Chapter Seventeen A Dish Best Served Cold.
The monks cell was quiet save for the gentle low breathing of the patient.
Tomas’s face had a waxy look and was soaked with sweat.
“Can I sit with him Holy Brother.” Samantha asked as the pair of them stood by the doorway.
“Yes of course you can, though I don’t know how responsive he’ll be.” The monk smiled a sad smile. “I would be happier if I could break his fever though. If he wakes give him this cooling powder it will help to bring the fever down.”
Samantha took the small bottle and entered the cell. She drew up the low stool and sat down and taking his hand in hers began to gently cry.
“It’s Samantha Tomas darling. Come on wake up for us the others are waiting to hear how you are.” Her vigil had begun.
Outside Patrik was joined by the Abbot and Sir Alexander.
“How is the boy Brother?” The Abbott asked as he joined them.
“Not good Holy Father. The bites of the dogs has inflected him with a foul humour, a fever that I haven’t been able to break. We can do nothing more than wait and pray.” The monk turn to the Knight.
“What of Anjou? Both senior and junior?” He asked.
“Anjou senior has taken over all the lands of Prey and has the farmers till the ground as serfs. He has disbanded the Parliament, the Grand Moot, and has inaugurated a Barons court instead in which he is both judge and jury.” Sir Alexander answered angrily. “He’s disowned his bastard son who is now on the run to who knows where. The power of the church has been smashed. The Rangers and Paladins are going to be absorbed into his new army where the church will have no say.”
“He hasn’t wasted any time has he?” Patrik snorted.
“No he alas hasn’t. The most we can do is prevaricate and create a holding position.” The Abbott informed them.
“Come let’s leave the children for awhile and try and get some rest. Tomorrow we will see what we can salvage of our dignity.
Patrik glanced into the cell and saw the girl Samantha holding Tomas’s hand to her cheek as she sung gently and lowly, rocking back and forth.
Was it hours later or mere minutes when Samantha heard the swish of a robe behind her.
She turned to see a beautiful nun she didn’t know standing behind her.
“Oh Reverence. I am sorry I didn’t know you were there.” Samantha made to get up and offer her lowly seat to the new arrival.
“Sit child and be rested.” The nuns skin was like white alabaster, her white robes were of pure silk. Her face was calm and beatific.
Samantha yawned mightily.
She went to apologise but has waived down.
“You have been here for hours and need to rest child. You will be of little use to him when he awakes if you do not.” Her voice was quiet and silky soft.
She pointed at a cot against the opposite wall which wasn’t there a moment ago of that Samantha was sure. But as if under some sort of compulsion, some sort of spell, she crossed to the little bed and laid down falling asleep instantly.
The nun smiled gently.
“Sleep well Samantha. I do not know what your role is going to be in future events but this I do know you’ll be important to Tomas in what is to come this night.”
She crossed to where Tomas lay and passed a hand over his body. He convulsed once and then settled down into a restorative untroubled sleep.
An hour later the nun stood up.
“It is time to awake Tomas.” Her form shimmered and Sophia stood in her place. “Awake brother and avenge me. Go face De Anjou and destroy the evil that nestles there.” She smiled as Tomas’s eyes began to flutter open catching a glimpse of his sister as she faded away.
Tomas stood up and stretched. His face was set and icily cold.
He got up and crossed to where Samantha dozed on her cot.
He touched her gently and called her name.
Her eyes opened and looked with a puzzled expression on her face. The figure was silhouetted against the brightness of the armour that hung on its stand.
“Yes my darling it is I. Will you help me with my armour my love.”
Samantha sat up and stared at him in disbelief. “I must avenge Sophia. De Anjou must be brought to justice.”
“Tomas you are not strong enough let me fetch Brother Patrik.” She placed a hand on his forehead. “Your fever will have only just broken you are still weak.”
“You are right my beloved.” Tomas sat down with a weary sigh. “Go fetch the good Brother and also the Knight Alexander if you please.”
Samantha kissed his cheek.
“I will only be gone a short while try and rest.” Samantha reached the doorway only to freeze on the spot.
Tomas frowned and looked around him as Sophia stepped out of the shadows.
“Brother do not be worried she is unharmed our Lady has frozen time so I can help you don your armour.” She moved over to the stand. “You will look truly like a mighty knight.”
