Chapter 27 – The Librarian's Discovery
It was a week after Cooper's fifteenth birthday. Serena was, as usual, reading in the royal library, and everyone else was watching each other practice double sword fighting and archery.
“Use your other sword to block my swing, like this.” Cooper explained to Jackson.
“But I'm so used to having a shield and pulling it up like this to block. This is all just too confusing!” Jackson replied. Cooper sighed and they returned to practicing hits and blocks. Suddenly Serena rushed in.
“Hara! Have you ever heard anything about a hurricane hitting the island?” Everyone stopped and looked at Serena, whose face was pale and shaky.
“Yes, there was one some time ago. Why?” Hara replied.
“Apparently there was a huge and deadly hurricane that hit here every eighty years.” Serena said. “The last one was in 1934. The ancient scientists figured out the pattern in which they came and predicted every single one down to the day it struck.”
“Well that's very interesting.” Tryg said. “They must have been very smart scientists.”
“Yes, but here's the scary part. The next predicted huge and deadly hurricane is supposed to ravage the island on September 25th, 2014.” Serena said. “Which, as you know, is four days from now.” There was complete silence is the room for a minute.
“But what did these wise old scientists do about it?” Hara asked.
“Elena was usually devastated by the wind and flooding. In the end, they found only one place on the island somewhat safe from the elements: the old fort of Azagren. The only problem was that the force of the hurricane hitting the island sometimes caused the volcano to erupt. But I believe that the actual fort is safe from the eruption.”
“I’ll go and check it out. I’ll find the best routes to and from the place, and see if it really is in any danger from that volcano.” Jackson volunteered.
“Good,” Ellie said. “You should be back by dinner if you get going now. Girls, you can pack up the contents of the house. Start with the important things like the royal jewels and the armor. Serena, you take the library. Cooper, get the servants in order and hitch up the carts to stick the stuff in. Get the animals together and in order. I’ll assemble the leaders and discuss the matter and explain it to the populace. Got it?” Everyone nodded and hurried away to their respective tasks.
Jackson saddled his horse and hurried out into the streets. The general populace moved about as normal, unaware of the large natural destruction coming upon the city. Jackson rode out of the gate and sped across the plain towards Azagren. In all actuality, he had never even been near the place, but he had seen it’s location on the map well enough to be able to find it.
The ride though the forest was uneventful, and soon he had come out into the open plain surrounding the fort. He looked in awe at the massive stone tower placed against the mountain side. It reminded him of Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings. But something caught his eye. He pulled his horse to a stop and stared at the top of the tower. A flag was flying in the breeze. He gazed intently at it. It must’ve been something left from the original fortress. But something about it just didn’t seem right.
He continued forward until he stopped again. He had thought he had seen something move. But after peering intently at the tower, he could find nothing to arouse suspicion. He must be seeing things. He pressed his heels into his horse and hurried forward, even though he felt as if he should turn back. Something was just not right.
Was it? He didn’t feel sure. Somehow he felt as if the tower was hiding something – or someone. But it wasn’t, was it? There could be nobody living there. Unless a criminal of some sort has escaped from Elena or Kamik and was hiding in the tower. Or maybe it was a whole band of criminals. Suddenly Jack felt afraid of his personal fighting skills. Could he defend himself from a band of marauders. He wished he had brought Tryg with him. But no, Tryg had to help assemble the evacuation crew. Ellie had told Tryg to do that. It was Tryg’s assigned duty. This was his. Well, actually it wasn’t assigned, per se, but he had volunteered to do it and Ellie was relying on him for news about the abandoned fort. The abandoned fort. There were no criminals hiding here.
Back at home, The preparations for the evacuation had been moving swiftly. Everything in the palace was packed into the carts, and the general populace were ready for the evacuation on the following morning. Each individual had carried out their jobs in time. Except one.
“Are you sure we shouldn’t send someone to get him?” Tryg asked anxiously. “Maybe he fell and broke a leg.”
“I don’t know.” Ellie replied. “I’ve been to the fortress before, and can’t think of any place that he would have to cross that would be dangerous. It’s a smooth jungle trail, then a grassy plain leading up to the fortress. I don’t see how he could get injured in any way.”
“Maybe he got lost.” Ayla said. “He’s never actually been there before, you know.”
“No, that couldn’t be.” Tryg replied. “He’s seen it’s position on the map many a time, and he’s good at remembering and following maps, and good at figuring out his directions. He was a boy scout, you know. And Azagren’s not easy to miss, according to what Ellie tells me. No, I don’t think that he got lost – or injured for that matter.”
“Maybe there’s some evil outlaw hiding in the tower that shot him on his approach.” Alisa suggested. Everyone stopped to think.
“Hmm. That’s not a half-bad idea, Alisa.” Ellie said. “I wish I would have thought things over and sent a few more men with him. Well, if he doesn't return by morning, Tryg and Cooper can head out at daybreak to assess the situation. If there really are some marauders hiding out in there, it could be dangerous to bring the women and children into it.”
