The Last Child of Leif

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Forced from my home, I find myself fleeing from the evil forces that killed my father. My mother and Sebastian, our protector, are by my side – but for how long?

I soon find myself travelling with a circus led by a kindly man called Konrad, but my young mind doesn’t know who to trust. Sebastian seems less at ease with every passing day. I’m struggling to cope with the tragedy that has befallen me, and the world now seems a lot more dangerous than I had ever imagined.

My name is Price valiant, and I am a Child of Leif.

Chapter 1

It is a strange thing to know you are about to die. Standing on the gallows, noose around my neck, I know I should be frightened, terrified even. And yet, strangely, I’m calm. Serene, almost. Pacing back and forth in front of me, a man in what looks like a dress sporting a white wig reads off a trumped up list of charges. From the look of him, he is a man who is fond of his own voice. At least that means I get an extra few moments of life.

On the gallows with me is Sebastian Alexanderson, the man who raised me as a son. Standing bolt upright despite the beating he’s taken over the last few days, looking every inch the life long soldier. A pang of guilt hits me that he will be joining me on this final adventure, but deep down I know there is nowhere he’d rather be.

As the fop in a dress continues to drone on I find myself thinking back about how I ended up here. I was born a prince, and now I’m being hung as a traitor. How did I come to this…?

My story is a long one. Much of my earlier life has been repeated to me many times by Sebastian in the years since it happened, and in truth I can no longer distinguish between the real memories and the perhaps slightly fanciful stories he used to fill in the gaps.

My earliest memories are of playing in a garden with a small metal traction engine and wooden toy soldiers. I must have been around 3 years old. We had just come back from the circus and seen the giant traction engines that moved the circus from town to town. I remember crying at the noise they made. I think I cried a lot as child.

High stone walls surrounded the garden. The air smelled of horses and cooking meats. Sitting on a bench watching me play was my mother; a beautiful lady, wearing a royal blue dress with a small tiara on her head. She had been young when I was born, barely more than a child herself.

Sitting beside her were her hand maidens, while standing behind the bench was Sebastian. Head of my mother’s personal guard, the only common soldier allowed to carry his sword in the queen’s presence. He was the youngest soldier to hold the title, barely in his twenties. His left hand rested on the large black gem in the pommel of his sword as his eyes scanned back and forth around the various doors back into the keep; even here in the castle he refused to let his guard drop.

A bugler on the walls called the changing of the guard. The sound startled me and I started crying. The hand maidens jumped up and moved towards me, but my mother waved them away abruptly and came to me. She cuddled me close and whispered calming words to me until I settled down. I remember clearly the feel of her silk dress against me face and the sweet smell of her perfume.

She sat on the grass and joined me playing with my toys.

I was roughly awoken by my mother lifting me out of bed. It was dark. I could sense her fear. She glanced warily at the door where Sebastian stood, sword in hand. Tucking my head in to my mother, I tried to hide myself. My mother moved quickly to the door.

“What should we do now?” my mother whispered to Sebastian. Their talking encouraged me to open my eyes again.

“Whatever you order, My Queen,” he replied, his voice calm.

“I do not know what to do, Sebastian.” Her voice was bordering on hysterical. Sebastian turned to look at my mother. She had spent her whole life in safety being told what to do, first by her father, then by her husband. She was unaccustomed to real danger or thinking for herself, and now found herself in a situation she knew nothing about; her world was collapsing around her. Sebastian looked at her for a moment, his steely gaze softening.

“First we need to get out of the castle. Then we can think further. Follow me. ” He moved off down the corridor.

“Do you think my husband still lives?”

“I don’t know, My Queen.” Approaching a junction in the corridor, he held his hand out, signalling her to stop. Stepping out into the junction, he blocked high with his sword, deflecting a sword strike and launched a fatal riposte. A second assailant moved out of the shadows but he died faster than the first. The sudden out burst of violence unsettled me and I started sobbing.

“shhh…” my mother whispered in my ear while patting my back gently. “Quiet now, go back to sleep.” We were moving again. “Who are these assassins?” My mother asked Sebastian.

“I don’t know, My Queen.” We stopped moving. I kept my face pressed into my mother’s chest as the sound of metal on metal rang out, followed by the gasps and groans of dying men.

I heard the creek of a door and we moved out into the open air. The cold air against my neck made me look up. It was a dark night, the moon hidden behind clouds. The gates of the castle were in front of us, but keeping to the shadows of the wall we moved towards the stables. Sebastian gently opened the door and my mother carried me inside. Sebastian followed us in, closing the door behind us. Inside it was now pitch darkness. The horses sounded restless.

“What are we to do now?” my mother whispered.

“Ride, My Queen.”

I could hear him moving through the stables, the sounds of him finding and saddling a horse. He moved back towards us, and then hesitated in front of my mother and me.

“You must get on the horse now, My Queen.”

“I cannot even see my hand in front of my face, how am I to find the horse.” My mother snapped. Sebastian shifted uneasily in the darkness, waiting for further instruction from my mother. “You will have to guide me, Sebastian; we do not have time to stand on ceremony.”

I felt Sebastian’s hand on my mothers arm as we moved through the stable. Finally I could feel the heat of a horse on my back.

“You must go to Sebastian for a few moments, little one” my mother whispered to me as she passed me over. A few moments later I was passed back to my mother, now on the horses back. Sebastian took the reins and led the horse towards the door.

Stopping in front of door, he leaned in and whispered to my mother. “These men are well trained and well organised, My Queen. No doubt there will be archers on the wall. The gates are less than 50 yards from the stable door. Once I open the door, I will mount behind you and we shall gallop for the gates. If we ride out at full pace, they will not have time to close the gate or to target us from the front. You and the prince should safe.”

“And once we are through the gate?” My mother asked.

“Then I will be behind you, My Queen. Should I fall, ride east to Wroclaw. The Earl of the Eastern Marches is a good friend of your husband. He should offer you shelter.” Leaning down, my mother kissed him on the forehead.

You are good friend of my husband, and your bravery will not be forgotten” she said.

Sebastian moved forward and gently lifted the bar holding the door shut, then climbed up behind my mother.

“Hold on, My Queen.” Sebastian pulled hard on the reins, and the horse reared, kicking the stable door open with its front hooves. Light flooded in; clearly the clouds had passes while we were in the stable. Then we were off, galloping towards the gate. A shout went up from the men around the gate, but before they could move to cut us off we were passed. Then the arrows started to fall. My Mother lent forward over me, covering me from the deadly rain. The horse galloped on, and very quickly we were out of range of the archers.

Sebastian turned the horse towards the forest and slowed it to a trot. In the moon light I could see blood running down his arm and dripping off his hand. I cuddled in to mother, trying to block from my mind the images of the night. After all of the excitement, and with the rhythmic sound of the horse’s hooves ringing in my ears, I fell asleep on the horses back.

