Buzzards, Hawks and Ravens

(Account of Six Friend's Life in the "Dark" Age)

by

Ruwen Rouhs

Chapter 9.2

Back home in Quentisburry

- Attempted Murder -

 

"Hey, Bastian, hurry up, get in the bed, the room is ice-cold," Ruwen curled up like a kitten in the big four poster bed and even covered his head with the soft bedspread. "It's cold, hurry up, Bastian!" Ruwen's body was worn out by the dances, but his mind was still spinning in excitement.

Bastian slipped under the covers, took Ruwen into a bear hug, and began to rub his friend, "Getting warm now, my love?" He held the small teen in his left arm and traced the upper part of Ruwen's body, first the small hard nipples, then the navel in the slightly indented groove, then his hand moved slowly down to the pubes and finally caressed the most desirable object. "Oh, Ruwen, your little soldier not tired at all!"

Ruwen giggled, "You didn't ask me for a single dance! You fooled around with dozens of girls all night. It's high time you proved your love to me. You've neglected me all evening. Now, it's your chance...!"

Just then the door to the next room opened a crack, and Berrit's face appeared, "Hush, boys! You're practically announcing your love to the whole town!"

"Hey Berrit, your chattering teeth will alarm the guards much more than our giggling. Join us, big brother; we will move closer together! But take off your shirt first!"

Berrit was eager to slip into the bed, but reluctant at the same time. So far nobody had invited him in such an open way. Anzo, as well as Raffy, had been a surprise. Blushing, but encouraged by the wine he had consumed, Berrit shed his shirt, and slipped under the covers. However, he stayed at the very edge of the bed, stiff as a poker.

Bastian started laughing, "Are you scared? Move closer! We just wanted to warm you up. We don't want to deflower you; we'll leave that privilege to Anzo! Or have you already lost your virginity?"

Berrit grinned happily, "That's none of your business, you nosy boys!"

*.*.*

 

Cuddling up, the three talked about the exciting events of the evening. Just when Bastian was colourfully describing the unsuccessful attempts of the redheaded bath house maid, Abby, to proposition him, the three froze in fright. There was a terrible crunching of breaking timber and the rumbling of a collapsing wall, which killed the silence of the night. The door to Berrit's room swung open and dust from the collapsing wall filled the room. All three were paralyzed for a moment, then Ruwen jumped out of bed and stormed into the neighbouring room.

Where the window has been just minutes before, there was a big hole. Half of the outer wall was broken away. Pale moonlight seeped through the head-high breach and illuminated the scene; the pile of big boulders, the remains of a large chest and the shambles of Berrit's four poster bed. The floor was littered with stones, rubbish, and clothing. The curtains from the bed covered the remains of the bedstead like a cerecloth and concealed a big round stone. Ruwen stood there awestruck, while the snow white down feathers from Berrit's bedding swirled through the air.

The uproar had also broken the sleep of the other castle residents. Berrit's father was the first to bang at the locked door to his son's room. "Berrit are you alive? Are you hurt?" Peering through the door, after he kicked it open, and peering through the cloud of dust and down in the shattered room, he saw the three shivering lads standing in the rubbish.

"What happened? What's the cause of this disaster? Who's responsible for this damage?" the Duke attempted to obtain some, any, information.

After quickly checking through the demolished wall remains for some clues, Berrit's father was sure about the cause of the disaster. The damage had not been caused by a thunder bolt, nor by a weak spot in the wall. The demolition of the wall and room had been caused by a direct strike from a catapult.

Regaining his self-control and fighting his way through the rubbish, he began to swear, "Those wicked villains! They tried to kill my youngest son; they tried to kill you, Berrit!" and turning to his wife, standing stunned at the doorway, "Those scoundrels attempted to murder our youngest son too, after they already murdered Ivain! Who is this villainous murderer who is trying to eliminate my whole family?"

Berrit's mother had stopped near the entrance. Holding back her sobbing, she urged the boys, "Get out of the room, son, and you boys too. Quick, quick, the scoundrels may fire a second stone! Leave!" She tried to drag her resisting son to the next room.

