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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Center Game, Heir of Drachma, Book Two, Chapter Eleven

Here is the next chapter in the continuing saga of Shepperton, Drachma and the rest. As usual, I would appreciate any feedback you might have!




  

Chapter Eleven

 

 

 

The man was not amused. What he saw in front of him was nothing but useless drivel.

 

“But, Master LeGace, I did as ye directed. ’twas not my fault that they dinna’ find the token. For I tell ye, they but left, an’ headed out the way they came in.”

 

“Well, then, be gone! You are no more use to me now.”

 

The urchin slinked out of the room quietly and disappeared into the shadows. In the room, LeGace turned his attention to the window, and signaled to the man outside, who then sped off to do his master’s bidding. 

 

What does it matter?  Thought LeGace.  He is not one whom anyone shall miss. Not even Craycroft, who now has much weightier matters to consider.

 

Then LeGace went back to eating his meal and drinking his ale. It was fifteen minutes later when the man came back and sat down at the table.

 

“Have you done it?” LeGace asked. The man nodded. “And did you bring back the monies?”

 

Leonardo reached into his tunic and brought out the small sack and laid it on the table. LeGace picked it up, took out a couple of copper coins and handed them over to Leonardo, who pocketed them.

 

“And I assume that you left no trace of your presence…”

 

“Nay, sire. And his body shall not be found for at least a week.”

 

“What have you found about our two visitors?”

 

“From the urchin I discovered that they have gone to the castle. They are staying at the Ale House, at least for the present time. They are from Scotland and are alchemists there. They come as students, to learn at the Academy in the castle.”

 

“To learn, eh?” LeGace pondered this for a moment. “And what do they plan to do with their knowledge that they gain here?”

 

“From what the lad said, they plan to take their new-found knowledge back to Scotland, and they plan on beginning their own academy – perhaps to train more physicians.”

 

“Well, Leonardo, you know that we cannot allow that to happen, and you also know why not.” LeGace looked at Leonardo.

 

“Most assuredly, Sire.” Leonardo swallowed. “Nor can we let this knowledge get into the hands of the king’s men. And that would include Master Patronis.”

 

“Aye, precisely. And so, you know where you need to go, and whom to seek out. You may use the aid of Boniface and Servius as you see fit.”

 

“So be it, Sire. And I shall report back to ye Friday, next.”

 

“Aye. And you know the place?” Leonardo nodded in acknowledgment. “Then I shall see you there. Now, be gone, and make certain that you have left no traces.”

 

As Leonardo left the small inn, he looked around to make certain that there were no eyes darting in the late evening shadows. Then he looked up the street, and went up, keeping in the shadows himself. When he got halfway to the turn, he stole a glance down the road to the left, and he could see down to the water, and off to the right the small shed which was now blazing. He kept telling himself that it was just something he had to do, as part of his term of service to the prefect. But the more he tried to tell himself that the life of that urchin didn’t matter, the more it nagged at what was left of his conscience. And so, he just walked on toward his destination, and left the village behind.

 

 

 

 

 

Bob and Hermes were shown into the tent, which served as Count Gregorio’s command center. There were two guards at the doorway into the tent. As Bob ducked his head to get inside, he noticed one of the guards smirked in a most disdainful way. He tried to ignore it, but it just got under his skin. Inside, he found the old count seated comfortably on some cushions, and now out of his armored breastplate. Hermes looked around uncomfortably, taking in the rather opulent furnishings.

 

In a corner of the tent sat Kevin. He appeared calm, but very aware of his surroundings, and his own present state. He nodded acknowledgment as Bob and Hermes came in.

 

“Why you not tell – just what is it troubles you?” asked the old man, surprisingly affable, in his own environment. 

 

“Sir, I must ask you, have you drunk of this water?” Bob handed the now empty water jug to Gregorio. “And if so, for how long, and how many of your men have also drunk of this water?”

 

“This water…” the old man looked startled. “Why ask you if I have had this water? We have no wine with us, so we have had this water.”

 

“Well, Sir, that water is poisoned. And I say that on good authority…” Bob heard the sound of the whippoorwill. He was startled by the sound but tried not to show it.

 

“Poisoned?” The old man’s face contorted into a grimace. “How know you that it is…poisoned?”

 

“By the sickly sweet smell. And I know where you got that water – it came from a certain creek, one called the Creek of the Dead.” 

 

Gregorio sniffed at the water jug, and he noted the slight off-sweet odor. “It does smell… as you say, slightly sweet. But none who have taken this water have been ill.”

 

“It’s probably too early – I wouldn’t expect to see the symptoms this early.”

 

“Sim…tums. What means this word?”

 

The guard burst in quite suddenly. His look was one of urgency. He spoke to Gregorio in a language unknown to Bob, but his meaning was quite understandable, as he pointed to the outside and continued to babble on. Then two more guards came running in, and Bob and Hermes were whisked off with the count. They were quickly put on horses, and the small band hurried away from their encampment, down the mountain. There were the three guards, along with Count Gregorio, Kevin, Bob and Hermes, hurrying down the mountainside.

 

Watching from his place in the forest, the commotion was noticed by a small gray-haired man. When he saw the small band head down the forest trail, he got back on his small black horse, and headed the way they went. He looked back over his shoulder and realized that he would in no way want to be part of the mayhem, which Drachma’s men had just inflicted on the unsuspecting men guarding their captives.

 

I suppose that I shall have to tell Master Guarneri about all of this when I get back down. He thought about what he had just witnessed.  But first I need to see where this band be going. I suspect that they’ll be going to the ship.

 

Samuel followed the small, fleeing band at a safe distance. He saw that they took the most direct route down the side of the mountain. He thought to himself as he followed, Now, of the mighty band o’ warriors, ye have left only a handful, and Drachma’s men have captured or killed the rest.

 

 

 

 

“Is…is it safe to talk now?” Lisa whispered to Melchior.

 

“Aye, m’lass, I do believe it is.” He answered. “But I wouldna’ say too much. Just, if you but need anything, then tell me, and I shall try to explain it to the men.”

