The Way West #16

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 16: The Power of the Mind

In which Humphrey meets his mentor and Diesel corners the market

Deep Voice sat back as Humphrey finished his summary.  His name wasn’t Deep Voice, it was Diesel, but Humphrey’s nickname for him stuck in his mind.

“Good,” Diesel said. “You did well. You will go with Rathbone here and help him transcribe the exact plans, and also the names of all their contacts with the rebels.”

Humphrey nodded, then hesitated. “Excuse me, sir, but what about my team?  And the people in the dungeons.”

“They are not forgotten, fear not.  We need your team back urgently. Go now.”

“Sir,” he tried once more, turning in the doorway, “how can I get round the block that some people can put on my hearing?”

Diesel considered his question. “I believe you have already overcome my blockade.  Your mentor will help you explore the others you have found.  Each block has a different cause, a different skill or characteristic. Some are unique to their owners and you will recognise who owns which block in time.”

Humphrey hesitated again, but left, since he was surprised to have been given such a detailed answer.  He didn’t think his mentor would be able to help him further in this, though.  Fitzroy had practically said as much the last time he tried to reach the hill.

He was escorted by a person called Rathbone to a study area.  It took over three hours for Rathbone to copy out all the information on contacts, troops, battle plans and to redraw the schematics that Humphrey had committed to memory in twenty seconds or so.  Finally Rathbone put his stylus down and sat back.

“Any more?” he asked.

Humphrey shook his head.

“That is impressive, young Humphrey,” Rathbone said, gathering up the papers and looking once more at the schematics.  “Rest now, you probably need it.”

Humphrey made his way to the team’s bedroom and sat on his own bed, looking at the empty ones around him.  It was very lonely without Winston, Bertie and Glory. He reached out to Castle Forest, searching for their voices or Glory’s thoughts.  Nothing.  No sounds from the dungeons either, which was a mixed blessing, since the despair he felt from the people there when he was on his mission had blunted his senses.  If only I’d heard the soldiers, he thought.  I should have heard the soldiers.

Glory should have heard them, Bertie should have smelled them, Winston should have seen them through the walls, came a response, followed by a knock on the door. A brown nose came through it as it opened even though Humphrey hadn’t invited the person in.  “May I come in?” said the owner of the nose.

“Willoughby!” said Humphrey, “Yes of course!  You can think to me!”

“Only at close range,” he replied, “but yes, most of my brothers and sisters can.  A little, at any rate.”

“But what happened to you?” asked Humphrey as he saw the scars and dead hair on Willoughby’s back.

“I was caught in the explosion.  Careless on my part, but I was trying to help people and still avoid the blast.  Some nails tore my skin.  I’m hoping the hair will grow back okay.  You shouldn’t blame yourself, you know,” Willoughby added, picking up on the thought conversation.

“So were we all… negligent?”

“I doubt it. Your senses may have been affected by the reek as much as Bertie’s.  Yes, you may have been elated with success, having completed your immediate task.  A lesson to learn, that your mission is not complete until you have got the message home.” He spoke in a mild manner, and some of the twisting feeling in Humphrey’s insides relaxed.

Humphrey thought of nothing much for a few moments, but looked up as he became aware of Willoughby’s gaze.

“Why are you here?” he asked.

“I realise you may have forgotten, but Fitzroy was only your temporary mentor.  He was standing in for me while I recovered and, er, covered my tracks.”

“Oh.”

“So, how do you think we should rescue the others, Humphrey of White Horse?”

Humphrey liked the sound of that. He straightened up on his bed and gazed out of the window.

“I can’t hear them.  Someone is blocking them.  I can’t get Glory’s thoughts either.”

“How did you overcome Diesel’s block on your hearing?”

“I…” started Humphrey, then stopped.  “I don’t know.”

Willoughby just sat there, waiting.

“I just did.  Eventually.  I wanted to.  Well, Fitzroy encouraged me to.  He said to keep working on it.”

“Did you know whose blockade it was?” asked Willoughby.

“No.  Well, not at first.  I suppose I guessed it might be him. When I did that I got through it.” Humphrey was retracing the steps in his head. “Oh,” he added, and looked at Willoughby.

“Exactly.  The first stage to overcoming a block is to attune yourself to the blocker.  You don’t need any prior knowledge most of the time; to know roughly who it is, their reputation, to have gained some idea of their personality by listening to them in the first place; all these things help you to attune yourself.  In most cases,” Willoughby added.

