A Collaboration: Art - Stephanie Stone Writing - Richard Lee
Bringing a Wolf to Heel
The Lady of Thorn Keep sat on her throne glaring down at a single spot on the floor. It wasn’t so much that the spot itself was at fault, it happened to be located at the exact spot the Lady’s eyes fell when she sat thoughtfully; ruefully going over complex schemes and gambits in her mind. Still, though, any passerby who happened upon the scene might be impressed by the sheer fortitude of that particular space on the floor, as it hadn’t withered and crumbled into a dusty divot from the intensity of lady’s stare,
Like most thrones, this opulent, gem studded seat of ironwood, gold and fur sat on an alabaster dais centered on a raised white marble platform. It was approachable only via a short flight of pale stone stairs. Those approaching are constantly reminded of just how high the seated noble (if that’s what she could be referred to as) and how low they were. High above, a vaulted stained glass ceiling offered magically enhanced protection from the elements. Its gossamer appearance preserved pristine views of the sky at night but flooded the throne room with pastel hues that moved as the sun slid across its ecliptic.
Nobody came to call on the Lady though, not while she was in her unflinching trance, raining an avalanche of daggers at that one spot on the ground. To disturb her like this meant unimaginable peril; at least that is the tale told by all wait staff at Thorn Keep. When it came time to remind the Lady that dinner was ready, lots were drawn and oaths exchanged when all but one exhaled a sigh of relief; they didn’t draw the short straw.
The short straw drawer this night was a young goat named Lambert. Fate seemed particularly cruel as Lambert had only recently become old enough to join the staff. His father, the stable master had convinced the administrator that Lambert would be an valuable asset to the keep. Right now though, the young boy had wished that he had been sold to slavers along the coast; a fate preferable to his current task.
Lambert closed with fate, his steps cautious as though he were expecting a trap with every inch moved. At last, he padded into the throne room itself. Usually he’d take a few moments to bask in the sheer beauty of the room but a sense of grave self preservation overrode his desire to admire the glass ceiling. At last he stood at the top of the stairs, as far from the spot at which she stared as possible.
“Lady... Lady Sorcha”
She did not seem to respond.
“My Lady, the evening meal is ready.”
His second attempt also failed to get her attention. A cold despair began welling up from Lambert’s gut. Please please please, he pleaded with fate. Don’t let her turn me into something unnatural!
The Lady of Thorn Keep blinked, her eyes coming to focus on this small mousy boy in front of her. He was clearly in awe and terrified that he now had her full attention. Inwardly she smirked. Good. There was a sense of propriety that neither fear nor respect garnered on their own. It’s only through the careful cultivation of both that the Lady of Thorns kept her iron grip. She was glad to see that this pup was properly housebroken.
“Yes, what is it, boy?”
“The evening meal is ready, my Lady.”
Lady Sorcha’s eyes narrowed on the boy. She knew very well, the effect of such scrutiny would have, and savored the boy’s reaction. There was a certain rise that she got from watching the discomfort of those who stood before her throne and occasionally went to some lengths to exact just a little more. Beyond making her subjects and political adversaries squirm, Sorcha found backbone and unexpected courage to be delicious. This boy was new; the stable master’s son. Oh Yes. She had looked forward to this day since he was born some twelve years ago.
Lambert’s Father, a heavy set, powerful looking goat named Harrison, had been a cunning raubritter; a thug whose band of highwaymen grew large and organized enough to carve out a territory for themselves. These Robber Knights are one of the many scourges of vast tracks of unpatrolled wilderness. Harrison’s antics were particularly bold. He led raids far into “civilized” land for goods, supplies, and weapons. His undoing came when he attacked Thorn Keep’s grain stores. The Lady Sorcha herself intervened, raining fiery ruin upon the attacking ruffians. Routed and tumbling head over heels in utter defeat, the majority were easily picked off. Harrison and a few of his loyal soldiers either bravely or foolishly stood their ground against the magical onslaught. Ultimately that act of foolishness saved their lives. The Lady spared their lives with the promise that they would swear fealty to her and serve her household. Harrison became a stable hand. Eventually, he worked his way up to master of the stable, and unofficial administrator to all household affairs that involve outside labor.
Harrison eventually married the head maid and Lambert was born perhaps a year later. It was Sorcha’s hope that any child born of that union would inherit the sheer chutzpah of the father with the loyalty of the mother.
The Lady let Lambert’s words hang in silence; as though expecting him to deliver more information. The moment ripened with awkwardness since Lambert had no idea what else he should say. Clearing his throat, Lambert improvised “If it is the lady’s wish, I will arrange for the meal to be brought here.”
Yes. This boy will do. Sorcha thought to herself with satisfaction. “No, Boy. Have the meal sent to my study. I will be arriving there shortly.”
With the stableman’s son making a hasty retreat to the kitchen, Lady Sorcha was once again left to her thoughts. Her eyes returned to that spot on the floor. Sorcha had two main problems that she needed to solve. One involved increased hostilities between two principalities to the south and the other involved an incursion of Great Plague warriors. The two situations were close enough that one might be the solution to the other... The problem was the Great Plague...
(To Be Continued!)