The trap door boomed shut in the large underground passage and the sound waves spread through the water in an undying echo.
“Well,” commented Mentor, “If he didn’t know we were here before, he does now.”
“And how.” Lamar replied.
“Keep your voice down, speaking of sound,” commanded Rolf in a low whisper. He paused and struck a flint, studying the walls of the passage. The single flame lit the whole area to the sides of the opposite walls. “We’ll go this way, due south,” Rolf continued, “He’s not very likely to have a sewer that lets out at the main entrance of his castle, it’s much more likely that it flows down into the valley.”
“–Toward the hall,” Mentor finished in a low voice. Things might not turn out so well if Drough got some hand in the leadership there. Even though they had informed them by delegation that Drough was out to supplant their ownership. Rolf turned and slogged in the water toward his right. The sound of ripples and splashing bounced against the high roof of the cave and back down. It was like the inside of a drum down here. This was yet another alarm for Drough to hear. Bringing up the rear, Lamar gazed about the ceiling and walls. “This explained the strange build of the castle,” he thought turning and twisting, “It had been incredibly strange when they had first rode up.” Behind Rolf, Immanuel struggled through water up to his waist; he hated to think what he might be wading through. He was beginning to think that swimming might be a better use of time and energy but that he’d actually have to touch the water; when he caught a glint of light in a branching tunnel. He glanced at Rolf. Absent-mindedly or perhaps purposefully so that they could see their way, Rolf had kept a light burning. Immanuel glanced quickly around; no one had seen the reflection of their light. He couldn’t tell them for fear it would move any more than he could look, for the same reason. Without a second thought , he ducked under the water and started swimming for where the had seen the glint. He had seen eyes, eyes that seemed to glow, like a cat. The mere fact that they (Drough‘s eyes) were still in the tunnel heartened Immanuel. It was as if Drough had not thought that he had a chance of getting to the castle before them and so must hide.He would yell for the others later, if he was right, he thought stroking with all his strength toward the tunnel. He had a sword (sentry), he could find him. It did not cross his mind that Drough might get the best of him in a fair fight, though Rolf’s warning not to wander off did flash across his mind. It was too late now, he had seen and he must follow.
Rolf first noticed that Immanuel wasn’t there when he missed the soft swish swish of him wading through the water. A slight splash, as though a fish had jumped out of the water, followed; and Rolf, after waiting a second for the swish swish to resume, spun around. Lamar was a short distance behind, rubbing his chin in preoccupation and staring at the walls of the cavern. Rolf signaled him.
“Where is Immanuel?!” he asked when their heads where close together.
“I’m sorry sir; I didn’t see.” Lamar admitted regretfully.
“This could mean one of two things,” Rolf reflected, “Either Drough was very near, or he was escaping and Immanuel had gotten stuck underwater.” With a sinking feeling, Rolf realized that it was probably the former. Even so, he walked back to where Immanuel had been last with the pretense of looking for something he had dropped. Immanuel was not there. He suddenly snuffed the light. But in the last flash, he recognized the branching tunnel. Mentor swore. Rolf grabbed him by the collar and pointed, or rather grabbed Mentor’s arm and made him point. In the dark, the walls were invisible and nothing could be seen. He guided them toward the tunnel, and in the darkness, they glided across the water. In a minute, Rolf had lit another candle, but this time, it was in a little darkened lantern that gave off little light. They were barely into the tunnel when a loud splash in the main passage alerted them. Rolf handed the lantern to Mentor and surface dived. He now had night vision and though he hated to do it in this water, opened his eyes. He could see barely anything; but ahead, he could feel a disturbance in the water. With several powerful thrusts of his arms he was close enough to suface and hear the low struggle that was taking place ahead.
There was a vigorous clawing and kicking. (“That was Immanuel.”) He seemed to be struggling against someone. There was the soft hiss of metal. “That was Drough’s sword,” Rolf realized with a sick feeling. “He was probably gagging Immanuel, which was why they hadn’t heard any voices.” Suddenly the splashing intensified, but grew more muffled. “Drough was drowning Immanuel!” Rolf thought as he leaped forward.
Immanuel had pulled up at the entrance to the tunnel and surfaced. He kept his head barely above the water and looked around. Rolf had stopped and was talking to Lamar. Out of the corner of his eye he had seen a form slipping off into the darkness of the cave. He had dived again only to resurface with no view of Drough. Then he had seen him pausing, checked by the sound of Immanuel’s surfacing, at the same time his enemy had seen himself. Immanuel had forgotten all about his sword and had simply leaped or rather lunged toward him as well as he could do in waist-high water. Drough being rather taller and close on six foot if not that despite slouching, had moved quickly so that Immanuel couldn’t get a good hold on him. And had shot out a long slim hand to cover Immanuel’s mouth, now using Immanuel’s hold on him against him (Immanuel) to hold him in place at the same time drawing his sword. But Immanuel had somehow worked his way around to kick him in the elbow. Drough bent to hold him underwater while he removed his sword, but Immanuel had needed no holding and had leant with the wizard’s direction of pushing. This had thrown Drough completely off-balance, and he was now struggling with Immanuel. But though Drough was skilled in water, Immanuel had the benefit of adrenaline and surprise and was on top of him holding Drough in slight disorientation by the time Rolf arrived.
