Anything You Need

About mid-afternoon two Saturdays ago I was struck by a sudden thought. I had completely forgotten to post Friday Fictioneers! I am so sorry for skipping a week! But then, even worse, I was unable to post last Friday either…so we missed two weeks! In light of this, I am posting last week’s prompt today, and will be back on schedule tomorrow.

And keeping up with my theme, I will be continuing Nick and Emmeline’s story. Emmeline is going home today!

Thanks to Rochelle  last week for not only posting our prompt but also providing our photo!

Enjoy!

Copyright: Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Anything You Need

“I brought extra pillows in case you need them.”

“I’ll be alright, Nicholas.”

“Is it too hot in here? Or too cold? I can adjust the temperature.”

“It’s perfect, Nicholas.”

“I picked up your prescription from the hospital pharmacy. The doctor said to keep track of your pain levels. Do you need some now? I have water in the back.”

“Not now. Thank you, Nicholas.”

“Are you hungry? Because I can..”

“Nick!”

He stopped mid-sentence, surprised by her use of his shortened name. She smiled painfully at him. “Just take me home please. We are blocking the hospital pick-up lane.”

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It’s The Little Things

Happy Friday, Readers! Can you believe it’s here already? As promised in last week’s Friday Fictioneers, I will be continuing the story about the characters I introduced – Nicholas Ramsey and Emmeline Price. If you missed their first story, check it out here.

Thank you to Rochelle for providing us with a prompt week after week. And special thanks to Shaktiki Sharma for providing this week’s photo.

Enjoy!

Copyright: Shaktiki Sharma

It’s The Little Things

Nick came running when a sudden shriek tore the air. He rounded the corner, certain Miss Price was being mugged or worse. What he found was Emmeline desperately swatting the air with her pamphlets. Then in the most dignified manner she could manage, she smoothed her dress and patted her hair.

“What happened?” asked Nick, breathless.

Emmeline cleared her throat. “It was a bug.”

Nick stared at her, dumbfounded. Here was a woman who walked unafraid in the slums of Chicago and faced business tycoons on a daily basis, but shrieked at the sight of a bug. He burst out laughing.

Must Be Magic: Part II

Hello again, Readers! Are you ready for Part II of Must Be Magic? I’m sorry for making you wait so long. This turned out to be a little harder to write than I was expecting. (And I’m still not happy with it. Forgive me!)

Now I’m sure you are itching to get to the story, so I won’t keep you. Enjoy! (and tell me your thoughts afterwards).

The WordPress Daily Prompt word when I started writing this last week was Devastation.

Fireflies illuminate a forest in Shikoku, Japan. © Hiroya Minakuchi/Minden Pictures
Fireflies illuminate a forest in Shikoku, Japan. © Hiroya Minakuchi/Minden Pictures

Must Be Magic

Part 2

For a moment, none of us moved. I stood a few steps in front of Griffin, my arms cradled against my chest after pulling out of his grasp. I glanced at him and Bart, hands on their weapons, and back to the tiny old woman in front of us. She looked more ancient than anyone I’ve ever seen. Her hair was white with a few gray strands and pulled up into a bun on the top of her head, held there by two twigs. She moved fairly quickly for such an old woman and was now disappearing in the late afternoon light, her mottled robes blending in with the scenery.

I made a decision and started forward, only to hear a hissed “No!” from Griffin, but I didn’t stop. Something was drawing me to the old woman, a sort of gravity or curiosity, I wasn’t sure what. I continued to follow her and soon heard the sound of footsteps behind me. Bart was following, looking nervous and Griffin looking grim. He had put away his sword, but still looked tense and ready to spring into action at any moment.

I shook my head, wondering how he could possibly think an old woman was a threat to us and moved forward through the village, trying not to notice the emptiness of all the homes. The cloth doll I had seen earlier floated through my mind and my heart twisted at the thought of a child becoming a victim of the Soul-Eater. What sort of monstrosity was this?

Horatia lead us to the outskirts of the village, which only took a few minutes since the settlement was so small. She lead us to a cozy looking cottage with a small herb garden neatly kept beside it and flowers growing beside the door. Some of the tension I hadn’t realized I’d been holding dropped out of my shoulders. I didn’t wait for Griffin or Bart before following her inside the small house.