“When won’t it work?”

“It’s dangerous with vampires.  And pretty much impossible with werewolves.”

Humphrey’s face fell. He didn’t want to get mixed up with either vampires or werewolves.

You already are, echoed Willoughby’s voice in his head.

~~~

“So, if they don’t change their plans, we can expect an attack tomorrow evening then,” said King Benson.

“Yes, sire.”

“Will they change them, do you think?”

“I don’t know, sire,” said Rathbone, who had sorted through the papers and brought the most essential to the king.  He was in need of sleep, rather than strategy meetings.

“Send Diesel to me, would you?  Then get some sleep.” Benson recognised Rathbone wasn’t up to this task.  He needed a thinker.  He tried not to sigh; Rathbone had done well.

He sat at his desk in what he liked to call his study.  There was a picture on the wall opposite made out of fabric, some lost art that both men and women of the area had been famous for.  It showed White Horse Hill, the horse barely changed over the centuries, with the castle in the background.  Complete fabrication of course, since the horse on the hill faced the castle.  He wondered if the legend was true though.  While the horse shone in the moon, the Castle could never fall.  He grimaced.  If the moon shone, did that mean vampires couldn’t attack?  Were they afraid of the moon or was that werewolves?  He wasn’t sure.  No, werewolves took their wolf form in the full moon.  Vampires didn’t mind the moon; it was the sun they didn’t like.  No help there then.  Or maybe it was… he’d originally thought the legend was a tautology since if the moon was shining these supernatural beings couldn’t attack.  But they could.  The Castle will be strong anyway, he thought.  We have our own superpowers.

“Ah, Diesel!” he said as Diesel entered the room with a soft knock and without waiting for an answer.  He’d been summoned, after all.

“The papers your young person stole for us show they were preparing to attack the night after tomorrow, that is, the second night from now,” Benson clarified, since it was now not long till the change of the morning guard.  Daybreak would be a while yet, since it was less than a month to the winter solstice.

“And you wonder whether they will change their plans?”

“Indeed.  It’s like chess isn’t it?  They may suspect we know something.  Do they double bluff and stick to their plans, or change them to keep us guessing?”

“We haven’t determined what gave our team’s presence away.  They could have slipped up, made a noise, in which case why would Lord Duffield or his people think they had stolen the information?  Humphrey, the young memory artist, assured me the papers and everything else were left as they had found them.  He knows about hidden hairs and items like that. Did they miss something? Maybe; it was their first assignment.”

“They did well.  You rate them, don’t you?”

“Yes I do.  They are an exceptional team.  But it was their first assignment and they slipped up somehow.  Willoughby has suggested that Colman’s other senses may have betrayed them.”

Benson ground his teeth at the idea of ‘Colman’s other senses’.

Diesel noticed. “It may be against the law for a vampire to rule a castle, whether king, baron or lord, but if we are the only ones to suspect, what practical difference does it make?”

“But Colman wasn’t there.  I hope he can’t hear what’s going on in Forest all the way from Deeping.”

“So do I.  But one of his men was there, talking to Duffield, from what Humphrey reported.”

“Is he that reliable?” asked the king.

“I believe so.  He repeated a conversation he heard one night between me and Colin, and had it word perfect, as far as I can recall at any rate.  He didn’t even know who we were at the time.”

“I hope he’s not listening to us now!”

“I’m inclined not to worry about it if he is, although I asked him not to.  He did say he tends to notice his name being said.  Maybe we should invent a codename for him,” he chuckled.

King Benson opened his mouth to suggest one, but Diesel shook his head. “We’ll decide in broad daylight,” he said. “The young man did say he hears less when there’s lots of background noise; he has to tune in then.”

“A remarkable talent,” Benson said, shaking his head.

“So, back to the proposed attack,” said Diesel. “I would suggest we devise a stratagem today and ensure all involved are ready from tonight.”

“How will we be able to withstand a troop of vampires for pity’s sake? My poor guards.”

Diesel looked at his king carefully, noting the worry etched with something else. “They will have support you haven’t fully grasped yet,” he said in a tone designed to instil confidence. “Trust me and all the special forces we have been training over the years.  They are ready and they are close.”

The king looked at him.  The set of his jaw and the half-lidded eyes suggested he needed convincing.

“And besides,” Diesel added, “I bought up the entire harvest of garlic this year.  We have enough in store to support every good man and true between here and Castle Buckmore itself.”

Go to Chapter 17

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