Chapter Seven A Cause for Concern.
The ride out was quiet and Sophia enjoyed the early dry seasons weather. The sun warmed her face and eased her fears.
They were making their way through a steep sided gully when they spied the village miles ahead on the plain.
Alexander drew the group to a stop as one of the knights appeared out of the undergrowth.
“Your report please Sir Julian?”
The knight gave a precise description of the forces up ahead with estimated numbers and added what strategic information he could.
“Prepare yourselves.” He called to the knights and soldiers alike. “Up ahead are twice our number of Gnolls, we can take them if we use not only our arms but our brains also. Healers make up tents and equipment here, the gully will give you some protection.
The Knights and I will go for the centre of the village to split their forces and take their leader. Don’t give any quarter as I know they will give us none.”
Alexander became aware of Sophia looking around the gully nodding and talking to herself.
“My Lady.” He said gently.
“My good Knight our Lady has been telling me of another plan if you see fit to use it.” Sophia replied with a calm almost angelic demeanour. “She instructs me to remind you of the value of the gully as an ambush site. The soldiers hidden up the sides with three of our four knights ready to close the entrance once our enemy is within.”
“What about the exit , the way we have entered? Alexander asked aware of the soldiers listening.
“Why my dear Sir Alexander that will be you and I with Sir Julian.”
“How will we get them to come in to the gully?” Julian asked.
“They will be chasing me. I shall make sure I am spotted then turn and flee, always making sure they are not too far behind me or for that matter not too close either.”
“A sound proposition my Lady but one you should not have to do alone. I will accompany you as I am better suited to gauge our pace.” Alexander turned to his warriors. “We will adopt Lady Sophia’s plan. Sergeant at Arms hide the men, ten on each side, Knights to you position’s” Once satisfied he nodded to the young girl. “Ready my Lady?”
“As I’ll ever be.” She tapped her horse into a walk and lead the Knight out on to the plain.
They were only a short distance from the village when they spotted the first of the Gnolls. A strange looking creature in mismatched armour. They looked like Hyenas that had gained the ability to stand upright.
This one had blood around its face, testament, if there was any need for one, of what happened to the defeated.
“Turn now Sophia and match speed with me.”
They turned their horses and acted as if they were trying to slink away.
The Gnoll was having none of it. It stood up on its hind legs and gave a loud cackling laugh call that brought others out into the open.
Soon they were after them with space covering loping strides.
The pair of them increased their speed as the creatures poured out of the village in pursuit. Soon all forty of them were thundering after them waving their meat cleaver like weapons in the air and cackling with their curious laugh.
As they entered the gully they had to bunch up causing them to get in each others way. At the far end of the gully Alexander turned and joined by Julian face the enemy as the other three knights closed the other end.
Suddenly the sides of the gully bristle with men and women at arms all firing arrows into the packed mass. Some of the creatures panicked and fell under the knights blades as they tried to escape.
Sophia made her pony climb the side of the gully so she could be seen by enemy and patriot alike.
Already the creatures had lost halve their number to the onslaught before the soldiers swept down to fight hand to hand.
A small group of the creatures scrabbled up toward Sophia much to Alexander’s horror. He was hard pressed but valiantly tried to force his way through to her side.
Sophia sat so calmly on her pony watching the creatures advance. She pulled out her shining steel mace and held it aloft for all to see.
Suddenly an arrow flashed in front of her and buried itself in the nearest dropping it on the spot.
Tomas appeared out of the rocks drawing out his sword and mace as Samantha notching another arrow followed suit.
With a bellow of anger Bonnyface appeared his mighty war hammer in his hands. Aziz appeared behind the creatures his twin flashing blades causing the maximum chaos.
Tomas charged into the throng of creatures his weapons dealing death, De Anjou appeared beside him his shield and bastard sword creating mayhem.
Gregory and Vicktor were making short work of those that tried to flee.
Soon the group that had gone for Sophia were left dead or dying on the slope.
Alexander had, at last, managed to get to where Sophia sat and confronted the youngsters not knowing whether to be angry at them or whether to praise them.
He turned to look below to see that the battle was over.
“Healers to our troops if you please.” He yelled.
There seemed to be less of them now and he dreaded the butchers bill.
The youngsters stood in a loose huddle preparing to meet his wroth.
He looked at their faces with a strange feeling of pride.
“Why did you come young man?” He asked quietly looking deep into Tomas’s eyes.
“To protect my sister my Lord.”
“The correct answer Tomas but what about the rest of you?”
“We came to protect him. There was no way we were going to let him do it on his own.” Samantha offered.
“You did well, all of you, but if you try anything like that again I will skin you alive, if you managed to keep yourself intact that is.”
“In that case my Lord we will fight all the fiercer to make sure you have a reason to skin us.” Tomas said gently with a crooked smile on his long face.
Alexander had seen how Tomas, the youngest, had slowly become the spokesman of the group.
“That would be advisable young man. Make yourselves useful all of you and help the injured.” He looked across at Sophia. “Not you young lady.”
He waited till the novices were out of ear shot before speaking to her.
“Did you put them up to this?” He asked watching the scene below.
