes, you are Mickelmas,” she said.
“Come along Tommy. We need to find a place to camp soon. It’s getting too dark to travel.”