“And I do not like all this thunder and lightning either!” He added.
“Shut up Crandall. Nobody asked you whether you liked the weather or not.” Brill growled menacingly low and his throat. By then Crandall was beyond caring about any of Brill’s threats. In the face of the threat from the impending storm and the lightning it was carrying with it, his threats were lame.
“You asked me, Brill. Just now, when you asked me ‘since when does it rain ice in the middle of summer?’”
“That was not a question you were meant to answer you brain worm-ridden fool! That was one of them prehistorical questions.” Brill hollered back at Crandall who could barely hear his voice above the peal of a thunderclap rolling away down the mountain pass behind them.
“What is a prehistorical question, Brill?” Crandall asked a few seconds later when it was relatively quiet again.
“A prehistorical question, Professor Peabrain is a question that you are not supposed to answer. Brill tried to explain to his partner, who was nonplussed nonetheless.
“Well if you are not supposed to answer the question then why did you even bother to ask it in the first place?”
“I asked it because it has a way of making stupid people ask stupid questions genius that’s why. Brill shouted as another thunderclap washed over them.
“Does it work? Crandle wondered.
“Better than I could have ever imagined,” Brill said, sighing in exasperation. “Better than I could have ever imagined.”
“When are we going get our mules and that black stallion, and get off of this blasted mountain top, Brill? I’m just about to freeze to death up here.” Crandle whined after several minutes of prolonged silence that was broken only by the wind and the peals rolling thunder fading off into the distance.
Meanwhile, the thunderheads gathered closer together as they drew nearer to their lofty mountain perch.
“Don’t you think I am freezing too you fool? We will go find them just as soon as the weather lets up a bit. We cannot do much of anything in this ice storm. If we try to ride out of here in this thunderstorm, we will both be struck down by lightning before we make it back to the timberline.” Brill explained. “I think this storm is going to blow over us pretty quickly from the looks of it.” He added.
“Well, I sure hope so cause it scares me bad, Brill,” Crandle said.
“I just wish this stupid ice storm would blow itself out already,” Brill said. Secretly he agreed with his cowardly partner completely. He did not like the approaching thunder and lightning any more than Crandle did. He was just too proud to ever let him or anyone else know he felt that way. Instead, he cursed the large ice chunks that were bouncing off of his head.
Brill was still in the middle of cursing the ice storm when all at once as though a cosmic switch had been thrown, or a sluice gate had been closed; the ice stopped falling and the wind died down as it shifted around to the Northeast.
“Hey, it stopped!” Crandle cried out as he pulled the cowl of his robe back and looked up the boiling black sky above. “I think the wind even let up a bit,” he added.
“Aye, it surely has,” Brill said. He too had noticed the sudden change in the intensity of the fiercely howling wind. It still had plenty of teeth behind it, but now the wind was no longer blowing at gale force through the pass.
“Do you think It’s over now, Brill?” Crandle asked, hopefully.
“I somehow doubt that, Crandle,” Brill said, just as the first of many snowflakes began to fall on them.
“Hey! Look at this Brill. It’s snowing now!” Crandle exclaimed with all the glee of a young child seeing their first snowfall ever.
“I can see that it’s snowing Crandle. I’m not blind you know.”
“Can we take care of our business with this kid here and now then?” Crandle whined. “We can always wait to ride back down to the road, but I would be willing to bet anything that boy has himself a nice warm fire going right now. He had all of that firewood that you told me he was packing on the backs of our mules.” He said wistfully.
“Hey yeah, that’s right! I plumb forgot about that big load of firewood the boy was packing with him,” Brill said.
“Yeah, a nice warm fire would be just the thing right now wouldn’t it,” Crandle agreed.
Already he was imagining himself standing with his back to a nice roaring campfire. He could see himself toasting his big behind in the golden glowing heat of the flames only he could see.
“Yeah. You know I do believe you may be onto something for one time in your miserable life, Crandle.” Brill said as he began warming up to the idea. “After all, there really is no good reason why we should sit here in the cold and dark getting all snowed on when we could just as easily go and get our just desserts right now instead,” he said as a flash of lightning rent the sky and the thunderclap pounded along rolling down the mountain close on its heels.
“That thunderstorm is getting awfully close, Brill,” Crandle said while the thunder rolled away down the mountainside.
“I know it is,” Brill said, “but it’s okay because all we have to do is stay among these big rocks and we will be safe enough. At least I would guess so anyway.”
“Should we pack everything away first, or just leave it all where it is?” Crandle wanted to know.
“What is there to pack you, moron? Just leave everything where it is and come on. It’s not going anywhere before we get back, now is it? Brill said.
“No, I guess it’s not,” Crandle admitted as another bolt of lightning split the night in two.
“Well then let’s go get our just reward from that young brat. Brill grumbled as thunder rolled through the pass. “Come on.”
Meanwhile, back at his campsite, Shane had gotten out his extra blankets and used them to cover up Dark Star, and the sisters, ahead of the storm. It seemed to have a calming effect on Genny and Vanna as the thunderstorm began to overtake them. The lethal bolts of electricity striking the mountainside were drawing nearer and nearer with each passing minute.
“In about 5 more minutes the storm is going to be directly over the top of us, Star,” Shane said to the black stallion. He finally took a seat again next to the’ ironwood staff. Dark Star snorted and tossed his coal-black mane by way of agreement before he went back to speaking soothing reassurances to Genny and Vanna in Equestrus.
“Hey Star. Maybe I can use this magic staff to stop the storm or maybe make it go away. What do you think?” Shane wondered aloud as he looked at the tool of power propped against the stone beside him. This ridiculous notion only earned him a dubious glance from the horse. One that spoke volumes about the stallions doubts about the boy’s sanity being all it could be. But Shane who was looking at the staff, not the stallion, did not see him shake his shaggy black head and roll his eyes up to the heavens as though he were asking the equine gods,
“Why me?” which was precisely what Dark Star was thinking.
It would never have made any difference to Shane anyway. He reached over, took the tall staff in his hands and held it out towards the fire. First, he began to hum real low in his throat.
It’s a good thing that horses cannot laugh outright because Dark Star would have had a fit of belly-laughter just then if he could have.
When Shane felt like the proper tone had been set for casting his spell, he opened his eyes as wide as he could and stared beams of imagined energy and thoughts of power at the Orleanstone. Then he began to chant the following incantation in his most impressive conjurer’s voice.
“Storm storm go away! Come again some other day!” he cried when he threw the staff up over his head and with a wild, dramatic flair, commanded, “Now I say!”What Shane was hoping for as far as results go, was for the storm clouds to vanish instantly in a flash and a bang or perhaps a big puff of smoke.
What actually happened was that the storm clouds did not vanish at all. Instead, a long bolt of lightning jumped from a cloud over his head and struck the ground near him three times in rapid succession.
The first strike hit the top of the Western spire of Mount Thunder. The second strike landed 50 feet away from the campsite, out in the open. The third strike came even closer to the campsite yet striking a scrub Fir tree that was growing out of a crevice atop the large boulder where Shane and the horses were taking shelter from the storm.
The power of the lightning bolt carried down over one million volts of raw static electricity that split the trunk of the Pinion Fir setting it ablaze. It burned like a beacon fire in the dark stormy night. The shock wave from the thunderclap hit them directly on the heels of the instantly with a blast of supersonic energy that had a physical dimension that was raw terrifying power.
It scared Genny, and Vanna so badly that they both jumped several feet in the air. Vanna gave a frightened scream that was horrible to hear. Normally that is. The stallion was startled by it as well but he didn’t jump nearly as high as the mules did, nor did he scream. He was born to run to the sound of cannon fire.
Shane, on the other hand, screamed like a little girl but much like Vanna, Shane’s screams were drowned out in the crashing wave of boiling, churning sound waves that trumped all sound. Shane jumped almost as high off the ground as the mules had. Levitated might be a more apt description though since he was sitting cross-legged on the ground when the lightning struck.
He dropped the ironwood staff as though it had shocked him and now it lay in the dirt close beside the fire. Its crystal head was aglow and golden rays of light could be seen dancing and flashing within the Orleanstone and then it went dark.
“Holy smokes!” Shane cried as the thunder rolled away down the mountainside. Dark Star whinnied in agreement. Old warhorse from the wildlands or not, whenever a bolt of lightning strikes within spitting distance of you it is impressive and no two ways about it.
“That was way too close for comfort if you ask me, Star,” Shane told the stallion as they watched the pinion tree burn. It lit up the big rock where it had been growing out of the crevice for many years, until now. “Better you than us,” he said. This sentiment was shared unanimously by the livestock.
“You know what, Star? I think I’ll put off trying to do any more magic until I have had some real training,” Shane said to the black stallion who although he said nothing then, could not have agreed more heartily with his boy’s decision.
Shane had just settled back down again and opened the Apprentice’s Handbook, to Chapter 5 when the voice of a man rang out in the night taking all of them by surprise. Even the keen ears of Dark Star had not heard him approaching their campsite.
“Hello! There at the fire!” the voice called out from the snowy darkness. “I don’t suppose you might have room for two nearly frozen monks beside your bonny fire, young sir?
Shane was startled half out of his wits when he heard the voice of another human being coming out of the storm on such a night as this and in such a remote location. But then again he mused, “Why not? And what possible harm could two monks do anyway. Unless one happened to be possessed by demons or something?”
“Sure we do. Come on over and warm yourselves. There is always plenty of room for men of God on such a night as this,” he hollered back.
“Aye, thank you. We are coming in then,” the disembodied voice called back.
Shane strained his eyes as hard as he could to see through the darkness and the heavy blanket of snow that was falling, cutting visibility down to zero. Beyond the small circle of light coming from the fire, which was not very far at all, he could not see a thing.
Moments later the figures of two men in long brown robes began materializing from out of the gloom. The men were very large for monks and had the cowls of their robes pulled up over their heads. Both of them had large wooden crucifixes hanging around their necks that they had found in the packs left behind by the two friars who had left their few worldly goods behind and ran for their lives.
Both of the men were nearly covered with the wet clinging snowflakes so they looked like a pair of abominable snowmen. A sudden burst of lightning high up on the Western peak of the mountain lit them up just then and, Shane could see that they were afoot. They had no pack animals or backpacks to be seen.
Normally that might have struck Shane as being a bit peculiar, but then again, everybody knew that friars lived a life of poverty and minimalism where material wealth was concerned so he did not give the matter a second thought.
The two snow-covered men hurried over to the fire while Shane added more wood to the blaze for good measure. The monks were so cold that they nearly jumped right into the glowing coals as they got as close to the fire as possible without setting themselves on fire.
“Oh, glory be! Bless your Christian heart, my young friend, uh what did you say your name was?”
