XIV. Forsaken Fortress by Good Fortune

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What did you say?!”

“She’s coming with us,” Wenzel repeated.

Jan shook his head. “No she isn’t! Who do you think you are, ordering me about like that? Why should we bother about a peasant wench?”

Wenzel repeated Harun’s argument about Sir Christian needing to hear the news of the raiders, while its intellectual father kept himself in the background, knowing full well that any proposal from him would immediately be rejected by the driver due to heathenness.

“Hm,” Jan grumbled, when Wenzel had finished. “Very well. One of us will have to sit on the loading space, there isn’t room enough for all of us in front.”

His eyes strayed to Harun.

“I’ll do that,” commented the bondsman, who had wisely kept out of the whole evening’s proceedings up to then. “We’ll drive faster again, now that we know there are raiders on this side of the river too, won’t we? I’ll best make sure that nothing falls off.”

“Very well,” repeated the driver, this time with a definite sour edge to his voice. “Now can we leave? We shouldn't wait for morning, but put as much distance between us and these raiders as quickly as we can.”

Not even Harun protested about having to spend the night on an uncomfortable wooden board. Everyone knew that they had lingered too long, that their wagon and its load was exactly the kind of prey, the hunters out there in the dark were looking for. They clambered up onto the cart and made themselves as comfortable as possible. While the stars around them began to penetrate the silken darkness of the sky, they hurried along, wishing that they had 3 or better yet 5 additional horses. With heavily armored knights on them, if possible.

Against the last faint traces of the red sun’s glow on the horizon, Harun saw a black shape emerging, looming ever larger.

“What’s that?” He asked, pointing towards the menacing form, and shivering at the sight.

“It must be Joringard Castle”, muttered Wenzel, who seemed to feel no easier than the scribe. “Creepy, ain’t it? Makes you almost believe in the stories.”

“What stories?” Harun wanted to know.

“Do you mean to say you’ve never heard them? But every Christian soul hereabouts has heard the tale of… oh.”

“Yes,” said Harun. “Quite.”

“Well, I ain’t got the time to tell it to you now.” He shot a meaningful look at the distraught peasant girl, still half-covered by his cloak and mumbling incoherent syllables.

“Ah.” Harun nodded. So it was that kind of story. Sinister tales of betrayal, death and butchery to keep the family entertained on long winter evenings assembled around the stove. Imaginary nonsense which no serious educated man should pay the least heed to.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something much more noteworthy. A red spark in the distance, lighting, up, disappearing… no, there were two, three… he stopped counting as the number went past 5.

“Look! There!” His voice was low, his outstretched hand suddenly sweaty. “Stop the wagon! Do as I tell you to!”

His voice was so urgent even Jan the driver did not think of disobeying. He brought the cart to a halt and followed Harun’s outstretched finger with his eyes. His lips let out an entirely unchristian curse.

“It’s them!” The words that escaped the peasant girl were a shriek of sheer terror, and far too loud for Harun’s liking. He made a sign to Wenzel, who quickly pressed the girl’s head against his shoulder, where she quietly shivered and gave no more sound.

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