Ian and everyone in the room was silent, but quickly began moving towards the door. Ian did not leave the conversation unfinished as they moved to deal with this new surprise. "What do you mean she's gone?" he asked. "I thought that both Liam and myself made it clear that she was not to go off by herself and that someone should keep an eye on her at all times."
Ben nodded. "You did. Geoffery was the last one watching her and we cannot find him either."
"You did WHAT?!?" Lyam looked murderously at Ben. "Geoffery is the last person you should have left her with since…"
"That is enough Lyam," Hugh said. Apparently Ian and Lyam were able to draw their own, similar conclusions from our brief meeting, Cadfael thought to himself as Hugh continued. "We'll find her. Right now, I'm sure that Ben has searched the house, so let us get outside and split up to deal with these newcomers as well as to find Lady Rhiannon." By now they had reached the main doors, where they were greeted by another one of Ian's men. He, Ian, and Lyam had a quick conversation in Gaelic, but something was said to draw a sigh from Cadfael. Hugh noticed and addressed him. "What is it that you heard?"
"These men riding upon us are not enemies. It appears that Christian Garney has ridden from Corsbury in response to the invitation that had been sent in preparation for Ian's visit," Cadfael replied.
"This could prove to go one way or another. He could be a good ally in searching for her, or he could be upset that his promised wife is not here."
"But she hasn't chosen yet, so she is not his promised bride. I think that he will be a good ally, from what we were told of him." With that, Cadfael started off at a quick pace towards the stables.
"Where are you going?"
"If Geoffery did indeed take Rhiannon, he would not have gotten her to go with him willingly. She would have struggled and there is also the fact that he would have needed to transport her. Even if he did not take a horse from the stable, this is the most wooded area and easiest place to slip away. I'm sure that Ian and Lyam can handle Garney, so let's see what we can find." Knowing that Cadfael's logic was correct, they made their way to the stable.
Before going in, Hugh pulled his dagger from the back sheath and handed it to Cadfael. "Just in case." Slowly opening the door, he looked around before entering, Cadfael coming in behind him. Once they were satisfied that no one was in the stable, they observed it in greater detail. "There's an empty stall, could be that he only took one horse to try and avoid being caught, make better time," Cadfael said aloud. "But he would have had to have tied her with something in order to keep her from trying to get off."
"Maybe he didn't need to tie her. Look at the ground there, in front of the empty stall. Looks like two sets of footprints, one that was standing in front before the second set approached. Then the first set started moving in no particular pattern, the second moving slowly backwards," Hugh pointed out.
"Definitely a man's tracks here," Cadfael indicated of the second set. "I would hazard to say that those are Rhiannon's tracks here," he said as he pointed to the first. "But that doesn't explain why you don't think he needed rope or binding of some kind," He said as he turned to Hugh, only to find him squatting down, looking at a piece of white cloth within throwing distance of the stall. He hadn't picked it up, but looked at it, then around the surrounding area. "Could she have been drugged to make her easier to transport?"
Cadfael kneeled down beside Hugh and picked up the cloth to observe it. Holding it in front of his face, he sniffed it, and then held it out to Hugh. "Do you smell that particular odor? If this cloth was held over her mouth and nose, it could have caused her to lose consciousness. From there, it would be very easy for her to have been tied and put on a horse."
"But where would Geoffery take her? Do you think that he has been working for Stafford this whole time and taken now to be used as a pawn in Maude's court?" Hugh asked.
"No," Cadfael said as he made his way to his feet. "We're missing something. There's no reason for Daniel to have taken her." Looking back at the ground, they saw the most recent set of hoof prints leading around the back of the building. "They go up around the back, into the woods."
Hugh nodded. "Go get Ian and his men. If we follow these we should be able to find her; Geoffery doesn't have that long of a head start. I'll saddle some horses." With that, Hugh returned to the stables. Cadfael made his way back to the main house, but did not have far to go. Ian, Lyam, and another man Cadfael assumed to be Christian Garney of Corsbury. He fit in well with this group of men, Cadfael noticed. Just a hair shorter than Ian, he had the same air as someone who was used to following his own plan, regardless of anyone else's politics. Dark brown hair brushed the collar of his tunic with eyes the same color eyes looking out at the world. A well trimmed beard was kept short to his face, softening harsh angles. Well built, he showed all the signs of being an expert swordsman, as well as someone who could hold his own in a hand to hand fight. Cadfael saw many of the same characteristics that he saw in Hugh, marking him as intelligent, but sly.
Approaching the men, Cadfael relayed what he and Hugh had found. "We think that Geoffery took her and a horse and went through the woods, since it would be the least likely place he would come across any of the sentries that way. If Ben is right on the timing, Geoffery has maybe an hour head start."
"We'll be able to find her then," Lyam said, making his way to the stables, only to be stopped by Hugh storming out. "The bastard sliced all the saddles, we'll have to ride without. He's doing his best to try and slow us down," he said.
"He's succeeding as long as we sit here talking about it," Christian said. "I have four horses with saddles, and most of my men can ride without. Providing this Geoffery is as stupid as he is continuing to be, we'll be able to catch up to them soon." Letting out a whistle, two of his men brought their horses. "A small group would work best to catch them."