In silence Tomas was dressed in his armour and whenever he appeared to flag Sophia touched him and sent healing warmth through him.
When he was dressed the image of Sophia turned and released Samantha allowing her to dash along the corridor toward the two people he had the most respect for.
Sophia drew her hand over the cells wall producing a portal to the stables where his horse was saddled and waiting for him.
He climbed up into the saddle and looked down at his sister.
“Go avenge Sophia’s death and bring De Anjou to justice Tomas. Be the Holy Knight, Gods judge, that you are destined to be. Tomas the Destroyer of the Undead and Demon’s.” Sophia’s image said making Tomas’s back stiffen and his head lift up regally.
He turned the horse and galloped away.
Samantha returned with the others to find the cell empty and the armour stand empty.
“Oh good grief we’ve got to catch him before he gets to De Anjou’s. The old man will kill him.” Patrik exclaimed.
“Samantha go rouse the rest of the pupils and have them down at the stables fully armed and armoured.” Alexander told her. She stood there confused.
“He couldn’t have gone I was away for only a few minutes.”
“I know child but go and do as Sir Alexander has asked. Go child go and may you be as fleet of foot as the deer of the forest.” Patrik answered.
As Samantha disappeared Alexander turned to his companion.
“So you can feel it too?”
“Yes. A something but what I am not sure.” Patrik raised his right hand and made the sign of the Living Ankh. “Holy Lady show us the truth of this matter I beg of you.”
The wall opposite became milky white and the image of Tomas was seen talking to someone, to Sophia.
Both men were startled by the sight.
“Before you ask my friend Sophia still lays in the box on the edge of death its self.”
“I do not know my Lord. Maybe the spirit of Sophia still lives and truly comes to her brother. But somehow I doubt it. One thing I do know there is no sign of evil intent in the image quite the reverse in fact.” Patrik saw Tomas disappear into the portal and the image on the wall faded away. “That discussion will have to wait for another day. I’ve always wanted to say this. ‘To horse my Lord, to horse!’”
“I hope that gets it out of your system so we won’t need to hear it again.” Alexander smile at his friend.
As the two men hurried away the image of Sophia stepped from the shadows and reverted to the nuns image again.
“Survive Tomas Du Prey as my children, my Owen and Serin, will need you in the future though I know not why.” The woman turned her head and listened. “Until that day I will be with you Tomas, always in your mind. I’m coming home husband.”
She faded away leaving the smell of the sea in her wake.
A little later Alexander mounted his horse and examined the pupils on their chargers.
“We do not know why Tomas has gone to the De Anjou’s but we can guess. He must be stopped whatever the reason. We will try not to engage any of the guards of De Anjou’s but be prepared just in case we have no other option.”
They rode hard and fast but still didn’t catch Tomas up.
When they reached the hall of De Anjou they found two guards on their knees in prayer.
The oldest looked up and saw the group but made no attempt to challenge them.
“Greetings friends. Has one of our number come this way? He is called Tomas Farm…” Alexander stopped and them continued with pride. “He is call Sir Tomas Du Prey and is in need of healing.”
“Yes my Lord he has passed through here on his way to see our master, the Baron De Anjou.” The youngest told them as he stood to join his compatriot. “We challenged him but he disarmed us with mere flicks of his wrist. I thought we were dead my Lord but he praised us for our diligence and blessed us. His armour shone brightly like a silver flame so bright we had to lower our eyes for fear of being blinded.”
“When we could see again he had gone, but we know we had seen a saint. We fell to our knees to pray and out of the shadows came our Lady who blessed us.” The other explained. “She was so beautiful that we threw away our weapons and was told to wait for your coming. We are to lead you to the manor house such that you will not be seen. It will have to be on foot my Lord.”
“So be it.” Alexander dismounted. “Gentlemen lead the way.”
Tomas had reached the main door of the manor house. He dismounted and knock on the door with the pommel of his drawn sword.
He saw someone look out of the window by the door before he heard someone approach the door.
“Who is it that that disturbs my Lords rest?” The voice was old and sounded like autumns dry leaves crackling underfoot.
“Tell your master that it is Tomas Du Prey a Paladin of Our Lady with important news.” He heard as the old man shuffled away.
He waited patiently for the mans return.
“What do you want farm scum?” De Anjou growled.
