The Last Lantern
Chapter 41 - Alba
@copyright Jean G Hontz 2010
Mostly people travelled to see Grandfather, not the other way round, so Molly had never seen a city before. She hadn’t really gone very far beyond Kings Cross until Sir Donal kidnapped her. She’d once visited her cousins at their estate a day’s ride from Kings Cross, and of course she rode Tansy to visit the other outlying estates near Rosslyn. But she'd never seen the southern capital, Sol Invictus. Phillip grew up near there, she knew. He knew cities. They wouldn't be strange things to him.
She could barely sit her horse she was so excited, but Sir Donal just rode placidly a little ahead of her as they weaved their way through the throngs of people on the wide boulevard. Her head kept swivelling of its own accord, as she craned to see things. Huge rich looking buildings, shops, fancy carriages, beautiful horses, beggars, street vendors. There was so much to see!
Donal quite often seemed to know someone. People, other men on horseback, ladies in carriages, even a street vendor or two, called out “Sir Donal!” to him. He’d smile and wave or sometimes they stopped so Donal could speak to whoever it was.
The ladies were ...Amazing. Beautiful creatures wearing impossible clothing with their hair done up in elaborate ways that must take hours to accomplish. Unless they were wigs. Molly frowned at the next young woman Donal stopped to speak with, trying to determine if the hair were real or not. Donal kicked her. Discretely. Well, yes, she had been staring. She tried to look down and then ended up scanning the park they were riding through, wondering where Phillip was.
Donal had wanted Phillip to arrive separately. But Molly had spotted Phillip at least once, not too far away, keeping an eye on them. Why he insisted on staying so close, Molly hadn't a clue. He was, she decided, merely being annoying. She was perfectly safe masquerading as Donal’s squire. Everyone cast an eye on her when he mentioned her, if he did. Most acted like she wasn't there or was invisible, but a couple of his friends made mention of the ‘young boy’ who was with him. When they did, Donal would laugh and shrug and then shake his head over the difficulties of family obligations. Molly, in those instances, tried hard not to blush.
Then finally they were through the park and approaching a mansion on a street overlooking a grand park. Donal led her down a narrow alleyway beside it that led into a mews where a stable yard offered a place to keep horses and carriages when not in use.
Donal leapt off his horse with grace and ease. Molly scrambled down after him.
“George,” Donal said to a man who’d appeared out of nowhere, obviously a servant by his dress, “this is a new squire I’ll be training. His name is Bert. Show him round then send him up to the house. He’ll be sleeping in the cell next my room. I’ll want him handy.”
“Yer valet won’t like it,” George replied, eyeing ‘Bert’ critically.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Donal replied grinning. “Percy will adore having someone to order around.”
Both men laughed as Molly frowned. Donal sauntered off toward the house, leaving Molly to the tender mercies of George, who she learned was the butler and in charge of the servants.
It was hours later before she was released from the stables. She’d had to feed and curry Donal’s horse then her own, and muck out both stalls. George had disappeared early on. The stableboy, Ned, lounged around watching her work, and nearly laughing at her. She didn't dare complain as she really had no idea how a squire fit into a household, where he was on the ladder of who got to order who around. It was highly frustrating.
George, having tea with Cook, laughed at her accent, jeered at her clothes, made fun of her walk, saying she walked like a girl! It was, all in all, quite maddening. And just where was Phillip, Molly wanted to know! Why wasn’t he here to tell her what to do! Surely HE knew about this squiring thing.
Then finally she was turned over to Percy, Sir Donal’s valet. Percy looked her over critically and immediately ordered a bath for her. Molly nearly panicked. If they made her strip in front of anyone... “I’ll do it! I can do it myself!” Molly huffed.
“Ah, country bumpkin modesty. Here we go to the baths and know better than to be so shy,” Percy teased her. “But as you will. I’ll try to find you decent clothing that won’t embarrass Sir Donal if he's seen with you.” Percy sighed dramatically and marched off.
Cook grinned and got Molly something hot to eat. “Not to worry, Bert. Percy is all huff. I’ll rap his hand if he gets too uppity with you.”
Molly grinned gratefully. She sat down with her food and let Cook ramble on, telling her a lot about what she really needed to know to understand the Egan household.
Donal himself intervened regarding the bath and made sure the tub was bought to Molly’s new room. Once clean and dressed in the far more rich and soft clothing given her she went in search of Sir Donal. She needed to remember to call him that, she reminded herself.
The Egan townhouse was luxurious and far far grander than Rosslyn. Cool marble floors, high decorated ceilings, rich rugs in places, lovely furniture, paintings and even statues! Percy earlier had bragged about how wealthy the Egan family was. Molly could well believe it and wondered why Donal, given all this, risked his neck, and probably all this too, with the Rebels.
She found Sir Donal in his library, staring out at the extensive garden behind it. He turned when she knocked and entered.
“You look... You’ll pass, well enough at any rate, for my household to let you be, for the most part. But I expect you’ll have to fight for respect a bit. Sorry.”
Molly nodded. She expected nothing less. She knew that servants, like their masters, were likely to challenge one another for dominance. It was necessary.
A knock on his door caused Sir Donal to look up. A man strode in. He was grizzled and grim looking and he glared at Molly, looking her up and down.
“Shut the door, Master Mullen,” Donal ordered.
The man turned and shut the door then turned to regard Sir Donal.
“I won't insult you by swearing you to silence. But it is imperative that we keep this young lady’s gender a secret. We’re calling her Bert. I want you to begin training her as a squire, just as you would any boy her age.”
Master Mullen frowned harder than he had been and stared at Molly. “I see. Now I realize...”
“I want to learn how to use a sword,” Molly interrupted.
Master Mullen walked over and backhanded her ear. Not hard, but enough to make her grunt, more in embarrassment than in pain. “That stops first. You are a squire. You wait for permission to speak, and address your betters properly when given permission to speak in their presence.”
Molly regarded Master Mullen sullenly.
“Do as he says, Bert. If we want to keep you safe, it is imperative he treat you as he would any other boy. You’ll need to see she has privacy to make her water and such,” Donal added to Master Mullen.
Mullen frowned. “I can manage it. We’ll work out a system for it, Sir Donal.”
“Thank you, Master Mullen. She’s a good girl, and not averse to adventuring and fighting. Do what you can for her.”
“How long will I have her, sir?” Mullen asked, while he regarded his new charge.
“Not certain. Until I find a safer place for, uhm, Bert.”
“Right you are sir,” Master Mullen replied. “Come on boy,” he said, emphasizing the gender. “I’ll explain your duties and your chores and maybe we’ll even have time to take a look at that sword I saw you with.”
Molly nodded and turned to Sir Donal, but was wise enough not to say anything aloud.
“I’ll speak to you tonight. I won’t be able to see much of you during the days. Listen to Master Mullen. He’ll keep you safe.”
“Yes, Sir Donal,” Molly replied and followed Master Mullen to begin her new life.
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