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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Although the genre of fantasy, and this sub-genre of political fantasy, is a new one for me here on GA, I have been developing the world of Mulia in which this story takes place (and other stories in this world) for the best part of 20 years, so we are like old friends.

A link to the world map is included here, although I provide many descriptions in the story.


Stranded: Heart of Black Ice Bay - 7. Combat

Note to readers: A bonus chapter this weekend, because I am going to be out of action for the next two weeks.

Brathay gets into a fight and then cooks a meal.

Fleming immediately set about tending to the flogged man whose pain was no match  for his humiliation. Khraxwall’s strained features dissolved into relief when Brathay led Fleming into the room, taking a step away and excusing himself. Mrs Sturridge stayed on to assist, reducing the chill of the buckets of seawater with hot coals. She also provided a leather strap for the man to bite on before Fleming poured the saline liquid liberally onto the bloody flesh. One of the kitchen helpers, a young girl Khraxwall had called Bhod, appeared fearless, lugging a heavy mortar and pestle onto the table for Fleming to mix a poultice, and offering to apply the mixture into the welts on the man’s back. Fleming smiled patiently but tended the man himself.

“He ought to consider himself lucky,” said Fleming to Brathay, as he went about his work. “Supplies held in a building of the empire are considered sovereign. Anyone taking them without consent would normally be charged with treason, the penalty for which is death by hanging.”

By the time Brathay waved Fleming off at the gatehouse, darkness had fallen accompanied by a light snowfall. When he entered his chamber, and despite Miss Millflower’s words, he noticed the room had been tidied and a fire lit in the grate. But he immediately sensed something out of place, some minor detail. After a check around the room he spotted his notebook, the twine tied with a double bow, moved to the left side of the small table. Maybe they had shifted the book to clean the surface, but that morning he had recorded his planned trip to the village and, as always, had retied the leather cord with an intricate sailor’s knot—something he had learnt in Thiradon—complex to tie and similar in appearance to a double bow, but undone by a simple tug on one end of the cord.

Somebody had opened his notebook.

Sitting on the side of the bed, he pondered who the person could be and what they might have discovered. With a sudden flush of guilt, he realised they would have read his observations about the keep including his written suspicions about missing supplies. Had the chamber maid reported or shown this to the meddlesome Miss Millflower, who had then alerted Khraxwall or Leonmarkh? And knowing the steward most likely kept a record of all soldiers allowed in and out of the storeroom, had Brathay inadvertently incriminated the culprit and instigated the man’s flogging?

Anger quickly replaced guilt at the violation of his property, but good sense told him to hold his tongue and to be more careful in future with his belongings. For the next few minutes, he calmed himself by writing down selective events of the day on an ‘observations’ page, including his visit to the tavern and his meeting with Dnan’s family, the range of produce the villagers had in the market, and finally his talk with Mjaj about there being a strong possibility of a downturn in the weather. Nothing contentious, just to be on the safe side. Once he had retied the clasp with the sailor’s knot, he unlocked the heavy chest beside his bed, intending to store the notebook inside away from prying eyes.

But then a thought came to him.

If nobody knew he had discovered the intrusion, maybe he could use the book to his advantage. He had no proof that the person had even read anything, that his words had caused the flogging. But he knew all too well that curiosity defined snoopers, and if they had used his information for their gain, he had no doubt whatsoever they would return for another peek. Moreover, only someone from Thiradon would spot the complex knot. Smiling to himself, he placed the notebook back on his desk in plain sight.

Satisfied, he returned his attention to the chest and lifted out his travel baggage. Inside, he had fresh underclothes which he placed on the bed. Remembering Marietta’s words, he also decided to open the letter and find out what assistance the mystery person might be offering.

After breaking the wax seal, he lifted out the crisp folded parchment and had a moment of revelation when he saw the stylish name of Belynda Moonstar at the bottom. After a moment of hesitation, he began to read.


Dear Brathay,

Brokerman advised me not to communicate with you in person before your departure. So I did not. But I feel duty bound to advise you about my experience and things I unearthed during my short time there.

