The Lost Compass
Noddie spent the rest of the day under Mordekah’s watchful eye. The king of robbers was restless, jumping from one form of business to another. He pulled aged and wrinkled maps from the trunk. Using bright red ink to mark and circle certain areas. He made complicated charts that Noddie could not make sense of and at odd moments pulled out his black book and flipped through its worn pages.
Robbers were frequently summoned to receive orders.
“Rufus, Gather all the men tonight in the clearing, and make sure everyone is present. I intend to make an announcement. – Borok, Bring up the wine bottles from the old cellar. – Get a group of men to inspect the ridge.”
At one point Blade showed up unannounced.
“Excuse me, Sir, but we’ve received word from Cormec.”
“He’s lost track of Lazren, Sir. Slipped passed him somewhere near Tolbeck.”
Mordekah growled in his throat. “Can’t say I wasn’t expecting it. Hmm, south end of Triwater. Send a message. Tell Cormec to pick up his trail again. Watch all passages near Triwater and Irestead. Tell him he may employ any means necessary to find him. Alert the scouts and contact me the moment we receive news.”
As Blade turned to obey Mordekah stopped him again. “And Blade, remind Cormec that he is not to attract notice from Lazren. I don’t want him approached, His movements are only to be observed. I wish to deal with him myself when the time is right. Now go, there are other matters I must see to.”
Once Blade departed Noddie pressed her lips together in thought. Southern Triwater. She now knew where to look for her uncle. If she could only reach him— By the sound of it Mordekah was planning a large revelry tonight. She had a feeling this party would be nothing like the elegant balls her uncle hosted at the Lazren estate, but if all of the robber’s attention was focused elsewhere this might be her best chance to escape.
Her nails dug into her palms as she tried to summon the courage to do what would need to be done. It was hard to form a plan when she didn’t know what to expect, and the uncertainty tormented her more than anything else.
The day slipped passed, and before Noddie knew it, dusk had fallen and Mordekah was pulling her from the hut. The heavy trapped feeling that emitted from the island during the day turned into a prickling unease that Noddie felt sure was the presence of the mournful, degraded spirits, of those murdered here long ago. The air was hot and sticky and the torches appeared just as ruthless and hungry as the gathering darkness.
Behind the town was a clearing lit by a furious bonfire and surrounded by more jungle then houses with a wooden stage on its far side. The area was already packed with robbers. All drinking, eating, and fighting to their hearts content.
Like wild animals. Noddie wrinkled her nose.
In their ruckus none of them noticed Mordekah as he hauled Noddie to the stage. He shouted to get the men’s attention and the noise lowered to a low buzz.
“My brothers, here we are once again on our island of Terrason. What a fine island it has been.”
The robbers roared their agreement then were silent again as Mordekah continued.
“But it hasn’t always been so. Long before most of you signed your name to this band, before the fall of Irestead, before the plague overshadowed the land, there was another place, the birthplace of the Mordekah Robbers, the most impenetrable lair in the world, the cave of Hulz Deep.”
A low murmur rolled over the transfixed group.
Noddie shifted her feet. She was waiting for the opportunity to slip away, but Mordekah had placed her on the stage with him, where she was in sight of everyone. Knowing she would only have one chance, she tried to stand patiently waiting for the right moment to arise.
“Hidden beneath the Shadow Rock Cliffs the cave still remains. And the time has come to reclaim it. To take back our pride and strength and rise again to the greatness that the Mordekah robbers once were.”
The shifting among the men did not go unnoticed by Mordekah. “I’m sure many of you have heard rumors. Whispers of a curse. A curse that desecrated our fore-bearers and drove us from the land. Such rumors hold a certain truth. But take heart, men! Our time has come at last! No longer will we be tied down under false claims of curses or threats. We will face it. And we will break it. Once and for all!”
He took a deep satisfied breath. “It will not be easy, but trust me, men, it is well worth the risk. Therein lies the treasure of empires. The result of years of hard work gathered through the sweat and blood of past comrades. For decades the way has been shut. The door sealed, but now the time has come to recover what is ours, what was lost long ago. To avenge our dead and lift the shadow that has hovered above us. Now there’s a way!”
