The Guild – Chapter 166 – Andrei

    I set down the napkin after wiping my face, smacking my lips; the breakfast was delicious. Freshly baked bread with jams, pastries of various sorts with creamy butter and cheese, fresh fruits and some venison. The venison had been spiced with a flavour I’m not so familiar with. I hope I can ask the cooks how they prepare the meals here. I’m certain dad would love to know how the dishes were of this time.

    I look up, noticing Kat watching me as she takes another small bite of her own pastry. Her plate looks surprisingly empty. I smile at her, happy to see she has an appetite.

    I turn to the Lord and Lady Halsey sitting at the end of the table, hands clasped. Lord Halsey sits at the head, while his wife, Charlotte sits on his right. He’s finished his meal as well and watches me with a bright eagerness in his eyes.

    “The meal was splendid! I must ask how it was prepared,” I say excitedly. “It would seem my wife is also pleased for she doesn’t usually eat everything she is given,” I smile happily, sparing another quick glance in Kat’s direction. She flushes pink, looking down at her lap. That’s a little payback for her embarrassing compliment this morning in front of the maids, I think as I bite back a snicker.

    “That is so good to hear!” the Lord cheers. “I will let the cooks know how wonderful a job they have done to please our treasured guests!”

    “It’s not often one can find fresh fruit such as this in this part of England, at least, in these times, as far as I know. Where might you have acquired such fine varieties?” I ask, trying to maintain etiquette.

    “This is no trouble for us,” Charlotte waves her hand with a chuckle. “Just this morning, I went to the mainland in the south where they grow these things. I go maybe two or three times a week.”

    “Fascinating! It certainly must be convenient with a talent such as yours,” I reply.

    “It has been a most propitious gift,” the Lord nods, smiling at his wife lovingly. “I did not know the world had so much to offer until I met my Charlotte.” The Lady returns his smile, the love between them obvious, even more so than yesterday.

    “Yes, the world certainly is vast, with many unique things to experience, culinary and otherwise,” I nod. Jumping time is somewhat similar, as it allows me to experience various places and times. It makes me wonder, how is it that I can jump to different places, even in my own time. Would that not mean I have a similar ability as Charlotte?

    My thoughts are interrupted when the Lord stands up. “Speaking of, we had hoped to give you both a tour of the grounds. Perhaps you’d even join us for a hunt? I have been asked to bring a boar to the court for the festivities tomorrow,” the Lord grins, “which, of course, you are welcome to attend.”

    “The court?” I ask, surprised. A hunt certainly sounds interesting. I don’t think what Kaitlyn’s wearing though is appropriate for such an event though. “What is the occasion?”

    The Lord shrugs. “Our good King has decided to host a party at Hampton court palace. As good friends of his majesty, we were naturally invited,” he winks at me.

    The Hampton court? Oh, wow,” I feel a rush of excitement at the prospect of actually going to the real Hampton court, and no less while King Henry the eighth is King. “I almost cannot believe you actually know the King. You must tell us how you became so well acquainted sometime.”

    Lord Halsey bellows a laugh. “Ah, young Andrei, you are quite astute. It was not I who became acquainted with his majesty, but rather the other way around. My family has served the crown for many generations, regardless of who sits upon the throne.”

    My eyes grow wide. This is something I had not known. I don’t recall ever hearing mention of the Halsey’s in history, at least not in the textbooks. “Are you being serious? Being a mage of time, as you already know, I am well acquainted with my history, but I have never heard of your family’s name before -” I stop myself, as I was about to say before hearing it from Kaitlyn.

    “The King would have his people believe he holds absolute power, boy,” Charlotte leans over the table slightly, a strange gleam in her eye. “The King would have them believe it is he who wins their wars, that it is he who secures peace for the land. Do you think he would keep his head if the people knew that was untrue?” she asks mockingly.

    “Of course not,” I admit. Again, I stumble upon the true untold histories of the past.

    She nods. “And so it is.”

    “He doesn’t fight in wars and secure peace?” Kaitlyn frowns. “Isn’t that basically his whole job?”

    “Yes,” Charlotte hums. “Brave men fight wars, but brave men alone do not win wars.”

    “So he relies on you and your magic to help,” I say simply.