First of all, I hope you last longer than I, and it is no reflection of your abilities when I say I do not hold out much hope. You have such a pleasant disposition and Lord Leonmarkh is a heartless brute with all the charm of a wild hog. If he is truly a lord then I am an empress. I hope you fare better, but he refused me the courtesy of an audience. No man treats me as such. Not my father nor his father before him.

If you decide to stay, pick your allies wisely. Khraxwall runs a tight operation. Of them all, he appears the fairest and most capable. In fact, the domestic staff are agreeable enough, albeit impotent as far as influencing their lord is concerned. Millflower is a dreadful gossip so be careful what you say in her presence, or to anyone who might have her ear. Of the captains, I managed to get conversation from Bhullard and Haycock. I found both intelligent but guarded, both stubbornly resistant to my attraction—although you may fare better with Haycock. Both appear fiercely loyal to their lord. Suralia alone knows what he holds over them.

Have you noticed moonskulls in the corridors yet? I am sure you have. The staff believe they are for decoration only but why would anyone adorn walls with something so functional. I did not discover the reason, but there must be one. Next time you check, go to the corner of each corridor around the courtyard, and you will find a section in the decoration that can be detached using a lever, to break the line of connected moonskulls. There must be a reason. I asked here, but none knew about this feature.

While awaiting an audience with Leonmarkh, I withheld letting anyone know about the spring water tapped into every chamber, something I am sure you have spied. That was to be my leverage, my way to his favour. They do not have such simple domestic features in Khloradich, Braggadach being a less developed nation. When it became clear that I would not be granted a meeting, I decided to keep the knowledge to myself, let them live with their ignorance.

Khraxwall will probably show you the grating in the centre of the keep containing Karak crystals. He is correct, by the way, if he tells you they are used across the realm for cleansing rainwater. According to my research, they can be found in abundance on the slopes of the giant volcanoes of the Scorched Kingdom. I believe the device was once employed to cleanse rainwater for drinking in the years before mountain streams were diverted into the keep. My advice to you is to not waste your time and energy trying to figure them out. From my various discussions, you are going to have your work cut out for you simply keeping everyone from either freezing to death or dying from malnutrition during the coming winter months.

Finally, in the few days since returning and your departure I have researched what I could about the DuMankin family. The Duchy of Khloradich is one of the smaller, more unremarkable dukedoms situated along the northeast coast of Braggdach, famed for their disciplined navy and seafaring skills. The late Duke died of natural causes three years ago. He had four children, three boys and one girl. In order of age, they are Charteris, Jacomine, Clorrice and Leonmarkh. Charteris is the new Duke of Khloradich and Jacomine is the spare, so to speak, in case anything happens to the firstborn. Clorrice did well for herself, marrying the crown prince of Cormaland, Prince Stephan. A good marriage, by all accounts. About the inner workings of the family I could find very little and nothing to suggest any discord.

Finally, if you become desperate for allies do not bother trying to find any in the local town. On my one visit I found them to be a reticent people who, despite my best efforts, flagrantly avoided me. Maybe because none use the common tongue, but apart showing me rudeness, I found nothing of interest or import there.

Talking of which, the Sturridges keep homing birds in their lodgings used to order supplies to be shipped in from Khloradich. I mention this in case you need to get urgent word to anyone. They kindly agreed to contact Khloradich who in turn alerted Aulderly to my return. I am sure they will assist you too if you need to return home.

Yours in earnest,

Belynda Moonstar


Brathay peered around his chamber and thought about Belynda. A sociable soul, she would have hated the stark solitude. If only she had persevered with the villagers and perhaps gotten to know Fleming. Even Dnan—and especially Mjaj—could speak the common tongue more than adequately. For Leonmarkh’s sake, he hoped the lord never crossed paths with her again. Her letter provided no real solutions but reaffirmed many of his own questions. Moving to the fire, he held the letter and envelope over the flames and watched until the parchment had burned to a crisp. Nobody else would read her words. They would remain between the two of them without fear of discovery.

That night, just as Fleming had stated, Brathay slept like one of the centuries old Black Ice Bay boulders. When he awoke early, he felt clear headed and refreshed, again, just as Fleming had predicted. Barely had he completed his morning ablutions before a kitchen hand called on him regarding a delivery addressed to him from the local town.

