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Stately and royal, King Leopold, Monarch of the Kingdom of Frencolia, sat upon his majestic white horse. Trailing over the back of the horse was his elaborate ermine-edged cloak. Riding with a large number of his knights and soldiers, he headed his horse towards the village of Chanoine.
The king's royal cousin, Sir Louis Chatelain, a man of similar appearance, though garbed not as a king but as a knight, accompanied King Leopold; and they moved at a leisurely pace to enable uninhibited conversation to flow.
Less than a mile from the village, the royal company beheld the figure of a small, doll-like girl, running along the dusty road. In the same instant, she saw them, and ran off the path into the concealment of the dense woods. However, the glimpse was enough for Sir Louis to recognize the small creature with the single long coppery-brown braid as his younger daughter, Jobyna.
Sir Louis urged his horse ahead of the company. As he gained the proximity where Jobyna had disappeared, a rowdy company of children on horse-back surged over the rise, yelling and hollering. This bunch, the baron recognized as being the rest of his children, plus some he could not identify. He imagined they were village children. The baron's mouth dropped open at the coarse curses and bad language flying from the lips of this junior rabble.
Louis Junior, Marcus, Miss Elissa and Luke rode horses at the front; all garbed in home-made knights' costumes, armed with hand-made bows, arrows, spears, swords and shields. The children's hullabaloo died as they beheld the large company of adults, real knights and soldiers, stretched out along the road before them.
The eldestson's voice sounded loudly in the death-like silence. With his arm held high in the air, Louis Junior yelled, "Company retreat! Enemy in sight! Return to the fortress!" The leading children pulled their horses around, and, followed by their 'foot-soldiers', they disappeared, scurrying back towards the village.
A wide smile spread over Baron Chatelain's face as he turned to his cousin, King Leopold. He knew the king's children would never be allowed to behave in such an unruly, childish manner. The king's deep-set frown confirmed this as truth. However, all comments were abandoned as the servant, Sabin, rode over the rise on an old mare. Within a few yards of his master the baron, Sabin dismounted and bowed low.
"What are the children playing at, Sabin? Why are they chasing Jobyna?" Louis asked, having difficulty to maintain a serious tone. He dismounted and drew Sabin off the road.
"Sir, I have been sworn not to tell anyone--at the threat of losing my tongue." Sabin could see the twinkles in his master's warm brown eyes, and he smiled broadly. "It was Miss Jobyna's idea to be the felon. But it was Luke's idea that she plays the part of the criminal, Dagan. And it was the baroness's idea, after the children had departed, that I follow to make sure that nothing too serious happened to the criminal."
"How did the children hear about Dagan? That was years ago, before they were born." Louis' eyes scanned the woods for signs of his youngest child.
Sabin shrugged his shoulders, and answered, "You know how the villagers talk, Sir. The story has become quite the drama to act. The other day, Master Louis played the part of Dagan, and Miss Elissa and he went up on the wall walk; they ignored the stern words the baroness called to warn them not to jump into the moat."
"Louis and Ellie jumped into the moat? From the battlements?" The father gasped at Sabin's nod.
King Leopold had joined his cousin and listened to the dialogue with great interest. He slapped his thigh and laughed loudly, doubling up at the thought of his cousin's children behaving in such a way. The king relayed the story to the closest knight who chortled loudly. Unable to help himself, Sir Louis joined the laughter, and soon the whole company was in disarray with shared mirth.
Sabin waited for their hilarity to subside before saying, "I must tell you, Master; today, the idea is to capture Miss Jobyna and hang her for her crimes!" Sabin had to wait whilst the king roared with amusement, his face red with uncontrolled spasms. Tears ran down the royal face. The servant was encouraged to elaborate on the children's latest escapade.
"Baroness Chatelain didn't learn of the supposed 'hanging' until a child returned for rope. Madam is upset because the children get so carried away. The baroness commanded that I ensure Miss Jobyna's safe return. The child has led the others on an amazing chase, keeping just enough ahead all the way. First she went south, then she somehow managed to double back before showing herself on this road, taunting her elders, daring them to capture her. The children have been chasing her for well over two hours."
The baron spoke to his servant, "Return to the manor house, Sabin, and inform the baroness that King Leopold will be in residence for one night. Tomorrow, we are going to Grior to welcome the Evangelist to Frencolia."
Sir Louis drew his horse off the side of the road. "We could divide the men--and you ride on ahead, Leopold, Sire, if you wish. I'll find my daughter and bring her home."
"Ha! Let's see who can capture 'Dagan'. The game shall be ours for a few minutes." The king mounted his horse and called the men closer, announcing in a loud voice, "Our cousin's daughter is hiding in the woods. We'll grant a gold piece to the one who finds her and brings her back safely to her father."
Jobyna heard the king's words and her eyes lit up at the promise of a gold piece. How could she gain such a valuable prize, for herself? Why should some soldier-man be allowed to earn a gold piece for finding her? She decided there and then, if anyone obtained the prized coin, it would be her. She would return herself safely to her father!
The small girl peeped cautiously down through thick green foliage as men scattered beneath the tall tree she had climbed. Most moved on foot, but some kept on their horses. Her father talked to the man who looked more like a brother than a cousin. They both dismounted, led their horses along the edge of the woods, through the trees, and out of view. To Jobyna's amazement, and glee, after a few minutes, there was no one in sight, not a soul!
Swiftly descending the tree, Jobyna untied the nearest horse and led him across the road and down into the woods. Still leading him, she drew him around the base of the hill, out of sight from the higher woods. Climbing on a tree stump, she mounted. Cautiously, in case the children were in sight; and slowly, due to the unfamiliarity of the large horse; she retraced her steps towards Chanoine.
