The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, страница 7
Another added. “All the ballads they sing of the Queen’s Sword. Maybe they should sing of how he was finally knocked down by a runaway urchin.”
More were laughing now. Jared watched, uncertain of what would happen.
The man who had bowled Mordalayn over was clearly dizzy, holding his head and trying to sit up. His hat had fallen off and he felt around for it. “Dearie me, oh dear” he said trying to stand up but still too disoriented to use his feet. He sat back down with a bump.
Mordalayn glared at the man and reached down with one huge hand to grab his collar. The man squirmed and wriggled, squealing “I’m sorry sir, I didn’t see you!”
“I know you didn’t you clumsy oaf,” Mordalayn hissed at him lifting the kicking man off the floor and holding him up, his feet making pedalling motions in the air. The crowd still laughed at the scene in front of them while Jared fought for breath.
Just then two uniformed and armoured men came round the corner. They saw Mordalayn and one nudged the other.
“Don’t bother yourself Takoba. Give him to us,” he said, standing back with his hands on his hips. The crowd were silent, their amusement at the scene had vanished.
“Be my guest,” Mordalayn said with a sneer, still clearly angry and turned, dropping the wincing man in the road. The man landed hard and grunted as he hit the floor again.
“I’m sorry sirs, I didn’t mean to offend” he stammered as the guards reached down to pick him up.
“Come on” Mordalayn said. He saw the look on Jared’s face. “Don’t worry about him, he’s an escaped prisoner” and turned him around, walking back into the street.
The guard who had spoken to Mordalayn was furious and very, very drunk. Scious was only a petty thief and he’d managed to get out of the prison cart when they’d stopped for a drink or two on their way back to jail. If they hadn’t managed to find him they would have been in very serious trouble. Luckily the wretch had run into the once proud queen’s bodyguard and some brat he was with. No mind, they would have him back in no time but first he needed to be taught a lesson.
He grabbed the man by the ear and hauled him up. Scious squeaked loudly and grabbed at the fingers that held him. “HOW DID YOU ESCAPE VERMIN?” the guard seethed.
“Please sir, I didn’t do anything. The door was open at the back and I used it to slip out”
“Oh right, so that’s why none of the others followed you?” He drew his dagger and held it up in front of Scious’s face. The wriggling man blanched and kicked harder. “Maybe I should teach you a lesson you pig. What do you think about that?.” He turned to the other guard who laughed. The crowd around them stood speechless. Some had ducked back indoors but others stared transfixed, horrified but too afraid to intervene.
The second guard grabbed Scious’s arms. The one with the knife said loudly for the benefit of the crowd. “Those that steal and rob shall be punished.” Just as the blade was about to touch the petrified little thief’s ear, a huge hand grabbed his arm and twisted it hard.
Mordalayn was embarrassed, humiliated and angry. His reactions had saved Jared from a threat that didn’t exist but he had been so wound up that he’d not reacted quickly enough and had been knocked down by a tiny little thief. He was also hungry and hadn’t slept in days. He needed to keep Jared safe and being shamed in front of people who were clearly in awe of him did nothing to help that cause. He turned to the winded boy. “Are you ok?” Jared smiled and gave a thumbs up sign. “Good. I’m sorry you were hurt but I thought you were in danger. Come.”
Jared glanced back to the scene in the street and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. One of the soldiers was holding the man down by his arms, the one who’d knocked Mordalayn and laughing while the other was apparently going to cut his ear off. He tapped Mordalayn frantically on the arm and rasped in a croaky voice. “Look!” pointing. The warrior glanced round and his face transformed into a mask of utter fury.
As the hand grabbed his wrist the soldier winced in pain and then his anger took hold. “What in the name of...?!!!” he yelled and then twisted round to find himself staring into Mordalayn’s green eyes.
“You miserable thug!” Mordalayn yelled and hurled him into the wall of the tavern. The man bounced back and fell face down. His knife skittered across the floor. Luckily for him his armour had taken the force of the impact. He leapt to his feet angrily.
“How dare you intefere with a lawful arrest!!” he shouted back
“The queen’s absence is no excuse for barbarity,” Mordalayn said angrily. Turning to the other soldier he snapped. “Let him go.”
The soldier hesitated, his gaze flicking between his colleague and the powerful figure in front of him.
The man Mordalayn had thrown reached for his sword. The crowd around them watched in terrified silence. Mordalayn glared at him. “You are both clearly drunk. Does Provost Marshall Lighvoor know that his men drink on duty and torture prisoners?”
The guard paused and then lunged at Mordalayn who sidestepped contemptuously and tripped the man face first into the street. The soldier jumped up and Mordalayn moved as if to lunge but then brought his foot up at blinding speed and kicked the man hard in the knee. The man screamed, dropping his sword and collapsing. Mordalayn moved and stood over him, planting his foot on the man’s chest and drew his own sword, the three blade tips quivering.
“Puh, please,” the soldier stammered.
Mordalayn turned to the other soldier. “Let him go or I swear on Our Lady I will kill you both!”