Wooden crates piled at the gatehouse contained a note from Marietta. She had managed to pull together the main ingredients of the meal, the seafood items gifted by Mjaj, enough for over a hundred in case Brathay had hungry mouths to feed. Other ingredients, such as root vegetables, she felt sure the keep would have in abundance and, of course, Brathay had all the spices he needed. In addition, she had included twenty crusty loaves of her sweetened honey butter bread, which—if he could manage a successful meal—would accompany the dish perfectly.

After getting soldiers to carry the supplies to the kitchen, Brathay went through the proposed dish with Mrs Sturridge, who listened patiently, hands on hips, ending with a slight roll of her eyes. Fortunately for him, she had helped her own mother prepare the dish at home in Khloradich a couple of times, one usually reserved for special celebrations. She also confirmed that she would never have considered serving up something so special to the keep’s battalion of undeserving savages.

“We’ll need a selection of three or four vegetables to make this perfect. How you managed to get all of these wonderful shellfish as well as goat’s cream, I’ll not even ask. Maybe I ought to start more making friends in town.”

In the back of his mind, Brathay decided to find the time to introduce Marietta and Mrs Sturridge.

“Shall I go and check the storeroom for the vegetables?”

“You won’t get near the place, my love. Not anymore. The doors are guarded day and night. Only his lordship, myself or Khraxwall is allowed inside and everything going in or out needs to be recorded and signed for. His lordship’s orders. Never seen him so enraged, I haven’t. Pilfering, too, when he provides for all of us. Broken trust, is what it is.”

“Will you be able to get what we need?”

“Of course. Gotta eat, all of us, haven’t we? Leave it with me. We begin getting things started at two bells. Come back then. Reckon we’ll have a feast fit for the empress herself tonight.”

Relieved to have Mrs Sturridge’s approval, Brathay left, and strolled around the lower courtyard noting guards stationed at the storerooms. With one eye, he sought out one of the levers Belynda had mentioned in her letter, finding one hidden behind a slate tile. As he headed unhurriedly back to his chamber, feeling in an optimistic mood, he observed the military drills of Leonmarkh’s soldiers, the loud shouts and the clash of wooden swords accompanying their fighting. All evidence of the previous day’s flogging had been removed. Lord Leonmarkh appeared to be in the middle of an address to the soldiers around him.

“…and never let your guard down. When you are confronting an enemy, no matter how insignificant they may appear, do not make the mistake of underestimating them. You have one objective. To best them, even if that means their death. Elite soldiers have been undone by wizened, highly skilled grandmothers, because they let down their guards for a split second. Do not be that soldier. I know we are in this wilderness, and these drills may seem pointless right now, but one day when you are woken in the middle of the night and expected to fight, you will thank me that we stayed battle ready. Now, go again.”

As Brathay passed in front of the stables, a loud and coarse voice rose above the rest.

“Want to see what a real man does for a living, boy,” shouted the big oaf, Ligger. In spite of the deep chill, all of the soldiers gleamed with a sheen of sweat. Leonmarkh knew how to work his men.

Brathay should have continued walking, should have kept his head down and said nothing. Maybe fellow students saw him as nice, but he had never been very good at keeping his mouth shut when confronted.

“I doubt you will find any real men here, soldier,” he shouted back, his words raising a jeer from the soldiers.

“Twenty coins says he wields a sword like a ten-year-old girl,” said Ligger.

“You ought to mind your words, big man,” said Bhullard, stopping from a fierce attack on her opponent. “At the age of ten I could better any of the so-called men in my family.”

“Well spoken,” shouted Haycock.

“Go about your business, apprentice,” said Leonmarkh, waving Brathay on, before sauntering over to one side of the courtyard and plucking a wooden sword from a barrel. His mood appeared sullen.

Brathay stopped and changed direction, moving into the centre of the courtyard and approaching the man. If his eyes betrayed the disgust he felt, Leonmarkh did not appear to notice.

“My name is Brathay Stonearm, Lord Leonmarkh. Not apprentice.”

