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Lord Gnarl: A Sequel to Gnarl
Published in Australia
Fiction - Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Print: 978-1-925959-28-4
ePub: 978-1-925959-29-1
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/950050
Mobi: 978-1-925959-30-7

Date of Publication: 30 Nov -0001
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Lord Gnarl: A Sequel to GnarlContains Adult Content

Jeff Hopkins

Published by Indiemosh

Find out more about Jeff Hopkins: | Facebook | Twitter | Other





Synopsis

Lord Gnarl

A Sequel to Gnarl

Lord Gnarl receives information that might lead him to find the man who assassinated his Grandfather, the Lord Genet.  He determines to track the alleged assassin down and bring him to justice. Adricart, the palace portrait painter, and Kyler the palace baker, are recruited to help. So, begins a series of journeys, both by land and sea, across half the known world from Lord Gnarl’s City State in the north to King Francis’s Great Ocean City in the west.  On his journey, Kyler only survives with the miraculous intervention of Faustine of the Woodland.

The search for the murderer sees Lord Gnarl using a false name when he unexpectedly encounters Princess Jolie, the only daughter of King Francis.  Princess Jolie determines to run away from an arranged marriage her father has negotiated, and she plucks a stable boy, Shay, from obscurity to be her squire and guide her on a dangerous journey.

There is an audacious plan to bring the assassin back to Lord Gnarl’s own City State for a trial. However, there are conflicting issues that the young Lord struggles to resolve.  Shay proves to be wise beyond his years, as he deals with Atayla, a crucial player in a complex puzzle. As always, Lord Gnarl turns to his foster parents, Cuanzo and Shiedel, for advice. Misleading identities simply complicate matters.

All seems resolved in a series of wedding ceremonies. However, a strange pre-nuptial agreement and an unexpected wedding guest set the scene for an unravelling of the peace. Circumstances change and events conspire to shatter relationships and destroy lives.

Chapter 3: A Sketching Test

Chapter 3:

A Sketching Test



Two days after the initiation of the baby, Yarrick, Lord Gnarl summoned the palace portrait painter. He was ushered into the young Lord’s presence and carried with him his sketch block and a leather bag full of pencils and charcoal sticks. His name was Adricart and he was in his sixty fifth year, more than forty of which had been dedicated to his role as official portrait painter of the City State in the north. Adricart was a venerable old man, and was highly respected and revered for his talent, and his accumulated body of work. Lord Gnarl greeted him warmly and invited him to take a seat opposite him in a comfortable chair:



‘Adricart, it is good to see you again. I live with your portraits constantly around me and I am a great admirer of your talent.’



‘Thank you, my Lord.’



Adricart was a comparatively small man being below average height. His mop of greying hair gave a good indication of his age and his features, although weathered, had a certain magnetic appeal that drew a casual observer to him. He was slightly rotund and clearly liked his food and wine and having been continuously employed for over four decades he had amassed the resources to live very comfortably. His studio in the City State was always a bustling hive of activity and he now had four apprentices working with him. Adricart thought he had been summoned to prepare sketches of the young Lord for a possible



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portrait, but he quickly realised that Lord Gnarl’s motives were entirely different.



‘I have summoned you here in the hope that you may help me in a matter that has concerned me greatly in recent times.’



‘You do not want me to prepare sketches for a portrait of yourself, my Lord?’



‘Good heavens no, Adricart! I do want you to prepare some sketches, but not of me. I suppose I must have a portrait painted at some time and hopefully it will be by you, great master, but not today.’



‘Then how can I be of service to you, my Lord?’



‘I want you to draw some sketches for me and I see you have brought your sketch block and materials.’



‘Indeed, I have, my Lord.’



‘I want to describe someone to you and see if you can sketch a likeness from my description alone.’



‘You set an old man a challenging task, my Lord.’



‘Firstly, great master, have you ever met the palace baker whose name is Kyler?’



‘No, I have not had that pleasure, although I have heard many stories about him surrounding his selection as a human sacrifice, his escape from the temple, and his triumphant return from the Caliphate in the south, thanks to your Lord’s own intervention.’



‘But you have never seen him?’



‘No, my Lord.’



‘Then let me describe him to you and as I do, would you be so kind as to draw a sketch of the palace baker from my verbal description?’



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‘I will try my best, my Lord.’



With no further ado, Adricart opened his bag and drew out a fresh charcoal stick. He then turned to the next blank page in his sketch block and settled himself. When he was ready he looked up in anticipation at the young Lord who began with:



‘Kyler, the palace baker, is a small man with soft boyish features.’



From there Lord Gnarl described Kyler in the minute detail that only a special friend could. Adricart listened for a while and then the charcoal stick began scraping on the sketch block as the young Lord refined a particular detail about Kyler’s appearance. Occasionally there were silences, in which only the scraping of charcoal on sketch block, was heard and then Adricart would ask a question about some aspect of Kyler’s face which Lord Gnarl would attempt to describe even more thoroughly.



Finally, there was a prolonged silence as Adricart licked his fingers and softened some aspect of his picture by gently smudging the sketch block surface. Lord Gnarl watched the great master intently, wondering whether this sketching test would prove successful and open up a pathway to his real motive for asking the painter to come and see him.



The whole process lasted close to half an hour and then Adricart looked up from his sketch block, smiled at the young Lord and said:



‘I have developed a likeness from your description, I hope it will prove true.’



‘I hope so too!’



With that Lord Gnarl got up and went to the door of the room in which the old master had been sketching. He opened it and called into the hallway beyond.



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‘Would you please come in now, Kyler?’



Kyler walked into the room. He was still dressed in his baking clothes having only recently cleaned up the palace bakery after the morning bake. He focussed on the old man sitting in the comfortable chair holding a sketch block, but did not recognise him. For his part Adricart glanced at Kyler, the palace baker, and laughed a gentle old man’s laugh. Kyler was confused for a moment at this unexpected greeting. The young Lord explained:



‘Kyler, I would like you to meet Adricart, who has been the palace portrait painter for over four decades. Adricart this is Kyler, the palace baker.’