They had decided after a short conference that it would be best to follow the tunnel to its end, as the trapdoor entrance to the castle would be hard to find and awkward to pull Drough up through. At any rate, it would be unwise to ferry Drough through his own castle whose weapons he knew, especially while they were still fighting to gain it.
It was Immanuel who first remembered the snake.
“I wonder though,” Lamar had responded, “Whether he charms it; it follows him out of respect and because he lets it eat people; or because it really likes him.” Immanuel had found this train of thought very distasteful, and had told them so.
“I think getting taken hostage gives me a pretty intimate relationship with him; don’t you think?” Immanuel replied, “And anyway hasn’t it also been said to, ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’? And just look where that could get you,” he added glancing at Drough, unconscious as Rolf and Lamar carried him.
“True.” Rolf responded.
“That just goes to show what scrapes wise men can get you into.” Mentor grunted from the front.
“You’re ignoring me.” Immanuel reminded them.
“You ignored my advice about not wandering off,” Rolf said.
“But!…” Immanuel motioned at Drough.
“Exactly, and everything turned out right anyway.” Rolf said pitching Drough‘s legs a little higher on his arm.
The truth was that Rolf didn’t have a thing to do to prevent the snake from reappearing, but he wasn’t going to let Immanuel know that.
They stumbled along for a while in silence until a small circle of light reached them from an entrance to the cave, though as they approached it, it didn’t seem to get much bigger. All this time, the water had gotten lower and lower until only Immanuel was up to his knees in it and the rest could make fairly good time until they ran into the seemingly distant circle of light and found that only a few feet away, through a dense bush, the sun shone. Underneath the castle had been fairly level , but now a stream ran from where they stood blinking in the sunlight. Unnoticed, Drough’s eyes flickered open, and he looked around. Mentor was walking back to ask a question, and when he saw this, he clubbed him again.
“All the same, I can’t help thinking,” Mentor began under Rolf’s glare after this last incident, “whether the boy might be right…about the snake.” He paused for a second, “After all, wasn’t it said by Sun Tzu that it was a wise tactic to, ‘Hide in dense shrubbery and fall out of trees like lightning’?”
“Eeer–,” Rolf managed. Mentor never had been interested in literature.
Apparently, the boa had understood the application of Sun Tzu’s words, because at that moment, it dropped out of an overhanging tree, on top of Mentor.
Lamar dropped Drough’s shoulders with a resounding thud, ensuring that if Drough hadn’t been out cold before, he was now. But Rolf, grabbing hold of Lamar’s shoulders as he unsheathed his sword, had better plans for killing the snake.
“It’ll just show up again and again, unless we really kill it,” Lamar protested, dropping his sword back into its sheath.
“Exactly,” Rolf said close to his ear, glancing over to where Immanuel and Mentor struggled with the snake. “but sword’s won’t help. Maybe it’s protected by a sort of sorcery on its scales from sword thrusts. I’ve heard legends about that sort of thing. If that’s the case, I need you to shoot arrows down its throat as fast as you can….Providing your bow strings are dry,” he added glancing at the bow slung on Lamar’s back.
“Don’t worry; they are,” Lamar reassured him, quickly stringing his bow and notching an arrow to the string.
Rolf flew down the slope; the snake had switched its attention and had Immanuel, who was worn out and couldn’t offer much resistance, in a fix. He swung his sword at it, and it swung its head around toward him, goaded. Rolf stood rigidly still as the snake came full force and unflinchingly for him, mouth gaped.
A twang flit through the air as Lamar launched his first arrow. It sailed past the snake’s head and continued its flight. The serpent lashed around as the arrow hit its middle. It loosened its grasp around Immanuel and turned back for Rolf.
At that moment, a Lamar loosed another arrow, which flew right for the serpent’s open jaws. It didn’t close it’s mouth soon enough. It (the arrow) flew right for the target and disappeared down the beast’s throat. A deep moan rising in pitch told them that the arrow had stopped. The beast doggedly continued. Its tail had already sneaked around Rolf’s ankles; and just as he was about to call for assistance from Immanuel and Mentor, Lamar loosed his third arrow. The thing sunk to the ground, and Lamar shot a fourth arrow at its head and a fifth at it’s tail. He was notching another when Rolf tiredly walked up the hill,
“No more.” he said wiping his forehead with the back of his hand.
“But, sir, it isn’t dead yet” Lamar dissented.
“I know that, but it isn’t going far and I’d rather let it die in peace.”
Lamar frowned, “As you say, sir.”
He picked up Drough’s shoulders again. Rolf, wiping the sweat out of his eyes, motioned Mentor to pick up his legs. Immanuel took Lamar’s bow, arrows and sword and they started for the castle’s south eastern corner, where they had camped.
It was coming toward evening by the time they finally staggered into camp with Drough. Rolf had talked Mentor out of knocking Drough out a third time when he had woken up half-way to camp. He looked sufficiently humbled when they took him to Walter’s command tent. Walter had left the party upstairs at the trapdoor and was now talking with one of his lieutenants as they walked in. He looked up surprised, when they walked in.
