The Squire and the Scholar: Part Three
Ro snapped, “Ezekiel, I swear, if you keep whistling I’m going to do something drastic now and worry about what I’ll say to Sir Jeran later!”
The old man smiled. “Peace, Roja. I am merely trying to lift our spirits!”
Lisha pulled her hood farther over her head – they were in the middle of a downpour, and while she didn’t want to yell at Ezekiel, she also found herself agreeing with Ro. Four days of walking north – no wonder Jeran and all of the other knights start laughing when people talk about glory.
Then the red Kougra complained, “It’s been raining for three days straight, and he’s been whistling for the whole time!”
“Not the whole time...”
“Long enough!” Then he took off his helmet and dumped the accumulated water out onto the ground. “I swear, this Fyora-blast-it thing is going to rust straight through, and then all of my brothers are going to laugh...”
Ezekiel asked, “Do you have many brothers, then?”
Ro muttered something – Lisha knew, and she told Ezekiel, “He’s the youngest of eight boys. The others are all knights already, but they don’t leave Fief Mistborne that often, so it’s no surprise you haven’t met them.”
Ro said, “We serve our king. But we serve best by keeping the raiders and beasties in the mountains away from the rest of Meridell. As the northernmost of Meridell’s keeps, it is our duty.”
Lisha shook her head. All of these knights and their ideas of “duty” – it’s how they justify half-killing themselves through their heroics, because they say it’s their “duty.” She longed to sit down and read a book – but she couldn’t sit down, and she hadn’t brought any books, which was probably for the best because they would have been ruined by now.
She looked up at the sky – the storm clouds were still heavy and dark. It’ll rain for the rest of the day like as not.
I wonder if Jeran’s okay. There had been no way to get news from him – Lisha knew that. But she couldn’t help but worry. It had become a habit to worry about Jeran when she couldn’t see him, because she knew he was probably doing something risky.
He said he was pretty sure that Sir Tor would lead Brightvale’s forces. He’s a good man – he won’t want to fight any more than Jeran does.
And then she heard the howl on the wind. She looked around. “What was that?”
Ro drew his sword. “A Werelupe. And there’s never just one of them.”
Ezekiel looked around. “We need to find shelter. None of us is Sir Jeran – to try and fight them would be futile.”
Ro said, “We’re still a while away from Castle Mist, and it sounds like the Werelupes are between us and it!”
Lisha looked around. Put that brain of yours to use, girl! But there was nothing around them she could see to help – nothing but water and trees.
Trees! She said, “We can climb a tree! They’re too heavy to climb very well, aren’t they?”
Ro nodded and smiled at her. “Good thinking, Lisha! There’s a good one over there – I’ll climb it first and throw down a rope for you two.”
Then they heard two answering howls, both a good deal closer than the first one. Ro said, “There’s at least three of them – against one of us – I really don’t like those odds, so give me that rope!”
Ezekiel threw him the rope, and Ro started to climb. Lisha drew her sword. “You go next, sir!”
Ro cried from up in the tree, “Lisha, a Werelupe wouldn’t even consider you a threat – they’d make mincemeat of you!”
There were even more howls, now. Ezekiel had reached the lowest branch – the old Gelert shouted, “They’re hunting! Lisha, get up here, now!”
There was no use in doing something noble and stupid if there was an escape route – Lisha sheathed her knife and dashed for the rope.
She had barely clambered onto the lowest branch when she started to hear the crashing of heavy feet through the underbrush. Ro cried, “Higher! Higher! They don’t climb trees, but they can jump! You both need to get higher!”
Lisha jumped as high as she could and grabbed another branch, her feet kicking and scuffing on the trunk of the tree as she pulled herself up. She jumped again – this time scraping her elbow as she did it. Ezekiel was taller – he didn’t have as many problems climbing, even though he was old. The rain made everything slippery and rather muddy. Lisha thought fondly of her chair in the library as she reached for the next branch.
She almost slipped – Ezekiel grabbed her hand and pulled her up. “Careful – the branches are getting narrow!”
And then she had to hang on for dear life as the Werelupes surrounded the tree, howling.
One looked up and spoke – she knew that some of them could. “Metal-makers, why do you trespass on our lands?”
Lisha’s rational mind reminded her that Werelupes didn’t have any skill as smiths – they had to steal swords and other metal goods from regular Neopians, which was why they called them metal-makers. Most of her head, however, was focused on the fact that any one of them could pick her up and throw her one-handed.
She forced herself to let go of the trunk and scrambled up onto another branch, right behind Ezekiel. Now she was to a place where the branches were smaller and closer together, and she could climb more easily. But Ro had paused not too far above her, and as the wind picked up, she could see why. It was unsteady up here, and she had to grip tightly again.
