The Prince Of Carentan by FG Laval

EXTRACT FOR
The Prince Of Carentan

(FG Laval)


Chapter One

The blood pounded in Gereinte’s ears. He sprinted away from the Tower, then chanced a glance over his shoulder. The older boy was gaining on him fast. Sweat beaded his skin. His hands tingled in the cold, damp air. Surely the castle guards would have seen him from their vantage point? He took a deep breath, put his head down and pelted for the forest. It would be too humiliating to be caught out in the open, in front of the men he would one day command.
His foot caught a tree root and he fell, protecting his face with his hands. His whole body stung, with the pain of the fall and the bitterness of knowing what would come next. The boy descended upon him and kicked him hard.
Crunch.
The blow to his side was excruciating.
Something cracked, a rib? The air was sucked from his lungs. He gasped. Each short, shallow breath punctuated the pain. He tried to roll onto his side, but a coarse leather boot pressed on his shoulder like a dead weight.
“Not so tough without Warmaster Alaric looking over your shoulder, eh?” the boy said.
He looked up the stocking covered leg; it was Drayton, squire to the knight, Fulk. Gereinte coughed, winced and a spear-like pain lanced through the side of his body.
He gauged Drayton’s size. If he were to get out of this in one piece, he would have to be quick. Quick witted and as quick on his feet as his small, wiry frame allowed.
“Let me up and we’ll do this man to man.” Gereinte’s voice sounded distant, as though it belonged to another person, someone strong and confident, not weakened by pain and humiliation. Drayton grinned. The weight lifted and Gereinte stole a short, pain-wracked breath. He rolled nimbly onto his side drawing his knees into his chest before thrusting out his feet as hard as possible into Drayton’s chest. It was worth it to see the shock on Drayton’s face; his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets and his mouth worked like a fish, fighting to catch his breath.
Gereinte knew he had only a split second to make his escape. He sprang to his feet, ignoring the burning sensation in his side, launched into a sprint and slammed straight into the body of another person.
First, he was relieved as he slumped to the ground; someone from the castle guard had been sent to find out what was going on. Then, crushing defeat as he realised he had run headlong into Drayton’s training partner, Squire Charrock. Charrock loomed above him with a mean grin. Charrock and Drayton were given a wide berth by most squires or pageboys who had even the slightest instinct of self-preservation. It was well known that the duo preyed on the small and weak for sport, but they were subtle enough to get away with it. To top it, they were good, loyal squires and tipped for joining the Queen’s Guard once they were knighted.
Gereinte backed away on his hands and feet. Drayton appeared at his shoulder and hissed like a snake. Gereinte looked up into unforgiving eyes, trying to imagine this pair of jesters in the Queen’s colours.
“Purple wouldn’t suit you anyway,” he said to himself.
“What did he say?” Drayton said, still labouring for breath.
“Dunno,” Charrock said, grinning. “Something about purple… how hard did you hit him?”
“Not hard enough,” Drayton said, rising above his victim. Drayton’s next blow caught him across the face, snapping his head back with the force. The salty, metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. Instinctively, his hands flew to his face. He had a gash on his upper lip and was sure to have visible bruising. This time, he had them. They couldn’t get away with it, too much evidence. Charrock knew it too.
“What the darkness do you think you are doing? No marks, remember?” He stepped over Gereinte and pushed Drayton away. “Now what are you going to do about it? This was you, not me. Remember that when you are summoned before the Queen Regent,” Charrock said.
“Whatever happened to ‘we’ll stick together, no matter what’? Got cold feet have you? Some friend you are,” Drayton said. But Charrock continued to jab him in the shoulder to emphasise his point.
“If I get chucked out, my father will disown me.”
“This is different.” There was a look of delight on Drayton’s face and Gereinte decided it was time to start inching away. He managed to roll onto all fours while the squires continued to argue and push each other. If he moved slowly enough, the noise of his escape might be muffled by the brawl going on.
Inch by inch, he sneaked away.
At two, three yards, he dared to look over his shoulder and saw the argument had descended into violence. Slowly, he stood up. Drayton aimed a punch at Charrock, who dodged it and slammed an uppercut into Drayton’s chest, just at the spot he had been kicked. Drayton’s face flushed red with rage and pain. Gereinte crept away. Light burst out of the clearing ahead. If he could just make it that far, someone would surely see him from the castle walls. Just a few more… wretched… steps.
His foot was wrenched forcibly from behind him and suddenly, he was being dragged backwards through the woods. Bits of stone, twigs and tree roots battered his hands and face, cutting little nicks in his skin. It was like he was lying still and the ground was being pulled from under him. He closed his eyes as dirt and debris filled his eyes, nose and mouth. The earthy scent of decay was overwhelming. Then, a sudden crack to the side of his head and the world started spinning. Nausea rose from the pit of his stomach. He opened an eye. A large oak tree blocked the path.
“Idiot. That could have killed him.” Drayton’s voice.
“I thought that was the idea,” Charrock said.
“Not before I’ve had my fun.” They laughed.
“This’ll do,” Charrock said. “I hope you brought some rope.”
Rope? Gereinte panicked. He tried to get up, but his legs buckled.
“No you don’t. You’re not going anywhere,” Drayton said, striking Gereinte’s face again. An explosion of stars danced before his eyes. Drayton pushed Gereinte flat to the ground and held him there, while Charrock fumbled around by his feet. The rope was pulled so tight, his feet went numb. They yanked him up while the rope was tied around the tree. Then forced his arms behind him around the tree trunk, each wrist bound so tight, he could no longer feel his fingers. The boys took their time to forage around for the biggest sticks and branches they could find.
Gereinte let his head loll to his chest. What would his father have thought? He tried wriggling his hands and feet, but he couldn’t feel them. Not much hope there. Never give up hope. His father’s words drifted into his thoughts. Deep breath. Don’t show them how much it hurts. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
Gereinte Andolin, Prince Royal and heir to Carentan raised his head and levelled his eyes with his persecutors. Drayton’s piggy black eyes stared back at him and for a moment, Gereinte indulged himself with imagining a large snout to replace that button nose. Yes, much better. He smiled. Drayton flinched, eyes widened with surprise. Gereinte had won on a different level, a level that these two were unlikely ever to understand. Drayton swung his stick with all his might and Gereinte was ready for it. The blows pelted him over and over. Drayton and Charrock swapped and changed; head, body, legs. All the time, he kept his gaze fixed ahead until eventually, he let his eyelids slide shut. His chin dropped softly to his chest and he slipped thankfully into unconsciousness.
***
Gereinte was aware of pain. Had he been sleeping? He wanted so much to sleep, but this gut-wrenching agony kept bringing him back from the edge of darkness. He slipped away again. Blissful peace. He yearned for the quiet that sleep would bring, but something kept dragging him back, making him feel the pain again. Gods, why can’t they leave him in peace?
The rhythm of his heart was erratic and slow, but there was another beat - strong and determined, it craved his indulgence and was not going to give up. His heart picked up the beat and ran with it, coaxing the breath from his lungs. He could not resist. It was playing the tune of his life, daring him to get up and move on.
A sharp intake of breath, then his eyes flew open. He was on his back, a canopy of trees overhead. He squeezed his eyes shut again, blinded by the light. Gasping for breath, he dug his fingernails into the dirt in which he lay, slowly opening one eye to try and get a grip on his whereabouts. Every breath he took was speared with pain.
There was a giant who towered above him, huge paw-like hands cupped above his chest. It must have been the panic on his face, because the giant backed away and held his hands aloft in a gesture of peace. His huge, muscular body was dressed in the green and browns of a forest ranger. Then Gereinte remembered; the boys, the tree, the sticks.
What was a ranger doing in the castle grounds? His face was oddly familiar, but there was something missing, as though it didn’t match the place or the occasion. The rope binding on Gereinte’s feet and hands had been cut, he was lying flat on his back and there was a dull ache in his chest.
The giant disappeared and was replaced by officious looking royal advisers and castle guards. They swelled around him, fussing and cursing and shouting at one another. All he wanted to do was to shout and holler, but his voice had deserted him.
He was carried on a make-shift litter by several men, who were still cursing each other even as they reached the castle, where the royal medic awaited. He was safe at last, to sleep.