The inside was just as cozy as the outside. It was clean and well-kept. Dried herbs hung from the low rafters, filling the room with the smell of basil, sage, and spearmint. Along the wall hung shelves holding all sorts of objects – clay bowls and bottles, a mortar and pestle, cups, vials, books, various rocks and crystals, some carved wooden figures, a nesting doll and a silver chalice. A large table dominated the center of the room, not far from a small iron stove and the fireplace, beside which sat a single bed, with a curtain that could be dropped down for privacy. By the time Griffin and Bart joined us inside, Horatia had already filled a kettle with water, set it to boil, and placed four cups on the table. When we had all gathered inside, she gestured to her table.

“Please, sit,” she said. I crinkled my eyebrows together, certain that there hadn’t been four chairs before, but shrugged and sat down, curious to know what Horatia would tell us. Bart and Griffin sat down on either side of me, both with the same wary and grim looks on their faces.

The silence stretched between the four of us for a few moment before it was broken by Griffin. “Well, tell us what you want to tell us woman, so we may be on our way. Ours is a quest of urgency.”

The gruffness of his tone startled me. I glared at him, about to reprimand him for being so rude, when Horatia interrupted with a bark of laughter. “Urgent indeed, if only you knew how much.” Her eyes gleamed and her smile held back the knowledge I was more desperate to know by the second.

“Please,” I said, extending  my hand across the the table and pleading with my eyes as well as my voice, “if you can help us, tell us what you know. We seek to destroy the Soul-Eater and rescue the Taken.”

Griffin glared at me as if our quest was some sort of secret he didn’t want this woman knowing, but I brushed him off. The entire kingdom knew that Griffin was the king’s champion, the one he sent to deal with situations like these. Horatia’s gaze softened when she looked at me. “Patience, star-girl. I will help you. But first, tea.”

She bustled forward with a steaming kettle and poured a generous amount in each cup. Then she pushed one in front of each of us. “Drink!” she commanded. “You’ll feel better.”

Neither Bart nor Griffin moved to touch their cup but I picked mine up. I breathed in the vapors rising from the cup and sighed, feeling more of the tension I had been carrying melt away in one breath. A question popped into my mind and tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop it. “Why did you call me star-girl?”

“Stella is your name, is it not?” Horatia answered.

My mouth fell open. “How did…”

“Don’t be so shocked, girl, I simply heard your companions call for you.”

A pang of disappointment went through me. For a moment I had hoped the rumors of magic welders had been true.

As if sensing my thoughts, Horatia smiled and said, “Too often men mistake simple observations for fortune telling or mind reading. I merely pay attention to the world around me and listen to what it wants to tell me.”

I smiled. “I suppose you’re right.”

Horatia smiled again, the same smile I had seen earlier, the one was full of secrets. She took a sip from her own cup and settled comfortably into a chair. “Now then,” she said, her tone switching to something more serious, “about your quest.”

“How did you survive the attack?” I asked, the question bursting forth before she could continue. I felt my cheeks redden. I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t hold my tongue. But Horatia didn’t seem to mind.

“I was gathering roots and plants when the demons came. By the time the screaming started, I was deep in the forest. I knew instantly that this was no ordinary attack of bandits or thieves.” Her brows came together and her mouth pressed into a hard line. “I could feel them. The cold, dark, slimy feeling of the Otherworld, of that shadowy place where demons come from. It was so strong, almost staggering.” A shadow passed over her face. I felt a cold stab of dread in my stomach.

“How have you come to know the feeling of demons so well?” Griffin asked, his voice hard.

Horatia fixed him with a equally hard stare. “When one lives as long as I have, doing what I do, meeting a few demons along the way is inevitable.”

Griffin snorted, clearly unconvinced. “And what exactly do you do?” he asked.

“Oh, this and that,” Horatia said, smiling again. It was maddening.

“Nevermind that – tell us what happened next!” I leaned forward, feet bouncing under the table.

The smile vanished. “I hurried back as quickly as I could. The screams grew louder and louder with every step and the feelings worse. I was terrified of what awaited me once I reached the village.” She paused for a moment, closing her eyes as she remembered. For an instant, I saw Griffin’s face soften, but the moment she started speaking again he hardened his face. “I had prepared myself for bloodshed and gore, but what I found was much worse,” Horatia said soberly.

“What?” I asked, my eyes wide.

Griffin answered for her. “Nothing. You found nothing. Just an empty village with barely a sign of struggle to be seen, as if everyone had vanished in the middle of whatever they had been doing.”

I turned to him, about to ask how he could possibly know that when Horatia nodded and said, “Exactly. Not a trace of anyone, nor any sign of the terror I had heard. Just a feeling of wrongness pervading everything.”

