The next day, an hour after sunrise, the little party reached the crest of a hill looking down on Alfred Connal’s estates. Wearily, for they had traveled all night, they started descending. They stopped at the bottom of the hill and ate breakfast. Then they snatched a few moments sleep before continuing.
When they reached the entrance to the lands, a guard challenged. Lady Jane replied, and they were let through. Continuing up the road, they reached the castle an hour later. Another guard called down to them,
“Who goes there?”
“Lady Jane and company!”
“Pass through!” and the heavy gates swung open with much protesting of hinges.
They rode through, and grooms materialized out of nowhere to lead their tired horses away. A page appeared and conducted them to the keep. They entered a room hung with skins and trophies. The page told them to wait there, and he scampered off to find Alfred Connal. A moment later this great lord appeared.
“Lady Jane!” he entered the room. “What a pleasant surprise! You look all tired out. Serno!” he clapped his hands and the page appeared, “Take my guests to their rooms, and be sure they have everything they need. You can tell me your business later, my lady, as soon as you have had some rest.”
Sir Alfred was a middle aged man, strongly built, but tall. He wore a hat that belonged in the high Middle Ages, with curly brown locks peeking through the bottom. Below that was a starched lace collar, which was attached to a tight fitting body suit the color of ripe cherries. Over this was a larger jacket with puffed sleeves, purple in color. Leggings belonging to the red under-suit, along with velvet green slippers, completed his outfit. His face was kindly, with wrinkles around his eyes which betrayed his good humor. His eyes, a merry blue, twinkled and laughed of their own accord. His mouth seemed like it was made for the corners to go up. The servants reported that in all their serving days, they had never known that mouth to turn down.
“Thank you, Sir Alfred. Indeed, your hospitality exceeds that of a king.”
They stumbled to their rooms, tumbled into their beds, and were asleep before their heads had touched their pillows.
When Lady Jane awoke it was late afternoon. She quickly dressed and went downstairs. On the landing she met Sir Alfred.
“Good evening, Sir Alfred.”
“Good evening, my lady. I hope you are better after your rest?”
“Yes indeed, Sir Alfred. If you would be so kind as to conduct me to a private place where we can talk undisturbed, I would be most grateful.”
“Of course. Right this way.” He led her to a small study in a tower overlooking the rest of the castle. When they were seated, Sir Alfred motioned Lady Jane to speak.
“Sir Alfred, you are probably wondering why I have paid a visit. It has to do with the fact that Jenny’s father, Sir George Walham, is arriving here in Aurora valley to live. Another landowner by the name of Dudley Cummings…” And Sir Alfred was informed of the history of the struggle between Lady Jane and Dudley Cummings.
When Lady Jane had finished he leaned back in his chair, deep in thought. At length he spoke.
“And you want to use my estates as a sort of hideout until it blows over?”
“Yes. I hope you will let me.”
“Certainly Lady Jane, I would do most anything for you.”
She blushed. “Thank you, Sir Alfred.”
“Very well, then. I will tell my servants that you are staying here on a visit and that no one is to know about it.”
“That’s perfect. I will tell my retinue.”
“Oh, and when he wakes up, tell that lad of yours with the scars to come and tell me how he got them.”
“Alright,” laughingly, “I will.”