Chapter Two

Seneschal, Nils Martan, hurried towards the Western staircase which led up to the Great Hall, where the Queen Regent, Caitlin Andolin, was holding court.
“Seneschal, please,” a small voice said.
He whipped around, startled by the sheer panic in the voice. Nils’s crimson robes swished to a halt, echoing the movement of his tall, thin frame. He looked at the pageboy who stood wringing his hat with his hands and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Nils lifted an eyebrow.
“It… it’s the Prince,” the boy said. “I saw him go and two squires went after him. I know I shouldn’t say… but they hurt other boys, smaller boys. I just thought… I tried to tell a castle guard and he just told me that I didn’t see anything. So… I didn’t see anything, but they went into the woods on the west side of the Tower and they didn’t come out.”
Nils knelt down and prised the felt hat out of the boy’s hands, straightened it out and placed it back on top of his head.
“You did the right thing,” he said. “You know you can tell me anything and I will make sure you are safe. Now, go back to your duties and I will see to the Prince.”
The boy smiled with relief and he headed back the way he had come. Nils doubled back towards the Western wall sighing. Not again. How did the Prince keep getting caught up in these games?
The guards on the Western wall were chattering and exchanging playful banter when Nils appeared. They stood to attention and tried to look busy, scanning the horizon and looking out across the farmlands that surrounded the castle and beyond. He ignored the momentary lapse of concentration; he would deal with that later. For now, his priority was the Prince. He knew which guards he could trust and those that could be bribed by outsiders looking for a spy inside the castle grounds. The likelihood that some of these men were being paid not only by the Queen Regent, but by other noble houses was a certainty he had to live with. Since the death of the King, every eye in the nation was on the throne of Carentan. It was a fine line between protecting the Prince until he came of age and allowing him the freedom to fight his own battles.
The transformation of the castle guards was instantaneous as the Seneschal swept along the Western wall. He stopped beside a guard who appeared alert; gaze focused on the woodland inside the grounds.
“How long?” Nils kept his voice low, but didn’t try to hide his urgency.
The guard’s focus did not waver for an instant.
“An hour, maybe more, Seneschal, Sir.”
Grief. Where in this gods forsaken castle was the Prince’s personal guard? Nils sprinted back down the staircase towards the garrison, barking orders to servants and rounding up a team of guards who followed in his wake. Servants were fleeing and shouts for the royal medic and the Prince’s personal guard echoed around the corridors. The Seneschal had a reputation for being all-seeing and all-powerful. Well, he was kicking himself now. Something had gone wrong and the Queen would hang him from the nearest balustrade if anything had happened to the Prince. The search party swept out of the Western gate and marched towards the woodland; there was no hiding this little excursion and Nils hoped that the only mistake he had to face today was his overreaction to the Prince’s latest escapade.
***
Nils stood, head bowed. Caitlin Andolin, Queen Regent of Carentan paced up and down her palace living quarters. The view from the window looked out over the castle gardens and beyond, to the woodland that encircled the inner and outer walls. As she paced, her fur trimmed magenta robes cut a swathe in her wake. She stopped every so often, as though pausing for thought, before resuming her rhythmic pattern. This always made Nils feel uncomfortable. It either meant she was about to come up with some impossible idea or that it meant trouble for whoever was in the room. Some of the barons likened her to a caged tigress. The tigress epitomised her fiery spirit and the cage was the kingdom she was bound to rule.
Prince Gereinte. Nils bowed his head lower, studying the red and beige woven mats beneath his feet. The shame of it. He should have been aware of the Prince’s movements at all times. The boy’s face had been barely recognisable when they found him. And his body… the royal medic predicted weeks before he would fully recover, if indeed he’d be able to walk at all. It was his fault; Nils had appointed the Prince’s personal guard and it was his responsibility. He wrung his hands together over and over and tried not to be intimidated by the Queen’s continual pacing. But she was absorbed in her own thoughts. They had been over and over the scene. Nils had told her everything he knew, but she was still not satisfied. She stopped and turned to face Nils, her emerald eyes glared out from beneath the jewelled head dress.
“Ah ha.”
There was finality to her tone, which he knew meant that whatever came next would be yet another episode in the royal game plan. It was like being in the backdrop of a large tapestry, unable to see the whole picture.
“You said that there was binding around his feet and hands. That it had been cut by the time you got there?” she said.
