So, I'm back after a short absence. I've had two weeks of deadlines and there are a few more such weeks in the offing, with the end of the semester, exams and marking upon us. I'm sorry that the blog has suffered from a inattention during this time but I see that people have been dropping in nevertheless, no doubt searching in vain for signs of life! Many thanks for your patience and interest.
Lord Drogo, the Castellan of Douma, anxiously paced the town’s walls early in the morning, fixing his eyes on the point on the horizon where the road north to Djordjevaro disappeared over a hillside. He saw no one. Four full nights had passed since he had sent young Matija as a messenger to bring Duke Jiri home from his hunting trip. If all went as well as it possibly could, meaning neither Matija or the Duke were delayed by the Bordurians or by anything else, the Duke might arrive at any time now and none too soon. Since Matija’s hasty departure, the situation in Hum had steadily deteriorated. The rebellion appeared to be spreading and the captain of the small Bordurian force in southern Hum had proved to be headstrong and rash man. His incursion into the St. Narcissus monastery had sparked the uprising and he had subsequently attempted a premature strike against the rebels, only to have suffered a crippling defeat from which he limped back to Douma seeking succor. There were rumours of plots everywhere and now there was talk of a second Bordurian force marching south. Lord Drogo rubbed agitatedly at his greying beard; No sign of the Duke yet, but at least there is yet no sign of any more Bordurians either.
At mid-morning, Drogo walked again on the battlements and gazed northward. He saw no one, not even the donkeys and carts of merchants and farmers on their normal comings and goings. The countryside, like the town, was tense with expectation of coming trouble and most people were staying close to home. Late in the morning, a young and sharp-eyed soldier who Drogo had selected as a watchman rapped on the door of the Castellan’s chambers: “My lord, you ordered me to report anything of note. A group of horsemen has crested the hill and is approaching the town. Less than a dozen men, armed with lances”. Drogo, in the middle of drafting a letter, threw down his inked quill and hastened to the ramparts with the young soldier in tow. “Yes, I can see them too” he said. The horsemen were descending the hill when the soldier exclaimed “My lord, I think I see a pennon, a red and white pennon”. The young man looked back toward Drogo, proud to be able to confirm that which his chief had been so clearly eager to see. “That will be the Duke then, by St. Vladimir! Ha Ha!” Drogo slapped the rock of the parapet in excitation and could not help breathing out a sigh of relief as he felt some of his pent-up tension lifted away. “I’m off to the gatehouse. You are to go immediately to inform the Duchess. And be quiet about this – speak only to her and do not let this news reach our… guest…” Drogo arched his woolly eyebrows meaningfully at the soldier then he turned and trundled off quickly. The youthful soldier watched Drogo hasten away despite his awkward gait, the result of a slight limp (an old wound) and his portly frame. Lord Drogo was normally a stolid and hard man, so the sight him so clearly rejoicing relieved the tension of the day.
A few minutes later, Drogo could clearly see the ducal pennon fluttering in the breeze. Duke Jiri was in the lead, riding smartly along on that wicked horse of his, then Stépan and finally the squad of knights behind. The Duke made haste indeed, he left half of his party behind, including his fancy cook! Drogo waited a few minutes more and then ordered the soldiers of the watch to lift the portcullis.
Jiri looked up at the battlements ahead and spotted the heads of soldiers peeking out from between embrasures here and there. There was the familiar mass of Drogo, now doffing his cap. Jiri raised his hand in salute and the gesture was returned by a cheer from the men on the wall. Then, passing through the gate, Jiri and his company were suddenly in the winding streets of the old town, confined by two and three story houses half-timbered and built of stone. There were relatively few people in the streets, but those that were there quickly made space for the horsemen. Stépan, somewhat amused, noticed that despite the long few days in the saddle, Duke Jiri suddenly had sat bolt upright in his saddle and had his beast of a horse prancing when they had encountered the townspeople. He cuts a heroic pose when he wishes to, the Duke! Stépan also noticed how the townspeople were looking up at Jiri with faces full of apprehension and expectation as he cantered by. Stépan turned to look behind him, only to see the young knights slumping in their saddles or looking up distractedly into second-story windows. He barked out a warning to look smart and took the ducal pennon himself, spurring his horse to make the pennon fly. The gesture worked. Every eye in the market square adjacent was now on Jiri and the pennon and people were now cheering the return of the Duke.
A few minutes later, the group was dismounting in the inner courtyard of the town’s keep. Jiri turned the reins over to a servant and was met at the door of the keep by his wife, Franka, a tall, straight and spirited woman in her middle years, with long black hair and striking blue eyes. The two embraced warmly, Franka exclaiming “Welcome back home my dear, it so good to see you. This is a happy morning, everyone has been counting the minutes till you showed up! I wasn’t sure when you would be able to return so quickly with all the trouble that has broken out. But shh, before you say more, we have an unannounced guest (she strained at the work “guest”), Baron Javor Dokovic. He is a Bordurian officer, the one who started this uprising off at St. Narcissus’ in Starisveta. He ran into trouble with the rebels three days ago and came running back here with his surviving soldiers and insisted on having shelter. I thought it best to get them out of sight of the townspeople as quickly as possible lest someone did something rash, and some of his soldiers are indeed sorely wounded. I have set up the old barracks outside the keep as a hospital. He seems to be making himself quite comfortable in the Great Hall. I daresay it is reinforcements he is expecting, not you! You had best meet him now, before he learns you are here. He is a dreadfully dreary man, but be nice anyway, won't you?" Franka winked and grimaced at Jiri. "We’ll talk afterwards, I have to check on the Sisters attending those wounded Bordurians”. Franka slid neatly out from Jiri’s amorous embrace and ushered him down the entrance hall toward the stair leading to the Great Hall and pushed him to the door before turning and descending the stairs once again.
Jiri scowled to find have his homecoming spoiled already by having to deal with this Bordurian officer. Using his ill-humour to harden his demeanour, Jiri pushed open the heavy hall door whose iron latch made a loud echoing “clunk” in the hall and strode in. He was still wearing his spurs, which clattered on the stone floor. Cultivating his deepest icy snarl, Jiri growled loudly at the figure leaning back in his chair at the head of the table “BARON! To what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of your presence in my Keep?