The Way West #15

This is my NaNoWriMo project for August 2012.  I’m posting one chapter at a time (Monday,Wednesday & Friday).  To see earlier chapters click here.  All comments welcome.  Story copyright Jemima Pett.

Chapter 15: Breaking and Entering

In which Bertie opens up and Humphrey reads a lot

“How would you have recruited us if there hadn’t been an explosion?” asked Bertie as they finished their fruit course.

“Oh, we had planned to send out a call, as we term it, towards the end of the festival.  Some of you had already been noticed.  Others,” Fitzroy nodded at Winston, “were a surprise to us.”

“Do you send out calls often?” asked Glory.

“We haven’t needed to for some time. But don’t you find it interesting that you had all gravitated here of your own accord?  You, for example, Humphrey,” Humphrey started, embarrassed at being singled out, “you left with your friends on Tuesday night, yet you returned on Wednesday.  To attend the Narrathon, you told the guards.”

“Yes,” said Humphrey, wide-eyed. “That was all I wanted.”

“And you, Glory, you came to do the Wall Run.”

She nodded.  “Yes, that was why I came.  I didn’t need to rush away.”

“And of course you could use Calella’s hospitality a while longer before you were found out.”

“Oh, I really am from Calella.  It was the first time I’ve admitted my home community for years.”

“Why now?” asked Fitzroy gently.

“I’m far enough away, I suppose.  I still feel awkward about admitting I’m from anywhere though.  Old habits,” she added.  Humphrey could guess how she felt, but couldn’t think of any circumstances in which he might admit to being from Arbor.

“It’s not unusual,” said Fitzroy to the table as a whole, “for people with talents to assume a different home, or even a different name.  Many outcasts adopt castles on a whim, and move on before the castle in question can track them down and disown their debts.”

Bertie, Glory and Humphrey looked at their now empty plates.

Winston shifted in his seat, uncomfortable for his friends. “But now they are citizens of White Horse you said.”

“Yes, that is the case.  The past is forgotten.  I said the other day I would not ask you about your backgrounds until you trusted each other, and me.  In fact I will not ask you about your backgrounds at all.  You are here among friends, many of whom have been through similar experiences to your own.  What you choose to tell each other is entirely up to you.

“For the next two days you are going to be trained for a specific task which you will carry out later in the week.  When I say trained, I mean that we will give you the best preparation possible for the task, but there are many eventualities that could occur.  You will train together so that you can use your ingenuity to overcome these eventualities.  You worked well together on a simple task today.  You trusted each other.  You will need that trust to succeed, I think.” He paused and looked around them.  “And now, I’ll leave you.  Have a pleasant evening and I will see you in the exercise room tomorrow morning.”

The four watched him depart, each thinking of their background and wondering what to say, if anything.

Winston broke the silence, reaching for the bottle of wine and refilling their glasses.

“Well, I’m honoured to be among people of mystery,” he said.  “I’m quite happy for it to stay that way if you like.  I’m just an ordinary person from White Horse, son of one of the guards.  Apparently they didn’t recruit me earlier because I never showed that I could see through walls.  So I must also be good at hiding my thoughts from prying minds.”

“Yes, you are,” Glory said.  “I don’t read you at all.  I don’t read Humphrey either, although I can think to him if he wishes to think-talk.”

Humphrey looked pleased with himself.

“What about me?” asked Bertie.

Glory smiled.  “Only when you wish to be read, Bertie.”

Humphrey suspected she was being polite.  Although he didn’t read Bertie very often either. Bertie kept his thoughts to himself.  Now he spoke.

