Lady Renwald had been gone nearly a week now. The Festival of Light marking the Autumnal Equinox and the beginning of the harvest would start in two days time. After the Lady’s coach had disappeared around the bend leading to the King’s Road, Michael had saddled his horse and headed out to the Senunault Estate which lay on the banks of the river bearing the same name. This was the farming estate and hub of House Renwald. Here the vast majority of foodstuffs and grains were grown and raised for both staff and stock. As he had predicted, the day following the Lady’s departure had rained. Michael spent the next three days at the Senunault Estate going over the estimates for harvest and costs. Despite the floods of six months earlier, the crops were doing better than expected. Wheat, barley, oats and corn were all heavy with fruit. The orchards were already being harvested and promised an excellent return. The greatest threat now was an early frost but it did not seem likely as the following days proved to be clear and warm.
The dread that had permeated House Renwald following the death of Lord Robert was dissipating and a new focus took its place. The staff seemed more relaxed and worked with purpose. The Equinox would be celebrated in the old ways. The anticipation of feasts, dancing, bonfires and a Boar hunt buoyed the spirits of everyone. Michael was pleased with the predictions. There would be enough food to see House Renwald through the winter and perhaps a bit extra to sell at market. That would certainly help defray some of the additional costs entailed due to the cancelation of House Hawke’s order. Thirty extra mares to feed meant the real possibility of sending some of the younger staff members’ home to their families for the winter. Unless a buyer was found, but that prospect grew more unlikely with each passing day. Michael put all that aside and focused his attention on the coming harvest and Equinox celebration. He had two more estates to inspect but decided to wait until after the celebrations here were over.
Friday afternoon was warm and dry and, with the inspection of the new levies along the river over, Michael rode alone at a leisurely pace north along the riverbank to the broad rolling hills of clover and sweet grass that bordered the dense Northern forest. A feeling of contentment washed over him as he guided his horse along a rise overlooking the lands and river to the south. He was overseer of one of the richest land holdings in the kingdom. A member of a House known far and wide for its breeding of excellent horses. Few men could boast of such a thing. He was trusted and respected and even fewer men could make that claim. A kindly breeze washed the ridge pushing the tall grasses into rippling waves that undulated across the gently rolling hills. Michael smiled. Perhaps he would travel to the capital after the harvest was in and the estates secured for the winter. It had been years since he last saw the walls of Olympus. He would have time and money and there would be plenty of lodging available once the throngs were gone … and there would be women, flush with an after festival glow, but still craving entertainment. Yes, he would definitely make the effort to visit Olympus after harvest. Goddess knew he earned it.
Jerking the reins, Michael spun his horse to head back to the estate, but pulled up short. Behind him, the sun, now low in the west, bathed the forest edge with a warm coppery glow and there, standing where the forest and the grasslands met, stood the most magnificent Stag Michael had ever seen. Tall, broad of chest the beast held its head high as if appreciating the coming sunset. A noble rack of antlers branched out like the limbs of a great leafless tree. Were Michael a more religious man he would swear he was looking at Herne the Hunter himself come down to view his domain and bless the coming harvest. Nonetheless Michael took this as a good omen. He gave a respectful nod to the Stag before swinging his horse around and starting down the ridge. Behind him the great stag watched as man and horse dipped from view. He snorted once then turned and vanished into the deepening gloom of the forest.