The Way West #22

This is my Camp NaNoWriMo project.  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 22: All for One

In which Glory shows her carving skills and Bertie sniffs out the garlic

They fell in with the 4th and 5th regiments who were marching back to White Horse.  It was an ‘orderly withdrawal’, they heard someone say.  Humphrey had difficulty keeping pace with them, and Winston was looking very tired.  By common consent they decided not to talk, in case Lord Colman was looking for them.  Humphrey reflected on the incident where he had thrown a thought bolt back at someone and wondered if he could make a sort of thought shield to cover the four of them from spies.  In time, but not now, he thought.

They mingled with the troops as it gave them good cover until the troops split up to go to their stations on either side of White Horse Castle. Humphrey decided to use his secret entrance for some reason, he couldn’t tell why, so he showed Winston, Bertie and Glory the way in, and they emerged in the lower dining hall cautiously, since it was full of people.  No-one seemed to notice them.

Surrounded by noise, they cautiously spoke to each other for the first time.

“Thanks, guys,” said Winston. “I don’t know how else to say it really.”

“It’s okay.” Glory was the only one to respond.  Humphrey and Bertie couldn’t think of anything adequate to say about his predicament.

“We need to go up to Lord Diesel and report in,” said Humphrey. “We can explain our worry about Lord Colman listening to us and he might be able to help.”

“Yeah, we can report and tell you at the same time then.” Bertie had found his voice at last.

They rose as one and crossed the outer courtyard, littered with debris from the bombing that had been swept to the sides but disturbed by all the comings and goings.  No-one challenged them as they entered the inner courtyard, and Humphrey sent some thoughts ahead to check that all was well.

He stopped dead in his tracks.

“Lord Colman is with Lord Diesel and the King,” he whispered.

“Who else is there?” asked Winston.

“I don’t know all the names, only the voices. Prince Colin.  Lots of other people.  Major Robert.”

“Who?”

“He’s a senior person from outside.  Didn’t think we should be using the 4th and 5th.  I think he thought we were causing the trouble.” Humphrey wasn’t exactly sure who Major Robert was, now he came to think of it.

“We do need to report in,” said Glory.

“I know,” said Humphrey.  Then, “I know!”

They looked at him as he turned to one side and went to the guard room.

“Is Harrison here?” he asked the guard on duty.

“No, he’s up on guard duty at the king’s apartments, Humphrey,” the guard replied.

“Thanks,” said Humphrey, but his bright demeanour had gone again.

“I just thought we could ask his advice,” he explained to the others.

“Sounds like we need to go up.  We can always ask him there, if he’s on guard duty.” Winston started off across the inner courtyard and the others followed.

They made their way to the king’s audience room where they found Harrison checking everyone at the top of the stairs, before they could even gain access to the correct floor.  He beamed as he saw them.

“We thought we’d lost you!”

“No,” Glory laughed, “we came back.  But we need to report to Lord Diesel, and we think we need to stay out of the way of Lord Colman, Harrison, and we think he’s in there now, isn’t he?”

“How do you know that if you’ve only just got back?” Harrison asked suspiciously, but only in jest.  He thought for a moment. “Let me give Lord Diesel a message.  You wait in this anteroom over here.”

He led them to a room close to the King’s audience room, which had guards stationed on either side of the double doors.

“Wait in here.  I’ll let you know what he says.”

They waited, and in a few minutes Harrison was back.

“He says he’ll be here to see you. Don’t leave until then.  Whoever asks you to.”  He frowned.  “Funny way to put it.  He told me to make sure you got that part of the message though.”  He turned and went to the door. “There’s fruit and stuff in that dish, and drink on the sideboard.  You might as well have some, they’ve got food of their own in there,” he added, meaning the audience room.  He left them to tuck in.

Winston smiled as he noticed a desk in one corner.  He opened it and drew out paper and stylus.

I don’t think we should talk if Lord C’s there, he wrote.  The others nodded.

Does D think there’s a traitor that might get rid of us, he wrote again. There were shrugs, pursed lips, various gestures of ‘who knows’.

