Eamonn and Sam filed back to the chamberlain’s office room and were promptly escorted by Edric to the top of the winding staircase to where a few guards were on duty and headed down and out of the tower. Both were relieved to have been granted a position. Sam was overjoyed that he had been given the chance to follow after his father, and Eamonn was glad he wouldn’t be resigned to a life on the farmlands.
The stables weren’t much better, at least they were something. They had each received an updated report from the Chamberlain as they left the Baron’s office with the instructions to see the entry watch guards for further directions. Sam handed his across to the guard, who recognised him from earlier, “So you’ve come back have you?” his tone less than friendly as he read through the report and noted the signature of the Baron. “You’ve been assigned accommodation in the east side recruit barracks, feel free to settle yourself in there as you need to, there’s a fully supplied eating hall in there if you need anything. Good luck in your classes.”
The guard handed Sam his report back and quickly signaled for Eamonn’s, “You’ll be living on the outskirts of the castle’s jurisdiction, the Chamberlain has arranged for you to have a horse, you’ll want to head out soon, it’ll take you the best part of two hours away by horseback from here in that direction,” the guard was now pointing towards the north.
Eamonn quickly looked at Sam, who could only shrug. Absentmindedly, Eamonn took his papers back from the guard and they moved a few paces away from the guard post. This meant that the two boys would be separating, “I can come with you” Sam suggested, Eamonn shook his head. “I can’t have you accompany me, Sam” he said, “You’ll need to organise a horse and who knows how long that’ll take?”
Reluctantly, Sam accepted his friend’s decision. There was one thing he wouldn’t be deprived of he thought, a hot meal at one of the inns. “Why not the eating hall? Why spend money that we don’t have?” Eamonn asked, Sam dismissed the notion quickly, telling Eamonn he had more than enough to cover it. He didn’t tell Eamonn that the night before, his mother had slipped him some coins for today and as he felt cold wind, light drizzle and the effects of a generally bleak afternoon, Sam felt they could do with some good food.
Sam led the way to one of the tidier establishments his mother had told him about. They entered the door, found themselves a table and Sam ordered them each a soup, a loaf of freshly baked bread and helped himself to a jug of water and two glasses. The serving girl soon arrived with the stifling hot meal and they happily tucked into their meals. Laden with vegetables as it was, it was full of flavour, it was hot and filled them both and the bread was great for picking up the leftovers in their bowls. They filled the time in between mouthfuls with small talk, neither one really wanting to voice their disappointment of them separating.
Sam left a few coins extra on the table and smiled at the barman and they left the cozy feeling of the inn and went out into the draughty cold of the late winter day.
Eamonn picked his way through the grounds towards the stables. The crowd was beginning to die down now as many of the stalls were being pulled down, ready for the occupants to return home to prepare themselves for the next day. Sam left Eamonn by the stables, telling his friend that he should settle into his new home before the sun set. He gave his friend a bear-hug, patting Eamonn on the back. That settled, they picked up their packs and went to turn from each other to go on their separate ways. Sam watched as Eamonn took a quick sip from his water skin and closed the opening on his pack, safely securing the restraints and swung it over his shoulder and turned away. Sam turned, did the same and started heading towards the barracks.
He had gone perhaps a dozen steps when the action provided the jolt Sam needed to remember what it was his mother had told him earlier.
Throughout the entire day it had been sitting at the back of his mind, gnawing away at him, he had been wracking his brain since the two of them had left home and it was only now that he realised what he needed to do. Sam remembered talking to his mother when they were about the leave home. Darcey had mentioned something to him…something about his pack. Now he put two and two together and realised his mistake.
Darcey had told him to tell Eamonn before they had arrived at the Baron’s office. Hoping Eamonn was still nearby, he swung his vision around, hoping to catch a sight of him. Eamonn was nowhere to be seen. Sam berated himself for his mistake. He shrugged. Eamonn would have to unload his pack sometime in the next few days. Whatever it was about his pack, he was sure to find it eventually.
It was a reasonable distance Eamonn had to cover to reach his new home. All stable recruits needed the fundamental basics of managing and caring for horses, regardless of their breed, as was explained to him by Maddox. When he’d tried to get more information from him, Maddox had smiled and told him to wait until he arrived so he could ask his mentor, Lyverild, he told himself after a few moments searching for the name, later that night.
Eamonn walked into the stables, finding the man who was obviously in charge and handed him his report. “So you’re heading out to see Lyverild?” the man asked, he was a few years older than Eamonn. He been trying to grow his hair out to cover a scar above his left temple. By the looks of it, he’d been unsuccessful as the scar had yet to whiten and fade. The man introduced himself as Logan Watts, offering his hand out to Eamonn, he told him about his time as a newly inducted stable hand. “The first few months are quite daunting, there’s so much to remember” he told him. When asked about the time spent learning weapons skills, Logan was less than enthusiastic, “We learnt from some of the tournament contenders,” he said. “Most of the other boys in my class at the time loved it, I didn’t. I wanted to care for the animals above everything else, I learnt what I needed to and I made it clear to them that if ever there was a battle, I wouldn’t be offering my services to the war effort.”
