Two Children, An Enchanter, and Three Horsemen; Chapter 23
Andrija watched from high up the mountainside, sitting upon the peak of the great boulder, her face tense and drawn. Casia crouched beside her. “Will they make it in time?”
Andrija spoke hoarsely. “They must!”
All the women of the village stood around the boulder staring dismally into the distance. How fared their loved ones? Would they ever see their faces again?
Must the price of justice and freedom be so great that in the course of winning these, there would spill the precious blood of sons and fathers, brothers and husbands?
Was justice worth the consequences? Was freedom worth the pain and bloodshed?
The answer lay deep within every woman’s heart. Undoubtedly, indisputably yes!
* * *
The peasants were fighting with such great courage that the Enchanter’s bodyguards cried amongst themselves that these wild men were possessed! Possessed? Yes! Possessed with the bravery that comes when a man fights for a future generation’s chance to live in freedom and grow in justice.
Pitchforks, shovels, barrel ribs, even iron posts from the Enchanter’s own gates were being used in the action. Peasants were easily discernable from the Enchanter’s garrison. They were the bellowing, whirling, ducking, laughing, slashing men dressed in their tattered nightgowns, some with their nightcaps still clinging to their perspiring brows.
Will, with sword in hand led the peasants. Shouting like a maniac, he was hacking his way towards the stake, where the dry sticks wood had been kindled by the Enchanter’s flaming ball of fire. He had only minutes before the stack would go up in flames—Matrim’s death!
Nagol was staring bewilderedly at the goings-on, occasionally warning the men to, “Be careful now, don’t hurt yoreselves! And you in that there fancy uniform gently, gently! Good heavens! There goes ‘is head! Tut, tut, young fellow, you’ll catch yore death o’ cold out only in yore nightshirt. An you there! Come a bit closer, I wanter to see yore face so’s I can tell yore mother that yore wavin’ her nice broom like a—Oh, by gum! You smacked that pore chap over ‘is noggin with it. Now that is quite quite enough, I tell you!”
A young peasant lad ducked a heavy blow from a soldier, countering the strike with a thrust to the chest. Meanwhile, his aged grandfather, hobbling after him, knocked a uniformed guard unconscious with one blow of his bamboo cane.
Two twin brothers joked together as they stood back to back, hacking courageously at a mob of bodyguards. “Ah! Steady at it, Jet. Don’t go wastin’ yore strength.”
“I ain’t gettin’ tired any, Pitch. I’ve got plenty of energy for battlin’ these here vermin.”
“Keep it up, dear brother Jet!”
“May your club give many a soldier a throbbing headache, brother Pitch.”
“Thankee, good brother!”
“Don’t mention it, my dear fellow.”
Will was two feet from the stake. A great brawny guard suddenly swiped at him with his sword, and Will deftly blocked with a barrel lid which he held in his left hand and slashed at the man with his other. He had no idea how to wield his sword, but he was swiftly learning in the fight for his life!
“Hang on Matrim, I’m coming!”
One of the Enchanter’s bodyguard was about to hurl a spear at Roland, when Will foot-swiped him. The man fell heavily to the paved courtyard. He was swiftly finished off by another peasant.
Roland grinned shakily at Will. “Thanks! I owe you one.”
“Come on, we’ve got to get Matrim untied!”
They had reached the stake. Will hurried up the stone steps. Beads of sweat dotted Matrim’s face. The fire was burning all around him, yet it had not yet touched him. The ring of fire made it nearly impossibly for Will to untie Matrim. Then, he pointed the sword through the fire and slashed at the rope. Matrim pulled his hands free of the severed cord. He leapt through the circle of fames, tucked into a ball, hit the ground lightly, beating out any flames which crawled along the edges of his clothes. He shot a grin at Will. “Thanks my friend!”
Will returned the smile and whirled about to face the fighting men once more. Then his face froze. A spear was slicing through the air, headed straight for his chest. As if in slow motion, it happened-- the moment that he would never forget.
A body suddenly thrust him aside, arms wide open to take the blow. Will hurtled down the steps, landing hard on his back. Through tear-dimmed eyes he saw the spear had sunk into Roland’s side. The fair-haired boy sank to the ground, blood spurting upon the ground around him.
Will tried to stand, could not. He retched, tried to stand again. It was impossible. His legs seemed to have become immobile. He heaved himself onto the ground, pulled himself from paving stone to paving stone towards Roland. He tried to tear his eyes away, but the image remained there even when his eyes squeezed shut. Roland was looking at him, and he was smiling peacefully. The bloody spear protruded from his side.
Will leaned over Roland. He met the boy’s eyes. The fair-haired boy was still breathing. “We…w-we’re even… now, right?”
