Kat stood at the edge of the cliffs, with her horse’s head over her shoulder. Her unbound hair whipped around her face as, with growing trepidation, she watched the ship which was coming steadily closer to the cove below her. Her horse gave an uncertain whinny and nudged her softly.
“Shh. I know, Mayan.” She whispered gently, as she reached up to stroke him. “It’s nearly time.”
Suddenly, she was back at that day almost five months ago when she had been lying watching the clouds, and had fallen asleep. She remembered the vivid dream about the young woman, who she now knew as Katrin, failing in her attempt to stop a gang of smugglers who regularly put in at the cove below. Kat had woken to see a ship with the exact flag, two swords crossed over a sumptuous chest, below in the cove and had been convinced the dream was true.
The memory of Katrin made Kat shiver, for she reckoned the two of them were of the same age. Kat had led a relatively sheltered life as the youngest daughter of the local count. She would never have imagined that the stories of smugglers would be happening at her very door, let alone that a high-born woman, as Katrin was, would attempt to stop their illegal trade. Kat had dreamt often of Katrin since that evening, and had learnt much about her life.
Then, on her sixteenth birthday, almost four months ago, something remarkably more sinister occurred.
Waking as a cold breeze flowed through the room, Kat couldn’t remember leaving the window open. She got out of bed to close it and was accosted by the curtains as they lashed at her violently. Finally struggling to get the window closed and the curtains drawn, Kat turned. Chilled to the bone by the wind already, Kat’s blood turned to ice as she saw Katrin sitting on the edge of her bed.
That was the first of nightly meetings between the two young women, one flesh and blood and the other a manifestation of worldly memory. Katrin told Kat about the smugglers, who had taken Katrin’s older brother as a slave. Kat had felt persuaded by Katrin’s heartfelt wish and agreed to try to stop them.
The previous night, Katrin had again mysteriously visited Kat. This time she had a locket, which she gave to Kat. Amazed that it held her family’s crest, Kat thanked her and asked how it was possible. Katrin smiled and told her that she was Kat’s grandfather’s only aunt, who had died almost four months after her sixteenth birthday. She had been found washed up on the shore, missing her family locket.
“But…I was named for you…only it is Katherine, not Katrin…” Kat had proclaimed, uncertainly.
Katrin had smiled. “Yes, I was believed to have run away and finally thrown myself off the cliffs. No one even imagined I had been kidnapped and murdered by smugglers. My brother Adam, your great-grandfather, was a good deal older than I and you grandfather was just four at the time. After my death my name was never spoken and so, when suggesting a name for you, he had to rely purely on the memory of a toddler. Katrin was such an unusual name then that he presumed it had been Katherine. That locket you now hold was given to me by my mother as had been done for generations. It was lost when I was murdered. Now, it is rightfully yours.” And then Katrin had explained to Kat what she must do to stop the smugglers, almost one-hundred years after she had failed.
Mayan stamped his foot and snorted, pulling Kat out of her reverie. She raised one hand to stroke him again and the other reached for the locket around her neck. She turned her head, looking past Mayan, and smiled. Katrin was standing next to him, more wraith than human, but as beautiful as an angel. It suddenly struck Kat, seeing Katrin for the first time in adequate light, that they looked amazingly similar. Katrin returned her smile, and it was to Kat as though she was looking in a mirror.
“Katherine…” Katrin said, her smile falling slightly at the edges. “Soon you will accomplish what I could not. And, survive what I could not.” This chilling statement resounded in Kat’s mind as she turned away from the sea.
“I know what must happen. I will ensure it does.” She nodded brusquely to Katrin, who responded in kind. “I will collect my father and tell him of these criminals. Hopefully with the help of him and others, I will indeed accomplish what you were unable to. I hope, also, that I can help my family discover the truth of your death.” She added this as an after thought, not meeting Katrin’s stony gaze and vaulting onto Mayan’s back.
“I wish you well, Katherine. May we meet again once more before my earthly time is ended.” Katrin lifted a hand to slap Mayan’s rump, not unkindly and waved goodbye. When Kat looked back a second later, she had gone.
