The Queen of Mastakara Chapter 2

In which Granville Adventures from the White Castle with Rod and Line

Granville looked above his head to where the ramparts of castle Leath soared to the sky. His view was obscured by the roots and branches of an oak laden with spring leaves. The old oak offered a protection from the elements and more importantly from the castle guard. He had already been crouching for at least half an hour, which for a boy of fifteen might as well have been a lifetime. But old Manders simply would not move.

It had already taken twenty minutes to negotiate the dank steps of the castle ‘scape a journey impeded by the lack of a torch. That the ‘scape should only be used in times of dire emergency, siege and fire and suchlike, was of secondary importance to Granville. Of greater importance was the sap that rose in his blood, the chilled air, the brisk morning and the glimmering of a rising sun. The previous night’s storm had not disturbed him in the least, even though it had doubtless disturbed most of the castle’s inhabitants. He was wide-awake, fresh and vigorous and he intended to be ‘way across the plain of Leath and north beyond the White Cliffs to the dunes and low forest where the Gorge Bendure waters spilled like a shivering necklace through green pines. There were fish to be caught and Granville was the one to be doing the catching. His friend Arnot waited by the old mill a league from the old oak – or at least he might wait a little longer.

Granville crouched, his knees aching, the stiff wooden rod, disguised as a branch thrust out before him. Two years had passed since a lucky blow had ended warring for the Lord Compesta. In that time the muscles of Granville’s arms had swollen with constant practice until they sprung from his slim body like embellishments on armour; they were rigid now and decorated only with goose pimples gifted by the predawn chill. He would have cursed under his breath but Manders although old, was not deaf and of all Lady Leath’s veterans the one most likely to hear an unusual noise and the most likely to beat the head of its maker.

Granville had often exchanged blows on the practice field with the old serjeant and he had no desire to annoy him now. What could the old dog find so interesting? This northern side of the White Castle looked only to friendly land. The sea side to the west was the spot for the eyes to search. Perhaps he was watching the distant kiting of the eagles or the hawks on the bank of hills leading to Gorge Bendure.

The prospect for escape was grim and Granville had almost decided to give up, weighing only the evil that he would have to crawl back through the enlarged rabbit warren at the root of the old oak and this might make too much noise; when a shout broke the morning tranquillity. For one awful second Granville assumed that he had been caught and a series of images that ranged from an arrow through the eye to a chastening speech from his mother seared his mind.

However, he was fortunate. The call was from the keep: Mander’s relief or a friend shouting him away from the wall. The old serjeant’s shadow disappeared and in the same instant, throwing all caution aside, Granville entered the water with the speed and litheness of an otter. Rod bitten between his teeth. he was under the water and across the thirty feet of moat in a few moments.

At the far side there was a culvert, which through experience he had learned, stretched a full twenty feet under water before coming into a small chamber. Here he emerged chattering with cold. There were implements for making fire, a torch and kindling but he ignored them knowing his way like bat. A full hundred feet the tunnel stretched beyond the chamber but he had used it so often that he could count the cobwebs on his face as he ran. Here the tunnel ended, blocked by a rock. When this was pushed aside, the morning light splayed through the branches of the thick brambles and he was a safe as a rabbit in a warren. The dank gully where the brambles flourished appeared impassable from the outside and it was difficult to negotiate in the final egress. Here next to the low wall, which led to Hafvers, farm, the nearest to Castle Leath, the ‘scape finally spewed out into the open.

With a sigh of relief Granville pulled his rod out after him. He looked west and east to see if anyone was around, and then began to climb the low hillock. Because of the castle watch, he had decided to follow the small burn that led by a circuitous route to Bendure and the Gorge Bendure waters. The quickest and easiest path was by the sand dunes where he could run over the penumbra of the dunes where the sharp pointed sand sedge grew with its creeping root stock. The grass grew on the leeward side of the dunes holding the dunes together and it was easy to take the little paths there; easier because Granville was unlikely to run into anyone who he did not want to meet and there were a number of people falling into this category.

As he dipped and ducked along the burn avoiding Hafver’s line of vision (Hafver had been warned several times to question Granville and report back to Lady Leath), he thought for a few seconds on his decision to vacate the castle for the morning.

His mother had been threatening some sort of ceremonial meeting. An official or an ambassador or some other stuffed shirt was visiting from abroad. Visitors were rare at the White Castle but they were without exception tedious. Granville would be expected to participate in meaningless rituals, wear clothes that itched or worse, armour that weighed him down. There would be food to eat but food that grew cold as ceremonial observations were made on it and the goodness of the universe in its provision. In short, he would be bored senseless and the only solution for his young blood was to sneak away in search of a particular old adversary – the large brown trout whose haunting of the Great pool of the Gorge Bendure waters was a byword amongst the local fishermen.

