As the day spread across the sky, lines of men broke over the ridge above the fortress after a long march. Walter was busy among the long lines of men. Rolf, as he completed his inspection of the archers, frowned. “Day’s come. He hadn’t enough time.” Rolf thought grimly, “The flames should spring up soon if he has made it at all.”
Walter sprinted toward Rolf.
“What is it?” Rolf asked alertly.
“Thereinforcements will not be here in time.”
“The bandits have up an army, they’re trying to free Auden”/ “There was a skirmish with the bandits”
“Surely we’re enough for–”
“We’re marching now” he said briefly, with a grim face. “If we win, we will have time enough to defeat the bandits, but we have larger problems.” Walter replied turning to run back over the tramped town yellow grass.
Rolf turned back to the archers and nodded. They waited.
A horn blew. The army swept forward up the hill surrounding the castle..
Rolf nodded. With a quick prod to his horse, he led the archers sprinting forward 100 yards
Rolf drew his sabre and raised it. “Ready, aim,…fire 1!” He brought his blade down. A hail of arrows sprang forth. Forward again 30 yards. The archers reached back, took an arrow, and strung it in one fluid motion as they ran. “Ready, aim,…fire 2!” The arrows flew straight and smooth. That round and the next…
The first charge brought a large crowd of men to the walls. The ram hit the wooden gate with a shaking jolt. Just as boiling oil and tar began to pour down from the walls, the army suddenly turned.
Rolf reversed his sword, “Back!”
As they ducked back, the infantry streamed past.
The archers reassembled and sent their rounds shooting through the air.
The soldiers reformed and and turned back. As the ram hit the gates, they groaned and threatened to break, despite the rocks hailing down on those who held the ram. Back and forth, the ram toiled. At midmorning, Rolf drew a handkerchief across his face. “Look!” he called to his men, the gates are bending!” The men, although tired with ramming at rushed to the gate with fresh vigor. The gate were hit once more, twice, three times, five times… With a great groan, the bar on the gate broke and the great doors bent inward, but archers were waiting inside. When the gates opened, they drew their bows at anyone who attempted to advance. As the men drew back. Vikings streamed out and pushed the men down the slope. The archers fled back as the Vikings charged. The Danes were keeping to the high ground not advancing. They could push back anyone who ventured up. The archers let another few rounds fly. The Vikings backed into the tower. The archers could do no more without hitting their own men.
Rolf looked back over the battle field. The king’s banner retreated down the slope. The Vikings had the upper hand. Then, with a start, Rolf heard a sound over the clang of battle. It was the sound of water, the sound of water and the sound of thunder. A huge burst of wave was rushing up the River Exe, and as Rolf realized with horror, onto the battlefield floodplain. The water seethed over the ground and made it ankle deep in mud. The Norse who had the high ground and were much tallernow had a great advantage.
“Where were the reinforcements?” Rolf wondered, biting his lip. He could take the archers into battle, but being less skilled with the sword……” He turned to the archers,
“We will join them in battle.” A fresh breeze sprang up and blew over the rise and across the meadow. Rolf started and looked up the bay. An athletic man appeared running swiftly up the rise.
“Hoy! Hey! What is your business!?”
“Tancred has fallen!” the man shouted over the clang of battle.
“They wish to know whether to turn the men toward this battle.”
Rolf was silent. “No,” he said, “We must create a diversion.”
He slid off his horse “After me men!”
Rolf sprinted into the forest.
As Immanuel struggled through the water, he cast a doubtful glance up at the wooden beams.
“Would they be wet and rotten? Are we gonna kill ourselves?” he wondered.
Then, without connection between thought and action, he simply stopped. There was something hazardous ahead. He could not say how he knew, but it was not safe.
Dahy seemed to share his sentiment.
“Here,” Dahy whispered, turning away along another tunnel.
“Wait…” Immanuel realized, “This is weird. I’ve been here before.”
