The castle barn owl flew in like a ghost from under the ridge pole to pause on a truss, staring at the echoing voices below before giving a couple of circular bobs with his head and lunging into a glide to his nest with his mouse.
“I don’t understand, Your Majesty,” said Herio, looking anxiously from Razzmorten and Captain Bernard to Minuet. “I’m sworn to protect you. Why must I evacuate? Haven’t I proven myself?”
“Oh, Herio,” said Minuet, her voice full of admiration as she sat beside him and took up his hand, “a most worthy knight of this house you be, but truth to tell, you’re far more than that. Since you are now my adopted son and a potential heir to the throne, you cannot be risked. Besides, I need you to go with Captain Bernard and help protect our people.”
“But, King Hebraun charged me to protect you, my Queen…uh, Minuet,” he said, casting a hopeful look at Hubba Hubba, who was carefully following everything from Razzmorten’s shoulder, “and since you’re now my mother, hit’s even a family matter.”
Hubba Hubba let go of a black feather with a silky snap as he eyed the owl gliding from timber to timber on his way back out. “Queen’s got the right of it,” he rattled. “We’ve lost track of Lukus. We reckon he’s alive, but we don’t know that for sure, and Rose already says she won’t sit on the throne. You’re ‘way more important than just a knight, now that you’re part of the House of Niarg, Prince Herio. Got ‘o do what she wants this time. Besides, I’d feel better having you with me.”
Herio nodded resolutely at Minuet and squared his shoulders.
“You’ll do right well, Prince of Niarg,” she said with a look of fierce pride. “Go now and keep our people safe.” She gave him a quick hug and then took Razzmorten’s arm as they rose and filed outdoors, with Hubba Hubba, Pebbles and both their broods, each one of them now in crow form, fluttering along overhead.
Gwynt was waiting beside Captain Bernard as the mounted throng surrounding them fell to a hush. Herio found his stirrup, threw his leg over the cantle and as soon as the crows had all found their places, nodded at Bernard. At a grand and silent wave from Bernard, the multitude began ambling toward the gate. Herio did not look back, but he could feel Minuet’s eyes on him for a very long time.
Ch. 38, The Burgeoning
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps