Chapter Thirteen The First Storm.
It was a cool and crisp morning with a light mist down in the valley below.
Tomas yawned and wiped the sleep out of his eyes.
“They are coming Tomas.” Sophia said looking resplendent in her armour. “Our Lady tells me that you must survive, for you have a special place in history in the future that even she hasn’t been privy to see.”
She kissed his cheek.
“I love you brother.”
“I love you too.”
Patrik watched the simple scene with a lump in his throat.
Within minutes the castle was alive with activity as the news spread of the militia’s advance.
In a dark corner a crude effigy of an angel stood.
“Why are you letting this happen?!” Patrik hissed through clenched teeth.
The eyes of the statue moved in their stone sockets and the lips parted.
“The force you are facing is not the Adversary who, like us, must obey the rules that were drawn up millennia ago. It is certainly malign but does not obey the rules which means our hands are tied. All we can do is advise and aid in defence.” The voice said in a tone that suggested two stones were being rubbed together.
“How am I going to tell all those here to pray to you when you are powerless to respond?” Patrik said angrily. “How am I to say that divine help is not coming?”
“Oh but it is Brother. In the locked turret in the back of the courtyard is a quantity of preserved meat and vegetables for the hungry. The armour of the defenders has increased in protection and your weapons have been strengthened. Have you not noticed how much the children have grown. They are now equivalent to sixteen in age, temperament and skill. It is the best we can do.” The lips stopped moving and the eyes turned to stone.
“I had noticed the change but had dismissed it.”
“You were supposed too.”
“Thank you Holy One, forgive my lack of faith.”
“We cannot condemn you for we have been of little use in this. Your faith is strong Brother and we will keep our side of the bargain and keep your heart strong. The defect will not condemn you.”
All became still.
The battle was about to begin.
Patrik rushed to the sick cots and began to prepare for the injured.
The Bishop rode in front of the troopers resplendent in his robes of office over his steel armour, a heavy mace in his hand. The armed civilians fanned out behind them.
He paused at the gateway and looked up at Alexander on the gateways tall wall with his small force of defenders.
Pierre laughed a sickening unhinged laugh.
“Sir Alexander do you really think these crumbling walls will protect you from the demi-culverin.” He pointed to where a group of men were setting up a crude cannon. “If you do think that it can, then you are either deluded or senile, or both. What say you my Lord.”
“Return to your manse Bishop and ponder on your actions. Are they the actions of a man of the cloth.” Alexander replied. “You will have no satisfaction here only death, death’s that you will never be able to clean off your hands.”
“Do not have the temerity to question my duty sir. It is my duty to protect my congregation from the evil that you have in the castle. To hold you accountable for your actions. Have you forgotten your vow to protect the pure of heart, the peoples of the church.” Pierre raged.
“I follow that vow even now.” Alexander replied.
“Then give the girl Sophia and her brother to me. I will try the witch and her supporter and see her hung if she is evil.” The bishop raved. “I will find the mark of the devils spore and through the inquisition find out the truth and get a confession.”
“If I was to give myself to you would you allow the others to go free back to their homes?” Sophia had joined Alexander and Tomas.
“They will have to pay account of their actions and must be tried to see if they are part of your coven.”
“So handing myself to you will avail them nothing for you are intent to torture them.” She said calmly. “Our Lady forgives you all for what you are about to do, as I do, for you do it in good faith I think.” As she lifted her hand and made the sign of the living Ankh a nimbus of shinning light appeared around her head.
The people and soldiers behind the Bishop became uneasy and began to mutter.
“See how the witch corrupts our most Holy of signs. Captain take the castle.”
Suddenly a gauntlet was thrown to land at the bishops feet.
“What is this?” He stormed.
“I was aiming at your face but I misjudged the gloves weight.” Tomas said. “I challenge you, as chivalry demands, to a trial by combat. What say you now Bishop?”
“You young idiot!” Alexander hissed. “Now I must take your place.”
“You’ll do no such thing my Lord. It is my challenge and I will face it.” Tomas said quietly before adding more loudly. “Well your Grace have you got the courage to face me?”
“I am not a fool young man, I know of your prowess, but since you wish to play by Chivalry’s rules I nominate trooper DeGussen to be my champion.”
A huge muscular man stepped up and picked up the gauntlet.
“I accept the challenge on the Bishops behalf.” He looped the glove through his belt and unshipped his shield and war hammer. “I am ready to meet you young sir.”
DeGussen was distracted by the castles door opening and Tomas striding out with his sword in his right hand and a mace in the other.
The boy walked up to the big man and said quietly.
“You have something of mine I think.” He held out a hand for the glove.
DeGussen took out the glove and passed it back to the boy.
“I have no enmity toward you boy but I will kill you if I must.” He said.
“I have no enmity toward you sir but I will disarm you if I must.” Tomas replied.
The two men backed up and took up guard. Tomas looked so young against the muscular veteran, so slight and yet so resolved.
“Fight!” The Bishop said the word and the two men came together in a mighty crash of weapons before dancing back to circle each other looking for an advantage.
DeGussen spotted a tangled root just behind Tomas. With a surge of power he tried to drive Tomas back to trip up over the root.
Much to the mans surprise Tomas stood his ground parrying the blows away whilst hammering at the shield with his mace splitting it in two places.
Again they circled each other.
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice that root my dear sir?” Tomas asked.
“You are good I’ll give you that. Will you yield to me to save on bloodshed? You have my word that I’ll honour it.”
“I believe you sir but I do not think the Bishop would honour it.”
Then suddenly they were at each other in a flurry of blows. As they separated DeGussen’s shield hang in tatters.
Tomas stepped back and brought his sword up in front of his face in salute giving DeGussen time to take off the remnants of the shield and take a double handed stance with his war hammer.
Tomas lowered his sword, dropped the mace and copied his foes stance.
Once more the swords play was intense as they moved around each other. Suddenly DeGussen’s foot caught on Tomas’s dropped mace putting him off balance. As he tried to recover Tomas kicked him hard in the chest sending him crashing to the floor. The warhammer spun from his grip as Tomas whirled his sword round and laid its tip delicately at the troopers throat.
“Do you yield Sir, do you yield?” Tomas asked.
“I yield my Lord, do you have mercy, my soul is yours to do with as you wish.” DeGussen gasped reciting the traditional answer.
Tomas spun the sword around with a flourish and put it into its scabbard. He bent and retrieved his mace before bending over the winded man and offered his hand. DeGussen gabbed the young mans arm and allowed himself so be helped to his feet.
Without letting go of Tomas’s arm he called over his shoulder.
“I declare this man innocent of any crime. He has endured in trial by combat and must be treated as if he is under the flag of truce.” He looked into the young mans face and said quietly. “You bested me fairly now go back inside the castle while I distract the others.”
No sooner where the words out of his mouth when the Bishop began to shout.
“Kill him before he uses foul magic to defeat you all as he has done to your champion.” The troopers hesitated but the villagers didn’t and soon Tomas was dodging arrows as both he and DeGussen raced for the castle gate.
DeGussen screamed and staggered as an arrow buried itself into his calf. Tomas swung round and taking the man around the waist got them through the closing door.
“Medic, medic, I need a medic!” Tomas yelled as soon as he was inside.
Sophia dash across from the gate house door and rushed to his side.
DeGussen was laid on the floor.
Sophia bent and took the mans hand.
“You are a honourable man to protect an enemy so.” She said softly.
Tomas broke of the flights and pushed the arrow through the leg and out the other side. He knew instinctively that pulling it back out would allow the arrow heads barbs to do much more damage.
DeGussen started to scream in pain only to find a numbing warmth flooding his body.
He looked up at the sweating face of Sophia and said in a voice full of awe.
“Forgive my gravest fault. You are truly a Saint.” With that he mercifully passed out.
“You have done well my Lady Sophia but let the Brothers and Holy Sisters deal with him now. Tomas get your sister a drink.” He took Sophia’s hand in his. “When we heal someone we are using some of our own fluids to do so, fluid that must be replaced.”
Alexander caught up with Tomas as he returned to his sisters side with a goblet of spring water.
“What were you thinking of Tomas he could have made mince meat out of you.” He said angrily. “Who taught you to fight like that?”
