For the next month, Eventide watched over Freeman as he healed. Eventide was not above using some of his brotherhood skills to help Freeman; a small touch of the white powder of the slave maker to ease some of the pain his new father suffered; was not wrong as long as he used the bare minimum. The last thing Eventide wanted was for his own father to be slaved to the white powder.
At last Freeman was healing enough to leave his bed; his wounds had closed nicely and any chance of infection had ceased to be a worry. Freeman took walks each day to rebuild his strength; not once did he question Eventide about the terrible deaths that had taken place while he was ill.
Over the next month; Freeman noticed that Eventide would spend more and more time in the library. After watching his new son spend hours poring over large tomes one day; Freeman went in after the boy had left to see what he had been reading. Much to Freeman's surprise, he saw that all of his sons reading was from the Baron's large battle library.
Another item now struck Freeman as unusual. Eventide had spent long hours in perfecting his writing skills; as Freeman well knew; it was not Eventide's favourite subject yet, here he now was spending hours writing letters and sending them away.
Freeman wondered at the vagaries of youth and forgot all about it. As the second month of his recovery ended; Freeman was surprised one day by Eventide's mention of the King's Joust. For Freeman it was a surprise; there had been so much going on he had forgotten that another year had almost passed; it was time again for the jousts.
Freeman knew and had also sent letters to the King; that he would not be able to stand in any of the joust this year; his past injuries made it impossible. The King had replied that he understood well but asked if Eventide would again stand with the people under the King's colours.
After Freeman had confirmed with Eventide, that the boy would attend the Joust as before; they began to make arrangements to move back to England for the event; there had been no word about Mahmud appearing and Eventide refused to say yay or nay.
Travel back to England had been organised by Eventide himself; he felt it was his duty to watch over his father's health and had broken up the trip into smaller parts; he did not want to overtax his father's strength even though Freeman had insisted he was now well.
Freeman took note of the procession; he now had an added banner to his colours and each was carried by one of the young brotherhood. Shaun; who was now well and could move as well as anyone else, except for the slightest of limps which did little to limit him in any exercise; became the bearer of Eventide's blue banner.
Between the group there were now four banners flying; the green banner with the crest of the Barony of Lancaster, the plain blue banner with a Celtic Rune in black; there was also the furled black banner of the brotherhood called the Banner of Jihad and the last was a plain white banner with golden script in the style of the Aramaic; this was the Banner of the Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria.
With all of the Baron's guards as well as the younger teens of the brotherhood; it became quite a spectacle as the long train wound its way through the countryside of Flanders and finally shipped onto the coast of England.
When they reached the coast; it was to see that they were not alone on the roads; the time of the King's joust was nearing quickly and many of the Knights and Squires were moving. This year there was also a noticeable increase in the number of the common people travelling; far more than in previous years.
Their entry onto the lands of the Manor became a surprise for both father and son. The lands that spread out before them had little resemblance to the ones they had left nearly a year ago.
It was difficult to make out all the changes in so short a time. There were newly built cottages spread around; each with a small garden patch. In the fields were more cattle and sheep than had ever run on the old Manor grounds and, in the tilled fields there were the first signs of harvesting.
Wheat, Rye and Barley seemed to cover the ground in waving seas of golden stalks. The number of farmers tending to the stock and the planted fields seemed almost endless. Neither Freeman or Eventide could wait to call on their new overseer for a report.
As the long train rode through the gates of the Manor; all the staff were present to welcome them home. This was the first time that Eventide noticed the number of new faces on the Manor staff. On the top step of the entranceway stood Huntingdon, beside him was the solid figure of Bodan of the Western Reaches and now overseer of the Manor lands.
Eventide felt good returning to the place that had changed his life so much; with all the honours he had been given and the many new friends; he felt he had been blessed beyond his station and would remain thankful for the rest of his life.
As they walked up the steps of the Manor House; Freeman greeted both his most trusted men; Huntingdon left to organise the house while Freeman asked Bodan to join them for the evening meal; he could make his report after the meal when both men had time to discuss it all at their leisure.
Eventide and his six brothers headed towards his rooms while Shaun took charge of the fine Arabic horses; Shaitan being the one that he was most concerned with. Although the others were of the finest stock; even his smaller white horse; none were as important to Shaun as Shaitan.
After dinner; Bodan began his report. Freeman was now truly impressed by the man's talent for organisation. Bodan had called in fifty families that had all been from the Western Reaches; these were hard working and honest people who had the gift of farming on some of the poorest of lands; when asked to work at the Manor; not one family refused. It was the best land they had ever been asked to work; that and the chance to own a little piece for themselves; soon sealed the deal for them all.
The return for Freeman was already obvious; the huge fields of grain, potatoes and beets were already more than he would have dreamt of before Bodan began his magic and now, he could plainly see the improvement in the number of stock that roamed the pastures set aside for that.
Bodan had planned well and known how to make the best of the land available; Freeman was duly impressed and told the man so; Bodan had only one question of his new baron.
"My Lord, I have not yet set a tithe or rents for the holders; they are all waiting for your word on this matter?"
"I would ask as a rental on their homes and gardens that each man or boy of age works eight hours a day for six days and has the seventh day as rest; this will hold except for the harvest time when; as you well know; we must get all the crops in before the first rains. The Baron's tithe will be set as one silver coin per year and they have rights to their homes and gardens until death takes them or they move from the land."
"My Lord that seems a small price to pay; I have never known a Baron to tithe so lightly?"
"There is another part to the tithe Master Bodan."
"Speak it My Lord and it shall be done."
"If the time arises I would ask each bowman that is of age to stand by my side in a time of need or in the defence of the Manor lands; this is the second part of the tithe Master Bodan.'
"Then the price is even more acceptable to my people, My Lord; the bowmen will await your call if needed."
"Thank you Master Bodan; now for yourself and those who work the harvest. For harvest time each man, woman and child that works to bring in the harvest will be paid six coppers per day as extra for the added work; for yourself; you will receive an added two silvers as overseer. In the second year; as I see you have already increased my stock by a third; each family will receive one milk cow as added payment if the harvest then is as good as it looks this year."