Who’s in that room with the king, wrote Humphrey.

Winston took the paper and stylus, and an apple, over to the door.  Humphrey was interested in the way he angled himself.  He decided that Winston could see though one wall but not two.  Winston wrote down names as he munched.  There were lots of them, people that Humphrey didn’t know. There were some Winston didn’t know.

Guy with a funny uniform, possibly high ranked.  Stands between Lord Diesel and Lord Colman, at a distance.  Humphrey guessed that was Major Robert and wrote the name beside Winston’s note and added a question mark.

Younger guy part of Lord Colman’s bunch. White coat with red trimmings. Humphrey wrote Kevin next to it.

Shabby guy, grey and white, stooped but still quite young.  Stands with a female, tan coat. Humphrey’s spirits rose. Chester and Shel from the exiled group, he wrote.

Two or three guys in Forest colours, and the same in Deeping colours.  Possibly guards.

Can you listen to what’s being said, wrote Bertie.

No, wrote Humphrey.  He knows me now.  We had a sort of fight.

The others looked impressed.  The memory of the furious bolt that he’d sent back worried Humphrey from time to time.

The inability to talk, and the need to wait started to get on their nerves.  Bertie wandered round the room gazing at the pictures.  Winston wandered around looking in cupboards without opening them. Glory sat at the window, looking out.  Humphrey sat on a long seat with swirly patterns on it and tried to think without letting his thoughts out.  He was sure he’d missed something.  Then he realised that he hadn’t checked on the ‘black hole’ group since he’d noticed them moving up behind the 4th regiment at Deeping.  Where were they now, he wondered, without sending any thoughts out of the room.  And Freya.  She was a mystery.  She’d left them to warn Chester of something, but he’d left.  Or had he left after?  Humphrey couldn’t remember.  He didn’t want to check his memory too hard in case.  It was hard to think when your enemies might be able to hear you.  Then Freya had left the day before Betty had left the hill, she’d thought.  But later Betty had said she’d left on the way to the battle on the road.   Well, who knows whether Betty was telling the truth in anything she said.  She’d turned out to be working for Deeping, after all.

It was all so complicated.  He sighed.  The idea of walking off over the hills to the west appealed to him again.

Glory attracted his attention from the window.  They all got up and joined her. It was snowing outside.

The door opened and they turned.  Fitzroy walked in, smiling at them.

“Well done, team!” he said.  “Splendid work!”

“I’m not sure we can call it that,” said Winston. “I think we made rather a mess of it.”

“No, no,” said Fitzroy, helping himself to some fruit. “You did as much as you could, and you got the information home.  And eventually you got yourselves home too.  Splendid work on a difficult assignment and your first one at that.”

“What’s happening now, then?” asked Bertie.

“Clearing up some political stuff, making sure Colman knows what’s what, that sort of thing,” said Fitzroy.  “They’ll be finished soon.  We’d better go up to the room and get you debriefed.  There’s a dinner for all of you elite squad people tonight!”

He put his arm round Bertie’s shoulder, since he was nearest, and walked him over to the door.  Winston followed.  Glory hesitated and looked at Humphrey.  His hair was standing on end again.

“Um, guys,” she said. They looked at her and then at Fitzroy.

“Come guys,” he said again. “I’m sure Diesel will be along when he’s finished.  He’s very proud of you, you know.”

“Well, we’ll wait here for him, then,” said Glory, settling back in the windowseat.

“Oh surely,” started Fitzroy. But Winston and Bertie also stepped back and went to opposite sides of the room.  “Now, my best team, stop being silly.  It is time for your debriefing. Come with me please.”

Bertie raised his nose as if he was smelling something.  He moved his hand under the table decoration and removed it again, putting his hand in his pocket.  Humphrey thought he had something small and white in it.  Glory put her hands in her pockets and took an unnaturally relaxed pose.