“No my Lord, the first time I knew of their presence was last night when Our Lady told me. I then found Tomas and tried to get him to go home but my stubborn brother would have none of it. I told them to stay out of sight and not to get involved unless.”
“Until you raised your mace aloft. Not the most subtle of signs but effective.” He gave her a broad smile. “If you will excuse me my Lady I have much too see to.”
“Yes my Lord you have my permission to leave though you don’t require it. I will be helping the healers.” She looked across to where Julian was waiting to speak to Alexander. “It seems you are needed my Lord.”
As she left the Knight came forward.
“The butchers bill has been light my Lord. We sadly lost one of the guard and have six others with an array of injuries. All us knights have come through without injury.”
Alexander nodded sadly.
“That is one too many my friend.” He sighed. “Collect the knights together. We will go and investigate the village.”
An hour later they returned their faces grim and their eyes haunted.
They didn’t find anyone alive and the bodies they did find were horribly abused.
It was a very subdued group that rode away the next day back to Prey.
Father Pierre and Elizabeth were walking through the market when the news that the group had returned reached their ears.
Elizabeth flew up the pathway to the Abbey as if her feet had wings. She arrived just as the group were dismounting in the forecourt.
Brother Patrik was waiting for his students to collect together.
“Tomas, Sophia!” She cried swiftly gathering them, much to their embarrassment, to her chest.
“Hello mother as you can see we are quite intact.” Tomas told her as he broke her embrace.
“So I can see young man.” Patrik said with a hint of disapproval in his voice. “You have been a cause for concern for not only your mother but to me as well. I think I have aged a good ten years and for a man of my age that is a dangerous thing to happen.”
“Do not be too hard on them good Brother they acquitted themselves well.” Julian told him as he took the reigns of his horse.
Alexander crossed over to them deep in thought.
“I think these young people should be punished for their lack of concern for others feelings, don’t you agree my Lord?” Patrik asked Alexander.
“I will back any decision you make Brother.” Alexander looked at the slightly smirking figure of Father Pierre and felt a great distaste for the man.
“You young people will join the Brethren at prayer both day and night.”
Bonnyface looked up in horror.
“But that means we will have only three hours sleep at any one time.” The young man said horrified.
“I think we will survive a day of it Bonnyface.” Viktor said with a smile. “Even you.”
“I did not say that it was for a day Viktor, you will do this for an eight day starting from tonight.” He turned to Elizabeth. “I hope you approve Goodwoman?”
“Most certainly Brother.” She managed a smile at her sons discomfort.
“What about me Brother Patrik am I to be punished too?” Sophia asked. “After all it was to be with me that they did abscond.”
“True young lady. I have open on my desk the words of the confession. I require a copy in the Hellas tongue and another in Common Speech. I suggest you start now.” He was trying to be stern but his heart wasn’t in it.
“I look forward to the challenge. Tomas and I will visit on Eighth Day mother.” She kissed Elizabeth on both cheeks before following the soldiers to the refectory.
“Father Pierre I have just received news that the Bishop has sadly passed on. I think you will be needed at the synod.” Alexander told him.
“A blessed relief I’m afraid. The last time I saw him he barely recognised us. But Sir Alexander is right my love I must join with other priests to plan the funeral and to choose his successor. My Lord, Brother.” For a second his mask of piety slipped allowing the two men to see his avarice.
“I will attend to the body shortly. Make sure no one interferes with the body and surroundings till I and brother Patrik arrive if you please.”
Reluctantly the priest agreed.
As they walked back to the abbey Patrik had other distasteful news to impart.
“Our good Father Pierre has wasted no time in preparing for the Inquisition.”
“He is having the instruments of torture brought up from the castles dungeons. He has even unearthed Toquadamaters book on how to conduct a Inquisition.” Patrik explained. “The Abbott tried to stop him from doing it but was overruled by the Bishop.”
“We have no Bishop now so this vile act cannot take place thankfully.”
“You are wrong my Lord the Bishop signed a note giving Father Pierre a free hand in the matter and to conclude it by the end of the next eight day.”
“I will not allow it Brother!”
“I don’t think we have a choice my Lord but there is worse to come. It is rumoured that the Bishop has signed a legal document naming Father Pierre his successor.”
“God help us all!”
“As Bishop he will have the power to do what he wants with Sophia and as a father, should he marry Elizabeth, he will have the ultimate power over them both.”
“Things can’t get any worse surely?” Alexander drew a hand over his weary face.
“I’m afraid it can. De Anjou has drawn up a marriage contract between Sophia and his youngest legitimate son. In doing so the land will pass to his son on their wedding day and therefore to him.
He has been making more plans to grab lands, at this rate he will own or have influence over seventy percent of Prey.
Whether he has been involved in the increasing calls to burn Sophia as a witch I don’t know. They are only a relatively small group but they are very loud causing some unrest already.”
“It seems that the child is hard pressed from all sides.”
“Yes my Lord. The Abbott will wish to see you I am sure to discuss our response so will you please join us after evening prayers in his quarters?” The monk looked pleadingly up into the Holy Knights face.
“I will be there Brother, have no fear, I will be there to crush this evil!”