I’m back! Sorry for disappearing. Classes in my program began fully, and about the time I was able to establish a schedule for writing my dog of sixteen years died. I’m hoping to start posting either every week or every other week on Friday or Saturday. Thank you for bearing with me and waiting patiently for this story!
Without further ado, here is Chapter Twelve (and here are previous chapters):
Ancel squinted at the pile of books on his desk and scratched his balding head. “Dear, have you seen my Mythicalle and Fantastique Creatures of the Most Ancientest Landes?” he asked.
Leala didn’t look up from her whirling spinning wheel. “It’s in its place on the shelf.”
Ancel shuffled over to the bookshelves that lined one entire wall of their cottage. He passed the shelves labeled “Urthan Tales” and “Historie: Local and Exotic” and paused before the section titled “Phayar Beasts Great and Small.” Nestled between a book on imoogi and an anthology on sphynxes was the book he sought. He drew it out by its red silk bookmark and settled down in his patched leather chair to read by the fading light of day.
The steady whir of the spinning wheel slowed. “Did you hear that?” Leala asked.
Ancel glanced up from his book. “It’s just the wind, dear.”
“Something is outside,” Leala disagreed.
“You always say that,” Ancel settled deeper into his chair and raised his book. “And then there never is.”
His wife hummed and went back to her work.
A few minutes later, she interrupted her work again, this time abruptly. “There it was again. Ancel, something’s outside.”
“There’s lots of things outside,” Ancel said, “and most of ‘em want to kill us.”
“Oh, stop being so dull,” Leala replied. She plucked the full spindle from the spinning wheel and set to winding the string into a ball.
“I’m an old man. I’ve earned my dullness by years of adventure, and—”
“‘And I’ve had my share of near-death experiences,’” Leala teased. “It’s all very well, but if you wanted to get lethargic and moldy, you should have retired to somewhere other than the wilderlands.”
“Bah!” Ancel scooted deeper into his chair. “There’s too many people other places.”
Something rapped against the cottage door. Ancel froze. He felt Leala’s eyes on him.
Maybe it was just his imagination. She’d been talking about something outside, now his mind was making up noises. His hearing wasn’t what it used to be.
The rapping resumed. It rattled the door this time.
It wasn’t his imagination.
Ancel slid his eyes over to Leala. She raised her eyebrows at him and looked between him and the door.
It was time to do something about whoever—or whatever—was outside. Ancel slid the bookmark into place, set the book on his side table, and straightened from his chair. His hand found his old crossbow and loaded it as he crept to the door. With one hand he balanced the weapon. With the other he slipped the pin out of the door’s lock.
The door swung inward. Ancel’s foot gave it only a hand’s width gap, plenty to poke the end of his crossbow through and peer out of.
A young couple—husband and wife?—waited outside. Ancel observed their bedraggled but fine clothing, the girl’s stately posture, and the boy’s sword and bow in one swift glance. They looked innocent enough. But then again, looks were deceiving in the wilderlands.
“Who’re you?” Ancel barked.
The girl’s mouth opened, but the boy spoke first. “I’m the son of the Captain of the Guard in Jerrett. Who are you?”
Ancel tilted his head back. “What’s your father’s mother’s name?” he checked the boy’s identity.
The boy’s eyes narrowed. “Not until I know if you’re friend or foe of the King and Queen.”
“I’m a retired knight from his Majesty’s service,” Ancel boasted. “Former officer in the order of the eagle. Answer me.”
The boy looked no less skeptical, but he answered, “Trinette.”
That was enough for Ancel to let the pair into his house, though he kept ahold of his bow and stood between them and Leala. “Now, son of Harbin, tell me your name and that of your companion, and why I should give you refuge.”
The boy positioned himself half in front of the girl. “First your name and your wife’s.”
Ancel laughed. “If you think I’ll be telling you that first, you’re a fool. Only a madman would tell a stranger his name here without guarantee of equal exchange.”
“Then you can understand why I do not yield it.”
Leala spoke up, closer than Ancel expected. “Oh, stop competing for who can be the most intimidating.” Her hands were on her hips. “I’m Leala and this is Ancel. Anyone loyal to Jerrett is welcome to shelter in our home.”
The girl’s shoulders sagged. “Thank you,” she said, stepping around the boy. He laid a hand on her arm. “I am Princess Noemi, and this is my friend and bodyguard Garrin. We are grateful for your hospitality.”
Ancel thought his eyes would pop out of their places in his head. “My Princess.” With as much grace as his old joints would allow, he dropped into a bow. “How can we be of service?”
Garrin glanced at the Princess and quirked an eyebrow. She shrugged. He answered Ancel, “You don’t happen to have a son or grandson our age, do you?”