 

Just where they were, he could not tell, but that they were on some sort of boat seemed obvious. They had been brought the whole way blindfolded. Now by the time and the smells, he had guessed they had gone through the channel back toward Shepperton, and probably to the northeast side of the island. He could definitely smell the eel fisheries, not too far away.

 

When the men had taken off their blindfolds the two were again in semidarkness, below deck on a seagoing vessel. They had each been given a small loaf of bread and told where there was water. It was in a large vat, and did smell, but as thirsty as they were, they both drank gratefully. And for the longest while, neither one said anything, until Lisa spoke.

 

“It…it’s just I miss me mum so much.”

 

“Oh, Lassie…What might I say t’ye?” Melchior’s voice cracked as he spoke. Thoughts of his own Jeanne and young Falma shot through his mind. “Perhaps it would be better if… if we didna’ think on such matters.”

 

“Then, may I but hold ye, fer a time?”

 

“But of course, Lassie, of course ye may.”

 

So, Lisa held on to Melchior, as she would hold her own rag doll, quietly, desperately. Melchior could sense her vulnerability. And that made his own circumstance that much more precarious. Not knowing was making him even more uncomfortable. He had no way to communicate at all with anyone beyond his captors, and he knew that was an option too fraught with peril. And so, he gently held on to the frail waif, until sleep engulfed her.

 

 

 

 

 

“Oh, Tom! It’s you, indeed,” said Marilyn with relief and surprise. “How long have you been here?”

 

Tom was surveying the scene before him and noted with some satisfaction that the bloodshed had been minimal, and that the men, who had been taken prisoner, had been rounded up, and were being brought back to him. At the head of the group came Fausto and Justinian, with the others acting as escorts.

 

“Long enough to see that Drachma’s men have, indeed, done their work admirably.”

 

“But Bob… he’s not among the men, is he?”

 

“Nay, m’lady. And when Fausto and Justinian return, I shall send you off, with Fausto, in search for him. But remember what I told you, of not speaking with Master Robert directly.”

 

“Yes, I remember, but could you explain just what happened, and what led up to all this? I’d really like to know just how Bob got tangled up in this mess out here in the forest. What he’s doing and all, and why he became a prisoner, and whose prisoner he became.”

 

“You do ask much, m’lady. And I think it meet that I should explain things to not only you, but also to Justinian, Stefano and Fausto, before you go off in search of Master Robert. But, because I do believe that some haste is warranted, I shall have to tell you some, but not all of what I have come to know of our current situation. Do you think that fair?”

 

Marilyn studied young Tom and could detect nothing insincere in him. “All right, I’ll buy that. But you’re going to have to tell us what we’re going to need to know. Your world has its own peculiar rules and expectations, doesn’t it? And here I am, a woman of the twentieth century trying to navigate in your fifteenth century environment.”

 

“That would be only fair, my good woman. Indeed, here come Fausto and Justinian. Come let us greet them, and then we may discuss what you ask, as well as what you seek.”

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Center Game, Heir of Drachma, Book Two - Chapter Ten

 Here is the next chapter of my (so far) unreleased book in the Drachma series, This one takes back to our protagonist, with his loyal aides, and sets up for what is to come.


Chapter Ten

 

 

              

Craycroft sipped his cider, and he looked toward the distance. His eyes burned fiercely, but his face was otherwise placid.

 

“What is it, m’lord?” Asked Kerlin. “Your countenance suggests that you have had a new thought on the matter.”

 

“That I do, Kerlin. Do you know where young Tom is right now?”

 

“Nay, m’lord. I know not.”

 

“Well, by his latest dispatch, he is seeking out persons from Master Robert’s century. And I do not know what special talents these persons may possess. Neither do I know in what capacity he plans to use them. Do you sense my dilemma?”

 

“It would seem to me that you are unsure of whether to tell the congress of this…”

 

“Precisely! Normally, I would not hesitate to tell the congress anything, yet in this circumstance, with all that is happening, and with these threats to our peace, it would seem better to me if it remained between us for the present.”

 

“Very well. Now you say that you know not whom Tom plans to use from this other time. But tell me, do you have any inkling at all? Would they be warriors, or another healer?”

 

“Nay, Kerlin. Neither a warrior nor healer, but what I did hear mention from Tom is the possibility that Master Robert’s wife from that time is one…”

 

“His wife? Ah, me. I could see only disaster arising from that.”

 

A subtle hint of a smile appeared ever so briefly on Craycroft’s face.

 

“Well, that is but one possibility – but assuredly, I know not.”

 

“I was just wondering in what capacity could young Tom even think that Master Robert’s wife would be of use. There are dangers that she would be facing of which she would not even be aware. And she cannot fight…”

 

“Nay, you are correct. Tell me, what do you know of Fausto?”

 

“Fausto, m’lord? He is one of three brothers of the Forest Guard. He is a giant, and a truly one of the very best fighters of the Guard. Now his brothers, Stefano and Justinian are truly wise in the ways of the forest. But why ask you of them?”

 

In answer, Craycroft took a small piece of paper, which was curled up on the table, and handed it to Kerlin. Kerlin knew that the paper represented communication, presumably from Tom. He read the small note.

 

                                       The Lady Marilyn is now among us.

                                       Fausto of the Guard shall be her

                                       companion and guide. More to tell shortly.

                                       Also we may be receiving another, Charles Stephens -

                                       So beware.

 

“Kerlin, does he not sound more and more like his grandfather? I have noticed of late that his gaze seems far off, and it is as if he hears voices from a realm closed off to us.”

 

Kerlin looked at Craycroft silently for a moment before speaking. “Aye. That I have noticed as well. And that note, from the pigeons I would presume, is very telling in what it says, but even more in what it implies.”

 

“Agreed. I do hope that young Tom shall be here soon, but it was I who sent him out to seek Drachma’s counsel. And so, it should not be too much of a surprise that he is sifting through the winds of time. My only hope is that he does understand the extreme nature of our present discontent and danger.