    “They all do,” Lord Halsey confirms, his tone almost melancholy. “Since the formation of this great nation, Kings and Queens alike have turned to us in their times of need. This alliance is how we have survived and prospered for so long.”

    “So you’re essentially saying, you decide who rules. What if there’s a conflict of interest? Do you ever get recruited by your current King’s opponent?” I ask, hoping to grasp the extent to which they actually manipulate the monarchy.

    “We serve the people first and the throne second,” Lord Halsey answers vaguely. “Now, shall we?” he waves to the door.

    I nod, both to my understanding and the invitation to depart from the dining room.

    “Kaitlyn, this is no outfit for riding,” Charlotte waves to her as we walk out into the hall. “Come with me. We will dress appropriately while the men prepare the horses,” She muses, gesturing for Kaitlyn to follow. I note that the Lady is also currently wearing a dress, though it seems relatively modest compared to what they dressed Kaitlyn in.

    “Oh, I should mention,” I say as Lord Halsey and I leave the women behind and head outside towards the stables, “Kaitlyn is somewhat afraid of horses. Would it be alright if she rode with me?” I ask.

    The Lord smiles. “You take quite good care of your beloved, don’t you? Of course it is alright. I will give you one of our stronger horses to bear the weight.”

    “Thank you,” I blush. I’m only trying to make sure she has a pleasant, injury-free jump this time around. “We’ve had accidents in the past I’d like to avoid,” I say as we leave the manor and cross the grounds.

    Eventually, the stables come into sight surrounded by numerous fenced paddocks. I see a few fine horses grazing in the fields as we approach. The familiar scent of hay and horse fills the air and I’m reminded of the many times I had worked with horses during my jumps. The horses in the stables nicker as we walk by and Lord Halsey introduces each of them to me.

    “You have a variety of breeds I see. Where did you acquire such a fine selection of horses?” I ask curiously as I eye a pure white Arabian being groomed by a stable hand.

    “Most of them were gifts from other Kings and courtiers,” the Lord answers simply. I gawk, shocked by the abundance of favour they curry with other royalty. He eventually leads me to a tall dun gelding, already groomed and waiting to be tacked. “Is this the horse Kaitlyn and I will be riding?”

    “Yes,” he nods. “He is quite tame as a retired warhorse.”

    “I’m glad. One time, when we visited the fifth century, King Arthur tried to give Kaitlyn a stallion. Such a crazy choice,” I muse as I reach for the saddle blanket waiting on the stable rack beside the gelding. “What’s his name?” I ask, smoothing the fabric over his back.

    The Lord chuckles. “Merlin.”

    I gawk, mouth hanging open a little. Is he serious? “How ironic,” I say with a smile as I set the saddle in place. I note the peculiar style of the saddle, how there’s a slight ridge at the back, almost as if to keep you positioned correctly while riding. I doubt Lady Halsey is one to ride sidesaddle unless she’s with the other court ladies.

    I turn to retrieve the bridle when the ladies suddenly appear behind Lord Halsey, much like how Kat and I do at the Guild. I pause, admiring the tight leather pants and laced boots Kaitlyn wears. A similarly fashioned bodice is laced over her shirt and she wears a pair of riding gloves that match her boots in colour. Lady Halsey is dressed in much the same way. The attire suits Kaitlyn much better than the dress, I think, and I assume she is much more comfortable in pants than a dress or hoop skirt.

    “Is everything ready?” Lady Charlotte asks expectantly.

    “Just about, my dear. These two will ride together. Come, let us go to our horses,” the Lord smiles, holding out his arms to her.

    The Lady looks down at Kat with an eyebrow raised. “You do not ride on your own?”

    Kat blushes. “Um… No.”

    Charlotte huffs, disapproval clear in her expression as she walks away.

    “I almost want to mention it’s your dragon blood’s fault,” I whisper to Kat as they head away.

    She sighs. “Yea… I don’t know if that would matter to her,” she frowns.

    “Oh?” I muse as I notice the little scaly black tail hanging down her shoulder again and I briefly wonder if Scoria is getting enough to eat. “You look stunning, by the way.”

    Her face lights up at my compliment. “Thanks.”

