Buzzards, Hawks and Ravens
(Account of Six Friend's Life in the "Dark" Age)
The Gray Raiders
- The Attack of the Gray Raiders -
Ruwen woke up coughing. The cold night air drifting through the window smelt of the smoke from burning wet hay. From the attic-window at the front of the house, he could see a burning haystack just a short distance outside the eastern gate of the village. Wondering about the cause of ignition, he was alarmed by the muffled sound of galloping horses whose hooves have been wrapped by rags. A dozen or more dark riders were closing in on the church and the Linden Tree, from the direction of the East and North Gates. Most of the riders dismounted and started to break into the houses and small estates along the village road. Others continued on patrol along the street. At first all this action was nearly noiseless; then wild curses rang out through the night air. The raiders had found that the houses were deserted and all the valuable possessions had been removed by their owners.
Ruwen was fascinated by the shadowy performance of the gray men. It seemed as if the shadow riders and dark images of the dismounted thugs performed a well rehearsed play. Then Ruwen froze, paralyzed by terror. Raiders broke into Klas´ house and scuffled up the staircase swearing lewdly. He made a quick escape out of the window and into the backyard. He was used to this secret escape, because Bastian and he had used this egress many times. But tonight it was to be different. Before Ruwen even touched the ground, he was pounced on by two hairy beasts, digging their teeth into his shirt. Ruwen was pulled to the ground and dragged into an ice-cold puddle of cattle piss. Smelling the disgusting breath of the beasts growling by his neck, Ruwen closed his eyes and played dead.
"Leave him, Devil! Get back, Caro!" a harsh voice ordered the dogs. "And you -- move -- get up yokel! Better not try to run though, or my dogs will devour you; they like young meat!"
Ruwen struggled to his feet. He trembled with fright and also the cold, because the only garment he was wearing, his thin shirt, was wet from the piss of the puddle.
you talk, you imbecile? Where are the others? Where have all the people
gone?" Without waiting for an answer the scraggy raider poked a sharp
dagger at Ruwen's back, "Hurry up dim-wit; up to the
was shocked. He hated big dogs anyway and he despised the dogs sniffing his
secret parts. Frightened, he raced towards the
The robbers were enraged about the meager amount of loot and were in a bad temper. They cursed and started tearing down the wooden fences for a fire. The scarecrow forced his way through the outraged robbers and compelled Ruwen to kneel down in front of the one man remaining on horseback. "Here, my Captain, my Duke, is your first prisoner! This stupid yokel seems to be the only one left in the village. Should I scare the shit out of this blockhead for you? Maybe he will squeal like a pig and tell us where all the other villagers are!"
Out of the corner of his eyes Ruwen noticed a movement to his left as a giant man pressed through the onlookers, with a thin man in tow. Immediately Ruwen identified them as the beggar monk, and Tanko.
Recognizing Ruwen, Tanko screamed gleefully, "That's not a fool, that's the provost's adopted son; that's the nosey stinker, Ruwen - the Midnight Prince! Kick him! Beat him up! Leave him to me and I'll rape him, then kill him!"
The Captain looked deprecatingly at Tanko, then up at the dark sky, and finally down to Ruwen, asking curiously, "Oh, you are the Midsummer Night Prince; or at least, one part of the famous duo? Get up on your feet; a prince shouldn't kneel in front of a Duke," he remarked, "even during an interrogation!"
Ruwen rose and looked up in surprise as the captain took a coat and threw it to him. "Cover yourself!" And pointing at Tanko, he ordered, "Put that coward away!" Then to Ruwen again, "Don't play the fool! Where are the villagers hiding?"
"That's not your business, King of the Gray Raiders!" Ruwen answered, surprised by his own courage. Pointing northwards, he added, "They left the village with all their property as soon as they were sure you Gray Raiders would attack us!"
"Who told them about the attack? Are they farsighted; can they read the stars?"
"Your own spies have revealed your plans; your fake monks; that fat giant and this skeleton-like monster!"
The Captain looked surprised and the alertly listening raiders started to growl!
"What the hell are you talking about?" Jesper, the skeleton, screamed angrily. "Neither I nor Pinkus are traitors!"
"You are just stupid crooks! Couldn't you guess that people have guessed by now that you're fake? The Prince-Bishop has already filed you in his rogues gallery, and put out a warrant. You will be hanged for sure!"
This caused a stir amongst the bystanders. They began to blame the two for the current failure. Some even demanded, "Hang the traitors! To the gallows with those crooks!"
The captain had major problems calming down the emotions. He ordered the fourageur to hand out brandy and wine. The sharp booze, together with some meat and bread, cheered up the tired raiders and soon everybody went looking for a bed in the nearby houses.
While on the one hand, Pinkus and Jesper were the lieutenants of the troop and indispensable to the young Captain because of their experience as raiders; on the other hand he had to punish both to keep discipline and hold onto his reputation. He decided on a special action that would not damage their reputations to much, but was nonetheless a punishment. "You, Pinkus, take over the watch duty for the rest of the night, and you, Jesper, get yourself some men and watch out for the Patrol from the Bishop, which could be coming on the road from Trescrossing."