“Why you of course.” With swift economical moves the two guards that were set to attack from each side dropped dead in their tracks. “Such a waste! Will you meet me in combat or are you going to hide behind others. See look I will put away my sword so I can not have an advantage.
The door opened and without hesitation Tomas walked in.
In scant seconds he was held at knife point by three guards.
“Put up your weapons gentlemen I have no cause to attack you. In fact I pledge not to harm you unless you attack first. A Paladins oath will that suit you.” Tomas said with a smile.
The three men put away their weapons.
“What are you doing you morons?” De Anjou bellowed.
“He has given a Paladins Oath.” The elder one said. “And I trust that above anything else.”
De Anjou snorted and stomped off with a curt.
The elder guard turned to Tomas.
“Will you follow us please my Lord.” He said courteously.
“I seems the servants have more civility than their master.” Tomas observed.
Tomas was escorted as if he was an honoured guest rather than a prisoner into the main meeting hall.
De Anjou sat on a throne on a dais at the far end of the hall as if he was a king.
Tomas came to a stop half way across the floor and looked around at the archers up in the minstrels gallery with their drawn bows trained on him.
Tomas lifted a hand to them and slowly lowered it.
The archers lowered their bows, grounding them in respect.
In six alcoves stood completely mailed and armoured statues. Along the walls were ten guards men who saluted him as he continued down the hall.
“I greet all you guards and men at arms and acknowledge your signs of respect. No this, my argument is not with you but with your master. If you show no violence to me I will show no violence to you.” His voice carried easily to every corner of the hall. “Come and be blessed in Our Lady’s name.”
De Anjou couldn’t believe his eyes as the guards came forward bearing their heads to be blessed. Tomas lowered his head and whispered to them. It was soon done and the guards and the archers with a salute left the room.
Tomas smiled a cold smile.
“How does it feel to be naked before Gods justice my Lord. To face me on your own.”
“You are nothing boy.” De Anjou growled. “Daughter of darkness heed your masters call. Come to my aid.”
A black swirl of fog grew beside him.
“So you have sold your soul to the devil after all my Lord.” Tomas looked up into the Minstrels gallery to see the archers and guards in position to strike but not at him but at their master. “And there was I thinking you were not a fool.”
“I did not sell my own soul to the devil. I am not that stupid, I sold my bustard sons to do with as they will.” De Anjou laughed a hollow laugh.
The smoke dissipated to reveal the Succubus hanging from a noose around its neck.
“It seems that you will have no aid from that quarter either.” Tomas laughed as he drew his sword. “On guard my Lord.”
“Devil aid me now. Free yourself.” De Anjou bellowed.
With a convulsive movement green lines of energy struck each suit of armour bringing it to life.
“Defenders strike at the devils soldiers leave the Baron to me.” Tomas yelled. “You killed my Sister as surely as if you pulled the noose tight yourself.”
Tomas’s armour began to flare sending flashing beams out to strike the walking manikins making them stagger.
A blizzard of arrows thudded into one driving it to its knees. The guards swept forward only to be struck down by its whirling sword as it lurched to its feet.
The Succubus cackled with delight as the rope that held her disappeared in a coil of smoke.
“Leave Anjou to me boy attack the Succubus.” Alexander yelled as he crashed through the door followed by the students. “Samantha help Tomas. The rest of you take on the armour.”
Bonnyface slammed down his visor and ran at the one pierced with arrows his massive war hammer raised ready to strike.
De Anjou’s guard separated and disengaged allowing Bonnyface to smash the hammer down on to the helmet caving it in. The creature staggered but did not fall as a human would have done.
Like all the rest of the students Bonnyface found himself in a tough fight.
Alexander strode forward like a ship through the winter ice toward De Anjou.
“Your time is over knight.” He yelled swinging his long sword at him.
Alexander caught it on his blade with ease. He swiftly slid his blade down its length to catch his opponents fingers to no avail as De Anjou realising the danger and swiftly disengaged.
Slowly they began to circle one another looking for an advantage.
Several of the animated suits of armour were headless but they still attacked the students and the remaining guards.
The coil of rope around the Succubus dropped to the floor as her body swelled as she absorbed the energy of the battles around her.
Tomas turned, his armour shinning so brightly no one could look upon his form, his armour had become so polished that any assailant would see his own reflection in its surface.
