"Not now, ye great glutton," Humphrey chided the horse, and playfully pushed his muzzle away. "We have important work to do, yet." He had ridden Bastion both into battle and for pleasure these many years, and Humphrey considered the horse a friend, rather than just a creature that carried him where he needed to go. They had been through a lot together; both had been wounded--on more than one occasion--and both had garnered victories and honors in battle and at tourney. Humphrey could ask for no better companion if trouble were to arise, and he feared that they were indeed now headed toward trouble.
He quickly threw a quilted blanket over Bastion's broad back, then placed the heavy saddle on him and cinched it up. After buckling on his bridle, Humphrey climbed into the saddle and stood up in the stirrups. Being taller than average has its advantages, he thought, as he reached into the stable rafters. Several days ago, he had secreted a bundle out of sight and out of reach, just on the off chance they might have to leave the castle of a sudden. He pulled the long, blanket wrapped bundle down from the rafters and then climbed from his saddle. He slid the bundle beneath the saddle strap, just as he heard the soft clop of hooves coming toward them. Bastion's ears twitched at the sound, and he made a 'huffing' noise to alert Humphrey.
"Me thanks, lad," he said, rubbing the horse behind his ears, "but mine own are not so old I could not have heard that coming." He took up Bastion's reins and moved to the stall opening, as Isabelle and Chestnut appeared.
Bastion snorted at the sight of the smaller horse, then he gave Chestnut's furry rump a cursory sniff. The little cob ignored this intrusion on his privacy--the horses knew each other well and were used to each other--and the mountain pony was not at all intimidated by the bigger war horse. The four of them had ridden out together an many occasions, and while the short-legged pony could not match Bastion's speed, he more than made up for that lack in both endurance and in heart. Humphrey could not have wished for Isabelle a better mount than Chestnut.
"Ready, my lady?" he asked. Isabelle nodded, and gave him a slight smile. "When we get outside, keep to the shadows. We will walk the horses to the Village Gate, where hopefully we will find a friend." He patted Chestnut on his neck and added, "All right, then, here we go."
Humphrey led them out of the stable and along the shadows of the castle wall, until they came in sight of the Village Gate. This gate was smaller than the main gate, and was the primary entrance for local villagers to bring goods and livestock into the castle grounds. Used mostly on market days, it was not heavily guarded, as a rule, and Humphrey surmised they would have a better chance of leaving unseen via this gate, than through any other.
He handed over Bastion's reins to Isabelle and motioned for her to wait, while he went forward and checked out the gate. As he approached the closed portal, a figure stepped from the shadows of the gate house.
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