Adricart eased himself out of the comfortable chair and came across to shake Kyler’s hand.



‘It is a pleasure to meet you, Kyler, although I feel I already know you.’



‘How can that be, Adricart? I do not believe we have ever met before.’



‘No, we haven’t, Kyler, but my Lord Gnarl has described you to me in some detail.’



With that Adricart handed Kyler his sketch block and Kyler was momentarily dumbfounded as he stared at his own likeness drawn in charcoal. Lord Gnarl was keen to share the experience.



‘May a see the sketch, Kyler?’



Kyler handed the sketch block to his Lord and watched as Gnarl smiled broadly and then addressed the great master.



‘It is a remarkable likeness, would you not agree, Kyler?’ ‘It is indeed, my Lord. How was it achieved?’



‘Through verbal description and great artistic talent, my friend. May Kyler keep this sketch as a memento, Adricart?’



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‘Of course, my Lord, but I am a little confused as to my Lord’s true motive in asking me to draw the palace baker from your description?’



‘It was an experiment, Adricart, to see if an artist could create a likeness from verbal descriptions only and you have proved it is not only possible, but your great talent means you may be able to produce a likeness of someone that none of us have ever seen.’



‘This person is clearly of some importance to you, my Lord, or you would not have gone to this trouble.’



‘Oh, he is Adricart. He has had a profound effect on all our lives without any of us ever realising who he was.’



‘So, when do I get my descriptions of him so that I may take up this next challenge?’



‘Tomorrow, if you are available, great master, here in the palace. I will introduce you to the only people who I believe have seen this man up close. You will meet Kyler’s wife, Ygritte, and her father, Tey, a stable owner. They will give you descriptions as I have done and show you clothes that this man is known to have worn. I hope your talent will then produce a small coloured portrait of this mysterious man.’



‘I am excited by the project, my Lord.’ Kyler chimed in:



‘And so am I, Lord Gnarl. May I sit in on the process and watch Adricart demonstrate his art?’



‘I am sure Ygritte would appreciate your support, Kyler. Shall we say after the morning bake is completed tomorrow?’



Adricart and Kyler responded as one indicating they could hardly wait. The ageing artist looked genuinely excited and Kyler was filled with anticipation as he examined his own



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likeness that the great master had created. The young Lord simply allowed himself a determined grin.



The next morning the group assembled once again in the room where Adricart had developed Kyler’s likeness the day before. The numbers had expanded somewhat. Adricart brought with him his most promising apprentice, who he introduced as Emjye. Kyler escorted his wife and her father into the room. Ygritte’s father carried the outfit which the mysterious man had given him and asked him to wear each day he exercised the Patron’s horse. The seating arrangements were also different. Adricart asked that he and Emjye be brought plain wooden stools on which they sat side by side; a master and his apprentice. Ygritte and Tey were given comfortable chairs and encouraged to be at their ease. Kyler stood behind his wife resting his hands on the back of her chair and Lord Gnarl positioned himself to the side and slightly behind the two artists and explained:



‘The master artist, Adricart and his apprentice, Emjye, are going to listen to your description of the Patron who changed your lives almost two years ago. They will try to sketch him from what you say. I would like you to relax and not be concerned about what is happening. Simply describe the man from your memory. Adricart do you have anything to add?’



‘Nothing you remember will be too insignificant. A true likeness might evolve from the simplest observation. Even things that may not be directly related to a drawing may help us. A gesture he made, the tone of voice he used, perhaps a phrase he repeated often, could all help. My apprentice, Emjye, will undertake the task as part of his training and development. If either of us ask questions please answer them as best you can.’



Lord Gnarl looked at Ygritte and her father and asked: ‘Are you ready to begin?’



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They both nodded and Kyler gave his wife an encouraging pat on the shoulder from behind. So, it began. For a while Adricart and Emjye simply listened and then the charcoal started to scrape on the great master’s sketch block. Emjye was instructed to sketch with a soft pencil and the strokes he drew made almost no noise as he applied them to the paper.



After a nervous start both Ygritte and her father warmed to their task. At times, they discussed a particular point, and when they agreed upon it, Adricart smiled and sketched yet another detail. Several times Adricart paused in his own sketching and observed Emjye’s work. He leaned across without speaking and pointed to a line and suggested with a subtle gesture how it might be more effectively represented. Kyler stood in wondrous fascination at what was unfolding before him and Lord Gnarl had positioned himself cleverly so he could see the developing sketches and watch the two persons providing the information, almost simultaneously.



When Ygritte and Tey felt they had exhausted everything they could remember about the mysterious young man, who had been such a generous Patron; silence descended in the room. Now the master and his apprentice worked together. The line between who was suggesting what to whom became blurred, as Emjye indicated a detail in his sketch, which the old man had apparently neglected and the old man guided his young charge in the final strokes that completed his drawing. When all was done the two artists looked up from their work with satisfied grins. Adricart spoke to Ygritte and her father.



‘Thank you for your patience and your skilful and detailed descriptions. I think Emjye and I have been able to create a likeness.’



The young Lord Gnarl could barely contain his excitement. He moved behind the master and his apprentice and stared at the



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dual images they had created. Then his brow furrowed and a concerned look spread across his face. Adricart turned his sketch block towards Ygritte, Tey and Kyler and asked:



‘Is this your mysterious Patron?’



Ygritte put her hands to her face and gasped while her father shook his head in disbelief. It was Tey who spoke first:



‘That is him without a shadow of a doubt. You have captured a remarkable likeness.’



Now it was Emjye’s turn to display his drawing. It was a fine pencil sketch and provided a different interpretation of the same man, but the likeness was unmistakable. Ygritte exclaimed:



‘They are both pictures of the man who came to our stables and paid us so generously.’



Lord Gnarl did not speak. He still wore that concerned expression and he walked to the door and called for a guard. His instructions were direct although they confused those in the room who heard them:



‘Go to the kitchens and escort the palace Chef to this room immediately.’



