Tiernan entered the room and peered around. It was empty but for the sentry who paced his rounds to and fro. The insane boy was gone. Immanuel shrank back against the highest rafter and was extremely disconcerted when the chief outlaw glanced quickly upward. But his gaze fell again and Immanuel let out his breath. The leader turned to a man who had come with him.
“Return to the wall. How have the men at the gate fared?”
His subordinate answered ashamedly, “It is locked from the outside, my lord.”
The chief set his teeth and sucked his cheeks in. “Resume.” he said shortly, leaving the room.
That day was a tense hard wait. At first, Immanuel was sure that Ahearn would mount a surprise attack on the castle. He soon released that hope with a sick feeling Why had they sent him in if they could have done it without him? It was not a comfortable thought. “Why here?” he asked himself with a tinge of deja’vu as the raiders settled into their meal. Why, he hadn’t eaten since yesterday’s dinner. Nor before that since the light breakfast of the day before. The thieves were raiding the pantry and having a good time of it. They had settled down into the hall, fortifying it to withstand attacks. By the time they had finished eating, drinking, smoking, and telling stories, some of the men were pretty well doused. Some went away to their respective huts, while others began to bed down in the hall or go on watch duty.
Immanuel fidgeted; there was a cramp in his leg. He stretched out in the wooden beams and let it relax. It felt much better. In fact, he decided that trying to escape would be futile, currently. So, bracing himself against a beam, he tried to get to sleep.
It was dawn and Immanuel had sat up all night without sleeping a wink when the rising call sounded. He jerked awake, disoriented by the fact that he really had been asleep, startled by the unfamiliar trumpet blast, and unaccustomed to his new perch. He didn’t really wake up until he hit the floor. When he did, he really hurt. There were four men on top of him already, but they needn’t have bothered. He was shaking with pain and his (left) arm hung loose/limp at his side. However, since he had only just fallen into their laps and had disappeared in such a mysterious manner, they thought it best to keep tabs on him. When Immanuel actually did come to his senses, he was being pulled toward the table. He tried to struggle; keeping tabs was one thing, but tying someone to a table was just ridiculous. Nonetheless, he was soon strapped to it and a man was leaning over him who quickly wrenched his arm……
Immanuel awakened providentially out of shock in the wine cellar. He was lying in a mess of blankets on the ground and a man stood at the other end of the room pacing. He was a tall man, with a thin face and a sure gait. Immanuel lay still and flinched experimentally under the covers. It really, really hurt. His left arm was bound to his side/waist with a wide strip/swath/bolt of cloth. He lay still with his eyes closed, focusing. The man in the other side of the room said in a low tenor,
This was, to say the least, disconcerting. He(Immanuel) hadn’t moved enough to make any noise.
The man knelt over him and began to examine him. He was, apparently, a physician/leech.
“What happened?” Immanuel asked.
The physician ignored this, perhaps as an unimportant or ridiculous question.
Immanuel lay still until the man turned suddenly and left. The door was probably guarded, but what didn’t make sense was why they had even wasted their doctor on him while they no doubt had wounded from yesterday’s skirmish. They would just kill him anyway, right? Unless the doctor had left to get Tiernan, which would not bode well in any case.
Immanuel struggled to sit up. Ignoring the pain, he managed to roll into a kneeling position. Wasting precious time, he finally awkwardly stood. He felt lightheaded but tried to think. Unfortunately, his escape was hampered by his lack of knowledge on any way out. “Surely, they would not leave him here without first checking for such things. Unless the leech was coming back soon.”
As if on cue, Immanuel heard footsteps in the nearbyhall. Berating himself for even bothering to stand when unsure of a plan, Immanuel tried to get back down on the bed. His arm in its stationary state proved to be an obstacle, and he could not lay down in time. Two men entered. “Darn!” he thought. He hadn’t intended to show them that he could even sit up.
Tiernan looked amusedly down at Immanuel as he lay back.
“I’d usually reprimand men for failing to to stand in my presence; but if so much effort is expended to to sit/lie down, at my approach, I believe I would pardon you.”
He looked reflectively down at Immanuel. Immanuel hoped that he didn’t identify him with the youth who had knocked out a guard four nights ago. But Tiernan apparently had some questions in mind.
“Why has the druid taken to sending boys? Who are you?”
Immanuel’s face must have registered some confusion, but he didn’t answer.
“Are you some kind of wizard’s apprentice?” the commander said, waiting for an answer. When he received none, he continued unabated, “You are no monk. Why did the wizard send you?” He said after a moment, “You do know that both I and my associate are fully able to break your other arm?” he waited, “And as many other body parts as we feel necessary before we let you die.” He found a seat on a low stool.
“Not me! He tried to kill me!”
“Did he bribe you into this?” Tiernan asked, still keeping a firm grip on Immanuel’s hand.
“No! Not with him!” Immanuel cried, now desperate to have him let go of his hand.
