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A strange noise through the woods caught Godwin’s ear. He could move silently through the forest, but he stilled himself to listen. It was rare to encounter anyone on his pre-dawn patrols of the Upper Culdees. Poachers and outlaws usually stayed well south of the forest’s Villein road. He nocked his arrow all the same.
“Dearest Lord, help me.” The woman’s voice was hoarse and tempered by her crying. Godwin wasn’t sure if this was another trap laid by poachers to rid the forest of its woodsman, so he approached slowly, his arrow at the ready.
The ground ahead sloped downward toward a stream. Godwin crept up to the rise and peered down. A woman sat against a redwood, her skirts pulled up around her waist, her bare legs and womanly parts exposed. All stealth forgotten, Godwin dropped his bow. It clattered against a tree.
The woman turned and locked eyes with Godwin. Her face was flushed and rosy with exertion, her dark hair had fallen from the coil on her head and her cheeks were lined with tears. Godwin had never seen anything more beautiful in all his days.
“By God, you must help me,” the woman cried. “My babe, it’s to be born.”
Godwin wiped his palms on his cloak. “Can you bear to be carried? We’ve a midwife in town–.” Godwin made sure to keep his eyes on the woman’s own. Hers were warm and brown and betrayed her fear.
“No! No midwife, please.” The woman pressed herself into the firmness of the tree and groaned. Godwin steeled himself against his frantic heart and knelt in front of the woman. He was unsure how to help but familiar enough with what needed to be done.
The boy child arrived as the sun broke over the horizon. With the babe at her breast, Godwin bundled the woman in his cloak and carried her through the woods to his small house on the eastern edge of town. Godwin lay the woman in his bed near the fire.
As she fell asleep she spoke softly. Godwin received her words with a chill.
“They’re coming to kill the child.”
Later that morning, Godwin watched his brother the blacksmith prepare the fire in the forge. “She didn’t say anything more.”
“You can’t keep them hidden in your woods-shack forever. Someone’s bound to notice a babe’s wailing in the night.” Godwin knew he was right.
They were interrupted by thundering hooves that sounded through the town.
Godwin walked to the shop door and watched a dozen men on warhorses crowding the square. They wore the livery of the Northern King.
“People of Renaissance!” a horseman bellowed, “I am King Ansel.”
Gasps were heard through the gathering crowd as the people began to bow uncertainly. This was their King, although his rule had never taken hold in the far reaches of Renaissance.
The King continued, “My sister, the Princess Cassandra, has died in her childbed. Her son, my nephew, the prince and heir, a wee babe has been kidnapped by his midwife. We’ve tracked the outlaw through Heriot’s Pass and into your woods. We require a guide.”
All eyes turned to Godwin, the only woodsman in the Upper Culdees. The King’s words startled Godwin, but not because he was being called upon to help.
Godwin knew the King was lying. And he wanted to know why.
Read Part 2: King Ansel’s Tale posted 10/12/11.
There is an argument (albeit small)
There is fear of an impending misfortune
Someone might fall in love