Secrets of The Court: Chapter 3

 November 6th, 1519 - South of Wessport

Tristan had never been to the southern part of Angloa before and the picturesque land was foreign to him. In the group traveling were some soldiers that had been with him during the war, and they had agreed to accompany their old general. Even if Tristan officially had the title of a count, he would forever be seen as the general of the northern armies by many. The soldiers who accompanied him, around twenty, had left little behind at home when the war started and thus had nothing to return to. They decided to accompany their mysterious commander and would either be provided with a charge of guarding his estate, or lands to farm. Lucius was also in the group for he possessed a small estate in the same province as Tristan, only a day’s ride south from Adelton Hall.

They set out early in the morning, while the sun had yet to light up the sky. Tristan wanted to arrive at Adelton as soon as possible. He knew he could not leave Angloa now, but at least he could get away from the hectic life at court.

Sofia was not among the people in the group, and it was probable that this was where the two parted ways. Sofia saw herself as a free spirit, and no place could keep her tied down for long. Tristan marrying meant that he would probably settle for good, which meant that Sofia would eventually leave him. She had been with him ever since he was eleven years old and, except for the war, Tristan had gotten used to being with her for long periods of time.

It was a cold November morning when he left, with frost painting the wood of the small houses and the stone of the palace of Wessport. Fluffy snowflakes fell from the gray heavens and the air was so cold that a great white cloud would release with every exhalation — it was in this setting that Sofia had said goodbye to the man she had come to know as a son. It was a parting almost rid of emotion, only a few words were exchanged, the sounds muffled by the thick blanket of snow that now covered Wessport.

“Have a care with that girl,” Sofia warned. “Marrying her would be wrong.”

He nodded slowly. “Maybe,” he started, “postponing such a thing will give her time to reconsider.”

Sofia arched an eyebrow. Ominously dark eyes stared at him as if digging their way right into his soul. “I shall see you again,” she said, the words sounding prophetic almost. He did not dispute her, understanding that she was probably right.

Tristan was about to turn around and leave the old gypsy when her thin hand grabbed him by the arm, abruptly stopping him. Only silence and two piercing black eyes met him as she squeezed his hand. Tristan understood the meaning of the gesture.

He gave a small nod.

Then she left.

He sat in the saddle of his gray horse, a day and a half later, still thinking of her. He should have said something. He should have at least hugged her goodbye. A scoff urged its way up his throat. No doubt the gypsy would have clawed her way out of such a gesture.

Their group was made up of soldiers, some servants, Lucius, and even Joseph — who accompanied the odd group even though his home was to the west, close to New London. All were speaking amongst themselves, and the merry chatter made the silence of the surrounding winter land seem less harsh. They were traveling in flat country and the snow had fallen thick here. It made their journey forward harder as the carriages sometimes got stuck whenever they got off the main roads. They were bound for even harsher roads, for the mountain range of Alban. It stretched almost from one end of the country to the other, except for a part to the far east — where most travelers used to cross. However, Tristan wanted to get to Cadherra as soon as possible and the fastest way was through the mountains. After the mountains came a small forest at the foot of the mountain range which was the gateway to Sorossa. It was a region filled with great flatlands and the Rowan River that eventually led to the northern part of the Bay of Biscay.

They would continue down the flatlands, cross the river and venture through the greatest forest of Angloa — Raven's Grove. It also marked the beginning of Cadherra. It was a long voyage. It would probably take them the better of ten days if they did not make too many stops. Christine and her mother had opted for the easier route, to travel by ship instead of crossing the harsh inland country. It was a longer voyage taking the ship from Wessport, traveling around the northern point and then venturing south to Coldwick. From there they would take a carriage to Adelton.

Map of Angloa
"You seem troubled my lord," came the baritone voice of Lucius as he rode up next to Tristan.

"Hm," Tristan grunted. He kept his gaze fixed on the road as he answered, planning for the arrival, thinking about politics and about the mess he had gotten himself into. The winds gained strength and both Tristan and Lucius pulled their hoods further down and rose their scarves to cover their mouths from the icy gusts of air that threatened to freeze their lips off.

"Do you remember the day the battle was won, my lord, and the request you asked of me?"

For the first time, Tristan looked at Lucius and found the other man's worried eyes digging holes into his.

