PERDITA – A lost Child

From the book: Perdita A Lost Child

We look for that city,
That bright and shining city.
That city on a hill,
 Chapter One: The Crime

The night had fallen gently on the sleepy kingdom following a day that had been bright and peaceful. The fields had been mown, the bread had been baked, the floors swept, and the linens aired. The soft breeze whispered that tomorrow would be bright and shining as well. The servants of the High King were readying the great house for the night. The King’s household had all retired to their family rooms. In the nursery the nurse sat rocking the young prince. His cry had been unusual tonight, and she was tired from the watch.

Quiet was sitting about the King’s house like a great calm; the sun had shuttered his eyes and darkness was now gathering in the streets and hedgerows. Outside in the deepening colors of the evening a traitor was working his greedy trade.

Every night at sunset the great house closed its outside gates and doors and drew its bridges. Once the bridges were drawn, and the gates and giant doors were closed, they would not be opened again until after the daybreak. It was the responsibility of the field marshal to walk the doors at each gate every night to see that they were barred; to climb the battlements and look down to see, before the last light had left the sky, that the bridges had been raised. After this he would appear before the King and make his bow and everyone in the great house would know that they were now safe for another night.

Today, however, the field marshal still sat in his room at the top of the highest tower, his feet on his desk, with his head back against the wall in an unnatural sleep. Shadows were moving silently along the back of the castle wall. The small gate at the back of the castle that opened on the side of the mountain was ajar and the bridge had never been raised. The shadows poured in silently in an unending line, moving soundlessly into the house of the High King.

The fire was started in a corner of the stable. Slowly, insidiously, like a malignant virus, smoke seeped up the walls, along the floors, under the doors and in over the windowsills. It was late summer, so fires were not in many of the rooms of the castle and even the kitchen fire had been banked for the night. The first warning they had that something was wrong, was the smell of smoke. A knight ran into the hall where the family was gathered and told the King they had a fire in the stable. King Caelestis turned and told everyone to stay in that part of the castle and if the smoke became thicker to climb up the stone steps of the tower to the open air; but not to open the door until he returned. Then stepping out into the hall and through the door opposite leading to the nursery he told the young nurse to do the same. 

The stable was below the great house though not inside the main walls. Still the fire would spread rapidly and require all the men and able-bodied women in the great house to work hard to extinguish it. The shadows had divided. They were in number, just in case the plan had an unforeseeable flaw. The first group had gone along the wall behind the stable and behind the outbuildings storing the horse gear, and armory. Here they sat quietly, allowing the fire to do its damage. The second group stole silently up the now abandoned center stair into the top floor where the family enjoyed fresher air in the summer. They were not poorly informed; they went straight to the nursery and knocked at the door.

“Who is it?” The question came from inside the door.

“The King sent up fresh water in case the Crown Prince should choke on the smoke,”

“Clearly” she thought, “the fire was not in the passageway if the kitchen servant could stand there with the water,” so she pulled back the bolt. They rushed at her pulling a burlap sack over her head, tying it quickly around her mouth so she couldn’t scream. They bundled her up like a bag of feed, over a hard shoulder and carried her from the room, down the stairs, further down to another level, through the back kitchen, the kitchen garden and pens that held the chickens, piglets, ducks, and goats, though the door in the wall, through the gate, across the bridge, into the wood. She was slung across the back of a horse and jolted till she fainted from the knowledge that she was most certainly going to die.

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From the Chapter: Shelter From the Storm

“The cheer of the song gave a lift to their hearts and steps. Soon the sky turned to a soft rose and bespoke that it was time to find a spot to rest for the night. The road was beginning to rise in slow mounds over the hills, and down into deep valleys. They were in a long turn around the base of a slight rising, coming out from under dense woods when they came to the end of a crescent where there was a gulley of sorts with a fresh brook flowing through it. There was a place down a little below the edge of the road, where there were rocks protruding out and overhanging the water that washed away under them. A large boulder lay on its side on top of the largest rock that formed the shelf over the water.

The rocks were warm from the sun and would warm them all night in their sleep. They settled here, gathered firewood and made a small fire. They tied the cow and the calf with her to a tree, just a few feet away from their little campsite. Consuela cooked a pot of barley soup and added in an onion, carrots and potatoes while Beatrice nursed Johanna her night feeding. As soon as it was tender enough to eat, they enjoyed their little stew. After eating they left the leftovers in the hot pot on the coals and covered it with a lid of sorts weighted and covered over with rocks. Pulling the oil cloth up onto the top of the boulder and securing it with heavy rocks, they then pulled the side of it out at an angle on the bottom rock and layered it too with heavy rocks. Under this small canopy they lay down with Johanna between them and slept. The rock, although hard, had been intensely warm with heat from the sun, and as it gradually cooled, eased the toils of long day from their weary bones.

