The Last Lantern
Chapter 8 - The King's Road
@copyright Jean G Hontz 2009
The next morning Molly was up at dawn as usual. It was a glorious day. Brilliant sunshine, the light reflecting off the white snow dazzling. The sky was a deep pure blue in the clear, crisp winter air.
Molly donned her heavy winter breeches and two layers of woolen sweaters, two pair of socks and her fur-lined boots. She slid down the bannister as usual, but this morning no priest was standing by to see her do it. She ran full tilt down the stairs to the kitchens, where Cook was busy baking bread and scones. Molly grabbed a cherry tart and ran before Cook or anyone else could catch her. She was laughing and joyous when she exited the kitchen door and ran toward the stables, stuffing cherry tart into her mouth as she ran.
She kicked up the snow, the dry flakes arcing through the brilliant sunlight, her eyes alight. She loved the winter. As harsh as it could be, particularly for the poor, she couldn't help but love the bite of the cold and the feel of snowflakes on her face.
She ran through the open stable door and nearly bowled over Grandfather's groom who was trying to shut the door to keep the barn warm for the horses and the several cows they kept.
"You're early," Little Todd said, frowning at her. He was called Little Todd but he was tall and muscular. He was Little Todd because his father was Todd too, and had been groom before Little Todd had taken over the duties of his father. Little Todd was twice the size his father had ever been.
"Yes," Molly agreed. "But it's a glorious day for a morning ride."
Little Todd frowned.
"I'll be careful, honest. And Tansy knows the fields," Molly pleaded.
"All right, Lady Molly. But no letting her run free. And stay to the roads! What if she puts a foot wrong in a gully? She might break a leg!"
Molly loved Little Todd. He never made a fuss over her maybe falling off, rather he worried about the horses. For that she could have kissed him. In fact, she did!
She used the stool to saddle Tansy herself, double checking the girth straps. When she was done Little Todd swung open the stable doors and walked outside with her and Tansy. He grabbed Molly under the arms and swung her up onto Tansy's back as if she weighed no more than a twig.
Molly smiled down at him and aimed Tansy at the snow-covered road. She wanted nothing better than to race through the fields, but Little Todd was right. If anything happened to Tansy she'd never forgive herself.
She went slowly until she was around the corner from the stable then kicked Tansy into an all out run. Tansy loved to run, so she didn't mind at all. They raced down the hill and around the rocky hills, and then down the slope toward King's Cross below them.
The town was waking up after the snowfall, and she could see lots of wagon and horseprints in the road attesting to the travellers renewing their journeys now that the weather was better. It wouldn't be for long, as winter set in, so no one wanted to chance waiting around too long.
Molly took the road that led around town rather than down into the heart of it, she could follow it out into the foothills and even travel a little time on the main King's Road that led up into the mountains and toward the North, where she'd never been.
She'd slowed Tansy down to a trot when she heard hoofbeats coming up the hill from behind her. She turned in the saddle, thinking she wanted to see who it was. She grinned when she saw. It was the knight who wore the fancy blade on his hip. He was as handsome as he could be, blond haired, deep blue eyed, and with a ready smile. He must have won every battle, since he had no scar like the priest's. He slowed his huge bay when he saw Molly and fell in with her, smiling down at her.
"Lady Elizabeth," he said by way of greeting, giving her nod and a smile.
"I like Molly better," Molly muttered grumpily.
"Lady Molly then," he said by way of agreement.
Molly had to smile. He seemed so easy going and happy. she smiled up at him. "I don't know your name, I'm sorry to say."
"Sir Donal Egan, at your service, fair maid."
She giggled. A knight at her service. "Sir Donal, merry meet!"
They talked of little things. Sir Donal asking her about her likes and dislikes. He even complimented her on Tansy and how well she was trained and how beautiful she was.
Before Molly knew it, she'd come to the furthest she was allowed to travel on the King's Road. The Marker told her and everyone else who could read that this was where King's Cross ended and the Far Reaches began.
Molly pulled up on Tansy's reins. "It was nice to ride with you, Sir Donal," Molly said. "I wish you a safe journey."
"Thank you, Miss Molly, he replied pulling his horse over close to hers.
"There's something I'd like to gift you," he said, leaning down toward his saddle bag and opening it.
"I ..." Molly began, sucking on her bottom lip. She wasn't supposed to take gifts from strangers.
Then Sir Donal was moving and suddenly he'd grabbed her and shoved a cloth up against her face. She felt him lifting her out of her saddle and felt Tansy panic and start to bolt. She tried to fight him, tried to scream, did manage to bite his fingers and make him curse her, but then she felt herself going limp and the world began to go away. She fought the darkness but it took her anyway.
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