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Felson the orphan sighed as he carried fresh hay from the stable loft in the early hours of the morning. When he finished, he would have to feed, water and curry the horses left overnight by the inn's guests. Only then would he be permitted inside the kitchen to look through whatever the guests had not finished of their breakfasts. His only consolation was that his new tasks in ths stable were less obnoxious than his previous chores inside the inn, for now he would be collecting the chamber pots with their not so pleasant contents from the rooms of the guests. He was moving up in the world. After breaking fast he would rake the stable clean in preparation for new arrivals.

Later emerging from the kitchen, Felson found that the black gelding, which had been so difficult to make ready, was still lodged in its stall, its owner apparently tarrying in the inn. He picked up the rake and began clearing out the stall already abandoned. Soon he heard the sound of approaching boots and looked up to see a post rider, from Graf Ivor by the colors of his attire, striding into the stable. Quickly leaning the rake against a harness rack, Felson moved to fetch the saddle and blanket for the horse.

"Easy, boy, I'm in no great hurry. I've delivered my message to Count Wangor, and I'll take my time returning." Felson, nonetheless, placed the gear on a stand by the black gelding's stall and fetched the bridle. The rider seemed a pleasant enough fellow, but many who passed through were arrogant and freely dealt out kicks and cuffs to lowly stable boys.

"What's your name, boy?" the rider asked.

"It's Felson, sir." Few people had asked or even cared about his name. Most called him "boy," or worse.

"Did you say 'Felson,' lad?" inquired the rider. His eyes fixed on the young boy, as if searching for something. "By any chance was your father Frondo Ffell?"

"My mother told me that was his name before she herself died of the whispering disease eight years ago."

Hearing the name of the dreaded plague, the rider touched a bronze talisman hanging from his neck and continued, "Would her name have been Palana, Felson?"

Yes, sir, her name was Palana Berchtsdater. She was from the Northern Lands beyond the Mirkwood."

"Felson, dear boy, you are my cousin."


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