"That seems far too much My Lord; far more than any other of the nobles would offer common folk?"
"What price do you put on loyalty, Master Bodan?"
"There is no price; My Lord."
"Exactly; I would like these same families to be watching and working over this land when my son takes over; that is loyalty Master Bodan."
"Thank you My Lord, I shall pass on to the people your generosity; I have little doubt they will still be on the land when your son is Baron."
"Now Bodan; that's all the business I wish to discuss this night; come and sit here next to me while Huntingdon finds us something to warm the blood; I would like to hear how your family is doing."
The two men sat alone as Eventide and the others had left after all the business had been completed; tomorrow was another day and the trail home had been a long and slow one; a good night's rest was what they all really needed.
Three days passed and Eventide was seen working tirelessly in the huge library. When darkness was near; Eventide left his desk and returned to the dining hall just in time to see an old and familiar face sitting with Freeman.
Eventide bowed and salaamed to the Emir who immediately stood and returned the welcome before smiling widely and opening his arms to hug the smaller boy.
"And how does my Kahlif feel about another battle with the squires of England?"
"I am hoping we can win once again; Elder Brother. I thought my brother would be with you?"
"He is following in another ship; he said it was your instructions but would not enlarge on it."
"Oh I thought he would just sail with you and bring the extras on other ships; I did not realise he meant to travel with them as well."
"He would not say what he was doing; perhaps you can enlighten us both with your plans for this year's joust?"
"I would like to your Highness but then the surprise would be lost. I think both you and my father will like what we have in store this year."
Eventide's roguish smile told both men absolutely nothing of his plans; that he had plans for the joust was never in doubt; in all the time they had known the youngster; he had never failed to amaze them with his deviousness in planning a battle.
"Did you know that the King has allowed the Squires to use their horse this year?" Freeman asked his son.
"Yes father; I have taken that into the consideration of the plan of battle."
"Will there be an opportunity for us to make a little wager again?" Saed asked with a chuckle in his throat.
"I would hope so Elder Brother; I am sure the common folk would appreciate any help they can get in their lives."
The general chatter went on for another hour before Eventide called it a night and retired to his bed. The next day was the one where they began to prepare to leave the Manor and move to the King's castle for the joust; as yet there had still been no sign of Mahmud; Eventide appeared to not be worried and evaded all questions about this fact.
It was only a few days later that found everyone in the jousting arena for the vows to the King. As normal the Squires gave their vows first; it was also noticeable that this year there were more than one hundred and fifty Squires; it was a large increase on the previous year.
When it came time for the people to swear to the King; one of the older boys from the year before came forward. There were only two of the older boys from the last joust as the others were now over the age for them to battle.
The boy stepped forward with the mass of common boys behind him; there was also an increase in numbers and many of them looked to be very young but; all showed they wanted to fight.
The older boy stood in front of the others; after bowing and touching his forelock to the King, he said.
"My Liege, we the people stand under your colours to fight with honour and to protect your colours with our lives."
"Well said you man; and whom do we call?"
"My name is Kent, son of the Tanner and your humble servant my Liege."
The King turned to the expectant Robin who stood beside the throne holding the red banner with the gold dragon.
"Squire Robin; protector of our banner; go and stand with the people and protect our colours as is your duty."
Robin bowed and took the banner down to stand beside Kent; as the colours appeared on the field there was a mighty roar from the commoners watching closely around the arena. It was also noticed that the Knights and squires did not share the same show of enthusiasm; their defeat in the last joust was still a sore point among them.
It was well known that this year, there would be the added use of the Squire's horses in the charge; everyone could see the looks of confidence on the faces of the Squires the extra weight of a full charge would give them. This year they would all redeem their honour.
The King looked around for the only two still missing; he did not have long to wait.
From the crowd stepped one of the Bedou; he was dressed in his usual blue flowing robes. Salud walked to the front of the dais that held the King, the Emir and Freeman; as the King's champion. Salud bowed low and salaamed before he lifted his head to speak.
"Your Highness; I am Salud, servant to the Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria; it is my duty to stand for my brother the Kahlif Mahmud Sal-A-Hadin. Due to travel problems he will not be able to appear here today but will join the people's army on the day of the joust; if that be within the rules of the joust."
"It is within the rules and is acceptable to us."
Salud bowed and walked to the side to give space for the last to swear. Eventide appeared as he had been during the battle last year. He was dressed in the same striped trews with his hair pulled back in a single plait; this time he also had painted on the blue woad and it took less than a second for the whisper to spread around the field of commoners.
"The blue warrior is with us."
Those sitting on the dais smiled at the sound of the whisper and watched as Eventide bowed low then straightened.
"My Liege, I; Eventide stand for the People under the Kings colours and swear to fight for the honour of the people and in defence of the King's colours."
"Welcome once again Blue Warrior; we are glad to see you standing for the colours once more. Do you have a cavalry this year; you will need it I fear?"
"My Liege; the people cannot gather a cavalry; I fear the collection of animals is beyond us but; we will still fight for the King's honour never the less as is our duty."
"Then I can only wish you luck; Eventide, Baronet of Lancaster; I fear you will sorely need it this year."
Eventide bowed and walked over to join all the common boys at the far end of the field; there was now only the naming of the battle ground and the commoner's selection of which end to hold. Although it was common knowledge where the battle field was, it was still held as a formality.
The King stood and all fell silent to hear his proclamation.
"The Squires battle will be held in the Valley of Bones; I would ask Kent of the people's army to select his ground?"
Kent stepped forward and; after a quick glance at Eventide, he turned back and spoke in a clear strong voice.
"My Liege; we the people would select the western end of the Valley."
Everyone looked at the boy as he stood waiting for approval; it did not go unnoticed by the King or the others with him; that the boy had once again selected the end of the Valley of Bones that had a slight rise to defend. It was also noticed by many that the Squires could not believe their ears.