“My name is, Shane”
“Yes, of course, Shane. God bless you my son for your fire has saved us both for certain,” Brill said, speaking for the both of them. He had instructed, Crandle to keep his “big mouth shut and pretend that he was mute,” That way he said, there would be much less chance of the black stallion recognizing both of them from the sound of their voices.
To that end, Brill had taken great pains to disguise his own voice by speaking in higher falsetto rather than the gruff snarling growls that typically passed for speaking with him. Shane thought it was a bit odd for such a big man to have such a tiny voice but he figured that the monk must be a eunuch as well.
“This fine man of God here beside me is, Brother John, and I am, Brother Joseph,” the fake monk told, Shane as he held his frozen hands over the fire to warm them.
Shane tried to see the men’s faces hidden they were beneath their cowls but the dancing firelight hid them from him in deep, dark shadows.
I am very pleased to meet you both I’m sure,” Shane said as he stirred the coals in the fire pit with a stick before he then laid it on the flames.
“Dear, Brother John here is a mute and cannot speak, but he says to tell you he is most grateful to you for your hospitality as well, master Shane,” Brill said, pointing to Crandall.
“How does he talk to you if he cannot speak then, Brother Joseph? Shane wondered.
“He uses a form of sign language that he learned while he was on a missionary trip to the African continent,” Brill lied smoothly.
“Where in the world is Africa?” Shane asked, puzzled. “I’ve never even heard of it before.”
“Oh. Well, it lies far, far away in that direction,” Brill said as he pointed South at random since he had no idea where Africa was either.
“Wow!’” Shane exclaimed. “Is it really far away? he asked Crandall who nodded his head, yes. Speaking for him, Brill said, “He says yes it is far away.”
“Tell me, what is Africa like, Brother Joseph?”Shane wanted to know but of course, Brill had no idea of how to even spell the word Africa much less the first thing about the continent itself.
“I honestly do not know my young friend. You see I have never been there myself, and Brother John doesn’t talk about it much,” he explained.
“Oh. That’s a shame then, isn’t it? I would love to hear more about this place called Africa.” Shane said.
“So where are you traveling from if I might be so bold as to ask?” Brill said as he turned his ample backside to the flames to warm it for a minute.
“I come from a small village far to the South of here called, Kilcairn. Perhaps you have heard of it before, Brother Joseph?” Shane asked the phony friar.
“No, I can’t say that I have, master Shane. Have you ever heard of Kilcairn before Brother John?” Brill asked Crandall who did not seem to hear him. “I say, have you ever heard of the Hamlet of Kilcairn before, Brother John?”Brill asked again, this time giving Crandle a swift kick in the shins to get his attention.
Crandle grabbed his sore ankle and shook his head no emphatically. “he says he has never heard of Kilcairn either.” Brill said, translating for his silent partner who was silently cursing him for kicking him in his shin.
“What in the name of God brings a young man such as yourself to the top of Mount Thunder on such a night as this one. And so far from home, I might add?” Brill asked, changing the subject and steering it away with an eye towards getting on with their business of robbing the boy and disposing of his body. First, however, he wanted to be absolutely sure that the boy was not being followed and that he would not be missed right away.
“I am on my way to my new master’s house in Darvonshire to serve as his apprentice,” Shane told the fake friar.
“To Darvonshire you say?” Brill said with mock surprise. “That is a very long ways from here yet, master Shane. Is there nobody else traveling with you, or behind you in case you get lost or attacked by highwaymen? He asked, hopefully.
“No, Brother Joseph I am traveling on my own. It’s just me and Dark Star there, and those two Jenny mules that I somehow managed to inherit along the way,” Shane explained as thunder rolled through the pass ahead of the moaning wind that was picking up speed one more now.
“And when are you expected to arrive in Darvonshire?”
“I’m not really sure when I will get there, Brother Joseph. I barely even know where it is to tell you the truth. But my horse knows the way. All I really know is that I had to leave home on the 29th day of last month without telling anyone where I was going.”
“I see,” Brill said, giving Crandle a surreptitious wink and a sly grin that Shane could not see. “So then, for all, anyone knows you could be anywhere in the world, and your master in Darvonshire is not expecting you for some time yet?”
Shane replied, “Yes sir that is correct, Brother Joseph.”
“I am confused. What exactly did you mean when you said your horse knows the way to Darvonshire? Brill asked him as he turned back to the fire.
The thunder of a nearby lightning strike came rolling up on them just then and Shane had to wait for it to recede in the distance before he could answer the question.
“I mean that Star came from my master there and he knows his way back home again. So I am following him back more or less,” Shane explained.
Just then, Crandle tugged at Brill’s sleeve to get his attention. “What is it, Brother John? Brill asked. He was annoyed by the interruption but he was not about to let on in front of the boy.
Crandle raised his hands up palms facing upward.
“My esteemed brother John wishes to know how your horse could know that you have to go to Darvonshire and not say Billingshire, or Farthingshire?” Brill translated. He too was curious to know the answer to the question.
“He came from my master and I guess he must be an enchanted animal because he seems to understand the King’s English just as well as you and I do,” Shane told him.
“He’s an enchanted horse you say? Well. Imagine that eh, brother John? It seems as though I have heard tales of such creatures from somewhere or other,” Brill said matter-of-factly. As he spoke a bolt of lightning split the sky and struck a rock outcropping on the Eastern slope of the pass. The explosion sent rocks tumbling down the mountains while thunder washed over the three of them like waves breaking on a rocky shoreline.
“Boy, that one was close!” Brill observed as the rumbling died off into the distance again. “But listen here master Shane,” he went on. Getting down now to his true intent at long last. “An enchanted horse would be quite the handy beast to have I would imagine. In fact, I will bet you 50 gold crowns there are plenty of people who would be more than willing to pay at least twice that much for just such an animal. What do you think, Brother John? Is it not so? brill asked of the now grinning, Crandle who nodded his head furiously in reply.
“Brother John says he thinks so too.”
“Oh really? Shane asked, unsure of where the sudden turn was taking the conversation. “That is a whole lot of money, isn’t it? Why all I have to my name is 20 gold crowns and 9 of silver.”
“Did you hear what our young friend just said, Brother John? All he has to his name is a measly 20 crowns of gold and 9 of silver. Why this poor lad is even deeper in the throes of abject poverty than we ourselves are,” Brill said as he nudged, Crandle with a how-about-them-apples elbow. Just then another peal of thunder rolled noisily over them and away down into the valley below.
“Do you mean to tell us that you left your home without telling anyone headed for Darvonshire so many leagues distant yet with nothing but 20 gold and 9 silver crowns in your purse my son?” He asked Shane who was putting some fresh wood on the fire.
“Yes, Brother Joseph. That was all the money I managed to save up over the years. I thought it would be more than enough to last me for a long time at least if it didn’t get me there.”
“Oh no, master Shane. I’m afraid it is not going to last you much longer at all.” Brill said, with a sneer.
“It won’t? Are you sure, Brother Joseph? Shane asked in disbelief.
He was pretty sure he had more than enough money. 20 gold and 9 silver crowns was a great deal of money even in those days when King George II had caused such high inflation and he had raised everyone’s taxes way up to pay for the lifestyles of the rich and infamous members of his court and of the ruling class of the kingdom.
“Oh no, it most assuredly will not, master Shane> But not to worry because where you are going I understand they don’t have any use for money so you won’t be needing it there anyway,” Brill told the boy whose growing confusion was plain to see in his face.
“I won’t?”Shane asked.
“No. You won’t.,” Brill assured him. “And since you won’t be needing it perhaps you would be interested in making a donation of your purse too, Brother John and me in return for our blessings.”
“Um… I.. uh… I don’t know, Brother Joseph. I am sure that I am going to be needing money where I am headed.
“Nope. I can assure you that you most definitely not need it. Nor will you be needing your horse there, or those mules either. So what I propose is that you make a little trade with us for them.” Brill said as he turned around to face the flames again.
In the deep, dark shadows beneath the cowl of his robe, Brill’s face had a sinister look that reflected pure malice in the glow of the flickering golden firelight.
“No, I am going to need Star and the mules too. Well, at least I’ll be needing Star anyway. Otherwise, I will have the other 80 leagues from here to Darvonshire!” Shane protested, his confusion and consternation growing by the second.
A distant flash of lightning from the North side of the pass lit up and the rocks behind Brill like a gigantic flashbulb had gone off above them. The receding thunder drowned out his next words.
“What did you say?” Shane yelled to be heard above the ringing in his own ears.
“I said you are not going to Darvonshire, my friend. So you might as well make a trade with us for your livestock and your saddle. I can promise you that it will be a very fair trade,” Brill said with a laugh that turned Shanes blood to ice water in his veins. A cold chill ran down his spine and up again as Crandle began laughing too. This earned him a withering look from, Brill that shut him right up again.
“I’m very sorry, Brother Joseph but I don’t think I can actually sell Dark Star for any amount of money because he was sent to me by my master, Sheldrake The Elder on my birthday. He would probably be upset with me if I showed up without him,” Shane said, hoping to reason his way out of the fix he was in. “I haven’t even had him for a whole month yet.” He told the counterfeit monk.
“Oh but you see, that is the beauty of it all, my friend. Your master, Sheldrake the Elbow need never find out about our little transaction at all. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee you he won’t. And to top it all off you don’t have to sell your precious black stallion at all,” Brill told the now thoroughly flummoxed young man as he sat there in front of his own fire with an old book in his lap.
“I don’t?” Shane asked, hopefully.
“Then what are you talking about, Brother Joseph?” Shane wanted to know. His confusion was quickly turning into a deep-seated sense of suspicion, dread, and unease. Dark Star was sensitive to his boy’s unease but so far he was as much in the dark as Shane as far as where the strange monk was coming from and what he was getting at.
“Let me see if I can make this any clearer for you then, Shane,” Brill said as he lifted the hem of his robe exposing the scabbard of the long, broadsword hanging at his side. “What we are going to do is trade this for your horses, saddles, and your purse. Everything you own in other words.” He said as he drew the three-foot-long blade and held it out in front of him so that the gleaming polished steel caught the firelight and reflected it along its sharp edges.
“But, but I don’t need a sword, Brother Joseph,” Shane told, Brill as he watched Crandall draw a similar broadsword from beneath his own robe.
“I beg to differ with you my friend but it looks to me like you could really use a good sword right about now. But what I am talking about is trading the way you are going to die this evening,” As Brill spoke these chilling words, a bolt of lightning rendered the sky in half and booming thunder clapped behind it rolling over them and stopping the conversation for the moment.
“M, my w,w, what way of d, dying!?” Shane asked in a very small voice that was coming from a throat that had suddenly gotten very dry and constricted at the sight of the edge of Brill’s sword and his threat to kill him hit home inside of his brain.
“That is correct, master Shane. I said your way of dying,” Brill growled, his voice now back to normal again. “You can either choose to die quickly and painlessly or, you can choose to die slowly and painfully.”