Tiernan took this fact in with some interest and slightly weakened/relaxed his grip upon Immanuel’s sweating hand.
“Who are you with?”
This amount of pain was not equal to forcing Immanuel. Tiernan’s grip went rigid. “Where are you from!?” There was a long silence. He began to slowly tighten his grip until Immanuel could no longer bear the pain of his –?– squished fingers and gasped,
“Why?” the raider captain asked without bothering to let go.
“Let…go…” Immanuel squeaked. The grip loosened.
“Why?” he asked in the same tone of voice.
“I got lost” said Immanuel, who still had some figments of sense and control left.
Tiernan’s face hardened as he grip threatened to. He mouth curved into a hard line as he looked at Immanuel.
“Ahearn wanted some books.” Immanuel yelped.
Tiernan must have seen something in Immanuel’s face; his own face was a picture of sarcastic skepticism.
“Precisily accurate, all this, no doubt” Tiernan commented to the doctor who stood behind him. “Where are they now?” Tiernan said, preparing to let go of Immanuel’s hand when he answered.
“I don’t know!” Immanuel said pulling his hand away.
Tiernan casually took up Immanuel’s sweaty left hand and crouched on the ground. The act of bending it at the elbow alone was painful.
“Where are they?” he asked carelessly without bothering to put Immanuel’s fingers in a hold.
“Mostly West at castle, few with me”
Tiernan figured that the very fact Immanuel had said such a thing meant with surety that any suspicion against it would prove what he suspected of the truth of Immanuel’s statement. He suddenly jammed Immanuel‘s fingers together “Why?” He asked again.
“They needed to get in.”
Tiernan looked at Immanuel’s face as he turned white under the greatest pressure he had yet exerted. “Anything else?” Tiernan asked nudging Immanuel’s upper arm with his foot/toe.
“Nn-north-norrrssttthh” Immanuel lapsed into heavy breathing before he had to divulge anything about the norsemen.
“Nothing,” concluded the doctor.
“Don’t bother me unless it’s pressing,” the raider said. “Work on the others if you’re finished.” He stalked out of the room. The doctor glanced down at the boy on the mat. His arm still looked set; besides, he loathed having to reset a bone multiple times. He left abruptly, drawing the heavy oaken bolt on the door behind him.
It was silent.
Immanuel furtively drew his eyes from his fingers and glanced around the empty room. He was not dead, but when would they be coming back? Why was he still alive unless they needed more out of him than what he already felt like a traitor for telling. He had no opportunities trapped in this underground room. Rolf would have no choice but to burn the stockade fence with the raiders almost on top of them; but if he did, were would they be? Augmenting the situation, if they had failed to sabotage the ships properly, the Vikings would be here much sooner despite the rotten weather conditions.
It was twilight and Rolf was perched in a tree gazing anxiously at the walls above one of the rear entrances.
“Rolf.” It was Lamar.
“What?” Rolf asked, still intent upon the sentries on the catwalk.
“Ahearn wants you,”
Rolf jumped down lightly, “What for?”
“An enemy, one or t’other.”
“All right. The army knows of our predicament (though not of the spy)?” Rolf added glancing back.
“We couldn’t hide it forever. I don’t know the use of hiding it if those who oughtn’t to know it already knew. (spies)”
“It’s easier to hide plans. But then,” Rolf reflected, “you are right.”
Lamar crouched down in the underbrush to watch. Rolf pensively picked his way back to their glade of woods.
Walter was impatient.
“He needs until sunset at least,” Rolf was insisting.
Oswald ran in, “Message: N within three miles and moving.”
“Either he or the sun needs to move–”
Rolf leaped to his feet and ran to the tent flap. “Sir Edward! Kincaid! We need your advice.” he added when they stood against the wall of the tent. “We have a spy. We need you to look into it.”
“Done. I’ll wager he’s still here.” Sir Edward said.
“I have a question though? How do you know this if no one’s been missing since that scout betrayed us to the raiders?”
“There are other ways, for a spy to portray information.” Ahearn said to Kincaid from his corner. He looked significantly Walter. As Sun Tzu once said–well, always suspect one.”
“But from Drough? How would a spy contact him on the Viking’s ship, and the raiders haven’t a reason…” Radimir trailed off.
“There’s always likely to be a spy and chances are, near.” Ahearn said. “Find him.”
“We’re hemmed in by three enemies:” Ahearn said after they had left. “one allied with all our enemies and prone to betray for his own purposes; the unbeatable seamen with whom he’s currently allied; and an ambitious group of outlaws with a strange new strategian. The king won’t be able to come to our aid.
“Unless he already had another reason.” Rolf reminded him. “Besides, we have three strategies in our favor: the gold–and the Vikings.”