The area selected by the commoners, while slightly higher than the rest of the valley; it was also far wider and would be harder to defend against a full horse charge; smiles began to break out on all the faces of the squires while the King got only a worried look on his face; his people had taken the hardest area to defend as their ground. For the first time, the King began to think they had made a mistake; perhaps this year he would lose his colours.
The rest of the swearing was soon over and it was time for the great feast to celebrate the opening of the joust; very few people noticed the newcomers amongst the large crowd of boys as they all feasted well and talked about the upcoming battle.
As the days passed and the battle grew closer; Freeman and Saed again noticed how little they saw of Eventide or any of his brothers; that there were plans afoot was plainly obvious but; what those plans were, neither man had a clue and Eventide was as closed mouth as ever.
On the day of the battle; the usual tent on one side of the valley was set up for the King and his friends; on the opposite side the top of the rise was covered in thick trees and could not be used by any of the many spectators.
It did not take long for wagers to start being offered and taken up as the many mounted squires appeared to take their end of the long wide valley.
At the western end there was little save for a short tower built of thick tree trunks; it was topped off with five banners and two small figures standing on top. Lower down the western end of the valley were twenty small groups of boys that carried small bucklers and the short flails they had used last year.
The boys stood beside a cart loaded with what looked like hay; at the side of the cart was a small metal pot that appeared to be smouldering. The King turned to Saed and Freeman.
"Well what do you make of all this; I think our wagers may be in doubt this year my friends."
"I really don't know, Your Majesty; but if I know my son at all then he has something planned." Freeman replied.
"I feel I am missing something; I'm not sure what it is but the valley does not look right." The King replied.
Freeman looked all over the valley until finally a smile began to touch his lips.
"What is it?" The King asked.
"Was there not a stream that ran down this side of the valley?"
"Of course there is; there has always....." The King stopped and looked closer. "Where has the stream gone?"
"It appears to be on the other side of the valley."
"But that can't be?"
"Well My Liege; there it is flowing gently down the other side." Freeman pointed in the direction of the new stream.
"Then we will have to wait and see what your son has come up with this time."
The King looked around once again and then coughed.
"What is that at the western end; it almost looks as though the rise has been increased in height, but that again is impossible."
Freeman looked harder at the distant western end of the valley; again a smile moved over his lips.
"It would look like some kind of covering; perhaps a netting of some sort but with strips of coloured cloth to disguise it."
"I really don't know what that son of yours is up to Baron, but he has my attention."
The usual red banners were flying on the other side of the valley; calls and cheers rang out as the first fell and the Squires tested their charge by trotting a little down the valley and lowering their long wooden lances as a threat to the small group of boys crouched alone in the field.
It was obvious the Squires meant to win the King's colours this year; they were all outfitted in light armour; not as heavy as a full knight but far heavier than the previous year; they would be hard to attack and beat when they got hand to hand with the lightly armed boys on the valley floor.
Eventide and Robin stood alone on the wooden tower; at each corner flew the four banners of Eventide, Lancaster, the Caliphate and the black banner of Jihad; at the centre stood the King's banner where the two boys stood.
As the red banners fell the cheers and calls got louder; the Squires were only too ready for a good solid charge at their enemy or the few they could see; the smaller boys on the valley floor held little hope of holding the Squires in any form of defence. The wagers were now well underway and coins were changing hands almost with abandon.
As the last banner fell, the Squires started their charge; with a long flat valley before them, they had no intention of taking it easy on anyone that got in their way; even the rising ground at the western end would do little to slow such a charge.
From the other end there was little movement; the small group of boys at the centre and the two boys on the short tower had not made a move of any kind.
The thunder of the charge could be heard even above the loud cheers of the many Knights watching; their squires looked good and in full control as they kept their three lines tight and straight; their long wooden lances held upright as they gathered speed for the final contact with their unready enemies.
By the time the Squires were within a hundred paces of the boys; over the noise came the sound of the cows horn trumpet. First it was a low sounding note and then it rose higher; at the cessation of the note, the boys on the valley floor took up the smouldering pots and threw them onto the carts of straw. With a speed that surprised many; the boys took to their heels and disappeared into the high trees on the far side of the valley.
It took almost no time at all for the carts of straw to catch fire; as the Squires drew closer the carts began to emit a thick column of dense black smoke that began to move towards the Squires as well as covering anything they could see ahead of them.
The eastern end of the valley soon became covered in the dense and foul smelling smoke with the Squires and their horses disappearing into its centre.
As the Squires became covered in smoke and covered from the western end; the cow horn sounded again in a long single blast. What had thought to be a single screen, turned out to be three different ones; the first one fell to reveal a long line of young men with wicker shields and long wooden pikes. At their front was a solid fence of thick wooden staves buried into the ground to form a defensive wall that no horse would be able to climb.
The boys with the long pikes stood above the wall and would be able to stop anyone from trying to climb over. Above them was another stave wall and behind that were bowmen; but not any bowmen.
For the first time in battle; everyone got to see the long bow; thirty young teens stood in line with the new bows; ranged in front of them were another thirty younger boys with the normal Persian bows; the new boys were strangers to everyone but Freeman.
When the third and last covering fell; it disclosed a vicious line of sharpened stakes set up as a barrier around what could now be seen as a taller tower than at first thought; also behind the barrier were more boys armed with shields and long wooden swords.
While the Squires were still hidden in the thick dark smoke and the younger boys had fled the field; a short three note call was heard from the cow horn trumpet; very few noticed the sudden cessation of the water flowing down the left hand side; for those who took notice it was not long before they saw why the water no longer flowed.
The King turned to Freeman.
"Are those the long bows I've heard so much about; they look to be too big for those boys?"
"Yes Sire those are the long bows of the Reaches."
"Who are those boys then that they could bring them here?"
"They are the sons of some of my tenant farmers, Sire."
"Then they are entitled to be here; I am beginning to look forward to this battle and to see those bows in action."
"Then we should not have long to wait, Sire."
The men looked to where the Squires had been covered in the thick smoke; a gentle breeze had blown up and everyone began to see the disruption the smoke had caused.
All of the Squires were still having trouble containing their mounts; the smoke had obviously not been to the horses liking and they had broken stride and, in some cases; lost their riders.