The Duke calmed down slightly and regained his composure, "There is no immediate danger. The attackers will need some time to reload the catapult!" Shutting the door, to keep the servants out, he turned to Ruwen and Bastian, "The enemy has probably used one of my triboks, likely the new trebuchet. I keep these weapons outside the second ward, in a depot. These trebuchets are dangerous; they can throw a stone of more than 200 pounds for about 1000 feet. Someone must have broken into the depot during the feast and has now used that catapult!"

"It's hard to aim and hit a small target, like a window!" Berrit explained his friends, "Whoever used it, must be a skilled soldier! You can bet there aren't many skilled soldiers around who are willing to make an assassination attempt like this!

Meanwhile, the commander-in-charge had arrived at the door and the still enraged Duke commanded him, "Search the weapons depot. The assassins attacked my son with the new trebuchet. Catch them alive, but if that's not possible, kill them!"

Meanwhile, Bastian had recovered. Still stark naked, he demanded, "Hurry up, Ruwen, let's get dressed and follow the captain!"

"Don't act stupid, Bastian." Ruwen rebuked, "The attackers have probably already left. We'd be better off carefully discussing our next move."

*.*.*

 

Berrit, still pale faced, took his unsteady mother and dragged her into his friends' room, asking his father to join them. Locking out the Duke's advisers, the five analyzed the situation.

"So far, nobody knows exactly what happened and most important, the assassin does not know if his attack was successful or not.!" the Duke stated.

Bastian stated, eagerly, "Let's spread the news that Berrit is unhurt! Let's do that immediately! That will discourage his enemies!"

"You are wrong, Bastian, wrong indeed. We need to fool Berrit's enemies! We have to play for time to figure out who is doing this!" Ruwen reasoned, "But how?"

"I agree with Bastian!" the Duke emphasized, "We have to prove to the bastards that Berrit is invincible! Tomorrow morning I will ride through the town with Berrit to prove their failure!"

"You will not, you firebrand! You are not going to display Berrit to his enemies, my unwary husband. If they are able to break into your depot and use your own trebuchet, they will also be able to kill him with the bolt of a crossbow!"

"Let me make a suggestion!" Ruwen stated, with closed eyes, "We can't declare Berrit to be dead; that would save him from further trouble, but we would not be able to explain his resurrection to the public, later on! We should mislead his enemies, and the public! Maybe we should move him out of town."

Now Berrit, the main target of the assault spoke, "I am not happy with either of these ideas...but how about staging a charade?"

"You may be right, Berrit! Let's tell the public you have survived, but you are wounded!" the Duke agreed, "But, let's not tell the public how severely! While you are in your sickbed, your enemy will try to finish you off; if he is determined to kill you! If he tries, we will catch him and get all the information needed for fighting back!"

"But I don't have time to wait here indefinitely!" Berrit interjected, "I have to free Anzo; my one and only Anzo!" then, looking to his parents in desperation, "Anzo is my love! I wanted to confess my love for Anzo to you at a more cheerful moment...but now I have to. He is confined in Veldegg! I am in his debt; I am to blame for his captivity! I have to rescue him!"

His mother was overwhelmed and shocked by this surprising news. "So you have a love? And it's boy?" she said, under her breath. His father, already pretty sure about Berrit's love for Anzo, uttered a deep sigh, "It's my fault! I never, never should have entrusted you to the monks!"

"It's not your fault, father. It's not because of my growing up in the monastery. I never had a liking for girls. I was attracted to boys even before I really knew what set apart boys from girls!"

*.*.*

 

Four days later, the three friends left the old ward at early dawn. The November wind, blowing furiously down from the mountains, made the early travellers shiver. Bastian, well wrapped up in a fur coat, rode the lead horse, while Ruwen, hunched up on the box seat of the covered cart, directed the two draught horses.

"Hey, Ibn Sina, you great faith healer from the orient, you can leave your hideout now and join me in the cold on this box seat. Wrap your arms around me, as I am freezing to death!" Ruwen called back with thundering voice to Berrit hiding in the dark cart.