 

“Well, here comes a page, now. Tell me, lad, are they gathered?”

 

“Aye, m’lord, they are here.”

 

“Come, Kerlin. Let us face even our friends with this most odious news.”

 

“Of course, m’lord. And I shan’t say a word of Tom’s efforts.”

 

Craycroft nodded. Then the two of them, with the young page leading the way, left the drawing room, and walked on down the massive corridor to the meeting hall.

 

From the look on their faces, it was obvious that the persons in the room knew that something evil was afoot. Seated around the table were Councilor Rust, Captain Proust, Jeanne and Cayman. 

 

“M’lord, Craycroft,” began Cayman, “I know that you have called this meeting in haste. And, to these present that would imply that you have foul news for us. But let me tell you, if I might, that whatever news you might have for us, I also bring news of a slightly more hopeful nature.” Cayman handed him a small piece of paper.

 

After studying it, he asked, “I assume that you did just receive this?”

 

“Oh, aye, m’lord. Nigh unto five minutes ago.”

 

“Why, thank you, Cayman. And you are right, the news I have for all of you is not good at all.” Craycroft pulled from his case the letter which he passed around the table. They took turns reading the note and handing it to the next person. When it got to Jeanne, she immediately handed it back to Craycroft. All their eyes were turned to her, and anxiously waited for her to say something. She was silent for a moment, and then from her lips came a torrent of words very unlike the lady they knew.

 

“If any in this room do believe that I shall remain passive in this time of turmoil, then I shall prove them so wrong! This vile snake has caused me to be away from my dear friend, the lady Judy, at a time when she needs me the most. And then to have my own dear Clarice injured! And now my own husband taken away from me in such terrible fashion – this is too much evil for me to stand quietly by. And now this letter, what it asks, we simply cannot abide.”

 

“But Lady,” said Councilor Rust, “we must at the very least, discuss just how we might attack this scoundrel’s ploy. I do remember him well, as does Master Kerlin. He is not one who cares a whit for others, except that they serve his own purposes. And I fear that Melchior does know this as well.”

 

“That he does, m’lady,” added Kerlin. “Now, I would suggest that we all hear what Lord Craycroft knows, and what he has done so far.”

 

“You are well aware of the evil depths of which Master LeGace is capable. And, in particular, you know of his most recent treachery, which is spelled out in this note.” He reached down and picked up the paper, which he plucked up, and crumpled in his hand. “And let me tell you of what I have done thus far. When I heard that Melchior had been abducted, I did send a party in search of him and the lass. This was, of course before receiving this note. The party was sent to Dunnigan’s Isle, toward which his boat was seen leaving. I did send a party of fifty men, and thus far I have heard nothing from them. But, as they do have pigeons, I believe that I shall be hearing if anything does come of their search.

 

“Also, you may not know, but I did send word of our plight to our benefactor, the earl of Derrymoor. And now I have here in my possession a communication indicating his imminent arrival. He should arrive this evening, and we shall provide horses and accommodations for him. And I shall assign Kerlin and Cayman the duties of arranging his welcome.”

 

“Does he say, m’lord, how many there shall be coming ashore?” Kerlin asked.

 

Craycroft hand the note to Kerlin. “Aye, that he does. He comes with fifty men.”

 

“It is terrible that Diane and Eustace are away, eh Cayman?” Jeanne couldn’t help noting. “I do recall that Lord Derrymoor does know of this fiend whom we seek.”

 

“Aye, that he does.” Craycroft continued. “In fact, his knowledge of this particular fiend surpasses even that of Melchior. So, what I am telling you is that even though our situation does appear dire, this guest is one whose knowledge and proven fortitude should provide most useful at this time.

 

“What say you, Captain Proust? I would assume that we do have the horses to spare within our stables?”

 

“Aye, m’lord, and any armaments which they might need as well. We have been carefully stocking our supplies for this sort of eventuality. And we shall have room for all the men in our barracks.”

 

“That is good. And Rust, might I ask of you to speak with the council about these matters? I shall try to be available, but who is to know if I am able to be in attendance.”

 

“Certainly, m’lord. I shall convene the council yet today. And I shall explain what I may of this situation. Might I have that note, to share with the councilors?”

 

Craycroft took the note, now a crumpled ball, and handed it to Rust, saying nothing. Rust straightened out the note, read it again, and then spat out the words, “If you think that the Council will oblige, then you are most sorely deluded. We have no intention…”

 

The was a knock on the door, and it was announced that Mortimer, Aaron and two strangers were there, seeking Master Craycroft’s attention.

 

“Well, then,” replied Craycroft, “If it is Aaron, then I do believe we should let him in. He may well have something important for us to know.”

 

The two youths were let in and following them at a respectful distance came Clifton and Enoch.

 

Craycroft welcomed the boys and the two men, and then asked the youths to introduce their companions, and to tell why they had brought them here.

 

“Why, m’lord, this be Clifton, and also Enoch. They be stayin’ at Barncuddy’s Ale House. Though they be strangers to our castle, they do bring some news that ye might have interest in.”

 

“So be it, my young page. Now, my name is Craycroft, and it is I who rule this isle, with the blessing of the king of England, and the earl of Derrymoor. And about this table we have some of Shepperton’s finest. And who might ye be, and why might ye be here?”

 

Before they could answer, Rust commented, “Now you said your name be Enoch. And it seems that I know your name and face. Might we have been students together at some time in the past? Perhaps at Cambridge - so many years ago?”

 

“Oh, aye. Ye be Master Rust, no?”

 

“Aye, indeed.”

 

The two men then told of their quest, as well as their own backgrounds, to which Rust and Craycroft listened intently. But then they explained their brief stay in Killiburn, and how they listened in on the plotting of the two men, and their doings with the ship’s captain.

 

“Now, could this captain have been an Italian?” questioned Kerlin.

 

“Oh, aye, there be no doubt in my mind,” answered Clifton, “for I know that ship was either Portuguese or Italian, and the captain’s accent was clearly Italian.”

