Gideon pushed his little chestnut mare who broke willingly into a canter, quickly overhauling the rest of the train. As he reached the front where the vanguard rode, Philip Lord was visible on a rise of ground away to one side. He was distinctive even from a distance with his long white hair, unfashionably straight, falling over his shoulders beneath his wide-brimmed hat, a matching white plume curling from the band.
Today Lord wore a dark blue cassaque, with doublet and breeches the same, and high boots over his legs. Aside from the military furniture on his saddle in the form of a deep holster for his pistol and the sword and dagger he wore on either hip, he didn’t look much like the military commander he was. The man next to him, light brown hair paling into grey emerging from a pot helm, wearing a heavy, sleeved, leather buff, looked more the part. He was the man Gideon—and most of the company—knew only as Mags and he was the man who held the place of second-in-command to Philip Lord.
The two were looking at a large house which lay a mile or so off and seemed to be partly surrounded by water. Gideon could see an orchard and a walled garden beneath a sturdy looking peel tower that had been built out into a pleasant looking house. A dovecote stood beside the orchard and smoke curled lazily from the tall chimneys of the house. To his urban eyes, it looked prosperous, peaceful, pastoral, bucolic—everything that England was and should be, but which was slipping away between the grasping fingers of iron-plated gauntlets such as Mags wore.
“..and ripe as a plum for the picking,” Mags was saying, “it’s shameful to see.”
“Thanne shaltow come to a courte as clere as the sonne, the mote is of mercy. The manere aboute, and alle the wallis ben of witte to holden Wille oute.” Lord turned his head as Gideon rode up. “What do you think, can it keep us out?” He was clearly addressing Mags, who looked thoughtful.
“Oh aye, they could, if they had the men or the means. But I saw neither. The only shell that sweet little nut has at the moment is yon tower.”
“So if we knock politely and offer, as tradesmen might, to put the place in good order for these times?”
Mags laughed. “And who do we turn away when they come calling asking for plate? The King’s men or those who follow his parliament?”
“Right now,” Lord said, his tone considering, “I would say either or both. Although I am content to at least consider the wishes of the householder on the issue.”
“Whoever that might be.”
“That would be the fourth Baron of Wrathby,” Lord said cheerfully. “Sir Charles Bellamy. Who, they say, is a man more concerned with husbanding his crops, his flocks, his kine and his wife, than pushing his nose into politics of any description.”
Mags gave him a narrow-eyed stare. “You seem to know these parts, then.”
“Not too well. I asked at the last drovers’ inn.”
“Canny lad,” Mags said, with approval in his tone. “I just heard the manor were cursed or maybe haunted, depending who you ask.”
“That could explain the slightly run-down look of the place,” Lord observed then finally turned to Gideon.
“So you see our problem?” he said as if he had just been explaining something.
Irritated because he had no idea what he was being asked, which was his frequent experience when having dealings with Philip Lord, Gideon shook his head.
“Do you mean the problem of who to declare for in this war? If so then I would agree that asking an invested individual who has given the matter days and weeks of agonizing thought, weighing up the reasons, is probably better than merely opting for whoever pays most.”
Lord laughed and produced a silver penny from his fob pocket, holding it up to catch the autumnal sun.
“I was thinking to flip a coin. If it lands so he looks back at me, then His Majesty has my support and if he avoids my gaze, then clearly I should oppose him.” The coin span and Lord caught it on the back of one gloved hand and covered it with the other. “Shall we look and see?”
Gideon bit back the words he wanted to say. He was wise enough to know now when he was being baited.
Lord lifted his hand and peered at the coin.
“Heads,” he said and put the coin away. “Well it’s good to have that settled at least.”
From The Magpie’s Talon, Book Two of The ‘Lord’s Legacy’ Sextet by E.M. Swift-Hook