There was an access door to the cellars hidden among the western fields. It had overgrown during the winter and was long since unused, but there was a chance…
The Vikings were somewhere crested the ridge overlooking the hall by now. Rolf looked back and ducked into his boat. He poked his pole at a barrel stuck in the reeds. He could not lose a single on of the thirty some barrels floating down stream as he guided them south. He hoped that he wouldn’t be stopped as they sky brightened with the sunset and the Vikings /started down the slope to the castle. If only he weren’t stopped. He looked up. “They couldn’t have.” A Saxony pirate ship loomed in the middle of the river, gathering up barrels. Soon Rolf found himself being hauled aboard.
Auden gave Rolf his hand. “Stage one completed then?”
“Only if we can get all of them.” Rolf said looking dolefully out at the scattered barrels.
“Stage two won’t be a pr’b’em though with the king abroad?” A man with a blond beard and broad shoulders approached them.
Rolf spun around, “What do you know of the king?”
The captain looked as though he hadn’t meant to say anything. “Well, raiding the coast, I do have informants who will tell me inconvenient times for visits. I do have a tip. But that wasn’t included in the original deal. If there was compensation, and I didn’t get into trouble with him, Well,”
“We said nothing of exonerating you of your past crimes; but no, we won’t turn you over to the king.” Auden said looking disdainfully at the pirate captain.
“My men and I are after fair compensation, you remember.” The man said/reminded them, fingering the big jeweled hilt of his sword.
“You won’t get any until you perform the act you intend to be compensated for. You ought to be thankful we let you in on this. You need the Danes out of your hair/beard as well as we (do). Now about this tip you promised–” Auden paused expectantly.
The man grasped the hilt of his sword. “Before.”
Auden threw him his (own sword. “That’s a deposit. Tell.”
The pirate shrugged, “if you’re willing to give up a (fine) sword for a pack o’ empty barrels and an empty ruler, ain’t my affair. King’s mighty upset of rumors of recent Viking raids down this way after the Peace and all. He passed by on the Fosse Way two day ago, full speed for Exeter.”
“Is that all you know?” Auden said discontently.
The captain shrugged. “You chartered my vessel.”
Walter stepped in from the background. “Those are your three main points; what next?”
The ship (suddenly) broke from the river into the bay. In addition to the expected longboat carrying a second army of Vikings was the unexpected ship of the mutilated keel just arriving. In the bay also stood two other unexpected Viking warships, visibly (well armed) and manned.
“Well,” Rolf began, taking in the scene, “We floated the buy-out gold down the river in barrels, the Vikings aroused the king (abet too early), and our enemies are set upon each other. Though, the plan hasn’t quite worked; I suggest we add some unscripted action. We did charter you, after all.” he said glancing at the Saxon.
The captain didn’t budge. His jaw was set and he was pretending to be ignorant of their intentions.
“We’ll see what the king can do for you.” he added glancing at the (downcast?) pirate.
The pirate captain’s face was a picture of /study in eagerness mixed with inexpressible horror. He finally made up his mind.
“To the ropes, you dogs! We’ve a commission from the king. The Viking sit in the harbour!”
At the same time the Saxons war cry went up and the ship broke/lurched/started forward, the Viking ships advanced. Unfortunately, the flew toward the pirate ship at a much higher speed than Rolf would have thought possible from the slaves at the oars. Rolf helped Auden pull the last heavy barrel up next to the others which stood in a corner.
“This was not good . However, if the Danes did not figure out what they had aboard, they still had a fighting chance–”
Clashes and shouts came from the woods . Apparently, the army had not been well concealed, and the troop advancing down the ridge had spotted them and opened attack.
“Their chance was fighting all right .”
“Wait a minute!” Walter called, “Kincaid, you need to hail them and tell them we want to talk.”
Walter went to a long conference on the Viking ship.
“No dice ?” Rolf asked Kincaid as he returned from translating.
“Dice? They’ll take our playing cards too. Once they heard we hadgold…Do you know how hard it is to translate a negotiator? Five minutes in and I knew we were sunk. Maybe if Walter spoke Danish……”
“Somehow,” Rolf said, “I think if we all understood one another better……we’d hate each other the more.” He paused, “So they gave us the choice of handing it over or we’d get flayed weather or not the decided to leave the countryside alone.”
Kincaid nodded, “Our captain, Edmar, is turning into the very soul of generosity.”
“Well, we did give them the choice of being bought-off instead of forced out.” Rolf said dryly.
It had been most unpleasant in the cellar for the last hour. There were many, many ways for Immanuel to blast himself out; Unfortunately, they all involved getting blown up himself. He had only just abandoned musing over a keg of oil and a length of rope for a vain attempt at using a shovel—one handed—, when the door of the cellar opened. After he was relieved of his shovel he was led above ground.
“But nobody wears–”
“I have a hostage now. Where exactly are they?”
“In the Western woods,” said Immanuel, eying Tiernan’s hand and its contiguity/proximity to his knife.