"Are you sure Mimir, you source of wisdom and insight for the folks from far in the north, that no soul has watched our departure?" Berrit's hoarse voice asked.

"No-one is outside on such a freaking cold Friday morning in late November!" Bastian, their eyes and strong arm, answered Berrit instead of Ruwen doing so. "I have checked every shack and barn along the roadside, despite the darkness."

During the preceding nights Ruwen, Bastian and Berrit had been busy in preparations for their charade. In an abandoned military depot about a mile north of the castle, they had succeeded in turning three derelict carts into one good one in fine running condition.

Now the travellers owned a lightweight, four wheeled cart, covered with a weatherproof roof of grey canvas. The small cart accommodated the equipment of the travelling healer, Ibn Sina, the magician, Mimir, and the gear of their faithful knight, Bastian, now named `Galahad'. While Bastian and Ruwen had rebuilt the car, Berrit had decorated the side of the wagon, and the canvas, with colourful drawings of healing herbs, rough drawings of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and, not least important, with runes respected by common people as the signs of great magic power.

Taking a long detour through the foothills of the mountains, the travellers were heading back to Quentisburry. The cold morning rain, mixed with snowflakes, made them shiver even more. But this nasty weather was welcome because it made the newly painted signs look like ancient ones. In the early evening they arrived at the southern gate of Quentisburry. They settled down at the campground by the river, waiting with traders, tinkers, travelling comedians and musicians for the permission to enter the town the next morning, the morning of the weekend fair. The three friends didn't attract the attention of the waiting market hopefuls sitting around the campfires, because they looked as if they had been on the road for weeks and weeks.

While Bastian prepared the cart for the night, Ruwen looked after the meal, and Berrit prepared the medications, potions and salves for their first day of public appearance as healers. They were tense, because they were still unsure if the intended charade had worked. Their tension escalated when evenfall was broken by an agitated voice calling for the healers.

"Where are these damned healers; where are they hiding? I saw them arrive!" an athletic soldier, in the garb of a commander of the city guards, pushed his horse forward through the crowded camp. In his arms, a boy squirmed in pain. "Where are the healers? My boy needs help!"

Ruwen shouted, cutting through the noise of the campsite, "Here we are; here, under the big poplar trees!"

Taking the reins of the guard's horse, he pulled the officer to their cart. Bastian, the strongest of the friends, heaved the boy from the horse, "I think the boy has dislocated his left arm," he told to Ruwen and Berrit expertly. "Oh boy, that sure hurts alright! I dislocated my arm once, so I know!" He told the boy, while patting his head, "We know how to fix it! Just a moment, Ru...Mimir and Ibn Sina will help you!"

To set the boy's arm was the work of a moment. While Bastian tightly held the small body of the boy, Ruwen wrenched his arm and it snapped back into its socket. The boy passed out for a moment, but when his mind came back again, he smiled, "The pain is gone, Daddy! Daddy the pain is gone!" and tried to struggle out of Bastian's arms.

"Just a moment, my boy!" Berrit interfered, and carefully inspected the boy's arm and shoulder, "We have to bandage your shoulder so that your arm is steadied." Turning to the officer, "The bandages have to stay in place for at least a week! You'll need to take care of that!"

The boy's father was really surprised at the quick recovery, "I was really worried! Jannes is a williwaw. He can't sit on his backside for even a minute! He always has to run and jump and be a nuisance. Tonight he slipped on a slick staircase, while playing hide and seek with his friend, and crashed onto a stone slab."

Hoisting his son onto the horseback, he asked, "I am in your debt now, doctors; how much is your bill?"

"We are happy to have been able to help you so quickly. Don't worry, treatment of wild boys is free; that's our policy!"

"I can't accept that! If Jannes gets treatment for free, everyone will think you want to bribe me!"

"Well, you can buy us some bandages in the town's pharmacy; we are running out of them, and we will not be able to enter the town till tomorrow!"