I awoke later the same night as Sebastian lifted me off the horses back. There was an arrow sticking out of his left shoulder. A second arrow was embedded in the back leg of the horse. The poor creature was shaking violently, its ears back against its skull, nostrils flared. Sebastian placed me on the ground, and then helped my mother dismount. Lying on the floor, I curled myself up into a ball but could not get back to sleep. The floor was damp and hard, the air cold now that I was away from my mother. I didn’t cry, although I think this because I was too traumatised to do anything but lay there. Sebastian clumsily undid his cape with his good arm and laid it over me.

“It seems you will live to fight another day, soldier,” a slight smile crossed my mother face as she spoke. “We need to get that arrow out though.”

Sebastian looked at the metal head of the arrow poking out of the front of his shoulder.

“It’s barbed.” He spoke clinically, no trace of emotion his voice. “We will need a fire to seal the wound, and some strips of material to act as bandages.”  He moved towards the horse, intending to look through the saddle bags on the horse. My mother reached down and pulled several long strips off of her dress.

“Bandages are easy enough. Sit and wait while I collect some wood.” My mother moved towards the edge of the clearing.

“My Queen, I will….” My mother cut through Sebastian’s objections, her composure was clearly returning.

“You have kept my son and I alive this night, Sebastian, I will get wood. You will sit and conserve your strength. This isn’t over yet. And you must stop calling me “My Queen”, from now until we reach Wroclaw. My name is Natasha, you must use it.”

Sebastian opened his mouth to speak, but clearly thought better of it. Moving over to the horse, he gently stroked its head, trying to calm the animal. A few moments later my mother returned carrying a bundle of wood. She dropped the wood onto the floor then stared at it.

“I have never laid a fire,” she said bluntly. Sebastian nodded his understanding, searched through the saddle bags and pulled a small cloth bag out.

“We seem to be lucky, My Que-Natasha,” he spoke my mothers name as if it caused him pain. “There is food in this pack. And flint, and a steel. We should have everything we need for tonight.”

He moved over to where my mother had dropped the wood. He made a small pile of tinder on the ground and emptied the bag. It contained a C shaped piece of metal and a large stone. Resting the stone in the tinder, he struck it with the piece of metal. It took him several tries, but after a few minutes, a glowing spark landed in the tinder and took. Sebastian lent in and blew gently until there were flames, then piled some of the smaller sticks onto the top. Finally he broke up some of the larger branched and fed them into the flames. He tucked the stone and piece of metal back into their bag.

“We are ready,” He said. Pulling his knife from his belt, he rested the end of the blade in the fire, and then turned to face my mother. “The head is barbed. You will need to break the shaft, as close to my body as you can. Then you must pull the head end out. Use my knife to stem the bleeding, and then bandage the wound as best you can.”

My mother grabbed the shaft of the arrow with both hands

“Are you ready?” she asked. Without waiting for a reply, she moved her hands further apart and brought her knee up. The arrow snapped. Sebastian slumped to floor unconscious. My mother pulled the arrow though, sealed the wound with the red hot blade of the knife. Then she removed Sebastian’s shirt and bandaged his upper chest. She checked Sebastian was still breathing, before rolling him onto his side. My mother continued to watch his face for a few moments, before turning her attention to me.

“And why are you still awake, my little Valiant?” she moved across to sit next to me. I lifted my head onto my mothers lap. She started to sing gently, and reached down to pat my back.

The morning sun in my face woke me. My mother was asleep next to me. Looking around I could see no sign of Sebastian. The arrow that had been in the horse was gone. My moving must have woken my mother, and she sighed as she sat up next to me. She looked around warily, then down at me.

“Hungry!” I said, looking up at her. She smiled lovingly at me.

“We have no food; we will have to wait until we can find some,”

“Not true, My Queen,” Sebastian appeared from the tree line. “There is food in the saddle bags. Enough to last us today, anyway.”

He walked across the clearing to the horse and retrieved a small loaf of bread and some dried meat. He shared the food between us and placed a canteen of water on the floor.

“We will need to be moving soon. The sun has been up for an hour already. They will be looking for you.”

“How do you know?” My mother asked. “Maybe whatever rebellion that was has been suppressed now. My husband will…”

Sebastian was starring straight at the floor as he interrupted. “The men that attacked us last night, I recognised some of them. They were The Royal Guard. If the Kings personal body guard are involved, I’m sorry My Queen, but the King is likely dead and whoever is now sitting on the throne will need you alive and your son dead to make their rule official.”

My mother fixed Sebastian with an icy stare. “You know who is behind this?” It was more of a statement than a question. Sebastian didn’t take his eyes off the floor.

“I do not know, My Queen, but I suspect. As did the King. We have heard rumour that your bother in law, the King Gregory of Gaul, has intentions on the throne, although the King expected invasion.”

“You knew all of this last night, and didn’t care to mention it.” Sebastian looked up and met my mothers stare.

“I had my orders, My Queen. If anything were to happen, I was to keep the prince and yourself out of harm.”

My mother smirked.

“If my husband is dead, you no longer need to lie for him. Your orders were to keep his son safe; my safety has never been of his concern.”

“Your safety has always been my concern, My Queen.” Sebastian held my mothers stare for a moment, and then moved off to saddle the horse.

We travelled cautiously, my mother and Sebastian walking, me on the horse. The path we travelled on wound through the Uberwald, the great forest that stretched along the southern parts of Bavaria. Twice during the morning Sebastian had ushered us off of the path and into the denser undergrowth, where we sat in silence as riders came past. My mother spent her time trying to keep me entertained, or more correctly, keep me quiet. Mostly she succeeded. Being out of the castle in the forest was a new experience for me. There were so many new things to see and smell I forgot all about the day before.

While Sebastian was accustomed to being on his feet for extended periods, my mother was not, and several times she joined me on the horse to rest her legs. We had been travelling for what seemed like, to my young mind, forever when Sebastian, who was several yards in front of us, signalled for us to move off of the road again.

“There is a building ahead,” he said. “Probably a woodsman house. We need supplies, although we have nothing to trade for them. It would be best if you wait here with the prince, My Queen.”

“What do you intend to do?” My mother asked.

“I will go and get what we need to survive out here, My Queen.”

“As you have so astutely just pointed out, we have nothing to trade. How exactly are you going to acquire these resources?”

“I think you would prefer not to know, My Queen.”

“Then I think it would be best for you to tell me.” My mothers tone had hardened. She turned to face him, square on and stared into Sebastian’s eyes.

“Keeping you and the Prince alive is of the utmost importance. If the owner of this property is unwilling to support the Queen in her hour of need, I will …. remind him of his duty.”

“So you intend to commit robbery, or worse. No, I will not allow it.”

“I intend to keep you alive, My Queen.” My mother and Sebastian were standing barely an inch apart, eyes locked. My mother looked away first, a slight blush evident on her cheeks. .

“I know you mean well Sebastian, and your service in this time will never be forgotten. We will all of us ride down to this house and request the assistance of the owner.” My mother turned back to me, and took the reins of the horse.

