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    lomax61
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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.

https://www.brianlancasterauthor.com/general-8

Stranded: Heart of Black Ice Bay - 8. Summons

Brathay finally has his promised audience with Lord Leonmarkh.

Moods improved noticeably over the following days. Soldiers called his name and slapped him genially on the back as he passed in the courtyard. At evening meals—now a suspiciously improved range of dishes—both Bhullard and Haycock included him in their conversation. Belynda had been right about Bhullard. With a mind as quick as her wit, everything she said about her posting with Leonmarkh spoke of admiration and respect.

As for Haycock? There could be no doubt. His words held flirtatious undertones. Brathay felt sure that, given encouragement, careful prompting and the right circumstances, and very soon this charismatic man would wake one morning next to him in his chamber. If progress with his lordship did not happen soon, that particular avenue of seduction would need to be pursued.

On the fourth evening, after the communal meal, Brathay sat alone reading by candlelight when a soft knock sounded on his chamber door. He had been contemplating sleeping early, retiring under the bedding to try and shake the deep chill that had settled in his bones. Not even extra logs on the fire had made much difference to the chamber’s temperature.

To his surprise, Nokh Sturridge, the stable master, stood awkwardly to one side of the door. In the six weeks he had been in Black Ice, they had passed each other in the courtyard a number of times but rarely spoke. Even the night of the Feast of Stürmpot, as the event had been nicknamed, when Sturridge had given his vote of approval, they had not spoken. Tonight the man appeared uncomfortable, embarrassed almost, his cap scrunched up in both hands, his head lowered and bald pate in full view.

“My apologies for disturbing, Mr Stonearm, sir. But his lordship would like to see you.”

“Tonight?”

“Right away, sir.”

“I see. Thank you. And please call me Brathay.”

“Will do, sir. Uh, Brathay.”

Brathay looked around and huffed out a sigh. Typical of Leonmarkh, he summoned without concern for the time, day or night. Brathay should have guessed and felt like telling the stable master he would decline the request. Except he had waited far too long for this audience and, moreover, the lord would most likely take out his irritation on the messenger, not the recipient.

“More to the point,” asked Brathay. “Why are you being asked to deliver messages? Where are his lordship’s personal attendants?”

Sturridge turned his head away as though he had heard something. He shook his head slightly. Brathay could not be sure, but he thought the man may even have muttered a few obscenities. In his favour, he composed himself before responding.

“Only a handful of the house staff are still on duty. Zhorman and the captains took many of the soldiers down to the seafront tavern in the village. He does that every once in a while with his lordship’s permission. Doubtless they’ll not be back much before sunrise, as is their habit. And likely in no fit state to do anything worthwhile on the morrow. My lads will be at the gate all night to wait on their return. Anyways, I had some business with his lordship and he asked me to come fetch you at seven bells, to escort you to his chamber?”

“There is no need. I know the way, thank you. I am sorry you were bothered. No doubt you have far more pressing things to contend with.”

Brathay had been about to close the door, when Nokh turned back.

“Mr Stone—uh, Brathay, sir.”

He hesitated a moment, peered up and then down at the ground again, unsure whether to continue, before stepping back into the light.

“One of the stable boys told me you’d met with Elder Fleming in the village. I ride down myself every couple of months. They’re not exactly a cordial people, but they seem to work hard and are always polite.”

“From the moment I met them, they have been friendly to me. And I am constantly impressed at the way they survive, finding ways to flourish in these extreme conditions. Elder Fleming told me the townspeople are familiar with hoarding excess food for the long cold spell. We could do a lot worse than learn from them, work closer together, and share our resources with them if things take a turn for the worse. But please, Nokh, that is my opinion only, and I would rather you did not mention the notion to others, if you know what I mean?”

If Belynda had been correct, an innocent comment from Nokh overheard by Miss Millflower could spread around the keep like a seasonal head cold.