The chaos on the field was now more apparent as the smoke thinned and finally dissipated. The squires were in total disarray and any chance of reforming a good line was lost; even though they still had a full three hundred paces to where the solid line of pike men stood waiting for them.
Unfortunately for the Squires, the field was now being flooded by a torrent of water flowing freely from a narrow trench cut across the full front of the defenders. It was obvious that the stream had been diverted into the small trench; how the defenders had accomplished this feat was only known to those who planned it all.
Slowly the Squires began to reform but it was easily seen they no longer had the same open enthusiasm after what had happened. It was also noticed that some of the Squires were on their hands and knees retching from the effects of the smoke.
For the hundred plus squires left astride their mounts; it seemed ages before they could reform and start their charge again; this time however; there did not seem to be the same fire in their bellies as they lined up and began to move forward.
There were those amongst them that had been there last year and they were now very wary about what was to come. The charge regained some speed as they closed on the waiting line of pike men; it was not to be.
No sooner had they straightened their line than the sound of arrows in flight took their notice; being as far from the pike line as they were; very few looked up; they were still well out of range of any bowmen; they had never met the long bow.
Before they came abreast of the smoke carts; arrows began to rain down on them with power; although the shafts were blunted, it did not stop the pain of being hit or the horses bucking as they were stung time and time again by the longer shafts.
As before, the Squires had to lift their shields to protect themselves from the rain of arrows that should not have been able to reach them at this distance.
The charge again was broken although the front line worked hard to continue. It was soon noticed that the front line was now racing through water and, not long after; those watching saw the horse begin to throw up large wet clumps of sod.
The charging horses were soon no more than a hundred paces from the first line when it happened. Those on the front line of the charge were suddenly finding themselves and their horse ploughing into deeper and deeper mud; it was not long before the horses were belly deep and unable to move; their riders caught under a hail of blunted arrows that had increased as they came within range of the thirty boys with Persian bows.
Only those Squires that had been too slow to get to the front of the charging line were spared the ignominy of being trapped in the viscous bog the others now found themselves in; for them it was only the hail of arrows that slowed them.
As those at the rear were trying to work out how to attack an enemy that could not be reached through a veritable bog; the cow horn blew a long high pitched note.
Only those watching saw what happened next; for the Squires it was like a nightmare as; from the trees above them came a horde of weird and strange animals with riders mounted high on top.
No one had ever seen an animal like it nor could they believe the speed that the animals could move at. The riders were all dressed in black and were waving wooden scimitars above their heads. The animals were even more terrifying.
Four impossibly long legs were surmounted by a thick round body with; of all things; a hump on their backs. In front of the hump sat the rider with one leg tucked under the other as they urged more speed from their unusual mounts; they did not have long to wait.
With the sound of high pitched ululations echoing around the valley; the black clad riders drove in among the Squires; for the well mounted Squires it was like their worst dream; the vile smell of the animals, the loud ululations of their riders and the surprise was complete.
The horses of the squires were now more afraid of the strange beast than they were of the orders from their riders. Squires began to be unseated as the weird animals fell amongst them; wooden scimitars cleaved left and right as the strange cavalry set panic amongst those who had not fallen into the trap of the bog.
There was nothing the front line could do; for those Squires who tried to dismount and attack on foot; there was only one result; they like their horse sank to their waists and were trapped in the mire; those who had not entered the bog were now being easily pushed step by step into the mire.
At the sound of the cow horn trumpet and the loud yells of charging defenders as they left their protective walls; the Squires knew they were beaten; on one side they were being set upon by unholy beasts and the other was the trap of the bogs and the closing mass of commoners.
Like any sensible soldier; most saw there was no way to win and began to throw down their arms and surrender; for those who thought there was a faint hope of glory; there was only pain and fear.
At the arrival of the foot soldiers of the commoners; all of whom had been well versed in running only on the edges of the bog; and led by a young teen painted in blue woad and riding a jet black horse; the Squires had only one thought; they could not win and none wanted to tempt an ending like the leader of last year's Melee.
It was an anticlimax as the Squires all called for an end to their humiliation once again at the hands of the commoners and the young teen in blue woad.
At the final call for the Squires to yield the field; all threw down their arms and knelt in surrender; it had taken less than one hour for the people's army to win the day. It was noticed by the King that on the surrender of the Squires; the stream once again began to run down its old course; he smiled to himself as he thought of the mayhem that small stream had caused.
On the battle field; Mahmud dropped his scarf from his face after kneeling his camel close to Eventide.
"Ho brother; well we made them think twice this time. This was a well thought out plan even though it was difficult moving the camels in the night."
"You did well brother; I don't think we will get away with that one again."
"Perhaps they will ban us from the melee next year?"
"Then we will have to plan ahead for our friends if that happens." Eventide replied.
Like the previous year; the common army formed ranks and presented themselves for the King; the five banners flying high
As Robin took the red banner up to stand beside the King; again in victory; most present did not miss the look of affection Robin received from the King at once again returning his banner in victory.
It was very noticeable that everyone stayed well clear of the phalanx of camels as they took up a position at the rear of the parade although all were now kneeling down as the King stood to congratulate the winners once again.
Kent was given the place of honour at the front of the common army; it was for him to receive the thanks of the King on behalf of the people.
Once the speeches were finished; the King then announced the feast of the Squires; he also asked that the young bowmen of the reaches be present with their bows as he had many questions for them.
As the crowd left the scene of another defeat for the Squires; all the talk was on the strange tactics used by the commoner army; the faces of the Knights and the Squires were the only ones not smiling. The loss of both the melee and a considerable amount of gold coin; left them with a nasty taste in their mouths.
At the great feast; the hall was a mass of laughing and shouting young boys and teens. Up on the high table sat the King, the Emir, Freeman, Mahmud, Eventide and Kent.
The more the mead flowed; the louder the cheers and laughter; it was only on the edges of the great hall that the Knights and squires were more silent than normal for such an occasion.
The King stood and began the giving of honours and the payment as he had last year; when it came time for the boys of the Reaches to go and receive their prize; the King called for silence by raising his hands.