A bold robber with several piercings in his face stepped forward, “The crates from Medlock’s company, Sir? Have you managed to acquire them or are we to try another ambush?”
Mordekah’s teeth glinted in the light, “We have no more need of Medlock’s transports. I believe I might have found something better.” He looked back at Noddie, who wilted under his gaze.
“Starting tomorrow we will begin making preparations to continue north. We will pass by the Shadow Rock Cliffs then continue on to Irestead. Contact our fellows hidden up north and acquire the means necessary to enable us to enter the cave. Stemlin!”
Stemlin, had been more than restless throughout Mordekah’s speech. Tentatively making his way toward the edge of the clearing. Once his name was called all eyes turned on him, holding him fast.
Smiling in triumphant, Mordekah held out his hand palm up. “Stemlin, bring me the compass.”
Stemlin didn’t move. His shoulders were tense, his eyes clouded. A sweat broke out upon his face.
Mordekah’s brows drew together and his smile slipped. “Stemlin.” His voice dripped with such venom that Noddie shrunk away for fear.
Stemlin swallowed hard. His eyes fell to the ground. When he spoke it was barely more than a whisper, but his words carried regardless.
“I don’t have it, sir.”
It took a few moments for Stemlin’s words to sink in. When they did, Mordekah seemed to grow several inches as his anger built. Words dripping with rage he demanded, “Where is it?”
Stemlin panicked. Eyes bulging, he pointed across the square and shouted. “It’s Jethrow, Sir. Jethrow stole it from me!”
The clearing exploded into action. Several men tried to grab Jethrow, while others halted Stemlin’s hasty escape, and in no time over half of the robbers were embedded in a ruthless struggle.
“BRING THEM HERE!” Mordekah roared over the chaos.
Amid the commotion Noddie took her chance and bolted toward the end of the stage. She almost reached the bushes when a pair of chubby hands grabbed her and held her fast.
“And where are you going?” a sly voice hissed into her ear.
Noddie’s heart did a painful flip. In her dash for freedom she had not seen him standing near the side of the stage.
Stemlin and Jethrow were forced, panting and bruised, to the front, where they were held with their arms behind their backs. Mordekah towered over them. His voice rose with every word, “Where. Is. The. Compass?!”
Jethrow met Mordekah’s eyes with his own dark fiery ones. Stemlin was petrified, his voice higher than usual. “Jethrow stole it from me, Sir. He stole it and sold it to some passing traveler for a few rusted coins!”
Jethrow didn’t say anything for a breath or two. Then through gritted teeth he stated, “It’s gone.”
A shadow crossed Mordekah’s face. “I must say I’m disappointed. Instead of one key I now require two. The one I had in my possession in the first place, I might add!”
Stemlin was shaking now. “Sir?”
“I expected better from you, Stemlin. I believed you to be a worthy member of the Mordekah Robbers.
“I have no need of men, who cannot fulfill simple instructions.”
“But it wasn’t my—”
Noddie turned her head away and closed her eyes. A high ring and a strangled cry attacked her ears. Followed by a wet choking sound and a heavy thump. When she looked again Stemlin was lying dead on the ground and Mordekah held a bloody sword.
“It would seem we are going to need a change of plans.” His attention glided onto Jethrow.
“I’ve had enough of you, Jethrow. You’ve been an irritating menace since you signed on, and my tolerance has run out.” He waved an arm over the crowd. “We’ll be having a proper execution tomorrow night and any feeling so inclined may assist.”
Noddie’s already sick stomach gave a twist as the men around the clearing gave roars and jeers of excitement and anticipation.
Phil pushed her forward, keeping a firm hold on her arms, “And what of this one, Sir? She tried to slip off not moments ago.”
Mordekah walked over and bent down towards Noddie, so their faces were inches apart. “The only thing I have left,” he muttered ruefully. Like a jumping spider his hand launched onto the pack at her waist and wrenched it from her side.
“I’m not letting you out of my sight.”