“Yes, yes, Your Highness. He had been bound before…” the words stuck in Nils’s throat.
“I spoke to the Medic, who said that there was a circular bruising to his upper chest, not in keeping with the deep welts created by whatever had been used to beat him.” The Queen fixed her gaze upon Nils and he shrank away from her intensity.
“Which would indicate,” she said, “that someone got there before you?” That possibility had not crossed Nil’s mind, but on reflection, it seemed obvious. “Someone saved his life and I need to find out who.”
“But, Your Highness. How do you…?”
“Well, if this person wanted him dead, he would be dead. It is not as if he was going anywhere,” she said.
“No, quite.”
“And until Gereinte regains consciousness, this person is a crucial witness. Find him, Nils. Use all of your networks. Bring Gereinte’s saviour to me. That is all.”
Dismissed, Nils retreated. The sooner he talked to his people, the sooner he would come up with a result for the Queen. Anything less than success would be inconceivable.
***
The chamber door closed behind the Seneschal. Caitlin sighed and let her shoulders droop.
She wanted to scream and shout the walls down, but knew that the servants would come running at the noise. Instead, she screwed up her face and let the tears stream down. To have almost lost her son so soon after her husband… it was almost too much.
A platter of cold meats, cheese and a jug of wine lay untouched on the table. Caitlin’s hands trembled as she poured a cup of wine and forced herself to drink. She couldn’t yet face the rest. The wine began to warm her insides and she started to pull herself together. She could not afford to indulge her maternal instinct for too long; there was so much to do. This was not the first attempt on Gereinte’s life, if indeed an assassination attempt it was, and it certainly would not be the last. It was, however, the most violent, which is what disturbed Caitlin the most.
Gereinte’s personal guard would have to be replaced; preferably with someone a little less gullible. The boy was becoming quite a strategist; it was just a shame he didn’t yet have the physical strength to back it up. But that would come. That was all part of the plan. Caitlin nearly choked on the wine. Dear gods… the plan. That had very nearly gone out of the window, had it not been for one man’s intervention in the woods that afternoon. Caitlin needed to know who it was. Never before had it been so crucial to know your allies as well as your enemies. There was no mistaking the curious mark on Gereinte’s chest. She had once watched Reiner bring back the life of a small boy he had found, nearly mauled to death by a wild animal in the forest. They never spoke of what he had done for fear that folk would accuse them of being cursed by witchcraft.
The two squires who had perpetrated the attack had been rounded up and brought before their Queen. It made her sick to her pit to see them stand there with barefaced denial of ever having been near the woods that afternoon. Several witnesses including a pageboy and a castle guard had confirmed their identity despite having to cajole this information from them with promises of royal protection. What worried Caitlin more was who had put the squires up to this attack. It was easy enough to banish them from the kingdom, but Carentan’s real enemies were still close at hand. Despite Nil’s best efforts to cleanse the palace of spies, it was still not safe to assume that all the castle staff were loyal to her interests. Caitlin sat and picked at the food. She was going to need her strength in the hours and days ahead.
The door to her chambers opened and Caitlin scrambled to her feet, quickly straightening herself out and adopting an air of aloof authority. Audan Borsa, Caitlin’s mother glided into the room, closely followed by Ladys Autin, the Queen’s Chief Lady in Waiting and two servants. Caitlin embraced her mother, while Ladys instructed the servants to replace the dishes with fresh ones and refill the jug.
“Ladys, don’t fuss so,” Caitlin said. Ladys tutted under her breath and continued fussing. She had a gentle demeanour, which matched her rounded face and creamy complexion. Ladys always had a smile and a cheery word, for which Caitlin was especially grateful at a time like this. Despite the Queen’s constant chiding, Ladys refused to do anything less than a superb job of looking after Caitlin.
Audan Borsa looked like an older, slightly plumper version of Caitlin. Her dress was conservative, due to the amount of time she spent in Royal children’s living quarters and her hair was white. Lines of worry were etched into Audan’s expression.
“How is he?” Caitlin said.
“He has regained consciousness. I thought you would want to know,” Audan said. Caitlin released a long sigh.
“Thanks the gods,” she said. “I must see him.”
“Of course. But first, you must eat.” Audan took Caitlin by the elbow and guided her towards the seating area where a trestle had been set up with fresh food and drink. “Then Ladys will return to help you freshen up before you visit Gereinte.”
“Sit with me,” Caitlin said, lowering herself onto a bench. “Tell me how the children are.” Audan smiled warmly and sat down while Ladys shooed the servants away.

