Declarations of Allegiance - Part VI
he first time he had been this way, the sun was still rising in the sky. Now Charles could only see vague shadows of the high peaks as the purplish sky beyond filled with low clouds. The small group he led consited of Garigan, Lord Avery, and two other mustelines as well as one siamese cat. They each scampered along the low hills, moving separately so as not to attract too much attention. Until they had reached the gully before the mountains they had moved as swiftly as possible in their morph forms. Now, stealth was key, and they could not change back till they were on top of the plateau.
Misha, Angus, and the four others accompanying them would already be scaling the far side of the mountain by this time. Captain Nyman would be leading the rest of the troops the long way around to the opposite side of the Mount Nuln to intercept Calephas's troops when they fled. A small contingent of the Avery scouts were watching over the town with a portion of the troops and the timbersmen. Chief Tathom had volunteered to manage that group. Probably because on slopes as steep as these, his hooves did not give him the best of traction. The forces atop Mount Kalegris were too insignificant to worry about; once the rest broke, they would as well.
Staring across the wide hill, Charles noted the way that Lord Avery kept looking back over his shoulder. The liege of this land had left behind a quite worried wife and two children. Charles could see them all now sitting up in their treehouse drinking some of Angela's delicious sassafras tea. She would probably trying to keep the incorrigible youngsters from trying to run out and join their adventurous father in his battle.
The others in their little troop did not seem as concerned. Garigan appeared to be more impatient than anxious. Had they let him lead, they would probably have taken full advantage of the darkness by scampering heedlessly towards the ridge and the ravine that lay beyond. Charles however wanted to proceed with utmost caution. Certainly Calephas would know that they knew at least a part of his plan. Surely he would be expecting them to strike. Though catapults are inaccurate at best, even a glancing blow would kill any one of them should the Lutins attack.
Though each held their breath as they surmounted the pass and gazed down into the dark ravine nestled betwixt the mountainous peaks, not a single shot was fired in their direction. There was a visible sense of relief in each of their eyes. The siamese even had the gall to groom himself for a moment before they continued onwards into the vegetation below.
The pungeunt scent of the Lutins was still in the air, but none of them recoiled from it. Instead, Charles led them deeper into the forest, retracing his steps from a few days ago. The Lutin camp was mostly quiet, though a few bawdy voices could be heard off in the distance. Suddenly, one voice sounded only a few feet away. They each nestled underneath the bushes and grasses, watching as a lone sentry walked by, quietly grumbling something unintelligent to himself. Within moments, he too was gone into the blackness of the night.
They moved cautiously past the array of catapults towards the rear of the encampment. Charles took a momentary glance along the line, noting that at least seven were now complete. There was something odd about the way they were positioned, but he could not see what. As he listened, he saw one of the Lutins break off from the main group and start walking towards them. One of the others shouted after him, "Go tell the Baron we need more ropes!"
With a bit of a shock, they each realized that their ride was already planning to leave. Charles scampered back as quickly as possible towards where he remembered the wagon being stowed. As a rat, he could see very well in the darkness, but still, shadows danced before his eyes, and strange shapes confused him in the swell of tree trunks and bushes. However, despite any of that, they still found the wagon just as the Lutin was climbing onboard.
The rear of the wagon was open, with a bit of tanned hide hanging across the back. Charles jumped and gripped the material with his claws, hefting himself into the empty wagon. The other five followed suit as quickly as possible, though Garigan almost didn't make it as the Lutin started the carriage just as he was jumping. Still, once all six were inside, it soon became obvious that they could only hide directly underneath the seat up front. Crowding up beneath it, Charles found himself stuck facing the skunk's tail, while somebody else's paw was standing on his own scaly tail! However, their subterfuge had been successful, as the Lutin continued on his way, the carriage rumbling through the forest, slowly rising into the hills.