 

“Did you get his name?” Craycroft asked. “Could it have been Gregorio?”

 

“Nay, that I didna’ obtain. But what I can tell ye is that one of the two men did converse with him in another tongue, which could well have been Italian.”

 

“Well, it fits. I am certain that one of the men was certainly Guarneri, and who his companion would be - that is most assuredly Patronis. But that still leaves us no answer as to the whereabouts of our enemy, LeGace.”

 

“True, m’lord.” Kerlin added. “But it does provide us information about Gregorio. Now, if you could but provide us with some knowledge of where Count Gregorio was going…”

 

“If it please this august body, I would say that this ship’s captain, Count Gregorio, was going, not toward this castle, but into the forest, and the mountain, at the insistence of this other, whom you called Guarneri.”

 

“That is most interesting,” noted Craycroft, “and particularly since Master Robert and his entourage are now somewhere in that same vicinity. It is enough that I would wonder about Guarneri’s knowledge, and his plans.”

 

After a moment of silence, during which all were thinking their own disparate thoughts, Craycroft stood up, and he addressed the assemblage.

 

“My friends, in this hour of most special urgency, it would seem to me only fitting that these two men would appear on our doorstep, and bring us news both timely and pertinent, and that we should reward their most observant efforts. In that regard, I should ask Aaron and Mortimer to talk to Master Barncuddy, and to make certain that he knows that their tab for food and lodging is to go to our bursar for as long as it takes to find more suitable quarters. And please also show them our institute of learning and extend to them my personal invitation to attend any classes that they wish – once Master Robert and Master Melchior are returned among us. And be certain that they are made most welcome at our table this evening.”

 

Enoch and Clifton were so stunned by this show of generosity that each was rendered speechless. But they did bow their heads in recognition as they were led out the door by the two pages.

 

“As for the rest of you, Rust, you know what to do with the Council.” Rust silently acknowledged, as he stood up to leave, the note in his hand. “Cayman and Proust, I am quite certain that you shall make everything ready for Derrymoor’s arrival. And you shall bring him hence, no matter the time.”

 

“Aye, m’lord, and I shall be watching for any more messages,” said Cayman, as he stood with Captain Proust to leave.

 

“But now, Jeanne, I would ask that you accompany Kerlin and me to my quarters. There is much that we need to discuss.”

 

Her countenance had changed during the course of the previous meeting. What replaced the absent and forlorn look was replaced by one of rigid steel. “Very well,” she answered, “let us do more than discuss these matters.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Chapter Nine, Center Game, Heir of Drachma, Book Two


Chapter Nine

 

 

 

The implausibility again caught Marilyn Gilsen off guard. Here she was, in this foreign land, in this medieval time. And now she had just witnessed her long-lost husband, a prisoner, who had just come out of the hut where he had been held, to attend to a young man who had fallen down in what appeared to be a seizure… And there was the woman who took the youth’s head in her lap… who was she? And what with that large jug of water, which Bob had just poured out? And now he had been led away, God knows where. She didn’t know what to think about it. Who were these others, who all seemed to be playing some role in this drama? She had not been able to hear any of it, but what she saw convinced her that her Bob was still a physician to the core.

 

 “What is it, m’lady?” asked Fausto. “Ye do appear to have questions…”

 

They had gotten off their horses, and had been watching what was ahead of them, what they could see in the dimness.

 

 “Many, I’m afraid, Fausto. Where have they taken Bob? And what are they going to do to him? And what are we supposed to do for him or the others? And what about that young man who just had a seizure?”

 

 “A seizure? D’ye mean the fit the lad had? Well, m’lady, ‘twould appear that your husband did attend to the lad’s needs, and now has been taken toward the leader of this capturing party. But might I say that he was not led away in chains, nor with any force. Methinks that it might have been he, himself, wantin’ to go.”

 

 “Precisely, Fausto. Despite the fact that he was a prisoner, there seemed to be calmness in his demeanor, as if he was just doing his “doctor thing.”

 

“His doctor thing?”

 

“Oh, yes,” explained Marilyn, “His actions there – out of his element, but still consistent with his years of training. He’s still the healer, whom I got to know over time. I’ve had years to observe. See, I got to know him before he ever became a doctor, but there was always something in him, something which the years of medical training brought out and hardened into what you can still see.”

 

“If ye say so, m’lady.”

 

Fausto heard something and held up his hand. Marilyn was going to say something, but noticed the look in his eye, and listened. At first there was nothing, but then she heard it too. From behind them came the sound of horses. Then she could see, in the enveloping darkness, the arrival of many mounted men. The men dismounted and came up to where the three brothers and Marilyn stood. Fausto greeted his comrades with a grim smile, and then went over to the leader and explained in a low whisper what had happened.

 

After discussing their strategy, Fausto came back to Marilyn, and told her that she would stay back, as he and his men carried out their rescue. And he told her that Stefano would stay back with her and would protect her with his life.

 

Marilyn swallowed hard, and then asked “But, but… Bob. Do you know where he’s gone?” Marilyn asked.

 

“Aye, that we do,” said Fausto. “These men saw him, and his companions.”

 

“Well, I won’t look… I can’t.”

 

“Nay, m’lady, nor should ye. Stefano shall guard ye well.”

 

The guardsmen began to mount up. Some of them went with Justinian, and began to disappear into the woods, to the left. The others stood their ground and waited. Stefano took Marilyn back into the sheltering trees. And then the waiting began. All seemed silent ahead. As darkness fell, one could make out the light from within the hut, through its one window.

 

And then it came. The sound of the whippoorwill. It came from beyond the little hut. The guards about the hut paid no attention, but at the sound, Fausto and his men drew their swords and moved toward the little building. They left their horses behind and made almost no sound in their advance.