Dark Star was listening and heard every word the fake monk was saying about robbing and killing his boy so when Brill dropped his false falsetto voice he instantly recognized his voice from the stables at the Pig And Whistle Inn. And from hearing him speak on the road a few nights before when he and Crandall had been talking about their plans to rob and kill Shane.
The old warhorse was ready to spring to his boy’s defense in an instant but as long as Brill held his sword practically at Shane’s throat there was nothing he could do except to watch and wait for his chance to intervene.
He told Vanna and Genny, in quiet equestrus, that the two strangers were really their former masters, Brill and Crandall and about their plan to kill, Shane and take them. The sisters suggested that they should all three attack the bad men but Star vetoed the idea by telling them that with their two broadswords they could easily kill, Shane and all three of them as well with only two quick strokes apiece.
He instructed them to stand still as though nothing was amiss and be patient but be ready to spring to Shane’s defense if the opportunity should present itself.
“Can I choose not to die at all instead?” Shane wondered, but Brill and Crandle’s cruel laughter gave him their answer before Brill sneered back at him.
“No, you cannot choose not to die instead. But feel free to beg for your life if it makes you feel any better,” Brill laughed.
“Yeah, yeah. Beg if you want to,” Crandle said with an evil laugh.
“You shut your big fat mouth you fool!” Brill snarled at his accomplice. “and keep your eyes on that stallion. Make sure he doesn’t try to pull any heroic stunts on us.”
“Okay, Brill,” Crandle said as he turned to do as he had been told. He fixed his gaze on the black stallion that was going to make them both rich beyond their wildest dreams. He could just picture in his mind all of the fine things he never had before that he was going to buy with his share of the loot. Like some fancy new clothes. Ones fit for a courtesan at Buckingham Palace. After that, he was going to purchase for himself a nice little plot of land out in the country. One with a nice little cottage on it.
Maybe then he would be able to lure some saucy little wench to stand beside him in Holy matrimony and they would have ten children, maybe even more! He didn’t even hear what Brill was saying any longer nor could he even hear the thunder rolling through the pass. He had become totally lost in his own dreams of avarice while the rest of the world spun around him unnoticed.
Brill was lost in his own fantasy and failed to notice that his partner in crime was off in LaLa Land but someone else noticed the blank faraway look in his eyes and stood watching and waiting silently for his chance to strike.
The thunderheads of the storm were all but past them now and slowly fading off to the North. Every now and again a stray bolt of lightning would come down from the clouds to strike close by and send a thunder boomer at the little party of 6 atop Mount Thunder.
“So how do you wish to die, my friend, fast? Or slow? And be quick about it or I shall be forced to choose for you,” as he said this, Brill thrust the point of his sword up under, Shane’s chin. With it he forced Shane’s head up and back, exposing his throat to the blade.
“Uhm… Can’t I at least think about it a minute or two, sir?” Shane asked as he looked down the edge of Brill’s sword. He could see the edge had been lovingly honed and it was as sharp as a knife’s blade. If that wasn’t convincing enough, Shane could feel its keen edge on his throat just as well.
“Can you think about it? Did you hear that, Crandle? The lad wants to know if he can have a minute or two to think about he wants to die! Isn’t that rich? Har har har!” He asked Crandle who laughed absentmindedly.
“”Uh huh oh yeah haha yeah that’s a corker, Brill,” then he went back to daydreaming about the saucy young baker’s daughter he was going to marry, and their brood of little Crandle’s, and Crandella’s. He could even open a bakery of his own…
“Sure kid, go right ahead and take a minute or two and think about it while I warm myself in front of this fire you won’t be needing three minutes from now,” saying this, Brill pulled the tip of his sword out from under Shane’s chin, but he slid it out making sure Shane could feel the cold steel that he would taste soon enough. “Put some more wood on the fire while you’re thinking about it,” he added as an afterthought.
As Shane reached over and picked a thick length of firewood from his pile, Brill warned him, “Don’t even go getting any crazy ideas about trying to fight a duel with a tree branch either. I have killed 3 men before in duels and I am certain that I can take a boy with a stick any day.”
“No, sir I was not going to try anything, I promise I won’t,” Shane swore as he used the stick to stir the coals with before he tossed it into the fire along with a couple more small pieces.
“So now what’s it going to be my friend?” Brill wanted to know after he had warmed his buns for a bit. “Shall it be quick and almost painless, or will it be slow and excruciatingly painful?”
“I’m not really settled on one way or the other yet. I’m still thinking about it okay?”Shane said in an attempt to stall for time. Maybe he could think of some way out of this mess. The only trouble with that was he was too scared to think at all. As far as he could see there was no way out. Nobody was going to come and save them either. The only thing that was going to save him from dying on Mount Thunder was a miracle and Shane knew it.
“What do you think, Crandle, should I chop his head off, or should I chop him in half from top to bottom. Or perhaps I should chop him in half across the middle?” he asked his daydreaming partner.
“Huh? What?” Crandle sputtered as he came up from his reverie of women and free pastries. It took him a second to get back to the matter at hand. “What it is now Brill? What’s the matter?”
“I said, how do you think I should dispatch our young friend here? Should I chop his melon off?” Brill asked him as he touched the side of his sword lightly to the base of Shane’s throat. “Or do you think I should chop him in two?”
“I uh I guess you should probably just go ahead and chop him in two, Brill,” Crandle replied before his mind drifted back to thoughts of his new life that awaited him once Brill killed the kid. In his daydreams, his wife was already hand feeding him delicious cakes and pies fresh from their own oven while the children played all around their large home.
“You know, Crandle I think you’re right, but which way should I cut him? Should I chop him across the middle, or should I chop him from top to bottom, like so?” As he said this, Brill set the keen edge of his sword on top of Shane’s woolen hood.
“Uh huh, yeah. That’s exactly what I would do myself,” Crandle said absently. In his daydream, he was watching his saucy wife putting extra icing on a double chocolate devil’s food cake. “Yeah, just like that.”
“You heard my silent partner master Shane. He says that I should chop you down the middle from top to bottom. And I think I have to agree with him. “
Brill’s cruel laughter rang cold and hollow in Shane’s ears like the tolling of a graveyard bell. If he didn’t think of something fast he was a dead duck for sure. “But wait a minute now, sir!” he cried, “what about me? I thought you said I got to decide how I was going to die. Fast and relatively painless, or slow and excruciatingly painful, remember? You said it I heard you.” he said pleadingly.
Brill laughed again. “Yes I did but I’m afraid you took too much time trying to make up your mind so I had to go ahead and make it up for you myself.”
“Hey! You can’t do that!” Shane protested.
“Oh yeah? And why can’t I? Brill asked him mockingly. “Because it is not fair, that’s why not,” Shane informed him.
“Oh I see,” Brill said, mocking him again, “Well nobody said it was going to be fair did they? This has nothing to do with being fair, it’s all about us robbing you of everything you have and taking your life too. When we leave we will hide your corpse so the wolves can pick the meat from your bones and then carry the bones away one by one to gnaw on later for a snack,” Brill said as he pulled his sword away from Shane’s head.
“Will it at least be quick mister Brill? Shane asked him stalling again for more time. He hoped the man would respond to him calling him by his name and it worked.
“Oh, well you know I’m not really sure but yes I would think it will probably be very quick indeed.,” Brill assured him.
“Well, what about painless? I don’t know if I can take a lot of pain. Is it going to be painless too do you think?” Shane asked brill and the tears brimming in his eyes were not forced either.
“You know, it’s hard to say to tell you the truth, master Shane because I have never been chopped in half as you can see so I am afraid that is a question I cannot answer for you. But, if I were to venture a guess I would have to say probably not. I think it is more likely going to hurt you a whole lot but it will only be for a very short time I would imagine. But then you will be dead and it won’t matter because you won’t ever feel anything again.” Brill assured his waiting victim to be.
As far as Shane was concerned, however; he was the victim that was determined not to be. The only question was, how in the world was he ever going to pull it off?
“Are you ready to go and meet your maker now Shane my friend? Brill asked him after several long moments of deadly silence and tension.
Just then a distant flash of lightning lit Brill’s face and sent a peal of thunder rolling through the high pass. They had to wait until it had faded away down the valley below.
“No, I am not ready to meet my maker just yet, Mister Brill,” Shane said to his executioner. “In fact, if it’s all the same to you I would like to have a few minutes to prepare myself before I die.”
“A few more minutes??” Brill asked in surprise.
“Yes, sir. So that I can say my prayers, confess my sins and all that sort of stuff,” Shane explained patiently.
“Why certainly, my young friend, I don’t mind at all. In fact, I want you to take all the time you need and get straight with your God now before you go to see Him face to face at the Pearly Gates. How does that grab you?” Brill sneered at him. “But whatever you do be sure you put in a good word for Crandle, and me with the Man on the throne, okay?” He laughed mockingly.
Shane was at a complete loss for what else to do except to say his prayers and ask God to send down a miracle to save him. Or to at least have mercy on his young soul and save a place for him in Heaven.
He closed his eyes and bowed his head and Shane prayed as he had never prayed before in his life. He prayed for deliverance from the evil men that had come out of the stormy night to take his money, his property, and his life. Shane said a prayer for every single person and thing that he could think of. He prayed for his parents, for the Lynn twins, Carrie and Amber, for Old Charney, for Dark Star and the two mules and he prayed for the old sorcerer who had left this world with nothing to remember him by but his ironwood staff that was now…
As he prayed, Shane had his head bowed down low over his crossed legs and his hands were folded in his lap. When he opened his eyes there was the old ironwood staff lying at his feet where he had dropped it after foolishly trying to challenge the power of the thunderstorm.
Brill, of course, could not see what Shane was looking at and there on the dark ground where it was lying the dark wood was not easy to see. The Orleanstone looked like it could be a pretty rock sitting there all alone. But as Brill had pointed out to him earlier, a stick was a poor match for a broadsword in a fight.
Be that as it may, when one is about to fall from a precipice, even the smallest weed could be the difference between life and death.
“All right then, Master Shane,” Brill said after a few minutes. “I think you have had more than enough time now to set things straight with the Lord. Please now kindly hand your purse over so that it doesn’t get all messy when I cut you in two.”
Shane reached inside his woolen pullover and pulled out the homemade silk bag that held all of the money he had.
“”That’s it. Toss it over here now. There’s a good lad,” Brill told him, holding out his grubby hand. “You need not bother to get up,” he sneered again, nastily as Shane drew the purse strings closed and tossed the bag to Brill who caught it deftly with his left hand. “Are you certain it’s all here? I would hate to have to search your dead body if I don’t have to,” he added hefting the weight of the money.
“No, sir that is all I have to my name. I swear it,” Shane said, still hoping the thief would show him mercy and let him live if he was cooperative. Brill quickly let the air out of that theory, however.