Misha held back his tongue as the sharp rock bit into his pads. Still, he held on, pulling himself further up the cliffside. The night had gone on for so long already, and it appeared as if it would never end. The cliff face disappeared into the blackness above him. Below him, those few who could climb were barely visible. Angus was at the rear of their group, and he was completely indistinguishable against the harsh mountain face.
As he stretched up to the next pawhold, he could feel the absence at his back. Though Misha had intended to bring his axe with him, almost everybody else agreed that it would be a bad idea, and could quite possibly unbalance him in the climb. Still, he missed it terribly! To his surprise, he could not think of any other battle he'd gone into without it! Had he gone by himself, he would have disregarded their words, and brought the axe with him. But, out of respect for his friends whose lives he was fighting for this day, he left it back at Glen Avery.
The fox did not like to think of what would happen if they were spotted climbing the northern slopes of Mount Nuln. They would be easy targets for Lutin archers as they clung to the mountain side like this. The image of them each one by one being shot and then falling the rest of the way to their deaths was not a pleasant one. Yet it kept coming back to him the further and furthe up they went.
All of them were animal morphs of course, and each possessed good night eyes. Anybody else would be contemplating suicide by attempting to climb this peak in the darkness of a summer evening. Still, at times it was next to impossible to even see the pawholds. And even then, as Misha had just discovered, not all of them were even smooth.
Grimacing, he reached up to what seemed a likely canadite. The starry sky was just above that, stretching out behind him and to the northern horizon. Pulling himslef up the next bit, the sky suddenly grew very large indeed, and with a sudden flash in his heart, he realized that he had climbed to the top of Mount Nuln! He fell to the grassy slopes, hugging it tightly between his arms and paws. The sweet smell filled his nostrils, but with it came the foul scent of Lutins.
Sitting back on his haunches, he scanned the area, but saw only a few rams sleeping against the rocks. Smiling to himself, he leaned slightly over the edge to peer down at his companions; he saw each of them climbing as quickly as possible. Biting back a chortle, the fox waited for the rest to join him.
As they bounced along underneath the Lutin driver, Charles noted the way they kept swinging back and forth along the trail. Nuln was too high a peak for there to be a straight path up one side, and so the wagon had to weave back and forth through the trees and the hills. However, soon even those gave way and all that was left was the grasses and the short bushes upon those high hills.
The trip up had taken quite a long time, but they each knew that it was over, and the really dangerous work began when the carriage came to a stop and the sound of Lutin voices could be heard. Charles poked his head up and looked out the front of the wagon. The horse's rear blocked most of his view, but he could see the distant tents and the formation of troops just as Gornul had showed them.
Slipping out the back again and down the animal hide, the six of them circled past the Lutin sentries and quickly found their way into Baron Calephas's encampment. Unlike what Gornul showed him, there were a lot more human troops patrolling the grounds now. It seemed that the pedaster had mobilized his defense in response to the dragonette's spying.
However, they each split off into pairs and made their way among the tents. Charles and Lord Avery poked their heads beneath the fabric to see who was in each, but, as they had expected, it was not till they reached the central tend that they found Baron Calephas. The rat had hoped to find the man asleep so they could quickly dispatch him, but he was walking about a central table in his wool nightrobes talking with another man, this one dressed in a chain hauberk.
"So what do you have to report?" Calephas asked in his light tenor.
The other man shook his hea. "The Keepers have amassed a sizable force at Glen Avery, but they have not yet made a move to attack."
"So we can asusme that the dragon was theirs?"
"I think so."
"It is just as well," the Baron said, tapping the table thoughtfully. "Had we killed it, they would have known that something was up here."
"But they would not have known our defenses then," the other man pointed out.
"True, but these are the Keepers we are talking about. How long do you really think it would have taken them to find out?"
The man shook his head again, yet remained stiff. "I do not know, my lord."
Calephas leaned out over the table, his eyes tracing over what must have been a map. "Have you ever been to Metamor before, Captain? Before the Battle of Three Gates, I mean."