 

Marilyn turned away from what was ahead. She honestly did not want to see what this silent army would be doing to the men guarding their captives. She could hear from her distance the sounds of scuffling, and the clash of swords, and even that made her insides roil. She sat down and put her hands over her ears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the hut Eustace was lying down, with his head on his mother’s lap. As his consciousness began to clear, he recognized the aching in his muscles and the throbbing in his temples as the telltale signs of another seizure. Judy was kneeling at Diane’s side, and was gently rubbing his head. Standing by were Chauncey, Gilbert and Stoneheft, who had brought Eustace back inside, and carefully laid him down within the hut. Concern began to vanish as the youth regained his alertness. Then they heard it. From outside their enclosure came the sound of a whippoorwill. Immediately Stoneheft leapt for the door and signaled the other two to come over. Judy heard and understood its meaning, but she seemed to freeze.

 

“Bob! Where have they taken Bob?” Her voice came out as a hoarse half whisper.

 

Chauncey’s voice penetrated her alarm. “Lady, Judy, he shall be safe. He is with Hermes.”

 

“Hermes? What do you mean?”

 

“Trust me, I do know that Hermes is the avowed caretaker of your husband. He shall not fail!”

 

It was then that the hut was swarmed by the rush of men, with swords drawn and grim faces. And before anyone had time to consider what to do next, they were herded outside, and off into the forest.

 

 

 

 

 

  

Friday, August 14, 2020

Center Game, Heir of Drachma, Book Two - Chapter Eight

Here, for your enjoyment is the next chapter of Center Game, Heir of Drachma, Book Two. This is Chapter Eight. In this chapter we bring in some characters who are to become important as the story moves along. Enjoy!


Chapter Eight

 

 

 

“There, ye see it! There, down the hill.” Rowan’s hoarse whisper carried to the men behind him.

 

“Aye, without doubt. That be the place,” answered Simeon, who was the leader of this group. “Yet it looks strangely deserted. I would expect more men about.”

 

“Perhaps they are all inside,” suggested Jeremy. “Just how many could there be? And we have forty able and armed men.”

 

“Aye, we do,” said Simeon, “but still, I am not at ease. I would but like one or two outside – ones whom we could capture, if ye know what I mean… But we shall have to be very careful not to alert anyone inside.”

 

Simeon gathered his men, and told them they would split into two teams, and approach the hut from both sides, going around from the back. Then, as dusk fell, he would give the signal, and they would attack, with Simeon and two others, as well as the two youths going for the door to the cave. He made sure that specific instructions were to be carried out by certain guardsmen. Next the group split up, and each group headed down indirectly toward the hut. Each man watched as the sun set, and with the ever growing darkness, awaited the signal of attack.

 

From his hidden vantage point, Simeon watched carefully, and noticed the complete lack of activity about the hut. As the sun had set, and they had the element of surprise, as well as the cover of darkness working for them, he whistled the sound of a whippoorwill, and as one the two parties converged on the hut. Finding no one outside, he then, along with a dozen warriors, burst into the hut, and on the inside, they found but a solitary old man. He was tied to one of the posts and had obviously been beaten about the head. He was still alive, though and called out to the men in anguish. Still sensing that there was still the possibility of urgency elsewhere, Simeon had a few of his men untie the old man, while he took Jeremy and Rowan, and three others toward the entryway to the cave.

 

Finding the entryway dark and steep, he and his companions crept down carefully. As they entered the dank underground room, he called out “Melchior! Lisa!” but was met with his own echo and the quiet stench of the place. Simeon noticed one of the torches was still burning, and he had one of the men bring it down to the center of the room. They looked about, and could see only the upturned wine barrel, and no other furniture. They then noticed the water jug, and the single cup. Simeon then knelt down, and felt with his hand, and noticed the floor was damp by the cup. He then went over to the wine barrel, and looked down, to notice that, in the sawdust, someone had scratched out the letters MELC.

 

“Well, me lads, ‘twould appear that this room was used by our Melchior and Lisa, and I would say that they have been taken away today.”

 

“Aye, and I should think that they were taken quite suddenly,” noted Jeremy. “Perhaps the man up in the house could tell us somethin’.”

 

“As ye say, laddie. Then we’ll go back and speak with him.”

 

When they got up the stairs, they found the old man had been untied, and was sitting in one of the rough chairs upstairs. Seeing the man brought a flood of memories to Simeon.

 

“Well, lads, this be Allen…Allen o’ Burridge, none other!”

 

“I am he, Master Simeon, me ol’ friend.” Despite his wounds, there appeared a sparkle of grateful recognition in his old eyes. “Tell me, how long has it been?”

 

“More years than I care to recall. What has happened t’ ye? Last I recall ye were still acting as carpenter in Clannach, but that was a mere ruse, was it not?”

 

“Oh, aye, that it were, me good sir. Fer it ‘twas merely what I did to keep bread on me table. As ye know, fer years I was a watchman fer Drachma. An’ fer all those years none knew o’ me. That is exceptin’ his own men.”

 

Rowan and Jeremy came closer to the man, for here was someone who knew of the lost years. Those years before the earl’s death, and before the arrival of Robert and Judy, and before Tom and Eustace’s rising up.

 

“Well, me good man,” continued Simeon, “ye shall have to accompany us, if ye’re able. And ye shall have to tell of those years. But now, d’ye need anything? Ye’ve been beaten about the head, and left here, tied to this post. Are ye hurt anywhere else?”

 

“Nay, Master Simeon, the men who had me held captive left in haste, when the one in charge came in an’ told the men t’ take their two prisoners anon. And hurry they did. But before I did swoon from their beating, I could see the two prisoners, though faintly. One I could tell was Master Melchior, but the other was but a young lassie. And the men just left out the door as I did swoon. Now, that’s the last I remember, afore ye came in.”

 

“Ah, Allen, I’m so sorry…” answered Simeon, genuinely grieved. “Me men shall take care o’ ye, and shall bind up yer wounds, and shall feed ye. And then after I seek out which way they went, I shall come back t’ ye, and we shall talk some more. Now Jeremy here, and Rowan can take care o’ ye, with an armed guard about the place. Now, I’ll take me men, and see what we can find o’ these men. But, before I go, I must ask ye, was Antoine LeGace among the men?”