“Your plans were well made, Drough,” he said recovering himself, “Though you could have done better; we caught several messengers fleeing for help into the woods. I’m surprised that they caught you. It wouldn’t seem so hard, from the outside, as it really was.” Walter looked up just as he was about to continue. His eyes rested on Immanuel, “Oh, Immanuel,” He added, turning, “could you go up and tell them to secure the trapdoor but leave it ready for easy operation. Thank you.” he paused, “Tell them to come down, it’s supper time” He nodded for Immanuel to leave.
Rolf gave him a strange look. “Exactly,” he replied, “,Which is why we settled back in our fortress without taking this one when we found out your plot with the local outlaws. I…wouldn’t have…thought…you’d have….a plan.” He stepped back against the wall of the pavilion, intent on Drough.
“Figures they would want to get me out of the way,” Immanuel thought leaving the tent.
“Na,” said a voice at his elbow, “they’re sparing you ; it’s suffering boring.” He looked. Mentor was walking beside him morosely enumerating, the tragedies of war counsel. “Poor Rolf,” he was saying, “up at three-thirty hours before the sun was up, and he has to be there and go without supper. Some things in this world aren’t equal.”
“Ah…” Immanuel said. He hadn’t quite an idea of what to say to the man. “What are you doing this evening?”
“Mess tent,” the man replied, “t’won’t see bed for near three hours.”
“Oh, by the way,” he added, “Rolf told me to tell you that you had east sentry duty tonight helping Kasey.”
Immanuel’s face fell, he would use any excuse to stay up late, but this was a bit much; he had been up since dawn yesterday and up late the night before….and… He suddenly realized how very…tired…he…was…..
“But I talked them into waiting ‘till dawn if you’d skip supper and sleep now.”
Immanuel’s jaw dropped and he stopped on the steps of the castle…but,…but…
Mentor stood beside him. His face morose and his thought plunged into the tragedies of life. Immanuel suddenly took off up the steps of the castle. If he was going to skip supper tonight to sleep, he had better get actual sleep.
He didn’t stir until a few hours before dawn.
Kasey was standing over him, shaking him. He stood in the middle of the tent surrounded by other sleeping men. Immanuel rolled over.
“Get up quick; Anselm’s been on duty since eleven because he took a double shift.” Kasey urged.
“What about a triple shift?” Immanuel moaned.
“C`mon,” Kasey said, dragging him out of his blanket. He had him on his shoulder and out of the tent before Immanuel could wake up enough to protest. Of course, then Immanuel had to return to the tent to get his belt and things. By the time he finally returned from the tent with his hood up, cinching his belt, the early morning rays of sunlight were just splitting the blue-gray air.
“Feel lucky,” Kasey said grinning, “the kitchen staff was up a full hour before you were.” Immanuel moaned sleepily.
As soon as they reached the sentry post, Anselm, nodding to them, staggered away into camp toward the barracks tent.
“Don’t we get to eat?” Immanuel asked, wistfully staring after him. Kasey nodded sagely,
“Of course,” in three hours: at eight, when we get off duty.” Immanuel closed his eyes.
“Now,” Kasey was saying, “you take the southern part of the beat, and I’ll take the northern part. It’s easier that way. If you see anything, call me,” he said as he strode off.
Immanuel paced back and forth in across the dewy grass in the early morning chill an hour later. He stood on top of a little hill that overlooked the camp. The problem was that he couldn’t see allof his assignment from here, so that he couldn’t justify staying here, especially because he couldn’t see into any of the surrounding woods. “If only people only tried to sneak up from the open,” he sighed turning to go. But just before he turned, he thought he caught a glimpse of a tall gray figure on one of the southern hills. He was just about to call Kasey, when a long blast from a horn startled him. Running back, he could see Kasey standing at the other end of camp, blowing into a horn he had at his side furiously. Immanuel had no idea why until he had rounded a corner of wood and saw. Creeping up from the woods was a ragged band but who were operating as if under military discipline. They had been halfway up the northern slope of the castle when Kasey had seen them. He (Immanuel) had suddenly ducked, to avoid being pinned by a volley of arrows.
“Arrows?” thought Immanuel, “Where’d they get arrows?” Then he remembered the weaponry store back at the castle; and though it had been raided when the army left to defend the village, Immanuel felt sick. Though the raiders had succeeded in making Kasey cease to blow his horn, the damage had been done; and men poured from the camp. The lone figure in the North had ceased to be a threat. Who would listen to him with this threat coming anyway?
As Immanuel struggled to unsheathe the sword, he had been given Anselm flew past, running on perhaps an hour of sleep, but looking, perhaps as one of the most eager. By this time, Walter had emerged from his tent, and was issuing commands. The army was forming into a more strategic formation. Immanuel ran to help them. About all that he did end up doing, however, was ducking past large men thrusting swords and coming upon Walter in the process.
