The Last Lantern

Chapter 42 - A Reunion

 

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2010

 

Donal had sent word by his valet, Percy, that he would be staying in and that Molly was to serve the knight’s dinner. Percy might have been annoyed by this in usual circumstances since Molly had already seen that the valet tended to be jealous of anyone serving Donal personally. But since Donal had given him the evening off, Percy was more than delighted to pass on the job to Molly.

“You just do like I explained to you. Sir Donal is particular about things, and likes them just right!” Molly suspected it was more Percy being particular, but was wise enough not to say so aloud. “And don’t spill anything!” were the valet’s parting words. It was all Molly could do to stop herself from sticking her tongue out at Percy’s rapidly retreating back.

It was late when Donal rang for his simple repast. And as he was eating alone he’d told Molly to bring his dinner to his library. She staggered in with the tray and set it down, as he ordered, on his desk. He frowned at the beautifully presented and wonderfully smelling meal and sighed. He picked at the food for a bit, poured his own wine, then more toyed with than consumed his food and wine.

“So,” Donal said, after a few minutes, pushing his plate back nearly untasted, “how are things going? No one is harming you? You feel safe? How is my master-at-arms doing with you? Will Mullen make you muck out the stalls every morning?”

Molly confessed, “Every muscle in my body aches from the practice yard. And this is the first day!”

Donal grinned. “Well I remember that from my own childhood. Of course I started earlier in training than you. Soon, though, it will be better.”

Molly nodded and then went on to reassure her friend that no one was pestering her, and that she had the privacy she needed. Once she’d fallen silent, Donal fell to brooding over his now cold and uninviting dinner. He didnt’ seem even to see it really.

Donal finally gave it up altogether and moved to sit near the fire, reassuring Molly as he did so that it wasn’t anything she’d done, or that Cook had done, it was just... He shrugged.

He was, Molly realized, worrying about Lady Emily. Molly was doing her own share of worrying. About Phillip, but more about Vaal. But for Sir Donal it must be different, Molly reminded herself. He was in love with Lady Emily, and she was a lady, and no matter how often Donal told himself she could take care of herself, deep down he probably felt he should be protecting her. Molly figured that was love for you. Logic went right out the window.

The both of them were silent, slouched in the matching wing chairs, staring at the fire (truth be told Molly was drifting off to sleep), when the quiet of the house was disturbed by the sound of someone in the main entry. They both jumped, startled out of dark thoughts and fears.

Then the door to the study burst open and Lady Emily sailed in, looking none the worse for wear other than for the normal sort of travel stains one acquired after long stretches in public conveyances.

Donal jumped to his feet and strode to where she’d come to a sudden stop, eyeing the boy sitting with his feet up on the sofa.

Donal wrapped her up in his arms and pulled her into a fierce hug. “Thank the Gods you’re home,” he murmured. It was some time (much of it involving kissing) before either of them paid Molly any attention at all. She’d stood, eying the emotional reunion. She’d never seen such things before and had been watching with her mouth hanging open. Grandfather didn’t have a wife, after all, and the servants weren’t anywhere near as emotional or affectionate as Sir Donal seemed to be, but then Cook’s husband worked the gardens so she didn’t have much reason to fear for his life the way Donal and Emily feared for each other’s safety.

Finally Emily pulled away a little from Donal and whispered something to him.

He laughed. “Oh. That’s Molly. Currently we’re calling her ‘Bert.’,”

Emily’s eyes went wide as they swept over Molly. Then she smiled. “Oh, I’d never have guessed! How wonderful! I’ve been so worried about you, darling. Come here!”

Molly stepped forward and then was swept up into Emily’s arms. Molly stiffened for a moment, surprised by physical affection. She wasn’t used to it, and she hadn’t expected it. Grandfather barely ever touched her, nor even did her governess. Cook sometimes bussed her on the cheek, but that was about it in the way of affection at Rosslyn.

Lady Emily looked up after showering a highly embarrassed Molly with kisses and asked her husband, “You’d best explain it all to me. How you and she..”

It must have unsettled Molly to be made such a fuss over more than she realized, because suddenly she was sobbing and she threw her arms around Emily’s waist, clinging to her fiercely.

Emily pulled her closer still, bending protectively over her, and murmured meaningless little words that seemed to have more of a calming effect than Molly would have ever believed possible.

“What have you done to her!” Emily demanded of Donal, who looked flustered and unhappy.

He suddenly felt guilty; just why he wasn’t entirely certain. “Nothing!” he swore. “I... We ... She and Phillip showed up at the watchtower, as we'd hoped. Vaal had been captured but Phillip and Molly escaped. I took them to the castle, but we found it ... Igraine and the children are dead,” he added in a flat pained voice. “I’ve thought... I imagined even worse things for you.”

“Well, as you see, I’m fine. I managed an escape at the ford, even if barely. The attack when it came was .. It was as if they wanted to hurt people. Far more violent than it needed to be, with them killing people thoughtlessly. Some were dressed as Black Brothers, Donal,” she added, shocked even now as she thought about it.

