“Well, whatever the story, we still need to know what’s on the other side of that wall. Any offers?"
Angren looked around with a grin on his face - he was not being serious. The cruelties of Bibron's tale had been shocking but he decided nothing was altered: from the start it was clear they were being held captive by brutal and bloodthirsty men. The fact they were the descendants of maniacs was relatively unimportant. But while Angren found it easy to dismiss the tale as ancient history he could tell that others could not. Childhood nightmares were not supposed to become real. He did not expect any response.
"Easy job: spy out the land, find out what these lads have got planned for us. Someone with a good bit of strength and a steady nerve. No? Well then, we'd better see what old Angren can do."
There was snort of laughter behind him. "Praise to the Many for sending us a hero! Tortured by his injuries but ready to risk his life. It makes me feel quite faint."
She was just over five and a half feet high, slim enough and curvy enough. Her long black hair was plaited in a pigtail. She was dressed in a shirt and tight trousers, both black, and she carried a leather jacket over one shoulder. Angren, against all the evidence, inevitably expected women to be dependent creatures, physically weak and emotional. The description truly did not apply. Her poise hinted at impressive strength, the mockery was confident and that look of amusement she wore, whenever she caught his eye, carried a warning. This one looked like trouble. He glanced past her. The other two women from the Cottle were backing her up: the big arm-wrestler, huge and scary as a bear, and the woman with golden hair who seemed able to control the men around her with nothing more than a smile and a soft word. The blonde woman, Isolde, had been a more or less silent since the wreck and the hunt but ‘Berta had been swapping gruesome stories with the rest of them and gave the impression she was just about ready to start breaking some heads. It was all very unsettling. The little minx continued:
"But are you sure you’re up to it? It’s quite a climb you know: we wouldn’t want you to fall off now would we?” Abruptly her manner changed and the mocking tone was dropped. “My name is Sigrid, House Althoné: one of Mador's spies. Who are you and why should we follow your lead?"
So far no one had bothered to ask: his friendship with Seama taken as a mark of allegiance, if not authority. "I'm a friend of... of the King," he said, suddenly aware that without Seama around his credibility was possibly in doubt, "I suppose our jobs’ll be something the same."
"Shouldn't think so: not unless you were intending to seduce your way through Aegarde. I don’t always dress like this, Old Angren. But then, you wouldn't need seduction, being Aegardean yourself."
It was an accusation he could not deny and she knew it. Angren had wondered how long it would take for someone to question his nationality but he had yet to think of a way to explain his position. Bibron came to his rescue.
"So what if he is? You think it puts him on their side? Look, this man’s a friend of the Lord Seama and if Seama wanted him with us that's good enough for me. I don’t think you should be questioning him. And as to following his lead, I’m willing to bet he's twice as capable of getting us out of here than you are, so why don't you just back off and let him get on with it?"
She laughed. "Only teasing, Captain Farber. Hard to resist it's so easy. Actually I never really doubted him: any friend of Seama's is a friend of mine, no matter how big-headed he might be. But still, I think it was better to ask and get an honest answer than not. We all have to trust each other, Captain, and if Old Angren’s going to lead us out then I don’t want anyone doubting him."
“Right,” said Bibron, “I see. Well then, does anyone have a problem with this feller being Aegardean? Cause if they do, they can come and talk to me.”
Nobody said a word. Which was just as well as Angren was beginning to feel needled.
“Look, can we get on?”
“Well what?” he snarled as he turned to confront his new tormentor. It was Isolde. She jumped a little at his response.
“I er… it’s just that, well, I wondered whether climbing the wall...”
“Gods save us! Look, goldilocks, I can climb it: alright? Let’s just cut the cackle. Bloody women.”
He didn’t exactly mean to say the last bit out loud. Isolde dropped the hesitancy.
“Now listen, you ungracious oaf, with your ears, and lets hope you have something in between them. What I was going to say was that I don’t think you need to climb anything. Actually, I think there is probably another way out – we just need to explore a little.”
Angren could have apologised but instead, hands on hips, he peered all around in the manner of a mummer at pantomime, leaning to one side and then another, looking past her and all around, and then he shrugged massively.
“Four walls, a gate and lots of pig shit; what’s to explore?”
Isolde shook her head in quiet amazement. Sigrid stepped up to him and planted her hands on her hips.
“Are you going to carry on like this? Because if you are we might just as well call in the Halfi and ask them to murder us right now. Because that’s what’s going to happen anyway if we can’t figure out how to work with each other. Now, just because you have an idea that seems good, and it appeals to your childish sense of adventure, it really doesn’t mean it’s the right one to go with. Now, as it happens I think Isolde is right. We’ve only looked around so far but we haven’t looked closely enough. And we certainly haven’t considered properly what this building might have...” She stopped. “What?”
Angren was staring at her. “Oh, er nothing” he mumbled, “Er… What do you mean about the building? It’s just ruins isn’t it?” Actually the ruins were the last thing on his mind. What he was thinking was that Sigrid looked damn fine when she was angry.
She smiled. “Ruins, Old Angren, are not built as ruins. This was a Oncer’s temple at some point. That right, Isolde?”
“Not exactly, but something similar. The Church of the One Making is rather exact when it comes to their buildings. They supposedly believe in simplicity. So that arch above the gate should be a “simple” arch – a semi circle and unadorned. As you can see, it is quite the opposite.”
They all looked. The arch seemed angular: no curves, only straight lines which disturbingly met at odd angles. There was no real symmetry beyond the parallel posts supporting it. Jarring geometrical patterns were cut into the face of the stone.
“Now, how in hell does that stay up?” said the Captain speaking for nearly all of them. But Ruspa somehow knew the answer.
“It is a hidden arch,” he said, “and what you see is only a form of decoration. A solid regular structure has been dressed to confuse the eye and your common sensibilities on the order of things. Most unusual.”
“Why the bloody hell are we rattling on about hidden bloody arches? Isn’t there anything better to talk about? I’d’ve thought ...”
“I imagine, Angren,” said Ruspa, “that the ladies believe we are in a close walk such as you would find in a Oncer monastery, even though, as the blonde one has explained, this is not exactly a Oncer building…”
“Shall I tell you what? I haven’t a clue what you’re going on about, I have no idea what a Oncer is and I’m getting really fed up with all the chat. For gods’sake can’t we do something?”
Garaid laughed. “Don’t you know anything at all, Angren?”
“Not you too…”
“No. Actually I’m on your side: it’s time we did something. Look a Oncer is someone who believes that God made the world once and then sat back and let us get on with worshipping him. Unlike the Twoers who reckon that he watched what we got up to, thought we’d made a mess of it, and remade the world again to see if we could get it right second time round. I may possibly be doing a disservice to both but all you really need to know is that they all build temples and some of them look like this. Perhaps when we get out you should take yourself off to Lindis and ask for a proper explanation.”
Isolde looked at Sigrid to see if she had anything more to put in, but she just smiled sarcastically and so Isolde explained.
“If this is a close walk round a courtyard, or cloister as they might say, then it is extremely unlikely there is only the one entrance. There should be three. One in each corner except the one that is left as a ‘perfect angle’. So, if we check the corners, behind all those nettles, we might find a door.”
“And no doubt it’ll be open and unguarded.”
“I don’t know about you but I would think that a few generations have gone-by since anyone did any exploring here. They may have forgotten all about it.”
Angren shrugged. “Fair enough. Let’s get on with it then.”
Next will be: Passage (b)
Wilf Kelleher Jones
A Song of Ages
Kingdom of Halfi (b)
12/5/2012 wkj fantasy
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