The Prince Of Carentan by FG Laval

EXTRACT FOR
The Prince Of Carentan

(FG Laval)


Chapter One

The blood pounded in Gereinte’s ears. He sprinted away from the Tower, then chanced a glance over his shoulder. The older boy was gaining on him fast. Sweat beaded his skin. His hands tingled in the cold, damp air. Surely the castle guards would have seen him from their vantage point? He took a deep breath, put his head down and pelted for the forest. It would be too humiliating to be caught out in the open, in front of the men he would one day command.
His foot caught a tree root and he fell, protecting his face with his hands. His whole body stung, with the pain of the fall and the bitterness of knowing what would come next. The boy descended upon him and kicked him hard.
Crunch.
The blow to his side was excruciating.
Something cracked, a rib? The air was sucked from his lungs. He gasped. Each short, shallow breath punctuated the pain. He tried to roll onto his side, but a coarse leather boot pressed on his shoulder like a dead weight.
“Not so tough without Warmaster Alaric looking over your shoulder, eh?” the boy said.
He looked up the stocking covered leg; it was Drayton, squire to the knight, Fulk. Gereinte coughed, winced and a spear-like pain lanced through the side of his body.
He gauged Drayton’s size. If he were to get out of this in one piece, he would have to be quick. Quick witted and as quick on his feet as his small, wiry frame allowed.
“Let me up and we’ll do this man to man.” Gereinte’s voice sounded distant, as though it belonged to another person, someone strong and confident, not weakened by pain and humiliation. Drayton grinned. The weight lifted and Gereinte stole a short, pain-wracked breath. He rolled nimbly onto his side drawing his knees into his chest before thrusting out his feet as hard as possible into Drayton’s chest. It was worth it to see the shock on Drayton’s face; his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets and his mouth worked like a fish, fighting to catch his breath.
Gereinte knew he had only a split second to make his escape. He sprang to his feet, ignoring the burning sensation in his side, launched into a sprint and slammed straight into the body of another person.
First, he was relieved as he slumped to the ground; someone from the castle guard had been sent to find out what was going on. Then, crushing defeat as he realised he had run headlong into Drayton’s training partner, Squire Charrock. Charrock loomed above him with a mean grin. Charrock and Drayton were given a wide berth by most squires or pageboys who had even the slightest instinct of self-preservation. It was well known that the duo preyed on the small and weak for sport, but they were subtle enough to get away with it. To top it, they were good, loyal squires and tipped for joining the Queen’s Guard once they were knighted.
Gereinte backed away on his hands and feet. Drayton appeared at his shoulder and hissed like a snake. Gereinte looked up into unforgiving eyes, trying to imagine this pair of jesters in the Queen’s colours.
“Purple wouldn’t suit you anyway,” he said to himself.
“What did he say?” Drayton said, still labouring for breath.
“Dunno,” Charrock said, grinning. “Something about purple… how hard did you hit him?”
“Not hard enough,” Drayton said, rising above his victim. Drayton’s next blow caught him across the face, snapping his head back with the force. The salty, metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. Instinctively, his hands flew to his face. He had a gash on his upper lip and was sure to have visible bruising. This time, he had them. They couldn’t get away with it, too much evidence. Charrock knew it too.
“What the darkness do you think you are doing? No marks, remember?” He stepped over Gereinte and pushed Drayton away. “Now what are you going to do about it? This was you, not me. Remember that when you are summoned before the Queen Regent,” Charrock said.
“Whatever happened to ‘we’ll stick together, no matter what’? Got cold feet have you? Some friend you are,” Drayton said. But Charrock continued to jab him in the shoulder to emphasise his point.
“If I get chucked out, my father will disown me.”
“This is different.” There was a look of delight on Drayton’s face and Gereinte decided it was time to start inching away. He managed to roll onto all fours while the squires continued to argue and push each other. If he moved slowly enough, the noise of his escape might be muffled by the brawl going on.
Inch by inch, he sneaked away.
At two, three yards, he dared to look over his shoulder and saw the argument had descended into violence. Slowly, he stood up. Drayton aimed a punch at Charrock, who dodged it and slammed an uppercut into Drayton’s chest, just at the spot he had been kicked. Drayton’s face flushed red with rage and pain. Gereinte crept away. Light burst out of the clearing ahead. If he could just make it that far, someone would surely see him from the castle walls. Just a few more… wretched… steps.
His foot was wrenched forcibly from behind him and suddenly, he was being dragged backwards through the woods. Bits of stone, twigs and tree roots battered his hands and face, cutting little nicks in his skin. It was like he was lying still and the ground was being pulled from under him. He closed his eyes as dirt and debris filled his eyes, nose and mouth. The earthy scent of decay was overwhelming. Then, a sudden crack to the side of his head and the world started spinning. Nausea rose from the pit of his stomach. He opened an eye. A large oak tree blocked the path.
“Idiot. That could have killed him.” Drayton’s voice.
“I thought that was the idea,” Charrock said.
“Not before I’ve had my fun.” They laughed.
“This’ll do,” Charrock said. “I hope you brought some rope.”
Rope? Gereinte panicked. He tried to get up, but his legs buckled.
“No you don’t. You’re not going anywhere,” Drayton said, striking Gereinte’s face again. An explosion of stars danced before his eyes. Drayton pushed Gereinte flat to the ground and held him there, while Charrock fumbled around by his feet. The rope was pulled so tight, his feet went numb. They yanked him up while the rope was tied around the tree. Then forced his arms behind him around the tree trunk, each wrist bound so tight, he could no longer feel his fingers. The boys took their time to forage around for the biggest sticks and branches they could find.
Gereinte let his head loll to his chest. What would his father have thought? He tried wriggling his hands and feet, but he couldn’t feel them. Not much hope there. Never give up hope. His father’s words drifted into his thoughts. Deep breath. Don’t show them how much it hurts. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
Gereinte Andolin, Prince Royal and heir to Carentan raised his head and levelled his eyes with his persecutors. Drayton’s piggy black eyes stared back at him and for a moment, Gereinte indulged himself with imagining a large snout to replace that button nose. Yes, much better. He smiled. Drayton flinched, eyes widened with surprise. Gereinte had won on a different level, a level that these two were unlikely ever to understand. Drayton swung his stick with all his might and Gereinte was ready for it. The blows pelted him over and over. Drayton and Charrock swapped and changed; head, body, legs. All the time, he kept his gaze fixed ahead until eventually, he let his eyelids slide shut. His chin dropped softly to his chest and he slipped thankfully into unconsciousness.
***
Gereinte was aware of pain. Had he been sleeping? He wanted so much to sleep, but this gut-wrenching agony kept bringing him back from the edge of darkness. He slipped away again. Blissful peace. He yearned for the quiet that sleep would bring, but something kept dragging him back, making him feel the pain again. Gods, why can’t they leave him in peace?
The rhythm of his heart was erratic and slow, but there was another beat - strong and determined, it craved his indulgence and was not going to give up. His heart picked up the beat and ran with it, coaxing the breath from his lungs. He could not resist. It was playing the tune of his life, daring him to get up and move on.
A sharp intake of breath, then his eyes flew open. He was on his back, a canopy of trees overhead. He squeezed his eyes shut again, blinded by the light. Gasping for breath, he dug his fingernails into the dirt in which he lay, slowly opening one eye to try and get a grip on his whereabouts. Every breath he took was speared with pain.
There was a giant who towered above him, huge paw-like hands cupped above his chest. It must have been the panic on his face, because the giant backed away and held his hands aloft in a gesture of peace. His huge, muscular body was dressed in the green and browns of a forest ranger. Then Gereinte remembered; the boys, the tree, the sticks.
What was a ranger doing in the castle grounds? His face was oddly familiar, but there was something missing, as though it didn’t match the place or the occasion. The rope binding on Gereinte’s feet and hands had been cut, he was lying flat on his back and there was a dull ache in his chest.
The giant disappeared and was replaced by officious looking royal advisers and castle guards. They swelled around him, fussing and cursing and shouting at one another. All he wanted to do was to shout and holler, but his voice had deserted him.
He was carried on a make-shift litter by several men, who were still cursing each other even as they reached the castle, where the royal medic awaited. He was safe at last, to sleep.