“I come from an independent farming community called, well, never mind, you won’t have heard of it.  Our crops supported Vexstein and Hallam.  We also had a small brewery.  Did ourselves and the other villages around.  There was another small castle that took it too.  Looked to my dad for all of their milling and grinding corn as well.  Then Vexstein suggested we expand, do more, sell more, make more.  Well, we couldn’t without more machinery, more help.  Vexstein helped.  Then they took us over, or tried to.  That’s when my dad got his sword, to keep the vandals out.  We called them vandals but they came from Vexstein, we found out later.  Much later.  After my dad had been killed and the community taken over by those rats.  That’s when I left.  I wasn’t going to stay under their rule.  And anyway, I should have warned my dad.  I knew who they were, what they were.  Where they were.” He hung his head.  “I could smell them out, but I didn’t realise.  I didn’t realise that other people couldn’t.”

He lifted his head and looked at them. “You want to track someone down?  As long as I know what they smell like, I’ll find them for you.”

“So,” Winston said, as Glory murmured words of comfort to Bertie, “I can see rather well, Bertie can smell rather well, and Glory and Humphrey can both hear people’s thoughts.”

“Oh I think Humphrey does rather more than that,” said Glory, “don’t you Humph?”

“Um, well, I only hear thoughts that are directed to me,” said Humphrey, quietly.

“What else do you hear?” Glory said, smiling gently at him.

“Well, anything, really.  It’s like seeing through walls, I suppose.  I can hear people a long way off if they aren’t blocking me.  Just recently people have been blocking my hearing.  I want to find out if I can stop them doing that.”

“I expect you will,” said Glory. “I hear thoughts, but I don’t hear through walls.  I run walls.  I can leap and run up things like they are flat on the ground.”

“That sounds like a really good mix of things we do,” said Winston. “Anyone got anything else they can do? My dad taught me to shoot a bow and arrow.”

“I can swim, and row a boat,” said Bertie.

“I can read,” said Humphrey.

Winston laughed.  “I expect we all can, Humph.”

“No, I mean yes, I’m sure you can.  I mean I read them and remember them.  It’s why I thought trying the tower straight up would be worthwhile.  Two books said so.”

“What books?” asked Winston, trying hard to make sense of Humphrey’s words.

“Two of the books I’ve read.”

“Humphrey, do you remember everything you’ve ever read?” asked Glory, coming to Winston’s rescue.

“Yes.”

“That’s useful.” Glory looked into the distance, which was about two metres away, a wooden panelled wall.  “So can you tell me how far it is from the earth to the sun?”

Humphrey scanned an astronomy book in his head. “Eight minutes,” he said. “That’s how long it takes light to reach us from the sun anyway.  Do you need it in metres?”

Bertie laughed. “No.  This could make a great party game though.  What was the date of the founding of Vexstein?”

Humphrey paused. His eyes moved from right to left and back again as he scanned through his library. “I haven’t read a book on that,” he said.  “They didn’t have anything much on the realms at Arbor.”

“Where’s Arbor?” said Winston.

“Arbor?” said Bertie, at the same time, “I thought that was a myth.”

Humphrey hid his face and shuffled his feet.  His hair was standing on end.

“It’s okay, Humphrey,” said Glory, putting her hand on his arm, “you don’t have to say any more.”

He looked up at them.  “It’s where I grew up,” he whispered, trembling. His throat was choking him; he couldn’t breathe.

Bertie patted him on the shoulder. “Okay, mate, you don’t have to say any more.”

Winston looked at him across the table. “Have another drink,” he said, pouring the last of the wine into his glass.