Tiernan frowned. “You won’t be rescued, but they will know who we/I’ve got. Farr, Greenwood, go check the west (north) and tell whom you will find there what I told you. Meanwhile,” he said turning back to Immanuel, “I think you’ll find it very comfortable in the cellar with your old friend, Beagan . He is very pleased about the exercise you gave him the other night. His neck has never been better.”
if Beagan was pleased, then Immanuel sure wasn’t.
Overly eager people have a way of messing things up. Take the Battle of Waterloo for instance. (See, Napoleon, if you had only pretended to be content with your lot on Elba, waiting a few years more to build a tunnel over the sea to Paris…..) Eager people mess up a lot of things, actually. Take right now; if the Vikings had only waited,,,ah, well. Drough was probably giving advice and we all know how with-drawn he is. Rolf did have one outstanding thought as the Viking ships drew closer with warriors armed with all descriptions of arms,
“I really hope they haven’t killed anyone on the shore yet.”He didn’t have much time to think between the many things which had to be done to ready the ship, but he calculated that they’re100 could kill the Dane’s460 in five minutes if they killed a man a minute (while the Vikings could take them out in 20 seconds if they went about their killing at half that rate if they all got at the pirate ship at once). And it was unlikely that everyone would wait to die until they had killed five Vikings. The plan had gone horribly wrong and all three points (bribing, getting the king, setting the Vikings upon the raiders) had failed. The treasury had only succeeded in buying trouble. The king had come and left far too early. The Vikings had even found and attacked the (their) concealed army.
“So much for the plan.”
Immanuel was perfectly happy locked in the storage closet for a couple of hours. Apparently, his “friend” wasn’t too eager to be watching someone who had, in the past, demonstrated that he could knock him out and choke him if he wished. Besides, who wants to guard someone who claims to have divine support. Immanuel was very blessed to know someone so pious.
He stuck a metal board/bar through the gap between the door and the door frame. It was no good. The bar wasn’t going to slide back just because someone inside hit it with a bit of scrap metal.
He sank back against the pile of equipment in the closet and let his hands drape limply down. He was surrendered, but did they have to leave him in the dampest room with the worst roof? His hands brushed against a small bag and, idly exploring its contents, he discovered a large amount of unmounted arrowheads. He let it drop on the floor. There had to be a way out. Uncomfortably, he remembered the likely alternative if his mission turned unsuccessful. True,they were near a body of water, and they could put it out when they wished. But though the Vikings might not want to attack a flaming castle, It was not a pleasant thought to remember that the hall might catch fire and him have no way to escape it, especially if he was presumed dead and they did not try to find him as the hall burnt to the ground.
In thinking these elated thoughts, Immanuel had glanced upward, just to make sure that the thatch was not burning. It suddenly occurred to him that he was and imbecile. He pulled a long staff up from the pile and began stabbing the roof. Until presently, little bits of hay dusted the room, and he himself could see a very small patch of light. Redoubling his efforts, He mutilated the roof until he had, with much trouble, rolled himself up onto it. He looked around, holding his now painful and swelling arm. It was getting toward evening and the sky was covered with dim gray clouds. He was on the edge of the roof; and below him, he could see a large patch of bare ground and the wooden fence. A high bend of rood behind him blocked his view. There was a bustle in the courtyard below him, and he saw little if any, way of getting (down and) out the gate unnoticed. He regretfully dropped back down into the room and grabbed a coil of rope and the bag of flint arrowheads. He pulled himself back up onto the roof. He peered over the edge of the roof. “They would have to any way….”
The fight in the woods was drawing closer, and the clash of swords was growing louder. Rolf glanced over, he could not yet see the fight for the trees. The foremost Viking ship was just close enough for a well-thrown spear to mean something. They met. Hundreds of brawny Northmen in shining mail coats jumped over the side. The ship was immediately swallowed in turmoil as the pirate crew struggled to keep them off. As much fear as there was of pirates, even the pirates themselves feared the Danes
“We do have one advantage,” Rolf reflected , ducking a blow as he fought with his back to Auden’s,“ at least they we do not have to take them all on at once.” For, despite the unlikeliness of nobody dying before they had killed their 5 they had the advantage that no more than two ships would fit abreast their ow– A tremor broke through the ship as it was hit.“There goes the second one.” Rolf broke away from Auden and dashed to the front of the ship to find Walter. He blocked a blow and dodged away as he made slow progress to the bow. Here the fighting was most intense. He found Walter efficiently decking Vikings as he was surrounded by an ever increasing crowd. The bow of their ship (almost) touched the side of the other ship. Rolf suddenly caught sight of Drough leaning against th side of the ship with a twisted smile of expectation. (Most of his smiles are twisted, notice?) The next instant, he was gone. A towering figure loomed over Rolf. Rolf spun around and gave him a quick kick in the midsection and advanced with his sword. The Dane seemed somehow familiar. Dodging aside, Rolf off-balanced him and sent him tumbling over the side into the bay.