 

“Ah, Simeon, he was among these men! I hadn’t heard that vile name in years. But I only seen ‘im briefly afore they beat me.”

 

“Well enough, me old friend. Now I know I must come back and talk t’ ye. But fer now, I shall leave ye in the hands o’ these fine lads. And rest assured that I shall also post an armed guard outside.” Then, turning to Jeremy, said, “And so, m’lads, ye’ve got a most important charge with ye here. Take care o’ the old fellow. And be certain, that anything he tells ye, ye can believe. The name o’ Allen o’ Burridge is one that’s revered among us.”

 

Simeon strode over to his men and set up assignments. Next he went outside, and began his inspection of the grounds, and within five minutes, was gone. But as he said, he left armed guards, and one bowman back at the building. 

 

 

 

 

After cleaning up the painful wounds on Allen’s head, Rowan and Jeremy got their charge some water, some bread, dried fruits and some dried venison. The old man took their offering thankfully, and quietly ate his fill. After a few minutes the old man sat back in his chair. As he sat there, the two youths came closer, and Rowan timidly asked, “Master Allen, it seems that ye’ve been a watchman fer Drachma. And we ourselves are now similarly employed by Lord Craycroft.”

 

“Aye, so I gathered, laddie. I’ve had the pleasure o’er the years to be the eyes and ears fer Drachma in me village, an’ beyond. And so it was, that four years ago, I was there t’ welcome Master Robert, as he came upon this isle.”

 

“Ye were there when Master Robert came?” Rowan was astonished. “What can ye tell us of his arrival? And what of his craft… was it magical?”

 

The old man laughed at that. “Ah, m’laddie, if ye’d a been there! Nay, it was no magic craft. Y’see, the first time I spied Master Robert… here he was, brought in by a party of hunters, like some big game they’d just killed. He was all tied up and was not conscious. Now, mind ye, I’d already been warned by Drachma t’ be expectin’ some magical healer from another time. And what I saw hardly fit that description. Now the hunters said that this stranger had gotten up, but had not been able t’ say anythin’, and he but swooned. And ‘twas good fortune that they’d brought ‘im to me.”

 

Allen paused as he took a swallow of water. And then he looked at his two companions as if he was sharing some secret for the first time.

 

“Anyways, whilst the hunters went in search of the forest guardsmen, I just waited, and when he came around, I made polite conversation with him, but then when he mentioned the name of Drachma, I knew right then and there that he was the one fer certain. After that I just kept t’meself, and I ne’er let on.

 

“And t’ this day, I’ve just been keepin’ up on the happenin’s wi’ Master Robert, and his lady, an’ wi’ Master Craycroft.” Allen paused before speaking again, and it was with a note of cold warning. “What I’ll tell ye lads is that this LeGace fellow is not one t’ be reckoned with any too lightly. I tell ye, and this comes from one who has seen his share o’ evil men, that Antoine LeGace is the face o’ the devil here among us. So, be careful, and if ye can avoid him, ye’d be much the better. Now, have ye seen him?”

 

Jeremy answered, “Oh, aye, we have. And we’ve been keepin’ an eye on ‘im. That’s why we were sent on this mission.”

 

“Well, that be fine an’ good, me lads. But if ye think ye’ll be catchin’ ‘im unawares, then I’d be thinkin’ again. Now, we must be gettin’ back t’yer boat afore ‘e finds out. Don’t ye think?”

 

“But what of Simeon, and the men?” asked Rowan.

 

“Ah, me laddies, if ye only knew, Master LeGace has a hundred or more men in these woods, so I’d say that ye’d a better chance on a boat than in these woods agin’ that foe. And don’t ye think that we owe it to Master Craycroft to tell him. Also, I believe the safest route fer ye would t’ git back t’ yer boats.”

 

The consternation on their faces was evident – so much so that Allen had to tell them that he knew a way down to the boats, which not even the men of LeGace knew. After a brief discussion with the men guarding the house, it was decided that the safety of Allen did warrant his escape from the island by boat. And though he thanked them for offering assistance, Allen declined, and told them that he knew of a safe, and well-hidden passage down to the boats, and that the company of Jeremy and Rowan was all he could risk. The guards then agreed to tell Simeon of what happened.

 

But the way that Allen had in mind took the youths by surprise. He led them back down into the underground room. He took the one torch that was there and led them back into the dark and smelly recesses of the odd room. There, on the floor was what appeared to be an apparatus for drying pelts. Beneath it, though, was a carefully crafted connection to the subfloor below. With the help of the two youths, Allen had it open. Shining his torch into the passageway, he indicated the way down. He told them that he would go first, and they were to follow, but to be certain that the apparatus was back in place before they went on.

 

Jeremy and Rowan did as instructed and the old passageway below the room opened up before them.

 

“This way, lads,” said Allen. “Me years as a carpenter were not without benefit. Fer ‘twas I who crafted this old escape route. And it were fer Drachma that I did it, too. Now that be a story fer another time. Now, come on, but careful o’ yer heads.

 

The three of them wound their way through the underground cavern for what seemed like an hour or more. Then Allen put up his hand in a signal. Up ahead they could see some light.

 

“Now, lads,” whispered Allen, “this cavern come out through some brush and tall grass, and some large rocks up ahead. I don’t expect anyone t’ be guardin’ this region, but I shall go out ’n see, an’ if the way be safe then I’ll come back an’ tell ye. Now, just wait ye here…”

 

Jeremy and Rowan waited and held the torch, as the old man crept forward, then out of view. A soft moonlight flooded the small exit. In the silence, they could hear the sound of the ocean off in the distance.

 

Then Allen’s silhouette could be seen ahead, and he said, “The way is safe, lads. Ye may come out, an’ I’ll show ye the rest o’ the way to the boat docks.”

 

As they came out of the tunnel, Jeremy looked back, and could see how this particular tunnel would be safe from any prying eyes. A more inconspicuous underground passageway would be hard to design. He stored that bit of information away for possible future use.