Kat rode hard and fast, no wanting to waste time in case her father took some persuading. Kat was not known for fancies, even as a child. That morning she had surprised her father greatly when she came to breakfast wearing the locket. Her mother, surprised, had not noticed. However, she had not been able to give him a suitable answer as to where she had got it from. Her answer, that she had found it rummaging in a chest, had satisfied him for the moment, but she knew it wouldn’t be long before he asked again.
‘Well,’ thought Kat, ‘he will find out when they hear my tale. Then, they will either help or deem me suddenly insane.’
“Father, forgive the intrusion.” She bowed her head slightly, her hand touching the locket at her throat.
“What is it, Kat?” He smiled at his favourite child, waving away her apology.
“There is an unknown ship heading directly into the cove. It flies a sword crossed chest flag…” she stood in the doorway, awaiting his answer.
“On our own territory?” He said to himself, then he looked sharply at her. “You are sure?” Kat nodded, and he replied in kind. “I will get the men-at-arms and we will investigate.” Kat sighed inwardly with relief as she saw that her father knew the significance of a ship flying that flag. He stood up just as her mother rushed into the room.
“Katherine, what are you thinking? Running around like a mad woman and leaving your horse untethered in front of the castle?” Her mother was constantly deeply shamed by and disappointed with her only daughter.
“Annabelle, we have slightly more worries than that right now…” Kat’s father walked to her mother and, solemnly, took her hands in his.
“Hector, what’s happened?” Annabelle looked at him, afraid.
“Kat has seen a smuggler’s ship heading into the cove. I plan to take Luidolf and Derrick and their men to investigate.”
“But…Hector…the danger…” She ignored the mention of Kat.
“Shh, do not worry Annabelle, my love. I will have one hundred and sixty of our best men with me, I will be safe enough.” He turned to his daughter. “Kat, go to the barracks and inform Luidolf and Derrick to get their men ready. How long do you think we have until they arrive?”
“I would guess about two hours. The wind was strong on the cliff, but it was blowing out to the sea. That will hamper their progress.” Hector nodded and she turned to go to the barracks, already thinking of her good friend who was stationed there.
“Tell the men to be ready in no less than half an hour!” Hector called as she ran out.
“I will,” she called back.
“Or there’ll be hell to pay.” They both said, laughing and smiling to themselves.
Kat went slower this time, remembering Annabelle’s stern words. She would have been angry by this, but grudgingly she saw some sense in her mother’s words. Kat was, after all, a Count’s daughter and with that came responsibility and a need to show people that she was a lady. While her eldest brother, Marc, would inherit her father’s holding and the middle child, Colin, would be given a sizeable estate of his own, she would no doubt be required to marry into a well-to-do family and be the mistress of another. She knew that she could ill afford to have any other reputation than that of being a perfectly flawless, well-behaved lady.
Her musings had brought her to the barracks. On watch was the son of her father’s cousin’s second wife, Frederick. His father had been a count in his own right, but since he had not come of age he could not run the holding yet. Kat believed her father would try to marry her to Frederick when he was finally instated at his holding, which Frederick’s mother currently managed. Kat was not opposed to this idea. Frederick was nice, handsome but not conceited, and very wise for his age. Her thoughts caused her to blush as she came up to him.
“Miss Katherine, a pleasure.” Frederick said, bowing.
“Frederick.” Kat replied, curtseying slightly. “How long is it until you can go home?” She blushed again.
“Less than two months, miss. I’m very much looking forward to seeing my mother and family again. Is there a message you would like me to give my Captain?” Diligent and proper to last, was Frederick.
“Yes, actually. Could you please tell Captains Luidolf and Derrick that they and their men must meet my father at the palisade? He will brief them when they have arrived. They have half an hour to get organised…”
“Or there’ll be hell to pay.” Frederick finished with her, smiling. “I will tell him, tell your father to start counting.” They shared a small smile goodbye and Kat left him to his job.
The men were assembled in fifteen minutes and Kat stood with her father as he told them the news. She had persuaded him to allow her to join them as she knew what must be done. Hector had questioned her on this, and Kat had had no choice but to tell him of her visions.
