9

Two Days Earlier

Graham:

The kettle began to boil furiously, water splashed into the glowing embers and fizzled into thin ribbons of steam. Graham turned to look at Jenna. She hardly seemed to be paying attention. Her green eyes were unfocused, her mouth had flattened into a thin line.

"Jenna...the kettle," Said Graham tiredly.

"Oh right, sorry," She grabbed a small cloth and folded it in half, shifting the kettle out of the dying fireplace. "I'm just tired."

"Will you still help me?"

Graham nodded. Her strange story of the town somehow made him more enthusiastic to find her lost brother. Now that he was sober he finally felt the strange aura surrounding the town and its inhabitants. Everything was broken, broken and abandoned. Some of the houses were barely standing, they looked as if a gust of wind would send them to the ground in pieces and that's what Graham found odd, people still lived in them, they had almost begrudgingly accepted the extremely low standard of living. It was strange.

"I did already agree."

"Just checking," Her tone was humorous, but Graham saw the way her shoulders were slumped, the way her eyes had deep shadows beneath them and the worry lines were now creased into her pale face. He coughed, gagging slightly, it did nothing to banish the painful sick feeling in his chest.

"You shouldn't have drunk all that whisky," She chided, pouring hot water into two small cups, it smelt like some sort of herbal draught.

He smiled, ignoring her comment. Once the drink had faded and his mind was clear, would the pain subside?

"Drink this it will help you sleep, we start in the morning. There's a pallet in the corner. If you try anything I will gouge your eyes out."

Graham eyed her, waiting for a smile or a hint of humour. Not this time, she was dead serious. "I think I might regret getting on your bad side."

She gave him a small half smile.

They drank the draught in silence, then Jenna took the candle from the mantle and disappeared through the hall. "See you in the morning," She murmured dryly, closing the door with a solid click. Graham was left in silence. After a short moment he wandered over to the pallet. It looked like heaven and after sleeping in the streets he was sure it would also feel like it. He lay down and briefly noticed it was too short, his feet hung off the end. He would hold fast. For Lydia.

Sleep took hold of him before another thought could cross his mind.

It was a good day for a hunt, the sky was mostly clear, scattered with the occasional wispy white cloud, a cool breeze caressed Lydia's cheek and tugged at her hair, threatening to pull curls from her tight braid.

It had made him laugh when Briana had declined to come with them, she would rather stay cooped up inside. Try as he might he would never understand Briana. She didn't seem to mind wandering around with her ladies in waiting and learning everything that would make her a good wife.

One of her father's dogs tensed, then bolted into the wilderness. Her father turned to look at her, the smallest hint of a smile on his bearded face.

It had begun.

Lydia pushed past her two ladies in waiting and trotted until she was beside her father. "Any idea what it is?"

"Probably a boar. At least it sounds like one anyway."

Lydia grinned and felt for her bow.

"Lydia, maybe you shouldn't?"

She appreciated that it wasn't an order. "Please, father this is the only freedom I get."

"We both know that isn't true," His blue eyes were fixed on the motionless bushes. "You get far more freedom than you admit."

"Hmph."

He chuckled. "Oh, go on then."

She was gone before he could disagree and her horse was eager to get moving, he too seemed to be frustrated by the sluggish pace of the entire party.

"Don't scare it."

Lydia jumped slightly, then turned to see Graham behind her. "I'm not silly."

"Oh I know that."

There were no animals in sight, even the dogs seemed to have gone quiet, Lydia lightly brushed the arrows on her back. She slid off her horse, he didn't mind, there was plenty of grass and leaves for him to eat.

"Lydia, be careful." Graham was close behind her.

"I'm always careful."

Lydia took a quiet step forwards, her leather sole gently crunched the dry leaves. Her father was right, it was a boar loudly rustling through the undergrowth, she caught a flash of it's ugly horned head and then it's fat body disappeared again.

She had to get closer.