As they turned onto this smaller tunnel, Immanuel caught a glimpse of something at its end.
He waded quickly down the corridor. There was a wide open space here, a circular chamber lined with stone.
“This was the center!” Immanuel thought as he turned to gaze up at the walls.
The entire chamber including the roof were covered with blocks of red sandstone.
“How will we set the fire?” Immanuel asked.
“It still has wood supports,” Oswald replied.
“Funny,” Dahy murmured, “with stone encasing I’d think that there would be–” but he let his voice trail off as he gazed around the cavern. “We need to remember our bearings, I want to be able to get out quickly.” he said without looking at the rest.
Glancing around at the many doorways cut in the rock, Immanuel realized with a shudder that Dahy was right. But there was something more. He knew this cavern somehow; he had gotten a small glimpse of it before….
“The lack of (stone) columns is odd” one of the men agreed, “but we really haven’t much time. The whole thing will be coming down anyways.”
“Shh–,” Dahy said abruptly glancing about, “Of course your right, but Drough is said to be a genius architect.” he faltered, “There’s an unevenness in the floor here…”
“On my shoulders,” he said suddenly to Immanuel bending down.
Immanuel clambered on to his shoulders, painfully unaided by his left arm.
After Dahy stood, and when Immanuel had steadied himself, the page faced a wooden support. Form below, he was handed a earthenware flask. He dribbled it over the beam. As it dripped down, he dashed it impatiently from his hair, and accepted the flaming brand from the lantern offered him. Holding the fire to the oil, he persuaded it to burn. Dahy sloshed briskly to the next beam as this one flared up suddenly. Immanuel had scarcely done his best with that one asDahy went to the next. He walked steadily faster until Immanuel had trouble with his balance.
At last, he set Immanuel down. All twelve supports blazed. Dahy gripped Immanuel’s hand firmly and pulled him quickly toward the door. A stone loosened and fell before he had reached the door. Immanuel, however, lunged forward on Oswald, who fell away as the stone splashed in the water.
The heavy sandstone landed with a great vibration on the stone? floor, and Immanuel felt the structure above shake. The entire roof around the door began to loosen. There was a rumbling noise. Another stone fell in the chamber. Dahy beckoned them away. The stones now began to fall freely. Shouts bounced in from the main corridor. Dahy glanced at one of the men with him.He(Dahy) ran through the dark doorway opposite the hall through which they had entered. The fire leapt and spread over the stones in the ceiling. The stones began to fall in the passages around them as well as in the room. Immanuel hurdled himself into the passage after Dahy.
Rolf led the small troop of archers sprinting through the wood. An easterly wind had kicked up and drove gustily even beneath the trees. Rolf ran on. The wind whipped his clothing, but his hopes rose. “On the sea this must have kicked up quite a storm,” he realized.
The east gate became visible through the trees. Here too, the attackers seemed to have failed. The wind drove them back. Tancred had been unsuccessful in causing as much havoc as had been hoped with his few men and they had done little damage.
Rolf slowed as he spotted a group of men huddled together in council. One of them looked up very sharply, and Rolf found a blade pressed against his throat.
A second man looked up with solemnly. “What do you want?”
“I’m with Ahearn” Rolf said grimacing, “I head the archers. I’ve come to help.”