Walter looked a bit distressed to see Immanuel, and ordered him to the War Tent to help Rolf with Drough. Immanuel wasn’t as distressed as he might have been at being pushed off like this, because he wasn’t particularly eager to try his sword out after seeing what he had. “Rolf?….” He started to ask pushing aside the flap. He was disturbed by what he saw. A tall brawny man with dirty, blond hair stood over Rolf. Rolf had seemingly just gotten the short end of a fight. He was a bit beat up after the man had sliced a hole in the tent and walloped him from behind. True to Mentor’s predictions, Rolf hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before and was rather worn and thus, was having a rather difficult time thwarting the intruder, especially because the man standing over him had a little bit more muscle by half than he would ever have. Another man, though a bit smaller had just entered the tent from behind and now smacked Rolf on the head from the behind with his spear butt. Rolf uttered a moan and sunk down onto the rug on the floor of the tent. The other was aiming his spear, but the tall one shook his head and said something unintelligible to Immanuel . The second stepped over to Drough, who was tied to a chair by the side of the tent and began slashing his ropes. Immanuel stood there, dumb before this scene. Suddenly he came back to himself that this was a rescue party and moved from his peep hole at the tent flaps to tell the others. But in doing this, the second man saw him and spoke something loudly in a strange accent. Immanuel turned to run, but before he could even complete his turn, he felt a dull bursting pain through the back of his head and collapsed.
“All warfare is based on deception. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity. When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him, feign disorder and strike him. When he concentrates, prepare against him; where he is strong avoid him. Anger his general and confuse him. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.” —- Sun Tzu, The Art Of War
He awakened on a cot in a dark place. It was noisy outside, but the noise was muffled. He rolled off the cot and went to the tent flap at the other end of the chamber. Peering groggily out, he could hazily make out men carrying supply crates and canvass bags containing tents. He turned around, but as he did so, his head began to throb and his vision to clear. He closed his eyes and rubbed the back of his head, finding it swollen and a little bit bloody.
“Hallo.” Opening his eyes, he turned around again; and saw Oswald standing in the tent opening looking friendly and grinning. He was covered in dirt and sweat and a little bit of blood, and had his wrist in a sling.
Immanuel moaned and stuck out his tongue. He sat down hard on the ground inside the tent.
“Commander Walter wants to talk to you. Rolf’s half dead, and nobody saw what happened.”
Immanuel nodded and winced again at the pain that came with this movement,
“How the %$#@ did you get messed up if you were back at the council tent with Rolf?” Oswald wanted to know.
Immanuel closed his eyes and put his hand to the back of his head again “What the blankety-blank- blank’s wrong with your normal exclamations?” Immanuel thought rolling his eyes.
“Anyone would be, if someone large came and bludgeon them. What happened to you?” Immanuel asked somewhat amused by Oswald’s pride at being such an unmovable warrior.
Oswald glanced down at his own wrist.
“Some bloke twisted my sword out of my hand and threw me into a tree.” he admitted. Sure did turn tail fast whenEinar rushed him though. Then was another fellow, also had a run in with Einear before he got taken prisoner by Walter. Really loud ‘n witt; insulting. …..Until Mentor told him that we didn’t take prisoners, we needed a new fool. That sure shut him up.”
Immanuel didn’t realize until days later that that was the last he would hear of Girvin. (Who reformed and took to the sea, graduating to mocking his inferiors [who accordingly stole his boots].)
They reached Walter as he sat under a tree, anxiously waiting for news of Rolf. He smiled when Immanuel appeared.
“Thank you Oswald, will you please go check Rolf?” Oswald stood there innocently. Walter looked at him again.
“Now, please,” Walter sighed.
Oswald ran down off the slope.
“So,” Walter sighed forty-five minutes later, “Norsemen, (I will assume) rescued Drough under the cover of the attack, turning our cleverness (the message estranging the raiders to Drough) to their gain, and wounding one of our best men in the process.” He slammed his fist to the ground. “Rogue! His plans were better laid.”
Oswald rushed, panting, up the slope. “Sir!” he exclaimed, “Norsemen, hundrs’t of ‘em, mustering on the northern coasts, a watchman saw them from an elevation. We must prepare”
Walter leaped to his feet “We shall ride; the wounded can be moved?”
“Yes sir,” Oswald paused, “My lords were wondering? What of the tower? Cannot we alternatively take refuge in that?”
“No, it has been damaged too much for our number to take refuge in. Besides, This fortress will not stand to the Norse, as there is an easily collapsible tunnel, which will likely be found. Besides, they now know the secrets of Drough’s temporary hiding place.
“Than we go to our fortress?” Oswald inquired
“Yes.” Walter replied, “our fortress. We ride!” On this note he swept up and walked briskly off to find his commanders.
“But–” Immanuel stammered after him, “How will we deal with our–” Walter was too far away now.
Oswald stood for a minute looking puzzled, “What problem could our castle have?”
“What do you–I meant it wouldn’t be a problem securing the castle,” Immanuel lied. Immanuel figured that Walter must have kept the news of the invasion a secret for some reason. But it wasrather queer; “How had they managed to keep arriving news secret? How had they managed to get the news anyhow? Unless they knew something would happen beforethey left…”
Immanuel looked up, “there was something…Of course!–”
“Immanuel!” came a voice. Immanuel gazed down into the clearing; a man stood there. It was Einar, who, besides being the strongest man in camp, knew every single person in the three thousand in camp by name. Immanuel didn’t know if he was actually a knight, because he would only be called by his first name.