The soldier released the still struggling man and moved to his injured colleague. “Get him out of here. I see either one of you again and you will regret the day you were born,” Mordalayn snarled. The man stumbled and almost fell on his friend. He reached down and picked him up and together they limped off in the direction they had come from, the injured man whimpering loudly.
The crowd were still staring at Mordalayn and he glared back silently. Slowly they moved on, their amusement at his embarrasment now replaced by their original sense of awe.
Mordalayn turned to the little man who had knocked him down. "Are you alright?"
"Yes thank you sir, he didn't touch me, no no. Just scared me a little bit so he did sir, I thank you" the man replied, rubbing his ear as if to check it was still there. He scrabbled over to recover his grubby hat and pushed it back onto his head. Then he stood and bowed to Mordalayn and Jared. "Kind sirs you have been most kind to poor Scious, who is less fortunate these days than he was. My gratitude for your service. For that you may call on me any time to help you.”
"Most noble of you" Mordalayn replied resheathing his sword and then looking Scious up and down. "What did you do?" he asked inclining his head back towards the corner the man had run from.
"Oohhh, vicious lies sir. They blamed me for stealing a ring from an elegant lady but it was lies sir, LIES so it was!"
"Be on your way little man" Mordalayn said quietly. "They will come back sooner or later and you had better be gone.”
"Thank you both sir, most kind," Scious replied, glancing frantically around him to see if anyone was already following him. "Remember, I will come to help you if you need me" he glanced at Jared and smiled. "Either you or your young companion. Just say my name five times and Scious will be there.”
The man bowed one final time before clasping his hat to his head and scurrying off across the road, darting down an alleyway between the pan shop and what appeared to be a butcher.
Mordalayn turned to Jared. "We need to move. Spies for our enemies may have seen this.” He turned to the tavern owner who stood behind Jared in the open doorway. "My apologies for the mess my old friend but we need to go. I will return one day for a plate of your famous stew.”
The innkeeper smiled. "I'll keep a bowl warm for you Takoba" he laughed and raised his hand in farewell before moving back inside.
Jared looked at Mordalayn. "Why d
Mordalayn was silent for a moment then replied. "The man on the lake was an unfortunate victim. That cur acted in defiance of Our Lady's rules.”
"But you busted his leg!" Jared replied, still shocked by what he'd seen.
"Look boy!..." Mordalayn said angrily then looked away. "The Queen...you don't...there are RULES here.” He looked down as he said it and Jared could see the anger but also sadness in the tall cat man’s eyes.
"One of those people called you Our Lady's Sword. What did that mean?"
Mordalayn paused and Jared could tell he was thinking about telling him to wait but then...
"Our Lady is an elected monarch, a child chosen to rule us who is pure and good and kind. I am her protector. The rules she laid down are just and fair and were like no other ruler’s for a long time. Those that flouted them paid dearly. Those that respected them flourished. She forbade all but necessary force. Even her enemies were treated fairly.” Mordalayn then stopped and looked at Jared for a long moment before continuing.
"She laid down plans about how this world would be governed if she was absent for a long time or unable to get back. Her work is everywhere and there is the work of others before her.”
"She loves her people more than any previous ruler has been known to. No one is treated unfairly and through all of this she kept peace and joy in this world. For many years she has been our ruler and then....”
"Rancidrain's cowardly attack on Sophie was not something we expected. I got there in time and had you not been there he would have killed her. The magic the queen wields here cannot help her now but...we can use it to help her. Were she to return she would be able to end all this in an instant. But while the kingdom is weak, the forces of darkness gather.”
Mordalayn turned up a side street heading out of the village and they walked slowly along it. There were less people by now and ahead Jared could see a building that looked very old. Either side of it was woodland, spreading out as far as he could see.
Another man walked past them pushing a wheelbarrow and touched his hand to his forehead respectfully. “Takoba,” he said..
“You are going to be safe here” Mordalayn said as they walked up to the old building. “Keep what I have told you to yourself.” A small black dog ran past them, span in a circle as if chasing its tail then bolted back down the road, yipping happily until it was out of sight.
As they moved up the wide stone steps to the arched doorway Jared was nervous again. He still had very little idea of this world he had been thrown into and was constantly confused by the changes and situations he found himself in.
The door was of a dark wood in a tall arched frame. Two halves with a bright, brass plaque. Jared squinted to read it, the sun shining brightly off it’s polished surface. “Bretheren of Alegria” it said simply and next to it was a large brass knocker. There was a face moulded into the metal, at the bottom.
The building was only one storey high and of a creamy coloured brick. It reminded Jared of the dentist he went to near Warwick, a very old but elegant building with smooth designs and vast angles on the walls.
“This is the orphan home of the Bretheren,” Mordalayn said. You will be looked after here. It’s only temporary.”
Jared looked up at Mordalayn, who towered over him. “What are the bretheren?” he asked.
“This is an orphanage, for children whose parents have been lost or died protecting this world. For the children of those loyal to Our Lady.”
Mordalayn reached up to grasp the brass knocker and the face on the handle suddenly moved, transforming from a static expression of ugliness to an uglier one of anger. As Mordalayn took hold of the ring surrounding it, it bit down hard on his finger.
