THE APPRENTICE-BOOK1-THE CALLING – CHAPTERS 24 – 25

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

It actually took only three quarters of an hour for Shane and the horses to make it up to the to the pass and into the relative shelter of the boulders. Wanting to waste no time, and knowing there was no time to waste, Shane quickly set up camp, and prepared to ride out the impending storm.

He put up his little oilskin tent on the north side of a massive boulder who’s concave face slightly overhung the tent. It would serve to stave off the brunt of the rain and wind. Next, he covered the saddles and the packs with his rain slicker and piled up the firewood behind the tent. There was more than enough room for the stallion and the mules to stand together around the tent in the shelter of the massive rock. As the wind continued picking up speed, the storm itself gained in ferocity. The feeling in the air was tense and coiled like a lioness gathering herself together to pounce upon the unsuspecting.

“You just watch Star.” Shane told the stallion as he worked his flint and steel to get the fire going. “This wind is going to change directions real soon and when it does, that is when it’s going to hit us and I mean hit us hard. I was wrong about it missing us it seems.”

Dark Star whickered and tossed his head in agreement.

Night was falling earlier than usual as the unseen sun went down, buried behind an impenetrable layer of dark clouds over the western range. The sparks from Shane’s flint made bright flashes that cast deep black shadows against the face of the overhanging stone as he struck it against his steel. He was about to give up on the fire altogether when a lull in the wind came along just as a nice hot spark that landed in the center of the thin dry straw Shane was using for tinder. A moment later began to smolder and hope sprang anew.

A few gentle puffs of air from Shane’s mouth and a tiny spark quickly grew into a flame between his cupped hands. The kindling that he had packed up from below Vanna’s back was good and dry again after the last rain that they had gotten and it caught the tiny flame and quickly nurtured it into a fire. As Shane added some larger pieces of deadwood he noted that the wind had slackened off even more now.

“Uh oh,” he said to the black stallion who was standing nearby watching his boy build a fire. “I think the wind is about to change directions on us, Star” Before Dark Star could nod his head in agreement, the rolling report of a distant lightning strike to the south came rumbling up through the pass causing the sisters to huddle closer to their stallion for protection.

“Now THAT, we can do without! Shane said as the deep bass echoes faded away. The stallion agreed wholeheartedly. Horses don’t care much for lightning. He wasn’t scared of it, he cautious of it because he had seen it kill several of the horses in his fathers herd when he was still a foal. They had been caught by a sudden storm out on the open plains. He gave a little shudder as he remembered them.

Shane noticed his reaction and patted his forehead gently. “Yeah I know. I don’t like thunder and lightning myself. At least one of our sheep gets killed by lightning during these summer storms every year, Star.” He told the stallion who nickered softly. “I need to fix myself some dinner fast or I’ll be going to bed hungry tonight.” Shane said as he stood up and went to his pack to get something to eat.

In short time he had a kettle boiling over hot stones on one side of the fire ring. “Tonight we’re having toasted salt pork, and cheese sandwiches, Star.” He told the stallion who watched him with the same frank interest that he usually did whenever the boy wasn’t looking. All of the other people Dark Star had always been given to were knights and warrior Princes, and other nobles who were, in many instances, very stiff and posing jackasses that seemed to Star like little Bantam roosters. But this boy who was so awkward and strange and yet somehow aloof the he intrigued the old war horse though he could not figure out why.

Down in the valley almost three miles below, two peals of thunder collided on the mountainside and came rolling up through the pass single file followed closely thereafter by a third strike. That one that seemed to have come from much closer than the first two.  The wind died down to a mere breeze and a few stray drops of rain splashed across the surrounding mountaintops, falling in advance of the downpour sure to come. One of them struck Shane on his bare wrist as he held his toasting stick with a sandwich on it out over the fire. By the illumination from its golden light he could see that the drop of rain was half ice crystal an instant before it melted against his warm skin.

