Lords of Freedom is an exciting new novel including adventure, realistic action, surprising insights, and a touch of romance. Enjoy a new chapter every week. Prior chapters can be found here.
Lords of Freedom—Chapter 27—After Grudo’s Defeat
Atop the armory wall, Honbria sat chatting with Charley. She’d taken Dawn for a ride that morning, able to saddle her up with items stowed in the stable. Upon her return, she’d helped her mother and some of the others further catalog and categorize the weapons store.
After that, growing increasingly restless, she’d mounted the wall where the great bell was and found Charley on duty there. He’d motioned her over, happy to visit awhile in the waning afternoon.
Hon was hoping to spot Xan and those with him, returning from Merker. They’d set out early that morning to confront the duke but hadn’t yet returned and she was worried.
“What if the duke’s guard overpowered them?” she said. “They could all be locked up—or dead.”
“Even Sheba?” Charley scoffed.
“Well, no; I wouldn’t think so, but…”
“They’re fine,” Charley assured her. “It’s just taking longer than you think it should. There are plenty of things that could delay them that have nothing to do with being overpowered or defeated.”
“Well, for one thing, there’s the duke’s wife, not to mention those stationed at his estate and manning the courthouse. Xan will make an initial determination about all of them, which could take a bit of time.”
All at once Charley straightened his stance and shaded his eyes. “Look there.”
In the distance a group of people could be seen…as well as a huge black animal—Sheba. Hon let out a whoop and gave Charley a crushing hug.
“Would you care to do the honors?” He motioned toward the bell.
She quickly nodded and snatched up the rope. As peals from the bell echoed in the air, she raced for the stairs. Waving over her shoulder she descended, she crossed the courtyard at a run, headed for the stable.
People were rushing about, excited and cheering at the sound of the bell. Grudo was no longer Duke of Merker, thanks to Xan and his freedom fight. Hon dodged around them, smiling at some, nodding at others but speaking to none; she wanted only to meet Xan halfway and accompany him in.
Saddling Dawn in record time she mounted and left the armory in a cloud of dust. Racing along the road she veered into a sprawling meadow, surprised to pass a toppled table, spoiling food, and two rank goat carcasses. The remains of Grudo’s double cross picnic, she thought, spurring Dawn on.
As she neared the approaching group she slowed Dawn to a brisk trot, fearing the horse’s reaction to Sheba. As expected, the great cat loped forward to meet them and Dawn stopped in her tracks with a nervous whiney.
Sheba slowed to a walk, locking eyes with the horse. Dawn nickered then lowered her head to touch noses. With that Sheba loped on, leading the way back to the armory.
Hon reached to stroke Dawn’s neck, urging her on. “Good girl; Sheba is a friend; and an amazing one at that.”
In another hundred yards Hon dismounted and ran the rest of the way. Xan caught her up in his arms and kissed her; then the rangers let out a cheer.
Blushing, she pulled back, but Xan leaned in. “We found your friend Vida, chained in Grudo’s basement. She needs some moral support.”
Horror struck, Hon nodded. When she turned, Vida was striding toward her, fighting valiantly to hold back tears. The two embraced and then began walking together, and the others fell in behind. Hon took Dawn’s reins as they passed, leading the horse along.
“Can we ride?” Vida asked in a whisper. “I know Dawn doesn’t like me, but if I’m sitting behind you?”
Hon nodded quickly. “We’ll give it a try.”
She held Dawn’s head while Vida mounted, stroking the horse’s nose. She tossed her head and stamped but didn’t rear or buck so Hon quickly mounted as well.
They rode in silence, at an easy walk, gradually pulling away from the group. Several times Hon almost spoke, as the hush between them pricked, but she didn’t know what to say. Soon enough though, she realized Vida was content to ride, one arm about her waist, without a word between them.
Once they entered the armory both dismounted and Hon led the way around the buildings to the stable.
“I have to rub Dawn down, but it won’t take long.”
Vida nodded, reaching to stroke the horse’s neck. Dawn rolled her eyes but stood still and quiet, as though sensing Vida’s pain.
“I can’t imagine what you’ve gone through, but if you want to talk…” Hon let her voice trail off, wishing she hadn’t spoken.
“I do; just not yet,” Vida whispered.
“Your parents are here, you know? I’ll take you to them. They’ve been wondering about you.”
Vida widened her eyes. “Roghaar said they might be here. I…I was wrong about him. He was one of the men who caught me fleeing the city and sent me back. He says he wanted to let me go though, and he helped set me free.”
Hon nodded. “Roghaar is a good man. How in the world though, did you give me the slip that day in the forest?”
Vida laughed. “That big tree you circled had a huge knot or gnarl—part of the trunk was caved in, like lightning struck it or something.
“My pack barely fit between my feet, but I ducked up against the curled-out trunk. If you’d gone around the tree the other way you’d have seen me plain as day standing there—or if you’d turned around when you stopped. When you did that I could have reached out and tapped your shoulder.”
Hon groaned and let her shoulders slump. “Are you kidding me?”
Vida laughed again. “I almost did tap your shoulder, blowing my cover just to see you jump.”
Hon began laughing too. “I would’ve leaped out of my skin.”
She finished up with Dawn, and the two left the stable. Determining to take Vida to the infirmary, Hon headed in that direction.
“Sheba killed the duke,” Vida said.
“He’s dead?” Hon echoed.
Vida nodded. “It was so great: she just pounced on him and snapped his neck.”
Hon glanced over, feeling a chill at Vida’s words and nearly gleeful tone. She’d suffered dreadfully so it was understandable.
Vida stopped walking and turned to face Hon. “I noticed you kiss Xan. Are you two…you know?”
Hon blushed; she hadn’t had time yet to process the kiss. “Well, I guess we are. You know who he is, right?”
Hon smiled. “Besides that—he’s Cheston’s friend, Juel; remember him?”
Vida pondered that. “Wow, back with a vengeance. Why’d he change his name?”
“I don’t know yet. He’s on a mission here and can’t say much about it, but I’ll find out. He promised he’d tell me soon.”
They started walking again.
Both turned at the duet of voices to see Vida’s parents hurrying toward them. She let out a little squeal and pelted into their arms. Hon watched a moment then continued on her own; Vida was in good hands now.
When the bell sounded yet again she looked up in surprise. Charley was ringing it, with Xan standing front and center, flanked by Roghaar and her father. Sheba with there as well, pacing the parapet with regal grace.
The surrounding people fell silent, gathering in and looking up as she had. Then a thunderous cheer rose in the air, and Hon couldn’t help but join in, smiling as a surge of emotion brought tears to her eyes.
When Xan raised his hands the crowd fell silent.
“Duke Grudo refused to surrender today and is dead,” he called down. “All loyal to him have been isolated and detained for the time being, so Merker is once again yours. You may all return to your homes without fear.”
Cheers broke out again, and he let them have at it, exchanging a nod with Roghaar. At last the people quieted, staring up expectantly.
“Over the next few days, we will all work together to reorganize the government of Merker. Sergio has proven to be a fair and just leader and has agreed to be the new governor.”
The crowd burst into thunderous, approving applause.
© Copyright 2017-2023 Gene Van Shaar