Aim Higher Books
proudly presents a free mini e-book:
The Quest: Baron Gerald
Editor’s note: The following story takes place after Aim Higher Books’ best selling book “The Quest”, but before “The Quest: The Northmen Cometh”.
A peasant boy flees up the road, his heart racing in terror. Before him, the safety of Harbury Castle; behind him, hundreds of screaming Northmen, burning, raping, killing, and stealing all that they can carry back to their sinister looking dragon ships.
With troubled creases on his brow, Baron Gerald of Harbury glares down from the parapet between the high twin turrets of his modest castle. The peasant boy’s feet echo on the wooden drawbridge below him. Baron Gerald turns to his first knight with a sad heart. “How many have we lost from this raid?”
“More than a score, sire,” Sir Kenneth, snaps militarily. “Those heathen know better than to attack our castle walls; thy people are safe here.”
“How many more will die in the weeks ahead? These raids are becoming more frequent, and my land and peasants grow weaker with each raid.”
“Will thy liege, Duke Halloway of Cannondale help thee, sire?”
“If I ask, he will send his knights,” says the baron watching gray wisps of smoke rising from the small thatched homes and buildings burning in the distance. By the grace of God most of his people have escaped to Harbury Castle; luckily their small fishing boats will not be touched, one of the many Northlander superstitions prevents them from harming sea vessels. “However, with the raids being so sporadic he cannot afford to garrison a permanent body of men of arms here.”
“What of King Edward, sire?”
“If I ask, he shall also send a company of knights, but by the time they get here it will be too late. It takes many days to get here from Citadella and the Northmen raid and depart very quickly.”
“Sire, the heathen draw closer,” warns Sir Kenneth, seeing that the Northmen are now leaving the wharf area and are nearing the small village.
“Very well, raise the drawbridge,” Baron Gerald orders, while still scanning the roads and trails for any more of his people. He loves those under his care, most of which comes naturally from his kind heart, but he had learned much of how to rule from his friend and mentor Sir William of Meade Hall. Baron Gerald can clearly see beyond the smoke more than a dozen dragon ships a mile away resting on the sandy shores of Cold Bay.
“Close the drawbridge!” shouts Sir Kenneth to the three men at the large wooden turnstile. With a crash the iron grated portcullis slams down and with the low clanking of the metal catches on the turnstile, the heavy drawbridge begins to rise.
Outside of the castle walls the small stone church surrounded by a now abandoned fishing village sits in the direct path of the hundreds of savage Northmen. Baron Gerald knows that his archers can reach only out to the church, so he patiently waits while the Northmen ravage the village. He sees the baker and the tallow maker shops burst into flame; at least the craftsmen and their families are safe within these walls. Once the majority of Northmen are within bowshot, Baron Gerald gives the order to fire. “Archers, release!” Bowstrings twang, as fifty bowmen shoot; their arrows fly skyward, arching high in the air, and then rain down upon the savages. Cloth-yard shafts strike! Two score of the savages fall. Immediately, the Northmen flee; having gained much booty in this raid and not willing to suffer needless losses.
Another volley of arrows flies from Harbury, Gunnlaug, one of the Northmen leaders shouts out, “Arrows!”
The Northmen turn to face the volley of shafts whistling through the air, holding their large round wooden shields directly toward them. Thump! Thwack! Thud! Arrows pepper their shields like porcupine quills, only a few Northmen are pierced. The Northmen once again flee leaving behind their dead and wounded. The wounded crawl on elbows and knees trying desperately to reach the dragon ships before their comrades push off to sea. Any Northlander unable to make it back to the ship is left behind, for the Northmen have no use for the weak and crippled.
“We shall give chase, now that they are on the run,” says the baron seeking revenge for the months of periodic raids and devastation that the heathen from the Northland have brought upon his people. “Sting them, so they will hesitate the next time they want to raid here!”
Both in full armor, Sir Kenneth and the baron climb down the wooden staircase to their awaiting horses, putting on their helmets as they walk.
“Father, I shall go with thee,” says Sir Thomas of Harbury, the baron's eldest son dressed in chainmail armor, his bow in hand.
“No, son, I needeth thee to take charge here,” states Gerald sternly. “If I should fall, thou will be lord of Harbury; and all these people wilt need a firm hand and a kind heart to lead them.”
“As thou willeth,” Thomas submits to his father's wisdom.
“Lower the drawbridge,” orders Baron Gerald; as he mounts his steed the iron portcullis begins to rise.
The baron’s squire hands his master his long lance. Baron Gerald sets his lance in its leather holder and quickly kicks his horse into a gallop towards the now lowering drawbridge. His score of knights with sharp lances pointing skyward follow the baron over the drawbridge racing towards the now fleeing savages.