“Are you sure about that?” He asked, as he held Shane’s purse to his ear and gave it a little shake. The clink-clanking of gold and silver coins inside sang a siren song of precious metal to Brill’s ears and he seemed satisfied that Shane was telling him the truth.
Yes, I’m sure, Mister Brill. Can’t you please just take whatever you want and leave me in peace? I promise I won’t tell anyone anything about this.”
“I too can promise that you will never say a word to anyone about Crandle, and me, or what’s about to happen to you, my friend,” Brill said cruelly as he dropped, Shane’s purse into his pants pocket.
“You keep a close eye on that stallion, Crandle. If he tries anything sneaky knock some better sense into his head with the flat of your sword blade,” he told, Crandle. He had no idea what Brill was talking about as he replied, “Okay, Brill yeah sure. I’ll do that,” before he was lost in his wealthy dreams once more.
Distant thunder rumbled and roiled up through the snowy mountain pass as Brill took the hilt of his sword in both of his grubby hands, ” And now we’ve come to the place where you will be departing for another world. For your own sake, my unlucky young friend I hope that it’s a far better place than this one did,” A brilliant flash of white light illuminated the clouds above them as Brill slowly raised his sword above his head.
The pealing thunderclap from the stray bolt framed, Brill’s words eerily as he held the deadly blade high and laughed out loud.
“Believe me, Master Shane, this is going to hurt you a lot more than it is me. Say goodnight sweet prince!”
Dark Star and the sisters could do nothing but watch, horror-stricken, as was Shane as the big sharp blade began descending downward through an arc. It cleaved the night air and flashed in the light of the fore as it fell towards, Shane’s unprotected head.
“Oh no!” Star heard Genny and Vanna gasp in unison. The black stallion was a veteran of numerous campaigns and battles. He had fought for his own life alongside knights and warrior kings. He had carried noblemen and had distinguished himself with honor in war and he decided that he now had to save his boy or else die trying along with him.
Star had already noticed that, Crandle was more concerned with staying close to the fire and that he was completely lost in daydreams of the fantastic wealth that he would gain from Shane’s estate.
As Brill’s sword began to fall, the big stallion sprang into action and was already moving. He swung his great, shaggy head into, Crandle’s chest. It caught him completely off-guard and knocked him backward. His left heel struck the circle of stones around the fire and he lost his balance in the confusion. Crandle tried desperately to catch himself but could not and down he went landing on his fat backside with both big cheeks squarely in the bed of red hot embers.
His hands landed on either side of the pit and he didn’t even drop his sword but his stole robe burst into flames instantly from the intense heat of the fire. One large coal burned its way through the heavy fabric and burned the skin beneath. By then his butt was fully engulfed in flames and the fire began climbing up his back hungrily as it fed on the old dry material.
“EEEYAUGHHHH!” he screamed as he dropped his sword and leaped to his feet. By standing up the flames climbed up his back unhindered. Only the cowl saved, Crandle from receiving serious burns to his face and head as the flames raced upwards consuming the robe greedily.
Foolishly, Crandle decided to try and outrun the fire and he ran off into the snowstorm screaming like a banshee. The flames golden light framed his retreat for a moment before he vanished behind a wall of darkness and heavy snowfall and was lost from sight
Dark Star had hoped he could get to, Brill before his sword blade could follow through on its predetermined course but he was clearly too late to intervene by the time, Crandle realized that his biscuits were burning in the campfire.
Genny and Vanna were braying shrilly their voices more like screams behind the stallion as the blade came down.
“Oh oh I can’t bear to watch!” Star heard Vanna say. Her voice sounded like it was coming to him from across a vast gulf of cold and empty space.
The blade was already a third of the way down and it was picking up speed and momentum as it descended. To Star, it seemed as if time had slowed to a crawl where single a heartbeat takes a lifetime to pass. He felt like he was struggling to move through thick mud. Star could see that he was never going to reach Brill in time to stop him.
As he watched, transfixed by the horror he was witnessing, Star saw, Shane, bend down quickly as though the slow-motion time warp he was caught up in had no power over him. He saw Shane grab something off of the ground in front of himself. He could see that It was the staff of Choralys but even a stupid old warhorse knows that a wooden staff even one made of Ironwood, was incapable of withstanding a heavy blow from such a heavy broadsword as the one that Brill wielded.
Beside Star, Crandle was just beginning to understand that his butt was aflame. As the scream burbled up from his throat, Genny and Vanna were braying loudly behind him and thunder rolled over them all as Shane grasped the old wooden staff in both of his hands and threw it up over his head, into the path of the down-rushing steel blade.
Brill had it in his mind that he was going to attempt to cleave, Shane in two so he put his back into the task. He brought the sword down with everything he had so there was a lot of force behind his blade as it fell. An irresistible, unstoppable force of nature.
The blade met, just below the midpoint of the arc, with the staff of Choralys. Brill laughed evilly as he watched Shane raise it in self-defense because he knew no old man’s walking stick was going to stop the force of the steel blade. It would cut through the wood like a loaf of stale bread and still cleave the boy in two.
Shane could see the keen edge of the sword coming straight down towards his upturned face and he too thought the blow would slice right through the old staff, or shatter it like an icicle and do the same thing oi him. He wanted to close his eyes or look away but he found that he couldn’t do it. He was completely transfixed by the gleaming steel blade like a Sparrow caught in the stare of a Cobra.
As the flashing steel blade met the old wizard’s staff, Shane actually did squeeze his eyes shut tightly. As the force of the blow began to radiate through the ironwood outward and down from the point of contact and through the staff, Shane hollered out in indignant rage at the injustice of his ignominious and undeserved end at the age of 16.
“NO!” he screamed as he turned his head away from the blow that was sure to come.
Across the fire, Dark Star saw the sword make contact with the staff and he tried to make himself look away but he too was transfixed by the Cobra’s eye.
Shane’s voice, like those of Vanna and Genny, were coming to him from across a million light years of empty space. Like a voice heard underwater he heard his boy holler, “NO!” as time slowed again for all of them. The black stallion knew that this was the beginning of the end his boy’s life.
But at that same moment as the sword made contact with the staff of the powerful old wizard that had owned and carried it for countless decades. So many that even Choraly’s had forgotten how many, something amazing and completely unexpected happened.
The Orleanstone mounted on the head of the old staff flashed a brilliant white light like the explosion of a star. Simultaneously a jagged bolt of lightning came snaking down from the dark storm clouds overhead.
It struck the glowing white fire inside of the stone Orleanstone and seemed to infuse the ironwood with a light that was even painful for Dark Star to look at indirectly. It was like staring into the eyes of the sun itself. It stopped Dark Star in his tracks and caused him to take a step back. He just managed to avoid the flaming figure of, Crandle as he took off, running for his life into the dark and stormy night.
As Star and the sisters watched, the brilliant white fire engulfed the staff and the length of Brill’s sword to the hilt. Static electricity rent the air displacing air molecules. As the powerful megavolt bolt went into Brill’s hands, the empty space it had just occupied slammed shut at the speed of light. producing a thunderous clap that erupted at the speed of sound.
Miraculously the ironwood held firm but the steel blade exploded into a thousand fragments as though it had been constructed of cheap glass. The force unleashed as thunder hit Brill like a ton of bricks. Shane and the horses were spared the brunt of the fearsome blast which was directed, as if by magic, at the man who wielded the weapon that had awakened the staff. They scarcely heard the roar of the thunder’s booming peal. Like a volley of cannons going off at once under his nose, the power of lightning and thunder were discharged in, Brill’s face simultaneously. And he heard it loud and clear.
His big broadsword now lay in shattered ruins, like the pieces of Crandle’s broken dreams of lemon tarts and marital bliss, on the ground at Brill’s feet. Even the huge bronze hilt had been shattered by the force that had emanated from the staff.
Shane opened his eyes just in time to see Brill, now swordless and looking dazed and confused, clasp his hands to his ears. He was grimacing in pain as the blast hit him point blank.
“What the…?” Shane wondered aloud. He turned his head to check on the horses just in time to see Crandle’s fiery form running for the proverbial hills. All three of the horses, he noticed, were staring at him and at Brill. Their eyes were fixed, and their jaws open in shock and terror. Much like Brill’s.
Shane wasted no time turning his attention back to the one bad guy who remained in his camp. He did not see the bolt of lightning that struck the Orleanstone, nor had he felt anything other than a slight tingling sensation as the magical white fire had coursed through the staff and passed through his hands.
Then again it didn’t take a catapult scientist to figure out that the tiny pieces of shattered bronze and steel laying all around him were the remains of Brill’s sword. Nor did he need a psychic friend to send him an owl to tell him how it probably ended up that way. Obviously, the old staff had a spark or two of the old power in it yet, he mused for a moment on this but he could always ask Star what happened later on.
The first thing he had to attend to was the murderous thief that was still in their midst. Power or no power a good six-foot wooden staff is a very deadly weapon in the hands of a skilled shepherd who has used one similar to it to fend off marauding wolves who got too brave.
Shane switched the staff over to his right hand and then swung it in hard and hit, Brill in the left kneecap with the Orleanstone. It connected with a solid crunch and an audible crack and Brill screamed in agony as the damaged nerves in his knee told his brain what it felt like.
“AHHHH!” he cried as his knee gave way under his prodigious weight. Brill was able to keep himself from going down but to do so he had to hop around on his right leg. He didn’t have long to hop, however. Shane spun the heavy staff around in his hands like a baton and struck Brill’s right ankle with the gold heel of the staff. He made a quick sweeping move and took the thief off of his feet, and flipping him onto his back.
Brill landed hard on the frozen Earth with a heavy thud that sent snowflakes flying up all around his body. Shane could even feel the impact vibrate through the ground he sat on.
He leaped quickly to his feet and moved to finish subduing his would-be assassin even if it meant beating the fire out of him with the staff to do it.
Dark Star had not stopped moving the entire time save but for a moment when the staff had come to life and drawn down power from the sky. He got to Brill first so when he looked up he found himself face to face with an enraged war horse whose visage, if such a thing was actually possible, was a steely mask of violent hatred and barely restrained rage.
“Heh heh. Nice horsey?” Brill said in a very small voice.
Dark Star bared his huge white teeth in Brill’s face and shook his head slowly back and forth. No.
The black stallion was straddling him so, Brill was unable to get up unless he could somehow get out from under Star first. That was highly unlikely. Not if Star could help it.
Not only that but Brill’s left knee and right ankle were not in any kind of shape to be walking or crawling around on just then either.
“Good job, Star!” Shane told him as he ran over to cover Brill with the staff.
“If he so much as moves to do more than take a deep breath, I want you to stomp the fire out of him until he stops moving,” he instructed the warhorse as he patted his glossy black mane and neck. Star snorted in agreement but didn’t take his eyes off of Brill. Not even for a heartbeat.