"I do," answered Tristan. He looked around. There were too many people close by that were within earshot. Even Joseph was casting a curious glance their way as they spoke. No doubt their conversation might be overheard by many others then as well. He knew Lucius had found out information about a possible traitor, a grim realization that greatly troubled him.

"Do not speak of it here Lucius." Tristan cast a glance at the people around them and then looked back at Lucius as if silently telling them that they could be overheard. "This is not the time nor place." Lucius gave a stiff yet understanding nod and went back to chat with Joseph. 

The whole exchange of words seemed forgotten as they rode deeper into the storm.

November 11th - Atlantic Sea

The gray clouds gathered ominously in the heavens and stared down at the lone ship while it traveled south on the Cantabrian Sea. Christine was on deck, surrounded by Angloan, French, and Spanish merchants who would make a stop for them at the southeastern port town of Coldwick. She stared off into the distance, wondering if the faraway lands she saw were still France or if she was gazing at the Iberian Peninsula — where her father's old country lay. It was a land he had spoken of many times. To Christine, it had transformed into a mysterious romanticized nation. It was filled with tales of passion and romance, of the Moors who had once dominated the fertile lands and whose buildings still stood, like rare jewels, already forgotten by history and taken over by the force of another religion.

"My lady, will you not come below deck with us? I see a harsh storm on the horizon, and I do not like the look of it," came Maria's calming voice behind her. Christine looked again at the distant lands on the horizon and hugged the soft, gray furs closer around her as she willfully followed Maria down below deck.

The knot that had formed in her stomach ever since the day of her engagement was stronger with every rising sun. As she walked to her chambers, shared with her mother, she did not look the older woman in the eyes. Her mother sat knitting in a corner, keeping her mind off the swaying waves that had made her so seasick earlier as they set out.


November 15th - Sorossa

The long train of men and horses had crossed the difficult Alban mountain pass and descended into Sorossa. It was noon and the day was rid of clouds, and the sun warmed their otherwise chilled bodies. It made for a spectacular sight. The hilly countryside with small, red farms, was dusted with thick layers of powdery snow and white puffs of smoke escaped the brick chimneys.

The roads here were not as hard to plow through as they had been ridden of snow and salted. It had made most of the slick ice melt and secured the path for the horse and its rider. As the group descended into the picturesque country, the road became wider and the land flatter. Small frozen lakes started painting the landscape and the dark ice reflected the bright beams of the smiling sun. The bright snow almost blinded the men, many of them grateful that it was not snowing anymore.

Some in the group had been close to losing their lives as they had crossed the mountain pass. The regular road, that went through an old mine, had been blocked by great masses of snow and it was impossible to get through. Tristan had decided not to wait, anxious to get to Cadherra and to the warmth of Adelton Hall. He had thus decided to test the limits of his servants and old soldiers and pushed onwards.

They had been heading to a steep and dangerous pass that was situated snuggly between two vast walls of nothing but tall rock. If the storm had gotten any harsher, they would have been trapped. At one point, during the second day of their crossing, something had set off an avalanche and buried two men and a mule under a mountain of snow. The men were found quickly and were able to be saved, alas the mule had perished, along with the various items of armor and textiles it had been carrying. It served to alert Tristan of the pending danger of their situation and of how foolish he had been to push forward. Later that day, they saw the end of the pass and finally made it out safely. He sighed, it was cheaper to travel by land than to purchase accommodations on a ship for himself and his entourage. Still, Tristan started thinking that the arduous inland journey was becoming a mistake. 

Tristan's sharp eyes settled on the faraway distance, on the black forest lining the lands on the horizon. It was Raven's Grove, the forest that divided the provinces of Sorossa and Cadherra. He had been talking to Joseph and Lucius earlier that morning before they had set out, arguing about if they should go around or through the woods. If they went through the forest, they would save a day of tedious traveling, but they risked being set upon by thieves and bandits. The forest was famous for hiding outlaws and few ventured there, except those who kept such distasteful connections. Tristan was already questioning if he should risk his men's lives a second time and traverse the woods or if he should opt for the safer route around it instead.

Tristan glanced back behind him and saw the tired but cheery faces of those who followed him. As the day continued and they neared the forest, he decided that they should make camp for the night and that in the morrow they would decide on the best course of action. He gathered the servants and soldiers around the large campfire, his hood up, hiding his face in shadow. He had no wish to be ogled by either his own folk or the travelers that passed them by on the road.

