Infiltration and Exfiltration
At about two days distance from Banay (Moyri tells me that this is how you spell it) we sent out our advance party to scout out a good place for Moyri and me to hide while our spies infiltrated the town. They came back with the news that there were quite a bunch of farms around, mostly at an hour or two apart, by horse, and that one was actually a stud, and that at another farm, the farmer had set big, black dogs on them.
Well, horses are nice, and we hadn’t visited a stud farm yet, so we decided to go there, accompanied only by poor captain Ferin and his single, remaining private.
Roushan and Lyase had already gone on into the town, to pre-reconnoitre, and maybe find out where our sergeant Radan and private Mernath had already been there.
The arrival of an officer and a soldier at the stud farm was a bit of a shock for the farmers, at first they didn’t even notice the two women, that’s us, that were also there. Later, I learned that they thought we were the soldier’s prisoners! Of course, Moyri explained everything, and we got a very hearty welcome, both us, and our horses. It’s only natural, that people on a stud farm think first of the horses, and then of the riders.
Rovan and his wife Halla, that’s what the owners of this farm are called. They mostly raise working horses, not fancy horses for fancy Rhydins. They said we’d be welcome to stay for a week, if necessary. Because, yes, the explanation had included that we were going to try to enter
Banai Banay with the people there actually liking us, no matter what their betters thought of us. They were very serious about us approaching the doctor’s and midwives’ guild first.
After the horses were seen to, four tubs were filled with warm water. That’s when I had to explain to Rovan and Halla that Moyri and I would share one tub, and wash each other, and that if there were people of an easily shocked disposition, they’d better leave the scullery…
Halla grinned, and said, “Good thing you’re here then! Jerna, of the next farm, she’s as rigid as a poker and as stiff as a broomstick. But don’t worry, our Rovan has been in the war. He’s seen enough things. But I have to cook, so I’ll make myself scarce anyway!”
A lovely wash and shave later, we put on clean clothes, set all our dirty clothes to soak, and went to look for Rovan.
We shared a bottle of the orange brandy with him and Halla who pretty soon had decided she done all the supervising in the kitchen that was necessary, and joined us, together with Ferin. The soldier, Arvi, had offered to go out and help with the horses. She’s no longer a girl, but still quite horse-mad.
Pretty soon we learned all kinds of interesting things. Like that Banay has its own port, which it keeps hidden with semsin!!! And that with the people who came from Dol-Rayen, there were also a few who belonged to the Order of the Sworn, and that there was someone who called himself the Hand of Anshen, of the vice-Hand-of-Anshen, or something like that. That there’s a Temple of Mizran, which the Temple in Selday didn’t know about.
And they told us that a few years ago, the Iss-Peranian children-snatchers were active here as well. In fact, the nine-year old son of their neighbours, Jerna and Arin was stolen, a couple of years ago. Though they weren’t on speaking terms with them, owing to a feud between Halla and Jerna that went back twenty years, they still intended to take on their other son, now fourteen years old, on their farm.
I guess this is sheriff’s work? Moyri agreed with me, and I decided to visit them the next day. Halla said in a low voice that she actually would like a chance to make everything right with Jerna again, they used to be the best of friends, and now Halla couldn’t even remember what had caused the quarrel.
We had a lovely evening with these people, and a lovely night making love, and then a good sleep, and a good morning kiss-and-cuddle.
In the morning, I worked in the stables, turning the hay, before going out to the neighbours in the afternoon.
I didn’t even want to take captain Ferin or private Arvi, I wanted to be as non-threatening as possible.
When I rode into the barnyard, two enormous black dogs ran at me, their barks were deafening. Fortunately, the farmer called them to him, and then, a suspicious gleam in his eyes barked at me, “Who are you? Anything to do with those beggars who tried to get into my yard a few days ago?”
“In actual fact,” I said, still high on my horse (or is that ‘on my high horse’?), “Those were my apprentices, looking for a good place for me and the Baroness of Selday to stay. I am Khushi Cheraim, the sheriff of Selday.”
“And here’s my seal of office,” I bit at him, since it was clear he didn’t believe me. And I was even wearing my leathers and my sword!
“You’re a foreigner, aren’t you?”
“I am Sithi, but I was born in Veray, raised in Turenay, and now I am the sheriff. And since I’m the only one in Idanyas, I’m the sheriff of Idanyas.”
“Well, what brings the sheriff of Idanyas here?”
“The disappearance of your son. We are staying at Rovan and Halla’s stud farm, and they told us about the case.”
“Well, come in then. Jeran! Take the “sheriff”‘s horse.”
He walked into the house, and I followed him.
Inside was a forty-year old woman working spinning wool on a distaff. She looked up, and I could see the hardness in her face, but there were lines of grief, as well. I decided that I probably should take care not to let drop that Moyri isn’t just my boss, as the baroness, but also my wife…
So I asked them about their Lydan, their stolen boy. He was, according to his parent, nine years old, pretty bright and rather too cute for his own good. Red hair, small for his age.