She took another step and her boots splashed into the muddy water at the base of the oak tree. There was a flash, something else was moving in the murky water, Lydia's blue eyes were fixed on the strange images in the puddle, she seemed barely aware of the horned beast that was merely a few feet away from her.

He woke with a start and instantly realised he was not alone in the small room.

"Orla it's fine, he is not some vagrant off the street." It was Jenna, Graham faded in and out of sleep, the voices kept waking him just as he began to slip back into unconsciousness.

"I know, but men are men. Do you realise how inappropriate it is for you to invite him into your home? You two were alone as well." Her voice dropped. "People might talk. Think of your reputation Jenna."

"I needed his help and he was sick. People can talk as much as they bloody like."

A sharp intake of breath, it seemed Jenna had offended the other woman. "Well," She sighed. "Would you like to have lunch with me and Gerald? I know you don't have many supplies here and I thought you might like the company."

"I would like to but…"

He could almost hear the woman's grimace. "You can bring him too. He looks half dead."

Graham rubbed at his arms, the shirt Jenna had given him was rough and moth eaten. It felt strange against his skin. He looked up, the sun was at it's peak, but clouds cast a grey film over it. Sadly it didn't take away any of it's heat. Jenna was silent beside him. He barely noticed where they are going, his mind was still on the strange dream.

There had been something else in Lydia's eye's that day, something strange, it was almost as if she hadn't slept, she seemed to be walking in a dream. Graham hadn't followed her into the undergrowth, he knew that she liked to have that small moment of independence and if she had needed help her father and the guards would have been right there.

Jenna was jumpy, any door that opened or figure that stirred seemed to frighten her. Some of the mud had dried up overnight. But Graham and Jenna's boots were still plastered with it. Slowly the path grew less muddy, patches of grass and stone began to appear.

Jenna flicked her hood down as they approached a small cottage with a thatched roof.

A middle aged woman with round red cheeks appeared in the doorway. Graham assumed she was Orla.

"Come in," The sour look she gave Graham was barely concealed.

Jenna followed the woman inside, "You coming?"

Graham nodded, "Uh, yes, but should we really be spending time doing this?"

She raised a brow, "Would you rather not eat before working?"

He didn't answer and he didn't have to, Jenna understood his expression.

"They don't mind you and you shouldn't feel guilty for looking after yourself."

After a long moment Graham resigned and followed her inside. He knew she was right, but that didn't stop the feeling of guilt lingering in his chest.

Orla's husband was much older, a few wispy bits of grey hair clung to his otherwise bald head and his face was weathered,

Graham tried not to notice the scarring on his face.

"Hello, Captain." The old man looked a little shocked.

Graham frowned."How?..."

The old man's face crinkled up when he laughed. "We all know who you are. I'm surprised Orla didn't tell me."

Orla frowned. "Tell you what?"

He laughed again. "My dear, this man is the Captain of the Kingsguard."

"Oh," She flushed scarlet. "I didn't know that."

"Oh, you silly old bag," He chuckled.

She widened her eyes and playfully tapped him on the hand with a wooden spoon. "Watch it you."

"We're still here," Jenna grinned awkwardly.

Orla nodded, self consciously brushing down her apron. "Okay, sit down, sit down."

Graham waited for Jenna to sit down.

Then he sat beside her. Orla's kitchen was small, but clean. She had plaited garlic hanging and strips of dried meat hanging from hooks, there was steam rising from whatever she had on the stove. The whole room was warm and very homey. It made Graham feel out of place, he couldn't remember the last time he had dinner in such a place.

"Have a good feed," Orla placed a steaming bowl of what looked like porridge in front of Jenna, who smiled and instantly took her spoon.

Orla then wordlessly plunked a similar bowl in front of Graham. He silently began to eat the slightly lumpy porridge. It was welcoming and warm.

"Are you allowed to tell us what your work is?" The old man gave Graham a curious look.

"Some of it," Graham placed his spoon down. "Why?"

He looked a little embarrassed. "Just wondering about the princess, have you found her...or?"

"No," Another rush of guilt. "Not yet."

