Raven and George finished eating supper and then headed to bed. They’d be on their way home in the morning. The lawmaking session had gone on for three days and everyone was exhausted. The law was on it’s way to the printers and heralds and criers had gone out with the news. So far there had been little trouble. Neither Raven or the other Lords expected that to last.
Rachel and Maggie had finally had a moment to themselves. A messenger had arrived early in the morning with a note and three bundles. They finally had time to look at them. Rachel read the letter and then torn into the bundles. Inside the first two were fabric. Silk, fine linen and brocades in greens and blues. The third one held laces, buttons, embroidery silks and other notions. Maggie had walked in just as Rachel opened the last of the packages.
“Who? What?” stuttered Maggie.
Rachel handed Maggie the letter. Maggie opened it. It read:
Everything has gone well. I hope this gift pleases you. I would love it if you would wear it on our wedding day.
PS. You will marry me won’t you?
Maggie smiled and then hugged Rachel. “You’re free now eh? Hopes you want him.”
“Oh yes Maggie!”
“Good. Then we’ll take this frippery to Rosie. She’s our seamstress and she’ll make you a beautiful gown. Probably three from the fabric here. Or, two with a jacket for himself,” said Maggie rabbiting on as she and Rachel carried everything to Rosie.
After leaving Rosie, they went around the manor and closed up doors and windows. Morrin was still posting guards and watchmen as no one would be truly safe until the law had time to settle in the minds of everyone. Rachel said goodnight to Maggie and then crawled into the big empty bed. She buried her nose in Raven’s pillow and went to sleep.
In the morning, the manor ran as close to normal as possible. Rosie came up with a pattern for gowns and a jacket. She was busy measuring Rachel when Tod ran into the long sunroom.
“Rachel! Rachel! A letter!” Tod cried handing her the note.
Rachel took the letter and stepped down off of Rosie’s footstool. She broke the seal and began to read.
I hope that all finds you well. I realize that I may be home before you get this letter, but I couldn’t resist writing you. I hope that the bundles reached you and that you’ve been enjoying the contents. I also hope that in our room, you said yes. Else I shall be sorely disappointed.
Will you marry me?
Rachel smiled and whispered yes to the paper.
Raven and George said goodbye to the trio of lords that had traveled with them so far. A chain of riders had been set up to help communications beyond the normal posts. No one expected peace, but they also didn’t know where trouble would strike first. They had broad swaths of farmland to cross and then into the forest. After that, they were on Ravens Croft lands.
“Think they’ll go for us first?” asked George.
“I don’t know. I suspect they will try and attack us on the road. However, I don’t know as I’d want to be Lord Kress,”
“Why sir?” asked George.
“Well, where does Horace have his business?” said Raven.
George thought for a moment. While the slave pens had been in the city, the holding pens and general stockade was in fact in Lord Kress’ fiefdom. “Ah, I understand sir. Do you think you’ll both be attacked?”
“I don’t know. Shall we pick up the pace? I have a bride to get home to,” said Raven.
“Aye! And I have a sweet lady to see as well,” said George. He was married to Rosie.
The two men urged their horses to a faster pace and covered the ground quickly. They entered the forest and kept up the same pace. It was still light enough to see well, so neither man worried too much. They came out into the brighter sunlight and let the horses drop to a slower pace. Far off in the fields, they could see people working. Crops were just beginning to ripen. Although he couldn’t see Raven’s Croft Manor, he knew the hill it nested next to. He stood up in the saddle to look for the hill. Something didn’t look right.
“George? Can you see the manor?” he asked.
George looked. “No sir, there seems to be… oh oh no! Smoke sir! There’s smoke!” he yelled as he kicked his horse back into a gallop. Raven reacted a second later. They raced across the fields and up into the grove of trees just before the decent into the manor grounds. There they found a haywain filled with branches burning in the middle of the lane. They pulled up short and before they could turn, men dropped from the trees.
Raven drew his sword and slashed at two of the men. One screamed as it slashed his throat. Another staggered back. George was fighting with his knife and a club he had to hand. Both men were doing their best to turn around and get clear. George was closer to the edge of the road and broke free enough to turn his horse. He tried to see if Raven was okay and realized that his lord was surrounded. He charged back in only to have the world go black.
Raven watched George break free and hoped the man would ride for help. To his horror, George turned back to try and rescue him. He tried to scream as he watched a thug with a pole swing at George. It connected with his head. Raven slashed at another man, but they just kept coming. His arm grew heavy and the horse was being pulled to the ground as he took a blow upside his head and lost consciousness.
Tod came running into the sunroom again. Rachel smiled thinking there was another letter. The look of horror on his face stopped her laugh.
“Rachel! Fire at the gates! Men and horses!” he gasped.
Rachel grabbed Tod and started to run. “Maggie! Sound the alarm! Get everything closed up tight and people to their places. Get all the women down into that damed tunnel! NOW!” she cried. People ran from every corner of the manor. Shutters clanged shut and the sound of bolts grated in place. Chimney’s were blocked and fires put out in the kitchens. Women and children ran into the main tower and then down into the tunnel. Maggie and some of the other maids had stored blankets, food, candles and water down in the tunnel just in case. The tunnel filled with frightened women and children.
“Rachel, get in that tunnel,” said Maggie.
“Not until I hear back from Morrin or one of the others that have been to the gate,” she said. “Nor until you are in there with me.”
Maggie rolled her eyes. They kept working to ready the manor when one of Morrin’s men came running into the hall.
“Maggie! Morrin says to hide yourselves. Now! There are men in the woods and we don’t know how many. We will fight them off for now. We’ve sent runners to other croft’s as well,” he said and then left.
“Close and bar the door Maggie and let’s get going,” said Rachel.
Raven woke with a headache that made his stomach clench. Someone moaned next to him. He tried to open his eyes. It took a moment as his hands were still tied. Luckily they were in front of him. He cleared his vision and found himself in a stone building with heavy bars across the window and door. He was in a slave pen. The moaning next to him came from George. Lord Kress and two of his men were next to George.
“Damn!” Raven hissed.
“Ah, so you’re awake at last,” said Kress. “I’d hoped they hadn’t gotten you, but when the light filled this cell, I could see my fellow prisoners. Here’s hoping the word got out.”
“I hope our crofts and families are safe,” said Raven. The thought of Rachel going through this twice didn’t bear thinking about.
“Mine is okay I believe. They caught me just outside of the city and half my men got away,” said Kress.
Raven nodded. “They set a trap for us literally at my gate. Morrin or one of the men must have locked it and they’d set a fire to breech it. It didn’t work. Instead, it caught us. Or, maybe that was the trap. I’ll never know.”
The men waited in the dark, not knowing their fate or the fate of those that they loved. It was a long day and even longer night as they waited.