“As you command, Natasha.”

The road we travelled passed through a clearing. Off to the side of the road there was single story building. A man was out in front of the building, chopping wood. He was an older man, hair and beard almost completely grey. He was huge; his upper body was shirtless, knotted with muscles and criss-crossed with scars. He saw us as soon as we left the trees and let off a shrill whistle. Resting the axe on his shoulder, he walked forward to meet us.

“These are dangerous times, Stranger,” he addressed Sebastian directly, “made all the more dangerous by approaching a man’s house with a sword in your hand.”

“Do you greet all of your visitors with an axe?” The man turned to look at my mother as she spoke. He chuckled as he spoke.

“An axe and bow, actually lass.” As he spoke, a lady of similar age appeared from the building behind him, bow in hand, with an arrow trained on Sebastian. “And no, Your Highness, I only greet men accused of kidnapping in this fashion. You’d best come inside so as we can talk.”

Without a further word, he turned and headed towards the building. My mother and Sebastian stared at each other open mouthed. The man hammered the axe into the chopping block on the way past and picked up his shirt.

“You had best tie that beast up in the shed round the back. Keep it out of sight, the whole damn forest is crawling with bucket heads.” And then he was in the house.

My mother followed Sebastian round to the back of the house, taking me with them on the horse. There was a lean-to on the back of the house that seemed to be a store for both wood and assorted junk. Once we were out of earshot from the strangers, my mother spoke to Sebastian in a hushed voice.

“Can we trust this man?” she asked.

“I don’t know, My Queen. But right now we have little choice. We are still in need of supplies.”

Sebastian lifted me off of the horse. I cuddled in to him, glad of the attention. In my life up until this point, I had seen Sebastian more than I had my own father. I thought of him as an uncle or perhaps a brother. My hugging him seemed to perturb him, and he quickly passed past me to my mother. Sebastian took the saddle off the horse, and then started searching the shed.

“What are you looking for?” my mother asked.

“The horse needs to be cared for, My Queen. I need a brush and something to put water in.” My mother put me on the floor.

“Help Sebastian look for a brush for the nice horse,” she said to me.

We search all around the small shed, but despite all of the junk, we could not find a brush.

“What’s taking you so long,” the stranger called, appearing at the door. He was a huge man, filling the doorway and having to duck to pass through.

“We’re looking for a brush and some water for the horse,” Sebastian answered.

“Well, for the brush you’re out of luck,” the stranger answered. “I don’t own any horse kit. Don’t really like horses. Water though we can do. There’s a well out front and an old bucket somewhere.” A couple of seconds rummaging turned up the bucket. It certainly was old, but it still looked like it would hold water. The stranger wandered off with the bucket. Sebastian went outside and picked handfuls of long grass. Coming back inside, he rubbed the horse down with the grass. Several times he went back out for grass. The stranger returned with the bucket filled with water and watched Sebastian scrubbing the horse.

“Bloody waste of time, those things are. If you can’t get there on your own feet, it ain’t worth going.”

“You get there faster on the horse,” Sebastian countered.

“Pah! That’s the problem with you youngens. You’re always in a rush to get somewhere and never stop to just enjoy life. Give the beast its water, and then get yourselves in the house before anymore metal men turn up.” The stranger left the bucket on the floor and ducked back out the door.

The main room of the house appeared to serve as kitchen, dinning room and bedroom. The man had introduced himself as Gunter, once a member of the imperial army, now retired, and his wife Susan. Susan stood near the fireplace preparing food, my mother sat at the table and Gunter and Sebastian stood by the windows at the front of the room, keeping watch on the road. I sat in the middle of the floor, playing with some toys which Gunter had found for me.

“There has been a lot of kerfuffle.” Gunter said. “Three groups of soldiers have ridden through here so far today. They say the Queens personal body guard went berserk, assassinated King William and kidnapped Prince Valiant and Queen Natasha.”

Sebastian grunted.

“From the look of it though,” Gunter continued, “the Queen and the Prince are safe, and I don’t recon as you’re the one they’re in danger from.”

“There was a rebellion last night,” Sebastian said. “I don’t know who led it. I do know that a number of the Kings personal guard were involved. They attempted to assassinate the prince but we intervened. There’s not much more I can tell you.”

“Well, as the Kings brother has declared himself protectorate of the kingdom until this is resolved I’ll put my money on his involvement.”

“That was my suspicion.”

Sebastian looked across to where my mother sat at the table.

“I will have to tell her that her husband is dead. I think she is still clinging to the hope he is alive and this will end soon.”

“I take it you head for Wroclaw?” Gunter asked.

“I think it would unwise of me to discuss our plans. I trust you Gunter, but then I trusted many people in the palace, and they all seem to have turned against the queen.” Gunter reached out and clasped a hand on Sebastian’s shoulder. Sebastian winced as Gunter squeezed his injured shoulder.

“There is wisdom in what you says lad, but you’re going to need help if you want to make it across this country. The common folk will have no idea of what really happened, and the soldiers chasing you are just following orders. Now me, I’ve always been a Queensman. King William, fair though he might have been, was always an outsider in my book. I don’t see as how it can be fair that the Queen had to give her power to a foreigner just because she wasn’t born with the right trouser furniture, and truth be told, I’d rather she didn’t have to do it again. Prince Valiant is now the rightful heir, though I doubt his uncle is going to like that much. I think you are going to need a mighty lot of help if you want to keep the pair of them safe. Especially given the state of that shoulder.”

Sebastian took a moment to digest what Gunter had said. Finally he grasped Gunter’s wrist.

“You’ve done right by us until now. We’d best come up with some sort of plan.” Sebastian turned back to the queen. “But first, we need to speak to the Queen. Ultimately, it is her decision.”

Sebastian and Gunter moved across to the table and sat down with my mother.

“Gunter has news of what has happened in the castle. It is not good My Queen. I’m sorry, but the King is dead and his brother has placed himself in command.” My mother nodded slowly. I think there had never been any love between my mother and father. Theirs had been a political union, an attempt to bring peace to two kingdoms, which had clearly now failed. She had treated their relationship as a duty she had to fulfil, providing him with an heir as was required of her station. While Sebastian rarely spoke of my father over the years, I gather that after my birth, my father took to having a mistress whose company he chose to keep in place of my mother.

“Then it is as you suspected, Sebastian. He will need me then to make his rule proper.”

“Gunter has also offered us his help in travelling to Wroclaw, My Queen. He knows this area better then I, with his help we should be able to travel off of the roads.”

“A number of the woodsmen in this forest are retired soldier like me, Your Highness. And I know who amongst them we can trust.” Gunter said.

“Thank you Gunter. When this is over, I will see that you are suitable rewarded.” My mother answered. Gunter bristled at this, standing to attention.

“I need no reward to do my duty, Your Highness, although I appreciate the offer. I served your father for nigh on 30 year, and a good man he was. He treated the people with respect, and that earned him respect. I’ll not stand idly by and watch his daughter suffer.”