“Ah, he was the fellow who surprised me in the tent.” Rolf realized, glancing over the side at him.
He was suddenly arrested by the light in the sky. The sun set had by now vanished, but, blazing high stood their fortress. Men scattered from it like ants. The Vikings must have gotten inside after all, despite getting distracted and involved in the army.“Unless the army no longer existed.”
He glanced back over the decks of the ship. The marauders prevailed. Even if they could make it to the shore, there were Vikings there. Besides, they could never hold the hall, especially burning as it was, against the bandits as well as the Vikings.
A horn sounded in the distance.
Immanuel had never really liked repelling of any sort; but now, holding onto a single line, with a broken arm and several things strapped around his waist, he had a change of mind. Being belayed by someone he trusted on a tested course sure beat being suspended high above a courtyard filled with people (any number of whom might take it into their head that he was a wonderful archery target) on a rope (which may be rotten from the damp storage it had been in) he had secured with a one-handed knot. He finally sprawled on the ground beneath the hall’s overhanging shadow. There were a great number of people rushing about, but no one seemed to notice him. He heard war cries off in the distance. It wasn’t any language he could understand.
He didn’t have a choice, though, a little fire would hurt the ship-men as much as anybody and he couldn’t get the gate open without more of a diversion. He staggered toward the gate.
The Vikings had apperently overcome their enemies and were flying toward the bank on horses.
“But wait…” Rolf vaguely registered, trying to hold off a Viking, “Sea raiders didn’t ride.”
At a sudden signal from his superior, a yeoman leaped to the ground and whipped his bow out. A flaming arrow sailed straight for the main sail of the nearest Viking ship. Instantly the old canvass caught and in a matter of minutes the entire mast was in flames. The turmoil was such to prevent any quick extinguishment, and soon the flame raged over the ship. Under the direction of the leading horseman, the second Viking ship was soon the same
At the very height of the struggle, a voice cut through the din.
“Make for the shore!”
Rolf looked up and saw that a spark had caught their own sail. As the pirates took less care of their equipment then the Vikings did, it was spreading at an alarming rate. And glancing at the Auden, he realized that he was right: they had to get to the shore or else lose three-quarters of their crew to the sea. More than half their crew couldn’t swim, and they would be better treated by whatever force lay on the shore than the Vikings of the fire.
He dashed down to the hold for a place at the oars. Rowing blindly, he and the enslaved rowers soon realized that, rowing blindly, they had struck a rock. Water seeped/poured into the hole in the stern. The rowers abandoned their benches in a rout and swarmed to the hatches.
Surfacing with the oarsmen on deck, Rolf saw that the fire has spread to theLongboats’ tar-coated deck and many had dived into the water beneath. Swimming resolutely past the others in the water was a black-cloaked form. Rolf watched the figure as it neared the opposite bank of the cove. A jolt brought Rolf to himself. The fire was spreading and the hole in the hold was large. He could hear things snap beneath as compartments of the hold gave way to the enormous pressure of the water. Dodging the combatants of the small fight which still raged on the deck of the sinking ship, Rolf ran to the stern. Feeling rather ridiculous he dived in. Rolf kicked hard to the party on the shore until he had reached a place he could pull himself up the bank. The man on horseback there headed a small cavalry and had their men in his train. He was talking to Ahearn.
Rolf collapsed on the edge of the bank, drained the water from his clothing, and looked out over the bay. The other Viking ships had backed off out of the range of arrows, but moored themselves there in the bay. Rolf found this action slightly foreboding, but he put it aside momentarily. He stood up and went to Ahearn, who was in conversation with the leader of the newcomers.
He was a thick-set, muscular man of average hight. He had a noble face framed by shoulder-length brown hair, beard and mustache.
“Yes, liege,” Walter said, “They came from the south-west and took the prisoner at Exeter.”
“The gold is lost?” the noble asked, furrowing his brow.
“Yes, O, King.”
Rolf approached them, “No, your majesty, it was packed well in unsecured barrels with air pockets to float.” He pointed out over the water. Barrels lay among the sinking wreckage of the ruined ships.
The king motioned to several servants who stood nearby.
“It is well enough.” he said, “with assistance from the treasury, we will have many maydays of peace from the barbarians. Go, Idris, Richard, take a patrol and scout the woods for outlaws and Danes.” He straightened, “And now, you require assistance redeeming the Great Hall? Let us go.”
The troop turned toward the fortress as it blazed in the dusk and charged up the hill.
The rope proved to be one of the most unpleasant methods of descending the roof. Sadly, it was the only way (excluding breaking down doors) for our page to escape. When at last, he crashed in the dust, his fist act was to pull himself up and into the ever-growing shadow of the Hall. Although it was twilight, the rush of men had little decreased and would either prove the best, or the worst for Immanuel when/as he stole to the stockade. He looked furtively around the corner of the building; he felt a sense of relief wash over him as he gazed. There were guards upon the overlooking walls. The sentries had not noticed him, as almost certainly a good sentry would in normal circumstances. Furthermore, their attention was pulled to something in the distance which seemed to pull fear into the hearts of even these law-defying men.