“But you knew,” prompted Griffin. “You knew what had happened.”

“I had heard enough news from the North to guess,” said Horatia. “The rest I figured out from my own observations. It’s not obvious, but there are little signs the demons leave behind, things anyone with a trained eye can see.”

“Clever,” said Griffin dryly. “But none of that tells me anything I didn’t already know.”

My heart beat a little faster. I knew Griffin knew about the Taken and the Soul-Eater, but he hadn’t been forthcoming on many of the details.

Horatia studied him for a moment. “Quite so,” she said finally. Then breaking her gaze with Griffin, she looked at me. “Tell me girl, what do you know of the moon?”

My mind blanked. The moon? Why was she asking me? What did this have to do with the Soul-Eater? “Wh-what do you mean?” I asked, hating the fact I had stuttered.

“Do you know about the moon’s cycles?”

I tilted my head. “You mean that it grows bigger and smaller?”

Horatia nodded. “Have you been paying attention to it? What is it doing now?”

I resisted the urge to turn and look out of the window, as if  the moon would be sitting there in plain view. “What does this have to do with anything?” Griffin demanded.

Horatia ignored him. I glanced quickly up at him then back to the old woman. “It’s getting smaller now. The nights are darker.”

Horatia nodded. “That’s right. And did you know that in only a few days time, the moon will disappear completely?”

I nodded. Griffin growled and Bart elbowed him lightly.

“Complete darkness,” whispered Horatia.

I looked at her and back to Griffin and Bart. “What significance is that?”

Horatia didn’t answer. Instead she asked, “How long have these attacks from the demon men been going on?”

My eyes widened. “Um, I don’t know, a few weeks at least.”

“A little more than a few weeks,” Horatia said. “I think you’ll find that the first whisper of an attack came on the night of the last vanishing moon.”

Griffin seemed to suddenly catch her meaning because he gripped the edge of the table with one hand and made a fist with the other. On the other side of me, Bart looked over my head at Griffin. I however, was still in the dark. “What does that mean?” I said a little irritably.

“You think the Soul-Eater is going to retreat on the night of the vanishing moon,” said Griffin. “Are you certain?”

“Positive. Your own memory will prove me right,” Horatia said. Griffin flinched as if smacked.

“But why?” I asked, ignoring this odd reaction.

“The Soul-Eater and its minions will be at their strongest when the night is darkest. On this night they will be able to open a portal and return to the pits whence they came.”

“But that’s good, isn’t it?” I looked around at everyone. “If they leave, the attacks will stop.”

Griffin bowed his head and Bart looked away. Horatia shook her head slowly. “It is true the attacks will stop here. But if you seek to rescue the Taken….” she trailed off and started again. “If the Soul-Eater is allowed to retreat to the Otherworld, then the souls of the Taken will be lost forever and their bodies will slowly fade away into nothingness.”

Silence filled the air. Roy. I stared into my cup of tea for a few moments, watching the leaves floating. Roy. I drew in a deep breath and suddenly straightened up. “Then we just have to rescue them before the vanishing moon, don’t we?”

Both boys turned to look at me. I set my jaw and tried to look confident, even though hopelessness was flickering in my chest. Horatia reached out and put a gnarled hand over my white-knuckled one gripping my cup tightly. “I might be able to help you with that, star-girl.”

Days Past

Happy Friday Readers! To those of you eagerly awaiting Part II of “Must Be Magic” – I promise I will post it soon! Time just gets away from me sometimes. For now I’ll leave you with our weekly Friday Fictioneers story. Thanks to Rochelle for the posting the prompt and to Al Forbes for the photo. Enjoy!

Copyright: Al Forbes
Copyright: Al Forbes

Days Past

We’re traveling down the freeway when I see it. The old car is in beautiful condition, strapped to an open air trailer. My breath catches and I’m instantly transported sixty years back…

I was sixteen, he was nineteen. We played hooky from school and drove to the beach. He kissed me twice and gave me his class ring as a promise for days to come, long before any of us had any idea of the war to come.

“Grandma? What are you looking at?”

I smile at her and touch the ring on a chain at my neck. “Nothing, dear. Just thinking.”

 

*Confession: This story is actually 102 words, not the usual 100. This is because I just couldn’t trim it down any further. I’ll do better next time, I swear!

