The pungent scent of pipe smoke wafted through the bar, glowing eerily by the light of the fire. It darkened with the shadows as it drifted in hazy curls to hover above the most secluded table. Inhaling the strong, familiar odour a man sat at the table's head observing his companions before him in a silence that remained unnoticed in the rowdy volume of the inn. The man had the appearance of a prince, or at least a lord and the solemn statures of the men around the table, gave the whole company the air of a council of war. And indeed a council of war they where.
The maps laid out before them bore testament to the hours of work they had passed at the tavern table that night pondering strategies for their impending battle. To those who may have bothered to observe, their upright countenances would have spoken of men who believed their battle won. But in the small the village tavern, there was only one person who, now, on the third night of their stay, gave them more then a fleeting glance.
A dark hooded figure standing immobile behind the soldiers stepped from the flickering shadows into the dim candle light. Not an inch of skin visible, the dark silhouette swept towards the man at the head of the table. Like his comrades the man reached for the hilt of the sword at his belt, warily eyeing the unknown figure. In a powerful voice of authority he said " Speak your name stranger, as you dare to impose upon a private council of King Datrius' Commanders!".
" In the books of history and lore kept by the monks at Alberwyn it will be written that as the last days of spring died in the twentieth year of King Datrius reign, the Army of Dinas Powys rode to a Saxon ambush in the woods of Calchvynydd" spoke the stranger, and the company gasped to hear a woman's voice from the thick folds of her cloak. "What witchcraft is this stranger that you should speak thus! Remove your hood that we may look upon your face!"
With a single swift movement the heavy hood was pushed back by one slim pale hand. The face that it exposed was of a girl younger then her voice betrayed, certainly no more then sixteen summers. But it was not her youth that made the imposing man at the head of the table start half up from his seat. It was her eyes, a deep strange blue that seemed to swirl and deepen to a rich purple in the dim light. They where eyes drew the mans memory with painful clarity to the face of his dead commander and friend, the Crown Prince of Powys.
Before he could draw his sword and demand an explanation from the otherwise common looking girl before him, her knife was at his throat. Her pale face hardened and her eyes flashed with an ironic sort of humour, reminding the affronted soldier even more of the late Prince. She spoke again, her voice just as steady as before "I would not wish to cause any harm to you or your men Sir Marcus, that is why I risk so much to warn you"
The men around the table had all leapt to their feet when she drew her knife, and she now stood surrounded with half a dozen sword points at her throat. Considering the situation with a calmness born of many years as a soldier Sir Marcus realized himself to be most thoroughly her hostage, a situation that in front of his comrades was highly embarrassing. With a quick movement her sword was knocked from her hand and he two had his sword at her neck. He held up a hand to prevent the men from impaling her on the spot.
"Now" he said panting slightly from his momentary exertion "We shall discuss this properly." Nodding at his men to lower their weapons he motioned her to a seat. Casting a quick glance over the rest of the tavern he was relived to see that no one seemed to have noticed the disturbance in the near dark of their corner. "To begin you will answer my first question; what is your name?" Her jaw clenching in what Sir Marcus took to be self disgust at being so easily over come , she offered simply "My name is Sadelle" leaving the sentence hanging as if waiting for him to disagree.
Certainly such an abrupt introduction did nothing dispel Sir Marcus's suspicions, but before he could ask more he was interrupted by a loud chortle from one of his companions. "A mighty proud of himself gentleman your father must be lassie, to give you the name of a princess" said the warrior making no effort to mask his disbelief. At any other time Sir Marcus would have sternly reprimanded the man on his manner, but in this case he was far too interested to see how this fiery young women would react.
He was not disappointed . "I must note, Lord Corlois that if my father had named me in arrogance at least it would have been in sober arrogance. For surely your own father was not such a fool to name you after a simpletons stew when he was sober!"
For the first time in many years Sir Marcus was enthralled to see Lord Corlois struck speechless. He was equally enthralled by the girl who had managed to accomplish it. She was a smart girl, definatley. Smart and quick witted. In his learned mind a grudging respect for this commoner began to evolve. Still though, he did not trust her. "Girl" he said in a wiry, serious tone "You have now revealed to me three rather telling things. One, you somehow know by face several of King Datrius most celebrated commanders, although we have never before passed this way. Two, someone has by some means taught you the style of sword warfare developed and practised exclusively by the army of Dinas Powys. Three, you where not named by your father" He added the third point almost as an after thought, desiring to see how she would react to such an insult to her intelligence.
However she did not take the bate quite as he had planned.
His brown eyes met her almost violet eyes for a long moment. To his great amazement, she didn't look away but returned his eloquent gaze with one of her own. His had spoken of confidence and power, hers pride and wilfulness. In the next instant the connection was broken and she was surveying the rest of the room. She watched the rest of the soldiers and the now slowly emptying tavern with calculating expression on her common face.
As she turned back to Sir Marcus he was again struck by her likeness to the late Prince. However it was not just her eyes that spoke of it to him this time, but her whole continuance. The strange eyes, in the pale, long nosed face had at first seemed to lend her the air of some half-starved street waif. Now her head was held high, her pale face stained slightly red in defiance and the dark arch of two finely shaped eyebrows creased her high forehead with a look of calm judgement. In her oversized black robe no longer did she appear as a hungry street urchin. She appeared as a Queen in exile.