“Katrin…” Hector mused, when Kat had finished. He had sat politely through her tale, not saying anything. “Such a beautiful name. You know, it must have been her you were named for?” He looked up at Kat, she nodded. “Let us keep this to ourselves, Kat. I do not what people thinking we are crazy for following the advice of visions. Katrin…It was said that she had some paranormal abilities, but many thought her mad. I, however, feel inclined to trust her and her judgement. If you say she came to you and told you what must be done, then I trust that and if that means that you will have to join me, then I had better just deal with it.” He smiled ruefully and Kat knew he was hiding deeper emotions.
Kat winced at the memory of Hector wondering if she had inherited Katrin’s supposed paranormal abilities, not knowing how that made her feel. Misreading the feeling behind the action, Hector briefly touched her hand in comfort as he continued informing his men.
When the briefing was completed, the men milled around as they waited for horses to be brought to them. Kat sat astride Mayan and searched for Frederick. She knew that the other men made jokes to him about their friendship, albeit in jest, and she hoped he did not find it taxing to that friendship.
“Looking for Freddy, miss?” Captain Derrick, a close confidante of Hector’s, asked her in good humour.
“Yes, Captain. Do you know where he might be?” she smiled at him, wondering if this kind man thought there was any more to the pair’s friendship. He would certainly tell her father if he did.
“He’ll be over that way.” He pointed slightly behind him. “I know Mayan’s a good horse, but mind none of the men get under him. They’re a bit jittery at the news.” She nodded assent and nudged Mayan in the direction Derrick had pointed.
“Frederick!” she called and waved as he came into view. Sitting upon his horse, Clipper, he smiled and waved in response. The two drew together.
“I hear that you’re coming with us, Miss…” He looked down, fiddling with Clipper’s bridle.
“I…I have to, Frederick. I can’t explain why, but I am needed.” She took a chance. Cupping his chin in her hand, she lifted his face to meet her gaze. “I will be safe. I will have you to look out for me…” She finished with a questionary look, dropping her hand.
“Aways!” He blurted out. Then, remembering who he was talking to, he checked himself. “I…I mean. It is my duty to look out for you, Miss.” Kat’s face fell, although she tried to hide it. Seeing it, Frederick said rashly, “but, it is also my pleasure…”
“Alright men, let’s move out!” The call came and the two had to part.
“I will see you after.” He assured her. She nodded and blushed as he took her hand and kissed it lightly. To her, it felt like some unspoken declaration had occurred and she knew that it would keep her strong this night.
An hour later the men were set up, hiding behind a ridge at the end of the shallow beach and the horses were tethered a safe distance away. There was still half an hour before the smuggler’s ship was expected to arrive. There was a distinct feeling of tension over the company. Everyone knew that the smugglers would be brutal and uncouth, while Count Hector’s men were used to fighting civilised armies. All were unsure of how to fight such men. Kat had informed her father that the men would need to be told to fight without reservation. In a fight against a more civilised army, the intent was not to kill but to disarm as many soldiers as possible in the hope of them joining your cause. This night, the intent was to kill anyone not wearing Count Hector’s colours, that of red and gold.
Kat had ridden up to the cliff, hoping to see Katrin one last time.
“I told you we would see each other again.” Katrin’s voice floated up to Kat with a smile in it. “Is everyone ready?”
“Yes, the men have been briefed. Are you sure that they will be enough. Are you sure there are less than sixty men aboard this ship?”
“Yes, I was held prisoner for three months aboard that ship and learnt much. They followed a strict code, part of which was concerning the positions given aboard the ship. The Captain was chosen for his devoutness toward this code. I cannot imagine that they would have given this up. Even if they had added more sailors, they could ill afford for it to be many as that would significantly reduce the number of slaves they could carry.”
“Alright, well we shall hopefully have more than enough, then.”
“You worry for Frederick.” It was not a question.
“How did you…?” They had not spoken of her friendship with him, indeed they had not spoken much of Kat’s life at all.
Katrin touched her head with a finger and smiled. “It was said that I had paranormal abilities, or that I was mad. The former, however, happened to be true. I…understand things which need not be spoken of aloud. You and Frederick have a unique connection, do not lose it. Look out for him in battle tonight, for he will do the same for you and this will keep the two of you safe.” Her chilling words made Kat look away. By the time she looked back, Katrin had gone again. ‘Fare you well, niece. My love to you’ resonated in her mind.