Jobyna set the horse loose, in a place she knew her father would pass. Behaving like a hunted animal, Jobyna crept her way to the back gate of the manor house walls.
The difficulty was to get inside without being sighted and captured, by anyone.
The child's short amount of patience was running thin, and she almost gave up the quest and allowed herself to be discovered; but then she saw the milk cart coming along the road. Milk was transported to the manor house where it was made into cheese. Other barrels, containing grain, rode on the vehicle, together with a number of baskets filled with fresh vegetables.
Sabin's father, David, led the donkey at the front of the cart. The width of the cart would not fit through the narrow back gate, and David would enter from the front.
Abandoning previous caution, Jobyna ran to the back of the cart, and leapt deftly up on the slow-moving rig. Crawling in behind the barrels, she pulled a sack to lean sideways, on top of her. The dust almost made her sneeze, but she held her nose and breath, and the sensation was stifled without as much as a squeak.
Children's merry voices and playful cries came to the fugitive's ears as the cart was drawn around the courtyard to the back of the manor house. A bright, shining image, of a large, eight-sided, Frencolian gold piece, danced before Jobyna's tightly closed eyes, preventing her from triumphantly showing her siblings that she had made it back to the 'fortress' undetected. Now, she would have to take extreme care, or she would be discovered before she was able to hide. Her greatest wish was that her father found her 'safely' and she acquired the gold piece from Cousin Leopold.
To remain unobserved was not as difficult as Jobyna had imagined. The manor house staff had been summoned to prepare the guest room, the great hall, and a sumptuous meal for the unexpected royal company. Protocol demanded the king be greeted with traditional Frencolian ceremony at the front entrance of the manor house.
Baroness Elissa could not believe Sabin's message that her husband was to arrive within a short space of time, accompanied by King Leopold, and for the night! Why had her husband not sent word ahead? He usually warned her of such events by sending a pigeon. Sabin reminded Elissa that all four pigeons were here, at the manor house; she had forgotten to send the Chatelain birds back to Kings Castle. Louis Junior or Marcus usually took care of this, but lately the children's attention had been taken, playing the 'Dagan game', after lessons in the morning. Jobyna had generally been the one left out of their 'games', but today they had included her, to the mother's horror, as the criminal to be hunted.
During the past few months, Elissa's younger daughter had become a tomboy, and the mother knew this was because the child wanted to be like Luke, the brother who was so near her own age. To see Luke accepted by the older siblings had been disconcerting to the little girl. She had been ignored and commanded to 'keep away'. Luke's dominating, teasing treatment of his little sister reminded Elissa of the way her own brother used to torment her: Dorai, the brother who had disowned her because she married Louis Chatelain.
Baroness Elissa Chatelain sighed deeply as she waited in the courtyard for the appearance of her husband and the king. Life had been filled with the unexpected. Married life had not been as she once imagined: the 'princess' living happily ever after with her 'prince' in their cozy nest, safe from outside intrusions and trials. Each child had been a trial; and each day as the children grew, the problems and pains grew with them. The young mother realized that a husband and father who was seldom at home compounded her trials. The baron was rarely a husband, and less still, a father to his five children.
Elissa sighed again. What was keeping the company? She turned as the children arrived, dressed appropriately in their best clothes. Licking her forefinger generously, she rubbed a streak of dirt off Luke's angelic face.
"Where's Jobyna?" Elissa looked at the daughter of her namesake, 'Ellie,'--her pet name. "Well, where is she?"
"We couldn't catch her, Mother," Luke answered for his sister, "she was too cunning. Just like Dagan!" He giggled, and the other children laughed loudly.
Luke's hands enclosed a frog, behind his back!
"Fetch Sabin, L.J." Elissa commanded the oldest, then paced back and forth on the paving stones, wringing her hands, staring and frowning at Luke each time the frog croaked. The boy, trying to keep rhythm with the frog, raised his shoulders as though he had the hiccoughs.
The mother's emotions were further shattered when Sabin explained that knights and soldiers of the royal company were searching for Jobyna in the woods, almost a mile north of Chanoine.
Sabin moved behind Luke to rescue the frog from the boy's clutches. The lively green amphibian leaped out of Sabin's gentle grasp, and Elissa screamed as it jumped on the ground and disappeared under her ample skirt. Luke dived down to rescue his energetic pet, and Elissa strove, in great fury, to prevent her son from lifting her underskirts above her knees. In the mother's aggravation, she stepped on the small creature, squashing it irretrievably.
"Oh, no!" Luke cried, stepping backwards, away from the writhing 'thing' stuck on the pavement. "I hate you!" he yelled angrily at his mother.
"Luke! You don't mean that!" Elissa said, aghast, "I did not mean to harm...it..."
Luke could not stop tears running down his cheeks. He looked away as Sabin pulled the remains from the stone, encompassing the oozing pieces in his large hand.
Unbridled laughter pealed from the older children.
"This is ridiculous!" Elissa addressed the line-up, including the snickering higher-ranking servants. "We're here to greet the king of Frencolia, and you all think a poor little frog is such a huge joke. Just as well we discovered the animal before the king arrived! He'll think we have no manners."
The mother stood in front of the offending son, saying, "Luke, you will not go outside the manor house for a week! That will teach you not to play practical jokes. No! Don't protest! The punishment is not for the frog alone; I won't mention the other atrocities committed by you over the past few days!" The mother turned to include all her children. "The first time your little sister goes to play with you, and you chase her outside the village limits. It's unthinkable! Why you have to participate in such risky recreations, I've no idea. We must all be thankful that it was your father who came along."