“Would you like me to teach him a lesson, your lordship?” asked Ligger, his eyes narrowing on Brathay.

“I said go about your business, appren—”

“Brathay. Stonearm. And what if I manage to have your prize bear unsworded, Watchman? What then would you grant me?”

“It will not happen, little mouse,” said Ligger, moving into Brathay’s path. “I will squash you underfoot like the vermin you are—”

“Be careful with your tongue, apprentice,” said a stony-faced Leonmarkh. “I am in no mood for your dull wit and my captains are not fresh faced novices to be taunted. They fight to win.”

“In Thiradon, where I come from, they refer to your fight-to-win technique as the dance of chickens. Maybe I should pluck one or two of you, give you something to dance about.”

The remark was greeted by a loud roar of consternation from the soldiers.

“More to the point,” said Zhorman, moving to stand next to Ligger. “When one of us does defeat you, little mouse, what will you offer us?”

“Maybe he will bend for you, Zhorman,” said the ever-grinning Bhullard, leaning on her wooden sword. “Would you do that for him, apprentice?”

“I will do whatever you ask of me,” said Brathay, hoping he would not regret his words. “In the highly unlikely event that any of you manage to better me.”

Once again the soldiers heckled Brathay.

“So be it,” said Ligger, lumbering into the centre of the gathering.

“Apprentice,” warned Leonmarkh, but his words dissolved into the loud cheer of the crowd.

From an early age, Brathay had been taught how to wield a sword, but he had learnt from the soldiers of Thiradon, whose technique tended to be refined, disciplined, and leaned towards defensive swordplay. Foul play had been frowned upon, something he knew to be widely accepted in Braggadach swordsmanship, the aim of every combat to best your opponent by any means necessary. Naturally, the soldiers had studied other nations and their preferred techniques but Brathay had not trained with them regularly. On occasion, during their rest periods, he had witnessed Thiradon soldiers mocking Braggadachi techniques, performing exaggerated jumps and dance-like moves with broad, wild slashes of the training sword. To this day he remembered one of the men  mocking having his sword knocked from his hand and then producing a small stick—a dagger—from his tunic.

Their horseplay had always been met with wild mirth, but Brathay had watched on with quiet and thoughtful interest. Moreover, what if he did manage to best the man called Ligger? A sound lesson from his lessons at Aulderly came back to him.

Second hall mantra: Never make an enemy in a place where you have no friends.

Unfortunately, Ligger stood battle-ready in the middle of the circle of bodies and began swinging his wooden sword in ornate showy circles before his chest.

When Brathay adopted the fencing stance he had learnt—standing with one leg in front of the other, one hand on his hip, the other with his sword pointing out towards the enemy—the soldiers around the circle whistled and hooted with hoarse laughter. Although Ligger had height, size and strength on his side, Brathay could see he had little finesse or agility. Brute force would be his main weapon. Powdered snow and grit rose each time he thundered in for the offensive. Brathay anticipated each blow and managed to move out of the way at the last moment, without once needing to raise his sword or make contact. The ploy would not last. Like any seasoned fighter, Ligger would flex his style, and Brathay needed to stay alert and agile.

“He fights like a palace maid,” called Ligger, exertion glossing his face.

As expected, Ligger changed tactic, this time attacking with a flurry of well placed lunges before following up with wild swipes, all of which Brathay managed to either dodge or block, even though the move had him backing up towards one side of the circle.

And right then Ligger made his first mistake. Emboldened by the cheers of the crowd, and showing off by backing away from Brathay, grinning at the shouts of the soldiers while swirling his sword in circles, he took his eye off the enemy. Pouncing with lightening speed, Brathay performed a sequence of cuts and thrusts he had learnt, aimed at destabilising Ligger, who had indeed been taken by surprise but who managed to parry the blows expertly without once being struck. Until Brathay feinted a blow at Ligger’s side, then slipped past him, but not before delivering a hard backhand thwack on Ligger’s backside with the flat of his wooden sword.