Lady Leath would be angry but she had learned long ago that Granville had a mind of his own. The guard would not be set on his trail as it had in the first few of his escapades. Pigeons would be flighted out, one or two, to the keepers and perhaps to the lighthouse but there would be little fuss and only a mild beating on his return, more for forms sake than to inflict hurt.

Granville grinned as he ran; white teeth glinting like the stars in his deep blue eyes. It was only at times like this that he felt truly alive. Early morning, before the world waked and early evening when the sun was going down. If he could have articulated it, he would have said that he was a child of twilight and gloaming, a gray child who had no place in the bustle of the day.

Granville was still grinning when he came to the end of the low hillocks where the burn deepened and widened. Here it was bridged by Hafver’s old stone bridge. It was called after Hafvers because it was on his land but the architect, unlike mad Hafvers, had been dead for over five hundred years and remained unknown. The bridge, a masterpiece, vaulted high above the stream. It was not wide because it was defendable but higher than it need be; the stone quarried from some distant and forgotten mine. On this side, Granville could see through its arch to where the dunes began some leagues away. The river bent back on itself below the bridge and weaved away to the north but here it appeared as though its natural path should lead out towards the dunes rather than the White Castle.

It was an illusion, which Granville had little time to think about. Even as he had reached the end of the hillocks, with the big grin painted on his face, the artist was wiping it away.

A column of some twenty armed men was silhouetted against the sun, spears like silver birch pointing to the sky, the foremost holding aloft a fluttering pennant. In the midst of the company a sedan chair carried by four giant men had stopped at the arch of the bridge.

In an instant Granville had thought that the enemies of Leath had returned. Visions of war and fear and excitement held his body in a paralysis. He could only think of the body of Lord Compesta falling towards him, one eye staring in final resignation the other bloodied and crushed by the force of the blow that he, Granville had dealt. It was the one shocking image of war that he had never been able to relinquish although other sights smells and sounds had been as bad. Perhaps it was always the same with the first great opponent that fell before your weaponry. Whatever the reason, the chilling vision rose whenever he was threatened.

Granville stopped dead in his tracks and then slowly withdrew behind the edge of a thicket of brambles. From here however, it was impossible to observe the colouring of the riders such was the strength of the sunlight.

Granville cursed under his breath, looking for a way to reach the underside of the bridge when a sudden shout held him. As before, he assumed he had been seen but instead, by some lucky chance, he saw the captain of the guard point and gesticulate towards the sea. In a single moment of decision Granville ran forward stealthily and in a few more moments had gained the underside of the bridge. He leaned his rod against the lichened stones of the arch and began to slowly climb.

Halfway up Granville rejected his initial idea of viewing the riders from the wall of the bridge. He had thought he could be quick enough to catch them still looking at the sea but there was shouting and ordering and clamour as the riders got into order. Before it was too late, he dropped under the confusion of noise and hit the ground. He waited a little and then crept up the banks of the river towards the low wall of the bridge. The riders were heading towards the White Castle and so he hoped they would not look back.

The captain was way beyond him and the whole cavalcade had quickly formed into a column, the sedan with its colourful curtains and giant perspiring men seemed to have been left behind, the horses breaking out into a trot. The captain and his second, to Granville’s amazement, broke into a gallop towards the castle. For a second it appeared like some bizarre suicidal mission, and then he saw the colours.

They were friendly soldiers and in that same second Granville realized that the unknown in the sedan must be the formal visitor. Even as he was asking himself the question as to why the riders should be in such a hurry the sedan halted and the curtain was swiftly pushed aside.

A head, old, capped in black and with eyes that seemed to mock the sunlight fixed on his own twin orbs.

Granville felt like he had been glued to the air. He was unable to move. They eyes looked him up and down and then, as slowly as it had been quick, the curtains closed behind the head and the sedan began to move.

More terrified than he had been in his life, Granville rolled down until his shoulders hit the waters of the burn. Forgetting his rod and everything else, he ran shouting towards the dunes, uncaring if the world saw him as long as he could get away from those dark eyes and unaware that other eyes were gazing at his every movement.

Somewhere at the penumbra of the stilling waters of Gorge Bendure, where the cuticle of foam banked on to the sill before the drop, the old trout flicked its ragged tail and waited.

One Response to “The Queen of Mastakara Chapter 2”

  1. Hi. I am a long time reader. I wanted to say that I like your blog and the layout.

    Peter Quinn

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