Chapter Two

Seneschal, Nils Martan, hurried towards the Western staircase which led up to the Great Hall, where the Queen Regent, Caitlin Andolin, was holding court.
“Seneschal, please,” a small voice said.
He whipped around, startled by the sheer panic in the voice. Nils’s crimson robes swished to a halt, echoing the movement of his tall, thin frame. He looked at the pageboy who stood wringing his hat with his hands and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Nils lifted an eyebrow.
“It… it’s the Prince,” the boy said. “I saw him go and two squires went after him. I know I shouldn’t say… but they hurt other boys, smaller boys. I just thought… I tried to tell a castle guard and he just told me that I didn’t see anything. So… I didn’t see anything, but they went into the woods on the west side of the Tower and they didn’t come out.”
Nils knelt down and prised the felt hat out of the boy’s hands, straightened it out and placed it back on top of his head.
“You did the right thing,” he said. “You know you can tell me anything and I will make sure you are safe. Now, go back to your duties and I will see to the Prince.”
The boy smiled with relief and he headed back the way he had come. Nils doubled back towards the Western wall sighing. Not again. How did the Prince keep getting caught up in these games?
The guards on the Western wall were chattering and exchanging playful banter when Nils appeared. They stood to attention and tried to look busy, scanning the horizon and looking out across the farmlands that surrounded the castle and beyond. He ignored the momentary lapse of concentration; he would deal with that later. For now, his priority was the Prince. He knew which guards he could trust and those that could be bribed by outsiders looking for a spy inside the castle grounds. The likelihood that some of these men were being paid not only by the Queen Regent, but by other noble houses was a certainty he had to live with. Since the death of the King, every eye in the nation was on the throne of Carentan. It was a fine line between protecting the Prince until he came of age and allowing him the freedom to fight his own battles.
The transformation of the castle guards was instantaneous as the Seneschal swept along the Western wall. He stopped beside a guard who appeared alert; gaze focused on the woodland inside the grounds.
“How long?” Nils kept his voice low, but didn’t try to hide his urgency.
The guard’s focus did not waver for an instant.
“An hour, maybe more, Seneschal, Sir.”
Grief. Where in this gods forsaken castle was the Prince’s personal guard? Nils sprinted back down the staircase towards the garrison, barking orders to servants and rounding up a team of guards who followed in his wake. Servants were fleeing and shouts for the royal medic and the Prince’s personal guard echoed around the corridors. The Seneschal had a reputation for being all-seeing and all-powerful. Well, he was kicking himself now. Something had gone wrong and the Queen would hang him from the nearest balustrade if anything had happened to the Prince. The search party swept out of the Western gate and marched towards the woodland; there was no hiding this little excursion and Nils hoped that the only mistake he had to face today was his overreaction to the Prince’s latest escapade.
***
Nils stood, head bowed. Caitlin Andolin, Queen Regent of Carentan paced up and down her palace living quarters. The view from the window looked out over the castle gardens and beyond, to the woodland that encircled the inner and outer walls. As she paced, her fur trimmed magenta robes cut a swathe in her wake. She stopped every so often, as though pausing for thought, before resuming her rhythmic pattern. This always made Nils feel uncomfortable. It either meant she was about to come up with some impossible idea or that it meant trouble for whoever was in the room. Some of the barons likened her to a caged tigress. The tigress epitomised her fiery spirit and the cage was the kingdom she was bound to rule.
Prince Gereinte. Nils bowed his head lower, studying the red and beige woven mats beneath his feet. The shame of it. He should have been aware of the Prince’s movements at all times. The boy’s face had been barely recognisable when they found him. And his body… the royal medic predicted weeks before he would fully recover, if indeed he’d be able to walk at all. It was his fault; Nils had appointed the Prince’s personal guard and it was his responsibility. He wrung his hands together over and over and tried not to be intimidated by the Queen’s continual pacing. But she was absorbed in her own thoughts. They had been over and over the scene. Nils had told her everything he knew, but she was still not satisfied. She stopped and turned to face Nils, her emerald eyes glared out from beneath the jewelled head dress.
“Ah ha.”
There was finality to her tone, which he knew meant that whatever came next would be yet another episode in the royal game plan. It was like being in the backdrop of a large tapestry, unable to see the whole picture.
“You said that there was binding around his feet and hands. That it had been cut by the time you got there?” she said.