“I know exactly what you mean, sir,” said Sturridge, grinning and winking. “Some folk only see the bad in everyone. Whatever you do, don’t mention the notion to Mrs Sturridge. She already complains nightly about being overworked. And don’t worry. I’ll say nothing to nobody, as long as you tell nobody I’ve been getting extra horse feed from the villagers since we arrived. Khraxwall knows. Theirs is fresher and far healthier for the horses. Even threw in a huge sack of horse treats made up of fermented fruit and veg and the like. Have to keep that hidden under the dung heap. Contents stinks worse than an open latrine on a hot summer’s day, if you know what I mean? But the old nags love the stuff. Anyway, afore I go, I just wanted to say that I’m glad you’re here, Mr Brathay, sir. Good to finally have a bit common sense around this place.”

“Thank you, Nokh. We should arrange to catch up more often. Maybe the next time I head into town, you could accompany me?”

“I would like that very much, sir. Very much indeed.”

When Brathay closed the door, he felt as though he had made another ally. Perhaps tonight he could manage the same with Lord Leonmarkh. At least he would have no captains around to keep interrupting. After carefully selecting what to wear, then covering everything with a long thick coat, Brathay hurried through the torchlit corridors to the royal chamber. Approaching Leonmarkh’s room, he was surprised to find the door unguarded and left ajar. Coming to a stop, he rapped a knuckle on the doorframe.

“Enter,” came the familiar baritone. “The door is open.”

As he crossed the threshold, hauled the door closed and stepped into the room, his eyes took time to adjust to the pale light of the wall torches. Unsurprisingly, the royal chamber commanded more space than his own lodgings and, facing west, had less draughtiness than Brathay’s sea-facing quarters. Plentiful tapestries helped too, filling much of the wall space and, most likely, helping retain any room heat.

Against one wall stood an ornately wrought oaken four-poster bed frame with heavy velvets drapes of royal mauve and grey descending from above. Matching bedlinen covered the surface of the bed, turned down and ready for the sleeper. Compared to Brathay’s bunk, the huge mattress could easily have slept four persons side-by-side. Behind Leonmarkh’s grand oak desk sat a comfortable polished oak chair with armrests and four stools arranged on the other side. Bookcases built into the wall behind housed an array of large leather bound tomes and candle stubs.

“Hello?” he said, to the room.

At first he thought himself alone until his gaze drifted to the fireplace where a huge fire blazed.

Lord Leonmarkh rose naked from a metal bathtub, water dripping from his golden brown skin, the mounds and crevices of his huge muscular back, buttocks and legs glowing and glistening by the firelight. In the chill of the room, steam rose from his broad shoulders as though his skin had caught fire. When he turned carefully around, when one arm stretched out and a hand clamped for support on the mantle above the fireplace, the impressive sight of the man came into view. Brathay maintained eye contact even though the scene burned into his peripheral vision. With some effort of will, he remained expressionless and resisted the temptation to lower his eyes to the lord's carved torso and substantial manhood.

Magnificent.

Except something seemed wrong. Why would the lord leave himself so unprotected, the door to his chambers unguarded and himself naked and defenceless. And then Brathay’s eyes landed on the metallic gleam of weapons on the mantel above the fireplace, an array of throwing knives and a long sword.

“Do you like what you see?” came the lord’s deep suggestive voice. Brathay fought hard not to smirk. The man knew exactly what he was doing. With such a blatant and purposeful display, had he indeed deigned to have attended Aulderly, he would have championed hall studies.

“You have your own bathtub,” said Brathay impassively. “How could I not be envious?”

“I meant—”

“I know what you meant. What did you want of me?”

While gazing at Brathay, Leonmarkh ran his free hand slowly down from his thick neck down to his groin, pushing moisture from his glistening skin.

“I seem to have mislaid my towel.”

Brathay knew the humoured look well. More than likely, before summoning Brathay, he had purposely left the item on the desk chair to test him. Without hesitating, Brathay went to the wooden seat and picked up the cloth.

“This?” he asked.