Humphrey gradually relaxed again. He was with friends.

~~~

The rain dripped off the branches and down their necks. It softened the leaves on the ground, so they could tread silently. They slid down the muddy bank into the culvert that emerged from the base of the castle, carrying away the liquid waste.  Bertie thought he’d never be able to smell anything again.

The culvert ended in the cesspit of the castle. Winston nodded; no immediate danger behind the walls.  Glory leapt up the wall carrying the rope that Humphrey unwound as she went.  It’s ready, she thought when she’d fixed it securely.

“Go,” breathed Humphrey to the other two. Winston shinned up it first, then he and Glory pulled Humphrey up the last part.  Bertie followed, pulling the tail of the rope up with him.

Humphrey had been scanning for any talking or noises. They weren’t worried about the guards; the team could all hear them, and they weren’t looking inside the castle. Humphrey located the dungeons, now he needed to find the king’s private chambers and his steward’s offices.  There were people in the dungeons.  They distracted him.  Their noises distracted him.  They were in pain. They were in despair.

Winston beckoned him, pointed up at a window, then at an arched gateway on the far side of the square.  They squelched across the ground, gained the doorway, tried the handle.  It turned.  They slipped through and up the stairs.

Three long flights of stone steps, through an arch at the top.  Sideways into a small office. Bertie stood guard outside.  Winston looked at what was in the closed cupboards. “Castle accounts, records, diaries,” he listed under his breath. “Maybe it’s not here!”

“I’ll check for the king’s den,” whispered Glory.  She opened the window and went wall running.  Winston and Humphrey checked through all the files. Nothing.

Glory returned.

“Up two floors. Three windows from the next corner. Some people are awake,” she warned.

They made sure everything looked as theyd found it and left the room.  Humphrey pointed up the stairs to Bertie, who crept forward, leading the way.  Glory overtook him, bounding lightly up to the fifth level.  The others caught up with her, Humphrey listening along the corridor, hearing breathing from sleepers, a conversation two doors along.  They slid along the corridor, hugging the wall.  Humphrey pointed at the door hiding the conversationalists.  Winston shook his head, pointed at the next door on their own side.  Glory confirmed it was the one they sought.  Winston ‘looked’ inside and nodded.

They repeated the routine, although Glory stayed inside.  Winston looked at what was behind doors, Humphrey looked through the contents of the desk.  They couldn’t find it.

Winston had a look at the desk, and hissed “secret compartment!”  He crouched down and fiddled with the side of the desk, opened the drawer that Humphrey had already searched, and another drawer sprang open from inside the top of the drawer space.

Humphrey took out the contents and turned the pages, one by one, maybe twenty pages in as many seconds.  He put them back in the drawer, closed the desk, and waved at the others to leave.  Winston double-checked things were as they had found them, and followed.

Both he and Humphrey had their skills focused on the room where the conversation was still taking place.  Winston could see two people, one pacing back and forward, the other making stabbing motions with his hand.  Humphrey listened to them talking.

“Lord Colman is right, you know he’s right.”

“Yes, but… I don’t know.”

“You’ve already got your dungeons full, you can hardly back out now.”

“I wish I’d never got involved.”

“It’s too late for second thoughts.”

“We could lose a lot of people.”

“Benson isn’t that well organised.”

“You don’t know that.  There’s always been something funny about that lot.”

“You’re imagining things.”

“Let’s just check one more time.”

Winston gestured in alarm as he saw them move towards the door.  The team ran silently along the corridor, Bertie leading, Humphrey second. Glory hung back and pushed Winston ahead of her.  The door opened and they heard people cross the corridor behind them.  Bertie slipped down the first stair and stifled a cry.  Humphrey gained the archway and slid behind it, hiding, but leaving room for Winston.  Glory ran round the ceiling and dropped to the floor beside them, her eyes shining.

They scurried down the stairs in total silence, crossed the square, and jumped into the cesspit.  It was disgusting.

Glory emerged from the culvert and found herself surrounded by a ring of spears pointing at the exit. Winston and Bertie ground to a halt and looked at the point of a spear each.  Humphrey saw them halt, and shrank against the side of the culvert wall, half in and half out of the water.

“Get them out” someone ordered.

The armed guards dragged the three of them out of the culvert, suppressing coughs and gagging at the smell.  Humphrey waited, hoping they wouldn’t search.  Did they know there were four intruders, he wondered.  Stay hidden, get home! was Glory’s urgent message to him.

He waited till all the guards had re-entered the castle, then crept further down the culvert, emerging in the cover of some bare-branched trees.

He had to get the information back to White Horse.

But Winston, Bertie and Glory were in deadly danger.

Go to Chapter 16

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