Around the courtyard, soldiers bellowed with hoarse laughter. Brathay noted the wide eyed surprise on Ligger’s face turning to red faced anger. Humiliation did not sit well with him which was fine by Brathay. One thing the soldiers of Thiradon had drummed into him was that blind anger led to careless mistakes.

Once again, Ligger attacked with a burst of strokes, this time adding further strength, many Brathay managed to dodge, but a few he blocked with his sword, chips of wood splintering off, and each contact threatening to send him off balance. This particular offensive lasted much longer and the crowd fell quiet, clearly amazed to witness Brathay still on his feet, not flat on his back. As they parted again, both puffing out steamy breaths, Brathay’s gaze took in Leonmarkh who stared at him with annoyance.

Barely a second since his previous attack, Ligger thundered at him again, forcing him to the boundary and taking him off guard. His third stroke came down hard towards Brathay’s right shoulder and dislodged the sword from his hand. Accompanied by a cheer, Ligger had clearly expected to gain the advantage, because he began a broad stroke of his sword to make contact with Brathay’s head. Anticipating this, Brathay ducked to grab his fallen sword in one hand, scooping up snow and gravel with the other, and tossing the contents into Ligger’s face.

Momentarily stunned, Ligger’s stroke missed, hitting one of the columns of the loggia, the wooden sword splintering into pieces. After wiping the mess from his face with the back of his sleeve, his eyes took on a new and determined gleam of anger.

“You want to play dirty, little mouse? Dirty is my name and my game.”

Moving over and stooping to a scabbard left on the ground, Ligger pulled out a gleaming long-sword and lifted the weapon into the air. Brathay sensed his danger instinctively and backed up across the courtyard. His opponent held a battle-ready weapon, double-sided and made of hardened, tempered metal, capable of cleaving a man’s head from his body with single stroke. Confronted by such a weapon, Brathay’s wooden sword might as well have been made of butter. Brathay had not considered being maimed or killed at the keep, but now the thought cemented inside him. Even with a real weapon, he would stand little chance of besting this soldier, but he would not turn from a fight, and stood to meet his fate, prepared to fight to the death.

“Captain!” came Leonmarkh’s voice. “Drop your weapon! The fight has become unequal!”

Brathay could see the fiery resolve in his adversary’s face. Most likely, the man could hear nothing outside the deadly resolve to end his opponent. Brathay moved forward to meet his first blow. He managed to block the stroke, but not only did he lose a chunk of his sword, the blow ripped the training weapon from his grip, and wrenching his shoulder with pain. This time he stood his ground, head held high, one hand pressed to his shoulder awaiting his fate.

A blood curdling cry came from his left. As Ligger lifted the sword in the air with both hands, a figure passed between them, a sizzling clash and clang of metal taking the big man by surprise and waking him from his bloodlust. When Brathay stumbled back, he saw the lithe form of Bhullard landing on her feet and twirling gracefully around to confront Ligger, the point of her sword at his throat, his own weapon buried in the snow a few feet away.

“When your general shouts an order, captain, you listen,” she said. After a few seconds, a roar went up from the soldiers and, as Ligger came back to himself, his mouth morphed into a smile. Only then did Bhullard lower her sword from his throat.

And in an instant, everyone appeared to forget Brathay’s presence. Leonmarkh ordered the soldiers to clear the courtyard and head to their barracks. His captains stood around Bhullard and Ligger, talking loudly and slapping both on their backs, clearly emboldened to have had the moment of excitement to break the monotony of battle drills. Nobody even acknowledged Brathay’s presence.

Brathay stood trembling still, partly from adrenalin, partly through exhaustion. Issuing steamy breaths into the air, he stood rubbing his shoulder, frowning at the private party. Without a glance backwards, Lord Leonmarkh began moving away with his captains in tow.

“One moment, your lordship,” shouted Brathay. “What am I to be gifted?”

Bhullard turned first, and then called Leonmarkh to a halt. After she relayed his words to him, Lord Leonmarkh stepped forward to address him, folding his arms.

“Perhaps you did not notice, apprentice, but you did not disarm my captain. That task fell to Bhullard.”

“And perhaps you did not listen, your lordship, but I did not say I would do the deed. I merely said I would make sure the deed was done. And in that, I am correct, am I not?”