“This may be worse than we thought, Star.” He said as he looked to the west. There the sun was setting in a blaze of crimson red that backlit the black clouds from below so that they looked to Shane like a volcano was actively spewing molten rock against them. Only a tiny glimpse of the last few golden rays from the Sun showed along the rim of the horizon and outlined some of the lower mountains with crowns of golden-red fire. Shane stood there watching it in awe while his sandwich went from lightly toasted to carbonized cinders, unnoticed.

“Boy oh boy, Star” he said wistfully as the angry crimson glow spread out and the sun sank beneath the rolling mass of storm clouds. “If I could paint a sunset the way that God does I’d be in big demand at Buckingham Palace and in all the royal courts of Europe and Asia too I’ll wager.” He sighed. The stallion nodded his shaggy black head in agreement as a long low peal of distant thunder bowled its way down along the valley floor. It sounded for all the world as if perhaps the heavens themselves were applauding the beauty of God’s canvas.

All too soon however, sunset gave way to darkness and all of the colors gradually faded from crimson, orange and gold to as black as Shane’s sandwich. Now Shane could see light from far away flashes of lightening flickering on and off in clouds and every now and then he could feel a tiny drop of cold rain hit his face. He scraped the carbon off of his sandwich with a knife blade and ate it anyway while he watched the jagged bolts of lightning dancing along the peaks of the mountains behind them. “Has it gotten colder or is it just my imagination?” Shane asked the stallion who nodded in reply. It had indeed gotten colder.

A flash of lightning lit up the sky as the storm cell, full of high voltage, moved closer to Mount Thunder. It caused Shane to look up just as the clouds went from black to semi-translucent silver, and gray. A second and third flash following on the thunder of the last one allowed him to see that rain was falling but fierce gusting winds were blowing the raindrops horizontally over their heads. None of it would touch them under the protective overhang of the gigantic stone that sheltered them.

The only real problem was going to be the lightning. There was only a very slim chance that they might actually get struck by a bolt there amongst the big rocks. The problem was that the approaching thunder storm was really freaking Ginny and Vanna out as it drew nearer to the mountain. They had their eyes rolled back in their heads every time the thunder would crash over them and they were fidgeting around nervously which was what caught Shane’s attention.

“What’s the matter with the ladies, Star? Is the thunder and lightning scaring them?” he asked the black stallion who stood complacently by seeming to take little notice of the storm. Dark Star nodded his head and looked over at the sisters. Both of them were both huddled up against his flanks and against each other. “Can you talk to them in horse language or whatever?” Shane asked him and Dark Star turned back and nodded yes. He snorted and blew twin clouds of frosted breath out of his big nostrils into the chilled night air.

“Can you tell them that the noise is harmless and that we’re fairly safe under this boulder from the lightning?” Again, Star nodded yes then he turned and nickered softly to Ginny and Vanna, and they in turn nickered and snorted back to him. They were scared and tossed their shaggy manes nervously about as they related their fears to him.

They conversed like that for several minutes while Shane watched and listened. He was afraid the mules might be too frightened to be calmed down. If not then they might be scared enough to bolt off into the teeth of the storm and get lost or hurt in the dark. Possibly even killed.

But the stallion kept talking to them, quietly reassuring them that Shane himself had told him that the light and noise could not hurt them and since they were coming to trust the boy they finally settled down. They stayed huddled close to Star just the same. “Are they going to be alright Star?” Shane asked, and the stallion nodded his head.

Shane was about to go back to the Apprentices Handbook again when the ice began to fall. At first the sleet pellets were small, not even the same the size as a green pea, but before long it was falling off of the top of the boulder and they were the size of acorns that bounced off of the horse’s rumps. Shane  went to get their saddle blankets to cover up their exposed flanks with but before he could get up to go and get them the ice stopped falling again and the howling wind died down a little as the storm front passed over them. It still was far from being over with yet, in fact it had only just begun.

The thunderheads were still advancing on them but when the wind shifted again, and began to blow from the northeast instead of due North the eastern peak of Mount Thunder sheltered the pass from the worst of it. It also allowed the thunderheads to advance more rapidly now, however. Shane had been counting the time between the flashes and thunder like his father had taught him to. He could tell that the lightning was striking down in the valley below and very soon it would be walking up the southern slope and be on top of them. “What’s next, snow?” he asked Star rhetorically.