"No, my lord, I've only seen it that one time."
"Well, I was there once; when I was a young man. The people there are proud of their homeland. The city itself was the light of the north for so long. Sometimes I wonder what life there is like now. They still seem to be a proud people, no matter what they look like. They are the kind of people my Father ruled, but there is a fire in them that never existed in my own homeland. I often find myself wondering what I would become should I go there again."
"You better not let Nasoj hear you talk like that," the Captain warned. "He's killed others for such thinking."
"Have no fear of that, my good Ignacy. I am a monster in my own right. My practices have made me a pariah everywhere except with Nasoj. I am not welcome in a place where a third of all men become boys." Calephas turned about, nearly staring right at Charles and Lord Avery as he did so. "Don't tell me you have never wondered about such things yourself?"
"I want money, and I want all the women I can have. Nasoj gives me both. Why should I ever wonder about what those freaks do?" Ignacy spat in disgust.
Calephas chuckled, looking back at the man draped in rings of iron. "Why indeed?" he picked up what appeared to be some sort of pellet and placed it in the man's open palm. "In case things do not go so well for us, eat this. It is our means of escape."
"Don't you have one?"
Calephas flashed another similar pellet. "Of course. Now go back and check on our sentries. No need to let the Keepers sneak up on us."
"Yes, my lord."
And then Captain Ignacy was gone from the tent, leaving the two Keepers alone with the Baron. Charles slipped into the room, as did Lord Avery. He crept under the bedding, and watched the man who he'd already defeated once step back towards the table and gaze at what must have been a map. Suddenly, a deafening crash could be heard outside, as well as the bleating of a herd of ram. Shouts echoed back and forth across the plateau, as well as a few screams as frightened Lutins took one too many steps and plummeted off the cliff towards the ravine far below.
Calephas dashed to the entrance of his tent, gazing out into the chaos that was ensuing as Misha and the others drove the herd throgh the camp. Charles then slipped back out into the open, and returned to his full size, as did Lord Avery. He grabbed the Baron from behind, and yanked him back inside the tent, putting a single paw over the man's mouth, silencing his cry of terror.
"Don't try anything, and I won't kill you," Charles warned him, his body tense with the Sondeck. This man was truly a monster, debasing and corrupting so many boys in his time, just as dead Loriod had done to Father Hough. The image of the child priest crying out at the rat's touch ached him. Francis had recovered now, but those scars still remained upon him, and in the minds of his friends.
Lord Avery grabbed a knife from the table, and lay it across the Baron's throat. "You wanted to hurt my people? I'm not going to let you get away with it."
Charles nodded. "Neither will I. Now I'm going to lift my hand up, and if you scream for help, Lord Avery here will cut your throat. Understand?" The silent man nodded slowly, his eyes unreadable in the lamp light. It probably wouldn't have mattered anyway, since there was so much noise outside, the Baron could have screamed his head off, and nobody would have noticed.
Still, Calephas did not take a chance, and only spoke softly. "What do you want with me?"
"Right now? We want you to tell your troops to surrender. Get up!" Charles grabbed his arm and dragged him to his feet. Lord Avery was not tall enough to keep the knife at his neck, so settled for his stomach. "I can break your arm if you try to get away from me," the rat warned him. "Don't tempt me."
Calephas let himself be led forward and into the chaos about the encampment. The hauberk clad soldiers ran about in the chaos as the rams still charged about madly, with Misha and another Keeper snapping at their heels. Angus had found a mace and was beating in the heads of any Lutin or human who came near. Garigan was tossing weapons off the side of the cliff as well as knocking down any who approached him. So many were already demoralized that they had run down the path along the western slopes of Mount Nuln and right into Captain Nyman's forces.
Suddenly out of the mess ran Captain Ignacy, with an irate badger in close pursuit. "Baron Calephas! We must withdraw!" the man shouted before Angus tackled him, and wrestled him to the ground.