Tristan positioned himself on a raised part of the ground. The twenty soldiers stood furthest away. They were accustomed to keeping a perimeter and guarding the camp. However, they were still close enough so that they could hear the dark voice of their general. Closest stood the thirty-three servants — men and women who would make up the new household of Adelton Hall, together with the remaining staff. Everybody listened carefully, fixing their gaze on the tall and hooded man in front of them.

"Soon we shall be at the doorsteps of Raven's Grove," he said, claiming the attention of the travelers.

Many of the soldiers and servants looked beyond Tristan, for behind him lay the dark forest. It seemed that the light of the snow did not touch the forest and there was something eerily quiet about it that unsettled most. The most simpleminded of them believed the common tales told — that it was enchanted and that witches and warlocks inhabited the woods, for only evil could be contained there. The most intelligent of the lot knew there to be murderous thieves and criminals hiding between the trees, and Tristan already knew that they were being watched.

"I see that the way through the Alban pass tired most of you. By going through Raven's Grove, we save two days' ride, if not more," he paused and hesitated before continuing. "I will not ask all of you to go through the ordeal of having to be beseeched upon by thieves and bandits. That is why I give you the option to travel with Joseph and go around the forest."

Some of the servants looked at Joseph standing behind Tristan. A handful of servants, some older women and men gave a resolute nod. They had no hurry to reach Adelton before anyone else and they had no wish to meet anyone wielding a knife or weapon wishing them harm. However, most stood their ground with worry in their eyes. And yet — Tristan's men trusted in his ability to get them through the forest safely. While the servants had not gone to battle with Tristan, they trusted in the tales they had heard about the fearless General Hawthorne and that he would be able to protect them from any witches or enchantments that might come their way.

"Very well," came the cool voice from beneath the hood. "Tomorrow, we set out before the first light hits the ground. We will part ways as we reach the Grove."

Thus, it was decided. Most went back to their respective sleeping places, between carriages, or next to horses and mules, to protect from the harsh snow and winds that the Sorossa night had to offer.

Tristan returned to his small tent. He had it for himself but his horse, Cid, stood just outside, as a precaution, guarding him as he had during the campaign. Lucius followed suit on Tristan’s command. Tristan was keen to hear what his friend had discovered in the north and in Wessport while looking for the traitor.

Tristan pushed aside the white fabrics and stepped into the modest living quarters of his tent. The ground within it was open and within was a raised bed so he did not have to sleep on the cold snow, and plenty of furs and blankets to shield him from the cold. An improvised table made out of barrels stood in one corner where maps of the region had been placed for study. Amongst them lay a map of Raven's Grove that Tristan had looked at earlier that day. Both men went to sit at the table while helping themselves to some stale mead.

"I gather you have discovered something of import, then." Tristan could not hide his curiosity while he sipped the alcoholic beverage. He pushed his hood back and did not fail to notice Lucius’ lips thinning at the sight of the mask. The light of the oil lamp gave Lucius insight into Tristan's eyes, causing him to look away on reflex.

"Aye, and disturbing news they are." Lucius did not know where to begin, or if he should have even told Tristan now. It would have been better to wait until they arrived at Adelton Hall before he unleashed such news. "I... do not quite know where to begin."

"The English forces knew where we were planning to position our forces, an indication we might have a traitor on our hands — was that the case?"

Lucius nodded. He remembered well — it was the same day they had won the battle at Castell.

"I started looking for signs of a spy in our midst and found that the night before the battle, two men had been unaccounted for on several occasions. One of them was in my platoon." Lucius felt ashamed that one of his own men might be involved. "The other was a young lad belonging to the sixth platoon. He was found later that day on the battlefield, together with the rest of the bodies, with an ax in his shoulder. My first commander believes he bled to death."

"Let me guess," Tristan continued, "this man with the ax in his shoulder had not been accounted for before or during battle. Was he one of the presumed deserters then?"

Lucius nodded. This worried him, the young boy must have found out something he oughtn't.

"My fear is that he suspected something and took it upon himself to follow my man—my own man," Lucius said with a wavering voice, casting his eyes down in a sign of defeat. Tristan diverted his gaze, he knew what Lucius must be going through, but he offered no words of comfort on the subject.

"Lucius," was all he said, "who is the presumed traitor? Where is he now?"

"His name is Alan Moore, and he is here, in this group going to Cadherra." 

Tristan's eyes widened.