“Aww. Come on now, Master Shane,” Brill croaked weakly from the ground. “You don’t really mean that now do ya?”
At this, Dark Star put his nose right in Brill’s face and looked him dead in the eyes as he nodded his enormous head, yes.
“I was afraid you might say that,” Brill said, laughing nervously. His eyes were wide open and full of fear now.
Dark Star snorted loudly in Brill’s face giving him a snoot full of horse breath that was full of moisture from condensation,. Brill spit and sputtered but he dared not move and test the wrath of the big stallion. Star could easily kill him now if he chose to.
“It appears that the tides of fortune have left you high and dry, Brill,” Shane told his captive as he squatted down by his head, staff in hand.
Aye, so they have.” Brill agreed glumly. I guess you can’t win them all,” he added, with a sigh.
“I guess not,” Shane agreed. “Tell me something, Brill. What happened to your sword? He asked, indicating the shards of steel laying all over the place.
“Lightning struck your staff just as my sword did covering it in a white light that shattered it into a hundred little pieces.”
“Hm. It looks to me like Crandle left you behind in a hurry. Like a chicken with its tail feathers on fire, you might even say. So it looks like it’s just you now and Star here does not like you at all.” Dark Star shook his head to show him that, Shane was right.
“I got the same impression.” Brill had to admit as he stared up at the angry visage of the warhorse. “What are you going to do with me?”
“I am not really sure yet. I want to let you go but I’m worried that if I di I will have to worry about running across you and Brother Crandle again on top of the next mountain, or in a dark alley somewhere,” Shane informed Brill.
“Oh no no no, I give you my word as a gentleman that if you let me go you will never see me or Crandle again. Honest!”
“Oh, I think I can actually be the one to promise you that you will never show your faces to me again.,” Shane said with a smile.
“You wouldn’t kill me would you?” Brill sed worriedly.
“Let’s just say I am in the process of weighing my options at this time and one of them is to let, Star have his way with you.”
“You don’t really want to do that. Do you?” Brill said his voice trembling.
What do you think, Star? Should I let you have your way with him?” Shane asked the stallion who nodded his head yes, emphatically.
“Come on now you guys,” Brill whined, Can’t you see that this was just a huge misunderstanding? Can’t we let bygones be bygones? Can’t we all just get along?”
Dark Star answered him by shaking his head, no before he used his teeth to begin tearing away the front of Brill’s robe.
“I’ll take that to mean, no. ” Brill sighed. “But what about, Crandle? He was here too. What about him? Shouldn’t he be punished too?”
“The last I saw of Crandle he was running for the river like his butt was on fire,” Shane said, laughing at the memory.
Why would he just up and leave me hanging like that?” Brill wondered.
“I would imagine it was because his butt was on fire at the time.,” Shane explained how Crandle’s robe had been engulfed in flames when last he had seen him.
“That figures,” Brill growled. “I should have set him on fire years ago. He was as dumb as a log anyway,”
“That may be but you are the one who got caught,” Shane pointed out.
“The story of my life, Master Shane. With Crandle, it’s always something.” Brill lamented.
“What I want to know is how you two came to be up here looking for us,” Shane stated. “If you lie to me even one time I will let Star kick you around the campfire a few times to see if that doesn’t make you an honest thief.” He said, patting Star on the neck.
“Anything you say, I swear. ” Brill said earnestly as he began to tell the entire tale of how he and Crandle had first seen him at the Pig And Whistle and how they had hatched the plot to follow him out of town so they could rob and kill him for the stallion and his other property. He told Shane all about Star taking their mules to form them. The same two mules who now stood there nearby staring at him with undisguised hatred burning in their eyes.
“Those mules belong to you?” Shane asked incredulously.
“Yes, they do,” Brill said before relating the remaining events that had lead them to ambush him at the top of Mount Thunder and the jam he now found himself in.
“So Star knew what you were up to all along? Shane observed.
“Yes, he did,” Brill admitted. ” He heard us in the stables when Crandle and I were talking about stealing him and killing you. We had no idea he was an enchanted horse,” he explained.
“Obviously, not huh?” Shane deadpanned.
“Obviously not,” Brill repeated. He snuck up on us in the middle of planning an ambush in Gallows Gap so he took you this way to avoid us. We were able to get ahead of you only after we inherited more mules and supplies from some traveling monks the next day. And now here we are,” Brill said, wrapping up his story. He laid there not daring to move a muscle while Shane considered all that he had learned.
“Yes,” Shane said at long last. “Here we all are indeed, mister Brill. “The problem, as I see it, is what are we going to do about you being here in light of the fact that you tried to kill me. I’m of two minds on this. What do you think, Star?”
Dark Star bared his huge teeth and blew his nostrils out in Brill’s face then he stomped the ground beside his head with a hoof the size of a dinner plate.
“I see, My friend here also uses sign language Brill. He said I should let him teach you the error of your ways in his own little way.” Shane informed the thief whose complexion was ghostly white under the withering gaze of the black stallion’s cold black eyes.
“I’m sorry your Lordship, truly I am.” Brill sobbed his voice cracking now under the strain. His bluster and false bravado all gone now as he began to realize it might turn out to be his own bones the wolves would gnaw on and carry away to bury in forgotten graves all over Mount Thunder. “We had no idea that you were a sorcerer your worship, I swear it.”
“Hmm. I don’t know about that Brill,” Shane said, he was enjoying having Brill on the spot and savored the moment. “What do you think, Star?”
The stallion’s reply was a violent shake of his head and toss of his mane.
“My friend here says your excuses are lame, Brill. What difference does it make if you knew I was a wizard or not? You tried to cut me in half,” Shane and Star wanted to know.
“We never would have dreamed of trying to rob and kill you if we had known, that’s what,” Brill told the boy, in the hopes that the boy would see that it was after all a simple misunderstanding.
He did no such thing of course. “I’m sorry but that changes nothing. Nor does it excuse the fact that you tried to kill me. According to the Wizard’s Code of Conduct, which I just happen to have a copy of here with me.” Shane said as he went over and retrieved the Apprentices Handguide from its place by the fire. “Can you read, Brill?” he asked, as he went to get it.
“No, I cannot read your, lordship,” Brill admitted when Shane returned and squatted down beside him. He had the book in his hand.
“Then, allow me to read it for you,” Shane told him as he began flipping through the pages. The book was resting on his knees as he said, “Ah yes here we are. What to do if someone tries to kill or rob a wizard.”
“What does it say?” Brill wanted desperately to know after watching, Shane pretending to read the instructions for disposing of bad men like himself for several long minutes.
“Hm. Well, you may or may not like this at all, Brill,” Shane began slowly. “But it says that I am required to take your life for your crimes.”
“Oh no! No please, your Lordship I beg of you please don’t,” I didn’t really mean to try to kill you I swear. It was all that idiot, Crandle’s fault, Shouldn’t he be the one you want to kill instead of me?”
“Mm, nope. Sorry but it says right here in black and white that I am to put your neck to the sword because it was you and you alone that tried to kill me, not Crandle.”
The news was a bit too much reality for, Brill to handle. He broke down and began to bawl loudly. Star rolled his eye to the sky and shook his shaggy head in disgust. the grim reaper has an uncanny that tends to separate the men from the boys and the warriors from the whiner’s.
“No please! Please don’t kill me!” Brill pleaded, blubbering between wracking sobs. “Have mercy on me please, I beg of you. Please don’t kill me-he-he.” Brill bawled.
“I don’t want to kill you, Brill, I have to. and I don’t see as I have a choice in the matter because I am bound by the Sorcerers Code of law. And it says I must kill you or else I could lose my job,” Shane said with mock sadness. “So as you can see my hands are tied here.”
“Oh no! Oh, no, please!” Brill blubbered pitifully. “I said I was sorry!” he offered but Shane was not buying his act.
“Nope, sorry but I’m not buying it,” he said flatly. “Sorry isn’t nearly good enough.”
“Can’t you just let me go with a stern warning or something?”
“You know, I’m not sure if I can or not. To be honest with you I’ve never had anyone try to kill me before so I haven’t had to deal with the issue until now,”
“Can you at least look through your book and see if it says anything about mercy or other alternatives to execution?” Brill asked through tears.
“Well… yeah, I could. I’m not so sure I want to though. I mean you did try to kill me. That’s a little hard to overlook you know. But just out of curiosity I’ll look anyway,” Shane said drawing out his agony.
Brill’s gratitude was boundless then, “Bless your heart!” he said as Shane leafed through the pages of the Apprentice’s Handbook. He opened it to the chapter that dealt with washing clothes for a wizard and pretended to read a few pages. He rad them very slowly so, Brill could snivel some more. “Hm. That’s a very interesting point,” he said, closing the book.
“Really?” Brill exclaimed, happily, “tell me what it says, master Shane. Please?”
“It says I have two choices. I can either pardon you if I choose but only as long as I punish you by putting a spell on you to make sure you can never come after me again,”
“A spell? What sort of a spell?” Brill wondered. Hopeful it meant a happy ending for him.
“A spell that turns you into a monkey,” Shane said straight-faced.
“A monkey!?” Brill cried in his best’ oh woe is me’ voice.
“That’s right, Mister Brill. The book says I either have to turn you into a monkey or kill you,” Shane informed Brill who began blubbering loudly. He sounded pitiful but it fell on deaf ears. Brill’s crocodile tears fell on stone. Shane knew they were as phony as a murderer pretending to be a monk.
“But I don’t want to be turned into a monkey!” He blubbered and sobbed.
“I’m sorry, Brill,” Shane said, shaking his head slowly, “But you should have thought about that before you came so far out of your way to rob and kill me,” He pointed out.
“Ah, hahaha, ha!” Brill cried. “Please your Lordship, not a monkey! Anything but a monkey!”
“Would you rather I put you to death instead?” Shane asked.
“No, of course not! I don’t want to be turned into a monkey either!” Brill explained through racking sobs. “What will I eat, how am I to live?”
“You will live in a tree and eat bananas I expect,” Shane told him as he rolled his sleeves up. “And now if you don’t wish to die I might as well get on with casting the spell,”
“Please don’t your Lordship!” Brill wailed.
Nope. I am truly sorry Brill but it’s your own fault. Now then, if you don’t be quiet while I cast the spell it won’t be my fault if you are turned into a dung beetle or something even worse,” Shane warned as he stood and pulled back the hood of his pullover.
Brill did not want to be a monkey. Who does? But the last thing he wanted to be was a dung beetle. He couldn’t imagine what might be worse and didn’t care to either. Still, the images of worse things came to mind unbidden so Brill kept his big mouth clamped shut when Shane began to cast his spell.
