Valorholm was still and peaceful, just the odd bark from the hounds in the kennels, the early morning mist lay deeply almost like a fog. Mounting, Linnaeus in the lead, they trotted gently out of the Wizards’ gate. They rode on down the hill, passing the houses of learning and then the great stone and timber houses of the merchants and scholars. The dawn mist thickened as they rode down the hill away from Valorholm. Linnaeus noticed that the boys were beginning to shiver and passed them each a riding cloak before putting on one of this own.
“Don’t worry,” he said “the sun will burn the mist away before mid-morning and if we are lucky you may see something very special before then.”
Valorholm lay three miles behind when Linnaeus turned his horse off the main road onto a small lane leading upwards, after a while the climb grew steeper, the mist thinning and then fading into bright sunshine.
Linnaeus brought them to a halt and said “Look boys look over there!” There through the white mist were the tops of the towers, like the masts of tall ships sailing through a sea of white clouds. Flags and pennants fluttering, the slate conical roofs, the circular stone castellation just visible.
Dismounting and gazing down at the wondrous sight Rob and Jack were transfixed; after a while Linnaeus said, “I was hoping you’d see this, it only happens in spring and autumn, and even then you need no wind and a warm day before, so the mist will form in the valley bottom. The story is that Merlin chose the site for Valorholm and this was one of his reasons.”
“I think its magic,” said Jack
“Well,” smiled Linnaeus “it’s beautiful certainly, it’s rare definitely, however magic it is not. Merlin himself couldn’t make stone towers float on clouds.”
“Yes it does look as though they are floating,” said Jack still gazing down at the towers. “What a sight! What a week! I will never forget this as long as I live,” Rob said.
They rode on another hour to the top of the hill still chatting over the events of the last week. As they crested the first hill they stopped, dismounted, and Linnaeus unwrapped a mirror saying, “Let’s see if Wolfrick is awake and watching!”
He took the mirror and pointed it at the sun, now a little less than halfway to noon. Holding his arms horizontally he turned it back and forth three times looking keenly at the top of his tower. Instantly, three bright white flashes came back from the top of the tower.
Linnaeus, grinning, clapped them both on the shoulder saying, “So far so good. Now Rob you stay here and practice signalling to Wolfrick. Jack and I will ride onto the next hill top,” he pointed to a hill on the far horizon.
“We will signal with three flashes and you pass the signal on to Wolfrick. When you have, flash back to us four times, we will acknowledge with four. Then wrap the mirror in the cloak, ride due north, there you will find the main road; we will meet at the Three Millers Inn. It has best food for miles around, that is if Jenkins hasn’t eaten it all! He is travelling to Marlton as well, something about a wager he has with the King and Northumbria, it’s to do with a dog herding chickens. Jenkins says seeing is believing! He has wagered two gold shillings with them that dogs do not herd chickens. I believe he has bought a bull from Henry Farmer and means to collect it together with his winnings.”
While watching out for Linnaeus and Jack to signal form the distant hill top Rob spent some time daydreaming over his prize money and how to spend it. Periodically he would jingle his money bag in a reassuring way and lay out the coins to watch them glitter in the sunshine. As the sun travelled over the sky he began to pay more attention to his observation of the distant hill.
Then he noticed a rider approaching his hill top and wondered why someone would be travelling in this direction, since he was some distance from the usual road. The rider was dressed in old and thread-bare travelling clothes and had two full saddle bags; as he came closer, Rob could not tell if he were young or old nor see any distinguishing features . His old sway-backed black mare was almost as average as its rider. As he approached Rob he waved in greeting, yet despite the warmth of the day, wrapped his thin brown cloak tighter and pulled up his hood.
“Good afternoon young Sir,” he said as he positioned himself, without dismounting, so that Rob must look directly into the bright near midday sun, squinting and shielding his eyes and looking down at the hoses withers. He thought it a little odd that such old poorly cared for horse would be saddled so expensively he was sure that the saddle and the strangers riding boots, soft brown leather with a dark green band at the top were of the finest quality and imported, he’d seen some for sale at the fair, fifty shillings for a saddle and a pair of boots! He and Jack had stood back feeling rather poor and shabby as the rich and noble merchants gathered around the saddlers emporium, bargaining with the owner.