‘Yes, my Lord.’



An uncertain silence fell upon the room and everyone looked at the young Lord Gnarl and wondered what was happening? Minutes passed and then a knock on the door announced the arrival of the palace Chef. He too looked worried not knowing why he had been summoned into the Lord’s presence. Once he entered the room Lord Gnarl took the sketch block from Adricart and showed it to the Chef and asked:



‘Do you recognise this man?’

‘Of course, my Lord. It is my former Assistant Chef, Caden,



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who disappeared so mysteriously about two years ago. He was a great loss.’



‘Did you search for him?’



‘We did, my Lord, but no trace could be found of him. His former lodgings had been stripped bare as if no one had ever lived there.’



‘Tell me Chef, did this ‘Caden’ have any direct contact with my Grandfather, the Lord Genet apart from preparing his meals?’



‘Yes, he did. When you were thought to have been lost at sea, after the great storm, the Lord Genet spent many days in his private apartments alone, it was Caden’s task to take him his meals on a tray.’



‘And on the fateful morning of his assassination did ‘Caden’ take him his breakfast?’



‘I cannot recall, my Lord. He might have done. It was a very tumultuous time in the palace as you can well imagine.’



The full import of what was unfolding now began to dawn on everyone in the room. This ‘Caden’, if indeed that was his real name, was more than likely the assassin who murdered the Lord Genet and made his escape using a horse and a disguise that Tey had so unwittingly provided for him. Dressed as Ygritte’s father, who had so often been seen in those exact same clothes, he passed through the City gates and was barely noticed. The gold pieces he handed out had prevented Ygritte and her father from suspecting that he was anything but a kind and generous Patron. Lord Gnarl spoke with a grim determination.



‘I thank you all for your time and efforts this morning. I think they will prove most valuable. Adricart, could you develop your sketches into a small colour portrait and paint in the clothes the man wore to give extra detail?’



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‘It will be a project for Emjye, which he will begin immediately when we return to the studio.’



‘Thank you both. Your combined efforts will not go unrewarded.’



‘Thank you, my Lord.’



With that Emjye gathered up all the artist’s materials and he followed the great master out of the room. Kyler addressed his Lord:



‘Do you think this ‘Caden’ murdered your Grandfather, Gnarl?’



‘I am almost certain of it.’



‘What will you do now?’



‘I intend to track him down, Kyler, and bring him back to the City State in the north to face trial and retribution.’



‘But how will you do that and where will you start looking?’



‘Those are questions that I must ponder alone. Thank you all for your efforts here today. We are at the beginning of what may prove a very long journey, and you have played a significant part in that.’



Kyler knew the signs, and the cue, and he gestured for Ygritte and her father to come with him and leave Lord Gnarl alone. Once they had gone the young Lord slumped into a comfortable chair and let his mind race. Only one thought became clear. He must seek Cuanzo and Shiedel’s advice on what his next move should be. 





Chapter 6: Faustine of the Woodland

Chapter 6: Faustine of the Woodland



In the last days of winter Lord Gnarl’s spies returned from their mission and told the young Lord that they had confirmed all his suspicions. A man called ‘Caden’ had indeed travelled west along the King’s road. He was dressed as he appeared in the pictures that Adricart and Emjye had prepared, and he was riding a chestnut gelding that many described as being quite large, perhaps sixteen hands high. The spies’ questions revealed that he appeared to be in no hurry and arrived at most Taverns and Inns in the late afternoon, took dinner and a room and did not leave until after breakfast the next morning. He always paid more than the tariff required, and appeared to be a very generous man. The two spies had made confirmed sightings of him at five locations. As they had been instructed, they ceased their mission at the alpine pass, which was still closed due to the winter snows. Lord Gnarl was pleased with what he heard and conveyed the news privately to Kyler.



On the first day of spring, the City State in the north was alive with the celebrations surrounding the graduation of the most recent cohort of recruits who had completed their four years’ military service. Lord Gnarl presented the graduation medallions and Kyler, his family, and his ever-increasing number of apprentices, worked hard to produce the now traditional bread, buns and sweet cakes which were handed out when the circus performers entertained in the City Square. It was a joyous occasion.



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However, when word filtered through that the alpine pass was open once again, Kyler began his preparations to leave on his mission to the Great Ocean City in the west. He spent a number of nights in deep conversation with Lord Gnarl and they refined their plans putting the greatest emphasis on Kyler being careful and not to overstay the agreed time in the Great Ocean City. Three weeks into spring, Kyler, the palace baker, took leave of his wife, son and extended family, mounted the grey Arab stallion, Harkeem, and was farewelled by the young Lord Gnarl, which his family thought was a little unusual. He headed out through the City State’s gates and turned to the right, in a westerly direction and let the Arab have his head.



Being the accomplished horseman that he was and with a mount that was relishing an extended period of exercise, Kyler made good time. He arrived at the alpine pass in two days and began the long and sometimes difficult climb through the Alps. Harkeem was sure footed and Kyler was carefully monitoring his health and moods and the climb through the alpine pass was completed without incident.



After he crossed the alps, Kyler had been travelling for more than three days. He determined at the next Inn or Tavern, at which he stopped, he would seek out a bath house to clean off the King’s road grime and generally refresh himself. As he and his grey Arab stallion, Harkeem, cantered along, Kyler’s mind drifted to all the bath houses he had known in the past. With mixed feelings, he remembered the bathing chamber in the Priest’s temple where he had bathed in luxury during his vigil as part of the preparation to be the selected human sacrifice. He smiled when he recalled how his friend, Gnarl, now the young Lord Gnarl, had rescued him from that place and transported him into exile in the Caliphate in the south.



Then he remembered the fastidiousness with which the baker, 53



LORD GNARL: A Sequel to Gnarl



for whom he worked in the southern Caliphate, insisted on personal hygiene and regular bathing. The open-air baths on the flat roof of the two-storey bakery were a joy in summer, and the steam filled communal bath houses were a satisfying way to cleanse the body during the mild winters. Then he was called back from exile, by the young Lord Gnarl, and appointed the palace baker. His first task was to redevelop and refurbish the dilapidated and derelict bakery buildings in the palace grounds.