"I agree," Ian said. "I will go, as well as Ben and Conan. Lord Beringar, if you and Brother Cadfael would join us. Lord Garney…"
"Will be coming as well," he said in a voice that allowed no argument. Mounting his horse, he made his way to the stable to observe the tracks.
"Alright then," Ian said. "Lyam, you'll remain here. I need you to keep an eye on things and with your shoulder, I don't want you to injure it further. Besides," he said as Lyam looked ready to protest, "Rhia would kill you and me if you were to get hurt again." By that point they were all mounted and followed Christian into the woods.
"What do you make of that?" Daniel asked the messenger who had been with him when Daniel learned of the plot against him. They were in the hills to the east of the property, looking at another set of tracks that led as if to Gloucester, but then turned to the west again, back towards Wales.
"I would say that it looks as if someone were trying to confuse those we saw back at Avon." Daniel and his men had ridden to Avon first and seen them searching, but did not know for what. Having seen a rider making haste towards the west had been intriguing, so they continued to follow. One man stayed within sight of the rider, leaving traces for the others to follow. After all, Daniel thought it is far easier to explain one rider than a group of them.
"Do you intend to let whoever it is that has the woman just get away?" The messenger asked disbelievingly.
"No. I intend to see who it is that is setting themselves up in a dangerous game in the court," Daniel replied, continuing on past the markers. "We'll follow this man and see what we shall find."
They had been riding for twenty minutes before Ben stopped them, dismounting and looking at the ground. Ian pulled up next to him, conversing quietly. A look of confusion was on both faces as Ben moved on, reversing his direction, seemingly following a set of tracks that Cadfael and Hugh had a hard time following from their position. Ben had gone over a rise and was making his way back.
Coming back to the group, Ian started talking. "It looks like Geoffery is doing his best to slow us down any way possible. The tracks split, but there's only one set. One set goes that way," he said pointing along the direction they had been traveling, "and another set goes that way, back towards the Welsh border. The set of tracks that continues to Gloucester simply stops about a quarter mile from here. He must have managed to hide where he turned around."
"Why would he go back toward Wales?" Hugh asked. "Does he have any family there? Previous homes?"
"Glenforest is that way," Christian said quietly.
"Oh God. Would Conan stoop to that level?" Ian said. "Then why frame Stafford…?"
"Does it matter? We had best find them before they get to Glenforest, otherwise we will have to find a way to get into the property and find her. It's a two day ride to Glenforest from here. If we ride hard, we might catch them," Christian said. "Let's ride."
Cadfael mounted his horse to follow the men, hoping that Father Abbot would be understanding when he returned, since it looked like he would be staying past his allotted time to try and solve the murder, instead racing to save the lady of Avon.
Rhiannon awoke slowly, keeping still so that she could get an idea as to where she was. Geoffery had surprised her in the barn and managed to drug her. Since she had no idea where she was now, she remembered some of the teaching Michael and her father had allowed her to have. Opening her eyes to just slits, she took in her surroundings. She was lying in a bed by the rest of the room was extremely spartan. No windows, so she was in an inner room, one door, a chest at the end of the bed. She saw a chair next to the door and was surprised because it was empty. Having surmised she was alone, Rhiannon opened her eyes fully, sitting up before falling back again.
Breathe Rhia, she thought. Whatever the bastard gave you left you with some nasty side effects. Slowly, move slowly. Following her advice, she slowly moved to the side of the bed where she sat, keeping her head between her knees until the dizziness passed. Once it had, she stood up, moving around the room but keeping an eye on the door. Seeing that there was nothing on the side table she could use as a weapon, she moved to the chest. Trying to open it, the lock was engaged, leaving the chest locked and seemingly off-limits to Rhiannon. Sitting back on her heels, Rhiannon examined the lock. With a slow smirk spreading across her face, Rhiannon grabbed a pin from her hair and inserted it into the lock. After manipulating the pin for a few minutes, the 'click' which faintly echoed in the room signaled that the chest was now open.
Putting the pin back in her hair, Rhiannon opened the chest, looking for anything that she could use if she were to run into trouble. While there were no weapons in the chest, there was a smaller box which weighed a considerable amount. Placing it under the bed, Rhiannon settled down to wait. Plan: get as much information before trying to get away, she thought. At least until I know where I am before trying to escape.
It turned out she didn't have long to wait. A quarter of an hour had passed when the door opened and an unfamiliar woman walked in, a servant by her dress. "My lady, my lord would like to meet with you."
"Of course, I'd love to meet the man whose hospitality I'm enjoying," Rhiannon retorted. The woman either didn't hear or chose to ignore the sarcasm dripping from Rhiannon's voice. Following the woman, Rhiannon kept track of the passages she was being taken down so that if she were to get away she could try and get away without getting lost. After walking for a few minutes, they arrived at the main hall. Rhiannon was unfamiliar with the surroundings, but seeing the man in front of her was enough to surprise her.
"Mark? You were the one to take me away, to kill my father? Why?"
A/N: Next up, Mark explains his actions and answers Rhiannon's claims. This chapter is a bit shorter than the others since it's more of a transition chapter than anything else, plus the introduction of Christian. The next chapter will be up relatively soon because I have everything outlined for the last chapters, just need to fill it all out.