The old man nodded. "Well then there's still hope."

"Yes, that there is."

The man took another spoonful, "Do you have any idea where she is?"

Graham shook his head. "Not really."

"I'm helping him." Jenna smiled.

The old man looked a little confused. "Good on you."

"What are you doing?" Jenna jumped up. "You don't have to leave on our account."

Orla was heading for the door, a large basket under her arm. "Oh, don't be silly, Jenna. I just have to deliver this to Maggie. I bring her food every morning. She'll be worried if I don't."

"Oh." Jenna flushed. "I'm sorry, I forgot."

Orla laughed. "Don't worry about it, I'll be back before long. Enjoy your meal."

Jenna sat down again, attempting to hide her flushed face. Then her eyes widened. "Orla wait!"

Orla was just outside the door, she bustled back inside, a mixture of annoyance and worry on her face. "Yes?"

"Am I thinking of the same Maggie?"

Orla nodded suspiciously. "Maggie, yes with all her herbs and crazy stories."

Jenna was visibly excited. "Can we deliver her supplies today, I think she may be able to help us."

Orla raised a brow. "I'm not sure how, she's lost her mind a long time ago, but if you want to I won't stand in your way."

Jenna eagerly took the basket from Orla. "Great, thank you."

Orla gave Jenna a funny look then made her way to the sink. Jenna eyed Graham, silently willing him to finish his porridge faster. He eventually decided to leave the remains, he too was eager to leave the house. It was lovely and that was the problem. It made him realise what he was missing. "Thank you for the meal. It was much appreciated."

Orla's husband nodded respectfully. "Come back here if you are ever in need."

Graham smiled. "Enjoy the rest of your day."

Jenna rushed out the door, virtually dragging Graham behind her.

"Are you going to tell me where we are going?"

"Maggie can help us."

Graham frowned. "How?"

"Just trust me."

Graham stopped in his tracks. "Jenna, I am here to help you. Please explain how this woman will help us."

She sighed. "Maggie is a wise woman. She can find them, or she can at least tell us where to look next."

"Do you believe that?" He groaned in annoyance. "Are you a child, what's to stop her from telling us some lies just to sound impressive?"

She made a noise that sounded akin to a disgruntled dog. "Let's just say, I have the experience to back up my belief."

Graham raised a brow.

"Please, just trust me for now. Anyway, it's not like you have any other ideas."

Graham nodded. "Fine, but no more antics after this, we have a job to do."

She smiled and beckoned for him to follow her.

Graham raised his fist, gently knocking on the door.

It opened immediately to reveal a small mousy woman with a few wisps of grey hair. She smiled at them, showing her disfigured and brown teeth.

"Hello." Graham bowed his head respectfully. "We were hoping to speak to you."

"We brought supplies." Jenna lifted the basket.

The old lady growled, it came out as a strange rattling sound. "What do you want from me?

"We need help finding someone." Jenna wasn't smiling anymore.

Her wrinkled mouth twisted. "You'd best come inside, the both of you."

Jenna's eyes widened as she followed the old lady down her skinny hallway.

The lady tittered into a small low lit room. She snatched an oven glove, not bothering to put it on, she folded it in half and grabbed the handle of a furiously boiling kettle out of the smouldering fireplace. "Sit down. Sit down." She waved her leathery hand at them. "You may as well get comfortable."

"Can you help us?" Jenna smiled warmly. "We can pay you."

The old lady shook her head, scrutinising Jenna with her small dark eyes. "No."

"Is there something else you would like?" Graham swallowed trying not to look nervous as he met her gaze.

"No." She grumbled. "What was your friend's name?"

"Arthur." Jenna bit her lip, eyes wide.

"Erin." Graham sat down.

"Give me your hand girl." The woman beckoned to Jenna.

Jenna tentatively let the woman grab and pull at her hand.

"Do you have something of his with you?"

Jenna frowned for a moment, then her eyes widened. "Yes, oh yes I do." She dug inside her top and pulled out a small bone necklace, in the shape of a crescent moon. "He made this for me, two years ago. I know it doesn't belong to him, but will it do?"

