5 December, 2017 by katelaity
‘We cannot go back,’ Chambers said, his voice strained a little with fear. ‘The king’s men are after us. There is no where but forward.’
‘Is there not, my lady?’ Tansy looked to Judith who seemed dazed still by the king’s waking. ‘Should we go on into the frost?’
The lady Judith stared at him and seemed to come out of her reverie. ‘We must go on.’
‘We can’t go on,’ I tried to argue.
‘Let’s go on,’ Tansy urged. Suiting action to word, he spurred his horse on and after a moment we all followed. I rather thought it odd that the lady did not lead as she was the native of these lands, but she seemed as surprised and confused by the woods as were we all.
The way got darker and darker. The air became colder and great plumes of frost came from our breaths and from the horses as well. Our pace was slower but we hurried on as best we could for the thought of an army in pursuit kept us moving. I glanced back over my shoulder a couple of times and did not see our pursuers, so I hoped that they must slack their pace as well.
‘We should have brought warmer clothes,’ Chambers said, his teeth chattering for emphasis.
‘We could stop and try to find something to build a fire,’ I suggested. It really was far too cold for riding through this ghastly wood. The frost had become snow, the black trees given way to stunted grey limbs, as if the wood had been ravaged by fire so long ago no one could remember it.
‘If the king’s troops catch us we will be cut to ribbons.’ The lady Judith shuddered. We continued on, for fear provided more motivation than cold.
Tansy slowed enough that we all caught up to him. ‘Do you see it?’ he said, his voice almost a whisper. His fine face looked drawn and chilled, his lips almost purple.
‘See what?’ Chambers said irritably, grouchy from both fear and cold and probably a bit of guilt for taking us on this misadventure. At least he ought to have some guilt, I thought.
Then I saw it too. ‘A castle? Out here?’
‘Is it the king’s?’ Tansy inquired of the lady with a look that suggested the first hint of hope.
‘I do not think so. I have never heard of a castle here, though no one much ventures amongst these black trees.’ She stared into the gloom, peering to gauge the outlines of the structure.
‘It looks abandoned,’ Tansy said.
‘I should not be willing to gamble on that, considering how our luck has gone,’ I said trying to keep the grumble out of my voice.
‘What choice do we have?’ Tansy looked at me with a sort of lopsided half-smile. ‘We cannot face the king’s troop. We have no way to protect ourselves. Perhaps at least we can shelter there, build a fire, get warm.’
‘I am in favour of that,’ Chambers said quickly, rubbing his hands together like sticks to start a fire.
‘Lady Judith?’ Tansy looked to our guide who raised her hands in a gesture of defeat.
‘I have a fear of this place, though I cannot recall why. But I have a greater and more pressing fear of the angry king and his army, so let us go in and hope for the best.’
Well, that was a less than encouraging remark.