Her commanding look was so like the one familiar in the family of King Datrius, that Sir Marcus wondered if she where not the child of some banished royal. At the sudden strength of the curiosity that surged through him the knight made his decision. This child was obviously of some intelligence and hardly seemed the type of fool who would come upon the Commanders of a King's army pretending to have knowledge of an ambush just for a joke. No, he though, it would be best to hear what the girl can tell us.
At this point a good half minute had elapsed since Sir Marcus had last spoken, and still the Sadelle had not replied. Slightly irked by her lack of response to what observations he had thought would infuriate her he quickly gave his command "Lord Daelwyn and Sir Rhunal I would ask you to assist me in further questioning this women, I think that It will not require the aid of any more of our council. As our meeting seems to have ended I would advise you gentlemen to get a good nights sleep before our ride tomorrow." His words where met with a weary chorus of "Aye Sir's" and the majority of the company chorus hurriedly out of the tavern, as if afraid to linger in case they were called back.
When only the four remained in the secluded Tavern corner, Sir Marcus instructed the young girl to take a seat. Amazingly she did not argue and slid easily into one of the heavy wooden chairs. Without observing any further pleasantries he considered quickly, offering the girl deal, "You will tell me why you come here speaking of a Saxon ambush, who you are and how you know me and my men."
The girl laughed mockingly at his command "I came here to tell you of a Saxon ambush, nothing more, nothing less". Sir Marcus decided to humour her for now and then ask questions later." If that was your perhaps in coming here, then you had better procede" he conceded with an amused glance at his two silent friends, who remained by the door. Leaning back in her chair and grinning with the air of a card player considering his next move, Sadelle began to speak. "There is a traitor in your midst. Someone has told the Saxon's you are coming. I know not who it is so you need not ask me, but I do know that they plan to attack tomorrow as you pass through the bottleneck of the dividing valley."
At this Sir Rhunal spoke up, "You are a fool girl, to think we would believe such lies! No foot-soldier in this regiment knows the details of our march and therefore could not have betrayed us!" In an instant she had turned her eyes, deep crimson and burning on the speaker, " Consider it is not a foot soldier who betrayes you then, but one of your council! One of your commanders!"
Lord Daelwyn who had so far been silent, stepped forward a little " The questions remains to be answered. How would a girl such as you know of this?" Sadelle's face calmed a little, her expression becoming one if not of compliance then of negotiation. "Your question is justified, but I would ask your patience that you might understand the danger you are in, before you assure yourselves that I am a liar."
"Make your claim" Sir Marcus ordered briefly, nodding at his two comrades to request patience. "They will outnumber you at the pass five soldiers to one. None will survive and the moon will have reached its fullness once more before the King will learn of your defeat. Once they are inside our lands they will storm and defeat the unprepared troops that defend the southern border. With the control of both the dividing valley and the southern borders, I'm sure I need not tell you that the Saxons will be virtually unstoppable."
The girls voice seemed to bend its way past his natural suspicion, reflected Sir Marcus. It was strong and sure but with an openness to it that only because of his many years in the royal court, did he realise was an entirely intentional diplomatic ploy. Glancing up the soldier caught Lord Daelwyn's eye. He read the message in his friends gaze. This girl knows how to play. Just slightly nodding to show his agreement, he turned back to the young enigma that had surprised so much in the last few minutes. "Let us now for the sake of our understanding consider your words neither false nor true. If we believe your way of coming into this knowledge was reliable." There was a pause. The three men waited, tense to see what she would say. It was strange, Sir Marcus contemplated that they all seemed so much more enthralled by the bringer of the news, then the all Important news she had had given them.
But now, at this last barrier between her and the trust of Sir Marcus she faltered. "I cannot tell you my source for it would betray a secret not mine to tell. But you may understand that the knowledge comes from the judgement of one whom you once trusted" Lord Daelwyn spoke up in response. "If that is all you will tell us, then we must all come to our own conclusions. Mine would be that you are the child of some banished noble, for surely your air and features speak of it. But if that is the case then it is likely that your kin was banished for consulting with the Saxons, and it is through this that you hope to trap us." Sadelle frowned at him, not an expression of anger, but rather of an expected inconvenience.
"Or else to warn you" she added to his sentence. Leaving the statement hanging as a mere suggestion to the three. Then she continued "Either way it is irrelevant. I know that you cannot trust me without knowing my reasons or sources and I do not ask you to. I suggest instead that you go on as if you knew all I say to be true, as if you were to defend yourselves from this attack…" Here she paused and looked each of the three men in the eye in turn "but take me with you. And if indeed there is no attack, if I am lieing, you are free to punish me as you will"
"If you are telling the truth about an attack, why would you volenteer to come with us, putting yourself in danger? And you must see that if you are lieing then the time we would waste being cautious could not be recovered simply by giving you the punishment you deserve" Sir Rhunal growled at her, his tone low and threatening. Sir Marcus suppressed the urge to smile, knowing that the respected commander, never made things easier for anybody then he was required to.