The Last Lantern

Chapter 20 - Family

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2009


It was well past dark when Sir Donal led Lady Emily and Molly up through a narrow gap in some rocks and signalled for them to dismount.

Men stepped out of the darkness making Molly tense. But when Lady Emily laughed as one big burly fellow lifted her off her horse, Molly was able to relax a bit more.

Sir Donal came over to her, just as she slid off Tansy on her own. She hated to need help and she certainly didn't want to look like she was afraid.

Sir Donal grinned at her and motioned for her to go ahead. "Right through into the cave, Lady Elizabeth," he told her formally. "We'll have a warm bed and hot food this night."

"Who are they?" she asked him dubiously.

"Friends," was all Sir Donal replied, and then they stepped into a well lit cave.

There were perhaps 20 or 30 people Molly could see in the cave. She assumed, since she'd seen several outside in the darkness, there were considerably more of them. Guards watching the approaches to the cave, she thought. She'd caught a flash or two of a silhouette several times in several places since sunset as if there were sentinels along the trail they'd taken since crossing the makeshift ford. It made sense to her.

Those in the cave all fell silent as they turned to watch as the three entered the cave. One man, a huge bear of a man, like the others wearing fighting leathers, came toward her and went down on a knee. He bent his head to Molly then lifted it and met her eyes. "You have the look of your dear mother, Lady Elizabeth."

Molly felt a lump form in her throat. Someone who knew her. Someone who might tell her about her mother. Grandfather had always refused to say a word regarding her.

"She was very beautiful," Molly ventured to say.

"And brave. You'd make her proud," the big man replied. "We're all friends here."

They hustled her forward, sat her down on a makeshift bed and handed round a rich and delicious smelling stew. Molly devoured it. She'd had little appetite all day but now, here, suddenly her belly growled.

A little later when she'd sopped up the last of the rich gravy with a bit of dark bread, she looked up and saw that most of the others were finished eating too. One man had pulled out a lute to strum a few notes on it and conversations had sprung up in a few groups.

Silence suddenly alerted Molly, so she was looking at the entrance when one last man entered.

Molly's eyes when wide and she was up and running to him, throwing her arms around his legs and hanging on for dear life.

Brother Vaal reached down and lifted her up into his arms, hugging her in turn.

"I don't understand," Molly said. "Who are these people and why are they helping me? Is it true my father is alive? Why don't I know? Why didn't anyone tell me?"

Brother Vaal set her down and the walked her over so they could sit near Sir Donal and Lady Emily. Lady Emily got Vaal a bowl of stew.

"I asked them to let me explain," Brother Vaal replied, meeting Molly's eyes. "So that's why no one has said anything."

"But Grandfather..." Molly protested.

"He has disinherited your father," Vaal replied.

"But..." Molly was more confused than ever.

Emily reached out and took Molly's hand, giving it a squeeze.

"Your mother, Molly. She was killed. Your father vowed to avenge her. Not perhaps the smartest thing he's ever done. But as a result he's part of this group of people. They want to depose the King in the North and put the rightful heir on the throne."

Molly just stared at him. "My mother... Who killed her? Why?"

"Because she was my half-sister," said a quiet voice from behind Molly.

Molly whirled around and looked at the man who spoke. She took her time, looking him up and down. He wore ringmail as well as leathers. He looked no less scruffy than anyone else in the room. He was younger than Brother Vaal, handsome, and he looked every inch a warrior. As he strode toward her most of those in the room went down on one knee to him.

Molly stood. She stared at him, and thought of the picture in her locket. He looked like her mother.

Brother Vaal's quiet voice cut through the ensuing silence. "Molly, this is your uncle and the rightful heir to the North, Prince Stefan."

The Prince went down on a knee in front of Molly. "Welcome home, lady. You are your mother come again." The Prince held out his arms and Molly, crying now, fell into them.


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