The Squire and the Scholar: Part Five
It got too late that night to continue the long trek north – they would have been more likely to wander straight into an ambush than to find what they were looking for. They huddled in a little space formed by the roots of a massive old tree, using Lisha’s wand to keep warm. She wished for a fire to keep the darkness away, but that would draw Werelupes and raiders – whether allied with the Werelupe King or not, they would still be dangerous.
Lisha wrapped her cloak tightly around herself as she held her hands over the wand, which she had stuck in the ground after it had started radiating heat. It gave off a little light, but only very little – she couldn’t even see Ro, who sat right next to her humming to himself under his breath.
Lisha wondered where Jeran was. Had he been able to resolve matters with Brightvale? Maybe he was headed north even now! Castle Mist had had time to prepare for the army of the Werelupe King – they would be able to hold them off for a few days at the very least.
She remembered how she’d felt as she watched Jeran waving goodbye to her. She’d been so proud of doing something without his help, without him storming in and being the big hero and relegating her to a footnote somewhere.
Now, she realized that she’d be a whole lot happier if she had Jeran at her back – or better, at her front, taking charge of this thing she’d taken on herself.
Did Jeran ever feel like this? Did the big, strong, heroic knight ever have a moment when he wished that he could pass things off to another? Or was it one of those knight things, where they loved taking the most difficult duties on themselves?
But there was no one else to pass it to now. Time was of the essence, and Lisha knew that Ro needed her as much as she needed him. She had to try and pretend that she was Jeran – that she was the sort of person who was expected to do legendary things because she pulled them off so regularly.
Then Ro poked her. “Don’t fall asleep, Lisha. It’s too cold to fall asleep.”
“I know. Trust me, I know it’s cold.” But she was also tired... to busy herself, she started to plan how they could get into the Werelupe hideout. Ro had mentioned that there were a few ruins of old fortresses up in the foothills, and he thought it was likely that they’d occupied one of those. Old ruins tended to be riddled with places where two Neopians could sneak in. And then they’d have to resort to stealth and try not to get caught as they snuck around.
Magic could be used as a distraction... they might need one. Especially if they tried to rescue the princesses. While the Werelupes had apparently turned most of their forces on Castle Mistborne, whoever organized them had to have been smart enough to leave guards with the all-important hostages.
She could hear distant howling, but it was very far away... too far away to be a threat at the moment. Suddenly, she remembered how she had often had trouble sleeping as a young child. She would ask whoever had come in to comfort her, “How long is it until morning?” She wanted to know – she wanted it to be morning now so she didn’t have to sit in the dark. Once it was light, they could start walking toward the Werelupe lair. And once they got to the Werelupe lair, and Lisha set her mind to work analyzing sentries and possible escape routes, she wouldn’t have brain space left to worry.
She didn’t dare ask it, though – she didn’t want Ro to think her a child. So she thought it to herself, hating how small and young she sounded.
How long is it until morning?
In the morning, the first thing Ro did was to scale a tree again. Lisha had had her fill of climbing... she stayed down among the knobby roots. “What do you see, Ro?”
“The flag’s still flying! Mistborne survived the night!”
Lisha rubbed her hands together and breathed on them to warm them. “Okay, well, let’s get moving before I turn into an icicle.”
Ro looked down at her as he jumped out of the tree, landing – as always – perfectly in balance. “Real icicles are bigger than you, Lish. In the winters we get ones off the battlements that are as thick around as I am!”
Lisha looked north. “We need to get going, Ro. I like your stories about Mistborne... I really do. But I... I’d like to think about what we’re going to be facing, if you don’t mind.”
Ro adjusted his helmet on his head as they started to walk north. “It’s simple enough. Raiders and Werelupes, most likely. And, Lisha – if that wand fails you during a fight, you run for it and leave the enemies to me. Without magic, you won’t stand a chance.”
Lisha couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It’s one thing getting help... it’s another thing him trying to get me to safety as though I’m some sort of child... “You’re just like all of the others! All of you knights want to pick fights with the biggest thing you can for the honor of it! I thought you understood at least that I’m a little more useful than a sparkly wand and a head full of books!”
Ro put up his hands. “Whoa, Lisha! I’m not trying to belittle you. Well, I’m trying to tell you that you’re little, but that’s not belittling, right? But the fact of the matter is that if you try to fight someone a lot bigger and meaner than you without something to even the odds, you’re going to lose, and then Sir Jeran’s going to kill me!”
Lisha forced herself to take a deep breath. He’s right. You know he is. You were acting as bad as a knight with a trampled ego... pull yourself together! “Sorry, Ro. I promise I’ll run... and then come back with something to beat them with. I don’t want to have to bring news back to your family either.”
Ro grinned. “Okay, then. Our plan is to not get caught and not die. Are we good?”
Lisha couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s a start, at least.”
A little after midday, Lisha twitched her Aisha ears, trying to tell if there was a sentry coming. She was pretty sure there wasn’t – she whispered, “Go!”
Ro took the lead crawling through the underbrush, and Lisha followed quickly. The half-ruined castle they were approaching was surrounded by clumps of broken stone overgrown with weeds and bushes – it provided excellent cover as they snuck past the guards the Werelupe King had posted. Lisha had never seen Werelupes as big as some of the ones stalking around... if they got noticed, things would get very bad very fast. She understood now why Ro had been so worried about her, since she was starting to worry about herself.
Don’t worry. Channel Jeran. Remember how much you want everyone to think that you’re capable. Because you are capable. You’re smarter than a dozen Werelupes at least!
They crept up to the wall – the sentry was a bandit, who had stepped back to talk with another in a low voice. Lisha couldn’t hear what was said, but as long as he wasn’t paying attention, it was fine with her. She was tense – a bundle of nerves, thinking each sound was someone discovering them. Calm down! It’s dangerous, but you’ll be fine.
And then they were in!
It had been a very small castle in its day – merely a keep surrounded by an outer wall. All through the courtyard, tents had been set up, and there were several large fires burning, which explained how they’d seen the smoke. The Werelupes and raiders who had stayed behind sat around them, keeping warm as they roasted food.
And she and Ro were only separated from them by a few weeds and stones!
Ro whispered, “To the keep! That’s where they’ll be keeping the princesses!”
Lisha nodded. “Up seems more likely... I bet the dungeons are unstable in this place.” She studied the keep – a central building with four towers.
Three winged Neopets were circling one of the towers. They had to be guarding it! She pointed at it, and whispered, “I bet they’re up there!”
That was when one of the Werelupes howled, “Intruder! Intruder in the keep!” Lisha realized that the sun was shining off Ro’s helmet – giving them away – as one of the bandits yelled, “It’s one of those Fyora-blasted knights! Get ‘em!”
Lisha jumped up and blasted the two fastest raiders backward, and caused a Werelupe to run away with his tail between his legs.
Ro asked, “Is there any way you can make us invisible or something like that?”
“No – it could end up vaporizing us instead!”
He looked around, gripping his sword and shield. “Go get the princesses, Lisha! I can hold them off!”
Lisha blasted one more raider, then ran as quickly as she could toward the doors of the keep.
It was then that she heard a yell from the depths of the castle. “Gnarfas is out! Gnarfas got loose! Somebody get the king!”
The Werelupe King will be coming – I need to not be here soon!
And then she heard the deep howl from below, which sounded deranged and dangerous even compared to other Werelupes.
Avoid the Werelupe King, avoid whatever that is...
From behind her, she heard Ro yell, “Take that! Hey-le-hah!”
I don’t have much time – I need to go!
Lisha ran into the Werelupe King’s fortress as quickly as she dared.
To be continued...