Before the stallion could even think about the question it began to snow,. It fell lightly at first in tiny flakes but then they stopped falling for several minutes before it started falling again, only this time the flakes were big, wet and heavy. And they were coming down hard.

Shane had not seen much snow in his lifetime as it rarely ever fell in the lowlands around Kilkairn so when he saw that it was snowing he jumped up and ran out in it with his hands outstretched to try to catch some snowflakes on his tongue. “Look Star it’s snowing!” he laughed “Can you believe this? It’s the middle of the bloody summer! How could it be snowing in the middle of the bloody summer?” he asked as he danced around, chasing snowflakes with his tongue.

A brilliant flash of light followed by a booming roar rumbled down the pass just then though and sent him scrambling back to the relative shelter of the boulder The lightning had arrived on top of Mount Thunder and it came with a vengeance as bolt after bolt of  static energy rent the air leaving behind a thunder clap, and the thick smell of burnt ozone. Ginny and Vanna were looking like they were ready to bolt at any moment but Star kept talking to them quietly. Besides that they both knew they would be safer in the shelter of the boulder than they would be if they ran off into the howling  blizzard and lightning.

“Don’t be scared, the noise cannot hurt you, and it will be past us soon.” He kept saying, to them, soothingly, while Shane scratched them both behind their big ears the way they liked. “Don’t you guys worry” he told them in a soft, soothing voice. “There’s nothing to worry about, we’re safe here.” he assured them. The tone if not the words had a positive effect on them but they were still scared silly.

Meanwhile, over on the north side of the pass, Brill and Crandle were cursing everything from the black stallion, Shane, the mules, the monks, and the wicked follies of fate, to the storm itself with vigor. The rock they took shelter behind was facing north so they thought the’ had lucked out by finding it. Right up until the wind changed directions on them that is.

That was bad enough as it was, but at least they were still able to get out of the wind. Then the rain began to fall. They got a little wet, but because the rain was blowing sideways most of it went right over their heads. It was when the sleet started falling that they got the worst of it because there was nowhere for them to hide except beneath the hoods of their robes. Their poor donkeys, having no shelter at all, could do nothing but stand there and take it in silent shivering misery.

 “Blast this cursed foul weather!” Brill growled from under his cowl as the sleet pelted him and Crandle, mercilessly “Since when does it rain ice in the middle of summer?” he asked no one in particular.

“I don’t know , Brill, I do wish we could have a fire though, I’m freezing to death.” Crandle moaned. “And I do not like all this thunder and lightning either! Not one bit I don’t,” He added with much emphasis on the last statement.

“Shut up Crandall. Nobody asked you whether you liked the weather or not.” Brill growled, and the sound was menacingly low in his throat, but Crandall was beyond caring about any of Brill’s threats. In the face of the threat from the gathering storm and the lightning it was bringing with it, his threats were as lame as it gets.

“You asked me, Brill. Just now, you did when you asked me ‘since when does it rain ice in the middle of summer?’ He mocked Brill’s gruff voice when he said it.

“That was not a question you were meant to answer you brainworm ridden fool! That was one of them prehistorical questions.” Brill hollered at Crandall, who could barely hear his own voice above the peal of a thunderclap as it went tumbling, and boiling noisily 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 the question in the first place?”

“I asked it because it has a special way of making stupid people ask stupid questions, that’s why I asked it, stupid!” Brill shouted, just then lightning flashed overhead, and another thunderclap washed over them.

“Does it work? Crandle wanted to know.

“Better than you could ever imagine.” Brill sighed. “Better than you could ever imagine.”

“When are we going get our mules and that stallion, and get off of this blasted mountain, Brill? I’m about to freeze to death here.” Crandle whined after several minutes of prolonged silence. Silence that was broken only by the wind and the rolling thunder fading off into the distance.

Meanwhile, the thunderheads gathered closer together and drew nearer to their lofty mountain perch.