Eamonn tightened his lip at that, as far as he was concerned, as a trained professional it was Logan’s obligations to aid his country, “A lot of people have said that, I don’t want anything to do with it though. I would prepare them the animals they need, I would do my very best with that. As far as killing or wounding another human being, I draw a line at that.”
Moving down the stables, Logan looked into each of the pens where the horses were bedded down. Most were huge and well-muscled. More than anything Eamonn thought he could manage. Eventually they came to a stall and Logan wrote up the details. It was a little smaller than the ones he’d ridden back in Wildwood. They, for the most part, were a couple hands taller than this one. However, they were never as sleek and well-kept as this one.
Another thing that set this particular horse apart was that this horse also had a look of intelligence. At once, Eamonn saw a look in the horse’s eyes that told him this horse wouldn’t let just anyone ride him. Logan quickly saddled the horse and helped Eamonn up into the seat, handing him the reins, “Good luck” he told Eamonn, “Maybe I’ll see you when you come back.” With that he opened the stall and Eamonn trotted the horse through.
In a short time, Eamonn realised how easy it was to ride the stallion. He was comfortable around the more crowded areas of the grounds and never baulked when something unexpected happened. Once when a child ran in front of him, Eamonn tugged at the reins and marveled at how quickly the horse reacted to his touch.
Throughout his time in Wildwood, as all children did, he’d learnt to ride. He had some knowledge on the animals themselves, but never did he think that it was this easy to ride them. Eamonn reflected on those days he spent in the saddle back in Wildwood. Those were the days that everyone looked forward to. He had always been one of those people who watched as the others climbed atop the horse and set it trotting around the area that was set up for those days. Only once the more eager ones had their turn, would he voluntarily have his turn. He felt taking the first turn was selfish and he felt in the past that he was taking others’ generosity for granted. This disposition often contradicted his natural leadership ability, and he’d been told on numerous occasions to make better use of this ability.
He left the castle through the northern gate, bypassing the drawbridge and the inspection, he didn’t feel like it a third round of it. There was a routine check at the gate where he needed to dismount, with few others around, he was quickly back in his seat and making his way down the cobbles. He followed the road leading to the north-west, recognizing a steady stream of people returning home from the castle grounds out to the east. He passed over a small stream of water that ran across the path and then further up along the eastern side where he was going. The steady movement of the water seemed to deaden all other sounds, allowing him to relax in the saddle as his ventured through the countryside.
He kept the horse at a slow canter as he knew it would be an hour or two before he arrived. The consistent pace and easy rhythm had a calming effect on him, as the kilometers went by. He left the castle just before three o’clock that afternoon and knew he’d arrive in time to catch the evening meal and to retire to his bed after a long and stressful day.
Night was quickly drawing near. At first Eamonn felt the warmth escape from the air as the sun retreated behind the far hills in the west. With the final hint of sunlight, Eamonn could see the glow of fires and, as he got closer, he could smell the smoke that travelled through on the evening breeze, the smell alone seemed to bring some warmth to Eamonn’s cold and slouched figure. Finally, as he reached the crest of a hill, he set his eyes on the stables. It had been a hard slog, the easy to travel roads had at first been a calming experience, then the feeling of it never-ending began to come through and had a draining sort of felling to it, even more so than he thought it would. The small light given off shimmered in the early night, and the town was a welcome sight for him.
Like its temporary master, the horse had noticed the scent that came from the chimney, tossing its head in recognition. Eamonn patted the horse affectionately, he was still going strong, despite the cold they were now feeling. “Thanks boy. I can see it too,” he told the horse, swaying slightly in the saddle.
It had been a long day, he had never traveled so far in this amount of time, which may have seemed dismal considering where had lived all his life, he took it philosophically and realised that how he was feeling now wouldn’t even be the worst of it. In the morning he knew his muscles would be saddle sore and that the feeling of his tired muscles groaning was just the beginning as he stretched to dismount.
“I never knew riding could wear you out so much” he admitted to the horse, which again snorted in agreement. In fact, it was more of a psychological strain than physical for him.
Eamonn felt himself jerk awake and he muttered something darkly and groaned as he realised that he’d need to get to the town before he dropped off to sleep, he grabbed at the reins and led the way towards the stable, determined to complete his journey. “I hope you’re having a better time of it, Sam.” He said in a gloomy voice, his voice thick from the cold evening air.