“Yes. Bring it to me.”

With lightning speed and accuracy, Brathay launched the towel at the lord's face. With impressively fast reflexes, Leon caught the cloth in one hand. His eyes widened slightly, before a grim smile settled on his face, and he began to towel dry his hair.

“I am not your servant,” said Brathay, staring back.

Unashamedly naked, Leon remained standing in the bathwater, leisurely drying off his body, all the while staring at Brathay. With a bored sigh, hopefully sounding as though he pandered to a child, Brathay pulled out the large chair behind the desk, then removed his coat and sat down. After undoing the top buttons of his silk shirt, he leaned back, one hand clasped behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. At the same time, he used the other to touch and arrange himself, to bring his shaft to life. If the lord wanted to play games, then so be it.

“I did not give you permission to sit.”

“No, you did not.” As he worked himself, Brathay again noticed vents built into the ceiling, the same as his own chamber, and mused at their purpose other than to squander precious heat. “Nor did I ask.”

At a sudden disturbance of water, Brathay peered over as the lord stepped deliberately out of the tub and bent double to dry his legs and feet. With the man busy, Brathay rose quietly and crept around the front, sprawled on one of the stools and leaned back against the desk. This time Brathay sat with one outstretched leg, the other folded beneath the stool and his hardened groin in tight leggings on full display. With the silk shirt undone to the chest, he rested one hand on his upper thigh and smoothed the other repeatedly over one of his cold hardened nipples, while pretending to survey the intricate work of one of the tapestries.

Third hall mantra: When flaunting your attraction, aim to do so naively and naturally. Never let the recipient realise your intent, else you may dilute or even lose your advantage.

“Are you one of those who does not respect nobility,” asked Leonmarkh, still turned away, roughly towelling his long hair. “Who does not respect those of higher birthright?”

“You lecture me about respect when you show none?”

Brathay continued to study the wall hanging.

“I am a lord of the realm, fourth in line to the duch—”

Brathay kept his attention fixed on the tapestry, but knew the moment Leonmarkh had noticed him, heard the slight intake of breath. Eventually, Brathay turned his head slowly to take in the lord.

“I know who you are, Lord Leonmarkh,” he said, sitting up and crouching forward, an elbow on each knee. “As such, do you not think you should set an example? And to answer your question, I do respect royalty. But you seem to forget I am sent here at the behest of King Bruckbar. And respect, like nobility, follows a hierarchy.”

Dried now, Lord Leonmarkh stood naked with his back to the fire, staring darkly at Brathay and in no apparent hurry to dress.

“If my uncle, the king, sent you to act as my advisor, then he would expect you to do as I request. Had I asked, Zhorman would have obliged and brought me the cloth. Had I asked, he would have done my bidding without question.”

“No doubt. And had you asked, I am sure Zhorman would have eagerly sucked on your manhood like a babe to his mother’s teat, and gladly swallowed your salty milk. But as you are no doubt aware by now, Zhorman and I are dogs of a different litter.”

“For one so pretty you have the mouth of a whore.”

“Which one? Rumour is you frequent so many.”

“I would gladly wager you have never sampled one.”

“And you would win because I have never had the need.”

“Zhorman believes you to be a catamite.”

“Perhaps because Zhorman desires me.”

With a soft exhalation of exasperation, the lord began to dress. Brathay sat watching, sensing that he had won a small battle. Counsellor Brokerman had told of royals around the empire unable to dress themselves without the aid of hand servants. One point in his favour. The lord dressed confidently, everything except for the shirt collar, which he left unclasped.

“Why have I been summoned? Surely not to watch you bathe and dress?”

“You won an audience with me, did you not? And I want to know the truth. Why did you agree to come?”

“As you know already, I was petitioned to be your advisor.”

“And as you know already, I have advisors. Are you sent here to spy on me?”

