The Secret Country

The Secret Country by PAMELA DEAN Read Free Book Online

Book: The Secret Country by PAMELA DEAN Read Free Book Online
Authors: PAMELA DEAN
‘There is great peril from across the sea,’ ” said Ted with alacrity, “‘and by the oaths ye swore when Shan the first wizard delivered you from—’ ”
    “Angels and ministers of grace defend us!” shouted Benjamin. He was once more of a ruddy complexion. Laura’s stomach clenched itself tight. Ruth looked appalled.
    “Why are thy tongues not black in thy conniving heads!”
    “I knew it!” said Patrick, not appalled at all, but extremely angry at Ruth.
    “And where,” Benjamin demanded of him, “were thy wits that thou still dangled after, if thou knewest so much?”
    Patrick had nothing to say. Laura did not think this as funny as she might have expected.
    Benjamin flung his hands out in a gesture that rejected all of them. “I’ve no words for you,” he said. “I must take you all home and you shall go to bed without supper; when I myself have supped and can, perhaps, bear the sight of you again, we shall see what’s to be said and done.” He turned away from them, and Ted and Ruth followed him to the horses, which had been munching grass all the while.
    “What’d we do?” whispered Laura to Ellen.
    “Ted and Ruth,” said Patrick quietly on her other side, “are Romeo and Juliet. We are all the old nurse.”
    “I went to bed early when they read us that one,” said Ellen. “I hate love stories. When did we act this out, anyway?”
    “You and Laurie had the mumps,” said Patrick. “Summer before last. The King had Ruth betrothed to Lord Randolph when she was just a baby, but Ted and Ruth want to marry each other.”
    “How boring,” said Ellen.
    “Benjamin doesn’t think so,” said Patrick. “He thinks we are all scheming, and he thinks Ruth lied to him about the ceremony of the Green Caves so she could—”
    “Come your ways!” called Benjamin, and they hurried over to the horses.
    Laura stood and watched Ellen and Patrick struggle onto their horses. Their difficulties did nothing for Benjamin’s temper. He scowled at them and then looked down at Laura.
    “Well?” he said.
    Laura, who did not like the way the horses smelled, the way they moved sideways as if they wanted to go somewhere very fast, or the way they eyed her, looked straight up at Benjamin and was speechless.
    “I’ll have none of your big blue eyes,” said Benjamin sharply, and he picked her up as if she were a much smaller child than she was, and put her on the black pony.
    After she had fallen off it for the fifth time, he hauled her up by an elbow with considerably less care than he had exhibited the first four times, and boosted her up in front of Ruth, who was almost unseated herself by this sudden maneuver. Benjamin looked at her for a moment as if this were more than he was prepared to manage, then turned and busied himself with Laura’s pony.
    “You okay?” whispered Ruth.
    “Sure,” said Laura; it was, after all, no worse than mistiming a jump from a swing in the school playground. Of course, she had never misjumped four times in a row. But the first grateful moment of stillness, when you were lying on a piece of ground that wasn’t going anywhere, was almost worth the pain of the bruises.
    Laura settled herself as securely as she could in Ruth’s trembling grip and took her first good look at where they were heading. She was too outraged to speak, which was no doubt just as well. High Castle—if it was High Castle—looked like a piece of peppermint candy, concentric rings of pink and white. It was supposed to be a square white—or maybe gray—fortress with towers at its corners and a moat around it. Laura drew in a breath to protest to Ruth, and let it out again suddenly as the horses began to move. Benjamin set a much slower pace than he had tried earlier, but it was still far from comfortable.
    The flat plain was not really flat, but full of small rises and falls of ground. As they came down the rise from which Laura had first seen High Castle, it lost its aspect of peppermint and

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