Never Forget--Chapter Seven
Paine Ayman stood in the darkness of the alley next to a tall young man in a long black cloak with the hood up. The foul smells of the rotting garbage wafted toward them and the broad shopkeeper wrinkled his nose.
“I’ve had Silas Hovel helping to spread the word,” He said slowly in a low voice. “But that imposter of a king had eyes and ears everywhere; we can never be sure if we are safe.” The boy across from him nodded and spoke.
“I’ve warned at least five families and I know they’ve told their friends. The market should be mostly deserted today. I’ll be positioned in Towley’s stable in case anything gets out of hand, but even then I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to do,” he leaned over and glanced once more into the deserted alley -- loaded carts and a stray cat were the only things in sight. He leaned back and pushed the hood of his cloak down, “I was starting to think we wouldn’t be able to get the word out when it took me so long to contact you yesterday.” he said. The older man across from him inhaled deeply.
“I can only hope that we will soon be able to restore peace, Gawain. When your father…” The peddler’s voice broke off sharply as a voice echoed down the narrow street.
“Paine!” The voice that called his name seemed innocent enough, but the duo was taking no chances. Gawain whipped the hood of his cloak back on and dashed out of the small space they were standing in. Paine didn’t wait for the shouts of pursuit that he felt sure would follow, but immediately leapt into the center of the street, pulling his sword out of the scabbard at his side. The young man in front of him backed into the shadows at his onslaught. He moved forward, his sword at the ready, trying to get a glimpse of the boy’s face.
Only after the young man spoke again did he recognize him as the boy who he had befriended the day before. Something about the lad’s face and manner had made the villager at ease around him immediately. It was as if he had known the boy for many years. He had lowered his sword at the sight of the familiar curly hair and pleasant smile. What was it about the young man’s mature bearing that kept reminding him of something, and what or who was it that he kept starting to see in the boyish, brown eyes? Through the conversations that followed; the mad dash through the alleys and revelation beneath the weathered sign, the haunting feeling that he had know this person a long time before, when the sun had shone and trumpets had played in the distance, gnawed at his insides. Those eyes were so familiar to the grizzled old man, yet also so foreign. As he watched the edge of the young man’s cloak disappear around the corner, he breathed a silent prayer for his safety to the Almighty and set off after him.
After Gerhard had disappeared between the mist and the carts, Donawyn began moving among the carts, feeling the different linens and weighing the fruits in her hand. The rain had begun falling again and the mist was gathering in little droplets on her uncovered hair. Activity in the market had died down until only a few old men and a gaggle of weathered old woman remained. They were clustered around a vegetable cart comparing wares and talking softly in low voices. Their eyes followed her as she stopped again to examine the sage fabric she had found earlier. She was standing with her back to them, but she could almost feel their sharp eyes boring into her. She shivered and moved along toward the rooming house at the edge of the plaza.
A stirring back among the group caught her eye and, being of a naturally curious nature, she paused at the butcher’s stand and watched the villagers out of the corner of her eye. A husky young man had rushed up and was talking in an excited voice, but his voice was still too low for her to distinguish exactly what he was saying. One of the women let out a sharp gasp and, hitching up her skirts, set off as fast as her feeble legs would carry her. The man called after her in a strong voice. “If they’re not here, I’m sure they have already been warned.” As he turned back to continue talking to the tittering group, his eyes fell upon Donawyn, hovering around the outskirts of the plaza. He bent his head to converse with a slight man beside him. The girl could just make out his dark eyes furtively glancing at her with every few words he spoke. Something like a hand of ice seemed to close around her heart, and her stomach suddenly grew tight with unknown fear.
Gerhard’s lungs burned, but he kept on. The streets he had peacefully ambled down earlier now seemed dark and foreboding. His eyes grew blurred as the cool breeze whipped across them. His mind was replaying the words he had just heard the old man speak over and over again. He had always been close to his sister; much more so than most of the other boys that he knew. There had always been something between them that had made them more than brother and sister. He knew now that it had something to do with the past; something that was just beyond him; something that he could never seem to grasp; something he could never forget. He mentally cursed himself for having thought that setting out on their own would bring all the answers. What had he thought would happen? Would they have marched through the gates and been immediately recognized as the long lost children of a royal family? Would the king just step aside willingly and give then the throne and the keys to the city? What a fool he had been.