"For the first time in our life; we have seen the best bowmen we could ever hope to see on a battle field. I must admit we did not think you young men would be capable of pulling such heavy bows but, we were pleasantly surprised at your skill and accuracy; we would ask if you are accompanied by those who taught you so well."
One of the boys stepped forward and bowed while touching his forelock; he then went to one knee.
"My Liege, we are the people of the Western Reaches and work for Baron Tremaine; it was the desire of Baronet Eventide that we stand with him this day. Our teachers and parents are outside the castle awaiting our return."
"Then that is not good enough; we will call them to our tables as they should also be rewarded for their skill in teaching you such a valuable skill."
The King turned to one of his pages and sent them off to find the waiting adults after asking Freeman for the name of the Elder teacher of the boys from the Reaches.
The presentation of awards and payment continued while they waited; each bowman received the gold coin and then were offered the red sash of the King's bowmen along with the offer of places in the King's army should they want it.
As the last boy went back to his table; the page returned a little red faced and went to bow in front of the King.
"My Liege; there are a number of strangers that say they are the men of the Reaches and Moors that wish for an audience; they also state they are the teachers of the young bowmen but are all painted in Woad just like the Baronet Eventide. My Liege; they are all armed and are led by one who claims to be a Druid although we all know the last Druid died many years ago."
The King looked at his friends around the table; all showed looks of interest; if the page was certain then there was only one way to find out.
"You will tell the guard to admit them but too keep watch on the arms the visitors carry."
The page bowed again and turned back to the large double doors. The King retook his place and waited for the entrance of the newcomers; the day had already been the scene of many new surprises; one more would make little difference.
When the great doors were opened; there came a sudden hush in the great hall; even the Knights held their breath as they saw the large group of men standing in two ranks outside the door.
It was not only their numbers that caused the silence; it was their mode of dress. At the head of the two ranks of men stood one with a brown robe; the hood pulled up over his face. Those behind were all bare chested and their long hair was fixed in a single braid. They all wore the same green and brown striped trews that Eventide had worn and held a long bow in their hands.
Across their forehead was the same dark blue woad and their chests showed the swirls of the same patterns. The robed man in the front began to walk down the wide hall his face still unseen. Over one shoulder he carried something wrapped in old brown cloth while in his right hand was a thick staff of well worn Oak. In the crook of his left arm he carried another wrapped parcel.
The men filed silently along behind the robed man; at their head was Boden. When all were close to the top table; they all knelt down with bowed heads; all except the robed figure. The King stood and looked at the strange group.
"Welcome strangers; we would ask you to reveal yourselves as this is a feast to celebrate the accomplishments of our young people; we would ask you to join our celebrations after you have told us who you are?"
The robed figure stood straighter, then; with a flick of his staff; he threw back the cowl and revealed his face. Freeman took one look and smiled widely; he had seen that face a long time ago and; while it was a little older, it held the same distinct sense of worldly knowledge.
"Your Highness." The robed figure began. "I am called Kendrik of the Moors; I am also the Druid to the ancient Royal House of Carliegh and have come to pay homage to the last Prince of the Royal House of the Iceni."
"The Iceni? They were defeated and destroyed by the Romans long ago."
"Your Highness, while there is one man standing on the Western Reaches or the Moors there will always be Iceni. When the Romans defeated Boadicea those that were left went to the Reaches; we have survived there over the centuries and have waited for the return of our Prince; that time has come and we are here to give him his place."
"And whom might that be?"
"The Lord Baronet Eventide Tremaine. We have looked over all our records and have concluded he is the rightful heir to the lands and people of the Iceni. As a final proof of his lineage I would ask permission to ask questions of him; if it be permissible?"
"If this be true them we cannot forbid such questions. Baronet, do you agree with this request?"
Eventide looked at the large group of men now all dressed as he had been for the battle; somewhere deep inside he felt a stirring; was it really possible he was descendant from a Royal line. Feeling a little numb; Eventide stood and nodded his head.
Kendrik knelt down and bowed to Eventide; after placing the items he had carried in with him on the floor; Kendrik stood back up and looked Eventide in the eye; his lined face was like a mask of stone but his first words took everyone by surprise.
"Your Highness; we the forty five chiefs, four councillors and the carrier of the bow and myself, humbly apologise for the questions we must ask. Should the answers be true we will bow our heads for your sword; should the answers be not true we must take the head of the claimant; to this do you agree?"
There was a sudden uproar in the great hall as everyone stood and began to yell loudly; were they seriously thinking of beheading Eventide. It was the raised hands of the King that finally brought silence in the hall but it did not stop the undercurrent of angry whispers to stop.
Eventide looked at the Druid with disbelief; did they really want to take his head; and he had thought his life had changed; it felt as though he was in a no win place. It was obvious that if he refused to take the questions or test they fully intended to have his head; if he took the test and lost the result would be the same.
Eventide sighed and took a long look at his new father; was this to be the last day he had with him; he felt he had been through so much; had climbed so high and now it could end in one stroke; even the sound of a multitude of guards rushing into the hall and lining the walls could not take away the feeling of dread he now had.
Eventide looked around the great hall; all his old friends as well as the new ones he had made at this year's melee; were watching intently as he tried to decide; whichever way he decided could only lead to one end and yet; somewhere deep inside there was a small voice telling him to take the chance.
Eventide sighed again and; with a glance around the great hall, turned to the Druid Kendrik.
"If it is to be, then it is to be. I will stand your test."
Kendrik bowed deeply and then looked at the fifty men behind him; with a signal of one hand; the two lines parted and everyone saw a small figure dressed like the other men walk into the hall. Eventide recognised Gerard immediately; he must have just returned to England after his lessons about the new smelting process.
In Gerard's hand was the large Black Bow of Manhood; although he was truly the keeper until his year of majority; Boden had given him the honour of carrying the bow before the one they all hoped was the Prince of the Iceni; if not it would be Gerard's task to use the bow to end Eventide's life; it was the only time the Black Bow could be used to cause death. It was seen as an honour for any royal advocate to leave his life to the Black Bow.
