England, February 1645. Nicolas Mitchell slid off his horse, his booted feet not quite silent as they hit the frost covered ground. Mr. Simmons blew a steam filled breath and nudged Nick with his nose as Nick skirted around him. He patted the loyal mount as he whispered, “Quiet boy.”
Nick crept as near as he dared toward the edge of the forest, grateful now for the moonless night whereas ten minutes before he had been cursing it. Nick squinted through the inky darkness across the winter-dormant, manicured lawns and gardens leading to Mitchell Manor.
Torches held by riders glowed orange in sharp relief against the darkness. Five men dismounted and trudged toward the massive double doors of Nick’s childhood home. Wrapped as they were in layers of clothing, not one was recognizable.
A flash of light from the entry hall teased the night as the doors were pushed open; then darkness reclaimed its rightful place after they shut behind the men.
A pair of minutes later two more men rode in from the east, and an icy finger touched Nick’s spine as they each pulled a body sized bag from their mounts and hefted the limp burdens over their shoulders. They headed away from the house, toward the outbuildings around in back. Their mounts huffed and pawed at the ground where the men left them, no doubt eager to find shelter from the cold night.
An icy wind bit into Nick’s cheeks. The same wind jarred a clump of snow from the branch right above his head. He swiped his cap off his head and brushed the snow off against his thigh. Hurriedly replacing the cap, he pulled it snug over his frozen ears. Nick took a well-deserved moment to curse the weather and unexpected circumstances which now saw him skulking outside his home. Nick shoved his gloved hands deep into his pockets, then blew into his wool collar, resolutely hunching deeper into his jacket.
His home had clearly become a headquarters of sorts for one of the three players in the civil war which had plagued England for the past three years.
Considering Nick’s own part in the war — an intelligence officer for the crown, aka spy — he’d best figure out exactly who had commandeered his home–and fast — or he could easily find himself in one of those burlap body bags like the other two poor saps..
He stomped his feet, wincing at the cold pin pricks that shot through them.
He could only hope they were Cavaliers, but they could easily be Roundheads, or worse yet, they could be with the New Model Army, a group recently formed by the Parliamentarians.
Mr. Simmons whinnied softly and bumped Nick’s shoulder with his nose.
Nick shot him an apologetic glance, realizing his horse was as cold as he was.
“It can’t be helped, boy. We’ve got ourselves a bit of a situation here.” Nick half turned and stroked Mr. Simmons muscular snow white neck. “Give me a minute to figure something out.”
An urgent whinny and a split second too late, Nick heard the footfall behind him.
Cold metal pressed against his neck and he swallowed back an oath.
“Put your hands where I can see them.”
Relief all but buckled Nick’s knees. “Will, hasn’t anyone ever told you it’s not nice to sneak up on a man when he’s spying on his own house?”
Our hero also appears as a lad in Chameleon’s Shadow, available now.