“Lunch is ready.” Susan deposited two plates onto the table, apparently oblivious of her interruption, then shuffled back to collect more. My mother got up to collect me and bring me to the table.

“Astonishing sense of timing my wife has…” Gunter muttered to Sebastian.

After the food was eaten, Gunter, Susan and Sebastian cleared the table and washed the plates. My mother remained seated, although I do not think this was out of arrogance, or a sense of snobbery. She had been raised with servants to attend to her every whim, and I doubt even realised that the plates needed to move. When they were finished, Gunter moved to the ‘bedroom’ area of the room and opened a large wooden chest. He produced a roll of papers held together with string and returned to the table. My mother sat watching me play with the little wooden soldiers I had been given earlier.

“Whose toys are these?” she asked.

“They were my son’s,” Gunter replied. “He is too old for them now mind. He’s got real armour and a real horse now.” Gunter deposited the paper on the table and untied the string.

“He followed his father into the military,” Susan said, “although he went for cavalry, not infantry.”

“He always was a lazy boy,” Gunter said. “Soldiering is something you do on your feet, not from a horse, aint that right, lad.” He clapped Sebastian on the back as he spoke.

“Tactically speaking, I think a mixed force is best in any battle. It allows one to take account of all the options.”

“Now that wasn’t an answer to the question, was it lad?”

“I suppose not. Some of the greatest armies to sweep this land have been Cavalry, the Huns, the Mongols. They fought from horse back.

“Right you are. But the Huns and the Mongols were archers. It was not the horse that made them strong, but the bow. “

“The Knights Templar fought from horse back to protect the people.”

“The Romans ruled on foot. The longest lived empire and it was ruled by the infantry.”

“The infantry did much of the fighting true, but they also had mounted troops and ranged soldiers. The greatest empire ever to exist, the Macedonians under Alexander, were mixed force, infantry, cavalry and bowman.”

“And I bet the Infantry still did the hardest fighting.”

“I imagine you’re right. The line of my family has always been in the household guard, mounted troops in battle, but infantry when on guard duty; the best of both worlds.” There was a mischievous twinkle in Sebastian’s eye as he spoke.

“Pah,” Gunter practically spat his distain. He unravelled the maps, stabbing his knife through one corner to hold it.

“We’re here, Your Highness,” he stabbed his finger at the map. “It’s about 14 days march to Wroclaw at a soldiers pace. No disrespect meant, but with yourself and the little’un, we can expect it to take maybe 17 days.” My mother nodded her understanding.

“Do you agree, Sebastian?” she asked.

“I had thought 15 days, My Queen. We have the horse for the Prince to ride.”

“You disagree with Gunter’s estimate of my abilities?”

“I do, My Queen. There is more to you than anyone gives you credit for. I think Gunter underestimates your strength, and your resolve.”

“15 days, 17 days, 20 days” Gunter said, “does it matter? Either way it’s a long time. We can keep to the forest for maybe 6 days. After that it will be more dangerous.” Sebastian nodded slowly.

“We should stay here for a few days. If they don’t find us within a couple of days, they will have to expand the search and spread their men thinner.”

“Your not wrong there, lad. We have a cellar for our winter stores. It’s not a big room, but if the soldiers come it will serve to hide you.”

“Then, if you approve, My Queen, that is decided.” My mother nodded her approval to Sebastian.

“It would be best if the three of you stay inside and away from the windows. The road outside is not a busy one, but you never know when someone will come past. I will go to the inn at Bockhorn to see what the news is.”

I spent the rest of the day playing inside the house. Sebastian spent his time at the window, staring out, watching the road. Soon after lunch Susan rummaged through one of the chests in the room and produced a long blue dress. She brought it over for my mother to look at.

“If it’s not too bold of me, Your Highness, that dress has seen better days. This should be around your size.” Raised as a country girl by a farmer, Susan was clearly in awe of my mother.

“It’s beautiful.” My mother reached out and stroked the material.

“If it pleases Your Highness, I could get a bath ready.”

“Susan,” my mother looked took hold of Susan’s hand and looked straight at her. “You do not need to address me as ‘Your Highness’. My name is Natasha, but I do not need to hear that every time you speak either. You are helping me, and you are helping to save my son. You do not need to grovel to me. Please just treat me as you would any other.” Susan nodded her understanding, clearly still unsure.

“That said,” my mother continued with a smile, “I would love a nice warm bath. Come, I will help you to fetch the water.”

My mother had underestimated the amount of exertion it would take to get a bath full of hot water. Susan went out briefly and came back in with a large metal tub. She then stoked the fire up and she, my mother and Sebastian filled several large cooking pots with water from a well in the front garden and hung them heating over the fire. While waiting for the water to boil, they sat back down at the table.

“This is a beautiful dress.” My mother was stroking the dress again.

“I married Gunter in that dress,” Susan had a dreamy look on her face. “We had to save for a year to afford it. It seems so silly now. I wore it once, and I’ve spent 34 years storing it and trying to keep it safe…”

“It truly is a beautiful dress, and I thank you for the offer, but I cannot wear this dress. It is yours, and it is special to you. Gunter is a lucky man to have you. I think for the journey ahead of me, something more like what you wear now would be appropriate.”

“It is special to me, but I doubt I will ever need to wear it again, nor could I! Life has been a bit too good to me, especially on my hips. Still, I would like to see it put to better use than sitting in the chest. And you will not be travelling for days yet.”

“Then I shall wear it.”

“Your son is very quiet. I don’t remember Wolfgang ever being that settled”

“I fear it is because he is used to being alone. There are no other children in the castle. He spends most of his time alone, playing with his toys.”

“It doesn’t do them any harm. Several of my friends were raised on isolated farms, the only child for several miles. They have turned out well.”

“The loneliness might not leave any lasting damage, but the events of the last night probably will. No child should see what he witnessed last night. Blood and battle are things for men, not boys.” There were tears in my mothers eyes as she spoke.

Susan’s face hardened as she spoke.

“Blood and battle is a thing for no one. All it brings is sadness and death, windowed women and orphaned children. When the battle ends, the scars it leaves are not just in the flesh. ” She softened again. “But your son is young. He has survived the night. As long as he is loved and cared for he will forget. Many children in this land have seen similar things to what he has seen. It leaves a mark, but most get past it.”

“I hope you are right.” My mother was clearly battling to regain her composure. “I worry that I am doing everything wrong. With no other children around, there is no one to ask for advice.”

“All mothers worry. It’s your lot as a mother. He seems well and happy, considering what happened last night. For what it’s worth, I think you have done well.”

“That means more to me than you know. I have always felt that I was being judged, but that no one could say anything. I can only pray that we survive this experience.

“You will survive. Gunter will make sure of it. He has been a soldier all of his life. He survived everything the enemies of our nation could throw at him. And he is sworn to protect you. I think the one you travel with is of a similar ilk. He has the same determination. If you asked them to, they would march into hell for you and bring you back the devils head.”