“Immannnuuellll,“ he called again, “Come down here and pack up the medical tent.“ Immanuel tumbled down the hill, running until he felt as though he were suspended in mid-air. He slowed at the bottom of the slope. Einar was already leaving to organize his task of the breakdown of the tents.
Immanuel ran after him. “Where is that?”
“Over there,” Einar responded jovially/genially, turning, “the only tan tent in the camp aside from the mess tent,” he pointed. Immanuel raced off to find it newly emptied of it’s former occupants (one of them, himself) as the more serious ones had been transferred to (supply) wagons. But he wondered where Rolf was; he could be seriously injured, true. However, Immanuel, had never seen him as the sort who would ride back in a sick wagon. He would get a horse, if one could be gotten.
“Well, maybe not,” but Immanuel was right this time, anyway. He had finished packing one crate of equipment, before he heard the clacking of wood from the cots.
He discovered Rolf, sitting on a crate, collectedly disassembling cots. His head was covered with pressure bandages and he still looked rater put upon, but who cared so long as he wasn’t dead! Rolf smirked at him.
“Ow; that hurt.” he said smiling amusedly, “I wasn’t expecting that.”
Immanuel gaped at him. He was obviously still full of pain-killing herbs.
“It was the Norse,”
Immanuel shut his mouth tight, knowing Walter or the doctor would kill him if he stressed/excited Rolf unduly with news of the Norse attack.
He continued, “Walter told me about their raiding party.” he grinned unashamedly, “they will betrapped in this cove tonight; a storm is coming up and the tide is going out and the sea is smooth and with a Southern wind. They won’t move, I wager they hadn’t reckoned on this although, they will be ready.”
Immanuel didn’t get his drift, but he went on. “If someone where to go through the storm and err–modify the stern of their boat , they might have to stay even longer.” Immanuel looked at him skeptically. If he thought he could simply win like that—
“But why would we want them to stay past the time they wanted to? They’d jolly well beat us in a fair fight.”
Rolf smiled impishly, “They’re expecting something from us, they could have avoided the bad timing in landing. But what if the fight wasn’t–” He suddenly dived through the tent door and around to the back.
“I’m sorry Immanuel; I’m not thinking clearly.” he said returning, “I’ve got an idea. I want you to tell me what happens when they play with the ship tonight.” he said, quickly and methodically dismantling the last cot.
“Oh, and do me the favor of telling me who holds the candle when you do.”
“Am I going?”
“I don’t know. Why should I know?”
“You just said.–”
“–that I didn’t know; ask Walter,” he/Rolf interrupted.
Immanuel started for the door, thoroughly convinced of something wrong with Rolf. Until Rolf passed him in the doorway and breathed,
“Tell him everything, but none else.” And passing him, Rolf walked quickly through the sunny field.
Walter wasn’t more helpful. He merely said he’d have someone make sure Rolf was well. He smiled and told Immanuel to feed the horses.
They were about twenty miles out, traveling southward that night when Immanuel realized that the group he was with had separated from the main group and continued to travel westward. It was dark although the crescent moon cast a light so that you could see the woods quite clearly in tones of blue. At points the moon broke through the leaves of the trees and created patches of dim light in the forest. It was quiet, very quiet. Immanuel could hear the sea in the distance and a southward wind brought with it the fresh sea air. They were going quietly now, partly because of bandits, but Immanuel guessed there were other reasons. They broke the wood now and came upon a wide grassy meadow lowland. It was quite bright out there. The man leading the group was one of the Lord of the Castle’s associates. His name was Auden. He hadJust arrived on the king’s business, he had been appointed to lead the troop. He halted his horse several yards outside the meadow and dismounted. Immanuel could just hear his low tenor over the fall of the waves.
“Lamar,” he was saying, “You will sweep the edge of the beach and find any small boats. Return whether or not you find anything.”
“Radimir,” you will go with Lamar and Immanuel. Kincaid and I will go alone,” he went on in whisper, “After we leave the woods, there will be no more talking.”
He stood , sharply silhouetted in the woods against the bright meadow beyond. The sky over it was a black navy blue, holding a disk that seemed so much brighter there. It overlooked the sea, and the distinct smooth beach beyond. With the ocean, it’s light ceased and showed only an oily blackness.
Before Immanuel had come fully to himself, Lamar was gone across the meadow. The silence was restrictive and still. Auden had tied his horse to a tree. Immanuel, had himself been found a horse, despite the trouble it must have been. He tied it to an oak and realized the point for which the trouble had been taken. Quite possibly, Rolf had been totally sound of mind that day and very possibly, well enough to devise some sort of plan. But if there was a spy, what good would following through on an alreadydiscovered mission do them?
He glanced around, Kincaid was pacing in their little clearing. Radimir was exhaustedly slumped over on a log, and Auden leant against a tree, nearly invisible in the shade. Lamar breezed into the gathering from behind, his back bent almost double and yet running with silent swiftness.
“Well.” said Auden, “Light the lanterns now. There should be no sudden flashes when we have begun to work.”
