They traveled on, their pace a relentless plodding of hooves against the packed earth. Beyond the birds and an occasional deer, the road was empty. By the time Sarah caught sight of Verdas, the sun was at its zenith.
King Demetrioso’s voice startled Sarah; however, the Knight who turned around startled her even more. If she hadn’t known Jason was under a Willow Tree then she’d have thought he was Jason. There were subtle differences though. He looked a little taller, not to mention there was a cleft in his chin that Jay just did not have. Plus he was a Knight, not a Scout Sergeant.
“Yes Sire?” Sir Arthur responded as he reined his horse back.
“When we reach the fourth wall, you will take your brother’s fiancée to Grand-Moyther Magdalene,” the king commanded.
“My bother’s fiancée?” The knight scanned the group.
Sarah waved her right hand, ring glinting in the sun. Sir Arthur reined his horse back further at a nod from the King. Riding beside her, Jason’s brother studied her with curiosity. Sarah merely grinned back at him.
“Not what you expected?” she asked amused by Sir Arthur’s expression.
The knight chuckled. “Never thought he’d go for a Beard.”
He winked on the last word, but before Sarah could ask for an explanation, Sir Arthur rode back to his position at the front of the line. The wall of Verdas now towered above them as they wound their way up the hill to the gates. Gazing upward Sarah was amazed at how tall the wall was. She wondered how long it had taken to build it. Forget how long, she thought, how did they build it?
The party stopped just shy of the gates and Sir Arthur rode forward.
“All Hail and Make Way for the King of Vervell, Demetrioso de Arenima, Lord of the Areni Plains; the Crown Prince, Theodoso de Verdas; and the Royal Entourage.”
Trumpets were blown and the party slowly made their way up the winding streets and through the various walls that split Verdas into sections. To Sarah’s surprise, despite the very official announcement, no one gathered to cheer their passing. It made her wonder if the city knew what had happened during the Trials. Then again, without the technology she was used to, news probably didn’t travel that fast.
It was not long before the Royal Entourage had reached the fourth gate. As they passed through, Sir Arthur let his horse fall back to ride beside Sarah.
“Stop your horse,” he commanded her, “and dismount once they are past."
One of the youngest of the group stopped between them and took their horse’s reins. Sir Arthur dismounted and Sarah did the same, though she nearly toppled herself over doing so. She moved aside as their horses were led away. Beckoning her, Sir Arthur began to walk up the street.
“We’ll walk from here,” he told her.
“How far?” Sarah asked, though she knew it couldn’t be too far.
“Well it’s about half way around from here,” he stated. “But, we’ll cut through the Scout Barracks, to save some time. Have you been to my brother’s house yet?”
“No. I wanted to, but Lady Abigail didn’t want me going in my court dress.”
“You have a court dress?” Sir Arthur chuckled. “Now that is not a confession I expect a Beard to make.”
“Okay I’ll bite,” Sarah stated. Sir Arthur looked at her with a puzzled expression. “What is a Beard?”
“You don’t know?” he asked surprised.
“I’m not from around here.” Sarah smiled at him.
“Well,” he thought for a second, “a Beard would be a woman who prefers to be a man. Some of them even go so far as to marry another woman, but...” He stopped to ponder her for a moment. Sarah looked at him expectantly. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a Beard deciding to marry a man.”
“Well I can assure you I’m not a Beard,” Sarah informed him.
“Then how do you explain,” he asked as they continued on, “the short hair and pants?” He shot her a grin and suddenly Sarah understood he was teasing her.
“Didn’t your mother inform you that she’d met Jay’s pant wearing and tree climbing imaginary friend?” Sarah responded with a grin of her own.
“So you are her then,” Sir Arthur chuckled.
“Beyond a doubt,” Sarah nodded.
“Gods be Praised,” was all he had to say to that and they lapsed into silence.