"Keep him alive!" Lord Avery called out. "He might know something."
Ignacy then looked up from his position and saw the two Keepers holding his lord captive. He grabbed for a knife at his side, but Angus knocked it away, pinning his arms behind him. The man cried out from the pain as one of his wrists cracked beneath the badger's paws. Angus yanked off one of the ropes holding the tent down, and tied the man's hands together, and around his neck.
"He's not going anywhere," Angus declared as he rose to his hindpaws. Suddenly he and everybody else was knocked to the ground as the entire plateau shook beneath them. Charles inadvertently let go of Calephas's arm. The Baron got to his feet quickly and ran past them all, popping that pellet into his mouth as he went.
"Stop him!" Lord Avery shouted. Charles was already to his feet and after the fleeing noble though, gaining on him with every step. He pushed the power of the Sondeck through his feet. The last time he had done so he'd been running from this very man. The rat did not take any pleasure in the turnabout.
However, Calephas was not running for the path as Charles had presumed, but for the cliff edge itself. In the darkness, it was hard to see these things sometimes, and with everybody else dashing madly about, it was hard to keep the blurry image of the Baron before him.
Yet just before the man jumped from the precipice, Charles grabbed at his night gown, and pulled backwards. Much to his surprise, the sheet flew backwards revealing a much changed man. Where once was skin now stood bright feathers. The bird continued shrinking even as he plummeted down the cliff, his wings catching the air moments later. Charles stared in shock at his transformed enemy. That had been his escape!
Suddenly, the cliffside rocked again, and this time he saw why. The catapults had been turned to face the southern cliffs, and were even now firing into the rock wall, shaking the very foundation. Charles scampered back to the others till he found Lord Avery, Angus, and Garigan standing over Captain Ignacy. "We need to send Captain Nyman down into the ravine to take out those troops."
Misha ran up behind him with a few bloody ears hanging from a thong of string held in one paw. "Did you catch Baron Calephas?"
Charles shook his head, his whiskers drooping slightly. "No, he flew away." When he turned back around, he saw Garigan bolting off towards the western slopes. "Where is he going?"
"To tell Nyman to destroy those catapults!" Lord Avery shouted even as the ground shook again from the blasts.
"We should get out of here. Is anybody hurt?"
Angus pointed about the field at trampeled Lutins. "They are."
"Then let's catch up with our eager ferret friend!" Charles motioned as Angus and Misha picked up Ignacy. The other Keepers quickly followed after them, taking down the last few remaining Lutins as they went.
By the time they had reached the redezvous, Nyman had already left, and only Garigan and a few other Keepers waited for them. Across his midsection, the ferret had draped a bit of torn cloth, covering his loins. Charles felt a bit embarrassed when he realized that not only himself, but everyone else was completely naked too; but nobody else said anything.
It was not long before the screams began, and the last catapult had been fired. Soon, silence once again filled the night air. Lord Avery led them down into the ravine, where they met up with Captain Nyman, whose men were busily dismantling the last of the catapults. Charles could feel the joy in each of their faces. They were all alive. Not a single one of them had met with death - though quite a few had been injured and needed help to walk from the field of battle - and this terrible scheme that Baron Calephas had launched had failed completely.
The walk back to Glen Avery was filled with merry shouts and good cheer. They all congratulated each other on a job well done, and even playfully harrassed their prisoner on occassion. Charles and Misha were both hugged by so many of the scouts that they lost count! Even though it was early in the next morning, with dawn only an hour or so away, the whole town of Avery's Glen was awake waiting for them to celebrate.
Charles saw each of the faces come out, from Lance, Lindsey, and Michael who had stayed behind to protect these people, to Angela Avery and her two little boys who all rushed up to hug their battle weary father. Matthias watched them holding each other tight, and he felt a bit empty, for the person he most wanted to see was not here now.