“What more than the Vikings could do such a thing?” They had possessed no scruples about taking the Hall or
attempting to attack Drough at his stoned fortress.
There seemed little else possible. So at this time, Immanuel grasped the beauty of Rolf’s scheme to work his enemies against one another even as the same failed.
Taking advantage of the guards’ distraction, Immanuel strode boldly across the open. In doing this, he avoided the mistake most novice’s make by drawing attention to themselves while not being furtive. At the back of the stockade wall, Immanuel bent over and dug the bag of arrowheads out of his belt and found a metal hinge on the back-gate that he had knelt beside. After a few tries, he had managed to light a bit of cloth. Making sure not to blow it out, he stuffed it into a chink between the dry logs of the fence. Satisfied at last, Immanuel pulled open the gate and fled from the now-alerted sentries into the dark.
Most of the flames were out, and Rolf and Radimir where inspecting the damage when they where interrupted. Two of the king’s lesser servants, dispatched to help in the search for outlaws, had returned rather tardily, dragging a prisoner behind them.
“I said I’d come!”
“Pardon, Sirs, he demanded to see one of the army here.” the servant said apologetically bowing.
“Immanuel!” Rolf cried delightedly. He stopped as his eye fell upon the broad strip of cloth around Immanuel’s arm. “Untie him!” Rolf said, looking at them reproachfully.
“–He is not, in fact,–”the servant stammered.
“I’m fine.” Immanuel said quickly. He held his right arm away from his side.
“How–” Rolf combed his hair from his face. “Never mind, I don’t want to know how you did it.”
“We thought you were dead.” Radimir said.
“No…” Immanuel stared around. “How did you get the castle back?!!”>
“The King is here.”
“You don’t say.”
“He’s holding a conference with the Vikings in the morning. Apparently, they had a coordinated plot to take over England.”
“Did they surrender Drough?”
Rolf smiled. “No, I think–”
The King had paced into the room. Rolf swept off his hat. “Rudolph!”
“Yes, your grace,” Rolf asked.
“What have you found?”
“Your grace, only the wall seems to have flamed greatly. Only that and portions of the village and the outside of the hall seem to have been damaged.”
“I wonder how they intended to put the blaze out to take plunder,” the king said furrowing his brow. “They had no way of knowingthat I had a store of the treasury here that they would be so desperate to get it. Unless, they were merely on a destructive raid, but they must have assumed that a hall such as this had some good plunder.”
“Nor did the raiders have a plausible motive. Unless…” Sir Edward added as an afterthought, “they knew that we didn’t keep the gold directly in the castle and had some way of hiding….But all the gold was there…”
“I set the hall on fire so you could get in.” Immanuel said apologetically, paling.
“The damage is not substantial.” Rolf reassured the king.
“And it was helpful in retaking the fortress,” the king agreed in good humor. “Have you any idea how the wizard got information?”
“Yes, only recently confirmed, there was a spy who helped the bandits attain the castle. Since the bandits were working in concert with the wizard, the spy might have given information to the wizard as well. Unfortunately, he was killed upon the bandit’s attaining the hall.”
“But what about the lanter–” Immanuel whispered up at Rolf.
Rolf waved Immanuel away.
“What of the new leader” the king wanted to know.
“We could only find very few of the local outlaws. They had scattered. But it should not take but a few months for a search party to find him.”
The king scowled. “He will be found soon.”
The night was still in the great hall when Rolf sat up suddenly. His light sleep had been disturbed by a noise. He moaned and flopped back to the ground as he turned over. The rafters creaked. As he lay there with his eyes shut, he heard it again. A slight rustling emitted from a far corner of the room as a dark shadow rose out of a heap of blankets. Skillfully evading the sentry, it vanished from the room. Rolf crawled to his feet and started toward the door. Kincaid suddenly peered round the doorway at him.
“Why are you up?”
“I was translating the terms of truce for the king.” Kincaid explained. He went and slid down among the sleeping men. Rolf lay back down in his bedroll, propped his head against the wall, and waited.
It was early the next morning when Immanuel awoke from a deep sleep to the sound of movement down below and of the clank of horse bridles in the stables. He staggered to his feet and dragged himself to one of the narrow windows in Sir Edward’s room. From his viewpoint in one of the small rooms that hugged the main room of the hall, he could see a group of men riding to the distant shore with horses. As Immanuel watched, fascinated, he suddenly groggily understood that they must be riding to receive the Danes. After a long while, they presently returned with a small group of men on horses, blurry in the distance. They were coming nearer now. Although, the Vikings rarely rode, and the horses had been provided as a courtesy, their leader rode with an upright straight posture and hugged the horse with his knees. He had an air about him much more dignified than his officers who rode with him. Immanuel could distinguish from a distance then, that this was Guthrum, the new Danish leader who had started the war anew with the king some short while ago before the previous peace.
