The soldier in full armor looked down at them as they emerged from the cave. He had obviously been waiting for them.
Both girls were speechless with terror, and Mary Elise could see Brother Frederick’s face blanch.
But the bandit relaxed. “Philip.”
“Patrick.” The soldier’s eyes twinkled. “I had a feeling you were here. I knew you couldn’t stay with those ungodly men forever.”
“How did you know it was me?”
“Oh, I guess He just told me. You with a monk? It didn’t make sense. But God’s ways often don’t—to us. Your Highness….” The man bowed his head. “I would like to be of service but you are, I think, in good hands.”
“But where are your friends?” asked Patrick.
“They’re not my friends. But perhaps God also had a purpose in letting me end up in that squad of cowardly, discontented men. I broke away to tell you that they headed back toward the monastery—not to help—but to fight alongside the bandits.”
“They surmised that since the bandits attacked there, there was a reason,” mused Patrick. “Perhaps they thought the princess was there, since they couldn’t find her anywhere else.”
The soldier nodded. “I think I should go and help. I’ll get the villagers together….Father Douglas has been good to us, as have all the brothers there. They don’t deserve trouble from the bandits.”
Patrick turned to his companions. “Philip is an old friend, from when I used to live here. Always trying to get me to do right—never really succeeding.”
“But I can tell that things are different now. You have repented and turned to God?”
“It’s true. But go quickly. Do what you can to help them.”
The soldier nodded. “And you are getting the princess to safety? We’re going to have more snow, soon, I think. If I guess correctly, you’re heading for Sir Duncan’s?”
They stared at him, surprised.
He smiled. “The only possibility way out here. There’s nothing else but ruins.” He pointed ahead, where Mary Elise had already noticed the remains of another large building.
“That was the castle of the great—and wicked—Sir Montgomery. Remember him? He thought he would never be defeated, but his enemies destroyed it all. However, that was a long time ago.” He turned back to the princess. “Your brother and sister are at Sir Duncan’s?”
They nodded, reluctantly.
“Don’t fear me. I truly am loyal to the king. But do get on for the snow is coming.”
It had turned quite overcast and colder while they had been in the caverns. The wind had not died down. Then they all noticed flakes starting to dance about. Only a moment later, it seemed, snow was coming down in earnest.
“A squall! With this wind, I can hardly see,” said the monk.
“It’s going to be more than a squall, I think,” said the soldier.
Patrick hurried them along, but suddenly the snow thickened, falling so heavily that it gathered on their cloaks and hoods. The wind screeched as it whipped snow in all directions.
“I can’t see a thing!” murmured the princess, not knowing which way to guide her horse.
“I can’t see anyone!” exclaimed Mary Elise, terrified.
“We’re here!” came a voice in the whiteness. “Stay where you are!”
“Don’t be afraid,” came the calm voice of Brother Frederick. “The Lord is with us. We’ll be all right.”
A hand grabbed Romaine’s harness, even as Perceval barked excitedly. It was Patrick.
“To the ruins!” came the soldier’s voice.
He went on ahead, calling back to them. How he made his way in the bleak whiteness, they never knew.
“We’re here. I see the wall,” said Patrick, presently.
“Further this way,” came the soldier’s voice. “The gate is over here.”
They followed his voice and came upon the broken down wall, and an archway. As they entered, there was a sudden pause to the falling snow. They looked up and found a sheltering roof. Further on, snow still fell, where the roof had fallen in.
“Over here, Princess. This corner is most sheltered.”
The girls slipped off their horse, Mary Elise still holding tight to the dog within her cloak. The men dismounted, relief on all their faces.
“Thanks to our good God for sending this man to lead us….” said Brother Frederick, raising his hands toward heaven.
“it’s even somewhat dry. Look, there’s some wood that might light….” said Patrick.
“Hush!” came the soldier’s urgent voice.
“What is it, Philip?” Patrick whispered.
“Keep the horses quiet—and the dog….”
They all stood dead still, listening silently. They heard the jangle of horses’ gear.
“Hurry it up,” came a voice. “I know they’re here somewhere!”
“We can’t see!”