He realized now just how important it would be not to reveal his and Donawyn’s identities. If the rulers in power now knew just what they had in their possession—that if they could become powerful enough, they would have legitimate claims to the throne of Lauderlan—they would be in grave danger. Suddenly, he realized what else it was that had been bothering him. Why had Paine been so concerned about Donawyn? Could it be that he knew something that could help them put the clues to the puzzle together?
A cat ran across the street in front of Gerhard and he pulled up. For a moment he couldn’t remember if the alley leading back to the plaza had been to the right or to the left. He decided on the left and hurried on. The cloak around his neck seemed to be choking him, and he struggled to loosen it. He leapt over a pile of vegetable peelings near the end of the alley and he was suddenly falling through space. He hit the ground with a thud, and his breath came in with a sharp gasp. A dull ache in his side began as he scrambled back to his feet. He rested his hands on his knees for a moment, panting, and then reached up once again to grasp at the clasp of his cloak. As he set off again, threading his way through the alleys and streets, the cape billowed to the ground and lay still.
The mist seemed to have grown thicker during the time that the girl had stood watching the small group of people murmuring among themselves. She rubbed her numb hands together and turned swiftly back toward the rooming house. Her heart was pounding with some unnamed fear, and when she glanced down, she noticed that the ends of her fingers were trembling. She took in a tremulous breath and began walking swiftly, but a voice behind her arrested her in mid-step.
“Miss! Excuse me.” She turned to see the young man who had run up earlier striding toward her. His eyes held a puzzled look, and he was glancing around furtively, as if looking for something hidden in the shadows. Donawyn’s muscles tightened for flight, and she backed up slightly. Her wide grey eyes were filled with fear, but she tried hard to disguise it.
“Yes, sarr?” she whispered, unconsciously rolling her “r,” as so many of the highland folk did. The farmer stopped about five feet from her and carefully scrutinized her face.
“You’re not from around here, are you, lass?” he asked, quickly, and then continued without an answer. “No, I can see you’re not.” He glanced once more over his shoulder at the street leading toward the outer gate of the city, “If I were you, lassie, I’d find my family and lay low for the rest of the day.” Donawyn’s heart was beating even faster than it had been; the knot in her stomach was pulled even tighter; her mind was running around in circles, trying to remember if anyone had said anything to her about the marketplace being forbidden that day. Her eyes must have mirrored her thoughts, for the young man sighed and placed his hands on her shoulders, so as to guide her out of the mist plaza. “There are too many things happening or going to happen to have time to explain right at this moment in time. Now, as I said, you’d best be off before…” His voice broke off, and Donawyn gasped audibly. She pressed herself into the shadows just as she heard him whisper, “Before it’s too late.”
Gawain slowed his pace to a walk and glanced down the street behind him once more; the pursuers that he had imagined behind him were nowhere in sight. He let out his breath and leaned against the rough rock walls of Towley’s Stable. Ducking in through the low doorway, he paused for a moment to let his eyes adjust to the light. He went to the front opening and swept a piercing look over the almost deserted marketplace. A group of old fishwives and a few grizzled farmers were clustered at the far end of the plaza. Another figure was bent over the butcher’s cart. He couldn’t see the woman’s face under the thick hood, but the cloak around her shoulders was thick and bulky and he assumed that she was just another one of the frail old women that visited the vendors every morning.
He rubbed his hand along the shaggy neck of the horse in the stall next to him. A feeling of relief swept over him, and he backed into the shadows again. Walking swiftly toward the end of the barn, he turned sharply to the left and entered an abandoned box-stall. Pushing aside the straw in the back, he lifted out a long narrow box. He slowly lifted up the lid and gazed at the contents, his eyes sparking wildly. He reached his hand into the box and slowly withdrew its contents. His hand was wrapped around the hilt of a magnificent sword. He held it up above his head to catch a bit of the dim light on its shining blade. Suddenly he was not kneeling on a pile of dirty straw, he was astride a tall, white stallion; the rough wall around him melted away and instead he saw the countryside of Lauderlan; the mist was gone and the sun shone down warm on his hair. His mail shirt shone in the light, and the sun ricocheted off the jewels in the hilt of the sword. A cool breeze floated by him with the fresh scent of the sea on its arms. Behind him, silent as stone, stood a massive army with the bright light shining from every lance, sword and shield. Gawain closed his eyes and listened to the distant sounding of a battle horn.