“It is fortunate for the devil then that I do not need his head. You said before that many children experience similar things to this in their life?”

“Unfortunately so, Your Highness. Your father seemed to avoid war, but King William, well, he was your husband, and it’s rude to speak ill of the dead. There have been a few too many wars recently. It is the good men that tend to die in a war. The bad men, the men of weak character, they avoid war, and slowly the world fills with these men. Bad men do bad things, even to children.”

“But there are laws. There are people whose job it is to prevent this.”

“There are too few, and many of the people whose job it is to enforce the law are no better.”

“It seems I have led a very sheltered existence. I have rarely left the castle, and when I have, people do not speak to me. My father, and then my husband have always made the decisions in my life, and I now see that perhaps the decisions my husband made were not in the best interests of the nation. You have given me much to think about. When these troubles are behind us, I will do what I can to rectify the mistakes made.”

Susan and my mother continued to talk until the water in the pots was boiling hot. The boiling water was emptied into the large tub. Susan and my mother then added cold water until the tub was full. Susan produced a towel from one of the large chests in the room and placed it on the table.

“I think I’ll go for a walk, leave you to your bath,” Susan said. “I’m sure you don’t need an audience.” My mother laughed.

“Strangely, I think I have always had an audience when I have bathed… Although now I think about it, I have no idea why. I think I will take the offer of peace though, thank you Susan.”

My mother removed her travel stained clothes and squeezed into the tub. I wandered over and splashed the water.

“You will have to be next, little Valiant.” My mother said. I returned to my toys while she bathed. When she was finished she reached out for the towel but it was beyond her reach.

“Sebastian,” she called, “could you pass me the towel?” Sebastian snapped out of his thoughts.

“Sorry, Your Hi…” He spoke as he turned, and broke off as he realised he was looking at my mother, standing naked, knee deep in water.

“Sebastian, I need the towel. I do not want to leave water all over the floor.” Sebastian didn’t respond, he stood stock still, mouth open.

“What is wrong with you Sebastian, have you never seen a woman naked before?” My mother snapped at him.

“I have not, My Queen,” Sebastian said uncomfortably. Regaining his composer, he strode across the room and handed her the towel, then turned to face away.

“You truly have never seen a woman’s naked form?” My mother genuinely seemed surprised.

“There is only one lady in this world for me, My Queen.”

“And you are saving yourself for this lady? She must be a truly remarkable person.”

“She is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, My Queen. Whilst I have seen many other petty girls, no other has ever been able to compare to her. She has eyes the colour of hazel that look deep into my soul. The way her hair blows in the wind makes the breath stick in my throat. At the touch of her hand my knees go weak. I awake every morning eager to hear her voice, and her face is the last thing I think of at night. She is perfection and I have loved her with every fibre of my being from the first day that I saw her. The thought of a world without her….” His voice trailed off.

“Such dedication and yet she has never seen fit to even grace you with a glimpse of her naked flesh?” My mother, now safely wrapped in a towel, walked around to face Sebastian. Sebastian looked her directly in the eye.

“Until today, My Queen.” My mothers face passed through confusion, to understanding, to shock. Her mouth moved, but no words would come out. I think it dawned on her that every time Sebastian said “My Queen”, what he meant was “I love you”. Finally, she turned away from Sebastian, and turned her attention to me.

“Come then, my little Valiant. It is time for your bath.” Sebastian’s eyes lingered on my mother for a few moments, before he moved back to his position by the window. While she bathed me, my mother kept looking across the room at Sebastian. She studied him as he studied the outside world. When I was clean, she removed the towel from her body and dried me with it. Then she pulled on the dress Susan had given her. Having nothing else to dress me in, she put me back into the pyjama’s I wore last night. Leaving me on the floor with the toys, she moved over to Sebastian, standing next to him at the window.

“When I think about it, I have spent more time in your company in the last 5 fives years than any other living soul, even my husband. You were there before I married, telling me that things would be fine. You wiped my tears when my father died. You carried me to my room when I went in labour. You looked after Valiant when he was first born and I was too weak. And now you have kept us both alive. And yet I have never paid you any attention, except to shout at you and berate you. I had always thought you did what you did because you had been ordered too. And now I am not sure.”

“Your father assigned me to be your guard because we were of similar age. He thought you would be more comfortable in my company than with an older soldier. He thought me competent as I had won several sword tourneys. When your father died, my position was already established. Your husband, the new King, already knew me, and he knew my skills, or so he said. His only orders to me where to keep my sword arm strong and my mind keen. Everything else was for you.”

Neither my mother nor Sebastian had taken their eyes off the outside world.

“And yet you knew you could never have me. Even if I had known your heart, my life is not my own, my fate not mine to decide.”

“The first time I ever saw you, you were sitting in the gardens on a swinging seat. The sun was setting, and you were bathed in the evening light. Your beauty nearly struck me down. That moment my life became complete. I had purpose. At that moment, I dedicated myself to you. Whether I could have you or not, I would spend the rest of my life in the company of the women I loved.  I would do everything in my power to make sure she was happy.”

“In that you have succeeded. Without you my life would have been a far more miserable experience.” As she spoke, my mother reached out, took hold of Sebastian’s hand and lent on to his shoulder. “I do not truly know what love is. Love has never been something I could hope for. I was told who I would marry, and that I would be expected to make him happy and produce him many strong heirs. But you have been there for me, far more than my husband was. And I think that all of the bitterness I held towards you was to defend myself from the realisation that apart from my father you were the only man in my life who has ever cared for me.”

My mother and Sebastian stayed together at the window until the sun started to set. No words passed between them, but years later, when Sebastian and I discussed these events, he described this as the happiest time of his life. Susan and Gunter both returned, but left them alone. Gunter had picked up some clothes for me while he was out and between them they dressed me in fresh clothes. Susan spent her time between entertaining me and busying herself in the kitchen, while Gunter took his axe and left again.

Susan called me when dinner was prepared, which disturbed my mother and Sebastian.

“We should eat,” my mother said. Sebastian slowly nodded his agreement, but didn’t let go of my mother. “You need to let me go,” mother said.

“I know, but I do not want to, My Queen. This moment is perfect, and I know that when it finishes, everything must change.”

“Not everything, my love,” my mother pulled Sebastian down into a passionate kiss. Finally, when she had finished, she pushed Sebastian away, and moved over to the table.

After dinner, Gunter dragged the table out of the way. He lifted the trapdoor down to the cellar.

“It would be best if you slept below, in case they conduct any night time searches.” Gunter handed a candle to Sebastian as he spoke. Sebastian peered into the gloom of the cellar.

“Into the darkness then, My Queen.” Sebastian offered my mother his hand to help her descend the ladder. Gunter passed me down to her.

“I will put the table back into place when you’re down,” Gunter said. “If any bucket heads come in the night, it makes the trap door more difficult to see.” Sebastian hefted the table feeling its weight.

“I do not think I could move that from underneath. If there is any problem, I will not be able to help you.”