“Do you want our horses to stumble and go lame?”
“I said, move! There’s no reason for that monk to be out here alone! There had to be more with him, And we’re going to find them and make them tell what they know!”
“Commander, you know we can’t see anything—we’ll fall down a gorge!”
“Move, I said! If we can’t find the crown prince and Princes Susanna, we can at least find Juliana. That monk might know. It’s the only way this will succeed. We must have her to bargain with.”
“That settles it!” whispered Philip.
“I’ve had enough of this!” added Patrick.
“I’m coming with you!” said the monk.
Before the girls even knew what was happening, the three men disappeared through the gate into the whiteness..
“Do they even know how many there are?” whispered Mary Elise.
They held hands tightly, praying as they sat in the sheltered corner.
Shouts, groans….horses whinnying…
What was going on? Who was winning?
The horses seemed to be able to find the shelter in the storm. Half a dozen came rushing in, then stopped short at the quiet and lack of wind and snow. They didn’t approach the girls, but seemed content to stand calmly, close to each other.
“Girls, it’s all right,” came the monk’s voice. “We’ve subdued them. We’re going to bring them in. Don’t be afraid.”
“If we can find the gate. Which way again, Philip?” came the bandit’s voice.
A sigh of relief from both girls, until—Perceval leaped from the princess’ lap and raced toward the far end of the wall, where the snow was still falling heavily.
They saw a dark shape rise up. A man, in a cloak. But he didn’t get far. Perceval leaped and danced and grabbed at his arms and legs, though he was not able to penetrate the man’s boots. The man pointed a pistol, but couldn’t get a clear shot as the little dog ran back and forth, jumping and growling. The girls leaped up.
“Don’t you dare shoot him!”
“No, Princess!” shouted Mary Elise. “It’s you he wants! Don’t get near him!”
But the princess didn’t stop. Mary Elise followed and both girls pounced on the man and brought him down. The pistol went flying. They tried to hold him down by his arms, but he was strong and fought hard. When the dog flew at him and stood, growling and showing his teeth, the man finally quieted down, glaring at them all.
Then Brother Frederick was there, with his long staff raised threateningly.
The soldier and bandit were bringing in the others, bound with leather thongs.
Suddenly there was quiet. The whipping wind died down. The snow was suddenly light and fluffy instead of wet and heavy. The storm was over.
Brother Frederick prayed a powerful prayer of thanksgiving for the snow that had hid them from their enemies, and gave opportunity for a surprise attack. They rested beside a warm fire, and ate food from their packs—bread and meat pies and fruit and cheese. A vibrant sunset seemed to be framed like a picture by the crumbling walls of the ruins.
The men shared the food with their captives, one by one, then retied their bonds. As the girls lay down to sleep, the bandit and soldier took the first watch to make sure the prisoners didn’t get loose.
“I guess it’s too late to go help the monks,” said Philip.
Brother Frederick nodded. “We’ll go on in the morning and finally get these girls to their destination. I think that’s most important right now.”
The girls were quite warm enough what with the fire, and their extra cloaks. Indeed, the weather seemed to be turning again for the wind had died down and it was no longer as frigid. Perceval lay at their feet, keeping watch as well, as if he wouldn’t let anyone hurt them.
Suddenly Mary Elise remembered…it was the Eighth Day of Christmas. The day they celebrated Mary, the mother of Jesus. She remembered that Mary had done a good deal of traveling about, too—the hard journey to Bethlehem and then on the run to Egypt, with a little child, no less.
She whispered her sentiments to the princess, who drowsily squeezed her hand. “The Almighty has taken care of us just as He took care of them long ago….”
And then they were asleep.
They awoke to an exquisite day. The sun was shining. They wrapped up the long cloaks into a bundle, for it was quite mild. The snow sparkled here and there, but for the most part, the rocky, brown fields and meadows were free of it.
Though the girls had a bite before leaving, for sleeping in the open air seemed to make them hungry, they easily reached their destination by mid-morning, breakfast time.
The princess saw the castle in the distance, but Mary Elise exclaimed, “look!”
