There was no snow in the freezing dawn light as Edgar brought the horse and cart to the hut. The dawn broke red in the east as scudding dark clouds raced across the sky. Learmouth climbed on to the seat cloaked, hooded and wrapped against the cold. Edgar, hungry since no breakfast had been offered and feeling hard done to by Learmouth, stood up, held the reins in one hand, his horse whip in the other, thrashed the reins and the horse moved off willingly. Edgar lashed the whip at the horse’s withers. The cruel whip cracked, dong! the gong sounded, and instead of hitting the horse the whiplash hit Edgar around the neck so hard it knocked him clean out of the cart. The horse started, expecting a stab of pain, and the cart rolled over Edgar’s foot, howling in pain and rage he hopped after the cart while trying to loosen the whip from around his neck.
Learmouth reached calmly for the reins and brought the poor horse to a halt, he gave Edgar a cold stare as he climbed back on board the cart and returned the reins without a word.
As the sky cleared the temperature plummeted, frost formed a thick crust on top of the snow, they made slow progress with Edgar pushing the cart through deep snow drifts while Learmouth remained on the seat. It was late evening when they passed over the drawbridge into Netherton Keep, Edgar leading the tired mare and holding a lantern to see the way.
Learmouth stepped down saying, “ Stable and feed the nag.”
Edgar was minded to leave the mare hungry, however, the cold grey eyes told him otherwise, and he took the mare from the harness and led her to the stable where there was hay and water and reasonably clean bedding straw. He closed the bottom half of the stable door and slid the bolt closed as the mare turned around. Edgar saw his chance, as the mare put her head over the top of the half door he aimed a punch at her. Dong went the gong, Edgar slipped, spun round and crashed his head into the stone wall of the stable.
Learmouth entered the keep to find Morgana, her father, the Crone and Mirless finishing their supper by a blazing fire. The keep had undergone a huge change, there were expensive rugs on the stone floors, dark green velvet curtains on gleaming brass rails were hung over the windows. Torches in brackets on the walls provided light, two huge candelabras hung from the ceiling at each end of the rectangular room, another fireplace on one side blazed cheerfully.
A long highly-polished table ran half the length of the room with chairs to match, solid oak bookshelves polished with bees wax, down each side, filled with the best leather-bound books, brass vases filled with holly and mistletoe were set on side tables . The finest tapestries money could buy were hung along the other walls, all of them magnificent. The Netherton Coat of Arms was illuminated by the light of the main fireplace, all in all it looked like the home of a very wealthy merchant farmer.
The Crone’s plan was working well. Netherton, fortunately, was well above sea level, and the rivers had not been affected by the floods and their corn would sell at high prices, all the farms had tenants, the buildings and houses either rebuilt or refurbished to a very high standard. A dozen servants were employed to clean, maintain and polish the keep. The once filthy kitchen gleamed on every surface. The Crone, in her disguise as a tutor, had a new a wing for her own use.