Must Be Magic

Good morning, Readers! I’m back (by request and demand) with another installment of Stella and Griffin’s story (which really needs a title, doesn’t it? I’ll work on that). In case you missed it, their last adventure was in  A Little Encouragement.  Catch up if you need to! This bit is actually going to be a two-part installment…and I will post the second part soon as I can. For now, enjoy!

Medieval village. Found here.
Medieval village. Found here.

Must Be Magic

Part 1

It was a little after midday when we rode into the small village of  Willow Down. Stella claimed she’d been there once before, with her father. I didn’t ask what the occasion had been. It was a tiny settlement, barely able to claim the title of village. The people there were mostly woodsmen. The town did have one claim to notoriety however. Because of its location deep in the woods, it was a haven for healers and those who wanted to study the natural arts, as well as those few believers who practiced “magic.”

“Magic?” Stella asked, her eyes wide. Bart nodded so vigorously I thought he might topple off his horse. I rolled my eyes, but neither of them were paying attention.

“Yes, Miss Stella,” said Bart, clearly loving her astonishment. “It’s said that Willow Down is the home of the most powerful witch in the kingdom.”

“Is that who we’re going to see?”

Bart looked at me, caught sight of my glare and swallowed. “Well, I think…”

“If you thought more, you would talk less,” I interrupted crossly. Stella frowned and I ignored her. “We’re not going to see any so-called witch. Willow Down is in the middle of the forest where the Taken have been roaming. If anyone knows anything about them, it’s going to be the villagers. We’re going to see what we can find out.”

“There’s no need to be rude,” Stella snapped at me.

“It’s no trouble, Miss Stella,” Bart mumbled, but she waved him off.

“Yes it is! There’s absolutely no need for his belittling you like that!”

“I’m really not…”

“He’s always rude to you! Why do you even…”

“Quiet!” I hissed at her, cutting her off mid-tirade. She gave me a murderous look but I shook my head, indicating the village we had just entered. Everything was eerily silent. There was no sound, no movement to be seen anywhere. A feeling of dread pooled in my stomach. I glanced at Bart, wondering if he felt it too. The familiarity. We had seen towns like this before, in the North. “Stella, stay close,” I ordered. For once she listened without question.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, riding up beside me, her voice barely a whisper and nearly lost under the soft clop-clop of the horses’ hooves on the soft earth. “Where is everyone? What’s happened?”

I scanned the small timber houses lining the road on either side of us. Curtains in open windows flapped forlornly in the breeze, doors stood open. Abandoned fires smoldered and gave off faint wisps of smoke and everywhere tasks lay half-finished. Laundry sat still soaking in a large cauldron, an ax sat embedded in a partially split chunk of wood and a broom made of brush lay fallen on a front step still in need of sweeping.

“It’s like they disappeared in the middle of their daily chores,” whispered Stella. I shared a glance with Bart again and could see his thoughts were running along the same lines as mine.

“The Soul-Eater has been here,” I said.

Stella gasped and put a hand to her mouth. “And taken everyone?” Her eyes strayed to a small cloth doll laying in the front yard of a small cottage. Tears welled up in the corner of her eyes. My heart sank.

“Looks that way,” I said softly, hoping she wouldn’t break down. She didn’t, but surreptitiously wiped her eyes when she thought I wasn’t looking.

I slid down from my saddle. “We might as well search the village in case there were any left behind,” I said. “And pick up some provisions.” Stella looked sharply at me. “They don’t need these things anymore,” I said, sensing her thoughts. “Even if they come back, they won’t begrudge us some food and supplies, I am certain.” She held my gaze for a while, then nodded and joined me on the ground. Bart walked up behind us, leading his horse and the mule. “Stay with Bart,” I told Stella, then strode off before she could protest.

I don’t know why I was even looking for survivors. I had seen more than one town like this in the North, when fighting the Soul-Eater in Fellforough. Entire towns, three times the size of this one completely emptied and abandoned, the people disappearing in the middle of all kinds of daily tasks. Men, women and children – no one was spared.

I had just come upon what looked to be the village center when I heard Bart’s shout and Stella’s scream. Heart in my mouth I turned and raced back the way I had come, drawing my sword as I went. It wouldn’t do much good against the Soul-Eater itself, but it could cut through its minions well enough. I rounded a corner around the house where Bart and Stella has gone and skidded to a stop. Stella was standing with her hand over her heart, a smile on her face. Bart was bent over laughing as well. My brief fear melted into anger.

“What were you thinking, screaming like that?” I demanded. The smile slid quickly from Stella’s face and Bart straightened immediately. “I thought you were being run through, with all the commotion were you making.”