Misha noticed it, and felt much the same way, patting his friend on the shoulder. "We'll see them again soon."
"True. I just wish I could see them now." Charles muttered as he watched a few of the scouts take Ignacy away. The rat didn't see where.
Misha nodded himself. "So do I."
Angus was then upon the both of them, Shelley and Garigan by his side. "What are you two doing out here moping? Let's celebrate! You two are heroes of Glen Avery now."
"Besides," Shelley added whimsically, "Lars has declared that the first round of drinks is on the house."
"Now how could you resist that?" Angus laughed loudly, his bright eyes dancing before them.
Charles laughed, "Well, I don't really know!"
"That's because it's impossible, let's go, everybody else seems to be!" Misha pointed to the moving crowd. The brewery looked to be filling up already. Even Lord Avery and his family had disapperead into the bear's cave. The five of them quickly joined the others in the crowded establishment, and squeezed in to be with all their new friends.
Just as they came in, Charles felt somebody grab his arm. "What?" He turned and saw Walter there, the two bright blue tunics with the seal of Metamor emblazoned on the chest in her arms.
"You might want these," she said, her voice quavering slightly.
Charles and Misha took them, and noticed that something was different. On the opposite breast was a new symbol. It was the forest-filled seal of Glen Avery. Charles looked up at the woman, and reached out with his arms and gave her a quick hug. "Thank you, this is beautiful. I am proud to wear this." Misha thanked her as well, and they quickly slipped them on.
Angus nodded his approval. "Glen Avery fits you both."
Walter wiped her eyes with one hand. "Thank you, Charles, for bringing them all back."
"I would die myself before I let harm come to any here," Charles assured her, placing one paw on her shoulder.
She smiled at that and then waved him on. "Go, be with your friends before I make a scene!"
Matthias chuckled, and nodded. "I am with friends." He then smiled, wiggled his whiskers, and moved into the room proper, while Shelley and Garigan went to get drinks for all of them. They stood near Lord Avery and a few of the timbersmen as the crowd continued its boisterous cheering.
Angus suddenly stood upon one of the tables, drink in hand, and shouted out to the crowd. "Down with Nasoj and his men! We showed them never to mess with Glen Avery and Metamor again!"
The crowd responded with more cheers and raised mugs. Charles and Misha did as well, full of the excitement of the moment. "And a toast to our heroes, Misha Brightleaf and Charles Matthias, who risked their lives for us."
"To Misha and Matthias!" the crowd cheered, embarrassing both of them slightly.
"You may have only been here with us a short time, but in my eyes, you will always be of the Glen!" Angus added proudly, spilling a bit of the ale on the white diamond on his head as he held the mazer aloft.
"I am proud to be here with you all," Misha shouted. "You are the best of us all!"
Charles then called out, "There are very few places that I know of that I would call my home. This place is dear enough to me for me to call it a home. I have only met most of you a week ago, but I feel as if I've known you all my life. A toast to Glen Avery and its people!"
"To Glen Avery!" the crowd shouted.
"And to Lord Avery, father, husband, and a man I am proud to call, my lord!" Charles continued.
"To Lord Avery!" they agreed, though Brian did duck his head slightly.
"And to all the people of Metamor, for we are united, and we will stand against any tyrant. For this is our land, and these are our homes. They can take away our bodies, but they cannot take away who we are. To Metamor!" Misha cried out, holding his mazer high in the sky, his body shaking with pride.
"To Metamor!" They each chanted, drinking from their goblets without reservation. Two small cheers joined theirs as Charles noticed Brian Avery letting his two sons, Darien and Christopher, drink from his glass too. The rat could not hold back his soft chuckle as he gazed at all of the friends he had made in his short time here. He had meant what he said before, he could indeed call this a home if he so wished. The last thing he could think of before the cheering commenced again was how much he wanted to bring Lady Kimberly to this place someday.
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