The Last Lantern

Chapter 18 - Secrets and Promises

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2009

  The Lady Emily awoke Molly just as dawn began painting the sky with the softest hint of rose. She assisted Molly to dress in warm clothing they provided. Molly was rather surprised to see that Lady Emily was dressed in fighting leathers, and that the Lady Emily had pants for her too.

"We're leaving the carriage here. We'll be horseback from here on," Lady Emily told her.

"Can you use a sword?" Molly asked, frowning, as she looked over the Lady Emily's ensemble.

"Yes. Can you?"

Molly frowned grumpily. "I want to. My grandfather won't hire a master-at-arms for me."

"Well then, we'll see what we can do when we get you to safety," Lady Emily promised.

"You aren't going to ransom me?" Molly asked.

Emily looked astonished at the thought. "No. Of course not. We ... We'll explain when we arrive."

Molly had to settle for that because suddenly they were rushing off, with Sir Donal hurrying them along. He thrust a package of food at Molly to munch on when she could and hurried her and Emily out to the barn where the horses were already saddled. Tansy wickered happily as Molly came up to her. Molly kissed her nose. Then Sir Donal lifted Molly up into the saddle as if she weighed no more than a feather.

Sir Donal held Tansy's reins for a moment and looked Molly in the eye. "If something should happen, someone attack us, say, you're to ride north as fast as you can go. Ride until you see the river then turn east and ride to the ford. Ask for Jonah when you get there and tell him you're in the Bastard's keeping. He'll take care of you then, and see you are kept safe."

"Wait," Molly said. "You mean..." her voice died away.

"I mean that if we're attacked I'll probably be dead and maybe Emily will be too," he replied annoyingly cheerily. "We'll hold them off of you as long as we can. Don't worry about us. We don't matter. You do."

Molly paled. "Why are you doing this? Risking your life for me and you don't even know me."

Sir Donal put his hand on her knee and squeezed it. "You're my best friend's only daughter," he replied and turned and was gone before Molly could say more.

They galloped off then giving Molly no time to react to his last comment. He'd known her father....

They did indeed travel back roads. Road was actually too strong a term for the nearly invisible game trail they followed. The snow, of course, made things worse. But Sir Donal seemed to know the area well, despite the snow hiding so many of its features. He led them confidently up over that hill, around that group of rocks, across a stream, through a rather frightening forest - the forest whispered as they passed through it. Molly swore the branches were saying her name.

Then they came to the river. It had to be the one Sir Donal had mentioned. It was wide and nearly overflowing its banks. Ice skinned both banks of the river where the water could eddy quietly under roots. But the center of the river ran full and fast and debris came hurtling down the flood fairly regularly.

Donal and Emily shared a look. Then he said, "Stay here. I'll go upstream a bit to see if the ford is still there.

"And if it isn't?" Emily demanded.

"We'll find another way across."

Emily breathed a curse that would have made Miss Throckmorton fall over dead. Molly grinned.

"Come on, Lady Molly. Let's dismount and give our horses a breather whilst we wait. Over there near the evergreens. It will offer us some protection from the wind. And any eyes that might be looking for us," she added, quietly enough so that Molly nearly missed it.

As Molly swung down off her saddle and Lady Emily did the same, Molly, dug out what was left of her lunchtime dried apple and handing it to Tansy. Then she commented, as casually as she could, "Sir Donal said you and he..."

Emily looked Molly full in the eyes. "Said what? That this is a dangerous business and that he'd give his life for you?"

Molly nodded miserably.

Emily reached out to cup Molly's cheek in her hand. She smiled sadly. "I'm sorry, my dear. We could die. All of us. We intend to keep you alive though. And we need your promise that you'll do as we say so we can make that so."

"Whoever they are, they'd kill me?"

Emily gave it some thought. "Perhaps not. But they'd use you. We can't let them take you."

Molly wasn't certain she wanted to know exactly what Lady Emily meant by that. "Sir Donal also said he knew my father."

"Yes, he knows him well," Emily replied, as she got up to run a reassuring hand along her horse's flank.

Molly who'd stood and begun walking toward Tansy, froze. "Knows him?" she finally breathed.

Emily looked over at her frowning. "Yes of course. Where do you think... No one told you?" Emily asked, her voice nearly breaking.

"No one tells me much of anything," Molly replied.

"Oh, my dear. Your father.. That's where we're taking you."

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