    I fit the bit into Merlin’s mouth and tighten all the straps. Once he’s ready I hold out a hand to Kat, offering to help lift her into the saddle. “Are you ready to ride Merlin?” I ask with a smile.

    “Is that his name?” she laughs, stepping up cautiously.

    “T’is indeed,” I grin. I lift her up into the saddle as she swings her leg over. “Hold the pommel tight. I’ll lead him out of the stable and mount up behind you, alright?” She looks a little uneasy as she nods, holding on with both hands. Maybe I should give her some advice on the posture too.

    “Try to sway with the horse as he steps. If you relax and move with his motions, it shouldn’t feel too unnatural,” I point out as I guide Merlin slowly by the reins out of the stable.

    “If you say so,” she grumbles. We make it outside and are quickly joined by the Halsey’s, already mounted.

    I reach up to grip the pommel over Kat’s hands and the back of the saddle, setting my foot in the stirrup as I pull myself up. I wobble a little, likely from how tall Merlin is. I probably should have used a stool. I adjust my position behind Kat as her back presses against me and I reach my arms around her, holding the reins.

    I feel warm, being so close to her in the saddle, and I don’t think it’s just from proximity to her and her fire. “Are you comfortable?” I ask, trying not to blush before I go to turn Merlin around to face the others.

    “I am now,” she leans her head back against my shoulder. If I could purr with happiness, I would.

    I pull on the reins gently, turning Merlin around. “We’ll follow you,” I say, ready to tour the grounds. I notice then, both the Lord and the Lady have arrows strung to their saddles. This must be how we’ll hunt for the festivities.

    They kindly lead us out from the stables and around the estates. Lord Halsey thoroughly explains the grounds, not sparing any detail on the plants and their origins in the gardens, the other buildings on the estate and the well-manicured grass. It would seem they even maintain their own private hunting grounds that are fairly large, considering how the ruling class divides the lands.

    Kaitlyn and I are both impressed at the wealth their estate holds, and the beauty. I now see what Kaede meant when he said she could likely put our grandchildren through university. If these truly are her ancestors, they are more than rich. Likely richer than the King. Eventually, we turn to the forest at the edge of the grass and the Halsey’s unstrap their bows. The horses seem to know what is coming as they dance excitedly on the spot in anticipation.

    “We will be hunting for a boar today,” the Lord announces. “Have either of you experience with a bow?” he turns back curiously.

    Kaitlyn glances up at me from the corner of her eye, timidly raising her hand. I hold back so that she will gain favour with Lady Charlotte. There is no need for me to show off around her now.

    “Excellent!” he cheers. “Would you care to try your hand at the hunt?”

    “Of course she would,” Charlotte balks. “Here, you may use my bow.” She pulls her horse up alongside ours, handing Kat an elegantly carved bow and a single arrow.

    “Right, we will ride into the forest until we pick up a trail, at which point we will continue on foot.” The Lord kicks his heels to get his horse moving again. We follow close behind at a trot until the brush gets too thick to maneuver as a group and we decide to split up.

    Lord Halsey hastily explains in a low whisper how we are to find the tracks; a broken branch here or there, or disturbed undergrowth beneath the low growing bushes and trees. We spread out, scanning the forest and the ground for signs of the boar.

    About twenty-three minutes into our search, we spot the broken branches of a boar recently passed through. We follow the tracks for another two minutes when Scoria’s head pokes out from under Kat’s hair making a little gurgling sound.

    “Stop,” Kat whispers.

    I pull the reins in and Merlin comes to a halt. “Does she smell something?” I whisper back.

    Kat nods, glancing around. “Let me down.”

    I grip the reins, shifting my weight and swinging my leg over the back of Merlin and lightly jump to the ground. I hold him steady, reaching out my arms to help Kat get down. As soon as her feet touch the ground, she takes another sweeping look through the trees, before moving into a low crouch. Without a word, she creeps through the underbrush, away from the horse and around a large tree. Her hair moves and she adjusts her direction.

    The forest is deathly quiet as she studies the surroundings. I feel a faint breeze shift and her head snaps to the left at the distant rustling of leaves. She takes another couple steps, her movements surprisingly silent in comparison. She raises the bow, which creaks softly as the string is stretched.