Jobyna was pleased that no one thought to turn and look up at the manor house windows, for she was looking out, and the shutters were wide open. She could hear every word. All the staff were out the front, and she crept downstairs, helping herself to chunks of bread and cheese, taking a goblet of milk upstairs with her. A warm feeling of drowsiness caused her to yawn uncontrollably. Giggling at the thought of the frog jumping under her mother's dress, she drank the milk and climbed under the covers on her father's great four-poster bed. Her tiny form became part of the feather mattress.
"Such a risky 'creation', she quoted her mother to herself as she fell asleep. "I liked it, anyways."
Jobyna awoke in the earliest hour of the morning to the sound of quiet sobbing. Feeling snug, warm and secure, sleepiness almost overcame her once more; but the resonant sound of her father's voice, gentle and comforting, caused the child to become lucid.
Elissa moaned softly, and spoke Jobyna's name. The small girl sat up and flipped back the bed-covers. A single candle dimly lighted the bedchamber. The parents stood locked in a tender embrace. At the rustling sound on the bed, both turned to stare at the image; at first appearances, a ghost; smiling impudently at them.
Elissa screamed hysterically, and cried, "Jobyna! Jobyna!"
"I'm here, Mother. I fell asleep. But I safely returned myself to my father. Cousin Leopold will have to give me the gold piece." Jobyna slid out of the large bed to be caught up in her mother's arms. But it was not to receive the welcome hug she expected. Elissa was dreadfully overwrought, and her distress burst into anger.
"You wicked child!" Elissa lost control of her voice, which cracked as she shrilled, "I can take no more...of...these...these...feral children!" Her frustrations with her brood came to the fore, and she shook the small shoulders with great rage. "You little fiends are driving me insane. I've been worried out of my mind...over you...Jobyna!" With that, she slapped Jobyna's face, first one cheek, and then the other. Louis stepped over to grasp his wife's arms, but his eyes were upon his young daughter. The wide green eyes filled with amazement and terror. Both hands flew to press, unbelieving, against her flaming cheeks.
Backing away, Jobyna screamed, "I thought you was looking for me! I thought you wanted me! But you don't! I hate you...I hate both yous." With that, she fled, sobbing, into the hall, and down the stairs. Sabin was still up, as were most other adults of the household, and they all stared, motionless, at the small, bare-footed apparition as it fled through the kitchen and disappeared out the back door. Many soldiers were still searching for the young girl whom everyone believed had come to great harm. Sabin, shaking his head, followed the girl's tracks. Within moments, Sir Louis joined him.
"She's run out over the garden towards the back gate. Something upset her. She looked very upset. Knowing the wee lass, I suppose she's been sleeping..." Sabin followed his master as Louis unfastened a cresset from the wall and fixed it firmly to a stave.
"Fetch the hounds, Sabin. I'll not let her get away this time." Louis turned to his wife as she joined him. Her white face was streaked with tears. The baron chastened, "You shouldn't have struck her, Elissa. You didn't hear the bargain our Cousin Leopold made. The child thought she was included. It was a harmless game. Jobyna wasn't deliberately trying to worry us. She has no concept of our anxiety for her..." As his wife crumpled back against the porch wall, he grasped her hands and gently kissed her lips. Lingering near her ear, he murmured, "It's due time for me to make changes, my love."
Leaving Elissa wondering at his words, Louis joined Sabin who had the two hounds on leashes, and was commanding them, "Find Miss Jobyna; find Jobyna." To the baron's relief, the dogs followed the footprints across the freshly dug earth of the garden, around the gooseberry bushes and along the wall to the small open gate.
A guard responded to his master's questioning, "Yes Sir. Miss Jobyna ran through here. We would have prevented her, but she screamed at us to leave her alone. She were in such a state, Sir, and I thought you'd be along, Sir..."
Two soldiers had been on watch, keeping the back entrance open in case the baron's daughter returned home this way. It had taken them unaware, to see her running frantically the opposite way!
Jobyna's feet flew along the cobblestones. She heard a shout from the wall-top, and knew she had been seen. Determined not to be caught, extremely hurt, and indignant towards her mother, Jobyna heard the bark of the two hounds in the cool night air. She knew their barks were friendly towards her, and she did not feel afraid to know someone was using them to follow her tracks. The children used the hounds all the time in their games; it had been Marcus who had prevented their use in the 'Dagan game'; he had agreed with Jobyna that it was not fair. There was however, one place the dogs could not follow her trail. The destination in mind was a secret, Jobyna's secret...and Luke's.
Luke and Jobyna had invented their own successful method of avoiding the hounds seeking them out. But Jobyna had little time to put this into action; her way became barred by the large form of a soldier. She grappled briefly with him, and used the 'cowardly' method to force him to let her go--she bit his hand, sinking her small sharp teeth deep into the flesh at the side of his ample palm.
Circling the manor walls, Jobyna slid down the muddy bank, slipping quietly into the moat. Dog paddling along the edge, she waited silently under the overhanging bank, clinging to a tuft of grass, until she heard the pursuers move on further. Her father's voice called her, "Jobyna! Jobyna!" His calls became more urgent as he realized she had, indeed, disappeared into the dark waters.
The water now felt warm to the runaway, and she cautiously paddled herself along the edge of the bank, listening for sounds of her father's return. As he strode past several times, she pressed hard against the bank, waiting until her father moved away. The dogs sniffed the trail again, and it was some minutes before Sir Louis realized they were backtracking along the way Jobyna had run from the narrow back bridge. Realizing he was making no progress, the father returned to the manor house where he ordered that his children be summoned from their beds and brought before him.