The Northlander chief orders two hundred of his men to stand firm, while ordering the rest carry their booty to the dragon ships. The savages turn to face the charging knights; their shields and battle hammers ready, showing no fear in their eyes. Horse hooves thunder as the knights draw closer, but still the savages bravely stand fast. The knights lower their lances and with a crash, the baron and his knights sweep through the mass of Northmen leaving their lances impaled in the savages. Some lances skewering two or three on one shaft.
“Draw swords!” the baron shouts as they spin their horses around and charge back into the mass of savages. “Only one pass, and then back to the castle!”
The knights charge in and are surrounded as the savages swarm around the knights like soldier ants fighting off an intruder. The Northmen swing their heavy battleaxes unseating half of the knights in the first moments of battle. The impact of a battleaxe dazes the baron as he tumbles from his horse.
“They are indeed giants!” gasps the baron as he scrambles to his feet, sword in hand looking up at the tall men from the north.
“Surround the Baron!” shouts Sir Kenneth as he fights his way to his master’s side. Three other knights on also on horseback join the first knight quickly surrounding the baron as the savages press in. One knight slices with his sword decapitating one savage before falling to a blow to his head from a heavy hammer. Sir Kenneth throws off his shield and reaches an arm down to help Baron Gerald onto the back of his mount. “Quickly! To Harbury!” The baron reaches up, but before he can grasp the hand, Sir Kenneth flies toward him, a battle hammer slamming into his back knocks him off of his horse on top of the baron. Drops of blood flow out of Sir Kenneth’s mouth sprinkling down on the baron’s face as he lies on his back facing his first knight. With his dying breathe Sir Kenneth gurgles, “Sorry, my lord.”
One by one the brave knights fall. With all of his knights now dead, the savages form a circle around the baron. The baron leaps to his feet, sword pointing to those encircling him, pivoting around trying to watch for any sword arcing toward him. The Northlanders stand just out of his sword’s range. The biggest Northlander the baron has ever seen comes out from the crowd and faces the baron.
“Lord Jesus, I place my soul in Thy care,” Baron Gerald prays seeing the hopelessness of his situation. The baron drops his sword in surrender, satisfied with the fact that at least his people are safe behind the strong walls of his castle.
Along with the throng that crowds the castle battlements of Harbury Castle, Sir Thomas watches in horror as the baron is stripped of his armor and led away into captivity; a captivity where none ever return. “Father! Lord Jesus no, not my father!”
Far North of King Edward's Island Kingdom in a frozen wasteland where the icy wind blows and barely a blade of grass grows in the perpetual winter; summer is ending. The women of this place, known only as the Northland, look for signs of their returning husbands and male relatives for the summer raids are now drawing to an end. Every year in the late spring all-able bodied male warriors leave. They go to raid the lands to the south. At the end of summer they return with their bounty of riches and goods, and tall tales of war and valor.
“Sails, Sails!” shouts Hrooolfr, youngest of Chief Hoggvandill's ten children.
Hearing her son's cry, Ingrior, the Chief's wife, jumps up from her sewing with mixed emotions. Will her husband and sons return alive once again or will another funeral be held in the village? Every year at the end of summer, some women cry and some rejoice. Ingrior prays to her god, “Please, Oros, let my husband and sons live!” Ingrior is slender and six feet tall which is average height for a Northland woman. With her long blonde hair flowing out behind her, Ingrior runs up to the small rise of dirt overlooking the entrance to the bay. Ingrior bundles up in her fur overcoat for even in summer it is cold in the Northland. To her joy when she reaches the crest of the dune she spies her husband's longboat leading the flotilla of fifteen dragon ships.
“No black flag,” she sighs joyfully in relief. “Praise to Oros!” The black flag of death flying on a ship's mast signifies a dead warrior on board. Ingrior's husband and three sons will be coming home. Her joy is tempered in the fact that some of the masts do fly the dreaded black flag; which of her friends will suffer the loss of a husband, father or son? The extra portion of the bounty given to them for their loss, will not dull the ache in their hearts that they will feel.
Northlander ships are long, low dragon prowed ships with a single square sail. The sails are reefed down as they enter the wind-sheltered bay. Oars stick out of the sides between the round shields that line the gunwale. The rhythmic arc of the oars sliding into the water and then splashing out move the warships speedily to the shore. Thousands of women and children rush to the shore as news of the warrior's return spreads throughout the village. The women strain to see if any black flags fly on their loved ones ships as they await the arrival of their fierce army of fighting men. The longboats slide onto the sandy beach and 700 warriors disembark. The warriors are immediately greeted with hugs, tears and shouts of joy. Most of the warriors have returned alive and the spoils from the foreign lands are great.