“One thing I have acknowledged about you since arriving, Lord Leonmarkh, is that you are not a fool. Were I here to spy on you, you would have found out by now. Besides, who would I inform? When the routes in and out are snowbound, when ship captains cannot venture this far north without fear of sinking, and where everyone kneels only to you? Tell me, I beg you, who would I report to if I did have information?”

“There are ways to get messages out.”

“I am sure there are, but I am not here for that purpose. I have ventured this far north to this wasteland fortress to advise you. Were you and your captains back in temperate Braggadach with its abundance of rivers, farmlands, vineyards, and proximity to the warm ocean, I would agree with your initial assessment, that you have no need of an advisor. Black Ice Bay could not be more dissimilar. Strategically, geographically and climatically everything here is extreme and unforgiving. Last year, the region experienced a mild winter. Over the past eight hundred and fifty years, mild winters are always, without exception, followed by harsher ones.”

“So everyone keeps telling me.”

“Then perhaps the time has come to listen to your advisors.”

When Leonmarkh made his way over to the desk chair, Brathay twisted on the stool to face him. Once seated, Leonmarkh poured two cups of amber liquid from a metal flagon, and pushed one across to Brathay. Without tasting, Brathay sniffed the concoction, a musty smell of cloves and honey, the lord’s personal supply of mead.

“Tell me this, Brathay of Aulderly,” said Leonmarkh. “Why should I trust you?”

“You should not. I would not. Were I your advisor—which you have made abundantly clear that I am not—I would advise you to trust nobody, words I have lived by my whole life.”

Lord Leonmarkh sipped the wine, before reclining in his chair and eyeing Brathay curiously.

“You wish that I heed to your advice but not trust you?”

“I ask that you listen objectively to what I have to say,” continued Brathay, “and decide what you wish to believe. And since we are sharing wine you should know this of me. I bear no fealty to your house nor to your country, nor to any other house or country in the land. I obey only the institute and the empire. But I promised Counsellor Brokerman I would do everything I could to aide you. He is a wise scholar and a friend I trust with my life. And, on my part, I will bring nothing to you without factual evidence. Can I ask you a question?”

“Go on.”

“The soldier flogged for stealing. Which of your men discovered the crime?”

“My steward, with the help of the domestics heads. He keeps a tight control of all our provisions. I am lucky to have him with me. He told me this man has been shadowed for weeks and, with the help of one of my captains, they prised a confession from him. Why do you ask?”

Brathay nodded. Perhaps Khraxwall had indeed already been aware of the shortages. But Brathay could still not discount someone passing the knowledge on to him after reading his private notes.

“Curiosity. I was absent when the incident occurred. What did the man have to say?”

“According to Haycock, he pleaded his innocence. But the evidence against him is damning.”

“You did not interrogate him yourself?”

“He is under Haycock’s command. My captains manage any problems within their control. However, I am the one to decide the punishment.”

“I see. And where is this man now?”

Brathay did not know Leonmarkh well, but could tell that he had answered each of the questions plainly. But something in the way he refused to make eye contact gave Brathay the impression he had reservations, maybe about the punishment, maybe concerning the evidence.

“I neither know nor care,” said Leonmarkh, finally meeting and holding Brathay’s gaze. “Anyone in my service committing the crime of stealing is stripped of rank and cast out. Where he is now is no concern of mine.”

“Is he not a native of Khloradich?”

“Your point?”

“This soldier is stranded thousands of leagues from home.”

“In my eyes, this former—now disgraced—soldier is no better than a common criminal. He is lucky not to have had his life taken from him.”

“Out in this weather he most likely will.”

“Then perhaps he should have considered the consequences before stealing from me.”

“Perhaps he should.”

Brathay wondered how the charges had been dealt with, whether the man’s side of the story had been heard fairly. But he also did not want his opportunity to influence Leonmarkh wasted on an argument about morality.

“Your lordship, since my arrival, I have discovered a number of things I have wanted to discuss with you. This keep has many riddles I am trying to solve. Some, like the redirection and utilisation of the spring water flowing into the keep, have now been resolved—“

“Yes, a commendable start. A single soldier is now able to raise and lower the main gate.”