Bart opened his mouth to speak but Stella beat him to it. She stepped forward, but instead of her usual shrewish remark she put a hand placidly on my arm. “We were startled, that was all. We rounded the corner and frightened some chickens that were wondering around. They flew up at my face and I screamed. I’m sorry to have worried you.”

Her eyes were open wide and beseeching me to calm down, but my heart thundered on in my chest. I jerked away. “Next time, try to keep your head. This isn’t a pleasure trip. The danger is real.”

Her eyes flashed and the look on her face became cool and distant. “Forgive me,” she said. “It won’t happen again.” Then she turned on her heel and walked off.

I turned to Bart, who was looking at me shame-faced. “Sorry, Master Griffin. I should have called out that all was well.” I took a deep breath and shook my head, my anger receding.

“Just try to be a little more aware, will you? She doesn’t realize the full extent of the danger we’re in.”

“Do you?” a voice crackled behind us and and I whirled around, sword at the ready. A small, wizened old woman stood there, watching us with dark, ancient looking eyes. A shiver passed over me involuntarily. “Well, do you?” the woman repeated. She was dressed in robes of mottled brown and green, making her blend in with the forest around her. My eyes narrowed.

“Who are you?” I asked, not lowering my sword. From the corner of my eye, I saw that Bart’s hand rested at the knife in his belt.

The old woman waved a hand. “Bah! Put down those weapons, boys, I’m not an agent of the dark one.”

“Why should we trust you?” I asked, still not lowering my sword.

The old woman grinned, making even more wrinkles on her already well lined face. “Ha! Perhaps you would be wise not to. But I mean no harm, and I can give you the answers you seek.”

I held my stance, still studying her when Stella walked back around the corner of the house, chickens in her wake. “Bart, what are you…” She stopped suddenly when she caught sight of the old woman, me with my sword raised and Bart with his hand on his knife. “What’s going on?” I tensed.

“Ah,” said the old woman, her voice crackling again. “Here is the one who screams like a wildcat when threatened.” Stella blushed, and the old woman straightened. Her tone became businesslike and orderly. “Come. Put those blasted weapons away and follow me. I will make some tea and tell you what you want to know.” She beckoned us and turned away.

“Wait,” Stella called, walking forward. I lowered my sword and caught her by the arm. She jerked out of my grasp. “Wait! Who are you?”

The old woman stopped and slowly turned around. She smiled, revealing crooked teeth under a long pointed nose. “I am Horatia. Come with me now.”

A Little Encouragement

Hello again, my lovely Readers! Did you miss me? I hope you are not too disappointed I haven’t been posting everyday like last week. It was good fun, but I’m afraid I can’t always keep up with it. Still, I have been thinking about Stella and Griffin’s story the last few days and I think I’m ready for the next installment.  (What did you think of the little backstory on Roy? There is much more to tell, you know, but all in good time…)

The encounter with the Taken definitely left its mark our trio. Let’s see how much, from Griffin’s point of view. Enjoy!

Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt word is Aesthetic.

Found via Pinterest.
Found via Pinterest.

A Little Encouragement

Nothing has been the same since we saw the Taken.

Bart and Stella ceased their nonstop chatter. In fact, they hardly spoke at all. Stella was quiet and shadows passed over her face as she rode. Occasionally some other emotion flitted across her face, but it was gone so quickly I might have imagined it. Her mind was far away.

I’ve had been avoiding Bart, who hasn’t stopped trying to catch me in quiet conversation ever since I agreed to help Stella save Roy, whoever he is. I assumed he must be her fiancé, though I have not seen any promise band around her finger nor chain around her neck. I knew Bart was anxious to talk about the Soul-Eater and what happened in Fellforough Woods, but I was not ready yet, and I was not going to change my mind.

As we packed up from our midday break for lunch, Bart cornered me. I cast I quick glance at Stella, but she was murmuring something to her horse and didn’t look our way. I almost wished she would. I frowned and turned my attention to Bart. I’d eat dirt before admitting I missed her sarcastic jabber.

Bart wasted no time once he saw that he had my attention. “Griffin, you have to reconsider.”

My eyebrows went up. I’d never insisted on it, but Bart rarely called me simply by my given name. He called me either “Master” or “Master Griffin.” If I hadn’t been convinced by the dire look on his face, his use of my name did the trick. I sighed deeply.