“Yes, yes, Your Highness. He had been bound before…” the words stuck in Nils’s throat.
“I spoke to the Medic, who said that there was a circular bruising to his upper chest, not in keeping with the deep welts created by whatever had been used to beat him.” The Queen fixed her gaze upon Nils and he shrank away from her intensity.
“Which would indicate,” she said, “that someone got there before you?” That possibility had not crossed Nil’s mind, but on reflection, it seemed obvious. “Someone saved his life and I need to find out who.”
“But, Your Highness. How do you…?”
“Well, if this person wanted him dead, he would be dead. It is not as if he was going anywhere,” she said.
“No, quite.”
“And until Gereinte regains consciousness, this person is a crucial witness. Find him, Nils. Use all of your networks. Bring Gereinte’s saviour to me. That is all.”
Dismissed, Nils retreated. The sooner he talked to his people, the sooner he would come up with a result for the Queen. Anything less than success would be inconceivable.
***
The chamber door closed behind the Seneschal. Caitlin sighed and let her shoulders droop.
She wanted to scream and shout the walls down, but knew that the servants would come running at the noise. Instead, she screwed up her face and let the tears stream down. To have almost lost her son so soon after her husband… it was almost too much.
A platter of cold meats, cheese and a jug of wine lay untouched on the table. Caitlin’s hands trembled as she poured a cup of wine and forced herself to drink. She couldn’t yet face the rest. The wine began to warm her insides and she started to pull herself together. She could not afford to indulge her maternal instinct for too long; there was so much to do. This was not the first attempt on Gereinte’s life, if indeed an assassination attempt it was, and it certainly would not be the last. It was, however, the most violent, which is what disturbed Caitlin the most.
Gereinte’s personal guard would have to be replaced; preferably with someone a little less gullible. The boy was becoming quite a strategist; it was just a shame he didn’t yet have the physical strength to back it up. But that would come. That was all part of the plan. Caitlin nearly choked on the wine. Dear gods… the plan. That had very nearly gone out of the window, had it not been for one man’s intervention in the woods that afternoon. Caitlin needed to know who it was. Never before had it been so crucial to know your allies as well as your enemies. There was no mistaking the curious mark on Gereinte’s chest. She had once watched Reiner bring back the life of a small boy he had found, nearly mauled to death by a wild animal in the forest. They never spoke of what he had done for fear that folk would accuse them of being cursed by witchcraft.
The two squires who had perpetrated the attack had been rounded up and brought before their Queen. It made her sick to her pit to see them stand there with barefaced denial of ever having been near the woods that afternoon. Several witnesses including a pageboy and a castle guard had confirmed their identity despite having to cajole this information from them with promises of royal protection. What worried Caitlin more was who had put the squires up to this attack. It was easy enough to banish them from the kingdom, but Carentan’s real enemies were still close at hand. Despite Nil’s best efforts to cleanse the palace of spies, it was still not safe to assume that all the castle staff were loyal to her interests. Caitlin sat and picked at the food. She was going to need her strength in the hours and days ahead.
The door to her chambers opened and Caitlin scrambled to her feet, quickly straightening herself out and adopting an air of aloof authority. Audan Borsa, Caitlin’s mother glided into the room, closely followed by Ladys Autin, the Queen’s Chief Lady in Waiting and two servants. Caitlin embraced her mother, while Ladys instructed the servants to replace the dishes with fresh ones and refill the jug.
“Ladys, don’t fuss so,” Caitlin said. Ladys tutted under her breath and continued fussing. She had a gentle demeanour, which matched her rounded face and creamy complexion. Ladys always had a smile and a cheery word, for which Caitlin was especially grateful at a time like this. Despite the Queen’s constant chiding, Ladys refused to do anything less than a superb job of looking after Caitlin.
Audan Borsa looked like an older, slightly plumper version of Caitlin. Her dress was conservative, due to the amount of time she spent in Royal children’s living quarters and her hair was white. Lines of worry were etched into Audan’s expression.
“How is he?” Caitlin said.
“He has regained consciousness. I thought you would want to know,” Audan said. Caitlin released a long sigh.
“Thanks the gods,” she said. “I must see him.”
“Of course. But first, you must eat.” Audan took Caitlin by the elbow and guided her towards the seating area where a trestle had been set up with fresh food and drink. “Then Ladys will return to help you freshen up before you visit Gereinte.”
“Sit with me,” Caitlin said, lowering herself onto a bench. “Tell me how the children are.” Audan smiled warmly and sat down while Ladys shooed the servants away.

