The Squire and the Scholar: Part Four
Lisha stood with Ro on the battlements of Castle Mist. Ezekiel was inside – it turned out that the old man had read a lot of war strategy, and Lord Mistborne was relying on him to help fight off the army that would be there any minute.
At least the rain had stopped once they had arrived. But Lisha pulled the dry cloak she had been given tightly around her – the air was now bitterly cold. Ro put an arm around her. “Missing your library?”
She shook her head. “I’m trying not to. Jeran asked me to do this, and I won’t let him down. Are you glad to be home?”
He nodded. “I’m a Mistborne – I belong here. I do kind of wish that they hadn’t seen me chased up a tree, though.”
Lisha thought, Knights and their pride. “Better chased up a tree than dead.” Then she looked down into the castle – the area around the keep was full of activity as knights and soldiers ran around trying to prepare for the upcoming attack. “You think we’ll be able to fight them off?”
Ro nodded, setting his helmet on his head. “Of course! No enemy has ever overtaken Castle Mist. Ever. We may be few, out here on Meridell’s northern edge, but we are strong.” As she looked over at him, she realized that his eyes were shining. He believed what he had said with his whole heart.
Then a messenger flew up to them. “Squire Roja, Lady Lisha, Lord Mistborne has requested that you come to his study as soon as you can – he acted as though it was important.”
And then the horns blew again, and someone shouted, “Werelupes! Werelupes and mountain raiders, approaching from the north!”
Ro said, “We’ll be down in a minute – they’ll have to give us terms, won’t they? And I want to hear them.”
Lisha led the way to the north side of the castle. She remembered the two Darigani invasions from when she was younger. She had stood behind Jeran as the leaders approached the gate of Meridell Castle. There had been order – there had been some sense that there was a rule to be followed – but now she heard wild battle cries and howling from outside of Castle Mist. There are no rules here. There are no guarantees. This... this is bad.
When she got to the north wall, Lord and Lady Mistborne stood over their gate with Ezekiel at their side. The lord – a Draik who was getting on in years – asked, “Lisha, would you use that same spell on me that the boys told me about? The one to make my voice louder? It would help.”
Lisha pointed her wand – but there was no flow of magic. She shook her head. “It doesn’t want to work right now, milord. If I keep trying, it could work, but I could leave you mute instead.”
He smiled gently. “No matter.” Then he called down, “Who is your master, and why do you attack Mistborne and Meridell?”
A tall, savage-looking Ixi called, “We claim Mistborne and its castle in the name of the Werelupe King!”
Lisha heard gasps among the defenders – she knew how they felt. If Werelupes, with all of their strength, had a leader who could organize them for conquest...
Ro asked in a whisper, “What could persuade a normal Neopian to work for the Werelupe King?”
Lord Mistborne sighed. “Money. The spoils of war. What else could make a man side with monsters?” Then he looked straight at the spokesman. “And if we do not accept your request?”
The Ixi leaned on his spear. “Then we will overcome your defenses, raze your lands, and march through Meridell until we deliver the precious princesses to Skarl ourselves!”
Lisha made the connection in a snap. They took the princesses as hostages! They’ll use them to make us surrender – and then most likely refuse to release them and use them to make the next fief surrender!
Then the Ixi continued, “You don’t really believe that you can stand against us, Lord Mistborne? We have fought you for years – we know that your castle has too few men and too many places to guard. Skarl sees you as an extension of the ‘Welcome to Meridell’ sign! He’s never believed that you do real work up here... but he’s never been here, so how would he know? Why stand and fight for a king who never spared a thought for you before your youngest son became a more famous knight’s squire?”
Lisha put a hand on Ro’s shoulder – he looked as if he were ready to throw himself from the ramparts in his haste to get a piece of the sly-tongued speaker.
Lord Mistborne said slowly, “Why stand and fight? Why stand and fight? Because... we are Mistborne, and we have honor! For Mistborne! Hey-le-hah!”