After the initial welcome is over, the Northlander warriors go back to their longboats first to unload slaves that they have captured from many lands. Each slave has already been given to a warrior as an award for brave acts as determined by Chief Hoggvandill. Then, the warriors unload the riches for Chief Hoggvandill and the village in general. Finally, their individual booty is taken off the ships and the warriors are free to go to their homes.
Baron Gerald of Harbury, with hands bound tight behind his back, follows Chief Hoggvandill to his home. Baron Gerald is a well-known noble of the Island Kingdom, and is well liked by King Edward. Baron Gerald was picked to be the personal slave of the Chief because of his nobility. Baron Gerald is of average height for men of the Island Kingdom (five foot nine inches tall), average build, with dark hair, and a kind face. In stark contrast to his new master, Chief Hoggvandill, who is seven feet tall with long blond hair and beard, and mounds of rippling muscles that would make an ox loader jealous. His height is average for the men of the Northland. Baron Gerald staggers as he follows his tall burly master. He is tired from his seemingly endless time at sea. The baron was deprived of food, which he probably would not have been able to keep down anyway; and he only received the minimal amount of water to keep him alive. He felt frozen half the time and bundled up tightly in the fur blankets that seemed to be everywhere on the ship. Half of the slaves captured had perished during their trip to the Northland. Baron Gerald prayed to the Lord Jesus throughout his journey for strength to survive.
That evening there is a great feast to celebrate the safe return of their warriors and the great riches that were taken. Huge bonfires burn brightly as men and women wildly dance around the light of the fires. The warmth from the fires is pleasant and the food and drink are plentiful. They all feast and drink their brew like there will be no tomorrow. The celebration goes on all night. It is a happy time for Chief Hoggvandill's village.
On a ridge overlooking the celebrating village stands a powerful demon known as Bashshar the Heartless. Invisible to all, he walks down into the midst of the celebrants looking for the village leader.
Chief Hoggvandill lies on his back, flat on the ground with his stomach full and a happy drunken grin on his face. His head is supported by his wife's lap as she kneels next to her husband. She runs her hands through her husbands golden locks happy that he is home. Ingrior is as content as a Northland woman can be, for her husband and all of her children are alive and safe.
Finding the Chief of this village, Bashshar enters Chief Hoggvandill body and possesses it. Bashshar probes the Northlander’s mind looking for something that he can use to bring his evil objectives to fruition. Bashshar is pleased at what he finds; a mind full of hidden hatred for the man he himself loathes. Bashshar incites Hoggvandill’s deepest anger, which has been hiding for years, to ooze to the surface once again.
“Of all the villages we ravaged nothing pleased me more than raiding those of King Edward,” Chief Hoggvandill says coldly.
“I thought you had long buried those futile angry thoughts. You must get over it, my love,” whispers his wife softly. “Nothing you can do can bring her back.”
Bashshar provokes anger from deep within Hoggvandill and pours thoughts into the Chief's mind. The Chief repeats these very words to his wife, “That vile King Edward took her away from us to his land, so she could meet her death.”
“She went willingly, my love, we spoke about this before, many times,” reasons Ingrior. “She fell in love with King Edward. He did not want her to die anymore than we did.”
“Northlander females could never love any, but a Northlander,” insists the chief, inflamed by Bashshar's prodding.
“Your sister did love him,” insists Ingrior firmly. “I thought we settled that matter over twenty-five years ago?”
“No, I refuse to believe that, ever,” growls Chief Hoggvandill his face growing red with anger. “I will have my revenge on that coward Edward.”
“My love, it is pointless to dwell on such things,” pleads Ingrior scared at the anger she sees in her husband’s eyes. There is no telling what he will do. She has only seen him this angry twice before. Once when his sister chose to stay with that island king and another time when his father was slain. Both times men had died. “King Edward rules a mighty nation. While you rule, however so great my husband, but a village.”
Bashshar pours thoughts of prideful grandeur into the chief's mind and the chief seizes them as his own. Chief Hoggvandill with eyes blazing suddenly stands on wobbly legs and shouts, “I will unite all of the villages of the Northland into a single kingdom! I will conquer King Edward's kingdom! I shall finally have my revenge!”
Ingrior remains silent trying to convince herself that it is only the drink talking, and that he will remember none of this in the morning.