“If it really is a Soul-Eater, we have to take Stella back. It’s too dangerous. Remember what happened last time…”

I held up a hand and cut him off. “Quiet!” I said sharply, glancing back at Stella again, but she was still oblivious. “I know very well what happened. As if I could ever forget.” I closed my eyes for a moment, hearing terrible screams echo across my memory. When I opened my eyes and looked at my hands, it was as if I could still see the thick black blood staining them.

“Then you know your promise was a false one.” Bart’s words pulled me back into the present.

“No, I do not.” I shook my head as a protest started to form on Bart’s lips. “We didn’t know what we were dealing with last time. We…I made mistakes. There has to be another way.”

Bart’s shoulders drooped and he gave me a look that was full of too much understanding. “Master Griffin…”

“No.” I cut him off again. “I’ll not discuss it further. There has to be another way.”

“Another way to what?” Stella asked, strolling over to join us. Bart froze and looked at me.

I looked at her a bit stupidly and said the first thing that came to mind. “Another way to make you smile.”

Surprise bloomed over her features and she snorted, her brow contracting in a questioning sort of look. Bart was now staring at me as if I had grown a second head. I forced myself not to grimace. The words had sounded ridiculous and insincere. I shook them off. “That is, you’ve done nothing but mope all day. I can’t stand your inane chatter, but it’s a damn sight better than your miserable face and brooding silence.” it came out a bit more gruff than I intended, but to my satisfaction, annoyance flickered across her face before settling into the smirk so often directed at me. She dipped into a curtesy.

“By all means, I wouldn’t want to spoil your view while riding,” she said, her voice filled with sarcasm. Briefly I wondered if she spoke like that to anyone other me. How did she speak to Roy, I wondered? Then she smiled at Bart and hoisted herself up into her saddle, looking a little less miserable than before. The shadows haunting her face had receded for the moment. I watched Bart give her his wide grin in return and shook my head as I mounted my own horse. Things weren’t going exactly as I’d planned, but then, nothing so far had gone to plan this trip. I snorted. The afternoon was looking up.

 

A Rough Start

Hello again, Readers! (What’s this? I’m posting 3 days in a row? How can this be?!) Well, Stella’s story has taken root in my mind, and now I can’t stop writing. So here’s another installment based on today’s WordPress Daily Prompt word: Uneven.

If you haven’t read the first two stories about Stella, read them here and here.

Found via Pinterest.
Found via Pinterest.

A Rough Start

I awoke hours before dawn, a habit from working in the mill with my father. Quiet as a mouse, I dressed and grabbed the knapsack I had packed the night before. My eyes drifted to where my little sister still lay sleeping in her bed, and before I could change my mind, darted over and lightly kissed her forehead. “Goodbye,” I whispered. Then I was gone.

All was silent in town, the sun just barely beginning to peak over the horizon. I stood outside the village inn peering into the dim front room. No one was stirring. In the corner near the fireplace I could see a man, slumped over and still holding his mug. I crept around to the stables and was relieved to see Griffin’s horse still there. “So much for him setting out at the crack of dawn,” muttered. Griffin’s horse neighed in response.

The sun was nearly all the way up before Griffin himself strode into the stable, cursing. I jumped, having expected him to send a stable boy, not come himself to saddle his horse. He stopped dead at the sight of me. “You.”

“Me,” I said defiantly, refusing to be intimidated. “I told you. I’m coming with you.”

“And I told you. No, you’re not.” He brushed past me to get to his horse, nearly knocking me over in the process. My nose wrinkled as the stench of ale reached my nostrils.

“No wonder you’re so late,” I muttered. Griffin ignored me. He ignored me the entire time he saddled his horse, while I followed him from the stable and when he yelled for his page boy, Bart.

Bart was a gangling youth, thin with straw colored hair and a worry line between his brows. His eyes, however, were a bright blue and had a spark of intelligence in them, and kindness in the corners. I liked him immediately. He stumbled to a stop when he saw me waiting next to Griffin’s horse, and his worry line increased. “What are you doing here, Miss?” he asked, struggling with what appeared to be a few week’s rations and a barrel of ale.

I stepped forward and took a couple of the bags. “Stella,” I replied. “It’s Miss Stella. And as I told Mr. Lionheart last night, I’m coming with you.”

Bart’s eyes widened comically. “Oh no! No! You can’t Miss, it’s too dangerous!”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“But…”

“Bart!”

With a quick pleading look at me, Bart hurriedly set down the barrel of ale and ran to assist his master. I watched him go. “I am going,” I told the horse. I took a seat on the barrel. “One way or another, Griffin is going to take me with him.”