"Well now, Midsummer Night Prince - or should I call you `Midnight Prince', because we've known each other since ? We are the only ones left. Aren't you tired? I am! Where is your castle; where is your comfortable bedstead?"
Ruwen was surprised. The captain did not treat him like a prisoner. He had even made sure that the cook had offered him some meat and wine.
"You are not treating me like an enemy; not like war-loot...Why?"
"That's because you are not war-loot! You are something more important, much more important. You are my hostage! A prince does not treat another prince as inferior. A prince can never be the war-loot of another prince, but he can be his hostage!...You are a prince, and while your father may not be a king, nor a duke or even a nobleman, you are much higher, because the Norns made you a prince. That's an even more noble origin!
Ruwen did not know how to take this statement and stayed quiet in his surprise. Then the Captain demanded, "Now show me your castle, Midnight Prince, as we both need some rest!"
Climbing up the stairs to the boy's small room in Klas's house, the Captain got a full whiff of Ruwen's dirty shirt. "You stink like a midden! Do you use manure as perfume?"
"Are you joking? It's all the fault of your monster dogs. When I tried to get away through the window I ended up in the sullage with those two dogs on my back. But truly, your scent isn't that of a rose flower either!"
Laughing, they rushed back down to the draw-well in the yard. Ruwen took of his stinking shirt, and standing there in his birthday suit, he pulled up a pail of icy water. "Throw the water over me. Hurry up, I am getting cold!"
The Captain was reluctant to take off his clothing, since he wasn't used being naked around others. Blushing with embarrassment , despite the dark, he turned his back to Ruwen while shedding his clothes.
"I will be an ice block if you hesitate any longer!" Ruwen exclaimed, and with a swift move he poured a good slosh of the water over the naked Captain's head.
The Captain had to take revenge if he didn't want to lose face, and soaked the boy thoroughly and without pity.
Upstairs in the small room Ruwen remembered, suddenly, that he was a prisoner; the hostage of the Captain of the Gray Raiders. The captain was still his enemy and therefore he made sure to move to the farthest end of the small bedstead. But the captain immediately started fishing for him under the covers, and pulled him closer, spooning him like Bastian always did.
"We have to warm each other for the rest of the night." Anticipating Ruwen's fears, he added, "Don't be afraid. I do not molest boys!"
Spooned by the captain, Ruwen felt nearly as secure as in Bastian's arms. The captain was asleep right away, while Ruwen needed some time to drift off. Dozing off, he felt the grip of the captain tighten, and his soft voice close to his ear, saying "Anzo! Dear Anzo! My love!"
The barking of dogs, the whinnying of horses and the loud voices of men in a southern drawl chased Ruwen out of his sound sleep. Clear morning light came through the window and he felt a hard morning wood in the crack of his buttock. He wiggled his young butt teasingly. Then he remembered his situation and blushed. It was not Bastian who was spooning him; it was the Gray Raider captain. He freed himself from the captain's light embrace and turned around to have a daylight look at his bed companion. Supporting his head with his angled arm, he giggled in surprise. Yesterday night's cold shower had cleaned up the lanky captain's face. Tanned, covered partly by unruly brown hair, it was the face of young man, surely not much older than eighteen or twenty. Without thinking, he tried to blow the hairs away from the captain's forehead to get a better look. That did it. The captain opened his grey-blue eyes and stared at Ruwen for a moment, trying to get his bearings.
"I am not Anzo, Captain! I am Ruwen, the Midnight Prince, as you named me!"
The captain blushed, "Did I call you Anzo?...I remember now. Last night I dreamed of Anzo! ...Don't call me Captain, please! My name is Berrit, and I am the son of the Duke of Quentisburry!"
"You blushed! Who is Anzo? Is he your..." a little hesitantly,"...is he your boyfriend?"
Berrit's face went deep red: and quickly seeking a less upsetting topic of conversation, he said, "It's late already, and everyone seems to be on the move; and I have to pee!"
Piddling at the midden, side by side, Ruwen smiled at Berrit, who was checking him out. Noting Ruwen's quick glance, Berrit blushed, feeling caught red-handed, and he diverted his eyes.
Most of the horses were already saddled when they arrived at the Linden Tree. Jesper was back from his punishment reconnaissance and announced the near arrival of the Prince-Bishop's troops. "They have their camp just beyond the mountain pass. If they leave early they might be here by . We should burn down the village and depart!"
Ruwen was horror struck. "Don't do that! Do not burn down the houses! I am your hostage and you can win much more from the villagers if you trade me for ransom!"
"Ransom for a boy?" Pinkus hissed. - "You are ours anyway, and we can do with you what we want; beat you up, molest you, put you on the wheel, rip you into small parts or even burn you at the stake!"