A short while later, an arrow sailed over the wall and found it’s mark. Immediate commotion broke inside, and the figures disappeared from the walls. With a shout the soldiers rushed forward with a felled tree against the gate. As figures sprang onto the catwalks with hot oil and tar, the king’s archers again raised their bows. It worked beautifully; the figures on the wall stayed down and the ram met the wood again and again. But now as the archers again sprang up with their bows against the men on the walls, an answering hail of arrows sped at the trees outside the wall. Now there was a cry and many fewer arrows came over the wall. Although the height made it easier to aim, it made the archers almost equally vulnerable to the marksmen on the wall opposite. The archers crouched closer to the tree trunks. Now a great wind flew up, making it difficult to hold to the bole of the tree. This wind did not die down, but grew fiercer, buffeting the trees around. Rolf ordered them to descend as the windblown sheets of rain began to descend. Finally, the ground grew so slick that the men with the ram ceased and took shelter in the forest waiting for the wind and the rain to stop. At last, the wind there was a lull in the wind and the rain settled to a steady rhythm and past the dripping of leaves, another sound could be heard: the clash of battle. But there was another sound: a steady tramp, a slog, as of wind passing through. It faded. Soon after, a shout arose from those on the field. Rolf knew the lead voice; it was Einar. His hope was restored. He jumped up and surveyed the land. The bank on which the tower stood was wet and muddy and they would have to carry the ram up-hill against rounds of arrows. But they had to keep this gate closed. He settled back against a tree. “There was no way in which they could hold this gate, even if they did attempt to escape from here. The men needed to be doing something, even if it was fighting.” Rolf called Tancred’ lieutenant. “We need to help with the main battle.”
“There was a field southwards. The reinforcements had undoubtedly gotten there. The castle must fall, or else the ships would arrive and decimate the arm without them having so much of a chance to get to the hall and defend themselves. It would be difficult to keep their army off at any rate. The ship had left how long ago? Several days? It would have taken a day or two to relay the message after they had been spotted.” Rolf came to the realization, “They should have been here hours ago.”
The tower’s wall southwards opened on a rise seventy-five feet above the flood plain. The floodplain was bowl-shaped , and to the south-western end the eastern woods ceased and the River Exe ended its journey to the sea. Over this slope had Ahearn’s men streamed with loud cries. The relentless rain pushed onwards and the men had slipped down the hill to the battle.
Rolf took scene in from the slope. They still had a small chance now with the reinforcements. He plunged down the slope and into the battle. The men on the hill held it against all foe, but Rolf, pushing through the men, made his way up the slope. A tall man with long waving hair grabbed him by the left wrist and leaned over him with a mace, but Rolf, wrenching his hand from the man quickly, stabbed him and fought his way up the slope. The king was nearby, fighting the Vikings, bravely forcing away several of them as he worked his way up the slope. Rolf turned for a second and caught his eye. On the crest of the slope the Danes, held out their banner.Would they? Rolf fought his way toward this, trying to use his antagonists to shield him from the arrows shot through the gate way. He reached the top of the hill. With the men guarding the banner-bearer he struggled. He could not make it through them. Abruptly, he felt the men give way, he glanced to his right. The king stood, a grim smile set on his face, dispatching the Danes. In a matter of minutes, they reached the standard, Rolf moved forward, but the king shook his head. The king swung his blade, killed the man holding the pole and sundered the pole holding the standard. The standard fell, torn in two. Nearby, Guthrum loomed, his sword flashing and a look of menace upon his face. He accosted the king. His face broke into a sudden smile and his sword flashed down.
The standard was fallen and chief battled against king. Rolf lunged forward, and he felt some hope, but at the same time a there was the sound of clashes from the field. Behind them them, the king’s men and their reinforcements found themselves faced by a new menace. New forces of Vikings had appeared, escaped perhaps of some other gate, but the ships were not yet there! Sandwiched between enemies, the king fought on with Guthrum and desperately the forces attempted to hold back both, for the men on the hill were now advancing. Pressed tight, Rolf set his jaw, they were not meant to fail yet, but it seemed that he had not that to decide.
Immanuel tumbled along behind Dahy, the noise of rumbling filling his ears until he thought that he could not stand it. Worse were the vibrations, never ending, shaking until he felt that his teeth would all fall out from knocking together. With a splash, a stone fell far behind him in the passage. There was no more falls. Then, anther stone fell, closely followed by two others. Immanuel ran with a will and a speed he would have thought impossible in those passages . Dahy stopped cold. Immanuel pushed forward. The tunnel was blocked by rock. Dahy set his shoulder to the stoneThere was no movement. Simultaneously, the small group pushed themselves into the end of the small passage and pushed against the rock. The stones fell in the passage behind them.