He, of course, had no more idea how to change Brill into a monkey than Brill did be he wasn’t going to tell him that. It was never the point of the exercise, to begin with. He preferred scaring the life out of the thief to killing him as Star would have it.
Taking the staff in both hands, Shane held it out then upward in a most dramatic fashion and pointed the Orleanstone at the flashing clouds overhead. Low at first he began to rattle off a litany of nonsensical verses he had made up long ago in school before throwing in a smidgen of Latin from Sunday services.
“Vindi vidi vici!” He cried out in a loud commanding voice that boomed in the close shelter of the boulders, his face a mask of dancing shadows cast by the fire. “En dominus entres practicum permant sanctum!”
Swinging the stone head of the staff straight at Brill’s head and holding it there, he gave Star a wink and cast this spell.
“Drizzle frazzle frizzle crone, banana tree and monkey bones. Izzum, frizzum, frazzum, frue! Monkey see and monkey do! Dribble, drabble droozle, drail,! Give this thief a monkey’s tail! Spirits of power spirits of might turn him into a monkey tonight! he ended with a dramatic flourish as he waved the Orleanstone around Brill’s head three times.
That said he stepped back, set the heel of the staff in the ground and held it at his side and said no more.
“What? Is that it then? Brill asked him after several moments had passed and nothing had happened to him yet.
“Yep. That’s it. The spell is cast,”
“I don’t feel any different,” Brill said.
“Well, of course, you don’t, not yet,”
“What do you mean not yet?” Brill asked suspiciously.
“The spell doesn’t take effect right away” Shane replied.
“Of course not. Don’t be silly. It would be mean to turn you loose as a monkey right away so it happens gradually to give you time to get used to the idea of living in a tree with the rest of the monkeys,”
“Oh no! Why me Lord?!” Brill cried to the Heavens but his only answer was the sound of distant thunder fading away in the night.
The big stallion’s breathing sounded loud in his ears. Brill imagined he could almost feel his ears changing shape.
“I’ll tell you why Mister Brill,” Shane said looking down at his captive. “It’s because you are a very bad man and very bad things happen to very bad men all the time. It’s called Karma,” then to Dark Star, he said, ” You can let him up Star, but don’t take your eyes off of him for one second,”
The stallion nodded close enough to Brill’s face that everyone understood then he snorted wetly in Brill’s wide eyes and stepped away from him placing himself between Brill and Shane.
Brill sat up and wiped his face of horse slobber with the sleeve of his robe. The taste of his own tears was acid in his mouth as he begged, Shane, “Please master please won’t you have mercy on me, on my poor soul?”
“I did. I showed you far more mercy than you showed me. You were going to kill me outright, I only turned you into a chimpanzee. That seems just to me,” Shane said. “You should be happy, and a little more thankful you’re even alive to talk about it. Wouldn’t you agree, Mister Brill?”
“No, not really,”
“I can always carry out your death sentence if you prefer. Just say the magic word,” Shane offered.
“No, your Lordship, that won’t be necessary. I do believe I’m beginning to see things your way,” Brill said with a new perspective to guide him.
“I thought you might,” Shane said. “And now I think if I were you I would get lost before I change my mind and carry it out just because I don’t want to look at you any longer. Go find your friend Crandle and you tell him if I ever see him again I’ll turn him into a dung heap,”
“Of course I will your Lordship,” Brill stammered as he rose wobbling and got up on one knee. The one that still screamed pain at his brain by way of the entire nervous system. His right ankle felt no better either. He nearly fell back down twice as he rose unsteadily to his feet and got his balance.
“You busted my knee up pretty good with that staff,” he told, Shane.
“Awww,” Shane cooed, “Poor baby. That is a real shame too because if you are not out of my sight in the next ten seconds I am going to crack the other knee for you. Be gone, Brill. Now!” He said, in no uncertain terms.
“Is it okay if I take Crandle’s sword with me?”
Shane looked him square in the eyes and said, “One…Two…,”
“All right all right! I’m going!” Brill cried “I’m going!”
As he began limping away, Shane called out Four…five…,”
“I said I’m going! I can hardly walk you know!”
“I’m going!” Brill hollered back over his shoulder. He was quickly swallowed up by the darkness as he went hopping off in a big hurry.
“Seven…eight…nine…” Here Shane paused for a few moments and by the time he reached, “TEN!” even his tracks were covered by the heavily falling snow. Shane breathed a heavy sigh and sank down on the only spot not littered with fragments of Brill’s former sword. He laid the staff across his lap and stared at the fire for a minute before he sighed again and opened the Apprentice’s Guidebook to read for a while.
He had not been reading long when suddenly Shane put the book down in his lap and slapped his forehead with a resounding smack that made the horses. “Aw pooh! I completely forgot to get my money back from Brill before I ran him off, Star,” Now we will be broke all the way to Darvonshire,” he moaned. “There’s no way I can find him in this storm now.”
Dark Star tossed his mane and shook his big head as he wheeled on his rear hooves and raced off into the storm in the direction Brill had gone. Shane tried to tell him to stop but he was already gone. In less than the time, it took Shane to rekindle the flames of the campfire Star was back again. He was covered with clinging wet snow and in his teeth, he carried Shane’s purse by the drawstrings.
“Hey! You got my purse back! Shane cried out as the stallion pranced up to him and held the bag out then dropped it into, Shane’s outstretched hand where it clinked form the weight of the coins inside. “You are the best, my friend,” he told the horse as he threw his arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. How in the world did you ever get it back, or do I not want to know?”
Star whinnied and shook his head, laughing that maddening horsey laugh that he had come to know and dread so well over the past two weeks. Star shook his head and then pranced over to see Genny and Vanna who were waiting for him to tell them what they had witnessed. The mule’s comprehension of human behavior differed greatly from that of the stallion, who could understand what they were talking about.
Shane was left to wonder, while Star and the mules put their heads together to talk amongst themselves. Star told the mules that Brill had not gotten far before he caught up to him. He was cursing Shane to the devil and his stupid horse along with him. Rather loudly too. He had to go along in stops and starts so it was not long before he heard clop clopping hoof beats pounding the frozen ground behind him. He didn’t need a fortune cookie to tell him whom that must be.
The black stallion ran past Brill at full gallop then he wheeled and ran straight at Brill. but stopped short blocking his path. “What do you want now you bedeviled horse from Hades? I’m going away ain’t I,”
Star used his nose to nudge Brill’s pocket. The one with Shane’s purse in it.
“What,” Brill growled again, but the warhorse was not to be trifled with and took nudged the pocket once more only harder. He almost knocked Brill off of his feet. “AHHHHHHH!” He screamed as pain as he caught his balance on his injured knee and white-hot pain shot through his entire body.
Once he had regained his balance, Brill tried to tell Star a lie about losing Shane’s purse in his haste to leave but the stallion was not buying it. “I swear it on my sainted mother’s grave! I gave it back to your master. Go ask him!” Dark Star was old but he was not senile. He shoved his nose up under Brill’s pocket again and shook his great black head. The clinking of precious metal coins was unmistakable even over the noise of the swirling Northwind.
“Well, what do you know about that? Brill laughed sheepishly. “Heh, heh, heh. How in the world did that get back there?” he asked as he pulled the purse from his pocket. He even managed to look at it as though it had gotten there by magic. “I’m so embarrassed,” he said to the now glowering horse staring death at him.
“Would you like me to count it for you to make sure it’s all there?” he wanted to know. He was loosening the purse strings as he spoke. Star was hardly the caliber of fool Brill obviously took him for. He reared up on his hind legs and pawed the air. His huge hooves flashed past Brill’s face with a whoosh.
“Fine! Here, take it! I hope your master chokes on it too!” he spat as the stallion dropped down on all fours and snatched the purse from Brill’s hand with his teeth. He snorted wetly in Brill’s face and then took off at a run past Brill who decided to splutter back, “Stupid horse!” through the horse slobber on his frozen lips.
He was still balancing himself on the one good leg and steadying himself with the toe of the other foot when Dark Star hip checked him on his way by. Brill felt like he had been body slapped by a giant hand as weight and momentum sent Brill flying face first into a puddle of slushy snow and freezing mud. The front of his robe was soaked all the way through to his underwear. The shock of the cold and the agony singing in his knee sent an electric current of hurt through his body.
His boiling rage echoed off of the high rocky spires just above their heads when he lifted his mud covered face out of the puddle and screamed, “Arrrrrrghhh!” while frozen black mud and ice dripped from his face and beard.
Over the swirling storm, Brill could hear the high pitched laughter of a horse chasing his own echoes on the wind as Star ran back to Shane. “You stupid stupid stupid horse!” he cried as he pounded his fist futilely into the puddle which sent more frozen mud splattering everywhere.
By then Brill was already beyond caring anymore because his world had finally collapsed there in the mud and his sanity wasn’t far behind. Not only was he miserable, but he was also sure he was changing into a monkey thanks to Shane’s spell. It occurred to him just then that he should have asked Shane how long it would take for the full transformation to take effect. So he had no idea how long he had before he was hanging from a tree limb by his toes and it disturbed his mind a bit more. if that were possible.
We know that Shane was not a wizard but Brill didn’t know it so he believed it and that gave the spell even more magic power over him.
Brill began cursing Crandle, as a traitor and abandon-er of friends. Next, he cursed enchanted horses, stallions especially, then it was boy wizards, magical staffs and cruel fate in general that could call down enough power and lightning to shatter a sword like glass. “I hope the Devil drags the whole bloody lot of you straight down to hell!” he screamed at the Heavens. then he began to crawl out of the ooze.
All his efforts to wipe the mud from his face were pointless. “Stupid blasted horse!” he muttered to himself as he began hobbling the rest of the way to his camp. He knew he had dry clothes to change into there. Even if they didn’t have any firewood he wouldn’t freeze.
It took Brill an hour to limp and hop his way back over the top of the pass on one half-way functional leg. More than once he slipped in the mud and fell hard enough on his backside to make his teeth rattle but he plodded on until he reached his campsite.
Only to discover that everything was gone. The donkeys, the packs, the dry clothes, all of it. And Crandle was nowhere to be seen. He was stuck on top of Mount Thunder in freezing, wet clothes without so much as a blanket and he was all alone.
“CRANDLE!” he screamed at the top of his lungs but the North wind blew it away as soon as the sound left his throat. It flung his lament into the rocks above him and tore it into nothing in the swirling currents of turbulent air “CRANDLE!” he screamed again anyway before collapsing to the ground in a blubbering, heap of muddy clothes and abject misery. In between choking sobs, he cursed fate as creatively as he could with his brain half frozen.
He was sitting like that just a few minutes when someone tapped him on the shoulder with their finger and a voice that sounded just like, Crandle’s was yelling, “Brill! Brill!”
He looked up into the face of Crandle who was crouched there beside him calling his name. “You got away from them! he was saying as though he doubted it was possible.