“Then I’ll hope there is no problem in the night that I can’t handle.” Sebastian joined my mother and me underground. Blankets and pillows were passed down to us, along with a few spare candles.

“Is there any thing else you might need?” Gunter asked.

“A jug of water,” Sebastian said. “And if we are to be stuck down here all night, a chamber pot.” Once we were settled, Gunter’s face appeared at the opening again.

“Good night then Kiddies, I’ll open the trap door again at first light.” Gunter closed the trapdoor and I heard the sound of the table being dragged back into place. Sebastian placed the candle on one of the many shelves present in the little room.

“Come then, little Valiant, let us get you undressed and into bed.” My mother helped me remove my clothes then wrapped me in one of the blankets. Sebastian folded a second blanket and laid it on the floor for me to lie on. Laying me down, my mother placed a pillow under my head. She sat next to me and sung softly in my ear until I fell asleep.

I was awakened in the early morning by the noise of the trap opening.  Gunter’s face was illuminated by the early morning sunlight. The dress Susan had given to my mother was hanging off of a shelf, along with Sebastian’s shirt. My mother still lay on the floor, a blanket covering her nakedness. Sebastian stood below the ladder, sword in hand.

“Alls well,” Gunter said. Sebastian sheathed his sword. “Three units have passed through in the night. One of them stopped and came in for a look around, but I think more for a drink of water and a bit of warmth than to actually search.  I’ll let you get dressed.” I got up and tottered over to my mother for a cuddle. She pulled me under the blanket with her. The smell of frying bacon was wafting down from above.

“Breakfast will be ready soon,” Susan’s called.

“Time to move,” my mother stood me up, then got herself up and stretched. Sebastian watched her, drinking in her naked form. She finished her stretch and moved over to Sebastian. Wrapping her arms around him, she kissed him.

“Do you like what you see?” She asked him as she turned to pick up her dress.

“Indeed I do, My Queen. It disappoints me that you must now get dressed.”

“You really must stop calling me that.”

“When we are travelling, I shall address you by name, My Queen.”

“You are infuriating!” my mother stamped her foot. “Tie my dress up.”

“Yes, My Queen.”

The days passed slowly. Sebastian spent his time either at the window or practising sword drills. My mother tried her hardest to entertain me, although there is a limit to what can be done with a 5 year old when stuck inside. When she wasn’t with me, my mother and Sebastian would just stand together at the window. Several times during the day Sebastian hurried us all down into the cellar when he saw riders approaching. Gunter was outside, cutting wood, or managing the vegetable patch, or fixing something on the outside of the house. Some of the groups of soldiers that passed would stop to speak with him, although we couldn’t make out the words that were said. In the evenings, Gunter would pass on whatever nuggets of information he had managed to extract from the soldiers. It seemed that King Gregory had now arrived at the castle in Munich and made himself at home. Many within the court had welcomed him as ruler of the land, some of those that didn’t had meet with unfortunate accidents. He had brought an army with him, and they now ruled the city; the city militia had been disbanded, the army sent out in search parties. Several high profile people had been executed for speaking out against this occupation, although it was rumoured that most of these people were supporters of the Queen.

It took another 5 days before the search parties stopped passing by and the decision was made to move out. My mother and Sebastian had grown very close during this time. They were clearly besotted with each other, and Sebastian would later describe this time as the time he was complete.

We were up before dawn on the morning of the sixth day. The previous day Gunter had purchased new clothes for all of us, better suited to travelling. Bags had been packed, blankets rolled, water canteens filled. Sebastian went out to the shed to saddle the horse. Finally we were ready. Gunter and Susan said their goodbyes, and then we were off.

The first few days of our journey were uneventful. Gunter led us through the forest, off of the roads. He seemed to know every tree, every stream and every house. I remember finding this time incredibly boring. I was told I had to stay on the horse, had to stay quiet. Even the food we ate was boring, dry bread and dried meat. We move warily, Sebastian and Gunter keeping a constant watch for any patrols. My mother stayed close to me, holding the reins of the horse and whispering soothing words to me. There was a bond forming between my mother and Sebastian, one that was visible even to me in my youth. The long, lingering looks my mother gave to Sebastian when he wasn’t looking, the warms smiles when he was. Every morning when I awoke, my mother and Sebastian were together next to me. I will admit to being slightly jealous, well very jealous actually. My mother had always been mine, and with every passing day she seemed to be moving away from me. I made attempts to interrupt this, but they amounted to nothing.

Once each day Gunter would lead us to another woodsman’s house. He was greeted like a brother each time, and our story was explained. The men we stopped with offered to join us, but Gunter turned them down. He said we would be safer travelling in a smaller group, but that they should spread the word of what really happened. We stopped only long enough to refill our supplies. Gunter insisted we should sleep outside, away from anyone else, and Sebastian agreed. No fire was lit, and although the weather during the day was mild, at night it would get bitingly cold. Sebastian and Gunter took turns to keep watch.

It was lunchtime of the fourth day when we heard our first sign of the soldiers looking for us. The sounds of hunting dogs could be heard in the distance, but we saw no sign of them. After this Gunter no longer took us to collect any more supplies. We pushed on faster and longer than we had for the previous days. The travelling was taking its toll on my mother. She was struggling to keep up, so joined me on the horse. We camped that night in a space between 2 fallen trees.

“We’ll reach the edge of the forest by tomorrow,” Gunter said.

“It will become far more dangerous for us then, My Queen,” Sebastian said.

“There isn’t much cover,” Gunter said. “We’ll be exposed as we travel and camp. I don’t know anyone from this land, so getting supplies will become more challenging. I have my bow, and we can hunt, but it will mean lighting a fire.”

“The land isn’t flat, and there are several smaller forests,” Sebastian said. “We should be able to find places to camp that are concealed.” My mother yawned as she nodded.

“Are we boring you, My Queen?” Sebastian asked. My mother smiled at him.

“It has been a long day and I have done much walking. I think it is time that I slept. I do not know about the issues you are discussing so I will just be content to trust in your judgement. Good night my love. Good night Gunter.” With that, my mother picked up a blanket, laid down next to me and fell asleep.

We arrived at the edge of the Uberwald late afternoon the following day. The weather had turned, the sky full of dark, foreboding clouds. Sebastian stopped us within site of the grassland. He dropped his pack on the floor.

“We camp here tonight,” he said.

“There’s a storm coming,” Gunter said. “We should find a more sheltered spot to make camp.” Sebastian studied the sky for a few moments.

“It’s going to be a bad one,” he said. He turned to my mother. “Stay here with the prince, My Queen. Gunter and I will search for somewhere sheltered to make camp.” My mother stepped off the horse and kissed Sebastian.

“Be safe,” she said. Sebastian and Gunter set off in opposite directions. My mother lifted me off the horse.