As Rolf gazed down at the Vikings on the plain, waiting for the inevitable, he saw a change in purpose come over the faces of those downward looking up. Rolf was pulled from this reverie by the surrounding men. He raised his sword and leant forward. Desperately he fought against men who had an equal resolution. He was hard pressed from all sides. He fought against ruin.
There was a sound. A roar that made all men look up from battle. It was like a distant thunder of storm breakers. Presently, Rolf realized that it was not a roar of sea or of men, but it came from the ground. Disoriented, almost, he stumbled backwards down the hill. Thin flames shot up into the air against the pale grey sky. The tower was shifting, falling.
With the flame, all order that had been was lost. Men turned upon their enemies with ferocity, or else panic took them.
“The beams can fall and kill,” Rolf realized, and “It wouldn’t catch fire without a cause. Immanuel will probably come up in the war room where we went down. I’ve got to get him.”
Rolf ran through the gateway into the courtyard. The Vikings were escaping the walls, or else stupefied by the change in tide. Rolf met with no resistance as he leapt up the shallow steps of the tower and inside into a wide domed hall. There were traces of fighting here and small fires, but there were not any of his friends. He ran up the set of stairs on the right side of the end of the hall. He was in a hall; he turned two corners. The tower began to show the marks of its collapsing on the walls. The War Room. It was empty. The trapdoor lay flung open. Rolf looked down. The lake was closer to the tower than it had been. Parts of the castle had already collapsed; they couldn’t have escaped. The fire had crept up the inside walls now. Rolf fled down the hall, down the stairs.
“The roar had gotten louder. Perhaps it was because he was inside. He stopped in the large hall. The floor had buckled. He didn’t trust it it walk across. He opened a door opposite the stairs. Cellar.
“Perhaps he could walk across the floor…No.” He ran up the stairs again turned the corners, and shut himself into the room on the right. There was a passage here. He went straight to the serpent tapestry and felt around frantically, trying to find the release catch for the panel again, but it was several precious minutes before he did.
The wall slid open grudgingly and Rolf dived inside and almost tumbled down the stairs running. The groan echoed. Rolf bounced against the floor on the balls of his feet, trying to find the trapdoor again. At last he found the wooden center beam of the staircase, and tumbled into the guard house again.
He ran to the door, but it was locked. Puddles of rainwater stood stagnant on the floor. Rolf had had enough. With all his strength and even some that he didn’t have, he slammed himself against the door. Splashing across the floor, he almost sobbed with the indignity and unfairness of it all. He pushed himself against the door again, something broke, and it popped open. Lying by the door was a split wedge. The gate was deserted. Rolf ran to it and found that the bar had been removed.He pushed it open and ran through.
Panting, he sat outside the tower where he had been not two hours ago. The rumbling had grown in earnest and several rocks fell down the embankment. He watched in a horrified fascination of exhaustion as the stone of the tower tumbled down into the flame from the supports. The pebbles which fell down the hill rolled down and down making clattering noises. He looked over,
“It was almost odd that the stones should come loose.” One of the boulders, a larger, enormous one, trembled, but did not come loose. Rolf, as he absentmindedly watched it, realized that it was trembling under rhythmic blows. He carefully picked his way over to it and found that a number of stoned had been packed round its base. Curious now, he hesitantly began pulling them away, working ever faster despite his tiredness and although he did not know why. The rock shuddered twice more, then, with a groan, it slipped from its hole and crashed down the hill.
Suddenly, a harsh daylight came into view and restrained, yet free, different sounds hit his ear. The tunnel behind him was in ruins. Immanuel staggered into the sunlight and stumbled down a steep slope. Something caught him before he fell totally down it. Presently, he began to grasp where he was. A thick grey smoke was in the air and it was raining. He looked up, Rolf was holding him. He smiled.