Eventide straightened his back and walked down to stand before the Druid Kendrik.
"What are your Questions, Druid of the Iceni?"
"My Lord Baronet; it has been reported and seen that you have gone to battle twice dressed as a Woad Warrior; I would ask why you would decide on such a thing?"
"It came to me in a dream before the first melee."
"How did you know to find the striped trews of the Iceni Warrior?"
"It also was in the dream and I found them in a small shop at the walls of the castle gate."
"And the blue Woad; where did you find that; it is not common and is not used by others?"
"It was in the same shop; the old woman told me it would look good with the trews and showed me how to apply it."
"Why did you plait your hair in a single form?"
"Because it felt right at the time."
"And did it feel right for you to use the cow horn instead of a good trumpet of metal?"
"Yes." Eventide was now a little nervous although he also thought he had a chance; he still had his head on his shoulders and none of the kneeling men had made any attempt to remove it but, the black bow with a knocked arrow in the hands of Gerard still gave him cause to worry; the arrow was the one with red fletching.
"I would ask you to unwrap the two bundles and give me the name of those inside. They are the gifts of the Great Mother and only those of the Royal blood will know them."
Eventide looked at the Druid with a sense of confusion; if he unwrapped the items he could easily see what they were and name them; as he looked at the stony face of Kendrik; he got a sudden thought; perhaps they had a different meaning than an ordinary name; he had better be careful as he was not out of the woods yet and that great bow could easily end his life in the blink of an eye.
Eventide knelt down and began to unwrap the two bundles; the largest one was round and quite heavy; as he revealed it there was a silence around the hall.
It was a heavy round shield of old wood and was studded with small bronze nails; at its centre was a large roundel of bronze with a strange rune engraved in it. Eventide lifted the shield in his hands and suddenly, something flashed into his mind.
It was a picture of a large man dressed in the familiar green and brown striped trews; his long hair flowed behind him and there was a thick bronze torc around his neck. The shield was on his left arm and he was calling men to his side; as he did so he said the words 'Grandah protect us from the swords of injustice' The language was nothing Eventide had heard before and yet he could plainly understand it; his young body shook as he slipped the shield on his thinner arm; somehow it seemed to fit and the weight was lifted as though it was meant to be on his arm.
"Its name is 'Grandah' the shield that protects the people."
Eventide then knelt down again and unwrapped the second bundle. Inside there was a bronze sword with finely worked engraving along the blade; next to that was a short handled axe also of bronze. The handle was old and well worn and the head was also engraved.
As Eventide lifted each item, he felt as though they belonged in his hands; it took little time for the picture of the two weapons to came to his mind and their names he found easy to speak; even though it was in a long forgotten language that he had never learnt.
"The sword is called 'Dalclach' giver of justice and the Axe is named 'Kileigh' render of all who misuse magic. These are the symbols of the Iceni and the rightful weapons of all who carry the Blood."
Eventide suddenly felt weak as he lowered the weapons; Kendrik quickly went to one knee and then took from his robe the same bronze torc Eventide had seen in the first picture that had been around the large man's neck.
"My Prince; I give to your hand the torc of the Iceni Kings; it is yours by right and all those of the Iceni who remain bow to your will; our heads are yours to do with as our Prince desires."
Eventide could only stand in stunned awe at these new revelations; where, how or why he had been chosen was still beyond his understanding; it was as though some form of magic spell had been cast and he was at the centre of everything but had little awareness of what it all meant.
Eventide saw that even Gerard was now bowing his head and kneeling; every man waited for his decision; their heads were now his to command or cut off as he saw fit; they all waited in silence which also pervaded the great hall; the revelation of Eventide's true heritage had come as a shock to everyone.
Eventide stood tall as he looked around the hall; the shocked look on the faces of the many Knights and nobles in the hall could easily be seen.
"Your heads are safe, men of the Reaches; I would ask you to join our celebrations if it be the desire of the King."
The King just nodded his head in agreement; how could he refuse a man/boy that had a title even older than his own claim. It took little time for more tables and benches to be found for the newcomers although, Kendrik, Bodan and Gerard along with six others; took station standing behind Eventide's chair and refused to sit; it was their place to protect their Prince at all times. Eventide wondered how he was going to keep all his many guards and new titles around him without confusion.
Unknown to Eventide things were about to change once again when he arose the next morning but that was for later; for now he had a celebration to enjoy.
The next morning brought more surprises; his six brothers were still sleeping on the floor of his rooms as he rose from his bed. The sun had not yet risen and there was no sign of the early dawn.
With the normal needs of early morning; Eventide made for the small room where he could relieve the pent up pressure of his bladder. From outside his door he heard a shuffling sound; pulling his sword from its scabbard where it lay on a side table; Eventide carefully crept to the door of his room; even his six brothers had not stirred as he rose.
Carefully he opened the door; his eyes were met with the sight of ten large Woad Warriors standing in the passageway outside his room. On first sighting Eventide, the ten men went to one knee and bowed their heads; Eventide stepped into the passage and asked.
"Why do you guard my door, Warriors of the reaches?"
"It is the duty of every Warrior of the Iceni to protect the Royal line My Liege; we are but a few of those you can call on at will."
"But I am in the King's castle; no one would dare to attack me here."
"Be that as it may My Liege; it is our duty. Was it not the Romans that offered sanctuary to your forebears and then turned on them all in the name of friendship?"
"I would not know; I don't even know if I truly am the prince you speak of."
"My Liege, only one of the Royal Blood would know the names of the weapons of old. They are only known by the Royal Druid and members of the Blood."
"I need to speak to Kendrik; where will I find him?"
Much to Eventide's surprise, a soft voice sounded behind him.
"My Liege, you ask for me?"
"Yes Kendrik...uhm...how did you know?"
"The same way that you knew the names from the olden times; we the fortunate few can see what is ahead; just as you will when you come of age; until then you are our Prince and only need to ask and it will be done."
"But how am I going to be in so many places at the same time; I have my duty to my new father and his lands; I also have duties in the holy land as Kahlif of Sufaria and, now you tell me i have duties to the people of the Reaches. How can I reconcile all these duties when I am only one boy?"