"Then… whoever he is reporting to has decided to keep an eye on us." He raised his hand to run it through his hair but stopped himself, reminded that the mask was still there. Tristan rose from his seat and walked about the room, his mannerisms agitated and stiff. His tall, dark form loomed. His cloak floated around him eerily, without a sound, shrouding his form, making him look more like a formless shadow than a man of flesh and blood. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime to Lucius, Tristan turned around and stared directly at him. Lucius’ blood chilled in his veins as the harsh eyes locked with his, they were blacker than night and there was a glint there that he feared very much.

"Bring him to me, now."

November 18th - Raven's Grove

The sun was barely peeking through the dense forest of Raven's Grove. Most of the people in the group had to keep using their torches even though it was mid-morning. At least the harsh winds that had been blowing through the lands during the past few days did not reach them through the frosted crowns of the great ash- and oak trees.

The harsh winds had also served to block out the screams of Alan Moore, the spy that had killed one of his fellow countrymen for a mere sack of silver coins.

The previous night, Tristan and Lucius had spent the better part of the night interrogating Alan. Lucius tried using mind games against him but was not successful for Alan was fearful of revealing anything he knew. But as soon as Tristan got down on his level — while Alan was tied down — and he pulled down the hood, Alan squirmed.

As the night progressed, they started torturing Moore with varying methods. Moore's blood stained the white snow under him, and the tears mingled with the snot on his face, but he would still not yield. Tristan was starting to lose his patience. He knew he should have waited to imprison Moore when they got to Adelton Hall as the castle was certain to have some sort of holding cell. However, he was keen on finding out who else had sold them out to the English. He knew that Moore would not yield to any torture, probably because he was more afraid of who had paid him than he was of Tristan and Lucius.

Tristan had read the meek man, and gotten a sense of him. There was one final action he could take that in any other circumstance he would have refrained from, but he was pressed for time and information. 

Tristan had asked Lucius to leave the tent but Lucius had hesitated, he had no idea what Tristan was planning. And yet, after a little convincing, he obeyed and stepped out, guarding the opening while Tristan got to work.

Tristan and Alan stared at each other for a while until Tristan removed the mask. At first, Alan's small brown eyes squinted as he looked closer at the face that was mere inches from his own. A good ten seconds passed, and Alan wondered if Tristan Hawthorne was mad — as if he believed that his face was cursed and that whoever looked upon it would die a horrible death. But the longer Alan looked, the clearer it became to him that something was very wrong with the face before him. Finally, he found himself staring at the face in sheer horror. The man before him revealed a sinister smile and something within Alan snapped, his growing fear seeped out of all the orifices of his body, and it made for a smelly mess. Tears of horror trickled down pale cheeks, mixing with the snot leaving his cold nose. He realized then that his mouth was open, and his scream had been a silent one at first. Finally, he found his voice.

Tristan used the momentum to interrogate the poor man and Alan revealed all that he knew in an instant. He had been bribed by a captain posted in Wessport, who probably reported to someone of higher command. He had been told to meet up with the English the night before the battle to give them a letter after which Alan had been greatly rewarded.

Alan had revealed all that he knew, even the name of the captain: John Fletcher. It was someone whom Tristan Hawthorne surely would have a word with the next time he got back to Wessport. When he asked why Alan was in the group going to Cadherra, Alan only responded that he would receive a sizeable pay every other month if he reported everything the Count of Cadherra did. Tristan did not let the worry show on his face.

Tristan had risen from his crouching position and stared down at the man. He knew that he had to kill him now that he had seen his face. But there was something inside Alan that seemed broken. It was as if seeing Tristan's face had sent him over the edge, for he kept mumbling to himself, crying and rocking back and forth. Tristan sneered at him and sighed, pulling the mask back over his face, pulling the laces to secure the leather hood snuggly on his head and around his neck, telling Lucius to come back in again.

Lucius, who had heard the desperate screams of Alan was uncertain of what he might find. When he saw the state Alan was in, he did not dare ask what kind of tactic Tristan had used on him. Alan was taken to a secure place next to the tent and tied up. He would spend the rest of the night exposed to the harsh cold. If he survived such an exposure Alan would come to Adelton Hall and be locked up in the deepest, darkest dungeon they could find until they had coaxed more out of him.

Later that day, Lucius kept sneaking glances at Tristan as they rode quietly. He wondered what Tristan had done to frighten Moore so.