Rolf led his bedraggled crew to the south gate. The wind here blew against the castle and the smoke was now almost invisible. He spotted Walter among the men there.
“Walter! What is this? The Vikings have not–”
“They have surrendered!” he said, grabbing Rolf’s shoulder.
Rolf glanced over the bay.
“But the reinforcements—Surely the storm might delay them…–”
“Rolf,” Ahearn said finally, “they’ll never reach here. A hurricane smashed the entire fleet off the coast.”
Rolf turned away and looked into the rain toward the beach for a long while. Rolf stood silent in the rain.
“Well done,” Ahearn said to Dahy, “It was near undoable what you did.”
“Where is the druid?” Dahy asked.
“Missing, as of late,” Walter answered darkly.
“We must find Drough.” the other replied, “He had predicted what we would do and stationed at least two parties of guards down there; as a last resort, removed supporting columns so that if we set fire to the support beams, the roof would almost immediately fall on us.”
Ahearn was thanking Dahy and the others, but Rolf’s eyes held a stare. All the waves fell back and up, and no tinge of fire showed on them; they were grey. Rolf leaned on the hilt of his sword and was still.
There was a commotion such from the bay, however, that Ahearn turned and ran toward it.
A man ran toward them, “Sir! We have found him!”
“The sorcerer lord!”
Over the grass at the bottom of the hill they found him in the midst of twenty men. He was standing straight for the first time Immanuel had seen him and he held a proud look of disdain upon his face. In his hand he held a large heavy sword with which he slashed anyone who came near him.
“Cowards too green to fight! If I were your lords, I would have sent your kind to the mines long ago;” He spat the ground. “hard labour’s all you’re fit for. And as for brave combat: in six months you will be struck by such a force that you will long to be in the mines:……and dead. You will regret every insult you have given me, but for my release, the curse will strike you.”
The men around him were silent. Their expressions could not be read.
Drough raised his eyes, “My lord.” he said, his mouth twitching
King Alfred stood silently on the edge of the gathering. He walked through the crowd
“Threats,” he said, “Do not frighten me, nor does cowardly bargaining become a noble captive.”
“Why do you whisper unless you are afraid, my lord?” The Druid replied.
“Because I do not wish to exhibit your shame. But,” the king said clearly, “Let those here witness: witchery is not tolerated in Cristiandom.”
The Druid’s face remained unchanged, but in one swift movement, the king had leaned forward and wrenched the sword from his fist. He broke it sharply across his knee. He looked for a moment at Drough and turned away.
Drough stood silent, but as the king left, bent forward to pick up the sword shards. As he stood, he let them fall, and his face took for the first time a real look of horror. A red line of blood arched along against his long white palm. He straightened, but he did not speak. He breathed hoarsely. The sorcerer seemed to be looking at something on which he could not focus, and he did not seem to pay attention when his arms were tied and he was led away.
The field was cleared now, nasty, bloody work. They returned to their camp several miles away with their prisoners to enjoy a large meal. It was now that Immanuel reflected that Rolf would be leaving him again, but he was too tired to think about it while serving Sir Edward at the table. The old knight had come from the hall that evening with extra rations. He talked animately for several hours with some friends, but when at last they left to sleep, he turned in his chair to face Immanuel.
“So you succeeded.”
Immanuel snorted. “I suppose so.”
“I didn’t. Rolf thought it up.”
“I could have killed everyone!”
“Perhaps. You did it anyway.”
“Only because they made me.”
“So you succeeded.”
“Rolf is leaving in the morning.”
“He has invited you to go with him.”
“I’ll decide tomorrow.”
Sir Edward nodded sagely. “Good plan, I think; One thinks best on an empty stomach in the morning.”
“It’s the truth!” He protested after a pause. “My father made all his battles in the morning. If that isn’t an example, I don’t know what is.”
“But did your father “Make all his plans and act upon them in an instant” Immanuel asked, suspiciously. I conjecture he slept upon them
“Solemn truth he did). He won every one and beat all the knights in his realm.”