The words were almost inaudible. Will’s eyes were pouring salty tears, his vision blurred. “Right.”
Roland smiled, reached weakly for Will’s right hand. He gave it a squeeze. “Funny…how…we met just a few hours ago. Feels…like…I’ve known you…longer.”
Will forced a laugh, but it came out high and quivering. “I’ve still got that black eye you gave me.”
Roland squeezed Will’s hand, and handed him a folded parchment. “Give…Matrim…this…when…I’m gone.”
Tears wet the paving stones around the two comrades. “No. You’ll be ok,” Will choked thickly.
Roland nodded. “Yes. I will be…in the arms…of…My Maker…when the sun rises over this city. Goodbye, my friend.”
He closed his eyes, gave Will one last squeeze. He was gone.
The sun shone down on his serene face. The wind tousled his golden hair. A trumpet blew three times.
Will stood. His tears were gone. In a matter of seconds, Will had transformed from a boy to a man. Stronger than ever before, Will hefted his sword. But no bloodthirsty thoughts of revenge raged inside of him. Rather there was a sense of peace. Vengeance was to be left to the Maker of Roland, for in His hands lay the greatest power, greater than any power forged by man.
With determination, Will plunged back into the battle. Matrim was in the thick of it, sending the last few guards flying with his bare fists. The entire bodyguard had been vanquished! The Enchanter stood alone upon the raised pedestal, the smoldering ashes of the fire sending thick tendrils of smoke curling about him.
The peasants stood still, panting for breath, weapons lowered at their sides.
The man’s eyes, dark as the impenetrable night, burned. Then an exultant smile crept upon his face as he reached inside his red robe and took a small silver whistle. Three times the Enchanter whistled. The shrill sound hung distinctly in the air and seemed to grow louder and more ear-piercing until the ground shook with the sound. Suddenly, the great doors of the palace flew open. The peasants watched in horror as hundreds upon hundreds of uniformed, heavily armed soldiers marched in perfect unison around them. There was no doubt about it.
They were surrounded.
* * *
Andrija gave a dismayed sigh. “It’s been three hours. Oh, I wish I knew what was going on down there.”
A small motherly woman squeezed her comfortingly. “Ah, dearie, that’s how we all feel. We must hope fer the best.”
Andrija buried her head in her hands. “How I wish we had never come here! It is our fault that your men are out there fighting!”
The woman shook her gray head furiously. “No, dearest! If you had never come, this rebellion would never ‘ave begun! The fight fer justice and freedom would never ‘ave come about! You and your friends were the sparks that ignited the raging fires in our men’s hearts. The fires that burn for justice!”
* * *
Breathing hard, Will lowered his sword. Matrim lowered his fists. The soldiers, grim faced, stared vacantly into the mass of peasants. There seemed to be no end to the soldiers pouring out of the doors of the Palace. There was a silence more terrible than any Will would ever experience in his entire life. The peasants’ eyes were fastened on the ever-growing crowd of their enemies.
Suddenly, a shrieking laugh split the air-- the frenzied, triumphant, and piercing laughter of the Enchanter.
He threw his arms over his head, his diabolical face contorted with malicious laughter. “Ahaha! This is too much! Look at you! Look at you all! Acting like little heroes! Fighting for freedom, you say! Ahaha!” He waved his pale arms helplessly, convulsed with laughter.
Then his face went serious when he glimpsed Will. “Well, well, well…”
He stepped down from the pedestal and began to walk towards Will. A soldier marched mechanically up to the boy and snatched away his sword and make-shift shield.
“You are one of the two children who came from that other distant world, eh?”
Will gritted his jaw and did not answer.
The Enchanter’s pale face grew even paler with rage. He slapped Will brutally across the face. “You will speak, slave! How dare you flout my authority!”
Will did not even so much as blink. “I do not speak to the darkness.”
“What? What was that you said?” screamed the Enchanter. “Explain yourself at once!”
“Explain myself?” Will laughed. “Very well. My friends and I are the light. You and your slaves are the darkness. The light is rising! A new day is begun! My friends and I will fight to the death that light may shine on this dark world. We will never give up until the darkness is defeated!”
“Arghh!” The Enchanter hissed with cold fury. He summoned the soldiers, who immediately gathered around the boy. “On the count of three, you will behead this fanatic. Do you understand?”
Matrim began to speak, but the Enchanter cut him short. “You soldiers! Form a tight circle around these rebels. On the count of three, you will kill them all! All!”
The soldiers circled about the peasants, a circle five hundred men thick.
Then the Enchanter turned to the last fifty men, an especially devious expression on his face. “You infantrymen will ride up to the village and kill all the women and children you find there! Leave none alive!”
Matrim’s face went ashen. His black eyes burned with a mad rage-- he raised his sword!