From all throughout the castle, the call was answered. “HEY-LE-HAH!”
And with a volley of arrows, the battle began!
Lisha covered her head as she followed Lord and Lady Mistborne, Ezekiel, and Ro down the stairs and to the shelter of the ground. The old lord said, “Ro, Lisha, I must ask something of you that will take all your courage.”
Lisha nodded – wanting more than anything else to know what – as Ro said, “Of course, Father. You know that you can rely on us.”
Ezekiel said, “I thought of the strategy myself. There is an escape tunnel from Castle Mist, which should open behind the enemy lines. The two of you can try to find their lair. It should be sparsely guarded – report back on anything you find.”
Ro asked, “Should we try to rescue the princesses?”
“If the opportunity presents itself, yes. Cause whatever damage you can.”
Lisha gripped her wand. It’s just me and Ro now. A squire and a scholar, out to save Meridell.
If I can do it, I’ll be a hero. We’ll be heroes. Of course, if we fail, we’re dead. But isn’t that the risk we took at the beginning of all this?
She said, “We’ll do it. We should take some supplies, in case it takes us a while to get there and back.”
Lady Mistborne pulled two packs out from underneath her cape. “I had these prepared for you... oh, be careful, Ro! Keep yourself safe – and little Lisha, too.”
Lisha had to remind herself not to bristle at the “little” comment – she knew that Lady Mistborne meant well. She smiled up at Ezekiel, who patted her head, and said, “I’ll bring Ro back safe – Jeran will be irritated if he has to train a new squire.”
Lord Mistborne laughed out loud, and then set a hand on each of their shoulders. “Kielan is waiting for you on the west side of the castle – that’s where the tunnel is.”
Ro nodded. “I remember! I got a thrashing for trying to get in there when I was younger.”
Lisha looked back at Ezekiel as she ran after Ro, and she wished she hadn’t. His smile had been replaced by a look of concern, and she didn’t like seeing that he was so afraid for their welfare. We’ll be okay. We’ll be okay. We’re both brave, he’s strong, and I’m smart. We can do this.
They emerged from the tunnel to hear the sounds of battle off in the distance. The exit was hidden quite well in an old hollow tree, and Lisha wished she had time to see how it worked.
Ro said, “We’ll follow their trail – if we go northeast, we should run into it before too long. I’ll bet they’re up in the foothills. There are a lot of places to hide out up there, and not enough Mistborne fighters to find them all.”
They crested a hill, and Ro looked up at the high tree that stood at its top. “Come with me – I want to show you something.”
Lisha climbed up the tree after him – it was easier when there wasn’t the threat of Werelupes after them. And when she got to the top, Ro said, “Look around.”
To the northern horizon, the mountains looked purple in the wintry haze. All around her and below her, the trees spread in a carpet of green that was starting to turn gold. She could see the banner of Mistborne not too far away, and out to the south a space that she knew was Lake Temara. She whispered to the Kougra, “It’s beautiful. No wonder all of you love Mistborne so much.”
He nodded. “It’s not an easy life on the edge of things, but we know that it’s worth it. Even if the people in Meridell Castle don’t always realize it.
“That’s what was really low about that Ixi who treated with us, you know. Everything he said... it’s true. But maybe... maybe if we can stop the Werelupe King and rescue the princesses, it won’t just mean glory for us. It’ll mean glory for Mistborne.”
Lisha squinted toward the north. She thought she could see a trail of smoke against the mountains – she touched her wand to her glasses, and it was thrown into high relief. It was more than just a trail of smoke – it was a thick plume. Something big was over there. She passed the glasses to Ro. “Take a look.”
He scowled. “There shouldn’t be anything nearly that size out there... I’ll bet you anything that’s where the scoundrels are hiding out.”
Lisha followed him back down the tree as he checked the direction against his compass. “North and slightly east... are you ready, Lisha?”
She gripped her wand in one hand and her staff in the other, trying to forget just how big Werelupes were in comparison to herself. “Let’s get them!”
To be continued...