"My Liege, it is not only the people of the Reaches that are your duty but also the lands of the Reaches and the Moors. Those lands are all that remains of the ancestral lands of the Iceni but; those lands we will never surrender to any invader. To the last man, woman or child; we will defend them in your name."
"But Kendrik; how can I be in so many places at one time?"
"Perhaps it is time for us to join with your father and discuss this; there is always an answer for these small problems. Come let us find your father and then we can settle everything at once."
Eventide could only nod his head and follow Kendrik along the passageway as they went towards Freeman's rooms. Eventide also noticed the ten Warriors were close behind and ever watchful.
It almost appeared that Freeman was waiting for them when they gently knocked on his door; the two guards standing outside barely blinked when they saw the large group approaching them. From inside they heard Freeman's voice call for them to enter.
Eventide entered the room to see Freeman sitting in a chair as though waiting.
"Well my son, or should I say; Your Highness; things certainly seem to change quickly around you; to what do I owe this honour of an early morning visit?"
"Father." Eventide began as Kendrik found another chair close to Freeman. "I don't know what to do; Kendrik said i should come and ask you."
"And why would that be?"
"If what Kendrik says is true then how can I carry out all my duties? I still have much to learn about your lands and then there are the duties of Kahlif, now Kendrik tells me I have land in the reaches; what do I do?"
"We look at the options available to us and work from there. First let's ask Kendrik what he would do if he had so many duties to perform."
Kendrik looked at the two; his first duty was to his Prince.
"My Liege, Baron Tremaine; it is not unusual for one of the Royal Blood to have more duties than he can perform alone, if I may suggest something that may make it easier for our young Prince?"
"Those families that remain in the Reaches are all of the last of the true blood Iceni. By tomorrow they will know of the return of the Royal Blood line; if My Liege wishes he can nominate a regent to watch over them until he himself can appear and take the throne. In the fashion of the Iceni, a regent can be named but must have also another five men nominated as a council to protect the throne until the rightful heir can lay full claim. For the lands that you have made him heir to; then I see no reason why My Liege cannot continue as he has so far. I would ask only that My Liege returns to the reaches with us soon, so he can lay his claim and we can have time to show him his duties to the people; it would be at this time that he can name a regent and council."
"That seems a good solution; what do you say Eventide?"
"It sounds right but what of my Brothers of the Bedou; I cannot just tell them to go home; they have sworn an oath that they cannot break?"
Kendrik was the first to answer.
"They are your brothers; they will be welcomed into our homes and onto your lands as brothers should be."
"Then that is what we will do; I'll go to the Reaches and meet the people and form a council with a Regent; after that I wish to return to Sufaria as there is still unfinished business with those Knights and the attack on the Emir's caravan."
"Good, I will begin preparations for you My Liege." Kendrik replied; he then stood and bowed low to Eventide before leaving the room. Freeman looked at his son; the boy had grown fast in the last year and few months and now he had the duties of a Royal Blood line to work through.
"Well my son; or should I say; Your Highness, what are you going to do now?"
"I'm still your son and prefer it to any title father. I think I should do as Kendrik asks; I'll go and tell Mahmud about it all and when he can expect to see me at Sufaria; I'm worried about those Knights that attacked the Emir's caravan; I'm sure that is not over with yet."
"That's a good idea but, be careful when you return to Sufaria; I would not be surprised if the church tried to start a second crusade; the King is trying to stay out of it, but sometimes other things can change a Kings mind and not always for the best. If it comes to a second crusade you will have to make a hard decision; if that happens then follow your heart and you will know you have done right."
"Yes father; thank you I will do as you suggest."
Freeman was surprised as Eventide left his chair and wrapped his young arms around him and hugged tightly; it was almost as though the boy was saying his goodbyes, but Freeman knew that was not it; the boy could barely remember his own true parents and now he was Prince of a people thought to be long gone. It was a lot for a young boy to take in and comprehend to its fullest.
It was two days later; the day after the Knights melee; that saw a large procession leaving the King's castle. At its head rode Eventide mounted on Shaitan and beside him was the small figure of Shaun mounted on his pure white horse.
Next came the six blue clothed figures of his brothers and, behind them came a long line of blue painted warriors which numbered almost thirty. At their head rode Bodan with Gerard by his side. Kendrik had ridden out two days before to prepare the people of the Reaches for the return of their Blood Prince.
While Gerard carried the black bow in its cover; Bodan carried the three weapons of the Royal House. When Eventide stood before the people he would wear those ancient weapons as proof of his claim.
The trip took three days before they came into sight of the border of the Western Reaches; standing guard at the edge of the vast moors, stood a group of blue painted men; their numbers even impressed Eventide who had seen large groups of soldiers before but, these men had a toughness about them that even made him nervous.
Standing at the head of the large group was Kendrik, now dressed in goat skins with a rough woollen cloak thrown over his shoulders; on his feet were to Eventide's eyes; strange black furred boots; it was then that Eventide saw the other men were also wearing the strange boots.
Eventide now knew these were the men called Moor Runners; each carried a long bow as well as a short axe in their leather belts; there was no sign of any shield or other protection. Eventide was impressed by the toughness shown on the men's faces.
It surprised Eventide that the men, as soon as they saw him; bent a knee and bowed their heads; all waited for his command but Eventide did not know what to say; to see so many tough men waiting for him to speak was almost unnerving; fortunately for Eventide, Kendrik stood and stepped forward.
"My Liege; these are the Moors Runners and they are at your command; they will escort you through the many bogs to the place of gathering where most of your people will await you."
"Thank you Kendrik; how long will it be?"
"Four days My Liege; we have made arrangements for your travel in each hamlet; the place of gathering is being prepared and cleaned; it has been many years since a member of the Blood has been there but, it will be ready by the time you arrive. With your leave, My Liege; I will go ahead to make sure all is ready."
"Thank you Kendrik."
"It is my duty, My Liege; until we meet at the gathering place."