The surefooted Harkeem carried him ever westward and his mind reflected again. Kyler remembered how he had met with the royal architects and gave them his ideas for the revamped palace bakery. Among his thoughts was the provision of a bakery bath house. The architects were intrigued by such an idea, but were also challenged by it. Eventually they came up with a design for a structure that would back directly onto the bakery ovens. They conceived of a series of earthenware pipes that would carry cold water from the streams that brought fresh supplies to the walled city. From there the pipes would zigzag under the floor of the bakery ovens and empty heated water into a small bathing room where the actual bath area was a deep pool not dissimilar to the bathing chamber in the temple.



Kyler’s young wife, Ygritte, had decided to tile the bathing pool in intricate mosaics, which she purchased in the markets and painstakingly installed according to her own original design. The architects decided that the roof should be plain glass allowing huge floods of light into the area and heightening the sense of fresh cleanliness. Lord Gnarl approved the extra expenditure, and when all was complete, Kyler observed it was a bathing house fit for a King. However, it was not a King who used it for the first time. It was a baker and his young wife, who bathed and then shared their love in a physical way in the warm water.



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From then on Kyler insisted that all his employees, and especially the apprentices, washed thoroughly before the morning bake, and then bathed themselves fully after the work had finished, and before they went home. Initially hesitant and reluctant, the palace bakery staff soon embraced the idea and it became a way of life for them. It had also become a way of life for Kyler and as Harkeem carried him along at a consistent trot he longed to bathe at the very next opportunity.



At the Inn where he chose to spend the night, Kyler asked about the bathing facilities and was greeted with a blank stare. The landlord explained:



‘We cannot indulge ourselves in such luxuries in a wayside tavern like this one. Nature’s streams and pools provide us with our only bath houses, young sir.’



Kyler noticed a young man sitting in the corner of the tavern. He had guffawed at the palace baker’s request and spat some of his ale back into his mug as a result. Kyler would not have given him a second glance except that when he focussed fully upon the young man it was clear, that in fact, she was a young woman! Now Kyler did take note. She was dressed like a man in leather pants and a long-sleeved jacket in matching material, which was a well-worn and a faded bronze colour. Slung across her right shoulder was a long bow and she had placed a full quiver of arrows on the table in front of her as she sat down to drink.



The young man spoke across the tavern.



‘Welcome stranger. You are clearly not from these parts and are used to a to a gentler lifestyle than we are accustomed. Will you share a mug of ale?’



Kyler was intrigued and a little attracted. He turned to the proprietor and asked.



‘May I have a mug of ale?’

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‘If you have the coin. I have the ale, young sir.’



Kyler placed the appropriate coins on the bar table and the landlord drew him a large mug of ale.



‘For two if you would please, landlord.’



The landlord obliged and Kyler carried the two mugs across to the young woman’s table. She shifted the quiver of arrows to accommodate the mugs.



‘You are generous, Sir. I thank you! I am Faustine. I am told my name means good luck.’



‘Good health to you, Faustine, may you bring me good luck.’ ‘You are a stranger?’

‘Yes. I am Kyler, from the City State in the north.’ ‘Travelling where?’



‘To the Great Ocean City in the west.’



‘Oh dear, then you will need all the good luck I can provide, Kyler. Travelling alone all that way on the King’s road. You will have to keep your wits about you.’



‘Why?’



‘This is a notorious haunt for brigands and thieves. These people adopt the philosophy ‘that dead men tell no tales’ so they invariably surprise and rob their victims, and then add murder to their crimes for their own convenience.’



‘You paint an uncomfortable picture. Do you frequent these parts, Faustine?’



‘I stay off the King’s road, hunting in the woods, selling meat and skins, where I can, for my other needs.’



‘It seems a hard life for a young woman.’ 56



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‘Do you think I am less able to care for myself than a young man, Kyler?’



‘I meant no offence.’

‘None taken. You seem like a decent man.’ They drank their ale and then Faustine asked.



‘Would you like to share your bed with me here at the Inn tonight? It has been some time since I have rolled beneath the sheets with a decent man.’



Kyler was visibly shocked and momentarily left speechless.



‘I see you are not used to our direct ways in this part of the world. Are you married then, Kyler?’



‘Yes. My wife is Ygritte, we have a young son, Yarrick.’



‘And you have never been tempted by the joys of the flesh outside of your marriage?



‘No, never!’



‘Then you truly are a decent man, Kyler. It is my privilege to have met you. Now to more practical matters. Some three miles from here, to the south of the King’s road, is a fresh mountain stream which is fed by the melting snows. The pool has been dammed with a rock weir and provides an ideal, if cold, bathing pool. It is quite secluded and surrounded by trees. You would be able to wash yourself and swim there tomorrow morning.’



‘Do you use the pool yourself, Faustine?’



‘I do, but I do not bathe as regularly as clearly you desire to do. Not many people know about it, and you have to leave the King’s road to get there. Look for the serpentine line of trees to your left as you head west and when you see them spread out and clump, you will know you are there.



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‘Thank you, Faustine.’

‘Be careful as you descend to the pool, the slope is steep.’



‘My Harkeem is a sure footed grey Arab stallion, but I will be careful.’



‘Now are you sure you wouldn’t like a friendly fondle tonight?’



‘Quite sure, thank you!’



They both smiled and drained their ale. Faustine ordered another mug, but Kyler took himself upstairs to his room. He knew he must keep his wits about him now he had received Faustine’s warning. The success of his mission depended upon it!



The next morning Kyler and Harkeem were on the King’s road again with the rising sun behind them. Kyler watched the southern side of the road and when it began to fall away quite sharply into a valley he picked up the first sight of the serpentine line of trees that marked the stream Faustine had told him about. He drew rein and Harkeem was happy to walk along at a steady pace. Then Kyler spotted the unmistakable clump of trees that clearly delineated the pool and the rock weir, although neither could be seen from the road.