“In a way you did my Lord. My Sister connected me to your experience.” He cradled Sophia to him. “She told me what to do before I issued the challenge. We hoped they would respect the trial by combat and leave us alone.”
“You used my skill did you, no wonder I felt a little light headed?” Alexander offered a hand to the recovering Sophia and helped her up. “It was a good plan but doomed to failure in this instance. Our Bishop had come too far to back away now.”
He led them all back toward the desk he had set up in the court yard.
“The old Bishop was poisoned in some fashion of that I’m sure off, despite a lack of evidence. To cement Father Pierre’s power he need’s to destroy us like the Knights Templar were discredited and destroyed. Father Abbot has in his hands not only religious law but also through us common law too and that would never do in our Bishops eyes. He is out to destroy the Abbeys power.”
“My Lord Alexander.” Sir Justin called from the battlements. “They are bringing up the cannons my Lord.”
“Can you make out their target?”
“Yes my Lord I think it is the gatehouse and the main gates.”
“If they get through the gates we are done for. Lady Sophia I know you can do wondrous things can you stop the cannon? Can our Lady stop the cannon?”
Sophia tilted her head as if to listen only to go pale from the verbal onslaught.
“Yes I can help my Lord. Our Lady is instructing me but it is so hard to hear her through all the voices. Oh please be quiet.” Then suddenly she became calm and in that moment became not a child but a woman in her prime. “Escort me to the tower if you please.”
“Stop the pair of you. If Sophia was to stop the cannon it would give Pierre’s claim that she is a witch validity.” Patrik cautioned.
“Have you not seen the clouds Holy Brother?” She asked.
Patrik looked up at the brooding black clouds then back at her with a puzzled look.
“I think it is going to rain. Hard!” She told him.
“Tomas help Brother Patrik to get our people undercover at the back of the castle. I take it we will also suffer from the rain?” Alexander asked.
“Yes I’m afraid so my Lord.” Sophia’s face took on a dark look and her eyes became deep wells of colour until they had turned black.
“Tomas, Holy Brother move our people under cover in the rooms and halls at the back of the castle. But try not to panic them.” The words were barely out of his mouth when a loud clap of what he thought was thunder rolled around them. A decisive crack was heard as the stone cannon ball crashed into the gateways walls.
They race up the tower to the top and carefully watched the cannon being made ready, a painstakingly slow process, as the first drops of rain began to fall.
“If we can’t stop those cannon they will be in amongst us.” Alexander conjectured. “Ouch. What the…”
The air grew cold and stinging hail began to fall.
“Take cover!!” Alexander called loudly so those outside the gates could hear.
The cannonneers tried to carry on but had to give up as the hail became to much, soaking not only them but their blackpowder too.
Down in the castle he could hear cries from those too slow to get undercover.
Alexander peered through an arrow slit and weighed up their chances of riding out destroying the cannon and getting back before they could be overcome as being very slight indeed.
Sophia’s head snapped up as she listened to the voice in her head.
“The evil one is out there controlling their emotions.” She gripped Alexander’s arm. “Tomas can find it but he will need you to destroy it. Promise me, that no matter what happens to me, that you and Tomas find it and destroy it.”
“You have my word my Lady.” Alexander replied wondering if Sophia could see the lie. Alexander did not expect to survive but he intended to make a good account of himself.
Behind the militia and villagers the Succubus screamed in laughter her hands roaming over her now corpulent naked frame.
She turned to Duke De Anjou and licked her lips lasciviously.
“See did I not promise you power. Soon your enemies will fall on each other and tear themselves apart in time for you to arrive and mop up the survivors and declare marshal law. You are only two steps from total power.” She wrapped herself around his cold form.
“See that no harm comes to the girl before her marriage to my son. I will have a legitimate claim on the land. You can have her afterwards to do with as you please.” He looked down at the demon his lips curled in contempt. “Is the Dauphin yours?”
“Oh yes my Lord the fool is like a lapdog. He will do anything I say, even walk to his death.” She licked his ear.
As he turned to go down to where his own troopers waited in amongst the trees she merged with his shadow and vanished.