Fitzroy stared at them. Like lightning he flew across the room, head first, aiming for Humphrey.  He opened his mouth.  All Humphrey could see was teeth.  Sharp pointed teeth heading straight for his…

Knives flashed in front of him, silver knives whirling in tiny circles…

Garlic! In front of his face…

He fainted.

~~~

“I couldn’t see any marks,” said a familiar voice. Glory, he thought.

“I think he’s coming to,” said another.  This time it was Winston.

“Where did you get the garlic from, anyway?” asked another.  Lord Diesel.  Humphrey sat up.

“What happened?” he asked, as Bertie explained to Diesel that there was a pile of it at the bottom of the fruit basket.

“Some prank of one of the yeomen, I bet,” said Diesel. “He probably made off with half the fruit instead.  You’ve had a lucky escape, Humphrey, although you did well to obey my orders.  I hear you two were nearly taken in.”

“We’re a team,” said Glory, “you can take some of us in some of the time, but not all of us at once.”

“One for all and all for one,” said Humphrey, wondering where he’d read that. “Did you know Fitzroy was…” he didn’t want to say it.

“A vampire?  No, not at all.  We had a suspicion that someone on Lord Colman’s payroll would try to get you four out of the way though.  I didn’t think it would be Fitzroy.  I wonder why… but we will never know.  How do you come to have silver knives, Glory?”

“An heirloom,” she said, with finality.

“Hmm,” said Diesel, eyeing her.  “Glory of White Horse, formerly of Calella, with silver knives as an heirloom.  I hope one day you’ll be able to tell us your story, young lady.”

“Now,” he continued.  “The others have debriefed me on their adventure.  What I need from you, Humphrey, is this business of the two ninjas fighting.  The others couldn’t tell me any more than that and the manner of their deaths.  Did you recognise them?”

“Willoughby fell from the window.  I didn’t see his body. It must have been washed away by the river,” he felt awful saying it.  Willoughby the Narrator.  He wanted to howl in anguish.  “Betty was the other one.  She and Willoughby seemed to know each other.  I thought we were friends.  She was kind to me.” Humphrey started shaking and Winston patted him on the shoulder.

“Betty of…?” asked Diesel.

Humphrey thought hard. “We never said.  She ran the wall as Betty of Sarsen, but Chester called the hill we lived in Sarsen.”

“Yes, he did.”  Diesel sighed.  “The White Ninja.  We thought she was ours.  I remember saying one time we should recruit her, and Colin replying smugly that we already had.”  Humphrey hid his face.  He remembered them saying that too.  He hadn’t believed they meant Betty though.

“Well, we have an awkward situation.  One of many and one more easily solved than most.  Fitzroy was your temporary mentor, you may remember.  As Humphrey knows, your real mentor was Willoughby.  He’s not an easy person to have as a mentor because he’s always on the road.  Or was. Hence the deputy.  Now you have no-one, so I’m appointing myself as your mentor.  I’m impressed with your skills and I think you’ll go far.  Humphrey has developed his remarkably since this business began.”  The four team members looked at each other and grinned, then smiled politely at Diesel.

“Now, I should caution you,” Diesel continued, “that Lord Colman will be watching you.  He will be trying every political move in the book to avoid any censure for this attack on us.  He has friends in high places and will probably get away with it.  We will have to work hard to avoid him shifting the blame onto us.  I think with Major Robert’s testimony we will be ok, but we are relying on him to get that testimony to the right hands.  So your next task will be to escort him home.  He leaves tonight, so you should get some rest now.  Any questions?”

It was hard to think of any on the spot, but Humphrey had one he’d wanted to ask for a while.

“What should I do now that I think Lord Colman can hear me?”

“Hear you generally or hear you listening to him?”

“Both.”

Diesel thought for a moment, his eyes on Humphrey, assessing him. “You are going to have to learn how to block him, and also how to fight with your mind. And I suspect you just needed confirmation from me that there was no other way.”

Humphrey dropped his head.

“Take heart, Humphrey.  You have so many talents you will cope with Lord Colman. He is a formidable opponent, but you are part of a team.  I’d take that thing you said earlier as your motto.” He smiled at them all, and led the way out of the room.

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