The cloaked and hooded figure was taking in the surroundings. They were traveling in a line with a width of five men. Servants and carriages went in the middle and the fiercest soldiers took the back.

Tristan was unnerved by the quietness of the forest. The tall trees with their frosted crowns did not allow for much light to seep through, and the road was surprisingly easy to travel. It had been cleared by someone that used it frequently. Something, a premonition, or simply basic instinct, told him that there was an attack waiting to happen. He grew overtly tense as time passed, the tension lingered, and no one showed. A few hours passed, none talked as the eerie forest seemed to dull any cheerful mood that had been brought into it earlier that morning.

Suddenly, Tristan heard something in between the naked bushes and the deep snow. An arrow flew by his head which he managed to duck away from at the last second.

"Ambush!" he shouted as he got down from his horse and unsheathed his swept hilt blade and knife. Lucius did the same thing and the soldiers at the back of the train got into formation. They formed a protective circle around the civilians and servants who huddled beneath their carriages as brute men stormed out from between the trees. They seemed like wild creatures of the forest, dressed in white rags and furs, with a crazed look in their eyes. They attacked fiercely and the battle progressed for a while. Tristan, together with Lucius, took the front where the battle was at its thickest. Tristan started plowing through the men, staining the white snow with fresh blood that seeped from wounds that had met with his cold steel. They seemed to be winning the battle, but Tristan suspected something to be amiss, it was too easy.

As the thought crossed his mind, he saw the figures in the treetops, pointing their crossbows at them. Some even had pistols, a weapon too expensive for simple bandits to have.

A sinking feeling settled in Tristan’s stomach as he realized that they were surrounded and outnumbered. Yet Tristan, too proud to admit defeat, kept fighting. However, as he saw the men around him slowly being taken down by the arrows and pistol balls, he realized they would never win. He ordered his men to stand down. The bandits closed in around them and the soldiers dropped their weapons in defeat. The civilians gathered in a group, staying close to each other, looking at the brutes with pure fear in their eyes.

One man stepped out from among the white-clothed men. He wore tattered dark green clothes, a gray cloak and had one of the pistols resting in his left hand. He bore a well-trimmed and auburn-colored mustache and goatee which was trimmed short, it bore the color of auburn with some streaks of silver in it. As he approached, it was evident that the well-dressed stranger did not belong amongst the other men. While they looked rough and robust, he looked refined and handsome even. He had long, brunette locks, icy dark eyes, and a scar that split his left eyebrow in half. It gave him a charming air, Tristan’s own eyebrow raised as he took in the appearance of the man before him.

"Well, what have we here?" the stranger asked cheerfully, raising his arms in an arrogant gesture of welcome. The strange bandit swept his eyes over the group. The servants hugged each other, and the soldiers continued looking at the weapons they had thrown to the ground. They needed only one excuse to throw themselves after them and recommence the fight. The stranger's eyes shifted to Tristan's hooded form, still clutching his bloodied sword and breathing heavily from the fight.

Immediately curiosity struck.

"Seems we struck gold today, didn’t we lads?" The other men cheered and laughed. Lucius was gritting his teeth in frustration.

The leader approached Tristan and the air tensed as they came face to face. The leader of the bandits started circling the cloaked man. He took in every little detail, from the boot-clad feet to the black-clad hands, the furs and cloak that was swept about the taller man.

"I’ve heard tales of a man that hides his face and sports a fine sword much like yours—the scourge of the English, they say." The bandit leader was genuinely intrigued by the man before him although always keeping on his guard, gripping the pistol tightly, and letting his hand rest on his sword as a sign of warning toward Tristan. Tristan looked up and pushed back the hood, letting his mask speak for itself. Some of the bandits in the group arched their eyebrows and the leader looked surprised as well. However, it was shortly followed by something that looked like mischievousness and interest.

"Tristan Hawthorne."

"It seems my fame precedes me," Tristan answered dryly.

The stranger let out a small chuckle as he stopped in front of Tristan. "Aye, the great Lion of the North."

Tristan’s lips thinned at the sarcastic intonation.

The man neared him to an uncomfortable closeness, and he looked straight into Tristan's eyes — he did not divert his gaze at any moment. The tension rose even more between the two. Lucius, who had kept a keen eye the whole time could, like the rest of the party, not tear his gaze away, wondering who would strike first. However, the stranger soon backed down, but it did not seem like he did so in defeat. Rather, he had discovered whatever he wanted to discover.

