"Oh, my Lord," she cried racing up the stairs. "They're here! They're at the gates!"
"What?! Who is?"
"Them! I was looking out the window! I saw them. They're, they're here!" she spluttered quite out of breath.
"Now, now," said the Lady of the Manor, "please calm down and tell us who, exactly, is at the gates."
She took a deep breath or two, straightened her clothes and her mussed hair, and took another deep breath. "Perhaps it would be best if you looked out the western windows, m'Lady, m'Lord. It will become quite plain who and what I'm talking about."
The Lord and Lady looked at each other and, joining hands, walked over to the window. The view was expansive, taking in the western reaches of the verdant countryside. The view of the gates, which were some 500 meters distant, was excellent. Even without the pennants flying from the radio masts it would have been possible to know who approached the city gates. The convoy stretched into the distance, a cloud of exhaust fumes clouding the clear air. The muted roar of the idling engines drowned out the birdsong that was usually the loudest sound.
"Hmmmm... It would appear we've got some unexpected visitors. I wonder, should we go and greet them? Or, should we, perhaps, let them stew for a few minutes more?" The Lady of the Manor swatted the Lord on his shoulder, gave him the look, and held out her hand for his arm. "I think," she said, " we should make haste to greet our visitors. Yet, it would be unseemly to rush. Shall we go?" With that they swept from the room.
The scene at the gates was chaotic. Orders and counter orders flew, officers running about. The island of calm at the center of the chaos was the visitors' leader. He stood unmoving, head and shoulders above the throng, a slight smile on his face. He answered when asked but otherwise kept his peace. He could see the swirl of the crowd as it parted before the Lord and Lady as they approached. The crowd was much quieter in their wake. The officers at the gate noticed the quieting of the crowd. They turned to see the source of the quiet.
The Lieutenant swept his hat off as he bowed. "M'Lord, m'Lady. You needn't bother yourselves with this matter. We will soon have it sorted out and send these, these ... people on their way."
"If by 'on their way' you mean directed into the traders' quarter, then we will be well pleased with you. Other wise, perhaps, not so much."
"My Lord! We can't simply ...!" His words tumbled to a halt at the frown on the Lord's face.
The Lady put her hand on the Lord's arm and forestalled the explosion, a smile coming to her lips. "Perhaps, Lieutenant, you should inquire of our visitor exactly why he has traveled to our fair city and who exactly he is here to see."
"Uh, yes, m'Lady. As you say." The Lieutenant turned. The thought that perhaps he had read the situation wrong began to take form. He turned to see that the visitor's face had broken into a wide smile. His stomach plummeted.
"Uh, sir... May I ask who you've come to see?"
"You may, Lieutenant. And I may answer. But I think my sister should be the one to let you off the hook."
The likeness of the Lady and the visitor became blindingly obvious and the Lieutenant turned a violent shade of red. "Uh, yes, sir. As you say."
He turned to the Lord and Lady. "If I may be excused...?"
"Of course, Lieutenant. Please see to the rest of the convoy. Make sure they have everything they need."
The Lady held out her arms and her brother swept her into a hug, lifting her feet from the ground. When she had caught her breath she asked, "What brings you to our city, brother mine? Let's walk as we talk." She looped her arms through the men's arms and tugged them into motion.
"Oh, I was just passing through the area and decided to stop in to visit. It's not that often I get to visit you and his Lordship," he said with a sideways look at the Lord. The Lord rolled his eyes and gave a sigh that spoke of long suffering.
"Passing through the area, huh? What, give or take a couple hundred miles?"
"Well, perhaps," he allowed, his boyish grin breaking out. "But you can hardly blame me for wanting to visit this lonely outpost of civilization and culture as a break from my border patrols."
"Well, no, I don't suppose you can be blamed for wanting to visit our fair city. But you shouldn't be tempting others to rat you out for not following orders to the letter!"
"Pah! All my officers are loyal to me. And the enlisted men are forbidden to talk about any aspect of this excursion without an officer's approval."
The Lady looked skeptical, her raised eyebrow punctuating her silent disapproval.
The trio walked on chatting about the city as they passed through it. Upon reaching the Manor they retired to the private sitting room to talk.
"So, brother mine, what really brings you to our fair city?"