Ruwen shot back at Pinkus, surprised by his own boldness, "Don't forget I am the Midsummer Night Prince! I am of much greater value than you might imagine!" And then, addressing Berrit, Ruwen added a little more timidly, "I am also a Healer! You will not regret it if you keep me and preserve the village! If you kill me, the norns will take revenge; bloody revenge!"
Berrit hadn't intervened so far. Looking at Ruwen sternly, he demanded, "Prove it; prove that you are a healer!" Taking a small vial from a pocket in his belt, he let Ruwen smell an unguent. "Tell me its ingredients!"
"It's made from Camphor, Lavender, Myrrh and the lard of a black bear. I don't know where the green color comes from. Is it copper?"
"No, it's copper oxide, but otherwise you are nearly right, with the exception that it also contains sulfur. Who taught you to be a Healer?"
Up to now Ruwen had locked away all thoughts of Aliah, but now he was shattered! What had happened to Aliah, his dear and only aunt?
He stammered, "Please Prince, I have to look for Aliah, the Wise Woman! It was she who taught me everything! She lives down the road! Please come with me; we have to hurry!"
Pinkus hollered, "That's the ugly witch down there, in the house with the runes! I was prevented from entering the house! She is the Devil's Mother! She must be burned at the stake!"
Without thinking, Ruwen attacked the giant by driving his head forcefully into his gut.
"Cool down, both of you! Come on, Midnight Prince! Let's go look for the Wise Woman!"
Aliah's house was still closed and had not been pillaged. The little dog was barking behind the gate and welcomed Ruwen into the estate, with his tail wagging. The big room at the front was quiet and dim. Faint light filtered in through the open door. Ruwen went to the back of the room. On her bedstead, Aliah was resting as if she had fallen asleep only a moment ago. Her were eyes closed and her hands folded upon the white spread, in prayer. Ruwen touched her cheeks, reluctantly. They were cold. She was dead!
Aliah's death was too much for a boy of only fourteen, even if he were one of the two Midsummer Night Princes, and a Healer. He broke down, crying. Berrit moved closer, picked him up and tried to console him.
Holding Ruwen tightly, the Captain blessed Aliah's dead body, making the sign of the cross and slowly began to recite a blessing:
"Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine,
secundum verbum tuum in pace......
Master, now You are dismissing your servant into peace,
according to Your word...
Bendrich met a patrol of the Prince-Bishop, two days after his departure from home. He had already crossed the steep and dangerous mountain ridges between the village and the valley of the Orn-river, which delivered its water to the Murn river near Trescrossing. The captain of the troop remembered the big lad very well. Knowing he could trust him, and his father, the Provost Klas, he decided to aid the endangered villagers without waiting for permission from his superiors. After a strenuous two days of riding, the troop now camped near the villager's retreat, near the mountain pass. Bendrich rushed to get back to his people with his news. Klas summoned a meeting of the villagers during which the young men volunteered to boost the troopers' fighting power.
Bastian was one of the first to volunteer, but not so much because he was eager to fight, but rather to be with Ruwen as soon as possible.
The troop of combined forces, headed by the Captain and Bendrich, reached the top of the hillside above the village around . "They are leaving the village; it's not vandalized! Look, only some hay stacks are burned to the ground. What happened?"
"That's very uncommon; they usually rage like madmen! In fact, I haven't seen one village that hasn't been destroyed after they had visited it, and I have seen at least nine! I wonder if it's an ambush."
"We will have to be very careful when we enter the village!...Are you worried, Bastian?"
Bastian approached the two. He had checked out the outlook because he expected Ruwen to be there. "Our little bro is not in the hiding place; neither is his backpack or is his provisions. It seems he wasn't there at all!"
"Hey look. Four riders are leaving the western gate, heading for the ford through the river! Three are dressed in gray!"
"The fourth looks different. He looks like a farmer and isn't wearing any hat at all. The other three surround him, treating him like a prisoner! He is small; he looks like Ruwen!"
"That IS Ruwen! I know it's Ruwen! I have to rescue him!"
Bastian gave his horse the spurs and began a fast gallop down the hillside. The captain's horse was faster though, and he overtook Bastian quickly. "Hotshot! Being ambushed won't help your friend! I like him too, and I promise you we will hunt down Ruwen's abductors!"
There was no ambush in the village. All doors were broken, the houses and barns had been ransacked and the rooms were all a mess, and some even having been used as stables. Only Aliah's estate was not demolished. When Bastian entered her home, he found his dead aunty covered with the last flowers of the year, with asters, the last roses and rosehips. The red rosehips were arranged like the rune RAIDO, the rune for the long voyage, the far-reaching ride, the journey. He cried over Aliah's corpse for a long time and then decided to follow Ruwen's footsteps into the unknown.
I would like to express my special thanks to Paul, TSL and B. for doing a great job by correcting all the wrong expressions and the punctuation used by a non native English writer.
Comments, reviews, questions and complaints are welcomed. Please send them to Ruwen Rouhs. And I would like to add, thanks for reading.
Copyright Notice - Copyright © 2007
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form -- physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise -- without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.