Immanuel now came to his senses and pulled on his clothing as best he could in his hurry despite his arm. He then ran uncertainly for the door. Although the first aid officer had determined that it was just a fracture, Sir Edward had insisted that Immanuel lie up here with him in the officers’ room where he could keep an eye on him, and Immanuel wasn’t quite sure which doors led to closets and which to hallways. Immanuel crossed the empty room unsteady and pulled open the door to the corridor outside.
Immanuel slipped into the back of the room to watch the negotiations. Guthrum was seated opposite King Alfred, Ahearn, and Walter and Kincaid who was to serve as translator. AudenTancred, stood by to watch the proceedings and offer advice and run errands. Mentor was already there watching the proceedings attentively.
“I have come to offer you a truce,” King Alfred said, “I am prepared to offer you a certain sum….” He paused, waiting for Kincaid to translate to Guthrum.
“It’s etiquette” Mentor whispered in answer to Immanuel’s puzzled expression. “Besides, not bein’ fully beat, they got a few more ships a’ home tha’ could git. We want ’em leavin’ happy.”
Immanuel looked doubtfully at the Viking chieften, wondering if such a person could be satisfied with any amount of gold.
The negotiation had droned on while Immanuel was preoccupied and he now turned back to it.
“–you will remove from Poole and Wareham where you are cornered. I am prepared to overlook this offensive attack to take my Lord Ahearn’s lands from him.”
“Emperor,” Guthrum, began with a condescending smile, “The men of my ship are wholly innocent. We came in peace only to stock supplies, but we were attacked cowardicely by some men in the night. It was only befitting that we defend ourselves from the ones attacking us.”
“If that is so, you will not be adverse to returning our prisoner to us.”
“The sorcerer you took from us by force at Exeter on the morn of day before yesterday.”
“Sorcerer? Is it probable that we would harbor Wessex’s criminals and petty thieves?”
Walters face showed that he thought it very likely, but he remained silent.
“But in times of peace” Guthrum continued, “I see no reason to take poisoners. You will then return to me the captives from our armada and our army that you took?”
“In time, after you have withdrawn” Alfred said.
“My friend,” Guthrum said, “I see trouble in pursuing that course. We will need all our men to row our ships homeward.”
“Nonetheless,” Walter said through Kincaid, “you will manage.”
Guthrum’s face grew hurt. “We Viking are true to our word. It cleaves my heart that you would think us so flippant in our promises as to come back and attack you after we have given our word.”
“Nay,” said Alfred artfully, “In interest of this peace, we wish to teach your men our religion so that you too may have victory in all your battles.”
Guthrum’s face cleared a bit. “If that be all, I will come back in three months time with all the heads of the clans so that we may learn this thing. But our people would be very disappointed and our men dishonored were they held captive.”
< A dark cloud passed over Walter’s face and was gone.
“It is well.” Alfred said, trapped at last. “If, indeed, you will tell your country men to stay from our land and convert them.”
“No, indeed, we were mustering for France.” Guthrum replied.
“How come you to change your plans so quickly?” Walter said suddenly.
“The ‘Preng’, as you call them, have no sides” Guthrum replied, “I am not ashamed to say that we care neither for your people, nor for your king, nor for the French king, but we are men of our word” On my honor, I will keep any fair agreement I make with you.” “I will seal the agreement and swear it if you wish.” He continued extending his hand.
“True as that may be,” said Ahearn with a wry smile, but making no motion toward Guthrum’s palm “we cannot accept these terms now; the agreed price is too high if you are to continue raiding near us. I would not give you that amount though I hated the Normans.”
“You will still have them to contend with an we leave them alone”
“Better them than others of your sort attracted by your success in France and unaware of our treaty”
Guthrum frowned such as one a seasoned sailor might flee from.
“As beneficial as it might be for us , I now insist that you change your plans to those at a distance from us if I am to pay you that ransom.”
Guthrum stood up from the table to pace the floor. After a while he paused and named a sum “–and still we take from your enemies.
King Alfred shook his head “You will gain much if you raid their villages and the sum paid will be inconsequential to you and unfair to us for the price we will pay to raids by attracted pirates and treasure seekers.
Guthrum’s eyes glinted . “What matters it what we gain? This is Wessex’s sue for peace.”
“You forget” Ahearn said calmly. “We make friendship, but we have a fifth of your men captive. I wish only for peace between the English and the Danes and not a decade of war it would entail by wiping your men out. This is The Dane’s price too. ”
Immanuel now checked himself;during the later part of this long argument he had let his gaze wander from the argument and to the Danish officials seated near Guthrum with their flaxen hair and their spotless clothing, and stern, almost aggressive expression. They looked very sharp.“King Alfred,” he now reflected, “also looked great, but in a different way,. Perhaps his expression…” Sir Edward was also there in the crowd of witnesses , but before Immanuel had had time to reflect on the wisdom of his master, he had turned and caught Immanuel’s eye in a most effective glare.