Bashshar laughs, for his evil strategy has now begun. Bashshar reflects cynically, that the moral female is wrong, this mortal Hoggvandill will lead a mighty army for him. Then Bashshar will get his revenge on that insolent King Edward and it will be he who will bring down Edward’s kingdom. He relishes the thought of plucking out Edward's eyes from his soft human head and mounting them on his throne in the Underworld, so the mortal will always see it was Bashshar who brought him down.
Away from the celebration, just outside of the small village sits Chief Hoggvandill’s home. It is a modest looking single story rock and mortar building with a straw thatched roof. Inside are ten bedrooms. The slaves' quarters are in a small building attached to the back of Chief Hoggvandill's house. In the slaves’ quarters a small fire burns in an old rock fireplace effectively keeping out the cold.
“Will I always be in chains?” asks Baron Gerald, who is chained to a post, while the other two slaves in the small one room building are not restrained in any way.
“No,” says a slight middle-aged woman in drab peasant rags. She holds her head high and has the airs that she might have been a lady of nobility in another land. “When the master believes that you are no longer a threat to escape, you will be free of your shackles.”
“For all the good it does,” says an old gray-haired gentleman lying on a soft bed of straw. “This land is a wasteland where nothing grows; it is a wonder these people can survive here at all.”
“What is thy name?” Baron Gerald asks the woman.
“Lady Narnia,” answers the woman. “I am from the Great Southern Kingdom; and your name?”
“Baron Gerald of Harbury, I am from the Island Kingdom.”
“I was a Lady of some importance also,” says Narnia sadly. “But, you'll soon find out that titles mean nothing to these barbarians.”
“How long hast thou been here?” asks the baron.
“Six long years,” she begins to weep. “It has been like... I've been sent to hell. Why me?”
“We all wonder that at times, but God always has a purpose for our trials.”
“God?” growls the older man. “I do not believe in God.”
“Whether thou believeth in Him or not, is irrelevant,” says the Baron. “God is, and that is all that matters. What is thy name?”
“My name is Gorbash, I am from the Far Eastern Kingdom and I have been serving the house of Hoggvandill for thirty years.”
“In all that time thou hast never had a chance to escape?” asks an astonished Baron Gerald.
“Like I said before, this place is a cold vast wasteland. Where would you go?”
Baron Gerald concludes that this man is a fool and not to be trusted, for the baron would rather to die free than be a slave.
Loud angry shouts explode from the Chief's house and the slaves quickly go silent with fear. Baron Gerald prays for a way home.
Three weeks later, the first of the fall storms blow in the cold land of the north. Ingrior stands in the doorway of her home in a feeble attempt to block Chief Hoggvandill from leaving.
“Where are you off to in your war clothes?” pleads Ingrior angrily standing before the mountain of flesh. “It is not the time of war.”
“Woman, stand aside,” growls the massive warrior chieftain. He is dressed in a fur covered chainmail vest, twin-horned helmet, with a long fur cape draped behind, and a huge battle-hammer strapped to his side. “I will be back by week's end.”
“Hoggvandill you are obsessed with waging war on that Island Kingdom,” pleads his wife. “No good can come from this.”
Hoggvandill lifts his wife gently out of the way and walks by her saying, “This is man's business.”
Baron Gerald in leg shackles follows the chieftain carrying a large bundle of provisions on his back. Even with the thick fur jacket the icy cold winds stab right through his clothing chilling his body.
Why would anyone even want to live here? Thinks Baron Gerald shivering as he walks. Ice, snow, the whiteness is everywhere he looks, and winter is still months away.
Down the snow covered path the chieftain meets with his three warrior sons and two of his loyal ship captains. The warriors are all between seven and eight feet tall, dwarfing Baron Gerald. Each warrior is also dressed like his Chief, but in addition they carry a large round shield.
“It will be good to get away from the village,” laughs Valdr, one of his captains.
“Ha, it will be good to get away from my wife,” laughs Olfr, another of his loyal captains. “I had forgotten how much she nags.”
“That is why I waited a few weeks,” laughs Hoggvandill. “I knew my warriors would be getting tired of the routines of domestic life.”
The six warriors walk to the top of the ridge separating their domain from the rest of the Northland. Baron Gerald staggering under the heavy load of provisions lags woefully behind.
“Where are we going first?” asks one of Hoggvandill's sons, Gunnlaug.
Hoggvandill's eyes narrow evilly and glow from the being within as he answers, "We will go to all of the smaller villages along the coast, and once they have joined us we will have enough power to force the rest of Northland to join us, or die."
“Northland will surely crown you as their king, father,” says Roorefr, eldest of the chief's sons, who stands almost eight feet tall.
“Hail, King Hoggvandill,” shouts the entire band of warriors.
