Coffee Break Read – To The Fort

The morning of my departure saw six funny-looking aircars waiting in the meadow. I raised my brows at Ragnar.
‘These are specially adapted for winter use’ he explained. ‘They can be driven on the ground in deep snow if necessary. I’m not taking any chances with you.’ I felt grateful and slipped my hand into his. He coloured, then swatted my behind. ‘Come on woman. Kiss your babies goodbye and we’ll go.’
I kissed Lorcan, Connor, Lucien and Ildara and picked up the bag containing my furs. ‘I’m ready.’ The sky was leaden as we trooped out to the meadow.
‘Snow on the way’ Ulf said genially. ‘Won’t be before tonight though, and we’ll be at Westfort by noon. No snow there anyway, the sea keeps it warm. Northfort and Eastfort are another matter. But at least the snow has Maurice and his chums bottled up tight.’
We climbed aboard and the aircars lifted off smoothly. Tibo and Tiko asked to sit where they could look out of the window and I complied, laughing a little at their faces as they watched the treetops speeding past. Thimble scrambled onto Ragnar’s shoulder and barked frantically at the passing landscape. ‘Hush’ Edwiga said absently and he subsided apart from the occasional little yelp of excitement.
‘That lesson with the dog trainer certainly paid off’ I remarked.
‘It did. Though I’m still not sure whether it was Thimble or me who was most in need of training.’
‘Both’ Ragnar grunted. ‘This little bundle of mischief saw straight into your kind heart and took advantage.’
Edwiga coloured. ‘You old fool’ she said lovingly.
The journey went smoothly and before noon we were landing on the rocky promontory where Eastfort guarded our only harbour. A small party of warmly clad figures awaited us as we stepped out into a bitter wind. The dogs headed off for a quick ablutions break and I went to meet my hosts. Elzivir Wolf did indeed look as if he may have been hewn from the same rock as his fortress stood on, and he seemed to be studying my reaction carefully as he brought forward his wife.
She was a pleasant-faced woman who looked much younger than her husband, and as I gave her the kiss of greeting I felt the atmosphere around me relax.
‘Shall we get in out of the wind?’ Elzivir suggested. As the dogs chose that moment to return from their duties, I was only too pleased to comply.
Inside the fortress it was warm and welcoming. Our hostess showed Ragnar, Edwiga, Olof, Rohan and me to a suite of rooms and suggested we meet for a noonday meal in about half an hour. She then bustled off to see to the comfort of Ragnar’s men.
‘Okay’ I said sternly ‘what went on out there? I get the feeling I just passed some sort of a test.’
Rohan looked genuinely contrite. ‘Sorry. We forgot that Elzivir is a bit sensitive about his wife.’
‘Why?’
Olof took over. ‘She isn’t of noble birth, and Rollo refused to acknowledge her. As soon as he inherited Rafe put that right and formally legitimised their children, but I guess there’s still a bitter taste in Elzivir’s mouth. I think your natural graciousness and good manners just went a long way towards healing that hurt.’
‘Okay. Fine. But I just wish one of you had told me.’
Rohan spoke up sturdily although a blush mantled her cheeks. ‘It is me should have thought of it. The others, being Svalbarders, don’t think about who is noble and who isn’t, and I guess I’ve gotten into that way of thinking too…’
I held up my hands. ‘Now it’s me who needs to be sorry. I’d think a whole lot less of you if you did spend your life worrying about accidents of birth. Rafe and I swore to build a meritocracy in Wolfland, so I mustn’t grouse if those closest to me genuinely buy into that philosophy. I was just a bit put out to be having to prove myself again. But now I see why. Your father really was an ass, and your mother was an idiot. How come you and Rafe are such good people?’
‘I dunno’ she grinned. ‘Gran always reckons it’s Grandpa’s genes.’

From The Barefoot Runners by Jane Jago

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