Kincaid brought out two little darkened lanterns like the ones Rolf had used in the cave and lit them. They showed up very little against the moonlight on the field. Radimir relieved him of one, and pulled a blackout shade over it, completely obliterating its light.
Auden crept out, and Lamar pulled Immanuel to the edge of the woods and into a low crawl after Kincaid. Radimir brought up the rear behind Immanuel.
There was a fresh breeze which helped to disguise their disturbance of the grass. The smell of the grass was fresh and dry and woke Immanuel. They were by now a dozen yards from the beach and the sentries there showed no sign of being alerted. Everything was on their side. It had been planned and was being executed beautifully. Suddenly, the plan slipped off balance.
It was a last chance to succeed before the men on the ship were alerted. Lamar and Auden had lunged out of the grass before any of them could move. By the time they had, the first was down. The second was a struggle and Auden had blood on his face before they had finished. They crouched and instinctively listened. Not a sound echoed down the beach but the movement of the waves and the rock of the ships.
Auden grabbed the bow of a faering and Lamar and Immanuel got the stern, and lifting it above the sand, slid it silently above the water. A ripple broke the surface of the water and spread. Radimir and Kincaid got the other into the water, but there was a slight grating of sand as they slid it in too early. A call broke from one of the two ships.
“Gera þú tilraun til vara við the undirförull hestur karlmaður af minn tilvera? Huh? Þeir vilja ekki fá fullnægingu tími þú æpa.” he yelled angrily in like manner. Immanuel lay in stunned silence. It was true, Kincaid wasblond and rather taller than usual, but how could he—? The man on the ship replied sulkily,
Kincaid strode back to the boat. The man on the ship hadn’t seen the boats so there was a chance that-
Radimir sprung up and held a sword to his neck.
“Villainous dog!” he exclaimed, pressing the sword into his neck. “There would be better chance of survival if I yelled to those in the ships than now that you have betrayed us to them. Offering us on a silver platter for the payment of your services you–” Auden had crept up behind him and now stood with a restraining hand on Radimir’s neck and one on his wrist.
“It might be suspicious, him knowing that language,” he whispered in his ear between gritted teeth, “But I will do the killing, if it comes to that. I know some figments of a related language, and that was no betrayal.”
Immanuel and Lamar lay back from them and did not hear this discourse. Either way, it was good to know of Kincaid’s ability, though at the same time rather foreboding.
“Let us go, time is short.” Kincaid said urgently, breaking free. Though in this speech, Immanuel now noticed the same strange accent of those invading the War Tent.
They paused for the space of a moment.
Auden walked to the easternmost of the dinghiesand slid in. Kincaid was right behind him. He pushed them off with a powerful heave of his booted legs and silently slipped over the stern. They began to slide over the water as Kincaid thrust them noiselessly along.
Radimir watched them mutely for a moment.
“Come on,” he said suddenly walking toward the boats.
Immanuel clambered in and took the lantern from Radimir, who took a pair of oars
They heaved to the left. Lamar breathed, his voice barely over the fresh breeze,
“They will be full of drink tonight in celebration of land, and down to a skeleton crew, I’ll warrant. But we mustn’t make any mistakes.” he said turning at the oars. “I wagar that none of us would be equal to a well-thrown axe.”
He turned them round to the west once they had past the long lines of oars and they came to the darkened stern of the ship. It was high and steep. Radimir had out a light as Lamar inched closer to the rudder. Once Lamar had secured the boat, he brought out a little saw and set to work on the wooden keel. Radimir, in sliding past him, had told Immanuel to, “Mind the ship.” Immanuel gazed up at the long war ship and hoped things would be quiet. If he were forced to swim, he might shelter under the long rows of oars, but on no account would he reach shore before the inhabitants of the ship and escape. He glance over to the other ship. Its stern was turned slightly away and he could not see the other boat in the darkness. In this suspense, what Rolf had said came back to him.“Oh, and do me the favor of telling me who holds the candle when you do.”Immanuel glanced over to the other ship. “Well that wouldn’t make sense,” he thought, “Kincaidwould probably be doing the sawing.” Immanuel glanced over at Lamar and Radimir huddled over the saw. He looked up; not a sound came from the deck. Suddenly, something banged against the edge of the rowboat and toppled into the water. Immanuel glanced over. It was the little lantern. The shade had broken off and it blazed brightly. It continued to float in the water before Immanuel had the time to lean over and douse it. But the noise of the glass shade shattering had been enough to alert the notably sober guard on duty. He was at the side and had taken the scene in in a moment. He was shouting, but Immanuel was too stunned to take it in. He(Viking guard) had unslung his bow and was stringing arrow when Lamar, who had dropped his saw began and sat down swiftly, began to pull them hard away.
Auden and Kincaid heard the ruckus from down by the rudder of the other ship. Sticking his hand into his belt, Kincaid swiftly brought out a little pouch of grease. He smeared this over the keel quickly, and removing the candle from its shade, set it afire. He then pushed off. Auden rowed the boat around the far side of the ship. Leaving the boat as soon as they had hit the beach, they dived into the grass and ran until they had reached the wood.