“One step at a time, first we must convince the smaller villages to join us,” says Hoggvandill solemnly.
“They will,” assures Valdr confidently. “Alone, they are weak.”
“Then this spring,” boasts Gunnlaug with a shout. “We will conquer King Edward and possess his land as our own!”
With that last statement, a chill of fear runs deeply through Baron Gerald. He knows that if they pull this coalition together it will mean end of the Island Kingdom. Somehow he must warn King Edward.
Three weeks later, in his village’s Long Hall, where the men gather for town meetings and drink; Chief Hoggvandill drinks in celebration.
“The first part of my plan was a success!” shouts Chief Hoggvandill lifting his mug of brew high in the air to the crowded hall, full of warriors.
“Father,” Gunnlaug says proudly. “Your military prowess is so well known that the coastal villages swore their allegiance to you without even a single battle.”
Seeing a united Northland under their leader within their grasps, all of the warriors in the hall raise their mugs in the air and shout, “Hail, King Hoggvandill!”
“Do not be so presumptuous as to think that the next step will be easy,” Chief Hoggvandill shouts above the cries of victory. “We have twenty of the smaller villages swearing their allegiance to me, but,” the room grows quieter as the Chief continues, “but, will the larger villages fight us or join us?”
“Victory or death,” is the shout from the warriors. “Hail, King Hoggvandill!”
Chief Hoggvandill smiles, if he can get this kind of loyalty from the rest of the Northland, victory over King Edward is assured.
A few weeks later, in the Long Hall of Chief Hoggvandill, the first gathering of the Northland village chiefs is going well.
“Forty-five villages,” Valdr laughs as he slaps his old friend, the chieftain, on the back. “The only holdouts are the villages of Chief Thrainn and Svavarr.”
“Then they will die,” growls Chief Hoggvandill evilly. “We now have over fifty thousand warriors; they have but five thousand combined.”
Baron Gerald stands outside of the Long Hall in the cold night air waiting for his master to return. “At least I am now free from those leg shackles,” shivers the baron as he rubs his arms trying to produce friction to warm up his arms. Slaves are not allowed inside the building, so the baron and a few other slaves wait patiently in the freezing night air for their masters to emerge. Baron Gerald can easily hear what is unfolding inside and it troubles him deeply.
As Bashshar looks out through Hoggvandill's eyes, he is please at how quickly his plan has come together. All that remains is for these mortals of dust to anoint Hoggvandill as their king, and then the preparations for war can begin. With his demon followers, who now possess these key chiefs, this task should be easy.
“Only two villages have defied our call for unity!” shouts one the forty-five village chieftains.
“Then they will die!” shouts Hoggvandill. “A united Northland will be written on their dead bodies. A united Northland will be unstoppable.”
“A king, he has spoken like a true king!” shouts another chief.
“Hail, King Hoggvandill!” shouts all in the room in unison. “Hail, King Hoggvandill!”
A week later, in the wasteland known as the Northland, King Hoggvandill marches into his village with his seven hundred personal warriors, who are shouting songs of victory.
“So, the Northland is finally united,” Baron Gerald says to the middle-aged slave woman known as Narnia.
“That is of no concern to us,” says Narnia who is polishing the master's silver bowls.
“It should be,” snaps Baron Gerald, more harshly than he intended. “Sorry, Narnia, but, with these barbarians united the entire civilized world is on the brink of extinction.”
“There is nothing we can do about it,” mumbles Narnia with apathy.
“I must escape and get word to my people,” says the baron resolutely. “I must warn my king.”
The baron stops speaking as, Gorbash, the older slave enters the room, “What are you two whispering about?”
“We were just discussing the great victory of King Hoggvandill,” says the Baron quickly.
“That is of no concern of yours, you are but a slave, and that is all you will ever be,” says Gorbash. “Now, follow me to the main house, we have some grain to bring in from the cellar.”
He must escape, thinks Baron Gerald as he follows Gorbash to the main house. A boat is the only way out of here. But, how will he navigate? How will he control it all by himself?
Later that evening, when Baron Gerald is sure that he and Narnia are alone he tells her, “I have a plan to escape, doest thou want to come with me?”
Narnia’s eyes widen in fear, “Is it safe?”
“Nay, there are risks,” says the baron sadly. “But, I must risk my life to save my homeland.”
Narnia nervously glances around, hesitating to commit herself.
“Look, thou doest not have to come with me, I am not forcing thee.”
“I know, but things have been going well here recently.”
“That is only because King Hoggvandill has been preoccupied with conquering the Northland. Just think about it. But, I do need some help.”
“Help?” exclaims Narnia petrified in fear.