Donal nodded. “Yes. It was the same at the castle. It’s as if they are doing their best to try to increase the hatred of the Guardian and his priests.”

Emily continued, “Once I was certain I wasn't being followed, I contacted ...” her eyes flicked down to Molly then back up to Donal, “friends. They gave me these clothes. I took a regular postcoach back, thinking to appear as if I’d merely been off visiting friends.”

“I’m just relieved,” Donal began and his voice caught.

Emily quickly interrupted him, to give Donal a chance to contain his emotions, Molly guessed, “Where is the young man, Phillip? And what do we know of Vaal? Who had the audacity, or rather stupidity, to take prisoner a priest?”

Molly, whose sobs had died away some time ago, was suddenly crying again. “They took him, Lady Emily! They said they’d torture him,” she said between awful hiccups. “To make him tell them where I was. He hid me. He risked his life for me. I don't know why...”

Emily stroked Molly’s hair. “Hush darling. Of course he protected you.”

Molly fought to get herself under control again and then added, “Phillip and I .... We used Vaal’s map. We saw the symbols and guessed on the one. That’s how we found Sir Donal.”

Emily shared a look with Donal then said, as she gently disengaged Molly’s clutching hug, “Come, let’s all sit down. Donal, do get the three of us a drink. Something stronger than wine, I think. Then the two of you can tell me everything, in order, and a bit more clearly.”

-----

It was early morning and the sky was more dark than light as yet. Phillip Manners sat on Max and stared at the building in front of him. It fronted the ocean, and sat on a high hill overlooking much of the Northron capital, Alba. It was a lot different from Hawk House. This was more like a fortress, with high walls and soaring towers. A cobbled road snaked up and switched back and forth and seemed to be the only obvious entry to the place. A deep tolling sounded from one of the towers and a voice, or perhaps it was several, could be heard during the seconds one toll of the bell ended and the next began. A chant of some sort, Phillip guessed. Welcoming the Sun?

Someone cleared a throat, making Phillip jump. He’d thought himself alone. He looked down. It was a youngish girl, not much older than Molly who stood staring up at him. She was wrapped in a flowing cloak made a soft white fur. Its hood hid her face. “We’ve been expecting you. What took you so long?” she demanded.

“I..... Expecting me?” Phillip replied, his confusion showing. He hadn't even known himself he’d give the place a look over, never mind actually ride in. Without Vaal to introduce him... “Expecting me?” he repeated stupidly.

She made a face and shook her head at him. “You have not yet learned to listen.” She sounded as if she thought him a dolt.

“Listen?” And he sounded like one, he thought.

“The Guardian told you to come. Listen when he speaks!”

Well, it was certainly true something inside him had kept whispering to him that he should go to the Black Brothers House. He felt it wishful thinking, or perhaps his fear crying out for rescue. But why would anyone rescue him? And anyway, what would he ask for, how should he ask for it, and why would the Black Brothers care about a penniless younger son with no prospects?

The girl, shaking her head at him as if she knew what he was thinking, said, “Come. You’re in time for breakfast. Again.”

“How do you know..”

She grinned. “What, you think we don't have ways of communicating up here in the wilds of the North?”

“No,” Phillip replied as he slipped off of Max so he could walk along beside the girl. She was dressed all in black under the white fur robe. She wore black leather pants stuffed in high black boots, and thick black gloves. He thought she might be wearing a short sword on her hip. Was she, or wasn’t she a ‘brother’?

“Yes, I’m what you Southrons might call a ‘brother’ although the original word is one that has no gender attached to it. But I’m not...”

“Dead?” Phillip added.

“No, I’m not dead. A few of us serve the Guardian in other capacities.”

“Oh. I’m Phillip,” Phillip replied.

“I know,” she replied before he could add another word. “Phillip Manners, youngest son of Reginald Manners. Of Greenway. You offered to help Molly Rosslyn, and here you are.”

Phillip frowned down at her. She was very small, even if she looked, now that he studied her, nearly his own age.

“The Bastard spoke with you. He actually came to you. Do you believe he would do that if he did not care about you?”

Phillip blinked and stammered, “I.. Well, but I’m no one.”

The girl laughed, a sound like music. “And just who do you label a ‘someone’ Phillip Manners?”

Phillip, feeling completely at sea, clamped his lips together, determined not to make more of a fool of himself than he already had.

She laughed again and said in his mind, - I do not think you a fool. A bit ... Innocent, perhaps, but no fool.-

Phillip snorted. Innocent? He’d killed. Several men.

“Innocent,” she affirmed aloud. She strode ahead of him and kept things that way despite his trying to speed up to catch up to walk beside her. She smiled and called out greetings to some of the townfolk who were beginning to appear on the street. He watched her, a gay and lissome young woman. A beautiful young woman.

She looked back at Phillip as he thought that, and he knew she'd read his mind. He colored and she laughed again.

When they reached the main gate, the massive doors to the Black House swung open, seemingly of their own accord. Brother Vaal stood waiting in the courtyard. “Welcome, Phillip, to Orca House.”

 

 

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