"I wonder if you have heard of me, my lord?" asked the bandit almost with a cheerful tone after a long moment of silence. Tristan was momentarily surprised by the sudden change in attitude. The previous tension that had hung about them was all but gone. Instead, there seemed to be a lightheartedness about the man.

"I cannot say that I have," Tristan answered, treading carefully. He got the impression that the bandit before him wore a mask much like himself only that his was a charade, an act of sorts, and that behind that mask lay danger. The bandit seemed disappointed at Tristan's choice of words.

"Henry Saxton. Alas, I cannot say it has been a pleasure, however...that is all I leave you with…" The rather pensive expression on his face suddenly shifted into a mischievous smirk, "and your life of course, and those of your group. Today I only steal your valuables."

There was little else said as the robust thieves eagerly hurried to the carriages in the middle and started searching them for valuables. They took most of the silver cutlery, the candelabras, tapestries, and some satin fabrics which had been granted to Tristan from James for his new home. Tristan felt the veins in his temples and neck pop. But when he reached for his sword Lucius was quickly by his side, cautioning him and urging him to take great care. If he had known who Henry Saxton was, he would have been more cautious as well.

Tristan felt his dignity dwindle as he saw the white-clad men together with Saxton disappear with the prized and expensive possessions. Tristan had never been materialistic, the stolen possessions could easily be reclaimed or repurchased if need be. However, the loss of his pride and dignity could not.

November 19th - Cadherra

When they had been shamefully robbed by Saxton the day before, they had not tallied for too long. In a few hours, the thick forest roof started fading and gave way to the sun. The light shone on the powdery snow, and it made the travelers blind as their eyes had been accustomed to the shadows and darkness of Raven’s Grove for the past day.

Later during the day, after having descended into a valley and passed by various small farms they arrived at the edge of the town of Hayes, on the outskirts of the castle grounds.

They stood on a hill, overlooking the picturesque scene. There were many chimneys, short and robust. Most of the houses were framed in wood, decorated with painted flowers and leaves, and painted different varieties of red, the color was faded on the older buildings. Some, belonging to richer merchants, stood out. They were grander and made of more expensive materials such as stone, with more colors and decorations. Tristan had never seen such a colorful town before. It was Hayes, the heart of Cadherra. It seemed to have managed to hold up quite well, even after the death of the late count. Beyond the town, Tristan and the party started getting a better view of the castle that was to become their new home.


Adelton Hall was unlike anything Tristan had ever seen before. The style of the architecture alone was alien and new to him, its foreign nature leaving a deep impression. It emerged from the rolling mist that descended the high cliff, making it seem to be perched amongst the clouds. The whole structure was constructed of bright stone. Somehow it had not been tainted nor sullied by the many years of rain and harshness nature might have thrown at it. It looked new and pristine as it reflected the soft sunbeams.

The castle itself consisted of several individual structures that were erected on top of a cliff ridge. The elongated building was furnished with numerous towers, ornamental turrets, gables, balconies, pinnacles, and sculptures. Most window openings were fashioned as bi- and triforia. The structure looked as if having stepped out of a fairytale of old.

Adelton Hall in winter

There was a smooth carpet of snow with a lain path leading up to Adelton Hall. As they neared, a symmetrical gatehouse flanked by two stair towers manifested. It had a deep arch to enter the complex. The stone of the gatehouse was a much darker color, indicating that the individual building might have been constructed earlier and thus preceded the castle itself. There was a movement of people entering and leaving through the gatehouse. There were some carts, livestock, horses, and people lining the winding road, waiting to be let in. Most carts carried food, supplies, and barrels, probably filled with mead, water, wine or other liquids. It looked like the household and the Chamberlain had been informed of the arrival of their new master, for the ingredients of a feast seemed to be arriving.

As the party rode in through the gatehouse, Tristan got a look at the two coat-of-arms that lined the walls of the arched passage. One on each side. To his right was the royal coat-of-arms of Angloa. Three wolves, each of them bearing crowns to show the original three lords that had obtained the independence of the country. They had later become the three kings to rule Angloa between themselves. On the left side was the provincial coat-of-arms of Cadherra. It was simple enough, there was a faded blue outline and then a field of gold holding a white tree with a lone wolf at its foot.

Under it, was an empty space for the nobleman of the province to hang his family’s coat, alas, Tristan had none. That formality had yet to be established. When leaving Wessport he had been pestered by the herald to establish his name, to choose what best represented him. Tristan never thought he would have any heraldry or be able to claim one to his name one day. 

