Drace was able to look around more as they slowed to a walk once inside the outer bailey. To his left were paddocks, several horses standing dozing in the afternoon sun, or nibbling scattered hay. Two large stables were close by; a neigh from a horse inside had Pride lifting his head to answer.
To his right were several large vegetable gardens Drace assumed were for the castle’s use. Further over were smaller barns for a few cattle and the sheep. Chickens scratched in the grass around them.
Two more men greeted the elves when they passed through the large inner gates into the inner bailey, the castle rose in front of them and Drace craned his neck to look up at the red-gold stone fortress. The main body of the castle was four floors with a large, tall, square tower at each corner that raised two more floors above it. Walkways lined the top edge of the walls with stairs leading from them to the top of the towers, giving sentries outside access to the tower roofs. Men were barely visible atop the two front towers.
Heavy wooden doors, tall enough to grant access to a man on horseback, marked the main entrance, probably into a main hall. Large open windows flanked the door, wooden shutters of heavy oak ready to be closed for either weather or defense.
Moving along slowly, following Vashti and Ka’Ril, Drace saw along the
inner bailey wall was two barracks, large enough to hold a considerable number of men who moved around each structure as they went about
There were other smaller buildings nestled along the wall: a wood shed, a smithy, a smoke house, a laundry. Drace did not know the use of a couple of rooms. Close to the barracks was an armory, or weapons room, judging from the weapons and shields propped against the building’s exterior wall.
Hunger inducing smells came from a large building against the wall of the castle, causing Drace to guess correctly that it was the kitchen. His belly agreed with a rumble of hunger. A large tree shaded the kitchen’s outer entrance.
The people here appeared well fed and healthy so he thought he probably wasn’t in danger of starvation. But if he had any more meals of bread and cheese without at least a taste of meat to go with it, he just might cry.
To his dismay, they turned away from the kitchen and rode past a smaller stable to a large open area. Counting quickly, Drace saw twenty men practicing with various weapons, and several horses were being exercised at the near end. Pride’s tired walk suddenly became an excited prance, and he neighed a greeting. The exercise riders pulled up their mounts and stared with curiosity and respect, letting the trio pass. Vashti and Ka’Ril seemed intent on two people at the far corner of the training area who were engaged in a mock fight.
Both wore leather sleeveless shirts that came to their waist and matching leather breeches. Calf-high soft leather boots completed each outfit. The weapons were blunt edge swords and wooden unpainted shields. Neither participant was wearing much armor, just leather shin and lower arm guards.
Drace noticed that one fighter had dark auburn hair and was of medium build. Despite being heavily muscled and appearing to be a good fighter, he was taking a pounding from his opponent.
Drace couldn’t help but stare at the other fighter…a woman…who handled a large sword better than anyone he had ever seen. She was taller than her opponent, probably five-ten, with long tawny-blond hair in a thick braid that hung to just past her hips. She was muscular, but slender in an athletic way. Her skin was tanned golden.