“Well then, my little Valiant,” she said, ruffling my hair, “what shall we do now?” We played “The King Says” until my mother got bored of it, and then she set me a treasure hunt. It started to rain lightly while I was searching for different shaped leafs for my mother. Gunter returned first. He dug into one of the packs on the horse and pulled some rolled capes, one for each of us. Then he joined in the treasure hunt while we waited for Sebastian, theatrically searching for the items my mother called for. The rain steadily increased as we played, and eventually we were forced to retreat under the canopy of trees. There was an uncomfortable silence between my mother and Gunter.

“He should be back by now,” Gunter said at last. My mother nodded.

“I should go look for him,” Gunter said.

“You should not,” my mother said. “If he has encountered a problem he cannot deal with, rushing into it will only put you in danger. If we lose both Sebastian and yourself, the prince and I will not make it to Wroclaw.”

“You’re right, Your Highness,” Gunter said. “There is a…”

“On the other hand,” my mother interrupted, “the idea of losing Sebastian leaves me feeling unwell. And the feeling is made worse when I think that I could perhaps prevent it. I think therefore, that we should follow Sebastian and see what has happened.”

“It might not be safe for you and the prince to come with me,” Gunter said.

“It might not be safe for the prince and I to remain here,” my mother countered.

“Fair point, Your Highness. You and the prince should stay on the horse. If it goes badly, you will have more chance of retreat.”

Once my mother and I were on the horse, we started making our way slowly through the trees. Gunter was in the lead, his huge, single bladed axe in hand. The weapon both fascinated and terrified me. The haft was easily as a long as my mother was tall, with the bladed axe on the top nearly as big as me. Despite its massive size, Gunter had no trouble wielding it, and in his huge handed it looked almost normal sized.

Gunter moved slowly, scanning the trees ahead, then looking intently at the floor.

“Try to keep your eyes moving,” Gunter said, “and make sure you keep looking behind.”

We carried on for a few more minutes.

“Damn this rain!” Gunter exclaimed. “It’s washing away the lads tracks.” He took a few steps forward. “He stopped here,” he said, pointing at the ground. “He dropped to the floor there.” He pointed a few meters further on. “The rain has washed away some of the spoor, but I think he changed direction, heading further into the forest. Stay here.” With that, he darted off into the forest. My mother stared after him. We sat there for a long time, soaked to the skin, with the only sound being the wind in the trees and the occasional clash of thunder. I remember sitting, shivering on the horse, partly due to the cold, but mostly because of the unabated terror I felt.

“I thought you were told to keep your eyes moving,” said a voice from behind us. My mother nearly fell off the horse in shock. Sebastian stood a few yards away, sword in hand. There was a small cut above his eye. Gunter stood next to him. His clothes were spattered with blood, but he was uninjured.

“We should get moving. That patrol will be missed at some point.” Gunter said. “I found an abandoned cabin about half a mile away. We can wait out the storm there.”

The cabin had not been abandoned long. There were a few holes in the roof, but the walls were intact and the structure seemed secure. There was a lean to on the side of the house as seemed to be a requirement of this type of residence. Sebastian hobbled the horse inside. The previous occupier had left a store of wood in the house. The wood was dry, and Gunter used some of it to build a fire in the grate. Once lit, my mother and I huddled around it to get some warmth. Food was passed around and we ate in silence.

After we had eaten, my mother stroked the cut on Sebastian’s head.

“What happened?” she asked.

“To my head? I caught it on a branch, My Queen.” Sebastian answered.

“That is not what I meant!”

“It seems we have caught up with the patrols, My Queen.”

“That is not much of an answer,” my mother said.

“Gunter and I butchered ten innocent soldiers because they happened to have a dog with them. Had the dog not caught my scent, no one would have needed to die today.”

“Most soldiers are innocent when they die, lad” Gunter said from the doorway. “Just because they fight for an enemy, it doesn’t make them bad. Mostly they are just men trying to make an honest living for their families.”

“And yet you can kill them without any concern?” My mother asked.

“There was no other choice. It was either them or me.”

“So you view your life as more important than theirs?” Sebastian asked?

“I did not set out into the world to kill them. They set out into this world to kill me. The decision was theirs. You know, you remind me of a lad I used to know. Felix was his name. We fought together for many years. He said he was … What was that word… Filis…  fill-o…”

“Philosophical?” My mother said.

“That’s the one. Still don’t know what it means. He was always asking questions that didn’t make sense to me. He was good company to have around though.”

“What happened to him?” My mother asked.

“An Etruscan soldier put a pike through him. Killed him outright. I took the bastards head off for it mind, so he didn’t really get time to enjoy his kill.”

“I’m sorry,” My mother said.

“Don’t be. He wasn’t the first of my friends to die in war, or the last. It was nearly 15 years ago now. I’ll see him again when my time comes.”

The rain had stopped by morning and we were on the move again soon after dawn. The air was filled with the smell of fresh rain. We cleared the edge of the forest as the sun cleared the horizon. The land was bathed in the fresh morning sun. Gunter and Sebastian stood at the edge of the forest studying the surrounding land for several minutes. Satisfied that there was no danger visible we moved out onto the plains, trying to stick to the low land. We saw several other people in the distance, but none took an interest in us.

We made camp in a small copse of trees that evening. Gunter left the camp soon after we arrived. He brought back two rabbits which he skinned and cooked for dinner. There was no conversation this night. The combination of travelling and constant awareness was starting to take its toll.

The next day was more eventful. Before lunch we saw 1 group of soldiers, and 2 more in the afternoon. They we in the distance and didn’t move to cut us off, but it made everyone more apprehensive.

“The group we encountered 2 days ago has been found,” Sebastian said when we camped that night.

“More likely they’re just missing,” Gunter said. “They’ll increase the patrols in the area until they’re found.”

“That would mean they are not looking for us specifically,” Sebastian said. “In fact, they might ignore us thinking that we are no match for a contingent of that size.”

“I’ll not rely on it though.” Gunter said. “They might decide to come and ask some questions, and then we’re in trouble.”

“We’ve been lucky so far, hopefully that luck with hold.” Sebastian said.

Our luck didn’t hold. The next day we saw more soldiers, closer this time. They kept appearing on both sides of us, but never moved in to engage.

“They know we’re here,” Gunter said. “And they’re making their presence pretty damn clear. Why don’t that just come down here and get it over with.”

“They’re pushing us in this direction.” Sebastian said “They must have found the bodies, and think we’re dangerous. They’re either waiting for reinforcements, or they’re planning an ambush.”

“Or they’re trying to run us into the ground.” Gunter snorted.

“They’re worried about Valiant and me.” My mother said. “If they move to attack, you might harm us, or use us hostages.”

“If that is true, your highness, it will be an ambush.” Gunter said.

By late afternoon we were approaching a wood. We hadn’t seen any signs of people following us for several hours.

“We’re going to need to make camp soon,” Gunter said. “It might as well be here.”

“This is not a good idea,” Sebastian said as we passed into the tree line. “Keep yours eyes…” As he spoke an arrow appeared in his chest. Sebastian dropped to his knees. Gunter dragged me from the horse. A small hatchet appeared in his other hand. Using the horse as a shield, he moved towards Sebastian.

