Never Forget--Chapter Nine
The sword flashed down toward Gerhard’s neck; his sister’s muffled scream came from somewhere behind him and he winced at the sight of the blade descending and closed his eyes tightly. Time slowed as the sword moved. His life flashed before his eyes; in his mind he screamed to God for help. The seconds seemed like an eternity; he felt himself falling into a bottomless pit and he could not pull himself out. He wondered what it would feel like when the cold steel penetrated his neck. Would he be instantly plunged into darkness; would he feel the indescribable pain of his body being torn apart; would he open his eyes in the presence of the God that his family had taught him to rely upon most, or would he just cease to be? He waited, frozen in time.
The horrible feeling of metal striking his flesh never came. Gerhard looked up to see a young man grasping the sword arm of the guard. The man’s face was livid as he whirled on the person who had stopped him from executing his deed. Gerhard was jerked to his feet and pressed against the wall, his knees weak underneath him. He could not tear his gave off the face of his rescuer. The tall guard turned on the young man, his face almost purple with rage.
“How dare you?” his growled words were low and dangerous. The young man opposite him was tense and ready for a fight, but his manner had changed from that of an inexperienced boy to a commanding leader. He rested his hand on the hilt of his sword and spoke in a powerful voice.
“No, Morganstern, how dare you?” The burly guard narrowed his beady eyes at the young lieutenant. He wiped a grimy hand over his rough face and spat on the cobblestones.
“Ye saw what happened, lad.” he growled, “The peasant attacked my men. It was well within my authority to have ‘is head. Why did ye stop me?” Against the wall, Gerhard leaned forward to catch the young soldier’s reply. Donawyn had sunk to her knees on the damp cobblestones. The mist swirled around her kneeling figure and twisted around the two figures in the center of the courtyard. Every eye was on the boy and the man standing toe to toe, their hands on their swords. The lad cleared his throat and glanced over at the two prisoners with their eyes fixed upon him. Gerhard looked deep into his savior’s eyes and though he saw something flicker there.
“Morganstern,” the boy moved toward the burly man and placed a hand on his broad shoulder, “don’t you think that this peasant here,” he gestured in Gerhard’s direction with a peculiar expression on his face, “would be much more useful to us sitting in the stocks for several weeks? When ha has rotted there long enough you can have another one of your splendid public executions. If you dispose of him now the king will never have a chance to witness your great skills in person.” The guard shifted slightly, eyeing the young man carefully,
“What’s the bargain for ye?” he asked slowly.
“Nothing,” came the smirking reply, “Except maybe you could put in a good word for me with the king.” Gerhard was mesmerized by the dialog carried out before him. The young man did not seem to be the type to turn away from injustice, but Gerhard remembered seeing him turning away from Donawyn while she was being held powerless between the two soldiers. The confusion was unbearable now at the boy’s strange words. Was he for them or against them; why had he stopped the guard’s swinging sword, but then suggested that Gerhard be taken to the castle only to be sentenced to public humiliation and finally execution again? Gerhard shook his spinning head and sagged lower against the rough wall.
The young lieutenant and the rough sergeant broke into rough laughter.
“Come on lads,” the leader barked, “Let’s take these two straight to his Majesty, the King!” Gerhard was jerked to his feet. He struggled for a moment against the iron hands that held his strong arms. He looked up searching for Donawyn. Her head was bowed as she moved along slowly with her captors. Gerhard’s gaze swung around and once again he looked straight into the eyes of the other young man. He lifted his chin in defiance, narrowing his eyes and trying to catch a glimpse of the other young man’s soul. He paused for a moment at what he saw. In those eyes, he saw something not unlike what he saw every morning in his own eyes -- a quest for freedom and answers. As the Bears moved him along he thought he saw the young man mouth something at him.
Paul and Mearah rushed out into the courtyard. A group of soldiers stood grouped under the single lamppost in the center of the courtyard. The mist had thickened to twice its usual mass and was reaching crooked fingers around the legs of the conversing men. Mearah shivered in the shill and pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders. Paul was striding toward the men, his aged back ram-rod straight. His face showed no emotion, almost as if a mask had been pulled over it to hide the turmoil in his soul. Mearah stood back a little from the men, listening to the conversation.
“What goes on, Mr. Gladerel?” Paul asked. A short stocky man with rolled up sleeves and a dirtied leather apron turned at the sound of his voice.
“Ah, Paul, I would have supposed that you had heard by now,”
“Heard of what my friend?”