Lucius caught his glance, stopping his horse next to Tristan’s. “Too many wolves in this province,” he murmured. “Maybe a lion should join this wall,” he blinked, prompting his horse to walk on. Tristan squeezed the reins and pulled down the deep hood, urging his horse into a trot. Back in Wessport, Lucius had argued that Tristan should choose something he thought embodied him in both body and spirit. It had also been Lucius that suggested Tristan embrace the nickname he had gotten during the campaign in the north. The Lion was, after all, a fitting animal. A black lion, even more so. The idea made Tristan chuckle and he had agreed, but only because he knew it would anger Lord Braun, who had been the one to establish the name Lion of the North as an attempt to belittle Tristan.

Some of the merchants already unloading their cargo on the first courtyard were some of the first people in the Hayes valley that would catch a glimpse of the now famed General Hawthorne. Hayes and Adelton Hall in particular had been ablaze with speculations as to the nature of their new lord and master. A whole year had passed in Cadherra without a lord to oversee it and many parts of the province had fallen into disarray. The hope of the tenants, merchants and farmers was that whoever became their new landlord, he would be as just and kind as his previous one—despite the charges of treason against him, which few of the Cadherrans refused to acknowledge or believe.

Thus, the party received quite a few stares and curious glances as they rode into the courtyard. In particular, it was the dark-garbed general, with the hidden features that caused the whispers to start.

The courtyard had two levels. The lower one was defined to the east by the gatehouse and to the north by the foundations of a rectangular tower and another unknown building. Tristan suspected that it was the chapel. The southern end of the courtyard was open and allowed the visitors a stunning view of the surrounding mountain and pinewood forest scenery. The group was shown where to take their horses — to the west end of the gatehouse where there was an entrance for the stables.

Suddenly a short, pudgy woman, followed by an ensemble of well-groomed men and women, was making her way to them. Her short legs seemed to be working twice as hard for her to keep up a rather fast pace and her petite face was already flushed as she reached the group. She curtsied and the ladies behind her did as well while the men bowed. They were all dressed in similar clothes. The women bore simple, dark blue gowns with white chemise sleeves and white aprons. The men wore dark blue suits, with matching hoses.

"My lord, I bid you welcome to Adelton Hall," came her soprano voice, not matching at all the stern expression of the old woman. She gave Tristan a good look, considering his appearance. A thin eyebrow rose, and she angled her head to the side, looking somewhat inquisitive.

"I assume then, good sir, that you are Tristan Hawthorne?" There was a shadow of insecurity revealing itself within her countenance, although she did well in holding it back.

Tristan looked around and then back at her. "Who else would I be?"

As the servants had known of their new lord arriving, they must also have been told of his peculiar appearance. The woman's mouth pressed into a thin line as she refused his question.

"The Chamberlain," she continued patiently, her voice continuing in its high pitch, "was unable to meet you as he is bedridden with a fever, but I assure you that—" To the woman's utmost surprise, and most of the servants' as well, Tristan disregarded her. He headed straight for the opened door where most of the servants had come from. A few seconds passed by before she started following Tristan, motioning the other servants to follow her. She quickened her steps as she chased the taller man who had already created some significant distance between them. When she caught up with him, they had already entered the first court. There was a marble staircase leading up to the higher levels, two tall doorframes were on each side of the wide stairs. This part of the building, Tristan remarked, was newer.

"Mrs.…," Tristan said while glancing at the older woman.

"Hammond," she replied almost fumingly. It was clear that she was not used to being interrupted. It amused Tristan somewhat.

"Show me to my chamber, have a hot bath prepared for me, and inform me when supper will be served. After my bath, I will take a tour of the premises by myself. You may show Baron Chaeld whatever room you see fit,” he said, nodding at Lucius who was tailing them from the back. “There will also be another group arriving tomorrow, I suspect. The leader, Joseph Astor, is to be provided with a guest room as well." Lucius couldn’t help it as a chuckle emerged — he hadn’t heard Tristan muster up so many words to anyone outside the regiment since at least a few months back.

Mrs. Hammond flared her nostrils in irritation, holding her tongue from uttering any sharp retorts. Instead, she prayed for God to give her strength. Tristan was her master and lord of Adelton Hall now, and she was obliged to do as he bade.