Chapter 4 - Borrowed

Hayden felt much better when he got outside. It was a cool night, and helped to cool his temper. But he still didn't know what had happened to Andronov's gang or who his mysterious 'saviour' was. Virgil was definitely his best bet; there wasn't much he didn't know something about. 

His horse was hitched out by the palace entrance. He didn't put him in the stables like the other guests as he knew he was probably going to leave before them. He snickered in greeting as he stroked his mane down. The McCloud stables were modest in comparison with other families, but it meant that each horse was exceptionally looked after. Hayden's favourite was Sam, but for official functions he rode Butch; a fine white stallion. White horses were as vital to the ruling classes of Officianari as gaudy crowns and jewels. As such, his father had instructed him to keep with traditions.

Putting one foot into the stirrup, Hayden kicked off and swung himself onto the horse gracefully. There was no point owning fine horses if you couldn't ride them properly. 

The sky was a deep black as he rode through the town. As he suspected, no one was around except the odd guard on patrol. Varla was a town full of honest, hard-working people, the kind who went to church on Sundays and always used their manners. Hayden much preferred to populace to the palace, who were quite the opposite with their mannerisms. 

The cobblestones clicked under Butch's iron shoes as he trotted down the winding street. The gate loomed up slowly until he was underneath the arch. Recognising him from his entrance a few hours ago, the guard on duty went to the gate release mechanism but hesitated before opening the gate.

"Sir, we've had some reports of bandits making trouble on the road. My orders are to advise travellers against leaving, for their protection." The guard seemed uneasy with the prospect of telling someone with obviously noble blood what to do. 

"I appreciate the warning, friend. However, I'm not travelling far tonight and it would be an inconvenience to wait the night out."

The guard shifted uneasily by the crank. "Well, I can't leave my post, but I'm not letting you go undefended." He turned around to lean his pike on the stone wall before untying the straps on the scabbard at his waist. He deftly flipped it before presenting it hilt first to a smiling Hayden. 

"Thanks. I'll make sure to send you a new one when I return home." He said, nodding at the man as he cranked the gate. "Although I'm sure I won't need it, preparing for the worst never hurt anyone." Hayden saluted the man in the traditional McCloud manner before spurring Butch out onto the road.

The ground whipped by under the powerful strides of the warhorse. Butch loved galloping, and as he was hours from the manor Hayden was happy for him to set his own pace. The guard's sword clinked against the saddle and his cloak billowed out behind him as if a ghost trying to keep up. A full moon illuminated the path, although Hayden was sure he could find his way in the pitch dark if he needed to. It was a relatively straight, wide road that crossed through rolling hills and picturesque meadows. One of the most beautiful commutes in the kingdom, he thought. 

That was why he wasn't too worried about the guard's warning. It was probably no more than a few drunk peasants being a bit too loud near an old codger's farm. He'd never heard of anything serious happening out here anyway.

The End

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