Editor's Note: If you have not yet read the previous chapters to this story, please go to the Fantasy Archive and read those, first. Thank you, TDS.
Humphrey woke, instantly alert, but remained still, listening for the sounds of whatever had awakened him. All he heard was the sighing of a fresh wind through the branches above him, along with a soft snort from Bastion. He pushed his hat back from his eyes and looked toward the sky. Dark clouds had moved in from the north on a brisk breeze; it appeared they would have rain by late afternoon. While it might make their journey more uncomfortable, rain would also help to mask their trail, if any were seeking to follow them.
He rose and awakened the others. "We had best move on," Humphrey told them, with an eye on the weather, "as it seems we may have need of shelter by nightfall."
"Aye," Bruce said, then yawned and began rolling up the blanket he had been lying on.
Isabelle stood and stretched, then smiled at Bruce as he knelt to roll up her blanket as well, and then tied it up behind Chestnut's saddle. After securing his own blanket, he took down one of the water skins and offered each horse a short drink, as Isabelle excused herself and went outside the thicket to relieve herself. While she was thus occupied, Humphrey and Bruce made use of this opportunity to make water on the far side of their enclosure.
The former squire took this chance to speak privately with Humphrey. "If I may, sir," he asked, "what sort of danger might we find on the road?"
Humphrey was not entirely sure just what type of pursuit to expect from Moorcroft, since the knight was still unaware exactly what was occurring elsewhere in the realm, and what sort of danger Isabelle might actually be in. "Always expect the unexpected, lad," he told him--which he knew was a rather ambiguous answer--then he laced up his breeches. "That way, you will never be surprised when something unforeseen happens." Humphrey saw the puzzled expression on Bruce's face, so decided to be frank with him.
"To be honest, lad, I know not for certain what to expect," he said, moving over to check Bastion's saddle straps. "Best be prepared for anything," Humphrey added, then looked seriously at the young man, "and protect Isabelle at all costs."
Bruce nodded, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. "Aye, sir, an' that would go without saying."
Humphrey gave him a grim smile and they led the horses from the thicket, where they met the princess. She had tied her hair back with a thin cord and was gazing up at the approaching storm clouds.
"Rain coming," she said, and then took Chestnut's reins from Bruce.
"Aye, Victoria," Humphrey agreed, and the princess smiled at the use of her new name. "We will make for River Bend and hopefully find shelter at the inn, there."
Bruce assisted Isabelle to mount Chestnut, then turned to Humphrey. "Be it safe to stop in a public place so close to Hampstead, do ye think?"
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