I was woken by someone shaking me awake, obviously in my state I had fallen asleep as I cried. Looking up at who was shaking me I saw one of the village boys who I`d seen tending the sheep,
"M`lord, you need to leave if you`re going to make the castle by sundown."
Baring my teeth angrily in my mind I stood up and dusted myself off,
"Thank you" I muttered as he ran off. Alisia had prepared everything I`d need into a bundle and as I picked it up I dreamt of what it would have been like to have the bundle replaced by a helmet as she watched me ready to leave for battle. Me, her husband. Shaking my head of what was now clearly nothing but a childish delusion I picked up the bundle and made my way out of the hut to find a youth holding a horse for me,
"Here m`lord" he called and I made my way over. As I climbed on he tied the bundle expertly to the saddle and I fished into my coin pouch, which I had earlier extracted. Handing him a small silver coin I kicked the horse into a gallop. I wanted to get out of that place, it held to many nightmares.
I arrived at the castle gates just as the last few stragglers made it through.
"Oi!" shouted one of the guards, "Does that horse belong to you?"
"No it`s a friends" I replied
The guard looked at me as if he was trying to place my voice.
"Where you from?" he asked
"Nowhere of significance. Now can I get into the castle?" I asked the impatience growing.
"Not till you answer my question" he sneered making it obvious he was going to delay me until the gates closed.
Before I knew it I had stolen his sword from his sheath and was pressing him against the gate with his own weapon at his throat while other guards raced to his aid.
"Are you going to let me through or is one of us going to have to get hurt first?"
The guard looked like he was going to wet himself knowing that he was going to die in any event. I was aware of the hissing of steel as other guards bared their arms against me waiting to see if i caused any harm to their comrade.
"What`s going on here?" came a bellowing voice that I turned to see making sure I pressed the edge of the blade into the guards neck lest he try and take advantage of my lack of attention. The big burly Saxon that was Aesc made his way through the line of soldiers that had gathered round me.
"Lord Raven? What are you doing?" he asked trying to be serious while hiding his smile
"Trying to get through the gates to my own home but Shep didn`t like me."
Nodding his head Aesc signalled his men to stand down and as they did so did I. Removing the sword from the man`s neck I offered it to Aesc who took it from me before moving aside for me to walk through. Another guard saw to the horse. Practically running I made my way to the throne room taking my coat from Aesc as I did so. The doors opened and once again I was met with a meeting of the Barons. My gaze fell upon Lucille De Gavney who, though not showing any real emotion seemed quite shocked to see me walk into the room.
"Your Highness" I said bowing as I entered.
My Uncle seemed genuinely surprised to see me. For what seemed an age he just stared at me before coming back to himself and dismissing the barons. Whispers floated round the numerous men as they left and Aesc barred the door,
"Raven" my Uncle cried practically launching himself from the throne to embrace me. When he`d quite finished squeezing the breath from my lungs he sat back in the throne,
"What was that all about?"
Aesc spoke first, "Your Uncle was under the impression you no longer breathed sire."
I looked at my Uncle, "What?"
"De Gavney informed me that one of his riders had found the body of your man-servant at a camp a day`s ride from here. Finding no trace of you but a large blood path he assumed you had been taken into the forest by a large animal."
I narrowed my eyes, "We were attacked" I said, "But it was by no animal"
If my Uncle could have gone any more pale than he already was he would have, "What?"
"Our travels took slightly longer than we had hoped so our camp was forced in a wooded area about half a day`s travel from the nearest village. During the night we were attacked. Arnet was killed in his sleep but I was woken up. I didn`t get to see the face of the attacker as he struck from behind but I have no doubt whose voice whispered in my ear before striking my neck"
Aesc bristled, "Who my lord? Who dared attack you"
I stared at my Uncle, "Lucille De Gavney"
Silence descended upon the room as my Uncle was torn between tearing Lucille to pieces or dealing with this as he should.
"Aesc make note to send a messenger for Lucille first thing in the morning. Any accusation must be dealt with."
"But for now I think the best thing would be for us to dine lightly and retire"
I nodded and offered my arm. I`d only been gone from the castle a few days or possibly weeks and yet my Uncle had changed so much.
"Would you rather dine in your room Uncle?" I asked noticing that he was rather unsteady.
"Nonsense my boy. I may be old but I`m by no means ancient"
I laughed and we made our way to the kitchens.
"Why did you have the barons over?"
"If the tales of your demise had been true then I`d be left with no choice but to name one of them as my successor."
"Did you choose?"
I nodded as the food was brought to us.
"Tell me more of the attack."
"Not much more I can tell apart from what I`ve told you already."
"Where have you been then? Not in the woods!"
I shook my head, "Apparently a merchant found me and recognising the arms on my cloak he took me to the village closest by and left me there. Obviously after checking I was worth lumbering"
"But you`re fine"
I nodded, "Never better."
My Uncle smiled. We finished the food in silence and he slowly made his way to his bedchamber while I made my way to the throne room. Sitting in my chair to the right of my Uncle`s I sat thinking about the events of that night but it was all foggy and what I could remember was distorted and over in a flash. Sighing I left and made my way to my own bed chamber. It would be strange not having Arnet there anymore but I would get used to it I`m sure. Disrobing and climbing under the covers I settled for the night but as I drifted off into a deep and welcome slumber, the nightmares began.....