“Don’t you think I’m freezing too, Crandle? We’ll go and find them just as soon as the weather lets up a bit. We can’t do much of anything in this bloody ice storm now can we? 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 pointed out. “I think this storm is going to blow over us pretty quickly” He added, confidently, but Crandle didn’t quite share his optimism.

“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 told him. Secretly he agreed with his cowardly partner completely. He didn’t like the approaching thunderstorm any more than Crandle did. He was just too proud to ever let him or anyone else know he could feel that way. It was on him as the brains of the outfit to keep a stiff upper lip and all that. Instead he cursed the large ice balls that were bouncing off of his head and everything else he could think of.

Brill was still in the middle of this cursing storm when all at once it was as if a cosmic switch had been thrown, or a sluice gate had been closed in Heaven. Like magic the ice stopped falling and the wind died down as it shifted around to come at them again from the Northeast with its teeth on.

“Hey, it stopped!” Crandle cried out as he pulled the cowl of his robe back and looked up the boiling black sky above. He couldn’t see a thing of course. “I think the wind even let up a bit.” he added.

“Aye, it sure 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 already, Brill?” Crandle asked, hopefully.

“I somehow doubt that,” Brill replied sardonically, as the first snowflakes began falling on them.

“Hey! Would you 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.” Brill snarled but the words were taken by the wind and the question was left unanswered.


“Can we handle our business with this kid now, and be done with it?” 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, brightening up a little.

“Yeah a nice roaring fire would be just the thing right now wouldn’t it, Brill?” Crandle suggested warmly as he rubbed his freezing hands together over an imaginary fire.

Already he was imagining himself standing with his back to a nice roaring campfire. He could see himself toasting his huge rear-end in the golden glowing heat of the flames that only he could see.

“Yeah. You know, I believe you might be onto something there for once 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 snowed on when we could just as easily go and get our just desserts instead.” he said as a flash of lightning rent the sky and the thunderclap pounded at their ears as it went rolling down the mountain close on its heels.

“That thunderstorm is getting awfully close, Brill” Crandle said while the thunder still 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? Just leave everything where it is and let’s go. It’s not like it’s going to go 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 for making us chase him all the way up here just to rob him. Brill grumbled like the thunder as it rumbled through the pass. “Come on!” he said as he set off in the direction of Shane’s camp.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Meanwhile, back at his campsite, Shane had gotten out his extra blankets and used them to cover up Dark Star, and the sisters. 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 coming closer, and closer with each passing minute.

“In about 5 more minutes this 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 the frightened mules in Equestrus.

“Hey Star. Maybe I can use this staff to stop the storm or make it go away. What do you think?” Shane asked as he looked at the wizard’s staff propped against the stone beside him. This ridiculous notion only earned him a dubious glance from the horse. One that spoke volumes on the stallion’s doubts about the boys state of sanity being all that it could be just then. But Shane was looking at the staff not the stallion, he did’tt see him shaking his shaggy black head and rolling his eyes to the heavens as though he were asking the equine gods, “Why me?”

Which was precisely what Dark Star was thinking.

It never would have made any difference to Shane anyway as he had already made up his own mind. He reached over, took the staff in his hands and held it out towards the fire as he began to hum real low in his throat. “Ohhhhhhm, ohhhhhhm.” he chanted.

“It’s a good thing that horses as a rule do not laugh out loud because Dark Star would have had a fit of belly-laughter just then, but he really wasn’t in the mood for it.

When Shane felt like the proper tone had been set for the casting of his spell, he opened his eyes as wide as he could and he stared at it intensely as he focused beams of imagined energy and thoughts of magical power at the Orleanstone.

Then he began to chant the following incantation in what he imagined was his most impressive conjurer’s voice.

“Storm storm go away! Come again some other day!” he cried as 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 jagged bolt of lightning jumped from a cloud over his head and struck the ground around him three times in such rapid succession that it almost appeared to be a single strike.

The first bolt struck the top of the Western spire of Mount Thunder. The second bolt struck no less than 50 feet away from the campsite, but out in the pass. The third bolt struck even closer to the campsite still hitting a tiny 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 and it split the trunk of the Pinion Fir in two, and set it ablaze. It burned like a beacon fire in the dark stormy night. The shock wave from the thunder clap that followed hit them directly on the heels of the lightning instantly hitting them with a blast of supersonic energy that had a physical dimension that was terrifying to feel in its raw power.