In the morning they were still warm from the heat held in by their canopy and were rested. They arose cheerfully when Johanna demanded her breakfast as the day was breaking. The stew in the pot from the night before was now a cool breakfast of mashed potatoes and carrots, with fresh milk from the cow stirred in to give it life. They washed up in the stream, and as refreshed as food and rest could make them, they began their journey again. They had reached the foothills now and the road while more picturesque, became a bit more challenging. They rested the cow more often, allowing her to graze for longer periods now, while the calf nursed. The ground became rockier as it rose. Sometimes whole rock walls would protrude out to the edge of the road stone, and there were open places now sometimes in the rocks that they watched warily for unwelcome wilder animals. Occasionally the cow would stare wildly off to one side flicking her tail, harshly. Whether she was spooked by a nearby snake or something larger and just as threatening, they did not discover.

They had yet to meet a single human and had been on their journey three days. Sometimes the road would lead out from under the shade of the trees and on to harsh rocky ground. Sometimes the stones of the road would disappear altogether as the road used the broad flat boulders on the top of the hills for paving. They would continue in the same direction and as they headed down into the underbrush again, they would spot an opening between the trees where the stone paving would begin again. These high places would be harder for the cow, so one would lead and the other would push from the rear of the cart. Traveling in this way was hard, unpleasant work, but they were both strong women used to a long day’s work. They had each other’s cheerful company, and the anticipation of the joy at the end of the journey beckoning them.

About midday on the fourth day the clouds began to gather, portending a fierce storm. Consuella said they needed to watch for shelter. They continued through the time when they became hungry and the cow became less accommodating, using the dry traveling time to look for the shelter. They came upon a space in a rock wall near the edge of their stone path, bordered by large oak trees. Consuela upon peeking in said it looked like it would take them, the cow and her calf. The cart they pulled up as close to the rock wall as they could and near to the opening in the rock and tied the oil cloth over it securely. The cow was not easily persuaded, but with a handful of barley and some straw they were able to bring both the cow and her calf into a corner of the cave. The wind was picking up outside and the sky had grown dark. The rain started to fall, but it was quiet and restful in the cave. So while the heavens dropped all their contents on the world below with loud crashes and bursts of light, Beatrice, Consuela, Johanna, the cow and the calf, all enjoyed their lunch in dryness and safety. Purchase – Kindle or large print Softcover

From the chapter: Perdita

Consuela ducked backwards into the doorway.   Between the torrents lashing the sides of the plaster walls along the narrow passage, and the constant heavy droplets from the sloping roof, slapping down on her, she could hear the horse’s hooves rapidly growing louder from down the Rue de la Citadelle.    Apparently, the freezing rain was not enough to keep the king’s men inside. She had hoped that since she and Johanna had to endure the bite of the icy rain that at the least it would give them a short space of protection so they could slip out of the city. She had hoped that their arrival in the city would have been undetected.  It was as if the very birds carried their whereabouts to King Babur. Already he had achieved the impossible. Over so many miles, wildernesses, mountains and wilds, the horsemen had tracked them to this close, crowded, maze of people, animals and waste.

In this she was thankful for the watery onslaught, the torrents washing over her leather-bound feet, causing them to be heavy as weights.  The water poured like a veil from the sky for her and the babe to hide behind.  It washed the filth, so thick in the streets that wagons left tracks, in a rapid rush of refuse, down the hill towards the impending hooves of the horsemen.   Quickly considering her options, the king’s men were proof that she and Johanna separated would be the best strategy for Johanna’s protection.   Thankfully the doorway was deep enough to keep Johanna out of the worst of the wet, snuggled as she was on Consuela’s back.   If she traveled further with a bundle on her back in Johanna’s place, they would continue to follow the old woman and the precious infant.

Suddenly she started banging fiercely on the door behind her with her cane, quickly unstrapping Johanna’s satchel as she did so.  Rewrapping her as tightly as she could laying her treasure down on the step, and in one swift swirling motion removed to a doorway almost opposite to observe and guarantee that the rapping on the door had indeed brought the tenant.  Now the jingle of the horses’ armor and the clatter of the hooves rose to a din, and yes, the door had opened, a pair of hands were reaching out and retrieving the damp, chilled little bundle, and just as quickly the door closed, and what was to all appearance an ancient hag, was sprinting up the street like a young doe.