“Aiaya! Be cursed!” Mordalayn said, fanning his fingers and quickly inspecting the bitten one for injury. There was none. “What was that for you miserable little monster?” Jared looked on in shock.
The face glared at Mordalayn and then the eyes shifted to look at Jared. They examined him for a moment then appeared to get bored and looked back at the cat man. It then said in a high pitched voice. “How would you like it if I banged your head against a door?”
“What?!!” Mordalayn snapped in irritation, “that’s your job.”
“That’s your job,” the face mimicked angrily then closed it’s eyes, stuck out its tongue and blew a long raspberry. When it had finished it replied. “Stuck here all day, people banging me into the door at any given moment and then just as I think I’m going to get some peace one of these little wretches comes and puts metal polish all over me. Do you think it’s nice to get that stuff in your eyes, nose and mouth and not have hands to wipe it away?”
“My apologies doorkeeper, I meant no offence,” Mordalayn replied solemnly.
The face continued to glare at him.
“If you could tell us how to communicate our presence to your masters, I would be grateful.”
The sullen expression didn’t change but after a pause, “use your fist on the door,” it snapped and then the animation in its features melted away and it was back to being an ornament.
Mordalayn pounded the door with one huge fist and after a couple of minutes an elderly man opened it. His face was round like an apple with bright red cheeks. His head was almost completely bald apart from snow white tufts over his ears. His green shirt seemed huge and the buttons were straining to stay in place against his belly. He looked about 60 and as he opened the door he squinted at the two visitors, the sun shining off his large round nose..
“Can I help you?”
Mordalayn replied, “come Jorehlo, surely you haven’t got so old to forget an old friend?”
The man paused for a moment and then as his eyes adjusted to the change in light, recognition flashed across his face and he beamed broadly. “By Our Lady! Mordalayn!!!” he exclaimed loudly and stepped forward extendng his arms. Mordalayn hugged him briefly and the old man clapped him on the back. “It’s been such a long time. I hear you are now the Queen’s Sword,” he said stepping back and looking the tall, imposing figure up and down as if examining him.
“That I still am” he replied “but as you know things have changed.”
“That they have Takoba, that they have.” He glanced at Jared. “Who’s the boy with you?” he enquired, smiling at Jared in a friendly fashion.
“His name is Jared Miller, Jorehlo, I need to speak to Susan Veer urgently.”
“Of course, of course. Anything for you my old friend,” the old man smiled again and stepped back to allow them in.
As they stepped inside the door knocker muttered. “Not a word of thanks and still I have to stay here all day.”
Jorehlo opened the door wider, stuck his head round and snapped “shut up you or you’ll find yourself adorning a pull chain in the latrines!”
He slammed the door as the knocker continued to mutter loudly.
“Now then my friends,” he said stepping ahead of Jared and Mordalayn and rubbing his hands together briskly. “I suggest we make straight for Madame Veer’s rooms immediately.”
He walked ahead of them down a corridor, arched red doors either side. One had the sounds of singing coming from it but off key like the people inside were still learning. As they moved further up a boy dressed in scruffy brown shorts that came to just below his knees was standing outside a door. He was leaning against the wall with his arms folded and gazing up at the ceiling, whistling softly. His shorts had multiple repairs on them and there was a small hole above the right knee. He wore a green shirt, similar to the one that Jorehlo had on. The sleeves were rolled up and around his neck he had an orange stone on a piece of black cord. His brown hair was unkempt and messy and he looked about 12.
As they approached him Jorehlo tutted loud
The boy ignored him but grinned broadly when he saw Mordalayn and Jared. He had a large gap between his two upper front teeth. He straightend up. “Alright there. Haven’t seen you in a while who’s your friend?” he said looking at Mordalayn
“It’s Takoba to you Bue,” Jorehlo corrected him formally.
Bue ignored him again and looked at Jared. “If you’re moving in here then come see me later, I’ll show you around.”
The door next to the boy opened and a woman’s head appeared. “Master Bue you are not suppose to be talk….oh sorry.” She blushed as she saw the three others.
“Not your fault Miss, our young friend was just telling us how sorry he was to have been sent out of class,” Jorehlo replied.
“No I wasn’t,” Bue replied indignantly, then turned to Jared. “Seriously mate, look me up if you’re sticking around yeah?”
He leaned on the wall as they moved on and the woman closed the door. After a few moments he began whistling softly and staring off into space.
The rounded a corner and on their right was a courtyard, the centre decorated with a neatly cut lawn and many flowers. A small fountain was in the centre, water gently cascading over a basin of grey stone. Across the other side was a corridor open to the air like the one they were now in, pillars every few yards forming arches along the way.
Jorehlo stopped outside a door that was blue instead of red and knocked three times gently. “She’ll be so pleased to see you” he smiled at Mordalayn.
“Come in,” a voice said loudly, muffled by the door.
Jorehlo opened the door and in the small office they could see a small boy standing in front of a desk. Behind it sat a woman dressed in dark green with her hair tied back in a tight bun. She looked serious and appeared about 50 years old. As they entered the room she turned to the child in front of her.
“Please may I? Is that clear? Please MAY I?”
The small boy looked at the floor with tears in his eyes.