“I’d prefer to head out now, but if that’s what you say, then that’s what’s happening.”
“I would’ve been back in time for dinner if it wasn’t for this stupid dungeon!” Jackson said to himself, shaking his fist at the heavy iron door that blocked his passage back to Elena. It had been an easy task: do a quick exploration of the fort and return in time for dinner. Easy peasy. Except he had run into a few... snags.
Upon his approach to the fort, he thought he perceived movement on the walls, but he had ignored it. Now, he wished he hadn’t. When he passed through the gate and was examining the main courtyard when he heard a noise behind him. Turning, he saw two men blocking the exit, their weapons at the ready.
“Hey, hold it busters!” Jackson said. “I’m just doing a bit of friendly exploration! There’s no need to get all angry!”
“We’ll see about that.” A cool voice from behind him said. Jackson turned to see a tall, pale man and a group of soldiers standing there, looking at him in a put-off manner. “Get off your horse, and don’t attempt to try anything nasty, or we’ll stick you with an arrow.” Jackson obeyed. A soilder took his quiver, bow and sword.
“Hey! That’s stealing!” Jackson yelled.
“And hey! You’re trespassing!” The solider replied.
“The whole island is property of the queen, Ellie, and I’m her on her orders. That doesn't seem very tresspassy to me!”
“We’ll see about that.” The pale man said. “For now, you can spend a few hours cooling off in the dungeon.” The soldiers led him through a large gate into a long hallway and down into a small room, where he was now, wishing he had had a bit more caution when approaching the fort.
About twelve hours later, there was a grating sound at the door and a guard came in. He motioned to Jackson to follow him, and led him back up the hallway and out into the courtyard. From there the pale man motioned him to follow. They went up a flight of stairs and down a short hallway to another set of stairs. There the man motioned to Jackson to stop and told him to wait a moment. The man went into a room and came out a moment later.
“Come with... Hey! Where is he?” The pale man looked about himself and then trotted down the hall a ways and peered about him. “He’s not here! He’s gone!” He yelled. The door behind him opened and another man poked his head out.
“What is it?”
“The prisoner: the one I was about to bring into you, He’s gone! Just plain vanished!”
“Find him, you nitwit, he can’t have gone far.” The door slammed and the pale man stood there looking hurt and helpless for a moment before heading off down a flight of stairs in the direction he had come from. He looked about in the short hallway below, wondering which way to go. He picked the right one, and headed down it. After passing a few doors and another flight of stairs, he reached a dead end in a small room with a window overlooking the moat.
“Well this is just great! He’s not here!”
“I wouldn’t be to quick to say that!” A voice from behind him said. The man turned, only to have a short dagger plunged into his chest. He gasped and fell to the floor, lifeless.
“Okay, you three be sure to approach the fortress with caution. If what Alisa said is the real case, we can’t risk losing you. Remember, your mission is to return to me with information first and foremost, not just to save Jackson. If you have to leave him, then do it. We need you to return and report the situation so we can head out and get settled before the storm hits.” Ellie’s tightly set face told Tryg, Cooper and Ayla that there was to be no messing around on this mission.
“We’ve got it.” Tryg replied. “If worse comes to worse we can break up into teams: divide and conquer, but I’ll try to keep us together.” Ellie nodded, and they said their goodbyes and headed out.
Back at Azagren, Jackson barely breathed as he watched the man move about the room. Jackson had escaped and hid from the pale man in the small dead-end room overlooking the moat. He had seen the pale man come into the room, no doubt looking for him, and he had seen him fall. Now, the tall and mysterious man who had killed him looked about the room complacently. He didn’t seem like he was planning on leaving anytime soon. The pale man’s body lay on the floor in a pool of blood.
If the tall man wouldn’t move soon, this would mean trouble. Jackson needed to escape. Now. Whoever it was who ran the place would send soldiers looking for him and the pale man. They could find the pale man all right, and even the tall man, who didn't seem very concerned about the concept. But Jackson didn’t want them to find him. He needed to complete his mission. Ellie and the people from Elena would be here in a few hours, and he needed to warn them of the formidable and hostile force encamped here. Slowly, Jackson drew the short sword that was hidden in his jacket. The best way to get past this man was to jump on him when his back was turned, and give him a silent stab. Jackson watched the man slowly turn, looking about the room, before he stopped with his back to the wall where Jackson was hiding. Jackson took a deep breath and leaped out from under the small ledge where he had been hiding. He jumped on the man’s back, and suddenly felt himself flip over forward and land on the floor with the tall man pinning him down. He looked up in surprise.
“Didn’t think I could do that, did you?” The man laughed. “No, I knew you were there, and was ready for you to leap like that. But now, are you coming with me?” Jackson felt the man grab his arm and drag him back down the flight of stairs and into another hallway. He was pushed into the third door on the right, and it was shut and locked by the tall man. Now he was alone. Alone in this dark room. He sniffed the air. It smelled relatively fresh. At least he wasn’t in the musty and damp prison anymore. But the tall man seemed even more formidable than thirty strong jailers.