Brathay mirrored Leonmarkh’s stare and unsmiling expression, and even folded his arms, causing a loud snort of laughter to burst loudly from Bhullard. Very soon, Leonmarkh’s captains began to join in the mirth, even Ligger. As the sound grew louder, some of the soldiers returned to find the cause of the fun. Brathay noticed one side of Leonmarkh’s face lift into a smile, and felt relief rush through him.

“How about a couple of barrels of your ale?” suggested Brathay. “To dish out to the soldiers tonight.”

“And why would I do that?”

“Because, your lordship, tonight I am cooking for you, your captains, and—if all goes well—the rest of your men and women. And in case the meal is a failure, at least they will sample your potent brew to soften the disappointment before my departure.”

Leonmarkh turned to Bhullard who merely shrugged.

“As you wish, apprentice—” said Leonmarkh, about to turn away.


Leonmarkh turned back, continuing to smile and slowing nodding his head.

“As you wish, Brathay Stonearm. Let us hope you are not planning on poisoning us tonight.”

“Not tonight, your lordship,” said a grinning Brathay, which gained another burst of laughter from his soldiers. “Not tonight.”

** ❄︎ **

By the time six bells rang, Brathay and Mrs Sturridge directed soldiers to haul one of the large pots of the steaming recipe into the refectory, to the front bench where the captains waited quietly in judgment.

He and Mrs Sturridge had cooked five large cauldrons of the seafood stew. A native of Braggadach, she knew which shellfish needed to be peeled and what should be left in the shells, while Brathay followed Fullroy’s instructions for spices in each of the batches. After a moment’s hesitation, he even added a handful of Fleming’s slumberweed into each pot.

If nothing else, Brathay had bonded well with Mrs Sturridge’s team of four who kept him amused with stories about the past year, how all four of them had been needed to work the millstone, usually all afternoon—until Brathay arrived and shocked them by uncovering the water pressure system. They had also been fetching buckets of fresh water from the lower troughs, unaware of the spring water flowing to the kitchen sinks. Mrs Sturridge likened the experience to carrying a work donkey on their backs.

The one called Bhodhlo—Bhod—proved her fearlessness again, volunteering to scale tall wooden shelves, like a nimble squirrel, to retrieve rarely used sieves and utensils or haul around heavy sacks of vegetables. Even if the captains did not sanction the meal, he would make sure the domestic staff were fed.

But in all honestly, as the dish came together, as the incredible aromas filled the air, and everyone coming into the kitchen passed comment, he could not see how he could fail. Until Khraxwall joined them and arranged the tasting and provided the decision of the heads of domestic staff.

Eventually Brathay stood before the captains at the front table, legs apart and hands clamped firmly behind his back to stop them from shaking. Not a sound could be heard in the room. Khraxwall stood next to him and spoke first.

“I supervised the tasting in the kitchen, your lordship. Mr and Mrs Sturridge and myself approve, but I fear this dish is far too rich for Miss Millflower’s taste,” said Khraxwall in earnest, peering at Brathay with regret.

Brathay nodded. He had hoped to have all the domestic staff on board, but he knew Miss Millflower wanted him gone. After Khraxwall signalled to Bhod, she ladled out a generous helping of the meal into a large bowl and placed the offering down at one end of the table.

In a hall of silent anticipation, Bhullard spooned and tasted the stew, before passing the bowl along to Zhorman, who followed suit. Both looked to Leonmarkh and shook their heads. In that moment, Brathay realised with dismay that Leonmarkh had primed them. Next in line on the table, Leonmarkh did not sample the food, but kept his serious gaze on Brathay as he slid the bowl along to Haycock.

Brathay fought to keep the disappointment from his face. All afternoon, he had laboured hard preparing the recipe, followed everything Fullroy had written carefully and taking guidance from Mrs Sturridge. He had enjoyed cooking together with her and her small crew. And now his one chance to impress a meeting out of Leonmarkh, and, more importantly, to retain his place in the keep was seeping away before his eyes.

