The Seeker stood looking after the King, then gathered up her pack and staff and returned to the Great Hall. Lost in thought, she did not realize she had taken the wrong steps to the portico. Instead, she found herself at the foot of a short stairway leading up to a grassy courtyard. With the castle surrounded by lush, dense forest, it seemed much darker outside than it was. Rays of the fading sun fell through the forest canopy and illuminated the path she would take. But just as she would have taken her leave, she heard someone running toward her from along a dark gallery, and the sound of metal being jostled about.
The man came to an abrupt halt when he saw the Seeker standing by the stairs. In so doing he dropped two of the seven swords he carried. He glanced behind him to see if anyone followed, then turned to face her. His eyes, which were all she could see of his person dressed as he was all in black with a hood pulled over his head, were wide with fright seeking only his means of escape into the forest where none could find him.
“Stop, thief!” cried the Seeker. “Those are the King’s swords and you are stealing them to fight against him!”
“Please do not call for help,” he begged. “All is not as it seems. I need these swords and the King has ever so many more!”
But the Seeker was not willing to listen. “Help!” she yelled as loudly as she could. “There’s a thief in the midst! Help!” And, brave Seeker that she was, she placed herself between him and the stairway, her staff in both hands as a weapon, and her feet spread firmly apart. “I will not let you pass! You are a thief and no doubt a dangerous bandit! Someone help, please!” she yelled again.
The voice drifted gently, calmly from the gallery. “What have you done, young thief?”
And then the Seeker saw her. She was dressed in a gown of sea green and blue. Her long black hair trailed down her back and was adorned with a crown of golden sea shells and pearls. With her she carried a cup, not unlike that of the King. Onward she came as if gliding on air.
With quivering lips the man dropped to his knees at her feet. “I am sorry, your grace. It is not what it seems. I do not take the swords to bring rebellion against the King. I need them for the metal.”
The Seeker remained standing at the bottom of the steps. “I caught him trying to steal them,” she explained with growing agitation. “They’re weapons. His intent is obvious.”
When the woman spoke not, the thief continued. “They are NOT for weapons, my lady. My plow has broken and I have no way to till my fields. My family is starving. I must be able to work. I thought to melt them down and make my repairs. I would have paid the King for them from my earnings come harvest time.”
“That’s a likely story,” the Seeker said, gripping her staff all that much harder.
The thief dropped the other swords. They clattered to the floor with a loud metallic ring as he folded his hands and bowed his head. “Do with me as you will, my lady.”
The woman crossed to the man, placed a finger beneath his chin and raised his head. “Rise, my friend. Take the swords and repair your plow. There is no need for repayment. They are a gift. See only that you put them to good use.”
The man took her hand and kissed it, then rose to his feet, gathering the swords in his arms as he stood. “Thank you, my lady. You are most gracious and kind.”
“Blessings on your crop,” she replied. “Go in peace and care well for your family.”
The Seeker held her angry stance before the door. “But what will the King say?”
“He will probably say I should have given him more. Now please step aside.”
The Seeker relaxed and did as she was bid. She watched as the man ran into the dark of the forest. She did not understand what had just happened.
“Follow me,” said the woman.
And she did. Back up to the balcony over looking the darkening sea.
© Cheryl D. Carter
Picture Credit — personal (see also www.aeclectic.net)