It scared Genny, and Vanna so badly that they both jumped several feet in the air, and Vanna gave a frightened scream that was terrible 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 and raised to run to the sound of cannon fire, not away from it.

Shane on the other hand screamed like a little girl, but much like Vanna’s scream,, Shane’s screams were drowned out by a crashing wave of boiling, churning sound that trumped all other sounds. Shane jumped almost as high off the ground as the mules did. Levitated might be a more apt description though since he was sitting cross legged on the ground when the lightning struck, but I’m sure you get the picture.

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 war horse from the wild lands or not, whenever a bolt of lightning strikes within spitting distance of you it is going to make a lasting impression, and there are simply 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 burning on top of the boulder above their heads. It lit up the big rock where it had been growing out of the crevice for many years, until now that is. “Better you than us.” Shane said to the burning tree. That sentiment was shared unanimously by the livestock.

“You know what, Star? I think I’ll put off doing any more magic until I have had some more training,” Shane said to the black stallion who 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 sound of a man’s voice rang out rang out in the darkness, taking all of them by surprise. Even the keen ears of Dark Star had not heard Brill and Crandle as they approached their campsite under the cover of the storm.

“Hello! There at the fire!” the voice called out from the stormy darkness. “I don’t suppose you might have room for two nearly frozen monks beside your bonny fire do you, kind sir?

Shane was startled half out of his wits when he heard the voice of another human being coming out of the storm. Especially on such a night as this, and in such a place as this. But then again he mused, “Why not? And what possible harm could two monks be up to anyway? Unless one happened to be possessed by demons or something?”

“Sure we do. Come on over and warm yourselves . There’s always plenty of room for men of God by my fire on a night such as this,” he hollered back.

“Aye, and we thank you for it. 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 materialized from out of the snowy gloom. The men were very large, even for monks, and both of them had the cowls of their robes pulled up over their heads. Both men had large wooden crucifixes hanging around their necks. They found them in the packs left behind by the two friars when they had left their few worldly goods behind and ran for their lives in Gallows Gap.

Both men were so covered with the wet clinging snowflakes that 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 alone, afoot, and unencumbered by luggage of any kind. They had no pack animals or backpacks that Shane could see.

Normally that might have struck him as being more than just a bit peculiar, but then, everybody knew that friars lived a life of poverty and minimalism where material goods were concerned so he really didn’t give the matter a great deal of 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 tried to get as close to the heat as possible without setting themselves on fire in the process.

“Oh glory be! Bless your Christian heart my young friend, um, what did you say your name was, again?”

“My name is, Shane”

“Yes of course, Shane. God bless you my son. 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, and unable to speak That way, Brill explained, there would be much less chance of the black stallion recognizing one of them from the sound of their voice.

Brill had taken great pains to disguise his own voice by speaking in a higher sort of falsetto rather than the gruff snarling growls that typically passed for speech with him. Shane thought it was a bit odd for such a big man to have such a tiny little voice but he thought perhaps he was a eunuch as well. In those days it was not at all uncommon, and it was considered impolite to ask a stranger about such things when you first meet them.

“This fine upstanding man of God here beside me is, Brother John, and I am called, Brother Joseph,” the fake monk said by way of introduction as he held his frozen hands over the fire to thaw them out again for what was coming next..

Shane tried to see the men’s faces, but they were undiscernible beneath their hoods, and the dancing firelight hid their most prominent features from him in deep, dark shadows. But, that was to be expected on a night like this and it caused Shane no reason for alarm.

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 am I, my friend,” Brill said, pointing to Crandle, then himself.

“How does he talk to you if he cannot speak, 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 saidas he pointed South at random since he had no idea where Africa was either.

“Wow!’” Shane exclaimed. “Is it really far away? he asked, Crandle who nodded his head, yes. Speaking for him, Brill said, “He says yes it is far away.”