“Nothing too hard... Nothing too risky,” the baron assures her. “But thou hath access to places where I cannot go.”
“What do you need?” asks Narnia tentatively.
“I think I can commandeer a small rowboat and enough supplies to get me to the Island Kingdom,” confides the baron. “I have access to food and I've seen where the small one man boats are kept.”
“Then what do you need?”
“What is a Sunstone?”
“The Northlanders use it to navigate, it changes color when ’tis faced toward the Sun,” says the baron.
“What good is that? You can easily see the sun by just looking up into the sky.”
“Up here ’tis foggy and overcast all the time, a Sunstone can tell me where the Sun is even through the clouds.”
“Perhaps, but, I think not. I watched the warriors on the long voyage here using it and I think I can also.”
“So how do you expect me to get one?”
“Ingrior wears many of them as jewelry,” explains
the baron. “I have seen her wearing the stones as earrings, bracelets and necklaces. They must be found in abundance up here.”
“Or the king bestows precious gems upon his wife.”
“In either case she has many pieces of jewelry with a Sunstone in them, all I need is one. And Thou art the only one who has access to every room in the house.”
Narnia looks very nervous, and hesitates to agree, but finally says, “I will help you if you promise to take me with you.”
“Yea, of course I shall, now let me describe what to look for...”
A few days later, Baron Gerald tells the slave woman known as Narnia, “All is ready. We must leave tonight.”
“But, why tonight?” quivers Narnia unable to hide her nervousness.
“The tide will be receding to its lowest level adding to the speed in which I can row, and no storms are on the horizon so the winds will be calm,” explains the baron, who has been watching the tides for these many weeks in his plan for escape. “Plus, I have a boat fully supplied and I cannot risk that it is discovered.”
“I want to go,” confesses Narnia hesitatingly. “But, I am scared.”
“And thou doest think that I am not?”
Narnia nods in agreement.
“Bring a heavy over-garment it will be even colder at night out at sea, than it ever is here, during the trip,” says the baron. “Be ready when I call.”
Cold wind blows, whiteness shines on the ground and on every building and structure in the morning twilight. In this early morning hour just before sunrise, Baron Gerald and Narnia quietly creep past Gorbash who from his snoring seems to be sleeping quite soundly. Into the cool early morning air they go, silently hugging buildings as they make their way to the shore of the bay.
“My boat is hidden behind that rock,” whispers the baron his breath clearly seen as a fog.
They cautiously tiptoe pass three guards who are lying in one of the longboats apparently asleep. Their feet and legs hang over the gunwale of the longboat. Baron Gerald and Narnia quietly head toward the far end of the bay where rocks jut out into the water.
Soon, they are at the boat, and the baron says, “In a little while, we will be free.”
“No, I don't think so,” says a deep voice from behind them.
Baron Gerald turns around and sees three Northlander warriors standing with Gorbash. How? Gorbash has betrayed him, but how did he find out about his escape?
“Gorbash, thou art a traitor,” snarls the baron venomously.
“Oh, don't blame me entirely,” sneers Gorbash, glancing at Narnia who steps over to his side. “I would have been completely unaware of your scheme if it wasn't for Narnia.”
Narnia slips next to Gorbash and says, “I told you things were getting better around here, and now I have been promised that I will be gaining even more freedom.”
Baron Gerald feels anger and despair; all of these days of planning have been for naught. The baron realizes that the penalty for a slave attempting escape is death. Since he is to die anyway, he might as well die trying to gain his freedom.
Baron Gerald slowly takes two steps backwards and then in a flash he dives into the rowboat. He sits with his back to the bow and quickly grabs both oars, paddling furiously before the warriors realize what is happening. Baron Gerald cannot row fast enough, for soon the giant warriors have jumped into the icy water and are splashing in the water pushing the water aside with their hands as they walk swiftly toward the back of the boat. Since the tide is receding the water is shallow and the warriors quickly catch up to the tiny rowboat, which has only managed to get a few yards from the shallow shore. One of the warriors reaches for the stern - the baron swings his oar as hard as he can, connecting with a skull-cracking blow to the warrior's forehead. Blood bursts from the warrior's head, as the warrior falls backward splashing into the cold water. The baron quickly puts the oar into the water and begins to once again row the boat as hard as he can. He gains a few more yards before the next warrior reaches him. The water is getting a little deeper now and is up to this warrior's chest. Baron Gerald swings level as hard as he can, but the warrior, seeing the fate of his comrade that was just hit in the head, blocks the oar with his battle-hammer. Then with his tremendous strength the warrior slams the oar back into the baron's face slicing a deep bloody gouge on his cheek. Gerald can feel warm blood flowing out from the big gash on his cheek. The baron desperately unhooks the oar from the battle-hammer and swings the oar hitting the warrior square in the head. The force knocks the warrior away from the boat. The Northland warrior struggles against the water and reaches for the boat. The baron quickly slips the oar into oarlock and begins to row feverishly. The other warrior whom Baron Gerald first knocked into the water is still bleeding from his forehead and joins the other two warriors in the chase. Luckily, for the baron the water begins to deepen more, forcing the warriors' feet to leave the seabed. The warriors must now swim to catch the boat, much slower than walking, the space between them and the rowboat widens. The huge Northland warriors soon give up the chase seeing that the rowboat glides through the water much faster than they can swim. One of the warriors shouts to someone on shore. The huge warriors weren't prepared for a real escape feeling confident that they could easily apprehend a mere slave, so they did not have a large number of men participating in the capture. But, they do have something that takes the Baron completely by surprise. A splash next to the boat, then another, and then a thud as one arrow thumps into the boat. Its long feathered tail pointing to the air in front of the baron signals that a new menace has now found him.