I said, “I am not going to promise anything; I am not going to offer hope. But I am going to do what should have been done years ago, but which is only now possible, because the King has annexed Kushesh, Albetire and Peigham and garrisoned those places, and caused the Order of the Sworn to build houses there.
“I will write down every particular. You, Mrs. Jerna, you are gifted. You will show me your boy, and I will put the memory in the seal on the Order to Inquire, and the sealed order will be sent to Albetire, and there people will start an inquiry.
“Again, there is no hope; please do not even allow yourself to hope that there might be hope. It is too long ago, there have been wars and other upheavals.
“But what should be done, will be done. And now the other matter for which I have come. You have a feud with your neighbour Halla. What is the feud about, and should you keep your quarrel, or resolve it.”
She had nodded while I was talking about the inquiry, but now she bristled, “That’s nothing to do with you, I refuse to tell you!”
“That’s your right, but Halla has told me that she doesn’t even remember why you started quarrelling.”
“She doesn’t!” Jerna exclaimed, “She said she doesn’t?”
“That’s what she said, ma’am.”
“Well, I’ll be… If she’s forgotten… Maybe I do dare to meet her again.”
“In that case, I would like you all to be ready to join me, and come with me to Rovan and Halla’s farm.”
“Very well,” said Arin, “We will, won’t we, Jerna?”
And Jerna nodded, so Jeran was again told to prepare the horses. When he helped me in the saddle, he whispered, “Those people that Dad scared away, were that your apprentices?”
I nodded, and he continued, “I wish I could join them…”
“We’ll talk, I promise,” I whispered at him.
And when we were driving out, I let my horse stumble. I called out at Arin and Jerna, “Please go on, something’s wrong with my horse’s forefoot. I’ll ask your son to look at it, and maybe lend me another horse.
And that gave Jeran and me some time. He did want to see a bit of the world before going to work on Rovan’s farm, and I didn’t think he was wrong. Besides, I’ve got a job for him; I wanted him to go in and out of Balay, and find my apprentices, and, if possible, also Captain Ferin’s army.
He said he’d go there right away, if I could promise that his parents were going to stay late at Rovan and Halla’s. And that I could promise. So I left my horse there and went on to overtake Jerna and Arin. When they saw me on one of their horses, they had no suspicion whatsoever.
On our way, I reached out to Moyri. “Sweet wife of mine…” I said with my mind, “I’m bringing the stiff neighbours. I guess we’d better not let on that we are together, for as long as they are with us. Halla has not exaggerated.” And I reached out from my heart and put a little of me in her, and she put a little of her in me, and I guess we can survive dinner on that?
We haven’t eaten from one plate since we left Selday… Maybe after a few days Rovan and Halla will have gotten so used to us that we can do that again. That would be nice.
When we arrived, Halla and Jerna sort of ignored each other, but Rovan and Arin were very clearly happy to meet again. And, of course, it’s good for your standing with the neighbours if the Baroness is a guest in your house! And Moyri was at her most baronial.
During dinner many issues of import were discussed, very many, because it was quite hard to keep the conversation going, and actually, Moyri and Ferin did most of the work, with a bit of help from me, but finally, the two women started talking to each other. Or at each other.
In the end, when the food was gone, I told them, “Go to the kitchen, kick out the servants and wash the dishes together! If that doesn’t do the trick, I would be vastly surprised!”
And out they went. And I wanted to discuss Jeran with Arin, especially since the first thing that Rovan had said after Jerna and Halla had left was, “So, when can I expect that scapegrace of a son of yours here on the farm!”
So I got on Moyri’s lap, kissed her, and when that had reduced Arin to speechlessness, I told him about my plans for Jeran, and what I had asked him to do for me, and exactly how the two spoons fit together in the case of me and Moyri.
When I felt Jerna coming, I quickly clambered down, and said, “Not a word, for now, to your wife! And that Moyri and I are here is a secret for now!”
But we had discussed Banai and he knew why that was, so that was no problem.
And when they left, and Moyri and I were cuddling together on a stack of rugs near the fireplace, and Rovan and Halla were sitting next to each other a bench, Halla reading from a book to her husband, and everything was nice and peaceful… There was a knock, and a servant announced Jeran, who had brought back my horse.
He had found the army! They hadn’t been able to pass Banai, so they were investing the town as they had told Jeran. They were living on nothing but fish, since they couldn’t both hide themselves and hunt or go into the market. If Jeran hadn’t been gifted and I hadn’t told him how to see our hidden soldiers, he wouldn’t have been able to find them.
I sent for Captain Ferin, and he decided to go and collect his army and bring them here — and he and Arvi immediately started preparing, with the goal of leaving at false-dawn.