In a few minutes, they heard Lamar come crashing through the underbrush toward them (Kinkaid and Auden) pushing Radimir ahead of him and pulling Immanuel behind him. Auden glanced back. The fire on the stern was invisible; it was impossible to tell if it had yet been discovered. There was still a fire at the keel, though most of it was out. Hopefully, they had mutilated the stern so much that it impeded the workings of the ship, what with sawing huge chunks of it off and setting fire to it. He mounted his horse, and leaning forward, he led them, running eastward..
Immanuel stayed barely awake. They finally reached where the army had camped, near a spring, but the next morning, Immanuel didn’t remember any of it.
It was fairly sizable trek in the dark through the woods to the camp in the glade of woods several miles to the west of the knight‘s hall. Notwithstanding, the troop covered the twenty miles with relative ease and arrived there hours (duh!) before Auden led the little band to the midst of it. There was some excitement, and Auden called for Radimir to come to the War tent to sort things out, especially since the news of Kincaid’s true background got out. Lamar was going to offer to help him to the get t(through?) the crowd, but he vanished on his own.
Actually, he had only just slipped off his horse and was slipping off to go to sleep, when Rolf found him and they went off together and talked far into the night.
Immanuel woke, slightly disoriented, in full light, and had only just emerged from the now practically empty tent. When he poked his head through the tent flaps, he saw Sir Edward, whom he had assumed done in by the raiders, sitting at his ease, not ten yards away, over a low fire, roasting a bit of meat. With Mentor Was this a conspiracy? Was everyone in with Drough and the raiders?! Even Kincaid, who had been around since Immanuel had been a kid? Apparently so, there was something in the air. Immanuel staggered out of the tent and to the campfire. Sir Edward was apparently enjoying it; here they were on the brink of a siege of their own castle and he was sitting and laughing. Falling down on the ground not far from the fire, Immanuel was spotted by him. He looked at Immanuel, amazed.
“I heard you met Rolf in Drough’s castle.” He began, “How in on earth did Oswald get away from you?”
Immanuel had been wondering when anyone would ask and he answered candidly, “I got left behind.”
“Did you? And how would get from here to Drough’s castle?”
“I waited in the rafters until the Raider’s chief came in, he murdered a spy.”
Sir Edward took this in attentively, “Go on.”
“After he, Tiernan I think, gave out guard assignments, I avoided them and–”
“Who did you say again?”
“The Raider’s guards.”
“No, before that.”
“The leader, Tiernan?” asked Immanuel, who had a good memory for names. (Especially since he had been full of adrenaline and excited at the time.)
“Ah, never mind, go on.” Sir Edward said dismissively
“Then I stole a horse, ran into one of Drough’s patrols, escaped the room in the castle, and got mugged by a snake that almost killed me. Then I fell through the floor and met Rolf. (How did he get there anyway?) and ran into this big guard and knocked him out. But I got captured after I threw a message over the gate, but before I open it. And Drough kidnapped me, but Rolf found me and we captured Drough.” Immanuel finished in a long drawn-out phrase.
“Go and have breakfast now, we need to retake the castle.” Edward said ignoring Immanuel’s omittance of facts. He got up and called Kincaid away to take down tents.
“Bother! He was still doing it, and he (Immanuel) had contributed to his (master’s)air of mystery without even understanding how or why.”Whatever his master knew, he was mulling over it like a Cheshire cat, but Immanuel had no way of accusing him of it/accosting him about it (chuckling over something).
That afternoon, they banked their already low fires and left. The camp still stood, but it was all but deserted by the time they marched through the woods. Something suddenly occurred to Immanuel. “Why were they marching up to a heavily fortified castle whose defenses they knew, in broad day light?” They, apparently, did have a plan, but all askance about it would apparently have to wait as he was not walking beside anyone who would know.
There was,of course, Oswald. Immanuel turned to the boy who walked beside him.
“Say, what is going on?”
“We’re fleeing to our own hall, while Vikings are massing on the ridges back there ‘cause we sabotaged their boats and we have valuable stuff.”
“No, besides that: you were acting messenger; don’t you know?”
“What should I know about our hall? What‘s wrong?”
“Well for one thing, do you know why we didn’t finish the journey and lodged there last night? Iknow why. But it’s the thing that this all hinges on, isn’t it?” Immanuel said before thinking. He glanced at Oswald. Kincaid had glanced up.“But what if there really was a reason Walter hadn’t told Oswald?”
“ I don’t know.” Oswald said sucking in his lower lip. “It’s strange, I noticed before we left. But if you know…”
The party was called to a halt near the edge of the glade of woods. There was some discussion among the leaders. Auden sprang to the front of the group, and ran off into the forest towards their village.
Immanuel sat down and lounged against a tree. He looked up toward the sun and waited…..
It was mid-afternoon and Immanuel had completed his seventh full inspection of his surroundings by the time Auden returned. Immanuel did not realize just yet what was going on, but in a Mentor signaled him. He discovered Auden was already there by the time he arrived.
He still hadn’t figured out what was going on by the time he struggled through the woods. Something occurred to Immanuel, “Why on earth, were they pulling him along on a patrol about their own fortified hall; what had they to gain by him?” They, apparently did have a plan, but all askance about it would apparently have to wait as he struggled along behind Auden and Mentor. They stopped at the edge of the woods and Auden sprang from the front of the group, and ran the little ways west. He, Kincaid, and Rolf soon appeared through the woods. Rolf, still sporting a large bandage on his head, signaled to Immanuel.
