Chapter One

The Find

Lord Caspar was apprehensive. A strange, unconscious creature lay on the forest's mulch, in the centre of what could only be described as an inverted and perfectly-shaped dome within the ground

Night still lingered in Fool's forest, attached to the cloud drifts that hung lowly between the trees and brambles. He and his men had been ordered out of their beds in the early morning by a messenger come on the edge of the westerly winds, sent special by the King's Colonel Hum. There had apparently been a sighting in one of the woods up in King's City, not eight hours ago, and thus Lord Caspar was required, by law of the Hunt, to rise up his men from their slumbers and scour the lands in search of what now lay before them.

"What is it?" one of his soliders remarked, the first to speak.

"It is a woman. A woman this time!"

"The rumours were all of men. Why, this must mean something to have a woman!"

Caspar glanced around him, at his soldiers. They were like deer smoking pipes. Huddled together against the cold, the moonlight that drifted through the canopy bathed their faces and battleheads in a cold, blue hue, making them look like a ghostly battalion haunting the forest. If it were not for their warm breaths swirling by their faces, diffusing into the cold atmosphere in a puff, Caspar would have believed their supernatural appearance.

"Hush!" he bellowed, the echo of his voice riveting through the forest's soundless and ethereal dark. His party fell silent.

The Lord bucked his mare with his heel and guided the horse around the dome-hole, observing the creature's form. There was a gentle rise and fall of the creature's, woman's, torso, breathing no doubt. Not dead, he thought grimly. He stopped an appropriate distance away, the rustling of fallen leaves ceasing, and then dismounted.

Mattydel, his second, detached himself from the group, and approached his master, "This was found not ten feet from her."

Mattydel, who was reliable and a realist and thus wholly ignored all fantastical rumours and small-talk about these sightings, placed in Caspar's palm a small, smooth object. Caspar watched his second closely: Mattydel's eyes betrayed his fear and confusion, but his face remained as stout and inexpressive as a potato. He rarely saw such frail emotions in Mattydel. Caspar gave him a reassuring nod, perhaps to appease his friend.

Caspar looked to the object in his hand. It was shiny, its surface covered in dull, almost reflective silver. Tiny, black crevices lined the edges of the object, with the golden flecks inside catching the moon rays as he turned it over and again in his palms, which made them gleam like marigolds in the sun. He still could not discern its purpose, or what it was even made of, even after a long moment. Nothing came to him. Caspar grunted and pocketed the foreign thing in his saddle pouch for later contemplation.

"What are we to do with her?" Mattydel said, uneasily, gesturing towards the creature on the ground with a sway of his chin.

Caspar clapped his second on his left shoulder, "Wait over there for further instructions."

He watched Mattydel return to the rest of the group, bringing his mare with him by the reins. When that was done, Caspar turned and peered at the sleeping form. He slowly stepped towards her, the mulch crunching beneath his boots as loud as firebursts in the relative silence of Fool. He slipped down the gentle incline of the dome, making as miminal a ruckus as would allow, until he stood directly above the figure. From his back strap, he pulled a small blade.

He knelt down in front of her, not too close but close enough that he was able to comfortably reach her. It was hard to make it out in the darkness, but he thought her hair was brown, or was it red? Her hair, being quite voluminous, blanketed her most of her face and neck, and all he could see was an eyelid and a hint of her mouth. The garments she wore were particularly interesting, too, for she didn't wear a dress, but a rather long, white coat and blue trousers with a button-down blouse. Of course, he was only guessing the colours.

Flipping the knife in his hand, he held the blunt of the weapon out to her. Caspar scooped up some of her long hair, and lifted it gently away from her face. He stifled a gasp.

"What is it, my lord?" Mattydel pepped up, but Caspar held up his free hand to silence him.

Lord Caspar did not expect this. Reports from King City had described these foreigners, these attacks on the kingdom of England, as vile, uncivilized, and above all, hideous creatures that require little else but a cage and lock. Orders were to seize these persons and put them in goal, where interrogation would then be carried out. The interrogation of the foreigners has been so far unsuccessful: prisoners did not speak the English tongue. Surprised was he who now looked upon a human face that was anything but common to his people. She was not disfigured at all, and strangely enough, she was incredibly clean. He was perplexed.

Caspar stood straight, his gaze still on the woman, and addressed his party, "Mattydel, I want you and two others to take her to the holding for the rest night. Do not harm her, but guard the woman and feed her if she wakes. If she is uncivilized, chains may be used."

When he didn't hear noises of movement, Caspar turned a little and gazed over his shoulder. His soldiers were hesitating, more like quivering with fear! Mattydel, being strong in build and tall as a tower, side-stepped behind the mare, clutching the reins so tightly that it rattled. If he could believe it, it was the sound of bones in those witless men of his.

"Errrr," a groan.

Caspar's stomach flipped but he remained stolid as he returned his eyes to the woman. She was moving slightly, as if waking from her sleep. Disregarding her innocent and perhaps weak appearance, the Lord stepped back and held his knife to his side. It was not a sign of surrender, but of caution.

"Lady or miss," he addressed the waking creature, "I am Lord Caspar. Pray tell, what is your business here in the kingdom of Normandy, governed by the good and prosperous King Alexander the Fourth?"

The woman seemed not to have heard him, that or she decided to ignore him, for there was no reply. He watched her carefully, they all watched her. Rolling onto her side, she brought her arms up and rubbed her head gently, groaning again. She had not opened her eyes yet, but he guessed it was the sound of the rustling mulch beneath her that made her suddenly bolt up, eyes wide. She looked stunned, and Caspar jumped a little.