The descent was steep and Kyler encouraged Harkeem to find his feet and the sure footed Arab stallion picked his was down the slope. Once they were on the valley floor they moved quickly towards the secluded pool. Kyler dismounted and Harkeem put his head down to graze on the fresh green shoots of spring. When Kyler saw the pool and the weir, for the first time, he was impressed. It was almost a circular expanse of crystal clear water that was flowing to the west constantly being refreshed with melt water. The rock weir was much higher that he expected and the water flowed over it at a surprising rate and cascaded down the rock face before flowing into the westward extension of what was a wide and energetic stream.



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Kyler unsaddled Harkeem and replaced his bridle with a rope halter and let the big horse graze at will. He then tested the temperature of the water in the pool and found it bracingly cold. He also noted that the pool was steep sided and not more than one pace into the water it fell away sharply into a deep ‘V’ shaped stream bed. He sat down and removed his riding boots and socks and then stood up and began to remove his jacket and shirt. The sun was not yet high enough to give any warmth, but there was no breeze to add to the freshness of the morning. From his saddle bags Kyler withdrew his bathing sheet, which he always carried, and placed it strategically near the pool’s edge. He then slipped out of his riding breeches and underwear and stood naked. He felt uncomfortable with caked sweat and grime of three days’ travel and was keen to plunge into the pool. He did. The cold water momentarily stunned him and then he surfaced and stroked back to the pool’s edge where he began a thorough wash of his body by hand.



When he felt clean again he dived back into the pool and went as deep as he could to see if he could touch the bottom. He couldn’t, and so he gently allowed himself to drift to the surface, which he broke with a flick of his head to get his wet hair out of his eyes. When he focussed on the bank of the pool again he saw two men. One held Harkeem by his rope halter, and the other stood at the edge of the pool leering at Kyler in the water. Kyler was instantly on his guard. The man at the edge of the pool spoke in a surprisingly jovial tone.



‘Good morning, friend. My associate and I have come to relieve you of your purse, your horse and any possessions you may have stashed in those fancy saddle bags.’



Kyler was stunned. The very brigands, of whom Faustine had warned him, were about to waylay him and take everything he had. He was naked in a deep pool and realised he could do little



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to prevent it. Immediately he thought how his mission on Lord Gnarl’s behalf was about to fail quite spectacularly. Then the brigand at the edge of the pool changed his tone from mock friendship to menacing aggression.



‘Sadly, to make sure you are unable to tell anyone about us, we are going to have to take your life as well.’



With that the brigand drew his sword. Kyler knew he had one possible ally who could help him. He gave a shrill whistle and shouted to Harkeem.



‘Hup, hup, hup, harkar, Harkeem!’



The grey stallion reacted immediately. He tore the rope halter out of the second brigand’s hand and reared on his hind legs flailing his front legs menacingly. The robber, who had held the horse, tried to take evasive action, but Harkeem’s near side foreleg caught him a glancing blow on the side of the head and felled him. The brigand at the pool edge was shocked, and then quickly converted that into rage, and he advanced into the water, with his sword raised, determined to cleave the naked man in the pool from the shoulder to the groin, before he could pull off any more tricks. Unfortunately for the angry assailant he did not realise that the pool edge fell away so steeply, just one stride from the bank and he mis-stepped and collapsed backwards into the water. His raised sword slipped out of his hand, described a flashing steel arc in the air and slid below the surface of the pool, quickly descending to the deepest part of the ‘V’ shaped stream bed.



Kyler sensed his chance and flung himself across the surface of the water, hoping to catch the outlaw at his most vulnerable, and push him down into the water, hopefully holding him under long enough for the thief to lose consciousness. The plan worked in the first instance, but the brigand was strong and he rolled Kyler



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over and now had the naked palace baker struggling under the water. Kyler’s nakedness was some advantage; he was hard to grab and hold and the robber’s increasingly water-logged clothes and boots were making his movements cumbersome. Kyler slid out of his grip and tried to swim into deeper water, but the man, who was intent on killing him, grabbed his foot and held it tight, gradually dragging Kyler back towards him. Kyler gulped for air and he swallowed a considerable amount of cold stream water. He spluttered and then felt the brigand’s vice like grip around his throat and he was pushed under the surface again.



Kyler felt the brigand’s grip tighten around his neck and he realised the life was being choked out of him. He felt the ability and desire to fight drain away and his mind turned to Ygritte and Yarrick, the two people he loved most in the world. He would never see them again. How had it come to this? He had survived so many trials and tribulations in his comparatively young life, and now he was going to succumb to an outlaw in a pool, to the south of the King’s road, in the Great Ocean City State to the west. With the image of Ygritte holding Yarrick firmly in his head, he prepared to slip away into the darkness.



Then the brigand’s hands around his throat went slack and fell away. With one last desperate attempt to hang on to life, Kyler forced himself to the surface and spluttered and gasped and gulped the life-giving air. For a while he could not focus on anything other than trying to remain afloat and breathe again. Eventually he sensed the robber’s body floating face down beside him with an arrow shaft sticking out of the left side of his back. Blood was oozing gently from the wound and spreading in a crimson slick on the surface of the pool. Kyler knew he had to get out of the water quickly. He struck out for the bank, and when he dragged himself onto it, he saw Faustine holding her long bow and staring at him with a strange expression on her



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face. Kyler tried to stand up and did so in a stumbling and unsteady manner. Now he stood naked in front of Faustine, but her expression was unchanged. It displayed neither lust or desire, or even surprise, as she observed Kyler struggling to stand upright.



The second brigand, who had been felled by Harkeem’s flailing fore leg, stirred back into consciousness. Faustine focussed on him and then drew an arrow from her quiver, fitted it to the long bow and shot the outlaw through the throat. He collapsed with blood spurting from his fatal wound in regular pulses. Unaffected, she turned back to Kyler, who was now shivering with the cold and the shock.