Realizing that he had been staring, Immanuel got up quietly and left the room. He knew that it would take hours for them to reach the final terms of the agreement and have a scribe draw it up,and he had something to attend to anyway.
Absorbed in thoughts of avoiding staring, in the future, Immanuel ran into Rolf outside the door. Rolf sidestepped him neatly and hurried in to whisper something in King Alfred’s ear. He was back before Immanuel had moved far and nearly knocked him over in his preoccupation.
“That’s why I never saw him before that day,” Immanuel thought, finally understanding, “What sort of position can hebe in to be so busy?”
When Rolf saw Immanuel, he grinned. “Good day, ‘man’uel. Care to help me? I’m chronicling the king’s gold”
“Surely, only, why?”
“Surprise for some friends of ours.” Rolf laughed, “Come on” he said leading Immanuel into the Great Hall. “We’ve got an inventory and all that’s really left if to tally it all up and check with records…” Rolf went on, but Immanuel looked longingly into the rafters, where he could once escape these arithmetical chores. He stopped abruptly, that wasn’t a beam in the center, moreover, it had moved from when they had come in.
Rolf looked back inquiringly at Immanuel, who seemed to be regretting that he wasn’t in the rafters. He started suddenly but undetectably.
“Immanuel!” He took hold of the boy’s shoulder and shook him. “Come along. Now, the gold will need to be tallied carefully because we have several overlapping files of it…,” he said pulling Immanuel to the opposite door.
>He sent Immanuel most unceremoniously down to the cellar to help Anselm with some double-checking with the tally as he protested that he needed to tell Rolf something. Rolf ran swiftly for a sword belt and strapped it on hurriedly. He wouldn’t need Immanuel to tell him how to climb up. He had seen his methods numerous times. If only he could reach the Hall before he escaped…
The crash of sword swipes reached even above the bartering in the side room and into the echoing depths of the cellar. Immanuel ran upstairs at Anselm’s heels to find Rolf and a ragged figure in fierce combat on the lowermost beams. “So he had seen! But how had he known…” The figures may have been unclear, but to Immanuel, what was happening was not. Tiernan had been in the rafters waiting for a suitable time for escape, but why he hadn’t escaped in the night, Immanuel, at least, couldn’t fathom. Immanuel watched the fighters in the rafters as they jerked/lurched back and forth dangerously. Dust upset by the sudden action clouded the air as it rained down upon those below, but they didn’t pay it any heed.
Rolf had superior footwork/footing and balance of the two, but the other was quicker, somehow, more alert. Tiernan (for it was he) had worked his way to the lowest bar of the rafters and had made it his purpose to knock his antagonist to the ground. If that happened, Rolf would not likely escape serious injury as Immanuel had.
He (Tiernan) dived forward, sword extended, to force Rolf to retreat. Rolf parried the blow/thrust. Tiernan stabbed again quickly, but it was not Rolf who fell. Rolf, with his good footing/position, had ducked quickly, and Tiernan’s momentum had carried him over Rolf and off the beam/edge. For a moment he hung above the ground before he fell. The fall never came. Like a cat, he (had?) grabbed hold a grip? at the last possible moment. He now swung, by some enormous strength, to a short bar projecting from the wall which supported the beam on which he had lately stood. He still held his sword as he swung there for a second from his left hand, then, (again,) like the feline he so exactly resembled, he swung himself onto the bar and scrambled into the heights of the rafters. The previously inconspicuous shaft of light from a hole by which they had watched this drama unfold, was suddenly obscured. Those in the hall blinked, and were momentarily blinded as one who has just come inside from an exceptionally sunny day. Tiernan had probably, like them, gone unconscious of this light until recently, but now, those in the hall soon followed his train of thought. As the light suddenly broke through again, with brilliant/blinding intensity, Immanuel was among the first to collect his senses. Breaking from the group than, he swiftly sprinted from the hall. Outside, he ran into the man who had just descended the roof and was in the act of absconding—he arrived, just as he realized that he was unarmed, unskilled, broken-armed. Despite all these things, Immanuel paused. The other, in his quick efficient way, had hurriedly grabbed hold of Immanuel’s hair and was about to relieve him of his head when Ahearn passed around a corner of the hall into sight.
“Tiernan!” he said in an astonished and, at the same time, downcast and reproving/despairing tone.
“Auden, my dear, old friend, don’t kill the boy.” Auden glanced at the somewhat aroused men on the walls behind him, and looked as though he would run for it, but at the same time, Mentor/Sir Edward had come briskly up the slope to the hall. His face fell instantly.
“Tiernan of Bards, I had hoped that they would not find it to be true. Come, old friend,” he said extending his arm.