"One of you must know where Jobyna would go to hide?" Louis faced the sleepy boy who bore his name.
Marcus spoke, "If she went in the moat, she'll hide under the bridge, and hold on to one of the big rings."
Louis barked an order at a knight, commanding him to send a couple of soldiers into the water, under the bridge, to search for his daughter. As the knight left, Ellie and Luke arrived. The hour of two in the morning had not yet arrived, and both were having problems becoming coordinated. These two sat, one on either side of their mother, and all watched as the powerful baron strode to the door.
Marcus stared at Luke with an 'I-know-your-secret-ha-ha' look. Had Luke been wider-awake, he would have retaliated aggressively; instead, the younger boy simply poked out his tongue out as if it were a formidable weapon of mass destruction.
Turning before he exited, the father stared with disgust at the youngest son. Ignoring the child's rude gesture, Louis barked, "You'll all stay here until Jobyna is returned. There'll be no noise. Not a squeak!" His eyes turned from Luke to Marcus as he warned, "I want you to remember that we have the King of Frencolia sleeping upstairs, and woe betide the one who wakes him!"
To the mother's surprise, the siblings sat silently, serious-eyed, for over ten minutes, and when Sir Louis' heavy steps moved his frame back into the room, all four children jumped visibly. It was a rare experience, to have their father at home, issuing orders.
Folding his arms, the tall, bearded, broad-shouldered knight was an awesome figure to the children. Louis Junior--L.J.--was the oldest, and he was not quite fourteen; small for his age, his younger brother, Marcus, was a head taller. Ellie was the same height as L.J. in fact, it was L.J. who was often mistaken to be the twin as he was the same coloring and size as his sister. It seemed that Louis Junior was forever fighting for his 'rights' as the oldest son and heir. This rivalry was quite unnecessary, as Marcus was not the least interested in competing with L.J. it was Luke who tried to match the eldest brother in all of his capers, and it was Luke who tried to usurp the middle brother's position as second son.
"Right!" The father's resonant voice made them all jump again. "Jobyna does not appear to be in the moat, unless she drowned..." Sir Louis shot an apologetic glance at his gasping wife, and continued, "which is very unlikely since you have all taught her the art of concealment and escape. I want you to tell me where she would go, and how she gets out of the moat without leaving a trail for the dogs to follow? There are two streams flowing into the moat, and one that exits. Which one would she take?" Louis' brown eyes glared around at his silent children, all staring sullenly at him. "Well?" He strode in an arc in front of his children, and came to a standstill in front of Luke, upon whom the others gazed.
Instinctively, Elissa placed her arm around him, as her husband demanded, "You know, don't you Luke?"
"Yes, Luke knows," Marcus declared, "he and Jobyna..." The boy's words faded as his father turned to glare at him.
"I'm addressing Luke." The angry father turned back to the nine-year-old whose eyes were bulging with unspilled tears. "Luke! I'm waiting for your answer..."
Rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands, Luke cried, "It is our secret. I won't tell you." Suddenly Luke regretted his outburst. His father grasped the front of his nightshirt tightly at the chest. With a sudden wrench, Luke found himself hauled to his feet, and lifted to stare into his father's anger-inflamed eyes. "It's our secret place," Luke murmured as he found himself dragged from the room and conveyed mercilessly to his father's office where he received a short, sharp lecture on the dangers of a small girl walking about at night in a slippery creek.
The father soon learned the way to his two youngest children's 'hideaway'--a spot up on the top of the nearby ridge that they called 'Spy Castle'. To avoid the hounds, and the other children, they took an insignificant third bayou, which their father had not considered. Once away from the fields, they clambered perilously up a cleft in the rock face, through descending water. Luke told his father that Jobyna should know her way in the dark, as they had climbed up the rocks to their special vantage point for as long as both of them were allowed to go off on 'adventures', with Sabin in tow. From Spy Castle, they could look down on the village and the manor house. There was a group of pine trees on the top of the ridge, and they would climb one of these. Sabin had fixed a small platform in a tree, and when their mother was very busy, they had taken food up into their 'castle' and stayed the day. Luke told his father, "I'm sure Jobyna will have headed there..."
Then he said, uncertainly, "Or, she could go to Jane's..."
"Who's Jane?" The father asked, thinking of his wife's aunt in Samdene.
"The shepherd's daughter. She goes up there a lot; but it's night, and she won't want to wake them..." Luke trembled. He watched and listened as his father sent for Sabin.
"Is there another way up to this 'castle' of yours, Luke?" Louis asked his son.
"Yes. You can take a horse right to the top, if you go around the back way. Sabin takes us up there on Blue sometimes."
Louis ordered the children back to bed, and asked Elissa to fetch clothes and a rug for Jobyna. Gathering a few provisions from the storeroom, the father hurried to meet the servant who held two saddled horses in the courtyard. Soon, Sabin was directing the way out of the village and around the back way to the ridge.
"We'll go quietly and take our time. I want to give the child time to arrive there safely; we don't want to scare her while she's climbing the cliff."
Sabin, holding a stave with a large flaming cresset fixed to its top, coaxed his horse off the road, along a track and through a small wood. Soon they were climbing a steep, rocky, narrow track.
Jobyna had not long arrived at Spy Castle and hauled herself up into the tree, when she heard the horses arrive at the secluded hideaway. At first she thought the crashing steps belonged to a bear or some deer, but then she heard her father's voice calling her.