‘You had better get yourself dry and dressed. I will make a fire.’



With that Faustine began gathering sticks and larger fallen branches as Kyler picked up his bath sheet and initially held it to his face to try and stop his teeth chattering and then he vigorously towelled himself down and dressed slowly, fighting the effects of the cold water and the shock of the near-death experience he had just endured. Faustine, with skill born of experience, dug a small pit and surrounded it with rocks and then built a pile of dry grass, sticks and twigs and ignited them with a flint stone. She blew on the initial sparks and the dry grass flared. The fire blazed into life and Kyler was drawn to it, seeking its gathering warmth for comfort. He looked at Faustine who had laid down her bow and quiver and squatted by the fire gradually feeding its growing appetite with larger twigs and branches.



‘I owe you my life.’



‘Yes, you do!’



‘How can I ever repay you?’



‘The only reward I could ever desire from you, you are unable to give, because you cannot betray your young wife and son.’



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‘So, I will be forever in your debt?’



‘Not everything in life has to be measured in terms of a fair exchange. Do you have anything we can eat or drink?’



‘Yes, I do.’



Kyler moved towards the saddlebags and Harkeem, now quite settled approached and nuzzled him. Kyler paused to stroke his muzzle.



‘Good boy, Harkeem, you played your part as well.’



Kyler extracted a small cooking pot, with a lid, from his saddle bags and then drew out a small bag of provisions. He returned to the fire.



‘Could you allow the fire to burn down to coals on this side?’



Faustine scraped an area of burnt material to Kyler’s side of the fire. The palace baker then took flour, yeast and salt from his provisions bag and mixed them in the pot. He then went to the side of the pool and measured a precise amount of water into the dry ingredients and kneaded them with his hands. He returned to the fire and nestled the pot in the scraped coals, placed the dough ball into it, and put the lid on.



‘The dough really should have much more time to rise, but we cannot afford to wait. It will be ready soon. In the meantime, I have a flask of honey infused ale if you would like to share that with me.’



‘I have not tasted mead for a long time.’



The basic bread cooked quickly and was surprisingly light to the touch. Kyler knew the many arts of bread making. Both Faustine and the palace baker warmed themselves with it, as they ate, and washed the bread down from the flask of mead. They shared stories of their lives so far. Eventually Kyler asked.



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‘What shall we do with these bodies?’



‘The ground has not yet thawed out enough to dig graves. If you help me, we will drag them to the rock weir and let the flowing water take them. They will float downstream and eventually be snagged beneath a fallen log or become entangled in the reeds on the stream bank. Nature will do the rest.’



Kyler looked taken aback.



‘They would have done exactly the same thing to you, and not given it a second thought, so neither should you.’



Faustine got up.



‘But first I will relieve them of any coin or valuables they have on them.’



Faustine rifled through the pockets of the brigand who she had shot through the throat and then carefully waded into the water and dragged the other man to the bank and searched his clothing. There were some pickings, but they were slim.



Together Faustine and Kyler dragged both the brigands’ lifeless bodies to the rock weir’s edge and then rolled them down the rock face into the path of the cascading flow. They floated away at a surprising rate. Then Faustine collected her bow and quiver and said.



‘You are a decent man, Kyler, the palace baker. Take care, I may not be around when next you get into difficulties.’



‘Goodbye, Faustine. I will not forget you.’



‘Yes, you will, and it is right that you should! You wife and young son need never hear the story of last night or this morning.’



With that she turned and disappeared into the woodland. Kyler extinguished the fire and resaddled Harkeem and they climbed back to the King’s road and headed west once more. 





Chapter 13: Jolie and Shay

Chapter 13: Jolie and Shay



Three things weighed on Princess Jolie’s mind. Firstly, the mysterious disappearance of the head chef and owner from her favourite eating-house had caused her to worry. Secondly, the lingering memory of the brief encounter with ‘Cuanzo’ the fisherman from the City State in the north, and his grain merchant friend, Kyler, and the emptiness she felt in her heart now that they had returned home. Finally, was the fact that her father, King Francis of the Great Ocean City state, had proposed yet another young suitor, who she had never met, from a City State far to the northwest, as a suitable husband for her in an arranged marriage. All three concerns had combined to push the Princess into a course of action that was both impulsive and dangerous in the extreme.



To initiate her plan Princess was on her way to the Royal stables, but as she descended the outside stairs a most unusual sight confronted her. All of the stable workers had formed a loose circle on one of the sand covered exercise yards. They were leaning on their pitchforks, rakes and shovels and observing a wrestling match in the centre of the sandy area. The Princess paused and watched, and concluded it was hardly a match. Both combatants were stripped to the waist and barefoot wearing only their riding breeches, but one was huge and swarthy and the other seemed little more than a boy. The interest in the bout was sufficiently intense that no one noticed the Princess Jolie



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observing from the landing where the stone steps turned for the last time before reaching ground level.



The swarthy brute had thrown the boy to the ground and pinned him to the sand and then released him. Clearly a fall in the bout had been achieved, but it was not the decisive one because the two wrestlers took up their stances and engaged once more. The smaller boy was lithe and athletic and was fighting skilfully against the larger man, who could have dealt with him easily, if he had the wrestling skills of his younger opponent. Princess Jolie descended the stairs and walked across to the fighting circle and was just in time to see the gallant boy flung once again to the sand. However, before he could be pinned to end the bout the stable foreman noticed the Princess and called for an instant halt to proceedings. All the stable workers fell to their knees and this included the swarthy brute. The boy lay spreadeagled on the sand for a moment and then scrambled to get into a kneeling position to acknowledge the Royal presence. The stable foreman apologised:



‘I am truly sorry that you had to witness this spectacle, my Princess. We were resolving a conflict between a young upstart and a more experienced stable hand.’



‘I guessed as much. Should these men now resume their duties?’



‘Of course, my Princess. All of you back to work. Now!’