“Fare you well, aunt. My love to you also…” she whispered to the wind, knowing Katrin would hear her words, wherever she might be now. Kat turned to go back to the company.
A foreboding feeling had settled upon the company while Kat was away and she tried to smile to reassure her father, hoping his confidence would raise the others’. She looked towards the beach and saw that the ship had landed and the sailors had set up camp.
“When shall I give the command, sir?” Derrick came up, ashen faced but his voice strong.
Hector swallowed hard, his honour injured by his next words. “When they are eating. This way, we will take them unawares, with their weapons down.” He hung his head, mortified by this act of necessary cowardice.
“Sir, you said yourself this is the only way. These men are vicious and it is the best chance we have of keeping our men alive.” Derrick clasped his arm in a friendly gesture. “By the way, sir, have you seen Luidolf?”
Jolted out of his shame, Hector looked up. “You’ve not seen him?”
Derrick shook his head, looking out to the smugglers’ camp. “Sir, they’re eating. Will we give the command?”
“We have no choice.” Hector sighed. “If Luidolf doesn’t turn up, there’ll be hell to pay!”
And the command to move spread along the company.
Bursting out from behind the ridge, Count Hector’s men advanced on the smugglers nobly and without wavering. However, the smugglers were more ready than Hector and Derrick had planned for. Kat suddenly heard Luidolf’s cry.
“To arms, Hector’s men are coming!” Enraged that Luidolf had warned the smugglers of Hector’s attack, Kat ran straight to him, brandishing her sword.
“Ah, Katherine. You think you can defeat me? I, who am the finest swordsman in your father’s company?” he sneered as they circled each other. The melee surrounded them. But where they stood, it was like the eye of a storm.
“You shan’t be in my father’s company when he discovers this treachery, Luidolf.” Kat was shaking inside. She was thankful that her father had insisted she be given formal training with the sword and bow. She had even excelled her brothers with her skill.
Luidolf roared and lunged at her, his sword held high.
‘I am with you, Katherine.’ Kat heard Katrin’s voice in her mind and this filled her with strength.
On and on the fighting went. Kat kept up with Luidolf blow for blow. Around them, Count Hector’s men were steadily beating the smugglers. Now and then, Frederick appeared by her side. More soldiers had been injured or killed than Hector had wished for, but he knew the price they paid brought safety to hundreds. While this didn’t console him, he knew that the men’s families would be proud of their sacrifice.
After what seemed an eternity, the smugglers had all been cut down or arrested. Only Luidolf was left, still fighting Kat. Hector came up behind her.
“Stop!” He yelled. Luidolf turned to him, an malevolent smile on his face.
“You would choose to fight me, Hector?”
“I am ashamed by your actions, Luidolf. The smugglers have been beaten. Stand down.”
Suddenly aware that his fellows were indeed overcome, Luidolf surrendered to Hector’s custody. Derrick came up to bind him.
“Where is Frederick?” Kat looked around wildly. She had lost sight of him during her fight with Luidolf. Occasionally they had helped each other out, but she realised that he was now not near her anymore.
“I’m sorry, Katherine, I do not know. He hasn’t been seen for a while. We haven’t found all the injured yet.” Derrick, trying to give her hope, strode past her with Luidolf in front of him.
“Frederick!” She ran through the bodies, searching for him. Praying that he still lived, she continued calling “Frederick!” Just ahead of her she saw movement. Rushing over, she bent down.
“Katherine…” his voice grated, but she knew that it was him.
Elated, she pulled him into her lap and hugged him, ignoring his yelp of pain as they both laughed and hugged each other.
“Katherine…” she looked at him enquiringly. “Will…you marry…me…?” he rasped, struggling to talk but he smiling as he did.
“Let’s get you healed, and then I’ll say yes.” She smiled back at him, welling with happiness.
Kat That night, with all the injured safely seen to, she dreamt of Katrin again. Katrin was standing on the cliff, smiling as she faded into the sunrise. As she awoke, Kat stretched happily. She lay in bed, thinking that later that day her father would name the cove for Katrin. She wriggled, blissfully planning to visit Frederick, to whom Hector had joyfully given his consent to marry Kat when he was instated as the Count at his holding, and then take Mayan to the cliffs at Katrin’s Cove.
Elizabeth Stevens © 2009