*.*.*

 

It was still pitch dark when Bastian was rudely awakened by loud curses, the sharp snapping of horsewhips, the whinnying of unwilling horses and the screeching of cartwheels. Morning was here. Every trader or tinker camping in front of the city walls was trying to be the first at the gate. The hodgepodge there was increased by farmers and cattle traders arriving from near and far.

Most of the carts had already lined up in front of the gate when Bastian finally succeeded in arousing Ruwen and Berrit. Without a hot breakfast, Ruwen was pretty cranky, "Why didn't you wake us up in time. You're always the first to come and to go; why not today! Now we're at the end of the queue and will get the most miserably stand in the market."

"Yes, Ruwen is right! We need the best place at the market, because we have to draw the attention of folks, in order to get our charade working properly! Don't you remember the plans we made with my mother, Bastian?"

"She's not your mother today; she's Her Majesty, the Duchess! Remember this, Ibn Sina, great physician from the eastern rim of the world!"

By the time they had finally lined up in the queue, Berrit was very wound up. He was in full disguise, so that nobody would be able to identify him, but nonetheless, he was still afraid the guards would recognize his face. But there was no need to be afraid, because suddenly the high pitched voice of a boy drowned out the racket, yelling, "Here they are, father! Here are the healers! Look that cart over there, with the pictures painted on the canvas! Don't you remember, dad, the pictures of the Fourteen Holy Helpers?"

Jannes was sitting on top of a lookout post at the gate. He began waving furiously, with his healthy arm, "Daddy, go and get them, they are stuck in the crowd!"

At the officer's command, two soldiers of the city guard ordered the other carts to clear one side of the street and guided the healers' cart to the gate. Jannes was waiting there, dressed up and clean; he looked neat and even the bandage around his shoulder seemed more like an adornment.

"Can I climb up with you and sit on the box of your cart?...Here are some presents my mother has prepared for you, and the bandages my dad bought. She was so happy you helped me and she baked you a bread!" and smiling he added, "My father has reserved the best site on square for you, and my mother has told all her friends what great healers you are! All the sick people of the town will be waiting for you! Can I stay with you?" Jannes asked.

The site to the left of the entrance to the city cathedral was just perfect for their trade and to carry out their charade. Soon all the old frumps and spinsters leaving the church after the morning service gathered around the cart of the healers. "What a wonderful painting of the Fourteen Holy Helpers! Look here, that's Saint Blaise, that's Saint Dennis and that's the Saint Elmo! These healers will surely be able to rid me of my headaches," one of the old hags blubbered, while an other one, at least as ugly and withered as the first, stated loudly, "I have to get my daughter-in-law, she never gets pregnant! She needs the help of Saint Margaret!"

Bastian had turned back the canvas on the front part of the cart and this provided a small stage for Ruwen and Berrit. Both were dressed for their parts in charade. Ruwen was wearing a big brown cloak adorned on the left with the rune, sowilo, for shelter and sun, and on the right with wunjo, for comfort and joy. Berrit had wrapped up in a wide, dark-red cloak and had covered his head with a turban, thereby concealing his light brown hair. This was necessary, because he had applied a dark colour to his face and painted his eyebrows black, to resemble a Persian healer.

They were very effective in their treatments, but the waiting line did not decrease the whole day. They managed to help everyone with their medications, their potions and salves, with exception of the old hag's daughter-in-law.

At first Ruwen thought of preparing a love potion for her, but the woman was young and sweet and not dried up as he had expected from listening to the old hag. Therefore, he questioned her, "Do you love your husband and does he love you? You are so sweet looking; I myself could fall in love with you!"

"Thanks for your delicate compliment," her lovely voice rang, "I could fall in love with you too! Unlike you, my husband is old and failing, but keeps a jealous eye on me!" hesitating for a moment, she finished by blushing, "It's not my fault being barren; his ding-dong can't fulfil its duty anymore!"

"Well, then there is only one medication I can recommend! Look for a nice lad, with a real good woody next New Year's Eve, when the boys go wild!"

"Why can't you help me, you look so sweet?"