    Her form is flawless and reminds me of the Mongolians, famous for their horseback archery. Her gaze is fixed on something I can’t see from my vantage point. There’s a tense moment of eerie silence, and then the arrow is loosed. I hear three distinct sounds, a whistle of the arrow through the air, a squeal and then a thud. She stands up, listening for a moment.

    “Okay,” she nods, looking back at me curiously. “Should we call the Lord?”

    “I suppose, he can’t be far. Do you want to go check to make sure you got it?” I ask, perplexed by her relaxed posture. There’s no way one arrow brought it down, not unless she managed to strike it critically. I spin around to see if I can spot the Lord or Lady through the trees.

    “It’s dead,” she replies simply.

    I push my lips to one side, skeptically. “Usually you go and check before you say such things. How can you know that?”

    She shrugs. “I can smell it.”

    “Smell? Since when can you smell death?” I stop. I really gotta stop questioning her. She must be referring to her dragon sense again. I turn, walking back through the trees a few dozen paces until I spot Lord Halsey in the distance. I don’t know if he’s still hunting, so I decide not to yell. I take a small step, skipping behind a tree nearer to him than I was previously.

    Stepping out I call out, “Kaitlyn’s felled the boar!”

    The Lord turns, eyes wide. “My! So quickly! Impressive. Show me,” he waves for me to lead the way.

    I lead him back to Merlin and find Lady Halsey already there, dismounted and speaking with Kat. She appears to be both pleased and impressed. This makes me smile. Lord Halsey dismounts and we both approach the ladies as he claps his hands loudly. “Bravo! You are an enviable woman, Kaitlyn!”

    She smiles and I detect she’s hiding a blush as she dips her chin.

    “Indeed,” I agree.

    “It’s not really that impressive,” she scratches her head.

    “Nonsense, don’t knock yourself. Your skills are the best,” I smirk. “That’s why you’re a teacher back home, is it not?”

    “I guess…” she hums.

    “Fire often breeds formidable warriors,” The Lady nods with approval. “Let us see your boar.”

    Kat leads us through the brush to the boar. It’s actually massive, larger than I expected it to be. I’m surprised she was able to take it with only one arrow. I shudder as I notice it went right through its temple; her eyesight is impeccable.

    Kat steps up to the boar, stepping on the body as she pulls the arrow out of its head. It doesn’t seem to bother her in the least. “How do we get it back?” she asks, looking over it passively.

    “I will have a cart brought out and have the men drag it out of the woods,” the Lord replies.

    Kat frowns, thinking about it. “I can drag it out if you bring them to meet us at the edge.”

    “Nonsense. I would not ask you to move such a beast,” the Lord scoffs. Even the Lady looks skeptical. I smirk, knowing very well she could.

    Kat blinks at them, grabbing one of the limbs and lifting it up over her shoulder as if it were as light as a stick. The Lord’s jaw falls open.

    “Would you look at that,” the Lady laughs. “Edward, go and bring the men. We will meet you at the forest’s edge.” I chuckle silently as we walk back through the trees to the horses. I curiously wonder if it weighs more or less than her and if Gwen would get mad at me for letting her lift it on her own.

    We lead the horses out by the reins through the trees ’till we reach the border of the forest. When we stop, Kat sets the beast down and we wait for the men. When they arrive with the cart they gather around us, ready to take over, but before they finish she lifts it into the cart, dusting her hands off expertly while they gape in wonder.

    I help her mount the horse again and we all ride back to the house with the Lord and Lady, keeping a slow pace as the cart followings behind. Once safely back at the stable, I lift Kaitlyn off the horse. I look out passed the stable doors to see at least six men struggling to lift the boar off the cart and into the kitchen and I gulp. I definitely shouldn’t have let her lift that… Gwen can’t hear about this, I’ll lose my head!

    I help Lord Halsey untack the horses and we leave them for the stable hands to brush down as we head back into the manor to wash up. It’s about an hour after the regular midday meal, so we freshen up before gathering for the meal, happily chatting about the hunt. So far it seems to me that these people are genuine and caring. I wonder if they could really be Kat’s family. If so, then I see she is related to good people. I briefly ponder if my own ancestors were just as kind and caring as hers.

By Kayla West

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