The horn’s high melody was changing; getting nearer and rising in intensity. Gawain suddenly heard for the first time what it really was—a scream of terror. He dropped his weapon to the ground and jumped out of the stall. He stopped just in the shadows of the entrance and gazed out. The figure that he had supposed to be an old woman had backed up against the cart. Her hood had fallen off and a mass of wavy black hair hung down her back; her smooth face was white with horror as she gazed at the group of soldiers advancing through the gate. A young farmer—weaponless, Gawain noticed—stood in front of her. He was looking around wildly in search of a defense, and the young man in the stable noticed that the other villagers had disappeared into the mist. Gawain heard the soldier at the head of the group give an order to his men.
“Step lively now, lads. Looks like we’ve got jest what her Ladyship wanted right here.” The young farmer was backed up against the cart as well now. Gawain’s mind was racing; he couldn’t reveal himself now, too many of the soldiers would recognize him and all he had worked for would be gone. Yet the only way the two figures out there in the fog would be able to escape would be for him to create some kind of diversion. The lad against the cart wasn’t waiting for help, though; he reached into the wagon at his back and withdrew a handful of sawdust. Charging toward the soldiers and yelling back over his shoulder to the girl,
“Run, lass!” he threw the sawdust into the eyes of the startled guard and turned again to flee.
“Catch ‘im, lads! Don’t let the little beasts escape!” the lead soldier roared, clawing the sawdust from his eyes.
Gawain was gripping the beam in front of him with both hands; his knuckles were white and his jaw tight. In his mind, the two persons in the courtyard had no chance whatsoever. The king’s bears were much too savage and cruel to just let them escape like that. His eyes roved back to the place where the girl was standing. Her white face shone like light against the dark background of her cloak. He saw now that she was too paralyzed by all the action to move from her place. A pair of soldiers ran toward her with their swords drawn; her eyes widened even more and she suddenly sprang into action. Ducking around the cart, she darted toward the main gate. Her foot hit a patch of moss growing between the cobbles and down she went. Gawain heard the thud that her light body made against the pavement and his heart sank even further into his boots. A feeling of complete helplessness washed over him and he almost had to turn away from the arrests that were about to be made in the market.
The young farmer stood, his sides heaving, with his back against the wall and soldiers all around him, their swords drawn. The girl was just being jerked from the rough ground by one of the Bears. He could hear her gasping for the air that had been knocked out of her sides by the fall. Her eyes were wide and she struggled feebly against the big man’s grip. She gaze roved across the plaza, searching for something, and for one moment Gawain was sure that she had seen him standing silently in the shadows. He thought back to the hidden sword and narrowed his eyes. He had waited patiently for word from his father, but he could no longer ignore the plight of these people. His mind racing and his heart praying for the right words, he hurled himself from his hiding place and raised his shoulders to their full height. The two men holding the girl’s elbows raised their eyebrows and jumped to attention.
“Lieutenant Rochenstant! Wha’ are ye doin’ ‘ere?” The leader of the mob lowered his sword slightly from its position across from the young man’s middle. Gawain cleared his throat.
“I was just passing through the square and I noticed you seemed to be having a bit of trouble, Morganstern.” He attempted to give his voice as much insolence and pride as possible. The burly guard laughed coarsely.
“Ye should have your eyes checked, lad. Just because ye hold that fancy title doesn’t make ye ready to be out here in the mud handling these grimy peasants, ye might get your boots muddy.” He laughed and jerked his head to his followers and motioned to the farmer, “Come on, boys, let’s get rid o’ this scum and deliver this fine young lady to her new mistress.” Gawain knew this was his last chance at talking the men out of it.
“Let me take them, Morganstern. I’ll get ‘em to the castle and you can finish your other business,” he pleaded. The older man narrowed his eyes and stroked his beard.
“Why so ‘elpful all of the sudden, laddie?” Gawain shrugged his shoulders, trying to suddenly appear as stupid as possible. The grizzled soldier slapped his knee and began laughing again at the young man.
“As if you thought you’d be able to ‘andle these two!” he roared. The boy across from him felt his sword banging against his knee. He looked straight into the girl’s wide eyes and wished he knew who she was and were she’d come from, for today I die, he thought. He turned his back to the laughing crowd and felt for the handle of his sword. He mentally calculated how many men he would be able to fell before he too was cut down. A sudden scream behind him changed his mind, and he whirled around just in time to see a boy hurling himself at one of the guards standing at the girl’s side. Her face was even more terror-stricken than before as she screamed,
“No, Gerhard! Don’t…”