The Last Lantern

Chapter 1 - King's Cross

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2009


Molly set her chin on her hands, elbows propped up on the window pane. From up here the village spread out below her looked like one of those quaint sets they sold in shops to put under a Winterfair evergreen.

Even the weather was cooperating. Snow fell riotously, in huge soft flakes, shoved around by the cold winter wind, finding the odd corner to fill with pure, unspoilt white. The green was white already and the ice on the duck pond was covered over. The poor ducks.  The willows were limned with snow and ice.

She had to move then, to wipe the inside of the panes with the sleeve of her blouse. She could feel the cold bleeding through the panes, her breath frosting the glass, ruining her view.

There, that did it. She put her nose right up to the window now, to better look down toward the high street. Most of the shops were closed now, this late in the afternoon, but the pub and the stable were lit brightly. Carriages and some riders, singly and in groups, were arriving, no doubt the travellers bent on taking rooms for the night, and finding shelter for their mounts. It might even be for several nights lodging, given the weather. The high mountain roads would be impossible to cross by morning. And the coast road would be treacherous.

Molly grinned. Surely she could slip away from grandfather.  He'd be asleep by the fire. He hated the cold. She wrapped up in her cloak and slipped down the old stairway, the one meant to be used by servants. But with only herself and her grandfather, they had little need of servants now. Too bad grandfather still insisted on her having a governess. Still, it was easy enough to elude Miss Throckmorton.

Molly reached the bottom of the stairs without incident, and made for the back door. She had to slip into a closet to avoid Rupert, grandfather's man, but even so she made it to the door and was out and into the cold and snow in a heartbeat.  Cook had spied her but Cook was very good at pretending not to see things.  Molly had grinned a quick thank you. She headed straight for the stairs that led from the manor house down to the village below.  She'd have to return using the road. The stairs would be covered in snow soon.

The windows of the Last Lantern cast brilliant light on the snowy High Street. It looked inviting and exciting, what with so many travellers there now. Molly slipped in through the back door, though, trying to evade Mrs Bell for as long as possible. She scooted up the narrow staircase to Nigel's room and rapped on the door.  Nigel answered it in a thrice and grabbed Molly's hand and tugged her into the room and out of the hallway so hard Molly almost lost her balance.

"What?" she hissed, even as Nigel was holding a hand up to his lips, warning her to be quiet.

"Guest rooms all full," Nigel explained, and as he did so Molly heard doors opening and the silvery sound of a woman's laughter in the hallway. The two cracked the door open so they could see what was happening.

The woman was dressed in the finest dress Molly had ever seen. A deep royal blue velvet that made her blue eyes seem to pop out of her face.  The man whose arm she was on, was tall and handsome, wearing leathers, his boots so polished they shone like mirrors, and he wore a sword with a handle all chased in gold. Probably, Molly thought, there'd be mysterious runes carved into the blade.

After the couple had gone bye and walked down the stairs, Nigel and Molly scooted out of Nigel's room and down the stairs behind them, coming to a stop at a small closet at the landing where the stairs turned.  They crawled into the closet and closed the door firmly behind themselves.

They pushed aside boxes and bags of pub supplies until they had a bit of room to sit down next to the back wall. Nigel fiddled with one plank in the wall and it swung a bit sideways, giving the two of them a view onto the main bar of the Last Lantern.

The main room was packed and getting moreso as the passengers on the coastal road coach came into the pub, letting in  a blast of cold air filled with snowflakes with them.

Molly ran her eyes across the room.  The usual locals were at their usual tables, but the visitors were the ones she wanted to see. There was the lady in the beautiful dress and her knight beside her.  There were other lords and ladies there, too. And a priest, from the look of the black robes he wore; he was sitting alone at a table near the fire. No one ever wanted to sit with them. They were too... Molly wasn't sure what exactly was wrong with the priests. She just knew they were never really welcomed. And they always travelled alone, even into the darkest and most dangerous parts of the kingdom. Or so she'd been told by her grandfather. And everyone else too. The priest would get a room, and a hot meal, and no friendship.  It seemed a hard way to live.

The closet door flew open then and the two children jumped. Light from the hallway lit up the silhouette of a burly man.  "Lady Molly, you go on home now, child. Your grandfather will be worrying about you. Nigel, see the lady gets home," he added, no doubt frowning at his son.

"Yes, sir," Nigel replied, jumping up to attention.

Molly sighed. First, she hated being called Lady Molly. Secondly, well, she wanted to see what happened!  There might even be a sword fight!  But what she said was, "Yes, sir, Mr Bell."

"That's a good girl. And give Lord Rosslyn my regards."

Molly made Nigel leave her at the gates of the estate. Nothing could happen to her once she was on the manor proper, after all. She thought about trying to slip in through the back door, but as she approached the house the main door opened and Rupert stood in the doorway, looking his usual emotionless self, his arms crossed on his chest. Well, at least he wasn't tapping his foot at her.

"Dinner in fifteen minutes," Rupert told her as she tried to sidle past him. "Wear a dress. Lord Rosslyn has guests."

"Guests?" Molly asked, her mouth falling open in surprise. They never had guests.

"Hurry, Lady Molly. Don't embarrass your grandfather."

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