Jackson groped about for some sort of light. He found a match and a lamp on the table near the door and lit them. He then proceeded to light all of the other lamps in the room. Once they were lit, he looked at his surroundings.
Either he was in the best prison ever, or the tall man had stuck him in his own room for safekeeping. There was a tall poster bed on one wall of the room, complete with a thick cover and soft pillows. A desk sat next to it, neat and tidy. On another wall was a bookshelf filled with objects in neatly organized piles and rows. And a tall wardrobe in one corner completed the scene. Jackson headed toward the wardrobe and opened it.
“That doesn't lead to Narnia, if that’s what you’re thinking.” A familiar voice said from behind him. Jackson turned and for the first time noticed the three figures in the corner.
“Tryg, Ayla, Cooper! How did you three get here?”
“Same as you, I suppose. We bumped into the tall man, and he dragged us all off to here and shut us up.” Ayla said.
“There was no fight, no nothing?” Jackson asked.
“If you’ve tried to attack him before, you know how he can defeat you in one move.” Cooper said.
“Yeah, I got flipped onto the floor before I could think. Whoever he is, he’s a very formidable enemy.” Jackson said.
“Let’s just hope that all these marauders aren’t as nasty as him.” Ayla said.
“ I wouldn’t vote on that.” Jack replied. “The one I had some time around seemed pretty much a dolt. But the tall man is definitely not in cahoots with the rest of these dudes. He stabbed my guard and seem unconcerned about someone finding him out.”
“Huh. So we now have two different enemies here: The general stupid populace and this mysterious man who seems the match for the whole of them.” Tryg said. “It would be nice if we could get them to fight each other.”
“I’m not thinking so. That man seemed intent on us, and he didn’t seem to have any want to fight the others, he just treated them like small bugs to be easily crushed.” Cooper said.
“Right. But enough chatter. How long have you been here. Must be at least ten minutes, because that’s how long the tall man was in the hall waiting for me to attack him. Have you checked the place out?”
“Ten minutes? What the heck? We were just tossed in here a few moments before you. We didn’t even get around to lighting the lamps. We actually thought you might be the man that brought us here, but you were much to short.” Ayla said.
“Huh? Him and I were both in a room down the hall for the past ten minutes, where he murdered my guard and caught me. How could he have brought you here?” Jackson said.
“Maybe he has an identical twin?” Cooper suggested.
“If that’s true, were in for double trouble. But for now lets see if we can figure a way out of here. I hope that Ellie and the people aren’t already here?” Jackson said.
“Right. She’s waiting on one of us to return with news. When you didn’t return we waited until this morning to come and check it out. Alisa had suggested that there might be marauders hiding here, and the idea seemed probable, so Ellie sent us to check it out and, if possible, find you.” Tryg said.
“Nice. Well let’s search the room. Tryg and I will look around for any ways out, and Ayla and Cooper can search for anything of use in the desk and shelves.” Jackson said.
“We’re on it!” Ayla replied. Within a few minutes they had fully assessed the situation. The walls were solid rock and there was no way out except for the door. They had each grabbed a sword and a few extra throwing knives off the shelves, which had contained mostly books and weapons.
“Are you sure there’s no other way out?” Ayla said impatiently.
“Positive. It’s either the door or nothing. And we might not want to risk that. For all we know the man might be waiting outside. The best we can do is to wait until he’s coming in then well all storm him at once. We’ll hear him unlocking the door so we can be on the ready.” Ayla sighed and sat down on the floor.
“There’s nothing to it. Sure, it’s our best bet, but it seems near impossible. He handled all three of us in a moment, and he’s taken out Jackson too. This guy just knows how to fight way too good.”
“Well, like I said, it’s our only way out. I know it’s kind of.... Wait! There’s footsteps approaching! Let’s all attempt to knock his legs out from under him! When we do, Ayla, you run as fast as you can to get out of here and go tell Ellie the situation. We’ll deal with him.” Tryg said.
“No! I’m not leaving you guys to him!” Ayla hissed.
“Do it. You have to return the news to Ellie before something happens to all of us!”
“But I-” The sound of a key grating into the lock cut the conversation short. The three boys positioned themselves at the ready just inside the door, with Ayla close behind them, ready to run out. The door opened and the man stepped in just as the boys charged. They knocked him down for a moment and Ayla darted past and ran down the hall. Behind her, the man was up in a second and taking each boy and tossing him back in the room. All three squirmed and kicked, but they were no match for the man. All three had been tossed inside and the man was closing the door when they made another rush at him, knocking him out into the hall. Jackson had landed on top of him, and was punching his face when the man rolled over and, freeing himself of Jackson, drew his sword and sent it slicing towards the boys.