The arrival of a covered sedan chair with the crest of the Duke saved Ruwen from answering. The sedan drew closer and the lord steward waved Ruwen nearer. "Rush, healer! The Duchess wants a word!"

Ruwen bowed in front of the covered sedan chair; "Milady, I have heard about the tragedy your family has encountered," spreading his arm like a tragedian. "First the murder of the Duke's second son and now the murderous attempt on his youngest son, the fair Berrit!" Raising his voice, so that every bystander could hear it clearly, "We are just poor physicians, only able to heal common people! Only the Lord knows a remedy for young Berrit's pain; only the great Lord and the Holy Virgin! Not even the Fourteen Holy Helpers can help...There is only one chance, Milady. Go on a pilgrimage to the well-spring of our Holy Virgin. Visit the Fountain of Oranna and bathe Berrit three times in those Holy waters." And, raising his vibrant voice even more, "Leave tonight; carrying him in your sedan! You must go alone, without an escort! Rush now, there is no time to waste! The Lord demands it!"

The bystanders were all stunned by this prophetic advice. The women started lamenting and the men began to swear in their hearts that they would revenge the murder attempt, because all the citizenry loved Berrit, and adored the Duchess. The bystanders dispersed in distress.

*.*.*

 

Being sure of the success of this first part of their charade, Ruwen, Bastian and Berrit left the town in the dusk, along with their cart. The muddy road to the west was deserted, because market participants and visitors preferred to stay in town to participate in the second day of the fair. After crossing the river, the horses pull the lonely cart steadily along the road beside the river. The destination of their clandestine journey was the famous Fall Fair of Veldegg. The first and foremost purpose of their hastily planned tour was not to heal the sick of Veldegg, but to rescue poor Anzo from his brutal imprisonment in his uncle's castle.

At first the muddy roadway was level, but soon began a steep ascent, working its way up to the summit of a hill blocking the valley. It was close to midnight when heavily breathing horses reached the hilltop. Just then the dark clouds covering a nearly full moon opened a crack and pale rays lit the peak. Bastian, holding the reins, nearly fainted. On a small stage, three grey figures danced slowly in an odd ball, lit by the silvery moonlight. Drawing nearer, he recognized the sombre scene for what it really was. In the midst of the barren peak, on a gallows, the frayed corpses of hanged men swayed in the midnight breezes. The screeching of the cart and the heavily breathing of the horses startled some black birds from their sleep on the gallows. Filling the night with their croaking, the big ravens took wing and flapped sluggishly over to a big oak tree further away. In terror, Bastian loosened the reins and the horses shied away and began to race down the steep decline on the other side of the hill. Ruwen, sleeping while leaning on Bastian's shoulder, lost his balance. He nearly fell off the wagon. Berrit caught his friend at the last moment, while Bastian managed to control the bolting horses just before the cart would have overturned.

At the break of dawn, the friends reached a small tavern near the next ford through the river, still with teeth chattering and covered in cold sweat. While waiting for an early breakfast to be served, Ruwen asked his friends, "Was that meeting with the ghostly hanging men a bad omen, or a good one? Will we succeed in freeing Anzo? Will the next part of our charade turn out well?"

*.*.*

 

Back in Quentisburry, Jannes' first thought the next morning was to make his way to the market square. Having fought a terrible nightlong fight with himself Jannes had finally decided to become a healer like Mimir and Ibn Sina, and not a soldier like his father. Gleaming with pride he arrived at the market square, eager to announce his decision to his new friends. He was immediately confused. The healers' stand wasn't there anymore. They had to have left the night before. Jannes was inconsolable, and he hurried home, sobbing. His mother asked, worried, "What happened, son? Have you hurt yourself again?"

He answered, "They left without me, mother!" He cried, heartbroken, "The healers left without me and I may never, ever have a chance to become a healer! Not ever in my whole lifetime! I am so unhappy!"

*.*.*

 

AUTHOR NOTE

I would like to express my special thanks to B. for doing a wonderful 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 2008

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.

 

Ruwen Rouhs