"Jobyna? Jobyna! Answer me! Jobyna! Are you there?" Dismounting, Sir Louis asked the servant, "Which tree?"
Jobyna peered over the edge of the platform. She could see the top of the two men's heads, illuminated by the golden light.
The girl pulled her head back as her father looked up the thick, tall tree trunk to the logs of the platform that blocked her from his view.
"Jobyna! Answer me; or I'm coming up."
Jobyna called, "I'se not here! Go...a...way!" She did not hear her father's sigh of relief.
The two men moved away from the base of the tree. Sir Louis pushed the stave of the cresset into the ground. Jobyna's ears strained to hear their whispered conversation.
Sabin murmured, "I'm not much good at that, Sir, but I'll try."
She heard her father tell Sabin to gather cones and wood, and light a fire.
The small girl's teeth chattered, and she sneezed. She wondered what Sabin was talking about. He had climbed the tree many times; it was he who had fixed the logs in position and nailed the planks there. What was it that he was not good at? To Jobyna, the servant was good at everything. Sabin had built the platform with sides, so that the two children could safely take a nap in the tree.
"Jobyna. If you won't come down, I'll come up!" Louis called. He pulled himself up on to a lower branch. There was no reply from the little rebel. Moving out along a branch, Louis held tightly to the stronger one above him. The wood under him began to bend; he bounced on it until it cracked and splintered, breaking and falling to the ground. He swung for a few seconds, and then with a cry, he dropped to the ground, landing with a heavy thud.
"Master," Sabin said, dropping the wood he was collecting, and running to the baron. "Master. Wake up."
"Papa!" The small quavering voice called from the tree. "Sabin, what happened?"
If Jobyna's teeth had not been chattering so loudly, she would have heard the urgent whisper that Louis sent to Sabin. The servant had spoken correctly; he was not good at acting.
"Sabin! Papa!" Jobyna swung herself over the edge of her sanctuary, and began to descend.
"I shall go...back to...the manor house...for help?" Sabin called out the words the master hissed at him. The servant looked up at the descending figure, and watched the baron open his eyes, then close them as the small form dropped lightly to the ground beside them. Louis' plan had been to grab her and hold her tight, but he hesitated, keeping his eyes firmly closed. He scarcely knew this small creature. How old was she now? Five? Six?
"Papa!" Her voice had the sound of a deep injury. "Oh, Sabin, it's all my own fault. Do you fink he'll die?" Jobyna gingerly stroked her father's brow, withdrawing her hand as he moaned.
"No, he won't die," Sabin said gruffly. Trying to maintain the 'act', he added, "Now that you're here to take care of him, I'll light the fire. He seems to be cold." Sabin moved off, listening to Jobyna shivering. The servant returned with the rug, and wrapped it around her shoulders. She promptly removed the covering, and spread it over her father who groaned again and slowly opened his eyes. In the dim, flickering light, Jobyna met her father's scrutiny.
"Papa; is you hurt?"
She looked so serious that he felt unable to confess he had deceived her.
Feeling his head with one hand, he fabricated a struggle with the other to sit; he held on to her as she exerted herself to assist him. He groaned and put his hands to his chest. "It hurts here." The large frame leaned forward, and he pulled the rug off himself and swiftly wrapped it around his daughter as she sneezed. He sat her on his knee.
"Papa. Let me go. I'se all right. You's the one wot's hurt!"
"Where are we? How did we get here?" Louis asked as he saw the surprise on her face. He put his hand on his forehead, and moaned. Rising up, he carried Jobyna to the fire, and told Sabin to bring the food and flask. Still holding his daughter, he sat down heavily on the ground by the feeble fire. "I need a drink. Then I'll be all right."
"Papa?" Jobyna brushed his cheek gently with the back of her hand. He waited while she sneezed and rubbed her runny nose on the rug. She asked, "Is you...is you...really...hurt?" Her trembling voice was filled with doubt.
"Just a little. But I'm improving all the time." He watched Sabin pull the stopper from the flask. Taking a mouthful, he swallowed and gasped in relief. "There! That really helps. I'm warm inside now. Here, have a sip." He held the flask to his daughter's lips. "Just a sip, mind." He watched her grasp the flask and take a mouthful the same as he had. She swallowed and gasped, then coughed. It was some moments before she could speak.
"Mmmm. Much better." Jobyna drew in her cheeks, trying to appear pleased at the pungent, spirited taste. She watched her father take another sample, and again copied his actions.
"Now, tell me about this place..." Louis prompted. He swallowed another mouthful, and held the flask steady while she did likewise. Jobyna giggled. Sabin, stoking the fire, shook his head and frowned his disagreement into the flames.
"I near went to John's," she said, relaxing against her father's chest, "you wouldn't'a found me there."
"And who is John?" Louis asked, knowing she had seen through his act.
"He's Jane's brother. I'se going to marry John when I is growed up."
"The shepherd's son?" Louis asked, "You are going to be a shepherd's wife?" He took another swig from the flask, and supported it firmly while she again took it to her mouth. This time she drank deeply, and when he pulled the receptacle away, the liquid ran down her chin. The father frowned and said, "That's enough."
"I'se going to have a father wot is always home. Jane and John...is with their papa every day." She hiccupped, then giggled. "They all sleep in one room. I'll have ten chil'ren, and we'll always be t'gedder. An' I won't let them quarrel or...send...their...mother...mad." Hiccupping, again and again, she closed her eyes, and her head slumped forward.
Tucking the rug around his daughter's small frame, Louis watched Sabin draw his horse around.