EXTRACT FOR
The Prince Of Carentan

(FG Laval)


Chapter One

The blood pounded in Gereinte’s ears. He sprinted away from the Tower, then chanced a glance over his shoulder. The older boy was gaining on him fast. Sweat beaded his skin. His hands tingled in the cold, damp air. Surely the castle guards would have seen him from their vantage point? He took a deep breath, put his head down and pelted for the forest. It would be too humiliating to be caught out in the open, in front of the men he would one day command.
His foot caught a tree root and he fell, protecting his face with his hands. His whole body stung, with the pain of the fall and the bitterness of knowing what would come next. The boy descended upon him and kicked him hard.
Crunch.
The blow to his side was excruciating.
Something cracked, a rib? The air was sucked from his lungs. He gasped. Each short, shallow breath punctuated the pain. He tried to roll onto his side, but a coarse leather boot pressed on his shoulder like a dead weight.
“Not so tough without Warmaster Alaric looking over your shoulder, eh?” the boy said.
He looked up the stocking covered leg; it was Drayton, squire to the knight, Fulk. Gereinte coughed, winced and a spear-like pain lanced through the side of his body.
He gauged Drayton’s size. If he were to get out of this in one piece, he would have to be quick. Quick witted and as quick on his feet as his small, wiry frame allowed.
“Let me up and we’ll do this man to man.” Gereinte’s voice sounded distant, as though it belonged to another person, someone strong and confident, not weakened by pain and humiliation. Drayton grinned. The weight lifted and Gereinte stole a short, pain-wracked breath. He rolled nimbly onto his side drawing his knees into his chest before thrusting out his feet as hard as possible into Drayton’s chest. It was worth it to see the shock on Drayton’s face; his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets and his mouth worked like a fish, fighting to catch his breath.
Gereinte knew he had only a split second to make his escape. He sprang to his feet, ignoring the burning sensation in his side, launched into a sprint and slammed straight into the body of another person.
First, he was relieved as he slumped to the ground; someone from the castle guard had been sent to find out what was going on. Then, crushing defeat as he realised he had run headlong into Drayton’s training partner, Squire Charrock. Charrock loomed above him with a mean grin. Charrock and Drayton were given a wide berth by most squires or pageboys who had even the slightest instinct of self-preservation. It was well known that the duo preyed on the small and weak for sport, but they were subtle enough to get away with it. To top it, they were good, loyal squires and tipped for joining the Queen’s Guard once they were knighted.
Gereinte backed away on his hands and feet. Drayton appeared at his shoulder and hissed like a snake. Gereinte looked up into unforgiving eyes, trying to imagine this pair of jesters in the Queen’s colours.
“Purple wouldn’t suit you anyway,” he said to himself.
“What did he say?” Drayton said, still labouring for breath.
“Dunno,” Charrock said, grinning. “Something about purple… how hard did you hit him?”
“Not hard enough,” Drayton said, rising above his victim. Drayton’s next blow caught him across the face, snapping his head back with the force. The salty, metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. Instinctively, his hands flew to his face. He had a gash on his upper lip and was sure to have visible bruising. This time, he had them. They couldn’t get away with it, too much evidence. Charrock knew it too.
“What the darkness do you think you are doing? No marks, remember?” He stepped over Gereinte and pushed Drayton away. “Now what are you going to do about it? This was you, not me. Remember that when you are summoned before the Queen Regent,” Charrock said.
“Whatever happened to ‘we’ll stick together, no matter what’? Got cold feet have you? Some friend you are,” Drayton said. But Charrock continued to jab him in the shoulder to emphasise his point.
“If I get chucked out, my father will disown me.”
“This is different.” There was a look of delight on Drayton’s face and Gereinte decided it was time to start inching away. He managed to roll onto all fours while the squires continued to argue and push each other. If he moved slowly enough, the noise of his escape might be muffled by the brawl going on.
Inch by inch, he sneaked away.
At two, three yards, he dared to look over his shoulder and saw the argument had descended into violence. Slowly, he stood up. Drayton aimed a punch at Charrock, who dodged it and slammed an uppercut into Drayton’s chest, just at the spot he had been kicked. Drayton’s face flushed red with rage and pain. Gereinte crept away. Light burst out of the clearing ahead. If he could just make it that far, someone would surely see him from the castle walls. Just a few more… wretched… steps.
His foot was wrenched forcibly from behind him and suddenly, he was being dragged backwards through the woods. Bits of stone, twigs and tree roots battered his hands and face, cutting little nicks in his skin. It was like he was lying still and the ground was being pulled from under him. He closed his eyes as dirt and debris filled his eyes, nose and mouth. The earthy scent of decay was overwhelming. Then, a sudden crack to the side of his head and the world started spinning. Nausea rose from the pit of his stomach. He opened an eye. A large oak tree blocked the path.
“Idiot. That could have killed him.” Drayton’s voice.
“I thought that was the idea,” Charrock said.
“Not before I’ve had my fun.” They laughed.
“This’ll do,” Charrock said. “I hope you brought some rope.”
Rope? Gereinte panicked. He tried to get up, but his legs buckled.
“No you don’t. You’re not going anywhere,” Drayton said, striking Gereinte’s face again. An explosion of stars danced before his eyes. Drayton pushed Gereinte flat to the ground and held him there, while Charrock fumbled around by his feet. The rope was pulled so tight, his feet went numb. They yanked him up while the rope was tied around the tree. Then forced his arms behind him around the tree trunk, each wrist bound so tight, he could no longer feel his fingers. The boys took their time to forage around for the biggest sticks and branches they could find.
Gereinte let his head loll to his chest. What would his father have thought? He tried wriggling his hands and feet, but he couldn’t feel them. Not much hope there. Never give up hope. His father’s words drifted into his thoughts. Deep breath. Don’t show them how much it hurts. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
Gereinte Andolin, Prince Royal and heir to Carentan raised his head and levelled his eyes with his persecutors. Drayton’s piggy black eyes stared back at him and for a moment, Gereinte indulged himself with imagining a large snout to replace that button nose. Yes, much better. He smiled. Drayton flinched, eyes widened with surprise. Gereinte had won on a different level, a level that these two were unlikely ever to understand. Drayton swung his stick with all his might and Gereinte was ready for it. The blows pelted him over and over. Drayton and Charrock swapped and changed; head, body, legs. All the time, he kept his gaze fixed ahead until eventually, he let his eyelids slide shut. His chin dropped softly to his chest and he slipped thankfully into unconsciousness.
***
Gereinte was aware of pain. Had he been sleeping? He wanted so much to sleep, but this gut-wrenching agony kept bringing him back from the edge of darkness. He slipped away again. Blissful peace. He yearned for the quiet that sleep would bring, but something kept dragging him back, making him feel the pain again. Gods, why can’t they leave him in peace?
The rhythm of his heart was erratic and slow, but there was another beat - strong and determined, it craved his indulgence and was not going to give up. His heart picked up the beat and ran with it, coaxing the breath from his lungs. He could not resist. It was playing the tune of his life, daring him to get up and move on.
A sharp intake of breath, then his eyes flew open. He was on his back, a canopy of trees overhead. He squeezed his eyes shut again, blinded by the light. Gasping for breath, he dug his fingernails into the dirt in which he lay, slowly opening one eye to try and get a grip on his whereabouts. Every breath he took was speared with pain.
There was a giant who towered above him, huge paw-like hands cupped above his chest. It must have been the panic on his face, because the giant backed away and held his hands aloft in a gesture of peace. His huge, muscular body was dressed in the green and browns of a forest ranger. Then Gereinte remembered; the boys, the tree, the sticks.
What was a ranger doing in the castle grounds? His face was oddly familiar, but there was something missing, as though it didn’t match the place or the occasion. The rope binding on Gereinte’s feet and hands had been cut, he was lying flat on his back and there was a dull ache in his chest.
The giant disappeared and was replaced by officious looking royal advisers and castle guards. They swelled around him, fussing and cursing and shouting at one another. All he wanted to do was to shout and holler, but his voice had deserted him.
He was carried on a make-shift litter by several men, who were still cursing each other even as they reached the castle, where the royal medic awaited. He was safe at last, to sleep.