“Archers,” gasps the baron in terror. He glances behind him over the bow of the boat; his shoulders slump in despair, it will be many minutes before he can get beyond their range.
The baron rows even faster as arrows hit his boat and slice into the water near him. A smile crosses the baron’s face as he whips his head behind him, for he is almost at the entrance to the bay. The baron begins to feel confident that he will make it. With a dull thud, an arrow pierces his leg, the baron yelps in pain, blood trickles from the wound staining his garments red. The baron continues to row frantically in spite of the pain. Then another arrow flies down, this one piercing his arm. The archers have found their mark. The pain is unbearable. The baron slumps over in the boat trying to gain inner strength to continue.
“I must get home,” the baron says as he continues to row the boat in spite of the growing pain. Yet another arrow comes down, ripping through his shoulder. Blood pours out from his many wounds. The salty taste of blood, he wipes away the blood from the gash on his cheek trickling into the corner of his mouth. It is then that the baron begins to doubt that he will make it. Then, a small ray of hope, the baron sees that the arrows have reached their limit as they harmlessly splash into the water in behind the boat. The baron rounds the entrance to the bay and heads out to sea, out of sight of those on the shore. Still he must row hard, for surely the Northlanders will pursue in their fierce longboats. Baron Gerald continues to row, row, row, row, and row some more.
When daylight finally breaks, exhausted, Baron Gerald stops rowing. He slides the oars into the boat and leans back on the bow exhausted. After a few minutes of rest he then snaps off the feathered end of the arrows and with a cry of pain, shoves the arrowhead and the remaining shaft through his flesh to remove the arrows from his body. He has lost a lot of blood and grows weary. The baron drinks some of the water he has brought - it is refreshing. Baron Gerald is relieved to see no longboats coming after him. The warriors probably reported to their superiors that he had been killed. For they saw at least three arrows hit him. Baron Gerald shakes his head to keep from blacking out. He is weak and knows that he will soon die.
“I must warn my king,” says the baron with determination, blood although dripping out more slowly still oozes out from the wounds. His driving willpower forces Baron Gerald to row harder... He is dying... But, he continues to row on...
Many days later in Cannondale.
“Out of the way!” shouts a knight on horseback to all in the crowded market square of Cannondale.
Two more mounted knights followed by the coach of Duke Halloway of Cannondale and the smaller coach of Bishop O’Conner of Cannondale race through the streets. Peasants jump clear, mothers grab their children, and merchants stand out of the path of the rumbling wagons sweeping by. Three more knights rush past following the two wagons. Dwarves from the nearby Cotswell Mountains selling their silver and gold metal works in the market square barely look up at the wagons and mounted knights rushing by. Unconcerned by the affairs of men, only for what profit they can gain from those in the busy market place. However, two shadowy figures, not tall, with long gray cloaks and cowls covering their heads slip silently through the busy market square unnoticed. These two undercover elves of the Elfin Council listen intently to the rumors flying around in the crowd.
“There was a body…” pants the peasant boy who had just come from the sandy beach of Cold Bay.
“Boy, what art thou talking about,” asks a nearby merchant.
“I saw it with me own eyes, I did,” insists the boy.
“Saw what?” asks an anxious woman from the crowd.
“Baron Gerald, he is alive, he washed up on shore this morning,” stammers the young boy.
The tale is well known how Baron Gerald was taken by the Northmen.
“Sella, no one ever returns alive from their slavery,” whispers one of the elves into his comrade's long pointed ear.