“I would be far better off if I had been killed by the boy instead!” Brill wailed. “Why didn’t you warn me the boy was a wizard, Crandle?”
“I did I tried to tell you, Brill. Remember?”
“No! I do not remember”
Remember when I told you about that staff of his?”
“Yeah, I remember,” Brill said, but that still does not excuse you for letting me try to rob and murder a sorcerer! And you didn’t even try to stop me either,” Brill pointed out. “Some friend you are,”
“I did try to tell you, Brill but you told me to shut up or you were going to beat me,”
“Shut up or I am going to beat the fire out of you, Crandle!” Brill tried to say but all he could do was choke out more sobs and hiccups as his bravado turned to boohoo in the face of an overwhelming wave of misery.
“It’s alright, Brill’” Crandle soothed trying to console his partner.
“No! It’s not alright!” Brill cried “It’s not all right at all is it?”
“Sure it is, Brill. It is all right,” Crandle insisted. “We still have the donkeys. We can always sell them and then we’ll just find someone else we can rob. We don’t really need no enchanted horse causing trouble anyway.”
“I don’t give a hang about any stupid horses, enchanted or not you moron! I have bigger problems!”
“Why, Brill, what happened to you back there?” Crandle wondered.
“That bloody wizard boy turned me into a monkey!” he finally managed to blurt out.
“He did what?!” Crandle asked, unable to believe his ears.”He turned me into a monkey I said! Have you gone deaf on top of being dumb?” Brill sneered.
“But, Brill, you haven’t changed one bit,” Crandle assured him.
“It’s a slow changing spell, you numskull!” Brill growled back. “The boy said it’s going to take some time for me to change into a monkey but I will,”
“I’ve never heard of any spells that work like that. I don’t think wizards can do stuff like that, Brill,”
“No?” Brill asked as hope returned.
“No. I’m almost sure of it,” Crandle assured him.
“I sure hope you’re right about that because I don’t want to be a monkey,” Brill sniffed and wiped away mud and tears as a single drop ran down his muddy cheek.
“Where are all of our things, Crandle? I’m soaking wet and I’m about to freeze solid out here.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you! I found a nice warm cave we can take shelter in. It’s out of the wind too. Best of all there are a lot of dried sticks lying around inside the cave that we can make a fire with, and it’s close by too!” Crandle said cheerfully.
“Yeah?” Brill asked “Is that where the donkeys are, and our packs?
“Yeah. I already put all of our stuff in the cave but those stupid donkeys all refused to go inside the cave so I just tied them nearby. If they want to stay out in this storm then let them I say,” Crandle explained.
“Well help me up then and give me your shoulder to lean on,” Brill instructed, ”That cursed boy busted up my ankle and my kneecap with that bloody staff of his. After it had already shattered my sword and hit me with thunder.”
“Sure thing Brill,” Crandle said as he bent down to help Brill get up. “I didn’t hear any thunder,” Crandle said helping Brill stand on his one good leg again.
“No? Well, I sure as the devil did. I thought that it was going to blow me apart when it exploded right in my face as it did. I thought the bolt of lightning had struck me for a moment there.” Brill explained
“You got struck by lightening Brill?” Crandle asked as the two men started off in the direction of the eastern peak where Crandle had discovered the cave.
“No, the boy’s staff did. And it broke my sword like it was made out of ice crystals.” Brill told his old partner.
“Oh really?! I didn’t see that part.” Crandle admitted.
“Yeah I guess not since you had already run off like your butt was on fire,” Brill grumbled, he was angry again at Crandle’s having run away and left him at the mercy of the boy wizard and his stupid enchanted stallion.
“But, Brill,” Crandle cried, “My butt was on fire!” Crandle cried in his own defense. “That stupid horse pushed me back into the fire pit and my robe caught on fire! Feel it for yourself if you don’t believe me!” Crandle insisted.
Brill did not, in fact, believe him at all, of course. He did check by feeling the fabric on Crandle’s back with the hand that encircled his shoulders. Sure enough, the fabric was burned all the way down to the waist cord of his robe and Brill noticed a burnt smell that he had attributed to their standing in the smoke from Shane’s campfire but could now tell was coming off of his partner’s burned clothing.
Well, since that’s the case then I guess I won’t kill you for abandoning me back there after all.” Brill allowed.
“Okay. Thanks, Brill! But let’s get you inside and get a fire going, then we’ll see if some hot food in your stomach and a nice warm fire won’t help to cheer you up.” Crandle said.
“A fire? How are you going to make a fire Crandle? There’s no wood up here remember?” Brill reminded his partner as they limped along towards the eastern peak.
“Yeah, I know that Brill, but there are a bunch of sticks in the cave. Somebody must have brought them up here and never used them because there are a whole lot of them and they’re all bone dry!” Crandle said excitedly. he was happy he could give Brill some good news after they had both been so badly mistreated by Shane and his enchanted stallion.
“Hey, that sounds great!” Brill had to admit” But how did you find this cave in the dark with the storm and all?” He wondered.
“I got lost after I ran from the fire.” Crandle admitted “Then after I rolled the flames out in the snow and mud I headed for the peak to get back to camp and I just happened upon the mouth of the cave by accident. So I came back here and moved everything over to there. I had just finished so I went back to look for you and that’s when I found you. How did you get so muddy anyway?”
“That stupid horse did it.” Was all Brill would say about the subject.
When they passed the three donkeys a few minutes later, Brill noticed that the animals were milling around nervously and braying but very quietly.
“What’s wrong with them stupid donkeys ?” He asked his partner but Crandle had to confess that he didn’t know.
“I guess they’re nervous because of the storm. Maybe there’s another one coming through later.” He suggested.
” Yeah I suppose you’re right,” Brill said as they hobbled past the donkeys. Crandle was pointing to a spot ahead saying it the place where the cave entrance lay.
“Here we are then Brill. Hole sweet hole.” He said as they hobbled into the dark mouth of the cave leaving the wind and storm outside.
Crandle had spoken truthfully. It was warm inside the cave once you moved past the entrance and into the pitch black interior. “Careful of all the wood on the floor there, Brill,” Crandle advised as he guided Brill back further inside. “Here should be far enough in. Now then, let’s get you settled down by the wall here and get you comfortable and then I’ll gather up some wood and build us a fire.” He added.
“Yeah, that does sound really good. And some dry clothes too. Don’t forget.” Brill said with a sigh.
“Oh yeah. I put the packs right by the mouth of the cave. Hold on I’ll get us some dry robes.”
Crandle had Brill sit down where he could lean up against the wall of the cave and stretch out his legs. Then felt his way back to the entrance where he had stashed the pack saddles. He couldn’t see anything but he was able to feel around and locate two dry robes. It helped that robes were all that friars wore.
“Here we go, Brill.” He said as he felt his way back to where his injured partner was waiting in the dark “Here’s you a nice dry robe” he said as he handed one to Brill and then began to strip out of his own burned up clothes.
He could hear Brill pulling off his wet clothes, he heard them plopping down in a muddy wet heap on the floor of the cave. Brill used the dry parts of his clothes to wipe himself off and clean his face before he put on the dry robe. Once he had it on he felt a great deal better and the chills that had him shivering violently began to diminish.
“Did I hear somebody say something about starting a fire in here or not?” he asked as he tried to straighten out the back of his robe. To Brill’s alarm, he discovered there was something underneath it and it was moving!
Whatever it was, it was long round and thick as a rope and it was squirming around like a snake underneath his robe.
“Hey!” he yelled “There’s a snake under my robe Crandle! Get it out of there!” he cried as he tried to shake the snake out of his robe but failed. He managed to grab the snake through his robe and then he worked his way down along its length until he came to the end. The one that he hoped was the head. If it wasn’t, then he could be in big trouble when he reached under his robe to get it out.
“How did you get a snake in your robe Brill?” Crandle asked in the pitch darkness.
“How would I know you blasted fool? You’re the one who brought it to me with a bloody snake in it!” Brill cried as he held what he thought was the snake’s head with one hand. The other hand and reached up under the robe and grabbed the snake behind its head.
The first thing that Brill noticed was that the snake as very muscular and strong. The second thing that Brill noticed was that the snake was covered with hair. But who has ever heard of a hairy snake before?
Whatever it was it was just going to have to find somewhere else besides his robe to hang around. Brill yanked on the hairy wriggling snake and that was when he discovered a third thing about the so-called snake.
It seemed to be attached to his backside just below his waist! “What in the blue blazes is going on here?” Brill cried out in the dark.
“What Brill? What’s the matter? Did you catch the snake yet?” Crandle asked. He wanted to help Brill but he was scared of snakes and was not about to go near one. especially not in the dark where he could not see them.
“Yeah I caught it all right, but it seems to have caught me too!” Brill cried. “Get that blasted fire going so we can see this thing in the light,” He instructed Crandle.
“All right, Brill I’ll get a fire going. Sure, that’s a really good idea!“ Crandle said. Getting down on his hands and knees he felt around on the floor of the cave for some firewood. After all, it was all over the place.
Where they sat was no exception either and within a few seconds, Crandle had found several large dry sticks and gathered together a small pile of dried out sticks in various sizes that were laying in a heap beside him. He took them over closer to Brill and arranged them on top of the bigger pieces. Then he took out his tinder box with his flint and steel and laying a piece of cattail fluff on top of the kindling wood he began to strike his flint on the length of steel causing hot red sparks to fly from it towards the fluff.
Meanwhile, Brill had started working his free hand up along the length of the snake’s hairy body towards his back where it had attached itself to him. Only when his hand made its way up to the spot where the snakes head should have been all that he found was a smooth hairy round thing that flowed seamlessly right into his own skin almost like…..”A Tail!?!” Brill shrieked as if it finally dawned on him what he was holding in his hands. The memory of the spall that Shane had cast upon him came back to him in a flood.
“A what? Crandle asked, confused. ” What are you talking about Brill?”
“It’s not a snake Crandle. It’s a tail!” Brill shouted and his voice echoed away down the dark tunnel-like cave.
“Are you kidding me, Brill? Because that’s not funny. You know how much I hate snakes.” he said shakily.
“It’s not a snake you idiot! I’m telling you there is no snake! It’s a tail, Crandle. A bloody monkey tail!” Brill wailed forlornly
“You meant that spell the boy put on you?” Crandle asked.
“Yes! I thought you told me that he couldn’t do this to me!” Brill said accusingly. As if it were all Crandle’s fault. Which in a way it was.
“I could be wrong Brill” Crandle admitted, “But I’ve never heard of such a spell before.”
“Just shut up and get that fire lit so I can see this blasted thing. Now!!” Brill screamed,
“I’m trying Brill I’m trying!” Crandle cried as he tried to strike some sparks on the tiny pile of fluff. Most of them missed the tinder all together but one hot spark did land on it and it seemed like it was going to catch but then it went out.