Chapter Two

Seneschal, Nils Martan, hurried towards the Western staircase which led up to the Great Hall, where the Queen Regent, Caitlin Andolin, was holding court.
“Seneschal, please,” a small voice said.
He whipped around, startled by the sheer panic in the voice. Nils’s crimson robes swished to a halt, echoing the movement of his tall, thin frame. He looked at the pageboy who stood wringing his hat with his hands and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Nils lifted an eyebrow.
“It… it’s the Prince,” the boy said. “I saw him go and two squires went after him. I know I shouldn’t say… but they hurt other boys, smaller boys. I just thought… I tried to tell a castle guard and he just told me that I didn’t see anything. So… I didn’t see anything, but they went into the woods on the west side of the Tower and they didn’t come out.”
Nils knelt down and prised the felt hat out of the boy’s hands, straightened it out and placed it back on top of his head.
“You did the right thing,” he said. “You know you can tell me anything and I will make sure you are safe. Now, go back to your duties and I will see to the Prince.”
The boy smiled with relief and he headed back the way he had come. Nils doubled back towards the Western wall sighing. Not again. How did the Prince keep getting caught up in these games?
The guards on the Western wall were chattering and exchanging playful banter when Nils appeared. They stood to attention and tried to look busy, scanning the horizon and looking out across the farmlands that surrounded the castle and beyond. He ignored the momentary lapse of concentration; he would deal with that later. For now, his priority was the Prince. He knew which guards he could trust and those that could be bribed by outsiders looking for a spy inside the castle grounds. The likelihood that some of these men were being paid not only by the Queen Regent, but by other noble houses was a certainty he had to live with. Since the death of the King, every eye in the nation was on the throne of Carentan. It was a fine line between protecting the Prince until he came of age and allowing him the freedom to fight his own battles.
The transformation of the castle guards was instantaneous as the Seneschal swept along the Western wall. He stopped beside a guard who appeared alert; gaze focused on the woodland inside the grounds.
“How long?” Nils kept his voice low, but didn’t try to hide his urgency.
The guard’s focus did not waver for an instant.
“An hour, maybe more, Seneschal, Sir.”
Grief. Where in this gods forsaken castle was the Prince’s personal guard? Nils sprinted back down the staircase towards the garrison, barking orders to servants and rounding up a team of guards who followed in his wake. Servants were fleeing and shouts for the royal medic and the Prince’s personal guard echoed around the corridors. The Seneschal had a reputation for being all-seeing and all-powerful. Well, he was kicking himself now. Something had gone wrong and the Queen would hang him from the nearest balustrade if anything had happened to the Prince. The search party swept out of the Western gate and marched towards the woodland; there was no hiding this little excursion and Nils hoped that the only mistake he had to face today was his overreaction to the Prince’s latest escapade.
***
Nils stood, head bowed. Caitlin Andolin, Queen Regent of Carentan paced up and down her palace living quarters. The view from the window looked out over the castle gardens and beyond, to the woodland that encircled the inner and outer walls. As she paced, her fur trimmed magenta robes cut a swathe in her wake. She stopped every so often, as though pausing for thought, before resuming her rhythmic pattern. This always made Nils feel uncomfortable. It either meant she was about to come up with some impossible idea or that it meant trouble for whoever was in the room. Some of the barons likened her to a caged tigress. The tigress epitomised her fiery spirit and the cage was the kingdom she was bound to rule.
Prince Gereinte. Nils bowed his head lower, studying the red and beige woven mats beneath his feet. The shame of it. He should have been aware of the Prince’s movements at all times. The boy’s face had been barely recognisable when they found him. And his body… the royal medic predicted weeks before he would fully recover, if indeed he’d be able to walk at all. It was his fault; Nils had appointed the Prince’s personal guard and it was his responsibility. He wrung his hands together over and over and tried not to be intimidated by the Queen’s continual pacing. But she was absorbed in her own thoughts. They had been over and over the scene. Nils had told her everything he knew, but she was still not satisfied. She stopped and turned to face Nils, her emerald eyes glared out from beneath the jewelled head dress.
“Ah ha.”
There was finality to her tone, which he knew meant that whatever came next would be yet another episode in the royal game plan. It was like being in the backdrop of a large tapestry, unable to see the whole picture.
“You said that there was binding around his feet and hands. That it had been cut by the time you got there?” she said.
“Yes, yes, Your Highness. He had been bound before…” the words stuck in Nils’s throat.
“I spoke to the Medic, who said that there was a circular bruising to his upper chest, not in keeping with the deep welts created by whatever had been used to beat him.” The Queen fixed her gaze upon Nils and he shrank away from her intensity.
“Which would indicate,” she said, “that someone got there before you?” That possibility had not crossed Nil’s mind, but on reflection, it seemed obvious. “Someone saved his life and I need to find out who.”
“But, Your Highness. How do you…?”
“Well, if this person wanted him dead, he would be dead. It is not as if he was going anywhere,” she said.
“No, quite.”
“And until Gereinte regains consciousness, this person is a crucial witness. Find him, Nils. Use all of your networks. Bring Gereinte’s saviour to me. That is all.”
Dismissed, Nils retreated. The sooner he talked to his people, the sooner he would come up with a result for the Queen. Anything less than success would be inconceivable.
***
The chamber door closed behind the Seneschal. Caitlin sighed and let her shoulders droop.
She wanted to scream and shout the walls down, but knew that the servants would come running at the noise. Instead, she screwed up her face and let the tears stream down. To have almost lost her son so soon after her husband… it was almost too much.
A platter of cold meats, cheese and a jug of wine lay untouched on the table. Caitlin’s hands trembled as she poured a cup of wine and forced herself to drink. She couldn’t yet face the rest. The wine began to warm her insides and she started to pull herself together. She could not afford to indulge her maternal instinct for too long; there was so much to do. This was not the first attempt on Gereinte’s life, if indeed an assassination attempt it was, and it certainly would not be the last. It was, however, the most violent, which is what disturbed Caitlin the most.
Gereinte’s personal guard would have to be replaced; preferably with someone a little less gullible. The boy was becoming quite a strategist; it was just a shame he didn’t yet have the physical strength to back it up. But that would come. That was all part of the plan. Caitlin nearly choked on the wine. Dear gods… the plan. That had very nearly gone out of the window, had it not been for one man’s intervention in the woods that afternoon. Caitlin needed to know who it was. Never before had it been so crucial to know your allies as well as your enemies. There was no mistaking the curious mark on Gereinte’s chest. She had once watched Reiner bring back the life of a small boy he had found, nearly mauled to death by a wild animal in the forest. They never spoke of what he had done for fear that folk would accuse them of being cursed by witchcraft.
The two squires who had perpetrated the attack had been rounded up and brought before their Queen. It made her sick to her pit to see them stand there with barefaced denial of ever having been near the woods that afternoon. Several witnesses including a pageboy and a castle guard had confirmed their identity despite having to cajole this information from them with promises of royal protection. What worried Caitlin more was who had put the squires up to this attack. It was easy enough to banish them from the kingdom, but Carentan’s real enemies were still close at hand. Despite Nil’s best efforts to cleanse the palace of spies, it was still not safe to assume that all the castle staff were loyal to her interests. Caitlin sat and picked at the food. She was going to need her strength in the hours and days ahead.
The door to her chambers opened and Caitlin scrambled to her feet, quickly straightening herself out and adopting an air of aloof authority. Audan Borsa, Caitlin’s mother glided into the room, closely followed by Ladys Autin, the Queen’s Chief Lady in Waiting and two servants. Caitlin embraced her mother, while Ladys instructed the servants to replace the dishes with fresh ones and refill the jug.
“Ladys, don’t fuss so,” Caitlin said. Ladys tutted under her breath and continued fussing. She had a gentle demeanour, which matched her rounded face and creamy complexion. Ladys always had a smile and a cheery word, for which Caitlin was especially grateful at a time like this. Despite the Queen’s constant chiding, Ladys refused to do anything less than a superb job of looking after Caitlin.
Audan Borsa looked like an older, slightly plumper version of Caitlin. Her dress was conservative, due to the amount of time she spent in Royal children’s living quarters and her hair was white. Lines of worry were etched into Audan’s expression.
“How is he?” Caitlin said.
“He has regained consciousness. I thought you would want to know,” Audan said. Caitlin released a long sigh.
“Thanks the gods,” she said. “I must see him.”
“Of course. But first, you must eat.” Audan took Caitlin by the elbow and guided her towards the seating area where a trestle had been set up with fresh food and drink. “Then Ladys will return to help you freshen up before you visit Gereinte.”
“Sit with me,” Caitlin said, lowering herself onto a bench. “Tell me how the children are.” Audan smiled warmly and sat down while Ladys shooed the servants away.