The Werelupe spokesman said, more angrily, “Metal-makers, surrender or die!”
Lisha couldn’t see him clearly through the leaves – but then she remembered her glasses, which Kayla had specially treated with a few potions. She touched them and whispered the words that her friend had taught her. Now the leaves appeared transparent, and she could see the Werelupes on the ground.
She winced. “There’re five of them!”
Ro asked, “How can you see?” She tapped her glasses, then asked, “Should I use my wand?”
He nodded, but asked, “Can it do anything to make me a little louder?”
“Why do you need to be louder?”
“I assume it probably could, but...”
“Then do it!”
There was no science to Lisha’s wand – she merely pointed and focused as hard as she could on what she wanted to happen. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. She pointed it at Ro and hoped.
He cupped his hands and yelled, voice magically magnified several times over, “Mistborne! Mistborne to me! Hey-le-hah!”
She pointed her wand, and his voice went back to normal. “If any Mistborne knight or man-at-arms heard that, we’ll have reinforcements – ah!”
Lisha nearly fell off the branch as a Werelupe jumped and clawed at her, missing her tail by inches. She looked up into the rain – glad that protection against water was also on her glasses – and kept climbing as quickly as she could.
Then the spokesman said, “Bring that axe – we’ll have the metal-makers out of there!”
Ezekiel shut his eyes. “Cornered by Werelupes – this wasn’t the...”
Lisha said, “Hush!” The Werelupes were howling again, but she thought she’d heard another voice, off in the distance. She waited – there was a pause in the howling, and she recognized an echo of Ro’s cry. Hey-le-hah!
Ro shouted again, “Mistborne to me! Hey-le-hah!” Once again, there was an answer. But then Lisha looked down from her perch and realized that the biggest Werelupe of them all was holding a huge chopping axe.
Quickly, she flicked her wand at him – blasting was one of the easiest things she could do with it. The Werelupe was knocked backward, whimpering. Lisha cried, “The next one to touch that axe gets the same thing!”
The spokesman growled, “Why don’t you come down here, little girl? We’ll see how tough you are when we can fight back against your little spells!”
Ro whispered, “Don’t let them bait you, Lisha!”
Lisha looked up at him. “I’m supposed to be really smart, right? I think I figured that one out.”
Then Lisha looked up toward the north as a horn rang out and battle cries – mostly “Mistborne!” and “Hey-le-hah!” – were shouted, and seven knights mounted on Unis rode into view.
The big Werelupe charged the lead knight – Ro shouted encouragement to the Scorchio as they fought. A Lutari looked up at them as he drew his sword. “Get yourself up a tree, little Angelpuss?”
Then Ro scowled. “And now they’re going to mock me. As usual.”
Lisha pointed with her wand and blasted again as the spokesman threatened to overwhelm a Wocky. “As long as we survive this, you can tell them it was my fault instead!”
Once the Werelupes had been run off, Lisha looked down to see how best to descend – she hadn’t really been thinking about getting down. She didn’t have to worry for long, before the Scorchio flew up to her perch and picked her up. “How’s Sir Jeran doing, Lisha?”
Lisha said, “Okay – but there’ve been some problems in Meridell and he sent us to get help...”
Ro cut her off – Lisha would have been angry, except that she knew he wanted to look important in front of his older brothers. “Princess Esbel and Princess Halli have been kidnapped and Sir Jeran sent us to rescue them – King Skarl thinks that it was Brightvale, and Sir Jeran was sent to them, but we think it was northern raiders so he sent us up here.”
The Lutari folded his arms. “A squire, an old man, and a little girl are a rescue mission? I think Sir Jeran’s taken one too many blows to the head.”
Ezekiel said, as calmly as ever – which amazed Lisha, since she was close to saying something she’d regret, “My dear sir, knights are under oath to obey the king. A squire and two scholars were all that Sir Jeran could send without forcing someone to violate their vows of loyalty. And I’m certain that Castle Mist would provide a better venue for this discussion.”
Lisha put the hood of her cloak back up. “Jeran asked us to come to you for reinforcements and information.”
The Scorchio said, “Come on, brothers – back to the castle. Lisha, would you like to ride with me?”
Lisha was about to do that as the sound of wingbeats grew stronger overhead and an Eyrie landed in front of them. “Knights of Mistborne – ride back to the castle with all speed! A force of Werelupes and bandits will be there by eventide, and they outnumber our own men three to one!”
Ezekiel said grimly, “It seems that the abduction of the princesses was part of a larger plot – and that we’re about to find out what it is.”
To be continued...