“I will not suffer you to live.” Tomas cried as he smashed aside the armoured manikin that stood in his way.
“Do you really think you can harm me boy.” She gestured with her hands and three imps appeared in puffs of smoke in front of her. She laughed and sneered at him as he continued forward into jets of flame that poured out of their mouths.
Seemingly unaffected he walked forward and with a swing of his blade cut the first in half. With a scream of agony it was sent back to the infernal plane in a coil of smoke.
The other two descended on their bat like wings to claw at Tomas with their nails the temperature of molten lead. An arrow smashed into the head of the nearest to Tomas.
The creature laughed as the arrow burst into flame from its internal heat. But the damage was done as distracted the creature found itself on the tip of Tomas’s blade.
It screamed as its body fell apart like burning faggots on a fire.
The final creature tried to back away from the killing machine that was Tomas only to get entangled with one of the animated suits of armour.
Tomas’s flail snaked out hitting the imp with such force it drove the creature straight into the armours chest turning it into molten slag.
The creature was so entangled with the molten form of the armour that it couldn’t defend itself from Tomas’s sword driving it deeper into the metal which poured over it entombing it.
With a crash Tomas heard the last of the animated suits of armour collapse under the combined efforts of the students and guards.
De Anjou called out to the guards to aid him as Sir Alexander push forward his advantage of reach.
Every guard and archer grounded their weapon in refusal.
“How does it feel my Lord to be so universally hated!” Alexander blocked another thrust.
“Devil aid me know!!”
“I rather think she is a little preoccupied.” Alexander quipped as he made a thrust of his own.
The creature was backing up from Tomas her dark glamour making he look irresistible.
“Tomas stop and think how much power I could give you. Enough to bring Sophia back to life.” The creature waved her hand and a bemused looking Sophia appeared beside her. “Look Tomas. It is everything you have ever wanted.”
Tomas paused in his advance and looked across at Sophia.
“That is not my sister charlatan.” He bellowed.
“Yes it is! How can you deny it when she is their before you. I can bring her back permanently through deaths veil to be with you again.”
“No you cannot because my beloved sister is not dead.” Tomas moved quickly reversing his grip and throwing his sword like a dart. It struck the devil with such force it pinned her to the wall. She hung there her feet dancing deaths tattoo as the frozen blade ripped its way through her as her weight caused her to drop to the floor. The visage of dark comeliness was peeled back to reveal a wizen crone. Thin blue flesh clung to its bones, its face pot marked and gaunt. It looked like a skeleton that had been draped with skin with no muscles and tendons beneath.
The creature screamed and writhed as the blade left her flesh. The two halves of the body crashed to the floor and shattered like a statue that is knocked over.
“Yield my Lord your cause is lost.” Alexander yelled at De Anjou as Tomas sank to his knees in exhaustion. “You are on your own. None shall lift a finger to aid you.”
“Never! Never! Never!!!” De Anjou blows became more frantic, more reckless.
Seizing the advantage Alexander drove him back until De Anjou missed his footing allowing the Knight to plunge his sword into the mans breast.
De Anjou fell to the floor clutching the wound.
“Dam you Knight, Dam you to hell.” A thin dribble of blood trickled down his chin. “You better run and hide with the children as my successor will make you his priority.”
De Anjou laughed but it turned into a bloody cough.
“You think you have defeated me but what I have put in place will crush you.”
“What do you mean?” Alexander asked.
“You will see.” With that his eyes rolled up in their sockets and he died.
Alexander stood up and looked around at the survivors. He felt proud of them.
Patrik crossed to Tomas and laid a healing hand on him.
“Sir Alexander we need to get Tomas back to the infirmary quickly.”
“Holy Brother we will bring the Barons carriage around to the front to take him.” One of the guards told him before trotting off to carry out the tasks.
Alexander shrugged as if moving a heavy load on his back.
Alexander and Patrik looked at each other knowing in their hearts that things could never go back to what they were. Whether things would be for the better or the worse they didn’t know, only time would tell.
As they left the room they were unaware of a black shadow falling over De Anjou body. The owner of the shadow knelt and took off the Barons ring and retrieved his sword.
Pierre De Anjou stood up and walked away.
“I will destroy you Tomas, you will pay for your interference.” He turned and left. His face was as black as his heart.