There was a scramble and a scraping and the stable workers went in their various directions until Princess Jolie interrupted their retreat:



‘Not the boy. I would have words with him.’ The stable foreman tried to explain.



‘He is a boy who thinks he is better than his station, my Princess, and he is in no fit state to speak a Royal person.’



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‘I will be the judge of that, foreman. Everyone else may go. I will have conference with the boy.’



‘At least let him clean himself up and dress properly before appearing before your Highness.’



‘That will not be necessary, foreman. I find him quite pleasing just the way his is. You may go.’



The stable foreman gave Princess Jolie an odd look and then retreated backwards into the stables. The boy remained kneeling with his head bowed. As the Princess approached him she could see his jet-black hair falling into the nape of his neck and noted the perspiration beading on his shirtless back. With his head bowed she could not see his face. The boy was clearly intimidated by his situation and remained silent, but was still breathing heavily after the exertion of the wrestling mismatch. Princess Jolie spoke gently.



‘You may stand.’



The boy stood with gymnastic grace and for the first time the Princess saw the well-defined torso which was covered with sand and sweat. Then she focussed on the face. He was a very handsome boy. His black hair was long and covered his ears and his fringe fell into his eyes and he had to push it out with his hand. Then he sensed that was an inappropriate move and quickly placed both his hands behind his back in a gesture of submission. Once revealed, the eyes were brown and had a gentle and innocent look. The facial features were sculptured and in perfect proportion. When he smiled, he revealed a full set of perfect white teeth. The Princess was impressed and a recent memory stirred for her. The boy was slightly taller than she was and she had to look up to speak to him.



‘Your name?’

‘My name is Shay, my Princess.’



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‘And you are a stable boy?’ ‘Yes, my Princess.’

‘An apprentice?’



‘No, my lady, I have served my apprenticeship, and now am a fully-fledged stable hand with responsibility for four of the Royal horses.’



‘Including mine, Shay?’



‘As a matter of fact, my Princess, your mounts are mine to care for.’



‘Couldn’t be better. How old are you?’



‘I will be seventeen years old on my next birthday, my Princess.’



‘I see. Do you often wrestle the biggest brutes in the stable, Shay?’



‘The bout was ordered by the foreman, my Princess. It was a way of punishing me for my impudence.’



‘And are you often impudent?’



‘I try not to be, my Princess, but sometimes I feel I need to stand up for what I believe to be right.’



‘A fine sentiment. Do you often appear before Royalty shirtless and barefoot?’



Shay fell to his knees once more and bowed his head before he spoke:



‘Please forgive me, my Princess.’



‘Get up, Shay. I give you a Royal privilege to appear shirtless and barefoot before me at any time you choose.’



The boy got to his feet once more and was dumbfounded by what he had just heard. The next instruction from the Princess sent his mind into a confused whirl.



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‘I wish to meet with you privately. When your work has finished, get yourself cleaned up and dressed. I will be taking you out to dinner at my favourite eating-house in the City. Be ready at the Palace gates at sunset.



Shay could not speak he just nodded and was left standing as the Princess Jolie turned and swept up the stone steps. Shay watched her go and stood transfixed until the foreman’s voice rang in his ear.



‘Get back to work, young Shay. Now!



Shay bathed and dressed in his best clothes, which consisted of a white shirt with full sleeves gathered at the wrist, a tan leather waistcoat, a reasonably new pair of riding breeches and his only pair of riding boots which he had polished to a high sheen for the occasion. He had washed his hair and combed it with a part in the middle, so that the black hair fell down over his ears and the fringe was swept slightly to each side. He looked quite presentable for a stable boy, but was hardly dressed for dinner with the Princess of the Great Ocean City. Shay made his way to the palace gates and waited as the sun set. He was fully expecting for no Princess to arrive and for himself to be exposed as the victim of a cruel prank, but that was not the case. Princess Jolie’s carriage arrived and the door was swung open for him to climb in. Much to his delight and disbelief he found himself sitting alone in the carriage with the Princess.



‘Hello again, Shay.’

‘How should I address you, my Princess?’



‘I give you another Royal privilege to call me simply, Jolie, as I hope we are going to become good friends.’



Shay’s mind raced and the Princess saw the concerned look on his face and smiled.



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‘Do not looked so concerned, Shay. If I had intended to take advantage of you, I would not be taking you out to dinner first. You are a very handsome young man, but my interest lies in your skills and how you may be of service to me. I have no plans to take you into my bed.’



Shay blushed and lowered his eyes.



‘So, relax. First we will dine and then I will outline my plans to you.’



‘Thank you, my Princess.’



‘Oh, please. I gave you a Royal privilege to go shirtless and barefoot in my presence and to call me Jolie. Take advantage of both at the appropriate times; you are being much favoured.’



‘Thank you, Jolie.’



The journey to Pevan’s eating-house was a short one and there was no more conversation. At the eating-house the assistant chef, Quint, greeted them and ushered them to the Princess’s usual table. The entourage of bodyguards sat apart at other tables. Princess Jolie briefly enquired of Quint if there was any news of Pevan and when he said there was not, he took their orders. The Princess ordered for both Shay and herself and as the dishes arrived, were eaten and cleared, she asked Shay about his background and how he came to be working in the palace stables. Shay answered honestly and she seemed pleased with all his responses. When the meal was completed she lowered her tone and said to Shay.



‘I intend to make a secret journey from the Great Ocean City to the City State in the north, by way of the King’s road and across the Alps. Have you ever made such a journey?’



‘No, I have not, but I have heard it is quite arduous and sometimes dangerous.’



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‘I have heard that too. That is why I am asking you to accompany me?’



Shay remained silent and stared almost uncomprehendingly into Princess Jolie’s face. She continued.



‘No one must know of our journey. You must prepare in secret and we must travel quickly and incognito.’



‘And what method of travel will we use, Jolie?’



‘That is where your expertise will be required. We will travel on horseback. Perhaps we should take extra horses to carry our belongings?’