It was the young lady of the house, Michael’s bride-to-be. She was out watching for them. Mary Elise had the feeling she’d been out every day, ready to guide them to her house. She apparently didn’t expect such a large band of travelers, though, especially the prisoners, walking alongside their horses.
“Your Highness,” Her long cloak fluttered in a light breeze and the sunshine gleamed on the moor. “You’re most welcome to our home. Do come, all of you. We’ll have a bite and a sup and tell you everything. The rebellion has been squelched, and all is well in the kingdom again…for now.”
“Lead on, m’ lady,” said Philip.
“Lady Genevieve, isn’t it?” asked the princess. “Is Michael here?”
“No. But he’s sent several messengers to find out if you are. He’s been looking everywhere for you. He discovered that you’d been at the monastery. He got there just in time to help them and the villagers subdue a large band of ruthless men.” she smiled at Brother Frederick. “But enough news for now. Do come.”
They crossed the moor and were entering the gate of a beautiful estate when someone came running down the large flight of stone stairs. It was a young woman, in fine robes.
Princess Juliana slid off her horse and the sisters embraced.
“We were so worried. No one knew where you were. We were told days ago that you were on your way!”
“I have so much to tell you! William!”
The crown prince had followed his sister. “And so do we.” He hugged Juliana. “Come on inside.”
The princess turned to Mary Elise, who was hanging back. She motioned to her, eagerly. “Come on!” Then to her sister and brother, “She’s my—new maid.”
Mary Elise joined them and curtsied deeply, awed at the two.
“Hmm,” grinned Prince William. “Really….”
“I need her with me,” said the princess, catching on to something Lady Maria had once said. “Please can’t I have her? Father will let me, once he hears everything.”
They grinned down at the girls, and Susanna said, “we’ll work it all out, I’m sure. And another new friend, I see.”
Perceval raced toward the two, even as Mary Elise tried to grab him. She watched in horror as he eagerly greeted Princess Susanna and Prince William.
The young man bent down to rub the dog’s head. “Don’t we have enough dogs around the palace, Juliana?”
“But he’s special. He takes care of us.”
“Ah ha. I’m sure Father will approve him too, then.”
What a happy time they had. Once they learned that their army, along with King Lochland’s regiment, had routed the rebellion completely, they could enjoy themselves. They stayed several days.
“Since we’re so close, we’ll go visit the Broun’s as we had planned” said Prince William. “They were expecting us for Christmas, after all! Besides, I have things to talk over with the duke. Then it’s back home.”
“But we can visit the monastery, and then Lady Maria and everyone—and give out rewards and honors to all who helped us!”
“Of course.” He grinned around to the those at the table—including Philip and Brother Frederick and Patrick, who had been pardoned, and Michael—who had shown up, quite relieved to find everyone safe. “She loves to give out rewards and honors.”
Princess Juliana beamed.
The night before they were to leave was quite a celebration. It was Epiphany Eve. There had been fun and games during the day, including the egg toss and bagpipers. At the feast that night was the traditional Twelfth Night Cake, a rich concoction made from eggs, nuts, fruit, and spices. For the adults there were also raisins and dried fruits on a tray of flaming brandy. Later they would go wassailing in the small village nearby, singing their favorite carols.
Their devotions, led by Brother Frederick, would include thoughts about the Wisemen who came looking for the child Jesus.
The next morning, happy and eager, the girls watched as the royal carriage arrived.
Mary Elise, of course, would ride behind with the other servants, but she thrilled to see it again. It seemed a lifetime ago that she had first seen it coming along the Englewood road.
The girls said good bye to their friends, Michael, and Patrick, and Philip, and Brother Frederick.
“God be with you,” said Brother Frederick. “I expect to see you often.”
“I’ll need lots of help understanding this,” The princess carried her gift from the monks close, in her bag rather than her trunk, the small Bible with the cross on the front.
“And may God protect our kingdom always,” added the monk.
The prince and princess nodded their agreement as Princess Juliana climbed into the royal carriage.
And they were off–with Mary Elise, holding Perceval, waving as they all rode out of sight.
“Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked. Out of the hand of the unrighteous and evil man. For You are my hope, O Lord God.” Psalm 70:4,5