“My main concern is about the quantity of supplies we are holding based on what we have been getting through over the weeks since I arrived. I am sure your steward will have brought this to your attention, so I am merely supporting his observation. And, to be clear, I am not only referring to food and drink, but also kindling, which, after the recent cold snaps, is severely depleted.”

“Khraxwall and I surveyed the stocks late August. At the time, we both felt there would be enough to see us through the winter months. But recently we are of the same opinion, which is why I have asked him to send for assistance. Luck is on our side right now, and although storms can be unpredictable, the seas have been relatively calm in the north this past month. Khloradich is sending us a supply ship which should arrive by the month end.”

“That is good to know. But can I speak freely?”

“Would it matter if I said no?”

Brathay peered across at Leonmark and saw a humorous glint in his eye.

“Your lordship, we could do a lot worse than provide for ourselves. Use the lull in the weather and the strength of your soldiers to amass more supplies locally. Or are you truly happy being dependent upon Khloradich each time the need arises?”

Leonmarkh said nothing. He had no need. His clenched jaw and dark eyes spoke of his annoyance.

“I thought not. The villagers will happily assist, if you ask. They have more than enough supplies already and are still fishing the seas. Maybe you could come to an arrangement with them?”

“Such as?”

“As you may be aware, I met with a town elder a few days ago. We discussed the probability of a harsh and lengthy cold spell. Should the predictions come to pass, and we are faced with devastating coldness, would you be agreeable to offering the townspeople refuge here and sharing our resources?”

Leonmarkh looked up quizzically, the question clearly taking him by surprise.

“Here? In the keep? Why would they want to come here?”

“With only fifty soldiers in a barracks that usually holds four hundred, you have plenty of space. Moreover, the keep is solid and designed to weather long cold spells, while the village dwellings are open and vulnerable to the elements. Incidentally, why do you have only fifty soldiers?”

“That is the number I was assigned.”

Leonmarkh affected a nonchalant shrug, but his jaw also clenched, which seemed to be his way of masking his true annoyance about a matter.

“So what are your thoughts? I can speak to the village elders on your behalf, if you wish?”

“Let me consider the notion, maybe discuss with my captains.”

“As you wish. On another note, did the previous Watchman hand over any instructions directly to you?”

“The Crown Prince of Khoridmum?” said Leonmarkh with a snort of derision. “Rumour has it the young idiot had already bedded the first of his palace whores back in Khordia before I had even arrived. Deserted the place  and emptied the storerooms without the courtesy of a welcome note, let alone a handover. Should I be offended?”

“Surely he or his steward left instructions about the operation of the keep.”

Leonmark twisted around and indicated the shelves of volumes behind him.

“Each Watchman has to complete an entry in one of those. Mundane items such as the term of their residence, number of soldiers, dates and effectiveness of trial beacon lighting, weather readings, any incidents. Some take up more than a couple of pages. Mine has barely filled half of one.”

“But nothing to explain the keep operation?”

“Anything concerning the kitchens, stables and storerooms would have been picked up by Khraxwall.”

“I imagine this is something more specific and would have been addressed privately to you, from the outgoing to the incoming Watchman.”

“Then no,” said Leonmarkh, before his gaze flicked to the bookcase. “Although there was a small chest of old scrolls and booklets left beneath my bedstead. Khraxwall eventually found the key in the kitchen scullery of all places. Had not been opened for many a year. Took half a bottle of nutseed oil for the lock to budge. We looked over a couple of writings. Most are the ramblings of bored Watchmen, slowly going mad in this wretched place.”

“Would you mind if we take a look together?”

