If you missed a part, go to the "Stories in Progress" page and you should be able to find what you need. Otherwise, read on! :)
A New Plan
Malcolm was pacing back and forth in front of my tent and was in a deep discussion with none other than my teacher and travel companion, William Price. He noticed me and walked over with a wide smile.
“You look much more like the sister I left behind in the castle,” he said after hugging me.
“I feel much more like the sister you left behind in the castle,” I replied seriously. I looked over his shoulder to William, my eyes full of one question: Did you find Steven?
William read the question and nodded towards the other tents. “We found Steven last night. Duke was walking slowly and with no guidance whatsoever, due to the fact that my brother was unconscious, about half way between our camp and the enemies camp.”
I gasped in dismay. “Is he still unconscious now?”
“No, the healer is with him now. After some wine, food, and a good night of sleep he’s improved some.”
I sighed in relief. “I am glad. May I go see him?”
“Not right now,” Malcolm cut in. “William just came out from talking with the king about his plan for rescuing the princess.”
I glanced between the two men. “And?” I pressed.
“The king has agreed to what William put before him.”
“Which was?” I asked breathlessly, hardly daring to hope.
“William will continue to travel towards the castle as was the plan originally, but Steven will stay behind. You will also go with him…”
“I will?” I interrupted him with an excited squeal that I quickly suppressed.
My teacher grinned. “I knew you’d hardly let me leave you behind,” he said. “After all, you were the one who insisted you come with me in the first place.”
I nodded. “I feel that it was my fault that the princess was kidnapped,” I said. “After all, I was the one who should have realized that Sir Alfred was a traitor. I was the one who shouldn’t have let her meet with him alone, and I was the one who should have kept by her side no matter what she said…”
This time Malcolm interrupted me. “Now is not the time for regrets, Meg,” he replied firmly. “Let me finish what I was trying to say.”
My mouth snapped shut and I gave my brother all my attention.
“You and William will be rescuing the princess, but you won’t be the only ones…” he paused for effect. I held my breath without realizing it. “I’m coming with you.”
I let out the air in a whoosh and grinned up at my brother, suddenly giving him a giant hug. He gasped in air at the unexpected action.
“I’m so glad you’re coming with us!” I exclaimed, then shot a mischievous look over his shoulder to William. “I’ll feel so much safer,” I finished cuttingly.
“I beg your pardon!” William said with a wounded air, taking the bait.
Malcolm joined my laughter, and it wasn’t long before William gave up his pretense and chuckled.
“When are we leaving the camp?” I asked after the sounds of mirth had died down.
“As soon as we have had lunch,” he informed me.
Due to my exhaustion the night before, I had never eaten the food brought to me. My stomach felt as empty as my favorite creek in the heat of summer.
Helen and a couple other women were cooking something that smelled delicious to my famished senses, and the minute the bowl of soup and loaf of bread was handed to me, I sat on the ground cross-legged and began eating as quickly as I could, ignoring the funny looks everyone was giving me.
Malcolm pulled the bowl from my hands and shook his head despairingly. “Meg, Meg, take your time! We’re not going to keep you from eating your fill. There’s plenty to go around!”
I realized for the first time what a spectacle I was making of myself and meekly took the bowl back from Malcolm, my face apologetic.
My brother sat down next to me and we caught up on what had happened to him during the month he had been gone. It turned out that Malcolm had had far less eventful days than I had. Most of it had been travel, although they had overtaken and fought a few scouting parties of the Duke’s. Currently they were in a sort of stalemate, waiting for the other person to make the next move and begin the war for real.
Once I had eaten, I walked over to where William had said Steven was being kept and walked into the tent. Steven was laying on the cot, his leg brace back on, and the leg slightly higher than the rest of his body by being hung in a sort of sling that was attached to the top of the tent.
I walked over to the side of his bed, my eyes filling with voluntary tears. I hated to see any one as helpless as Steven looked.
“How are you?” I asked.
Steven turned his head to me and sighed. “You’re rescuing the princess without me,” he said, his voice filled with disappointment.
I glanced pointedly towards his broken leg. “We couldn’t very well take you with us,” I said in our defense. “You’re leg will take over a month to heal properly.” I frowned suddenly. “Besides, weren’t you so set on being sent back to the castle the other day? Why are you set on coming with us now?”