 

For the next half mile, they followed a nearby deer trail, to where the island jutted out to the sea. Allen pointed ahead, and said in a half whisper, “around yonder bend be the south boat dock. It should be guarded by some o’ Simeon’s men. But I should be as quiet as possible fer now, an’ then we’ll see.”

 

The two nodded their understanding. They crept quietly ahead and could see the men guarding the boats. Jeremy and Rowan both recognized the men but were met with drawn swords.

 

“Well, Jeremy and Rowan! We thought we’d heard someone creepin’ up on us... but this man, with ye … we know ‘im not. Now, ye’ll have to explain yerselves.”

 

“Now, Marcus, just put down yer weapons,” answered Jeremy. “This man was but a prisoner in the hut up yonder, and he had been beaten about the head an’ neck. And besides, he was barely even conscious when we arrived. His name be Allen o’ Burridge. You might have heard o’ him.”

 

“This… this be Allen o’ Burridge?”

 

“Oh, aye, that be me, indeed.” The old man’s eyes twinkled. “And I’ll tell ye lads, that this old man needs t’ lie down in one o’ thy boats, an’ get back to Shepperton.”

 

 

 

 

 

  

Friday, August 7, 2020

Center Game, Heir of Drachma, Book Two - Chapter Seven

 Here is my next chapter in the developing saga of the Books of Drachma. As before, if you have any comments, either constructive or otherwise, I'd be delighted to hear them!

 

 

 

 

After walking all day through the mountainous forestland, tied together with his companions, and with nothing to eat and drink, the thought of actually stopping for the night seemed to Bob Gilsen a forgotten dream. So, when he heard the voice of Gregorio telling them that the shelter ahead was going to be their destination, he breathed a prayer of thanks. The prisoners were led into an abandoned stone building, and they were untied. They were informed that they might converse, and they were free to wander within the building, but that there would be guards set about, and they could not wander out of their enclosure without permission.

 

Looking about the pathetic hovel they were thrust into, the prisoners seemed too tired to make any complaint. Seeing no furniture of any kind, Bob eased his aching frame down to the mud floor of the shack, next to Judy.

 

“How are you holding up, dear?” he asked.

 

“A sight better than you, by the looks of things. Here, let me hold you.” Judy noted that Bob was looking rather peaked. He visibly relaxed in her arms, as he closed his eyes, and let his mind give in to her touch. “Maybe Hermes could, at the very least, ask for some water from the guards.”

 

“M’lady, of course. Eustace and I shall see what we may get to drink and to eat… for all here.”

 

As Hermes and Eustace made their way to the door of the enclosure, the remainder of the prisoners clustered around Bob and Judy. There was so much that they all needed to talk about, but with Kevin still held outside, they were limited in what they could plan.

 

Stoneheft looked at the diverse group of prisoners, and, in a hushed voice addressed them.

 

“Now, as ye were walkin’ and ridin’ earlier today,” he said, “some of ye may have heard what appeared to be the call o’ the whippoorwill coming out of the forest.”

 

Judy’s face lit up in response.

 

“To us, of the Forest Guard, that was signal – from others of our brotherhood – that we have been seen, and that we should not try to escape, nor to make our captors in any way wary. So, what I ask of all ye is that ye just do just that until the rescue attempt is made.”

 

“When shall it be?” asked Diane. “Is there any way of knowing?”

 

“Nay. There be no way of knowin’, though I tell ye be as natural as your condition allows. And believe me when I tell ye, it shall be a right bloody mess outside these walls. But now, I would hush, and not let on that ye’ve heard these things from me – and believe me, Kevin also heard the signal, and knows of its import.”

 

Chauncey and Gilbert looked at one another, then they got up, and went over to Stoneheft, and the three of them quietly conferred. Meanwhile, Diane went to Judy and asked quietly how she was feeling. She felt with her hands, and laid her head on Judy’s abdomen, and listened intently, and she looked down at Judy’s ankles, noticing the puffiness.

 

“Thus far the child does appear to be havin’ a healthy heartbeat. But mind ye, lady, to be takin’ care and rest as ye may. I do fear that your babe has dropped, and ye may be getting’ somewhat uncomfortable.” 

 

“Well, you’re right about the baby dropping, Diane. I felt that on the ride. But I don’t feel any contractions yet. But the fact that she dropped could mean that I could go into labor at any time.”

 

Diane sat back up, then said, “aye, m’lady that it does… I fear that it is out of our hands. Ye couldst labor at any time, but I would guess that ye’ll be deliverin’ within a fortnight at the most, and it could even happen within a day.”

 

As Diane was saying this, Bob was starting to get pale. As the most educated physician in the realm, he nevertheless felt acutely out of his element. All his obstetrical training stopped in medical school, and he recalled that he had delivered perhaps twenty babies in that time – years (or centuries) ago. And now here he was with his spouse, who was truly about to deliver at any time, and whose own obstetrical experience was even more current than his. Yet he was now here, and completely unable to procure the services of anyone except this midwife, with no formal training, but who had assisted with the birth of who knew how many babies? 

 

Judy had sensed his acute anxiety, and she turned to him, and laid her hand on his shoulder, then said, “Now, Bob, I know that you’re worried. But believe me that your worry isn’t going to change a thing. This child is going to come into this world regardless of whether you’ve got an obstetrician here or not. And so, you’ve just got to trust Diane. Even though you’ve studied for all those years, Diane has also had years of practical experience in helping women in labor. And besides that, I need you more as my coach and companion than as my doctor.”

 

Somehow, what Judy said did not ease his discomfort. He realized full well what a pickle he had gotten them in, and knowing that all this was going to happen, regardless of what they decided, seemed to make his discomfort even more acute. He began to second-guess the decisions that had been made. He thought of his home within the castle, and he thought about the book he had been writing, and he thought of Melchior and his newest discovery.

