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The summer had been busy but pleasant so far. Melkin was standing by the old ruins on his grounds looking at a stone that he had turned over. He couldn’t read the words that were written on the white smooth surface, but he looked at them none the less. What was this fallen building? Why had it been built? And why had it fallen into ruin? He did not know the answers to these questions, but he would surely like to. Maybe, there were cellars below the white stones as below the Rock? Maybe there were more words, some explanation to the why the stones had been brought here in the first place?

Looking out over his land a pride filled Melkin’s chest. He could still wake in the morning wondering if he had dreamt the knighting ceremony and that his name had been called by duke Roderik. But it had, no matter the order, no matter what had happened before it, his name had been called and he had truly been blessed. Touching the amulet around his neck he mumbled a quick prayer to Saint Alban for his help.

The horses neighed and Melkin turned his head to see the heard of horses gallop around the paddock. He gave the smooth stone a last stroke before steering his steps towards the stables where his new squire Deian was saddling the horses. Even though Melkin wanted nothing else more than to ride his new charger from Brittany, he had forced himself to let the stallion remain with the heard. He knew his father’s mistake with the warhorse Mountain all to well to let the horse go to waste, and the act had also smoothed the situation with parts of his family somewhat since the herd would grow stronger.

“Where are we going,” asked Deian as they rode out, a faint tremble to his voice.

“Are you afraid welp?” asked Melkin as managed to somewhat mimic lord Amig’s general tone when he spoke.

“No,” lied the boy, “but Victus has said that the roads aren’t safe anymore. Not since the bandits started come down from the hills and out from the forests.”

“It is because of their strength that we’re riding out,” answered Melkin and thought back to something Elad had taught him. “We all need to prepare if they would come to Hillfort, and it helps to be somewhat proactive with your battle plans.”

As they rode onto Sutton grounds they were met by sir Gorfydd himself. He gave them a suspicious look but greeted them when he recognised Melkin.

“Let’s cut to the chase,” said Gorfydd after formalities had been exchanged, “what brings you here sir Melkin?”

Gorfydd’s directness was not to be unexpected. Knowing the man from his childhood, Melkin gave his best to answer in the same straightforward manner: “To discuss defence strategies for Hillfort,” he said with the same voice he would normally use to Cadry. “With the bandits roaming Salisbury and Saxons having been at our doorstep, I thought it a necessity to suggest a common plan of action should any of us be attacked”.

Gorfydd seemed to evaluate him for a moment as Melkin climbed down from his horse. “And why would you come here?” he asked unable to completely let go of his customary distrust.

“Because strategically Sutton might be the first place where the enemy might be spotted,” said Melkin and pointed towards Nadar River and the road beyond it.

The strategic plan was quite simple. Both Hindon and Sutton were two of the outer manors which might be the first places to be hit by unseen raids. The most obvious way to hit Hindon would be through an attack from the forest, which aid from Sutton could easily flank. In the opposite situation Melkin would cut off the escape route, not by coming over the bridge from the north, but from the west by crossing a shallow part of the river close to Tisbury grounds that he knew very well.

As they walked the Sutton grounds and discussed defensive positions or possible adjustments that could be made to the near vicinity, Melkin felt that he did understand Gorfydd better than he had expected to. He didn’t know Gorfydd very well, but the fact that Gorfydd was an outspoken pagan made it quite easy for Melkin to honestly proclaim his own thoughts and concerns. Though Gorfydd had a suspicious trait, Melkin did feel that he himself could trust the frank knight.

As they had stood on the bridge for a while pointing and talking Gorfydd nodded and said:

“Very well, I can see your points lord Hindon.” He stretched out his hand. “As long as robbers and Saxons threaten our lands I will honour a defensive alliance between our manors.”

Melkin took his hand very surprised that he had gotten such a good response on his proposal. Maybe it was because sir Gorfydd was more suspicious towards the bandits than towards Melkin himself.

“May neither Sutton nor Hindon ever burn again,” he said as firmly as he could.

On they way home Melkin took the way through the forest to show his new squire the shallow waters close to Tisbury. The following days they rode the barely visible path every day, before starting to walk it during the night. Melkin eventually let Deian lay out a trail of white stones and then they rode it in darkness.

“My lord,” began the boy thoughtfully during the second week, “why is it important to memorise the road this thoroughly?”

“When riding for help, you want to make sure to know more then one way to your goal.” Melkin thought of Cadry and the disastrous feast. “You never know who might be guarding the roads during an attack. Do you think you know it well enough now to ride fast and in darkness?”

“I think so…”

Melkin stopped and looked at his squire. “Who do you think will ride for help if needed be? Make sure you know it by heart”.

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