Leonmarkh huffed out a weary sigh, but went to bookcase and brought back the chest, placing the small trunk in the middle of the table. Unhooking the lock, he opened the lid. Musty odours of old parchment and dust tickled Brathay’s nostrils. Three newer scrolls on top had been opened and placed back hastily. When he checked, they were indeed the musings of a Watchman from Ballyhooky, documenting grumblings about the extreme weather, bemoaning his inability to get enough warmth and pining for the sunshine of home. Leonmarkh arranged the rest of the contents, the various scrolls and parchments, onto the tabletop. Dark yellow with age, some had already begun to decay or crumble. Brathay opened one or two with care, but they provided no more insight than the more recent records. With the chest empty, Brathay began to place the scrolls back inside, but Leonmarkh stopped him.

“Now we have the chest empty, let us check carefully. In Braggadach, these caskets are often designed with wall pockets or secret compartments. Let us at least check.”

Brathay examined the sides, but the chest walls appeared too thin to house anything significant and gave nothing away. However, Leonmarkh’s fingers prised open a false bottom in the chest floor. With great care, he lifted out a small bound notebook, the black covering worn with age. As he did so, a couple of squares of packed yellowed paper fell out from between the pages. Brathay picked up one of the waxen squares, unfolded the sheet and smoothed his hand along the top to reveal a carefully illustrated map. With a soft breath of amazement, he surveyed the work, a style he knew well.

“This chart was created by a Thiradonian mapper, hundreds of years ago. I can tell by the unique script. And look at the beautiful detailing.” Brathay pointed a fingertip to the line of the coast. “It shows the local area here from the coast, through the mountains, almost to the border of the Northern Wastelands. These are main routes, these are mountain tracks, and there are even caves referenced, places to shelter in case the weather turns bad. Over there is Black Ice Bay, and Black Ice Keep.”

“You know how to read these types of maps?”

“Naturally,” said Brathay, while opening another map on top of the first. “Before Aulderly, I could read a map better than most. Ah, this one shows the beacon trail down the east coast all the way to the Royal Palace. What does the book contain?”

Brathay smirked as he watched Leonmarkh flick through the delicate pages of the book, stopping to frown at one or another.

“Full of illustrations. Is this what you meant earlier? Page after page of sketches. One provides a cross section of the structure of the keep, while the next gives a detailed layout of each of the floors. Here, this seems more your area of expertise.”

Brathay took the book and scrutinised the pages. In a bygone age, somebody had gone to great pains to create detailed architectural schematics of the building.

“This is exactly what I meant. There is even a diagram showing the direction of the water flow within the keep and the location of the levers to redirect the course for other purposes, such as the kitchen millstone. Previous Watchmen must have created this to assist each succeeding Watchman on how to get the best out of the keep. Why somebody would hide this away is beyond me.”

Brathay turned the pages, his excitement building. When he looked up, he found Leonmarkh grinning at him.

“You have no idea what you have here, otherwise you would not be laughing at me—”

“I am not laughing. I am enjoying watching you come to life.”

“This may in some way solve the riddles. There is an etching on this page of the grate in the keep, showing the crystal arrangement beneath the courtyard. Look at the base of this page. I know a few of the old written languages, but not this. This uses hieroglyphs, pictures to represent words. Perhaps this is Nothric, the old language of the Noth. Or Broxian, from the immigrant descendants of Brox who originally brought their old language with them—”

“It is neither. This is Braggadachian. Ancient Braggadachian. And yes, before you ask, I am not entirely without an education. One of my older siblings who is a master of languages taught me. This is without doubt ancient Braggadachian, a language still understood and used today by a scant few—usually nobles—to send secret messages to each other.” Brathay watched Leonmarkh run a finger along each of the lines. “I know around half of these symbols. Someone has even gone to the trouble of following the ancient structure with the words written as a form of poetry. From what I understand this reads: Watcher something secret. Lake sleep bear. Something eagle mountain something. Something heart stone something.”

“Heart stone?” asked Brathay.

“Yes. Those two symbols I recognise. They are the words for a heart and a stone. Another thing strikes a chord. I have heard talk of a bear lake in the nearby mountains. Check the map.”