“Try it again you almost had it” Brill urged him.
“I am Brill” Crandle assured his partner “I am.”
Crandle struck a few more sparks with his flint before another spark landed in the little pile of cattail fluff but with a little encouragement, he was able to coax a tiny little flame up out of it that threw off a little bit of light. Just enough to illuminate the little pile of wood that was beneath it.
Because Crandle was bent down over the tiny flame doing his best to breathe life into it, he was unable to see the woodpile itself. Brill, on the other hand, was sitting over by the wall of the cave and he could see it clearly. Far too clearly.
“Crandle? Did you say this cave is littered with all kinds of that wood?” he asked in a suddenly scared and shaky voice.
Yeah, sure Brill they’re everywhere in her. Why do you ask?” Crandle wanted to know before he went back to trying to coax a fire out of the tiny flame.
“The reason I ask Crandle is that wood you’re trying to light is not wood you nitwit! Those are bones!” Brill cried.
“What? Bones?! Are you sure?” Crandle sat up a little straighter to look but in his haste, he managed to extinguish the tiny flame plunging them back into darkness. This time it was deeper than before. Following the death of the light, darkness swims before your eyes and shadows fly all around you where there are none.
“Of course I’m sure you dimwitted fool!” Brill cried, and now panic was rising in his voice along with the volume.
The echoes of his words chased one other into the inky black recesses of the deep cave and faded quickly away.
“Don’t you think I can tell the difference between a stick of firewood and a bone?” he challenged.
“I guess so, Brill, I really don’t know, ” Crandle admitted.”Where do you suppose the bones came from?”
Brill was about to ask him how the Devil he should know when out of the darkness from somewhere deep inside of the cave a third party cleared their throat with a loud and very deep “Ahem!” that seemed to rumble in the closeness of the cave.
It was so loud and unexpected that both men nearly jumped right out of their skins from fright.
A cave full of bones usually meant only one of two things. Either the cave had once been used as a mausoleum at some point in time. Or they were in the lair of an animal with a large appetite for meat.
Just then the mausoleum scenario seemed the least likely of the two.
“Please excuse me if I startled you, gentlemen.” The third party said in a voice that was low and measured but had a deep throaty growl to it. The accent was decidedly foreign, but from where neither man could have guessed.
The speaker’s words were perfectly enunciated and delivered in clipped syllables that were crisp and precise but they had a decidedly frightening way of carrying words ending in S out long that sent cold chills crawling up and down Brill’s spine.
“Perhaps I can help you, gentlemen, to clear up that little conundrum for you that is,” The mysterious voice said “All of the bones that you see in here belong to me. Alas, I fear that my housekeeping skills are not all that they should be and for that, I do apologize.”
“W-who a-are you? Where did you come from?” Brill asked the mysterious voice
“Where did I come from?” cooed the evil voice “Why I live here gentlemen. This is my family home and it has been for ages. Why do you ask?”
“We thought that with all these bones lying around, this cave might be inhabited by a lion or a tiger,” Brill stated boldly, his nerve coming back to him a little.
“Or a bear!” Crandle chimed in beside him.
“Oh my! I can certainly understand why you would be concerned. But, not to worry,” the speaker said smoothly, “I can assure you, gentlemen, that no bears, tigers, or lions live in this cave that I’m aware of.” It added with a chuckle that sounded like laughter coming from the grave to Brill and Crandle.
“What are you, an ogre?” Crandle asked suddenly cutting off Brill’s next question.
The evil voice in the darkness laughed again even this time with far greater malice inflected in it. If that were even possible “No my good fellows, I most assuredly am not an ogre.” It said as the laughter trailed away.
“Are you a troll then?” Brill wanted to know. He noticed that his new tail was twitching like mad in his hand like it was trying to get away from him.
Again the voice chuckled evilly and said, “No, Sir Monkey-Tail I am not a troll either.”
“Look sir we didn’t know this was your cave or we would not have trespassed upon your home but we were stuck out in the snowstorm with…”
Ah, ah, ah! Please! The unseen speaker laughed cutting Brill off in mid-sentence, “My dear fellows, haha! Don’t let it bother you a moment longer. For you, my home is your home. In fact, I am rather hoping that you will both stay for dinner. I want you to meet my lovely wife and my charming young daughter. I am sure they will be delighted to have you.” the evil voice said.
“You mean to say your family lives in here with you too?” Crandle asked the voice.
Brill’s sense of dread was growing stronger with every passing moment. He was almost sure the mysterious voice was getting closer as it spoke. He could hear or thought he could hear the sounds of something heavy moving towards them from deep within the cave.
Because sound is transmitted differently through air than it does through stone Brill could sense it on more than two levels. It was impossible to tell how far away the voice’s owner was when it replied, “Why yes my dear fellow I mean to say they do at that,” The malevolence in the voice was unmistakable.
“No, no! Thank you all the same, friend but I don’t think we could impose ourselves on your family’s dinner plans,” Brill said projecting his voice to sound bigger than he was. “If it’s all the same to you we were just going to bed down here until the storm blows over and then we will be on our way. But thank you just the same. Right Crandle?”
“Uh yeah right,” Crandle muttered.
“The evil-tongued voice laughed and Brill felt his blood turn cold. “Don’t be absurd,” it chuckled and the air seemed to shift somehow as it did.
” I can’t possibly imagine how two men of such obvious good taste would ever be anything but a delight, but an inconvenience? Ha! Perish, the thought sir,” it chuckled, as though at some joke only it knew.
Brill had been straining with all his might to hear and now he was sure of it. There was something big moving very slowly and steadily up the cave towards them. He strained his eyes too but nothing pierced the total darkness.
Suddenly he saw two small luminous dots appear 75 feet away down the tunnel and they were definitely getting closer. At first, Brill thought they were flames like from candles or two lanterns.
Until that is, he noticed that the flames gave off no illumination. There was no light shining on the walls of the cave as there should be. There were no shadows either.
“What sort of light doesn’t cast light?” he thought to himself but he quickly decided he didn’t really want to know.
“Do you see what I see?” he whispered to Crandle.
“Yeah, I see it, What the Devil is it, Brill?”
“I have no idea just hurry up and get that fire lit,” Brill hissed through pinched lips.
“Yes, Crandle, with bones. And do it now!” Brill growled quietly.
By then the lights were only 50 feet away from them.
“Are you sure because we really don’t wish to impose on you or your lovely family? Brill asked the thing, hoping to buy Crandle some more time to get a fire lit.
The evil voice answered him and now it was even closer still. “I am as sure as I could ever be. My but you are a sweet looking fellow aren’t you?” it hissed as it continued moving closer and closer to them.
“In fact, I would go so far as to say that it simply wouldn’t be the same without you. The lights were now 35 feet away.
“Hurry up you fool!” Brill hissed at Crandle who was trying his best to get a flame going but the two evil looking lights were scaring him so bad that he dropped his steel. It clattered loudly as it bounced off the stone floor making a loud clink-clanking noise.
Still the lights drew nearer, They saw that they were in the center of the cave and about 4 feet above the floor. Whatever they were.
“Are you sure you won’t take no for an answer?” He asked and the speaker hissed back.
“Yes. Quite sure,”
”Perhaps another time. For now, I think we should take a rain check and be on our way,” Brill told the thing.
“But it’s raining right now my friends. Remember?”
The lights were now only 20 feet away from them and Brill could see that there was something very irregular about them. They had what appeared to be solid centers instead of being bright and luminous like they should have been.
As he watched, both of the lights winked out. When they blinked back on again it was at the same moment that an overpowering stench of rotting carrion and brimstone hit both men’s nostrils nearly making, Crandle retch while Brill plugged his nose against it.
The twin lights were now glowing a fierce green and gold and it was obvious that the light was coming from within them. In the center of each light there burned two elliptical ovals that were much like the pupils of a cat. Only these two had a deep golden hue in the very center that reminded one of burnished bronze.
Brill thought he could see them pulsating as he watched them, he could feel himself being transfixed as though by ancient magic.
“What are you?” he asked timidly. His heart was pounding in his throat as he asked.
“What am I?” the evil voice repeated his question with a chuckle that made Brill’s blood freeze solid as he realized that the twin lights could see him as well as he could see that they were two very large eyes and they were filled with flames.
“Why I am the Lord of Mount Thunder of course. But where have my manners gotten off to? Some host I turned out to be. We don’t get visitors here very often so I am a bit out of practice when it comes to having house guests. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am called Morloch The Terrible by your kind.”
“I can’t get these bones to light, Brill!” Crandle said looking up from the fire he was trying hard to light but with no success. That was when he saw the lights close up and he said, ”Brill those are a lizard’s eyes!”
“Yesss, quite so,” their owner agreed. “Did I hear him say that you gentlemen are in need of a light? Perhaps I can be of assistance,”
Brill was about to make excuses and decline the offer when he heard a sudden sharp intake of breath coming from Morloch’s direction. The words died in his throat as the fire that burned deep within the dragon’s eyes flared up until they glowed a bright red the color of a burning ember.
“I don’t think I want to stay here tonight, Brill” Crandle whispered as the old dragon exhaled from his mouth.
In his throat, two glands excreted bio-chemicals that were then forced out of the dragon’s mouth by the force of the air rushing past. When those two chemicals mixed together they reacted violently to one another and became a kind of naturally occurring napalm that burst into flames on contact with oxygen.
Brill and Crandle screamed as the dragon fire rushed out at them in the darkness and swallowed them up in a blazing fury of liquid fire. Their dying screams were lost in the fierce roar of the mighty dragon.
A gout of flames spewed from the mouth of the cave and set the donkey’s into such a blind panic that they broke loose from their pickets and ran off down the pass to the North. They knew all along what lived in that cave and didn’t want to be anywhere near it, to begin with. As the sound of their hoofbeats receded into the night a deathlike silence fell settled back over the clearing around the entrance to Morloch’s cave.
Nobody heard a sound as the bodies of two very bad men were dragged along the stone floor of the tunnel that leads to the dragon’s lair, way down deep in the heart of Mount Thunder. The only light
“Did you hear that, Star? Shane asked the stallion. He was already rolled up in his blankets inside of the tent but he poked his head out to listen closer. “That sounded like an animal roaring,” he said with some concern. But the sound did not repeat itself and the old warhorse shook his head to say he had not heard a thing. He whinnied low and Shane took it as a good night.
“I must be hearing things,” he said as he ducked back into his tent. “Good night, Star, goodnight ladies,” he said as he rolled back up in his blankets and pulled them up over his head. In less than two minutes he was snoring happily away.
Meanwhile, snow continued falling all around the little campsite and the entire world seemed to be asleep lying peacefully beneath its own soft white blanket.
END OF BOOK ONE.
Categories: Other Stuff