Haycock sampled a spoonful and grimaced, shaking his head, before pushing the bowl to Ligger, the man Brathay had tried to humiliate in the courtyard earlier in the day. If he disapproved, as he surely would, there would be five dissenting voices against three. Leonmarkh’s deciding vote would be unnecessary.

Brathay watched Ligger’s face as he looked down with disgust. Ignoring the spoon, he picked up the whole bowl in his paws and tasted. A second later, his eyes darted up to Brathay’s, before he took another mouthful.

“Stürmpot?” he asked astounded, putting the bowl down and wiping a large thumb across his thick bottom lip. “Had I killed you today, I would never have sampled Kloradich Stürmpot.”

“Damn fine, too,” said Bhullard, grinning at Ligger. “Do you not think? Better than my grandmother ever put on the table. Are you yet betrothed, apprentice? You and Mrs S make a formidable team.”

“Bhullard,” admonished Leonmarkh after a sideways glance. “Do you ever do as I ask? I am supposed to hold the deciding vote. You have spoiled my fun.”

A roar of laughter burst from the captains and the soldiers seated around the front, as Leonmarkh shook his head in mock disappointment. After the initial confusion, relief hit Brathay so hard, his eyes welled up with tears. Leonmarkh must have sensed his tension, because he spoke above the laughter.

“Fear not, Mr Stonearm. I had planned to give you my approval. The smell alone had half of my platoon stopping by the kitchens and drooling all afternoon. Had we all voted to disapprove, and had I ordered the remaining pots to be poured away, I fear I may have had a mutiny on my hands.”

“And where,” asked Bhullard, as the kitchen staff with the help of larger soldiers began to place the giant pots along the benches and bring out chunks of the honey bread, “by all that is sacred, did you find crabmeat, clams, and sea urchins?”

“Local seafood gifted by a town elder. I accompanied their offspring on my journey here and met up with them again yesterday. They are a kindly and generous people.”

“Word has it from the tavern that you seduced his son in the sacred spring,” said Zhorman, a curious look in his eyes. Brathay felt his cheeks colouring. “Your resourcefulness is commendable, if a little suspect.”

“I did not—”

“Zhorman. Stay your tongue,” said Bhullard, smiling still.

“What I would like to know is where you found the recipe?” asked Leonmarkh, peering over the heads of the soldiers. “Have you had this in reserve all along, Mrs Sturridge?”

“No, your lordship. This is all Mr Stonearm’s doing. I did nothing.”

“That is not true, your lordship. I would have been truly helpless in the kitchen without the guidance of Mrs Sturridge and her team.”

While Brathay had been speaking, Lord Leonmarkh climbed to his feet to address the crowd. With a knowing nod to Khrazwall, who excused himself, he addressed his platoon.

“Men and women of Khloradich. Tonight, with the wholehearted approval of myself, my captains and the majority of the domestic staff, you will get to enjoy Kloradich Stürmpot, our much-loved national recipe, a collaboration between Mrs Sturridge and our guest from Aulderly, Brathay Stonearm. And, as I promised him, I will also break out barrels of Braggadach ale for—”

The deafening roar of approval from the soldiers drowned out Leonmarkh’s voice. Grinning and shaking his head in resignation, he sat down. After almost a month in the keep, the evening meal felt different, a celebration, and Brathay took the opportunity to laugh with the soldiers before taking his seat at the head table and enjoying his creation.

At the end of the meal, with a full cup of ale, as Bhullard gave him pointers on how to improve his sword skills, Lord Leonmarkh stopped across the table, in front of him.

“You have impressed me twice today, Brathay Stonearm,” he said. Brathay noticed Bhullard nodding her approval. “And I am not one to be easily impressed. You and I will have your audience. When I am ready, I will call for you. After I have attended to more serious matters over the next couple of days. Now I wish to retire and enjoy a rare bellyful of excellent food and beer.”

Hopefully you can feel the story moving forward now. Exciting things to come.

Once again, any thoughts, comments, reactions and/or predictions about where the story might be going would be very welcomed.

Copyright © 2021 lomax61; All Rights Reserved.
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Let me know what would you think will happen next, or what you like to see happen.

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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