“Master swordsman, my father, champion of the tournaments.”
“You’re making fun of me.”
“Only if you think I am. But you’re probably right about deciding and sleeping on your answer.”
“Immanuel shook his head. “I can’t beat you. You’re my master”
“To sleep with you and I, boy. They ride early.”
The gray was in the east when the riders saddled their horses to ride away from the hall.
Rolf sat on his horse and looked down at Immanuel.
“Would you like to be my squire, boy?”
Immanuel the page glanced at Sir Edward.
“I am close to retiring, Immanuel.” Sir Edward said from behind him.
Immanuel stepped toward Rolf.
“You told me that I ought to obey my superiors. Sir Edward is my superior.”
Rolf leaned down “And I am your friend. I wish you were coming. I will miss you.”
Immanuel took his hand. “I will. I’ll be a general? when you see me again.”
Rolf looked around at the dewy fields and shook his head. “Stick by your duty you shall.”
Immanuel shook his hand. “God be with you.”
“And with you.” He glanced at Sir Edward, “Mind? him well, sir”
“Soon he will be minding? me.”
A streak of gold shone between the clouds. Immanuel shivered from the wind. Rustling among the men broke the silence.
“Immanuel,” Rolf said.
Rolf reached behind him to the saddle. “Here. You’ll need it.”
Immanuel looked at the bow in Rolf’s hand.
“Take it. You won’t be knocked out by larger than yourself.”
“No it isn’t.”
“Immanuel took the bow. Thank you, Sir”
“It isn’t anything.”
A horn sounded in the distance. Rolf wrapped the reins about his hand. “Don’t go into the woods alone. It’s trouble.” he said, smiling.
He pulled the reins and the horse moved slowly away.
The tavern of Dover was a dim place with high, dark beams and rough-sawn wood walls. It had been host to many men: mean and rich, powerful and ill-bred Tonight it was serving mainly the latter. Wood smoke had made the room misty and it was difficult to see anyone’s face clearly. The fragrance of the smoke was on all the food served there. Toward the end of the/one evening the front door was pushed open with a creak and all conversation ceased. The man to whom so much interest was directed was a tall man in dull ill-fitting brown clothing with an unimpressive travel stained red cloak. Ostensibly satisfied with the meanness of this man’s attire, the dull murmur of the common room went on. The stranger strode to the door of the kitchen? and rammed it with his fist. A round-cheeked man emerged.
“Pot of Beer.”
“Certainly, will you be staying with us?”
The tall man scrutinized the inn-keeper for a moment with deep-set blue eyes “Yes, I will be.”
“Very good, sir. Your name?”
“Messenger? News of the judgement, sir?” The inn-keeper smiled.
The stranger frowned. “There was no judgement. A snake of ill-omen ambushed the king on a mountain road and it bit the Druid Lord so that they both fell over a cliff.”
“A snake of good omen I hope,” the gossip replied. “And the other one?”
The other shrugged. “He escaped in the confusion.”
“Will you be wanting dinner?”
“The beer will only be a moment.”
Tiernan seated himself in a corner beside the door. The inn-keeper emerged after an inordinately long amount of time, grasping the cup. The other patrons called out to the inn-keeper discontentedly.
“Inn-keep, what’s kept supper?”
“Jelly, what’s the year on this beer?”
“I asked for an ale a ha’ hour ago!”
“In due time, gentlemen,” the inn-keeper proclaimed serenely, “my daughter shall serve you.” He passed leisurely through the kitchen door and was gone.
The stranger now moved across the room from his place and touched an unshaven man on the shoulder. The man spun around and spat at him.
“Friend, a favor.”
“I want none.”
“How would you like to take up sailing? I am a free-dealer of goods.”
The patron lowered his voice. “Independent and unasked?”
“Aye.” The patron turned to the man/his friend beside him. “You want a job as a freebooter, Mordred?”
The stranger smiled.