"The best place for her is her bed," Sabin muttered, as the baron mounted the horse. The servant collected Jobyna from the ground, and was about to place her in Louis' arms when she struggled and moaned.
"Ohhhh. My belly aches..."
The strong liquor was too much for her small stomach, and she vomited it up, retching over and over, until she collapsed. Louis pulled the rug from her and wiped the brown remains of Jobyna's nausea from Sabin's arm. Flinging the sodden rug on the fire, he remounted the horse, and wrapped his jacket around the inert form as he cradled her gently in his strong arms. Picking their way down the rocky descent with painful caution, the men rode their way silently back to the manor house as the sky began to lighten to greet the dawn.
Wringing her hands in anxiety, Elissa paced from the moat bridge to the front door of the manor house.
Louis distinguished his wife's mood, as he approached the bridge. Surprising himself, he muttered, "There the dragon waits." Whatever prompted him to think such negative thoughts of his chosen love? How far apart they had grown; yet he was unbearably aware that this was not how he wanted it to be. That his wife was wrung out beyond measure was a great heartache to him; his children were growing up, and he scarcely knew them, certainly not intimately. As the child cradled in his arms had revealed, she wanted a father who was at home, not just a name, but also a face and a heart. He smiled at the thought of 'ten children'. As if five were not enough--but his wife was shouting ...
"She's hurt, isn't she! What happened?"
"No, she's all right, Elissa."
"Give her to me!"
With obnoxious persistence, Elissa dragged Jobyna from Louis' arms, and headed into the manor house. Sabin followed, trying to smooth and calm the turbulent waters. "The lass is tired," the servant said, and answered the baroness' persistent questions, "Yes, the Master gave her some drink; that's the smell..." and, "yes, Marm; the child was sick--but no, she's not hurt."
"Sabin!" Louis bellowed, and waited impatiently while his servant scampered back to his side. Composing himself, the baron issued orders, "I want all the children up to have breakfast with the king. That is, except Jobyna. Tell the baroness that I expect her to be present. We're leaving immediately after we've eaten." The baron's tone hushed, "You'll accompany us, Sabin; the king wishes to make a detour. He likes your presence, as your eyes can accurately view a greater distance than any other we know." Speaking louder, he said, "We'll then head to Grior, via Litton; but you'll return here. Remind my wife that we'll be arriving back in Chanoine with the evangelist, in about ten or twelve days time. I'll send a fore rider with the final details."
Four children lined up with Elissa for the farewell. The baroness was cold and indifferent, avoiding Louis' eyes as though they radiated a contagious sickness. Her husband had spoken about 'changes'. Elissa felt resentful.
Once Jobyna had been settled in her bed, Louis had accused his wife as though it was her fault that their children were unruly and undisciplined. The whole family would move to Kings Castle in Frencberg, where he could have more input in their up-bringing. Louis and Marcus had already spent the best part of three summers there, receiving training as pages, part of the experience required for them to become knights. They had previously been taught to read and write, and during their time at Kings Castle, had learned the skill of writing messages in the Frencolian code. Both were learning sword-fighting skills, archery, horsemanship and mastery of the joust.
"The responsibilities Louis and Marcus learned have been undermined by the time they spend here in Chanoine, acting and behaving like unruly rabble!" The baron flew into a tirade about the way Elissa allowed them to behave, playing childish games. Calming a little, he said, "Having concluded the winter months at home, the boys should have returned to Kings Castle, including Luke." He paused and waited in vain for his wife to meet his eyes.
"Neither Elissa nor Jobyna have been presented at Court. Queen Estelle is always asking after you, Elissa, and the king's mother has commanded that I don't return without the women of the family." As though to soften the blow, he added, "If there was some way I could be here with you, Elissa, I'd do my utmost to make it happen. But I'm Leopold's second heir...I hope you keep in mind, Elissa, our son Louis, is fourth in line to the Throne of Frencolia!" Still, there was no response. He sighed in frustration, and commanded, "Just make sure all is ready when I return!"
Elissa stood stiffly, not responding when her husband kissed her warmly on the lips. Louis had ordered her, again, to have everything packed, and the move would be finalized when the evangelist came with him to Chanoine. They would leave after the man had preached his message to the villagers.
Elissa sighed. Kings Castle was not the answer for their family. Elissa knew the answer, but each day, her prayers seemed further away from being fulfilled. Flooded with overpowering frustration, Elissa watched the cavalcade move out through the gates and across the moat bridge. She sighed as the last soldiers rode out of sight. Clattering horses' hooves made her turn in surprise.
"L.J.! Luke! Stop! Where are you going?" Elissa called as she ran towards them. To the mother's concern, the boys ignored her words, and disappeared across the moat bridge. Turning, Elissa remembered that Sabin had gone with her husband. Marcus and Ellie stood staring, waiting for her reaction. "Where are they going?" Elissa demanded.
Marcus spoke, "It's Luke's idea. They're going to follow Father to the crossroads. They've done it before. Luke won't tell us why. He says it's his and Louis' secret."
Ellie giggled and said, "They think the king has a secret place." She saw the dark frown on her mother's brow. The rose-pink lips puckered into an unbecoming grimace.
Elissa shouted, "Your father'll be furious! It'll confirm his anger with me for the boys' behavior. You shouldn't speak of the king's affairs! Go to your lessons. I'll have to send Felix to fetch the boys back."
With that, Elissa strode determinedly to the gate, unaware that Marcus and Ellie stayed to watch, amused to see their mother struggle with her skirts as she climbed the steps to the gatehouse.