“Tell me all about it, what is this place called Africa like?” Shane wanted to know. Of course, Brill had no idea of how to even spell the word Africa much less the first thing about the dark unknown 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 isn’t it? I would love to hear more about this place called Africa.” Shane said somewhat dejectedly.

“So where are you traveling from if I might be so bold as to ask?” Brill asked, Shane 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.

“Nope, I can’t say that I have. Have you ever heard of Kilcairn before, Brother John?” Brill asked, but Crandle didn’t 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 nearest shin to get his attention.

Crandle grabbed his sore ankle and shook his head no emphatically. “He says nope, he has never heard of Kilcairn either.” Brill said, translating for his silent partner who was silently cursing him for kicking his shin so hard.

“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 too, I might add?” Brill asked, changing the subject and steering it away from them with an eye towards getting on with their business of robbing the boy and disposing of his body. First, he wanted to be absolutely certain the boy would not be missed by anyone. At least not right away.

“I am on my way to my new Teacher’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. Is there nobody else traveling with you, or behind you in case you get lost, or Heaven forbid you should get waylaid by murderous highwaymen? He asked, hopefully.

“No, I’m traveling on my own. It’s just me and Dark Star there, and those two mules that I somehow managed to inherit along the way,” Shane explained.

Lightning flashed and thunder crashed and rolled through the pass ahead of the moaning wind that was really starting to pick up speed though it barely stirred the flames flickering in the lee of the boulder.

“I see. 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 couldn’t see. “So then, for all anyone knows you could be anywhere in the world, and your teacher in Darvonshire is not expecting you for some time yet?”

Shane replied, “Yes, that is correct, Brother Joseph.”

“I am confused. What 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 over them with a great noise not unlike what a cosmic-sized bowling ball rolling down a old outdoor lane constructed mostly of loose, and badly warped boards might make, 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 in Darvonshire, 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, uh, Brother John? Brill asked. He was annoyed by the interruption but he was not about to let on in front of the mark.

Crandle raised his hands with the palms facing upward.

“My esteemed brother, John wishes to know how your horse could know that you have to go to Darvonshire and not Billingshire, or Farthingshire?” Brill translated. He too was curious to know the answer to the question.

“All I know about him is that my master sent him for me, and that he must be an enchanted animal because he understands the King’s English just as well as I do,” Shane told them.

“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 side of the pass. The explosion sent rocks tumbling down the mountain while the thunderclap washed over the three of them like storm waves breaking over a rocky shoreline.

“Boy, that one was close!” Brill observed as the thunder trailed off into the distance. “But listen here, master Shane,” he went on. Getting down now to his true intent at last. “An enchanted horse would be quite a handy beast to have I would imagine. In fact I’ll bet you 50 gold crowns there are plenty of people who would be willing to pay at least twice that much for such an animal. What do you think, Brother John? Is it not so? brill asked 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 this unexpected left 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. so I can’t take that bet, I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it”

“Did you hear what our young friend just said, Brother John? All he has to his name is 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 knowing elbow. Just then another peal of thunder rolled noisily over them .

“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 just then

“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, if it wasn’t enough to get there with.”

“Oh no, my friend. I’m afraid your money is not going to last you much longer at all.” Brill said, with a sneer that could be heard in his voice.

“It won’t? 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 their King 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 finance the proclivities of the ruling class like gratuitous warfare, and huge lavish, masquerade balls.

“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 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 to, 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 will not be needing it. Nor will you be needing your horse, 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 flash bulb 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 animals and your saddles. I can promise you that it will be a very fair trade,” Brill said with a laugh that turned Shane’s blood to ice 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 up again.

“I’m very sorry, Brother Joseph but I don’t think I can 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 suddenly in. “I haven’t even had him for a whole month yet.” He told the counterfeit monk.

“Yes, but you see, that is the beauty of it all, my friend. Sheldrake the Elbow need never find out about our little transaction . 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.

“Nope.”

“Then what are you talking about, Brother Joseph?” Shane wanted to know. His confusion was quickly turning into a deep seated sense of 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 drawing 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 Crandle 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 and the booming thunderclap rolling over them and stopping the conversation for the moment.