“Good afternoon,” Rob replied civilly.
“Now young Sir, please can you tell me if I have arrived in time for Valorholm Fair?”
“Unfortunately not, it ended yesterday.”
Rob was unable to see the stranger’s face to tell whether or not this news was good or bad.
”Now then young Sir, I have heard that Linnaeus may still be found in Valorholm?” The cloaked stranger left the question hanging.
“Normally yes but not today, he is travelling, in fact Linnaeus and my friend are due to meet in the Three Millers Inn tonight, it’s about two hours ride along the north road.”
“And the direction?” asked the hooded man.
Rob, still squinting, moved so that he could see the stranger in a little more comfort; imperceptibly the stranger moved his horse, so that Rob gave up and looked away from the light, pointing out the general direction of the way to the Three Millers Inn.
“Most grateful young master, and is Valorholm your home young Sir?”
“No I’m from Marlton.”
“Marlton is it, is that not where there is a child that is Wizardly and were there not two named?”
“Yes that’s right,” answered Rob trying again to look at the stranger.
“The other child is from Valorholm?”
“No I think he is from much further North, I was just nine or so at the naming, his mother is Lady Morgana, that’s about all I know of her, she lives in King Edwin’s land north of here.”
Rob remembered his duties and looked towards the distant hill and saw the three distinct flashes of light from the signal mirror.
“Excuse me I must do this now.” He angled the mirror and signalled one, two, three to Wolfrick. Attentive to his duty as always, back came three distinctive flashes from Wolfrick in Valorholm. Rob then flashed the mirror angled at the distant hill four times and the reply was instant from Linnaeus and Jack.
“Tell young sir, what game of mirrors is this?”
“Not games at all, we are helping Linnaeus, he is there with my friend Jack,” said Rob pointing at the hilltop in the distance.
The stranger leaned forward, his face still deep in shadow
“Linnaeus is there?” he said pointing at the far off hilltop.
“And Wolfrick there atop Linnaeus’s tower,” Rob pointed out.
“And what use would a Wizard such as Linnaeus have with a heliograph?”
“With a what?” asked Rob
“No matter,” said the stranger quickly, “just thinking out loud.”
Rob packed up his mirror and wrapped it carefully, mounted his horse, looked round for the stranger and saw him moving on to the north, without a word of farewell, blending in to the countryside so well, it was difficult to see as the cloaked rider disappeared into the trees.
Rob had a vaguely uneasy feeling as he rode towards the Three Millers, he knew nothing of this stranger, whereas the stranger had learned all he needed to from Rob. Rob halted his horse several times on the road to the Three Millers, certain that he was being watched and followed, this feeling increased as time went on.
The road he was following turned into a valley bottom, here with the sun behind the hills, where the trees grew tall and close together the lengthening shadows increased his fears. He stopped , listening and looking very carefully, sure he had heard another horse and rider some distance behind. He nudged his horse into a trot, eager to be out of the shadowy woodlands , the horse was eager too and was soon at a gallop through the bottom of the valley. Gradually the trees opened out, the light brighter as the road widened. With a huge feeling of relief boy and horse passed through the woods and climbed out of the valley. Cresting the hill he saw, just a mile further on, the Three Millers with its water wheel turning in the mill race. Built in the same style as Valorholm – stone ground floor, half-timbered upper floor and a thatched roof – the mill itself took up almost half the building with a courtyard and stables. Behind the mill in an L shape was the Inn.
Now free from the shadows and basking in the last of the evening sunshine Rob gentled the horse back to a walk, the feeling of being watched and followed disappeared, and Rob, like all boys of his age sometimes wanting to be a lot older than his years, determined not to mention his gallop away from a shadow and what was probably just the noise of a deer in the woods. That’s it he thought, just a deer or maybe a boar and put his fears out of his mind.