The twins hurried into the house as their mother descended from the gatehouse. Running upstairs, they watched from the library window until Felix and two soldiers rode out from the manor house stables.
The king and his cousin stopped briefly at the most important home in the village of Chanoine; that of the reeve. Drawing their horses to the back of the yard, the king watched whilst his cousin and the reeve attached a small, heavy pack on the back of Louis' horse's saddle. Moments later, they were on their way.
The company divided at the crossroads, and just four knights rode with King Leopold, Sir Louis, and Sabin.
L.J. and Luke successfully by-passed the larger company, undetected. They followed the smaller company as it rode into a small thicket. Drawing their horses off the unmarked path, Louis and Luke hid behind a cluster of boulders, watching in awe. Where was the king going with their father? What was happening?
Sabin returned along the narrow rocky track and out under the waterfall, to crouch and view the countryside over the concealing bush-surrounded boulders. The thicket where the four knights waited was just out of sight from his vantage point. But another movement caught his keen eyesight. He recognized Louis and Luke, who thought they were concealed behind the boulders, but were in view, side on, kneeling down, waiting furtively. Further away, the road was visible, and Sabin could see Felix with two soldiers, dismounting to check if, and where, the boys had left the road. Soldiers from the larger company that rode back to wait at the crossroads joined them. Noting that the boys had settled down, their faces still turned toward the thicket, Sabin also settled down to wait.
Deep voices, mingling with the waters' roar, heralded the men's return from behind the waterfall, and Sabin hastened to warn them of the danger of discovery by the two disobedient juveniles. The king declared that he could not bring the boys into focus, his eyesight was too poor; but Louis could make out their forms in the distance amongst the rocks. The irate baron commanded Sabin to go on foot to warn the knights to intercept his sons, to verbally chasten them for their folly, and send them back on the road to Chanoine. The servant was halted in his tracks as the king issued a counter-command.
"No; don't send them back to Chanoine. They need a lesson, they do! We'll take them with us to Grior. Give them a stiff ride, tire them out." He turned to his cousin, "Your wife needs a rest from the worry of your sons' pranks. I thank my lucky stars that my children don't behave as yours. Mind, my son is only four years old, but I believe in keeping them in line from the start." He stopped as he remembered that his cousin was rarely with his children, a situation caused by the fact that the king demanded his cousin, Sir Louis, be constantly at his side.
Leopold turned to Sabin, and commanded, "Tell my knights that the king said to treat the two lads like disobedient knaves. If they put one foot out of line, the knights have my permission to beat them and tie them up!"
The pair watched Sabin move deftly down through the bushes. They would wait until Sabin came back to again check if the way was clear for them to leave the secret spot.
"The taxes are way down!" the king's voice growled.
"It's just after the winter, Leopold. What did you expect?" Louis spoke sullenly, still feeling frustrated at his wife's reaction to the proposed move to the capital.
"Chanoine brings in the least amount of all the villages. I expected the tax increase to have made the people work harder!" The king sat on a small rock, awaiting his cousin's comments.
"When the baron is not at his post, what can one expect? If you would give me leave to work the village for a year or two, I believe I could double the income. Chanoine is becoming more and more run down. Reeve Howe is old, and past producing much in the way of taxes. With Elissa moving to court with us, you can expect even less."
Silence ensued. Louis wished everything were different. Drawing a deep breath, he said, "Actually, Leopold, I'd like you to consider it seriously; I mean, allowing me to work the village for a year or so. Elissa, as you know, is not going to be happy in Frencberg."
"Bah! I thought she'd grown out of that! Life at court will be good for her. Estelle..." the king stopped as he thought of his own wife and the pressures at court. How often Estelle had been discontent and had exclaimed that she wished she were baroness at Chanoine, and could be far away from the intrigues of Court!
"Yes? Estelle? You were going to say?" Louis goaded him, smiling cynically, knowing about the queen's frustrations. He sighed and tried to aid his appointment to Chanoine by saying, "Estelle copes because you have numerous servants to help. Your children have tutors. Chanoine can't afford such luxuries. We have one part-time tutor. Elissa has been teaching the girls. Sabin and his parents help with the children, but Elissa carries the load of the transactions in Chanoine."
Louis looked at his cousin king. Narrowing his eyes, he decided to word a challenge, one that the king could not lose, "I'll wager, Leopold. One year off, and see if I can't treble Chanoine's income! If I do it, then I'll take a further year, and double the tax income again for you."
"Who will ride with me?" The king viewed his cousin's claim with amusement. "And who will make me laugh? Who will advise me for the good of the kingdom?"
Louis answered, "What about Samuel? Elissa's Aunt's stepson. You admit that you like the young knight. He's intelligent and loyal; he worships you, Leopold. Show Samuel the secrets of Frencolia, and you will have a slave forever," Louis spoke earnestly. His eyes shone with hope, the hope of living at 'home' in Chanoine, with his children, and that mysterious green-eyed child, Jobyna; to be there each day, with Elissa, his chosen love.
After a profound silence, the king took up the challenge, demanding, "Four times! If you can quadruple Chanoine's present income for the kingdom, then I'll probably not want you back at my castle, Cousin!" the king exclaimed. "I know you want a life with your family, and I'm sure you've earned it. We're all not getting any younger. You've given me the best twenty years of your life." He placed his hand affectionately on his cousin's shoulder. "If Frencolia were richer, I'd grant you half the kingdom; surely I can grant you a couple of years. The king has spoken."
King Leopold caught a movement from below, and said, "Ah. Here comes the servant." The men watched Sabin pick his way cautiously up the slope.