After a brief moment of hyperawareness, the woman seemed to have lapsed into a confused state. She swayed slightly at first, blinking slowly as if in a daze. The creature's wet eyes were inarguably human, but there was something else other-wordly about her. He supposed it was the forest doing its best to make her a sprite or elf.

"Miss," he said, determined to not let the woman scare him.

The woman merely trained her dull, impassive eyes on him as sign of response. She made his spine shiver, staring at him like that. He would probably liken her to someone possessed, a child disturbed by daymares, the way her dark gaze made him shake so. What a nasty creature she was! Being the only sensible one left, he could not relent to the fear that threatened to usurp his dignity, so he ordered Mattydel to bring the chains.

"Miss," he started again, "I'm afraid that I must bind you and take you to the goal, by law and order of the Hunt."

Caspar made to help her up to her feet, but she flinched away.

"I'm in a dream," came her small voice.

The Lord furrowed his brow, hesitating, "You speak... our tongue?"

"What is this?!" she whimpered, her words echoing through the forest just as his had done.

"I think she is delusional. Mattydel!"

Mattydel and two of the more willing soldiers finally came forward. He motioned for them to circle her and inching forward they grabbed the creature's arms and legs.

She thrashed so violently, "Get off me! Who are you people? I'm calling the police!"

It surprised him that this woman should speak English. Would it mean that she was civilized? Indeed, this was the first foreign that he has seen or captured, and it seems that the rumours regarding their humanness had been grossly over exaggerated. But he couldn't take any risks, for perhaps this wasn't a human at all, but a monster, disguising its true form by a spell or something the like. He was never really superstitious, like Mattydel, but he was more open-minded.

His soldiers pulled her to her feet, and despite the chains put around her wrists and neck, still she struggled to break free.

"What is a police? Your minions of evil?" he asked her, and she shifted her attention from the chains to him.

Eyes burning with a fire akin to an enraged show bull, she took two steps towards him. He didn't cower away, but stood his ground.

"Who are you? The mob?" she seethed.

"I am Lord of Suffolk," he stopped there because he didn't really see that giving himself airs would help this cause, "Madam, you are arrested for crime of treason against the good King Alexander, and for that the punishment is death. You are to be held prisoner in the East Hall gaol until further instruction."

"You are going to kill me?" she said, exasperated, "You are all crazy! This is not a game."

Caspar ignored her thus, and indicated to Mattydel for the prisoner to be taken away to East Hall. He watched as the two soldiers pull her out of the dome. She almost fell, but they caught her. Lugging her forward, she kicked and wriggled for liberty, but of course to no avail. They meandered their way through some trees before disappearing into the dark, the fog closing like a curtain behind them. Her yells and profanities echoed back to the rest of them, but the Lord shrugged them off. The woman was a monster, and a weak one at that. Caspar mounted his mare and ordered his soldiers to continue the search.

The Colonel's messenger, a boy of twenty years with only a hint of facial hair, stood nervously in the office, waiting for the Lordship to finish the letter to his master. Caspar peered up from his script and watched the boy for moment. His eyes were darting around the room, and there was a thin sheen of sweat across the boy's large brow.

"What does the Colonel expect me to do with the foreigner? He was vague in his general letters," Caspar said.

It was the morning after the woman's apprehension. He was in the middle of writing a letter to inform the Colonel of the prisoner's presence, but it would be four or five days until the letter would see the Colonel's hands and indeed, something had to be done about the monster. Seated at the desk, he was penning the letter asking for guidance in the matter of the creature.

The curtains were drawn across the windows but still the morning light determined its way into the room through the thin, cream-wash material. The office was four walls: the eastern wall was made up of three arch windows that reached the floor to the roof, out of which could be seen the prettiest gardens that were designed by Caspar's late mother, opposite was a wall with two high shelfs lined with encycopedias and maps, and paintings of the Lord's ancestors and of the noble King himself, the wall behind his desk was adorned with a hugish tapestry of the Alexander's kingdom, the states and boundries and seas that belonged to him and him alone, and the final wall found the two-door fashioned with brass knobs. This was Caspar's office and he spent a great deal of time here.

Caspar dropped his eyes and continued writing, dipping the quill in the ink pot twice and tapping the excess away.

The messenger's voice faltered, "Uhh...well, my Lord Caspar. The Colonel told me only to deliver the letter. I know no more than you, probably even less, sir."

Caspar nodded only and did not let his irritation show. It wasn't the boy's fault that he knew nothing. It was the Colonel's fault for being so vague; maybe he himself did not know what was really going on. Silence followed until the letter was finished, and it read:

To the Colonel Hum, Weapons Commissioner to the good King A

After receiving message of newest discovery of a Foreginer, exercised law of Hunt immediately. Found one subject in Fool's forest: young "woman" who appears to be of our race and indeed, speaks our great English tongue, strange garb and seems to be delusional (but not aggressive or over-voilent). Our Foreigner is locked up in gaol and awaits interrogation and probable hanging.

I beseech you, Colonel, for what information is it that you require from these Foreigners. I know not the situation and do not understand it, so your enlightenment on the subject is desirable. Are they a danger? Is it an attack from the Leprechauns, the Frenchmen?

I await your answers,

Lord I Caspar, overseer of Suffolk

Caspar folded the parchment. From the ready-lighted taper on his desk, he sealed the letter with red wax and the Suffolk crest. While waiting for the seal to set, Caspar dragged a hand through his dark hair and briefly rubbed his eyes of sleep before standing. He had, after all, a disturbed night.

"Here," the Lord said to the boy, holding out the letter to him, "take this to the Colonel."

The messenger fumbled his way over to the desk (he almost tripped over himself), and took possession of the letter. The boy bowed briefly to Caspar and turned and walked quickly towards the door.