‘I would advise against that, Jolie. We should travel light and take only our mounts. That way we would speed up the journey. We could rest the horses and sleep under the stars; thereby avoiding detection and danger.’



‘I can see I was not wrong when I chose you, Shay. Already you are thinking as I would wish you to do.’



‘If I might be so bold, Jolie, the open road is a dangerous place, particularly for a beautiful woman, who is also a Princess. Would you be prepared to travel in disguise as a boy? Perhaps you could pose as my younger brother. We would draw less attention in that way and certainly would be less likely to be apprehended, and robbed, or worse.’



Princess Jolie sat back in her chair and smiled with delight. Then she leaned forward and confided.



‘You are much more than a stable boy, Shay. I can see we are going to make a wonderful team. I will delight in dressing as a boy as you suggest and I would be honoured to be your younger brother.’



Shay initially smiled and then the grin disappeared and he showed considerable concern in his frown.’



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‘What troubles you, Shay?’



‘I was just wondering. What will happen to me after this adventure? I will lose my position at the stables if I simply disappear and will have no employment to return to.’



‘If all goes well, Shay, we will not be returning to the Great Ocean City and I will guarantee you employment, as my personal Squire and bodyguard for life, if you do this thing for me.’



‘Never return to the Great Ocean City? You are the King’s only daughter and heir. You would be giving up an entire life of privilege. For me it is simple, I have no family who will miss me, and you have guaranteed me employment, but for you?’



‘Trust me, Shay. I would be escaping a life I do not want. I would be giving it up willingly.’



There was a sustained pause and then Princess Jolie asked the handsome boy earnestly:



‘Will you assist me in this secret enterprise?’



‘I am your personal squire and bodyguard, Jolie. It will be my duty and a privilege to help you.’



‘Good. Here is the plan.’



Over the next few days Shay, on the Princess Jolie’s instructions, was required to perform a number of tasks. Initially she gave him a handful of coins and described a set of clothes he was to buy for himself. He purchased a new blue leather jerkin and matching riding breeches. The Clothier threw in a blue leather hat for free. He then ordered a pair of riding boots and was shocked by the price quoted, but the Princess had given him enough funds to cover the cost. The cobbler said they would be ready in three days. At a market stall, he bought three new shirts and sets of underwear.



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Then the Princess delivered a small chest to the stables and told him it contained gold pieces that would help them set up their new home in the City State in the north. She handed him a letter of introduction and was about to describe what the letter said when Shay told her:



‘I can read and write, Jolie. I can see what the letter says.’



‘You never cease to amaze me, Shay. I was wise to have selected you as my personal squire.’



‘Thank you, Jolie.’



‘Now I want you to dress in your new clothes and take this chest into The Bank of the Great Ocean City. Give them the letter of introduction. As you can see it says your ‘father’ is sending you and your younger brother to the City State in the north to set up another arm of his business. Your supposed ‘father’ is a horse breeder and dealer and you will be buying horses in the northern City State on his behalf. The funds in the chest must be transferred to a bank in the City State in the north for that purpose.’



‘I understand.’



‘Try and do this today, as there are other tasks we must complete before our departure.’



‘I will.’



Shay presented himself at the Bank of the Great Ocean City and was shown into the presence of the elegant Monsieur Gaston who handled all the bank’s transfers between City States. He read the letter of introduction and smiled at the handsome young man sitting before him and said:



‘This will present no difficulties. How soon will it be before you need to access the funds in the City State in the north?’



‘My brother and I will not begin our journey there until the end of the week.’



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‘Good. The gold will be travelling ahead of you and should be immediately available on your arrival. Will you be drawing on the account alone?



‘My ‘father’ has instructed that I should sign for the funds.’



‘Good. I will require a signature from you today to send with the gold. Do you have a preference which bank in the City State in the north controls your funds?’



‘There is more than one bank?’



‘Clearly you have never been there, young man. Like our own Great Ocean City, it has four banks.’



‘Which one would you recommend?’



‘I would recommend the Royal Bank which carries a warrant from the young Lord Gnarl himself, ruler of the City State.’



‘Then the Royal Bank it shall be. How old is the young Lord Gnarl?’



‘I would think he is in his early twenties. He is much praised for his bravery in war and wise leadership in peace. He is a Lord of the people so no doubt you will get a glimpse of him while you are there.’



‘I look forward to that.’



‘Now if you would just place your signature here and here.’



With a flourish and quite a polished hand Shay signed the name that Princess Jolie had told him use and Monsieur Gaston called for a liveried boy to show him out of the bank. He felt quite pleased with himself and felt his life was changing dramatically as the new personal squire to the Princess Jolie.



At their next meeting the Princess gave him a pouch full of precious stones.



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‘I want you to conceal these in your luggage. They are very valuable and will give us further funds when we sell them in the City State in the north.’



‘If we are weigh-laid on the open road, Jolie, the luggage will be the first things the thieves will search. I will sew the stones into my saddle. That way we may avoid losing them.’



‘You can sew, Shay?’



‘I restitch saddles, bridles and girth straps all the time. It is a part of my tasks in the stables.’



‘You are a never-ending source of wonder to me, Shay.’



‘Thank you, Jolie. I am your personal squire and loyal servant. I aim to please you at all times.



‘And you do, Shay.’



At the end of the week, with all their preparations made, the Princess Jolie arranged to meet Shay at the stables before dawn. When Shay saw her for the first time the Princess looked for all the world like a boy; dressed exactly as he was, except her leather outfit was in shades of tan. Shay suggested they should both don cloaks and hoods as they left the Great Ocean City and so the Princess followed his advice. They mounted two of the Princess’s finest steeds and walked slowly out through the palace gates and then on to the gates of the Great Ocean City in the west. The dawn was just breaking and the gates were being opened right on cue. The Princess and her personal squire rode side by side out onto the causeway, that connected the City with the far bank of the river, and then they turned their horses in the direction the rising sun and increased their pace. To a casual observer, they were just two ‘brothers’ heading off on the adventure of their lives. 







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