Behind the door, Jocosa was pulling the wraps off her newly found treasure.  In an instant she realized that what might have been wares, or food, or clothing, was a small round, wet, cherubic face.  Startled at first, Jocosa, while not an especially intelligent woman, but with the speed of those who have suffered long deprivation, immediately and greedily realized her good fortune.  Grasping the cool little body to her chest she looked toward heaven and said “Giver of Light, I will always be thankful for this night.  As long as I live, I will be thankful!”  Purchase – Kindle or large print Softcover

From the chapter: Lost and Found

Halil and Jen were enjoying their usual cheerful banter about the travails and difficulties of the day, Benigo laughing along with them.  Suddenly Benigo turned to Paul and said, “Every night you become this way.  You might sing or laugh along the way, but then night comes, and we make a fire, and you become this very quiet man again.  Why is that?”

Paul looked up earnestly at Benigo and said, “Do I?  I wasn’t aware.  Perhaps it is the tiredness, but it seems sometimes at night I miss my wife so much and my little daughter that I can hardly stand it.  I know that what we are doing is so important for our future and safety, but it seems I must, I simply must pray for her.  But even then, after I’ve prayed, and I am reassured of her wellbeing; even then I still wish that I could see her.  Listen to her sing.  See the sunlight on her face.  See the way she bends over our little Johanna, with so much love in her face.”

Here Paul became quiet and Benigo could sense that he was overcome with his grief.  In a little while Paul, his voice rough from emotion said, “In the daytime when we are traveling and watching so carefully for the dangers around us, my mind becomes distracted, but at night there is always a great ache.”

The next day Benigo walked along beside Jen of Bardley’s horse talking with her.  “It is sad to see how he misses his wife so much.  I’ve never really known anyone that I could say I missed that much”.  He said to Jen.

“No, that kind of love is a rare thing” Said Jen, “Especially in a soldier”.

“Is he a soldier then?” asked Benigo.

“Aye, he is that”, she answered, “Halil told me he’s a famous soldier in Caelestis and that is why he is traveling there now, to serve the High King and to defend his home and family. Halil says he is very faithful to King Caelestis now, but that he was once the Field Marshal of Babur.  It won’t go well with him if he’s caught by Babur’s armies.  It will be a sad thing, that, if he gets captured!”

Benigo shook his head in agreement, looking ahead at the quiet man on the horse.  He wasn’t particularly proud looking; in fact he seemed a rather normal regular kind of man.  Not particularly athletic, or tall, or brilliant, just average, except for his deep affection.  But perhaps that was what made him a great soldier.  His affections ran so deeply, his loyalty was never challenged beyond his love for his home, homeland and the High King.

Benigo watched Paul more carefully now.  When they had first started out, he had been too ill to pay much attention to anything, and then as his health returned, he had been exhilarated by the journey, but now with the slow progress of the horses, he had more time to consider.

Halil was also an interesting character, thought Benigo.  He in turn was extremely faithful in service to Paul.  He said he didn’t owe Paul anything, he was simply his friend; he served him out of affection.  He was always watching that Paul didn’t need anything.  He would always take the lead in the procession, leading the horses, but not because he was in charge, he said he wanted to be the first to greet the enemy.  He was always alert to Paul’s moods and sensed when it was time to stop, eat, and rest.  Or if it was time to push on to a better resting place.

Halil and Jen of Bardley kept the journey entertaining with their constant joy and antics.  They were endlessly teasing each other, and occasionally Paul.  Benigo would become the brunt of their teasing if he gave them the least cause.  He smiled now watching them as they were arguing over the plans for dinner, as if there was going to be an extensive menu of options.

Jen, a middle-aged woman of uncertain years, was plump, but active and spry, quick of heart and mind, and never slow in her expression.  She was anxious to never be a burden for the men and share all the responsibility.  She said that she had only been traveling with Halil and Paul a little while, that they had found her all alone in her village and allowed her to travel with them to Caelestis City.  She said she was very excited that they had allowed such, as she had never dreamed that she could go to the house of the High King, but here they just brought her along as if she were their own kin.  It was beyond her understanding she had said happily and wonderingly.

Benigo considered himself fortunate indeed that this little corp had chosen to bring him along in spite of the risks. He was fortunate to have known them and have a chance to learn of the hope that drew them away from the certain tyranny, across the high mountains, through hunger and danger to the home of the High King.  And now he too would have a chance to enter the home of the High King and be presented as a traveler welcomed home.  How strangely wonderful he thought; he had heard of the King Caelestis since he was a child.  As if from some wonderful and frightening fairy tale of a king full of honor and high justice, providing for his peoples with sacrificial diligence and care.

He had heard the stories of the theft of the young prince, and his burial, and how now he was growing strong in his father’s kingdom. It is true that much of life had seemed fun and a great adventure, but now, thought Benigo, he would like nothing more than to serve in the King’s army protecting the prince.  Purchase – Kindle or large print Softcover

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