Kendrik bowed low and then left at a loping and smooth run; it belied his age and looked to be effortless to Eventide's eyes.
The many Runners now stood and gathered as an extra protection for Eventide and his group; at the head was Bodan; he was not only keeper of the black bow but also a chieftain in his own right and held higher rank than others of the runners; it was also plainly obvious he knew his way around the moors as he led the large contingent into the depths of the lands few others would enter.
Eventide did not know what to expect when he was told the first hamlet was only a short way ahead. What met his eyes could only tell a story of hardship and poverty. On a piece of land that had painstakingly been built by hand, was a raised area within the shaking ground of the bogs. A small group of huts made from wattle and daub sat in a circle and on the very edge was a small pen with three pigs inside.
The people that bowed low as he appeared; were dressed in animal skins and looked to be underfed; all the children looked almost feral as they looked up at the splendour of the Princes entourage. A man who Eventide surmised was the headman of the small hamlet; rose and stepped forward; his head bowed in respect.
"My Liege; we have little but what we have is yours to command. I have given orders for one of our pigs to be killed in your honour."
"Thank you but, no; you have little enough as it is; save your pigs I will have men sent out to forage for our meal. Bodan!"
"Send men out to find food for us all and the villagers; it is not our place to make hardship for the people."
"As you command, My Liege."
Bodan began giving orders and in no time at all the men of the Moors had disappeared leaving only Eventide and his brothers along with Bodan and Gerard with the villagers. The head man bowed to Eventide again.
"My Liege, if you will take my hut to rest; we will prepare for the cooking of anything that is found."
"I thank you for your kindness but I and my brothers can camp outside for one night; your home is yours and should not be given away just for me. If you would have your people prepare fires then it is enough for us all."
"It shall be done as you command, My Liege."
Eventide and the others who had stayed behind dismounted and found a place to sit and wait for the foragers to return; they did not have long to wait.
The first of the foragers was soon back with a large wild boar on his back; it had already been gutted and cleaned. It was to be one of four that soon came in; along with the wild boar were two deer, a large basket of big eels and two baskets of other mixed fish.
The women of the small village were soon hard at work as they prepared the great mass of fresh food; what was not eaten this night would be given to the villagers when the large group moved on in the morning.
The feasting went on into the late evening; for most villagers, it was the first full belly they had had in a long time; it quickly cemented their belief in the new Prince of the Blood.
Over the next days; Eventide was to see other villages of a similar nature although one had progressed to using stone for their huts and was situated on more solid ground. Each time they stopped for the night; Eventide was greeted as a Prince of the Blood and protector of the people; his first act at the first hamlet had soon spread around the rest of the moors; he was welcomed warmly wherever he stopped.
Finally they were approaching the gathering place. Eventide was impressed with what he saw. It was not like the small wattle and daub hamlets he had been seeing so far; this was another place altogether.
As best as Eventide could guess; they had traversed the moors and were now closer to the Western shore line; before him stood the ruins of a once great castle. What surprised Eventide even more was the great mass of people filling the large clearing of what he assumed was once the courtyard of the ruined castle.
Most of the people looked to be dressed the same as those in the first hamlet, although there were others who were better off than some; most appeared to be similar. Kendrik stood at the centre waiting for him; he was once again dressed in the robe of a Druid and carried his long oaken staff.
Just before they had entered the grounds of the ruin; Bodan had asked Eventide to change into his Iceni garb; Bodan had also helped him with painting on the woad. With his new dress, Eventide carried the shield, sword and axe as he rode into the centre of the courtyard and stopped before Kendrik.
As he stepped down onto the stones of the courtyard; Eventide was presented with the sight of every man, woman and child bowing to him and kneeling on one knee; only Kendrik remained standing but he also had bowed his head.
Eventide was close enough to Kendrik to hear the man whisper quietly to him. Eventide looked around and repeated what he had heard Kendrik say.
"People of the Western Reaches; I ask you to stand and show yourselves as true descendants of the Iceni."
Eventide waited for everyone to stand up and all turned to see him. Kendrik then took over.
"People of the Iceni; all of our chieftains as well as myself as last Druid of the Royal House; have for more than one full year; searched for proof of claim for this boy. We have all concluded that the boy known as Eventide is of the true Blood of the old ones and carries the true blood. People of the Iceni; this is your true Prince; the last of the true Blood; all bow to Eventide Carliegh; last prince of the Blood and our leader in all things from this sacred site to the far reaches of the moors. Let he who would dispute his claim step forward and challenge."
Everyone stood silently as Kendrik waited for any challengers; there was little hope of that coming true and they all knew it. After a short time, Kendrik began again.
"And so it is done. I call for all present to lay their vows and fealty to Prince Eventide Carliegh; rightful heir to the lands and people of the Iceni."
What followed was a long procession of people; even the youngest child stepped forward to vow their support and fealty. Eventide was astonished by the number of people; it seemed that the Reaches were far more heavily populated than anyone would guess.
It was late in the afternoon before the last person swore their oath. By this time the long day had taken toll of Eventide and he was decidedly tired but he knew there was more to come; the preparations for a great feast had not gone unnoticed by Eventide nor his friends waiting close by.
The feasting went on into the late hours of the night; as well as the food, there were competitions of arms by the warriors and a new game Eventide had never seen called wrestling; it was where two men tried to throw each other to the ground, blood seemed to be a part of this new game and sometimes even a broken bone.
By late in the evening; Eventide was ready for his bed; surrounded by his six brothers and a large contingent of Woad Warriors; he was escorted to the large tent that had been set up for him; he was glad to be able to finally lay down and close his eyes. The thought of five more days of this gave him goose bumps but; as Kendrik had explained, it was expected so he could not refuse.
They had talked about how to make his time to fit in with so much he now had to do; to this end, Kendrik suggested they spend the next morning discussing what could be done and making plans for when he had to be away from his true people.
For Eventide it looked as though the next few days were going to be just as hectic as any others he had lived through but; for now sleep was the only thing on his mind. With his six brothers around him in the tent and a stand of ten Warriors outside; Eventide lay down and closed his eyes on another busy day.
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