The old lady snatched the necklace, peering at it quizzically. "It will do fine."

"I need water." She rolled up her stained grey sleeves.

"Don't you have some here?" Graham frowned, he was beginning to doubt the credibility of this woman's talents.

"No, go to the stream just behind here. It needs to be wild and fresh, I'm too old for that sort of thing."

Jenna raised her brows at Graham, he gritted his teeth and took the wooden pitcher from the old woman's hands. They were wasting their time, he was sure of it.

"You, girl, get me the large bowl, the flat black one on the floor in the larder. Wipe the dust out of it with this piece of silk." She fumbled at a pocket in her grimy gown and unearthed a scrap of cloth rubbed soft and mushroom like by many years of stroking and crumpling.

Jenna found the bowl, a curious item with rock like protrusions on the outside and ground smooth on the inside. She realised art had been made out of natural black glass. She gingerly rubbed the dust out of the strange bowl. Graham could tell she was avoiding his gaze, she wanted to believe this woman would help them. It seemed insane, maybe grief was addling her senses?

The stream wasn't far from the old woman's cottage, from what Graham could tell she went to the stream more times than she made out, judging by the beaten down path he followed.

Had he really resorted to this? What happened to his men? He was their captain and instead of helping search for the princess he had resorted to fetching water for a crazy old lady. Did she believe she would see where Arthur and Erin were simply by staring into the water from a stream? But Graham was forced to admit that he had no other leads, Jenna was confident that this was the right thing to do. That was far more than Graham could say for himself. If it wasn't for her, he would still be lying in the streets.

The crone had lit Rosemary branches inside the room and smoke stung Graham's eyes when he returned with the water.

"Here, pour it in here" She gestured at the black stone bowl. He dutifully started pouring.

"Slowly, boy. You don't want to upset the spirit in the water."

He stalled, and looked at the glittering eyes looking intently at the surface. He poured the water in a trickle. He noticed her mumbling lips as she seemed to begin a conversation with other beings or other worlds.

Jenna seemed fully invested in the old woman's performance. Graham sat down beside her, sooner or later there would be a fault in her act and he would be able to prove to Jenna that she was nothing but a fraud who preyed on the gullible.

"The girl…" The woman began. "She's young. Dark haired…yes."

Graham snorted and Jenna elbowed him in the ribs.

After a few more moments the old woman released her death grip on the bowl, she flexed her fingers, she gave Graham and Jenna a strange look, it was almost as if she had forgotten they were there.

"The girl and the boy are together. On a ship."

Graham felt a strange feeling forming in his stomach. "What ship?"

"That I cannot tell you. There was another man with them…" She frowned and seemed to forget what she was talking about.

"What did he look like?"

A rattling laugh. "You do ask a lot of questions. He was tall, dark, looked more like a ghost than a man."

Carver. Graham knew instantly that she was talking about Carver.

"Was Arthur well?" Jenna's voice quivered with hope.

"It seemed so." She glanced at the water again, a strange look crossed her wrinkled features.

"Is there something you're not telling us?" Graham was impatient now.

A horse's snort broke the silence, before Graham could react the door of the old woman's cottage swung open, there were men outside the door.

Jenna looked panicked. "Graham, we have to go."

The old woman seemed to understand Jenna's urgency. "Go through the back door. I'll talk to them."

Jenna darted through the door without another word.

Graham made to follow behind her, before he could make another step the old woman had curled her fingers around his arm.

"You need to take better care of your princesses. Hunting isn't safe for people who are so easily…" She paused. "Distracted. No I think the word I am looking for is transported."

"What do you mean?" Now there was a cold stone in his stomach.

"Death by water…strange for a girl like her."

"How do you know what happened to her?"

"I don't and neither do you." She flashed him a smile, closing the door before he could ask her anything else. Her voice was muffled behind the wooden panels, but he was certain he heard her whisper to herself: "She was awakening."