Brathay pulled the first map on top and twisted the sheet around. After a moment of searching, Leonmarkh pointed out the location.

“There. Through the mountains due west of here. The nearest lake. According to your map reading skills, how long do you think a journey might take?”

“A rough estimate? The weather would play a deciding role, but I calculate the location to be at most a half day’s journey from here.”

Leonmarkh studied the map thoughtfully for a few seconds.

“Once I have the rest of this rhyme, I may consider sending one of my captains to investigate.”

“Who else is there to help you translate? Or does Ligger know ancient Braggadachian?”

“Ligger is one of my most loyal captains. And as I have said before, there are ways to get most things done even in this remote location. I am not entirely without resources.”

Brathay nodded. He had no doubt Leonmarkh had support tucked away. At that thought, he wondered if Fleming might be able to assist. Even if he did not know, he might be able to use one of his birds to contact Aulderly.

“Would you mind if I write the symbols down? I might also know somebody who could help.”

Leonmarkh passed him some spare parchment and a quill, and watched as Brathay carefully copied out the symbols of the message. Brathay spoke as he wrote.

“I will take my leave of you now. Allow you to rest. But I thank you for this opportunity, Lord Leonmarkh. I hope you will consider my counsel in future, hope I have convinced you that I am here to help you.”

Leonmarkh slouched back in his chair and studied Brathay, a measured, and slightly uncomfortable scrutiny, his dark eyes not letting go of Brathay’s gaze.

“Since your arrival, I have heard many honeyed words about you. Most of my domestic staff seem to have taken to you, find you personable. All of my captains have come to admire you, Brathay Stonearm, even Ligger, who said you have the spirit and cunning of a fox.”

“And you?” asked Brathay, after finishing and folding the paper into his shirt pocket.

“I am undecided. I see how you approach my people, how you assume an aura of pleasantness mixed with integrity and respectability, a recipe as measured and beguiling as the one you served up in the refectory. But then I watched you fight Ligger, and tonight, saw how you arranged yourself provocatively before me, and I realise these high morals you project do not prohibit you from playing dirty when the need arises.”

“Maybe you see more than there is.”

“And maybe I do not.”

Readying to leave, Brathay tucked in his shirt and then shrugged on his coat, preparing himself for the short but freezing stroll back to his chamber. He had all but forgotten about his arrival, but as he bid the lord farewell and took a step past him out into the night, he sensed the man’s scrutiny on him again. And when he turned, Lord Leonmarkh hooked a finger beneath Brathay’s chin and lifted his face.

“Mark my words, Brathay Stonearm,” came the deep voice. “One day I will have you.”

Brathay stared unafraid at the lord, closing his fist around the finger and squeezing hard, before answering equally softly.

“No, my lord. One day, I will have you. But only when I am ready and you have earned the treasures I have to offer. And on that day, you will beg to savour me, will plead for me to touch you. Mark my words.”

Brathay pushed the finger away and pulled the door closed before the lord had a chance to respond.

Please let me know your thoughts, comments, reactions - and predictions about where you think this story might be going. 

More to come next Friday.

Copyright © 2021 lomax61; All Rights Reserved.
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The verbal sparing match between Leon and Brat was hotter and steamier than the caves in the village.  Brat is proving his worth to Leon, but advises Leon not to trust him.  The attraction of these two opposites is very evident in this chapter.  The excitement caused by the book was intense.  Bart will use this key to the keep to make new discoveries.  Since the Bear is a  local god for good and evil, I wonder if there is a significance to the lake in the map named Bear Lake.  Brat has definitely got Leon to consider the advantages of being a refuge for the villagers, so this is one piece of advice I hope Leon takes.  The fact that Leon was only given 50 soldiers for the strategic keep does seem to imply Leon has been set up for failure, but by who?  The last two sentences exchange by Leon, then Brat were passionate challenges that I hope they both win.

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Brathay has unleashed his swagger.  Hopefully he now has captured his Lord's ongoing interest.

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