Steven sighed. “The mind is willing, but the body is weak,” he said, then shot me a shaky grin. “I want to come with you, but I knew I couldn’t.” The boy sighed heavily. “I so wish that I could.”
William ducked into the tent. He noticed me and smiled. “I see you’ve made it here to visit with the invalid.” He pulled another stool over and sat next to me. “Did you fill him in on the new plan?”
I shook my head. “It sounds like he already knew.”
“I’m not going,” Steven said, proving my point.
William grinned. “Yes, but did you hear that Malcolm is going in your stead?”
Steven frowned thoughtfully. “No, I hadn’t heard that.” He glanced in my direction. “I wager Meg is glad for that.”
I nodded. “I am indeed.”
“When are you leaving?” the boy asked.
“Next,” William answered for me. “I was just coming to collect Meg.”
“I came to say farewell,” I explained to the prostrate boy.
“Until we meet again then,” Steven said as cheerfully as he could muster, putting out a hand to me.
I took it in mine, squeezed it gently, and then allowed myself to be led from his tent by William.
Glancing back once, I saw him gazing at us wistfully. I hated to have to leave him behind. He had become almost a brother to me, as had William, during the long journey we had taken together, but we had to leave him…it was for his own good. I had a feeling, one that I tried to suppress, that I may never see him again.
Malcolm met us outside, holding onto Prince’s bridle with one hand and Duke and another horse’s with the other. Duke and Prince greeted me with soft whinnies, and even the other horse put his nose closer to me so he could be pet as well.
Malcolm shook his head with a grin. “I always told you that you had a way with horses, Meg,” he stated.
William nodded in agreement as the horses nudged my pockets in hopes for treats. “Her skill with Duke saved us a great deal of trouble in that scouting camp,” he said.
My brother shot his friend a questioning look. “How?”
The story came out and I avoided Malcolm’s raised eyebrows when it was finished. “So that’s how...no wonder! I was so puzzled back then when my horse seemed to always be getting loose whenever I was late for something.”
I cleared my throat. “Well, I was so mad that you wouldn’t have time to play with me,” I said in my defense. “I thought that if I could keep your horse away, perhaps you’d give up on all those meetings and spend more time with me.”
Malcolm sighed. “You didn’t realize how important they were to my job.”
“No,” I agreed, pushing the muzzles of the inquisitive horses away when they grew too rough. “I do know now though, and I’d never dream of putting that trick into action…unless, of course, it was absolutely necessary,” I added impishly.
“Of course!” Malcolm repeated with a roll of his eyes. He swung up onto Prince. The horse pranced in place, impatient to be off, and I noticed the lack of metallic ringing on the ground.
“Is Prince still barefoot?” I asked.
“Yes, but I hope to get him shod again as soon as we find a worthy blacksmith.”
I nodded and mounted Duke. The stiffness had lessoned some due to food and rest, but I still knew I would be glad to have this all over with. In my younger days, I never thought I would tire of riding a horse…but when circumstances are right, riding can be both exhausting and painful.
The men cheered us quietly as we rode away, and soon the surrounding forest hid the king’s camp from our eyes. Travel in the woods by day was far easier than navigating it at night; but even so, I wished silently that Steven had been spared that broken leg. Neither Malcolm nor William matched his uncanny ability to know exactly which way was the fastest, easiest, and least likely to be noticed route.
We almost ran into a few more scouting groups, but Malcolm warned us of them in time. He and the king’s soldiers had been keeping an eye on the various groups and which places they patrolled, and when you knew where they went, it was far easier to dodge them.
The Duke’s castle wasn’t hard to find. It sat high on a hill, surrounded by farmlands and a bustling village. At first glance the fortress was formidable indeed. Towering stone walls rose towards the sky as if they were a giant stone fist, shaking defiance to everyone who dared go against them. The turrets on each corner of the outer wall spiraled upwards to almost touch the sky itself. It was dark, and to fit the mood of our dampened spirits at the sight of such a challenging rescue, rain began to fall.
I was already disguised in my simple brown dress and gray cloak that covered Safeguard from unwanted attention, and somewhere along our trail, Malcolm and William had shed their armor and replaced it with simple peasant clothes. Dirt was rubbed into our horses’ coats, and their carefully brushed manes were tangled and filled with burs.
Slowly and wearily, to fit the story we would tell if asked, we rode into the village that sprawled below the ominous shadow of the Duke’s castle.