 

Then his thoughts came back to Judy, and her circumstances, and how her pregnancy had at first been such a surprise. After all, it was he who was apparently sterile, according to the fertility expert “back home.” That episode of mumps as a young child had left him unable to produce sperm, and so he had resigned himself to the fact that he could never have children of his own. So, when Judy missed a couple of periods, the thought of her being pregnant was the farthest thing from his mind, though not hers. As the months went along, and it became obvious that she was, in fact, pregnant with his child, Judy blossomed with unexpected energy. For a while they told no one but Jeanne and Melchior of her condition, and how their dinners together became their weekly celebration of new life. And now, with Judy and Jeanne able to share the secret joys of motherhood and impending motherhood together, he looked back on those months as the happiest of his time so far in Shepperton.

 

And Judy came to realize as well that this pregnancy was truly special. And she became so convinced that it was a girl she was carrying, that she wouldn’t even consider boys’ names. And she had it so firmly wrapped in her mind that she and Jeanne would often speak of her little angel. And so, it was decided that the girl would be named either Maggie or Angelica. And the final decision would be made when they saw her.

 

But now, here – in this old stone building, out in the forest of nowhere – it seemed too much like a heavy dose of reality was weighing down on Bob and Judy.

 

“I know what you’re saying is true, Judy. And I would be a fool to not admit that I’m worried, very worried. Out here, away from even what the castle could provide in the way of security, we’re just the two of us with our little group of friends. And we’re now prisoners, in the hands of some tyrant with an agenda that he only knows.”

 

“If you think about it, my dear,” answered Judy, “how is that any different from what we have already been through? We have, since we first got here, always been at the mercy of someone more powerful. And in reality, it’s been us two together, who have been buffeted. You see, it’s not that we’re especially adept or strong. Rather, it’s been the knowledge that we brought with us which makes us stand out. And yet our knowledge from our own time has not made us powerful. Not in this realm.”

 

“Ironic isn’t it, Judy? If anything, it has made us less powerful, or so we think. In our world, back in the twentieth century, we thought nothing of traveling, nothing of leaving our homes behind. We could, it seems, always go back. And when I first got here, that was my assumption, too, that I would be able to just go back. It took me quite some time to realize that I was not in charge of where I was, how I got here or why. And in reality, it was the knowledge that I brought with me which kept me here.”

 

“And so it has been,” said Judy, “with me as well…”

 

“Master Robert! Come hence.” It was Hermes’ voice coming from the door. “It be Eustace… he’s havin’ a fit!”

 

Bob leapt up and ran to the doorway. There, on the ground was Eustace, in the throes of a seizure. The men standing guard were looking down on the scene but stood back in fear. Bob immediately went down on his knees and checked to make sure that the young man had not injured himself. Next, he reached down and made certain that his airway was open, and that if he had bitten his tongue, that blood was not filling his mouth. Seeing his mother coming toward them, Bob said to her, “He’s having another seizure, Diane. It looks as if he’ll be all right, though. Could you get me a clean rag?”

 

Diane reached into her bodice and pulled out a handkerchief, which she quickly handed to Bob. Bob took the small cloth and gently wiped the sides of the youth’s mouth, and next he took it and fit it inside his cheek, where the mix of blood and spittle collected on the cloth. The young man’s seizing began to ease up, and his breathing became more regular. Diane took his head in her lap, and then began caressing his face with her hands.

 

Meanwhile, their guards began to recover their wits, and closed ranks about the small scene in the doorway. One of them spoke to Bob, saying, “What happened? Why this boy do this?”

 

Bob thought about it for just a second, then with sudden intuition, turned to the guard and said, “What this young fellow had is called a seizure. It is, in his case caused by being forced to walk for hours with nothing to drink or to eat.”

 

The guard peered down at the scene with a puzzled look upon his face. But somehow, he recognized Bob’s authority in this matter. He quickly spoke something to another guard in a language not understood by anyone there. The other man ran off, and soon came back with a jug of water, and another sack, which he handed to Bob. Bob took the sack of food, and the jug of water, and stood up. As he walked back into the hut, he noticed the sickly sweet smell of the water. He brought it up to his nose – there was no doubt about that smell.  The Creek of the Dead! With a groan, he handed the sack of food to Hermes. He next took the jug of water and poured it out onto the ground, and then he turned on his heels and headed back to the door.

 

By the door he turned to one of the guards, and asked, “This water, where did you get it? And who has drunk of it? This water is poisoned!”

 

Looking startled, the guard answered, “We have all drunk of that water. Whence it came – I know not.” Then he took Bob by the arm and led him toward Count Gregorio. Hermes followed close behind.

 

 

 

 

 

On board his newly outfitted ship, which he had named the Tremaine, after his former ill-fated three-master from his first voyage to Shepperton, the earl of Derrymoor stood at the railing with Titus and looked toward the northwest. The sun was just rising in the east.

 

“I believe that be Shepperton, Titus. And I do believe that we shall make landfall by this evening. I cannot help but believe that much may have happened since we got the letters.”

 

“Oh, aye, that be Shepperton, without a doubt. And with this fair wind we should easily make land by evening. Would ye want me to send our pigeon? At least to let them know that we arrive?”

 

“Aye, that be me thinking, precisely. The fewer surprises at this time, the better.” The earl went quickly below, and, while Titus procured the pigeon, fetched a small piece of paper, and on it he wrote:

 

Craycroft,

We come, this evening. Have everything prepared.

I come with fifty men, all seasoned warriors.

Much to tell, and to hear.

Your friend,

Derrymoor

 

Next, he rolled the paper into a tiny roll, and slipped it into the small container attached to the pigeon’s left foot. Then the two men ascended the stairs to the deck. With a word of encouragement, the earl of Derrymoor then let the bird loose, and they watched as the pigeon flew about the ship for a couple of turns, then headed toward Shepperton Island.

 

Satisfied that they had done what they could, the earl turned toward Titus and said, “Well, I’ll tell ye, me man. If my prior experience counts for something, I do believe that we should be prepared for anything. And that nothing shall turn out the way we could expect.”