Immanuel ran over.
“Well see,” Rolf said, ‘These gates in the stockade fence around the hall are bolted and we’re low on men. We know that they won’t open easily; our defenses are too good and they have enough men to man them You’re the only one who will fit through those narrow windows in the hall: what we want you to do is to climb over the wall, and up into one of those windows on the hall. Unbar one of the minor doors in the hall so they can’t hole up in there. Then get the gates.”
“Can’t we burn the fence?”
“We need to hold out against the Vikings in there”
“Err, than why did you wait until broad day-light to come here?” Immanuel asked, wondering if Rolf had quiet recovered from the bang on the head.
Rolf smiled, “People are much less alert if they think that they can see everything. If you’re caught, you’re a monk (everyone respects those) and, “Sent by God into this desolate place where men lay dying from this horrible fight they fought against Drough’s men’ (That’s what they think)–”
“But–” Immanuel stammered
“But what’s it mean?” Immanuel asked, wondering how they would be convinced by a child-sized monk.
This gave Rolf pause.
“Something about ‘beating the evil,’ probably,” Mentor said, “anyway, it sounds impressive, and the priest at home used to say it all the time.”
“Come with me,” Auden said, pulling him toward the castle.
Immanuel slipped the robe over his head and followed him around the fringe of wood to the back of the castle. Auden mad a sizeable loop of rope and hooked it over a log which protruded above the average height of the fence. While he was doing this, Immanuel glanced nervously around. There were no men on guard atop the wall. No visible men at least He was just about to askAuden if he though this was such a great idea when he turned to him with the end of the rope.
“Ehh, why are we doing it just now, in broad day-light?” he asked.
“`Won’t ever suspect,” Auden said, “Besides, the Danes will have us by tonight.” He boosted Immanuel up the rope. “Besides, who would suspect a monk who came in peace during the day–?”
“Everyone,” Immanuel thought as he clung tenuously to the rope.
He reached the end of the rope, finding it looped precariously on the tip of a log. He loosed it with a shudder. It would have been most painful to fall. The cat walk stood a good (fifteen feet) up and he had a fair view of the guards in the courtyard surrounding the castle. “This,” he felt, “was impossible. It was a miracle he had even gotten inside the fence undetected…unless he wasn’t…” He found no way to inconspicuously slide down from the wall to the inner courtyard.
He dropped the rope back down to Auden, who had retreated to watch him from the woods. He decided to take the bull by the horns and simply go down the main stair and see how far he could get to the gate; there was no way he could unlock the hall. Besides, chances were that he wouldn’t be able to get back down, even if Auden could throw a rope up; it was extremely dangerous to stand there throwing ropes over a stockade fence, especially if someone came along and severed the rope or dropped something on them.
He stood a moment getting his bearings before he began to make his way along the walk , but was distressed as to the sound his wooden sandals made on the wooden boards. He slipped them off. Immanuel found the main narrow flight of steps leading to the ground (also unbelievably deserted) and he crept down it until he reached the ground; regrettably, here he met with his first problems.
As he descended the stairs, two of the raiders spotted him and promptly caught hold of his arms. In the struggle to grab him, he discreetly dropped his shoes. A monk sneaking around a defensive wall, holding a pair of shoes would not sound well once circulated.
Immanuel chose the approach of innocent dignity.
“Why do you seize me so?” he asked, imitating the voice of a seven-year-old he had once heard and hoping that talking in convoluted sentences would gain him respect as well as give them pause. It didn’t.
“What’s your name?” the man asked roughly, ignoring what he had said.
Immanuel was getting worried, but he responded serenely,
“Nevan, monk of the holy order of–,” His captors were already dragging him off. Their leader, contrastingly, honored the claim of the child “monk” or at least didn’t tell him to be quiet when Immanuel admonished,
This charade ended when Immanuel, who had been left by himself in the great hall, heard a commotion approaching the doors; apparently they had found the non-too-miraculously-innocent pair of wooden sandels on the stairs. He climbed into the rafters and had scrambled to the highest beam, when a raider, accompanied by several others strode into the hall. The room was empty. The raider walked over to the door opposite the main doorway and tried the knob. He paused and went to ask the man guarding the doorway a question. He walked back to the center of the room. He was obviously confounded by the disappearance of a small boy from confinement in an seemingly insulated room. Immanuel was half tempted to shout down from the rafters,
“You ignored my mission of peace.”
He reluctantly decided against it, although he was thankful that they hadn’t glanced up. After a half-hour, the leader gave it up and posted a sentry. Immanuel hadn’t expected this, and it gave him pains. How on earth was he to go and open a door? Mulling over this and in his waiting he found other things to think about. Suddenly, it occurred to him,
“Why hadn’t there been sentries outside the castle?” He had been expecting them the entire time he climbed up to the window, but one never showed up.Had they seen him, but instead of yelling, merely alerted the leader? Had it been that which the commotion had been about and not the shoes? What on earth had Auden been doing , thinking that he could unlock the gate?