“Why of the surprise raid that her Ladyship ordered this morning!” Paul shook his head slowly at the stableman’s words. The burly man shook his head at the cobblestones under his feet, “I would have thought that everyone know of it the way the tongues were wagging early this morning,” Gladerel turned again to the other men clustered around him, “They say the king is furious that the villagers got word of what his Bears were up to, even if they were acting under the authority of his wife instead of him. Word has it that there is a spy is operating within these very walls.”
“What gave him the notion that there were rebels in the castle?” Paul broke in quickly. Mearah drew a bit closer and listened carefully. All eyes were on Paul as he asked his question. Gladerel cocked his head to the side and peered up into the older man’s clear eyes, one eyes narrowed and a peculiar expression on his face. Paul drew himself up and cleared his throat, “What I mean is: who would have any reason to spy on His Eminence? I am merely curious as to why he has these suspicions.”
“Well, I not sure what to tell you Mr. Centralaine; I’ve only heard what Fanny Ague told me. She said that the King has sworn to turn the entire castle on its head in search of the rebel’s informant,” the stableman leaned closer into the circle, “I’ve heard tell that he’s so afraid he’s locked himself into his tower room and the only thing the maids can hear is him hitting the walls with his fists,” A murmur of incredulousness went up from the cluster of people. Paul chuckled softly, visibly more relaxed than he previously had been. He clapped the burly Gladerel on the shoulder,
“I wouldn’t listen to the gossip of old washerwomen if I were you, old man. They’d…” His voice trailed off as the group whirled around to watch the procession coming through the main gate. Mearah shrank into the doorway shadow and pulled her shawl tightly around her neck.
A group of soldiers were approaching through the mist. A hulking man led the group, a smug look of success on his broad features. Directly behind him three soldiers marched around a young man. His curly brown hair was wet and matted; a mean red bruise was beginning to grow on the side of his face; the left sleeve of his shirt was torn at the shoulder. He moved slowly, but not with the look of utter helplessness that Mearah had seem in the faces of most of the other prisoners that were marched through those gates, there was still a bold look of defiance and yet even more…a confidence that she had seen in very few people. Her eyes scanned over the rest of the group. Gawain walked behind the young man, his hand on the hilt of his sword and a peculiar expression on his face. The girl in the doorway watched his dark eyes rove over the silent on-lookers in the courtyard until they reached the clam eyes of the old butler. Mearah always felt afterward that she had seen something flash between those two at that moment. Her eyes continued on down the line until thy came to rest on the last people in the procession.
Trailing a few steps behind Gawain, her tear streaked face muddy and white, a girl walked slowly between two giant guards. Her rough dress was just as dirty and mussed as the boy that had preceded her. Her wide eyes moved wildly around her and a lock of her curly black hair fell over her face. Mearah felt her heart sink with a sick feeling, when had it become necessary for her people to be forcibly dragged from the marketplace? She remembered the stories her father ha told her about the age when the sun had shone and the squares had been alive with music and laughter. People hadn’t feared that every moment someone would appear with a sword in his hand and a chain in the other. The people had come willingly to serve their monarch instead of hating him with everything that was in their souls.
The guard in lead (Mearah recognized him as Edward Morganstern, a cruel heartless man) swaggered past the gaping bystanders until he reached the tall oaken doors of the king’s courtroom.
“Ronzo, me lad,” he called to the page at the door, “Please, inform ‘is Majesty that I ‘ave two prisoners that await ‘is judgment…a lass for the queen and a lad for the stocks.”
“Right away, Sir,” Mearah looked over at Paul Centralaine once more. He was staring hard at the two prisoners in the midst of the guards. She saw his eyes move over to meet Gawain’s, a questioning look in them. Gawain almost imperceptivity shook his head in the negative.
The minutes passed slowly. The guards paced around their prisoners; the steal grips of the soldier’s hands on the boy’s arms were never loosened, but the girl was sunk to a kneeling position on the pavements. The mist was thickening and darkness approaching when the page ran up with a rolled parchment in his hand. He stopped in front of Gawain and Morganstern, unrolled his paper and began reading deliberately. Mearah leaned forward, straining to catch his words and unconsciously holding her breath. Paul stood straight and tall, apparently unconcerned, but his eyes were worried; Morganstern rubbed his hands together in anticipation; Gawain’s face was slightly pale but otherwise completely straight; the boy between his two guards strained against their restraining hands, his eyes shot back an forth between the page and the girl kneeling on the pavement; the young woman had stayed in her kneeing position, but now her head was bowed and her lips seemed to be moving silently. The messenger boy cleared his throat and spoke in a loud voice.
“His Excellency, the King, will receive you in the court room tomorrow morning. Until then the prisoners will be put in the dungeons. Until the morrow, Morganstern.” he turned on his heel and strode off to the palace.