Four knights rode from the thicket.
Two unceremoniously drew their swords, and after an exaggerated, bloodless scuffle, they lifted Luke and Louis to ride tandem. The other two drew the boys' horses along behind.
"As you said, Sire, I told the knights that the boys needed to be taught a lesson, so they are going to take them as their prisoners. The knights are going to keep the boys out of sight of their father." Sabin smiled with satisfaction as he saw the pair's approval. Louis laughed loudly.
The king joined his cousin's mirth, agreeing heartily. "What a first class idea! You have brains, as well as good eyes, Sabin. Yes! We'll make them ride ahead with an escort. We won't reveal ourselves until we're at Litton!"
Louis spoke to his servant, "Sabin, I want you to tell the baroness that she won't be going to Frencberg to live, but that the baron will return to Chanoine." He saw Sabin's eyes light up, and continued with this amazing news, "Yes. I'll reside at the manor house, for at least a year." The baron drew a deep breath, and turned to the king, "You'll have to make this official, Cousin." At the king's royal nod, Louis expelled a sigh of relief. He knew Elissa would be pleased, and he himself was eager to acquaint himself with his children. One small girl with an earnest pair of green eyes kept moving across the expanse of his mind. She belonged to him, his daughter. Jobyna; a perfect doll-like girl, with an imp's face. He wondered how she was faring after her night of escapade?
Elissa, trying to maintain control in the manor house, paced back and forth from the girls' bedroom. Mavis and Eadlin were taking turns to sponge the small form, changing her gown and bed-linen. Jobyna was fighting a fever, and the fluid they were forcing into her was not staying down. The small child was delirious.
Felix and Sabin arrived with the news that Louis Junior and Luke were riding with their father's company, and would remain with them, until the baron returned. Sabin tactfully omitted the information regarding the boys' 'captive' status.
Sabin triumphantly verbalized the most remarkable news, "Your husband, Baron Chatelain, said to inform you, my lady, that neither you, nor the children, will be going to Frencberg, after all." He met Elissa's stricken gaze, and realized what she was thinking.
Before Sabin could continue, and explain, she spoke sadly, "I suppose the gossips are right. Louis has no need of me any more."
"No! They're wrong! You are wrong!" Sabin exclaimed vehemently. The servant gulped as he realized how outspoken he had become. He had determined, long ago, that he would never model his mother's mouth. "Excuse me, Baroness," the loyal servant said, "but Baron Chatelain said to tell you he'll reside here, at the manor house, for a year. The king granted him leave, and it's to be official."
Unmasked surprise, mingled with disbelief, shone in Elissa's hazel eyes as Sabin continued enthusiastically, "We should make preparations for a celebration. The new vegetables are coming in the garden, and there are several lambs fat enough. We should prepare a feast to welcome the evangelist when he comes to Chanoine. Me thinks this'll be the beginning of something new in Frencolia."
"Louis...is...truly...going...to...stay?" Elissa found this news hard to accept. "I can't...believe it!" She turned away from Sabin. "I will not...believe it! Seeing is believing! I learned that long ago. One can't keep hoping for the impossible." She turned back suddenly, "Sabin! It's Jobyna...she's sick. Go and fetch Fae." Turning away, she muttered, "If Louis were here, he wouldn't stand for that feeble-brained mid-wife. We need a real doctor in Chanoine."
Luke looked fearfully across at his oldest brother. Louis Junior rode behind a knight, and Luke recognized the deep voice as being that of Sir Neal, one of his father's faithful men. Luke did not know the name of the knight who had hauled him to sit in front, like a girl, on the huge brown stallion. He feared it was one of King Leopold's knights, and he now wished that he had stayed at home. Where were they being taken? Glancing behind when the path was straight enough to see, Luke saw a larger company following. He wondered if his father were there?
Tears filled Luke's eyes. I'm only nine, and I'm being kidnapped, he thought. The knights had threatened that if the boys gave any trouble, they would not hesitate to tie them up. L.J. had received a punch in his ribs, and another on his jaw, when he had struggled. Luke had been slapped, and backhanded across his mouth. His top lip was numb, and felt three sizes too large.
Luke looked up at the shiny helmet, trying to peer through the grill in the visor. Nothing! The face behind was but a shadow. He clung tenaciously to the horse's mane, and leaned forward so that the pommel would not dig so unmercifully into his back. How uncomfortable. As the miles flew under the horses' hooves, he became more weary and distraught.
The signpost 'Litton' moved past Luke's eyes. Litton! They were miles from home. Suddenly the cavalcade from behind joined them, and with relief, both boys realized, from the familiar standards being carried by the knights, that his father and the king were among the riders.
The large company stopped briefly at the manor house, and was welcomed by Baron Tolard. Luke and L.J. made a brief acquaintance with the baron's four children. Tolard Junior; James; Anita-Marie; and the youngest, a boy named Tolson. Both Luke and Louis wished they could remain with these new friends, but after they had received a reprimand from their father and a warning not to speak of the 'thicket', they were commanded to ride their horses with the company to Grior where the evangelist, whose name was 'Brother Theon', would have already arrived.
L.J. and Luke wondered what an 'evangelist' was. The way everyone spoke, it was as if he were someone quite magical. The boys had heard gossip that the king hoped the evangelist would make honest people out of all Frencolians, and then the royal coffers would receive the needed tax monies, instead of him being swindled.
Luke felt sure the evangelist was a personality to be much afraid of. If Brother Theon had the power to make people honest, he must be able to cast spells. Already, both Luke and Louis Junior had decided they would not like, or trust, such a person.