“He’s alive,” Gunter said. “And somehow still conscious.”  He looked around at the woods.

“Get him on the horse,” My mother said. I was passed across to her as Gunter manhandled Sebastian onto the horses back.

“There could be an army out there, Your Highness,” Gunter said. “I do not think this a battle we can win.” My mother hugged me tight, kissed me on the forehead, and then placed me on the horse.

“Hold on tight, my little Valiant,” she said. I was crying again. Sebastian wrapped his arms around me. “I will see you soon.” She said, as she slapped the horse. It set off at a gallop into the woods. Sebastian was slowly slumping against me. Through my tears I kept trying to wake him, but he was slipping away. We cleared the forest onto the grassland again with the horse still at full gallop. I could see people in the distance, and big machines. The horse was heading towards them. I shut my eyes, trying to shut out the world and all the fear and pain, but it wouldn’t go. I wanted my mother, but I had no idea where she was. I was sobbing uncontrollably. The weight of Sebastian’s body pushing against me was slowly dragging us off of the horse. Finally we fell, Sebastian landed on top of me, pushing the air out of me. Then there were hands pulling Sebastian off, but I clung to him. He was the only person left in this world who I still knew.

“What should we do?” It was the voice of a man. He had a strange accent, which I later found out was Gaul. The voice was whiny, greasy. The kind of voice you wouldn’t trust with your money.

“Get Konrad,” This was a woman’s voice with a similar accent, but this voice was full of confidence.

“Are they alive?” This was a third voice, another man with a Germanic accent.

“The boy is. I don’t know about the man,” the first mans voice again.

“He is alive,” the voice was deep, ringing with authority.

“What should we do with them?” First voice again.

“Go get Thembin and Isabella,” deep voice again. “Fenris, Gow, help me get them up.” Sebastian was lifted off me. I tried to cling on to him, but strong arms lifted me off.

“Shh, little one,” it was deep voice. “My name is Konrad, and you are safe.”   His voice was reassuring, I opened my eyes. The man holding me was in his late 50’s. He was of average build, and slightly below average height. He had a close cropped, full face beard and medium length hair. Both his hair and beard were grey.  His face was friendly and warm, and there was a mischievous twinkle in his deep blue eyes. He wore a white, ruffled shirt with a high collar, dark brown trousers and a long red coat. On his head was a brown top hat and on his feet were solid, brown leather boots. He projected strength and calm.

Looking around, I saw Sebastian being lifted by 2 men. One was thin, but well over seven feet tall. He had a no beard, but his long black hair was tied back away from his face. He wore a knee length, cream tunic, with a metal breast plate over it.  A wolfs pelt hung over his shoulders, and covering his feet were knee high soft leather boots.

The other was not quite six foot tall, but massively muscular. He looked like he could lift the world. His hair was red and curly, the same as his beard. He was dressed in what I would later find out was traditional highland dress; white shirt, kilt, sporran and odd looking shoes with thick soles that laced up to his calf over thick, white socks.

In front of Sebastian, a woman was examining his wound. Very thin, she seemed to bend in ways which were unnatural. Her long blonde hair was tied in a tight pony tail, high on her head, poking out through a leather cap. She wore a tight fitting sleeveless top and skin tight jodhpurs, both in soft orange colour, and knee high riding boots.

“This wound is bad,” she said. “The arrow is in his lung. He needs to be treated now.”

“We have no time, Elena,” Konrad said. “The soldiers are almost here.” As he spoke, a man with black skin appeared. I had never seen such a thing, and I found it both terrifying and strangely fascinating. His hair was black and tightly curled, cut close to his head, his face clean shaven, his chest bare. He wore a knee length apron of leather circles sewn closely together, with a long leather apron to the rear. From just below his knee hung a strange collection of long hair, and he wore tan sandals on his feet. Walking beside him was a large, cat like creature, the likes of which I had never seen before. It had yellow fur, with dark brown spots covering it.

“Thembin,” Konrad addressed this new comer. “Gather your wolves into their room. We must hide these people.” The dark skinned man, nodded his understanding. He whistled as he turned away.

“Gow, Fenris, follow me,” Konrad said. Konrad carried me around the outside of the odd collection of wagons and carriages. There were horse drawn wagons in every shape and size I could imagine. At the centre of the group stood two massive steam powered traction engines. Each one was three stories tall, with wheels twice the size of a man. Each engine was attached to a train of carriages, similar in size to the engine. They were all painted in garish colours, with huge multicoloured letters emblazoned on them.

As we were walking, wolves began to appear out of the darkness. Thembin lead us to one of these huge carriages, opened the door and we went inside. There were now 5 wolves and the huge cat standing around us. Inside the carriage we through another door, a thick wooden door, reinforced with iron. This corridor smelt of animals. There were four doors in this corridor, 2 on each side. These doors were like the last, thick wood, iron reinforced, but these also had an iron grate. Konrad pulled open one of the door.

“Place the man inside,” Konrad said. The two men carried Sebastian into the room and laid him down in the corner darkness of the room. The floor was lined with straw. “What is your name, little one?”

“Valiant,” I stuttered as I spoke.

“A strong name for a strong person. Well then Valiant, you must hide in there with your friend and the wolves.” I looked down at the wolves and shook my head.

“They will not harm you,” The dark skinned man spoke. His voice was remarkable deep. “They are my friends.” I was still not convinced and clung to Konrad.

“Bayode,” Thembinkosi called one of the wolves to him. He leant down and petted it, just as I had the dogs in the dogs in the castle many times before.

“See, my little friend,” Thembinkosi said. “They are just big dogs.” Konrad leant down to stroke the wolf. I reached my hand out and the wolf sniffed it. As I looked into its eyes, I felt as if I could feel its soul. The creature seemed more intelligent than any animal I had ever seen. There was no malice in it, no desire to hunt and kill. Those eyes looking back at me were not those of a feral creature, they were almost human, and they regarded me as the other humans around me did.

Placated, I walked into the room. It was dark inside, the only light coming in through the small doorway. Feeling my way through, I found Sebastian’s still form and laid myself down next to him. He was still breathing, but it was coming in shallow and ragged gasps. The wolves padded in after me and lay down around Sebastian and me. The door was shut, and I was plunged into absolute blackness.

I could still hear the noises outside the carriage.

“Kyoko must go into her cage as well,” Konrad said. There was the sound of another carriage door opening, then shutting a few seconds later.

“Konrad!” It was a man’s voice. He sounded worried. “Konrad, there are soldiers in the camp. They have dogs with them, and say they are tracking a fugitive.”

“Calm William,” Konrad said. “Take me to them.”

“Gabriel and Adam are trying to stall them,” William said. “I’m not sure how….” As they moved away from the carriage I lost their voices in the noises of the encampment. I lay in darkness, hugging Sebastian to the front of me and with the warmth of a wolf against my back I fell asleep.

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