Secrets of the Queen - Excerpt
Angus Wallbie knew the livery stable where he worked for his father was low on feed for the horses. This insignificant detail was most significant to his plan. Gilson, his cousin, was important too. Hopefully he’d succeeded in carrying the message to Angus’s grandmother. He would soon know.
Lark, his father, was pleased that he had volunteered to fetch the livery supplies so Angus hitched the smaller wagon to one of his father’s horses and rode the short distance to Exchange Street in the middle of Keldon. The village was bustling with merchants selling their wares, and travelers from far away places. The Jubilee Festival at Castle Fen was a mere three weeks away and the preparations were mammoth.
Once a year the king hired hands from all of Eleulind to build provisional booths, stages, seating, and other necessities for the grand event. Merchants, entertainers, and thieves alike flocked to Fen with hopes of earning half a year’s pay. Keldon was a day and a half’s journey from the castle and one of the few villages with ample room and board. Many travelling from the east stopped here for food and rest on their way to the festival grounds.
It was this odd blend of folk that swelled the village streets with palpable lust for money and thrill. Angus kept his eyes forward as he made his way through the crowd and turned at last onto the vacant street that ran behind Dooler’s Goods. Tullea Wallbie, his grandmother, sat atop an overturned barrel smoking a pipe. She smiled when Angus came around the corner.
He tied the horse to an iron gate behind the building, out of sight from the road.
“Got your cryptic message from Gilson.” Her eyes danced at the promise of mischief. “Here I am, lad. Tell me what this is all about. I couldn’t get a peep out of your cousin. Just to meet you here at the noon meal.”
Angus hugged the woman and smoothed wild strands of her frazzled gray hair. She had a blade of green grass nestled under the collar of her coat, which was covered in tiny buckerill seeds—the wildflowers covered the hills surrounding Fallon Creek where she lived. He wondered if the woman had taken a tumble, but she looked as nimble as ever. Her skin was smooth and firm. If not for her graying hair, she looked to be a woman of his mother’s age.
“My eyes are happy to see you,” he said. And indeed they were. “I hope your journey here was uneventful.”
“Now why would you hope that? I could stand some eventfulness.” She hopped down from the barrel and stood a good two inches taller than he. “So, tell me now. What can this wise old woman help you with? Your father doesn’t know I am here, does he?”
“No. I thought it best.”
“Come then, let’s eat. Ruck’s Inn will have a quiet table for us. I’ve a notion there is much to say.”
“But I must get back before Father wonders where I am. I have only come for supplies.”
“Let me worry about him.” She started walking toward the inn across the street but he didn’t follow. He’d been in enough trouble of late and was not keen to be delayed by a meal.
“Come, Angus,” she called. “You must think less and do more.”
“What of the horse and wagon? I can’t leave it back here with all these thieves about.”
“Ildan will watch it for you. He’s had his lunch already. Twice.”
“Ildan?” Angus turned around in time to see the young man come out from behind a tree.
“Hello, nephew.” Ildan was two years younger than Angus, born late to his grandmother. He had a pure heart but his head was prone to cloudiness. No one would bother with the horse with Ildan on watch. His muscles strained the stitches on his clothing.
“Keep an eye on the horse for me?”
“More than my eye,” he said, jumping into the back of the wagon. “I’ll keep my whole self on it.”
“You’re a good man, Ildan. Thank you!” He ran to catch up to his grandmother whose long strides had carried her to the front door of Ruck’s.
They found a small table at the back of the room, which was not so quiet after all. Tullea settled into the small chair opposite him. She draped her arms across the table and to Angus it seemed she encompassed him. He was comforted by the thought of her nearness. A band of musicians across the room strummed and banged their instruments while hungry patrons chattered over the music, but the noise of it all faded from his awareness as he looked into the crisp blue eyes of his grandmother. Without thought or care, the words fell from his lips to her ears.
“I took a shortcut through Thicklebriar last night.”
When he mentioned the forbidden forest, her eyes widened with a curious concoction of dread and delight.
© Heather K. Duff