“This indeed is something worth investigating, Belhu,” whispers Sella, as they both turn to leave. She then cautions her companion, Belhu to follow her out of the market square without attracting attention, “Stelá kcehca tih tuos rebmémerah htlaetsáh.”
The two elves pass by a dwarf arguing with a merchant on their way out of the market square.
“Do not worry, I will not eat your horse,” snaps the dwarf to the merchant putting a half eaten apple back in the merchant's display cart.
“It is customary for thou to buy before thou eateth, dwarf,” growls the merchant.
“Just sampling your merchandise before I buy,” laughs the dwarf as he walks away. “You would not buy a horse until you tasted it first, would you?”
“Frawda snairabrabo,” laughs Sella quietly in their elfin language as they leave the market square.
“Yes, dwarves will never become civilized,” laughs Belhu, placing his hand over his mouth so as not to laugh too loud.
Hours later, in a small fishing village on the shores of Cold Bay.
“If he wasn't a seafaring man he would surely have died on the high seas, sire,” says the physician to Sir Thomas of Harbury.
“Only by the grace of God is my father alive,” replies Thomas looking down at his unconscious father with concern. His father's arm, leg and head all with deep wounds caked with clotted blood and puss.
“Amen,” agrees Bishop O'Conner one of the six men in the tiny single room building on the wharf overlooking Cold Bay. “Many prayers have gone up to our Lord for thy father's safe return.”
“Will he live?” interrupts Duke Halloway seeing the baron's weakened condition.
“I have cleaned the wounds the best I can, sire,” the physician says. “And I have applied ointment; he doesn't have a fever, though he has loss much blood-”
“Will he live?” presses the duke impatiently.
“That is not in my hands, sire,” answers the physician humbly. “’Tis up to the great Physician now.”
“Amen,” says the bishop with a reassuring smile.
“If our Lord Jesus brought him this far, surely my father will live,” says Thomas with a prayer of hope.
Turning to Thomas the duke inquires, “And thou sayeth that thy father was coherent when he told thee of the impending invasion?”
“Yea, my lord, quite lucid,” assures Thomas. “He had full use of all his faculties.”
“He said it several times and was very clear in all of the details, sire,” affirms the physician.
“Then, the king must be warned,” says the duke as he turns to leave.
“We shall continue to pray for thy father's swift recovery,” says the bishop kindly as he leaves.
Outside of the door, leaning against the wall, the two cloaked elves of the Elfin Council have listened to every word. They turn their heads away, as the duke and bishop leave the small shelter and climb into their awaiting coaches. Sella and Belhu do not move until the two wagons and their escort of knights rides off.
Walking away from the wharf Sella says, “Is this going to be the end of man on our island?”
“I do not know,” says Belhu with a shake his head. “Never has any man massed such an army.”
“But, this is not our concern, let man kill man,” says Sella philosophically.
“I agree, let them kill each other off,” agrees Belhu. “Our job is only to report this information to the Elfin Council, nothing more, nothing less.”
The two elves hasten away.
Days later, Sir Thomas sits alone on one of the many fishing docks on the shores of Cold Bay. Most of the small fishing boats of Harbury are out to sea seeking the morning catch. Thomas stares out pass the breakers to the horizon; out there is the Northland. This spring these peaceful sandy shores will be filled with those barbarians. Thousands coming to destroy his people, his land, his way of life; they must be stopped.
“Thy father is awake, sire!” the physician calls out from the tiny single room building on the wharf overlooking Cold Bay. Immediately, Thomas springs to his feet and sprints to the small building.
“Father,” Thomas says as he rushes to his father’s side.
Baron Gerald still lying on the small bed, his head propped up on a pillow, his eyes half open, says weakly, “King… must be warned…”
“Duke Halloway and Bishop O’Conner are on their way to warn the king.” Thomas assures his father.
Baron Gerald smiles weakly, and then a look of panic flashes on his face, “Harbury… we must fortify… prepare for a siege…”
“Baron Gerald, thou must rest, sire,” cautions the physician.
“When will he be strong enough to move to Harbury Castle?” asks Thomas.
“Hard to say, sire,” the physician says thoughtfully, “perhaps in a few weeks?”
“Father, you must reserve your strength to be healed,” says Thomas with great concern. “I will see that preparations are made to fortify Harbury Castle.”
The baron comforted by his son’s words closes his eyes and falls back to sleep. Thomas steps outside and stares out across the sea towards the Northland.
“I agree, revenge is Thine O Lord,” Thomas prays aloud. “Please use me as an instrument of Thy will.”
Continued in "The Quest: The Northmen Cometh"
©2005 Aim Higher Books