All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 37
But more worrying was the fact that he and his fellow Knights, prepared to attack and magically neutralize the count, watching for any magical sign, protective wards at the readyâ€¦ had seen nothing at all. The archimandrite had been waiting on orders by messenger. Waiting for the instruction to pounce on Mindaug. There would be magical safe-guards and escape mechanisms, and he would have preferred the go-ahead to kill Mindaug first, before he had a chance to use either. They had a line on who he been heading toward and Baron Otto von Wisselbacher had been under observation for some time. He was not in the same league as Mindaug, although very rich. They could strike and question with a great deal more safety, there.
It would be necessary to take chances if Mindaug had found some way of circumventing their magical watch. He might well be aware of their observers. He could be playing a cat-and-mouse game. He certainly had a reputation for deviousness. The knights placed the ward candles, and set about the prayers of summoning, and then made magical contact with Bishop Pelmann in Mainz.
Such contacts were always difficult, and the sending of precise messages hard. And then the bishop had to go and consult with Emperor Charles Fredrik himself, before they did it all over again. The emperor wanted him alive, and so, it seemed, did the Knights. But they would take up position before dawn and strike at first light. With someone like Count Mindaug, combat at night was to be avoided
Only, during the night, the snow began to fall. By morning it was apparent that they weren’t going anywhere.
Of course the comfort was that surely the villainous count was not either.
Exceptâ€¦ he was.
“Weather magic?” asked Ritter Hartz, looking at the blizzard outside. Visibility was down to a few feet, and the snow already piled soft and high.
Archimandrite Von Stebbens shook his head. “Even small weather magic is hard and loud in the thaumaturgic sphere. This would be no small magic. For Mindaug to use something that powerful, and that precise, and yet have no trace of it leading to himself? That is hard to believe, even for such a one as he. If it were true, then he could have destroyed us like a man brushing off a fly. And if so, why bother to travel slowly and in such discomfort? He’s been very afraid of something–and I doubt very much if it’s we Knights.”
“He has the luck of the devil.”
“He may quite possibly be in league with Satan,” said the archimandrite, with a sigh. “Let us see what the Aemiline hesychast can do.”
Von Stebbens was appalled by the methods Brother Dimitrios used to guard himself. Instead of the usual wards used by all Christian magicians of the archimandrite’s acquaintance, the Aemiline hesychast seemed to be satisfied with mere candles at the four points–and, more bizarre still, four mice held in small cages stationed next to the candles.
“They are my watchmen,” explained Dimitrios, with a little smile. “Wellâ€¦ watch-rodents, I suppose I should say, since three of them are female.”
“Butâ€¦” Ritter Hartz shook his head. “How do you expect them to protect you?”
“Protection is for mighty mages, young man. My magics are far too modest for such martial methods. Like my little mice, I will run and hide the moment any sign of danger appears.”
He laid down on the thin mat positioned at the center of his peculiar “wards.” Then, crossed his hands on his chest and closed his eyes.
“You needn’t worry, Ritter,” the hesychast murmured. “I shall be quite safe, I assure you–because this fearsome Count Mindaug fellow will never notice me at all.”
Since this was his first contact with Mindaug, it took Brother Dimitrios’ wandering mind a fair amount of time to find the wagon. But, eventually, he sensed the contented feelings of a mouse, basking in a degree of warmth that was unusual for the season.
Thereafter, it took Dimitrios very little time to track down those sentiments, and before long he was peering at the world through the eyes of a mouse hidden on a small wooden ledge in the interior of a lurching wagon. At the front of the wagon, somewhat hunched over, sat a small man holding the reins. Dimitrios couldn’t see his face from the mouse’s vantage point, but he was almost sure this was Count Mindaug.
Less than a minute later, his supposition was confirmed. The mouse’s gaze shifted, and now Dimitrios could see the stacks of crates that filled most of the wagon. Those had to be the Lithuanian sorcerer’s notorious books.
Brother Dimitrios had many virtues, but perhaps the greatest he possessed was patience. So, he spent the next many hours simply observingâ€¦
Not much of anything.
On the other side of the Felsen ridge, the count and his servants were making haste for the pass. It had taken Mindaug a little time and the acceptance of his absolute authority–and some brandy–to get Tamas and Emma calmed down. And then, Tamas had started sniffing as if he smelled something bad. “It’s going to snow, master. Soon.”
Perhaps it was the brandy. Or perhaps it was wisdom, or perhaps it was just the idea of being stuck here in the snow without as much as a village ale-house for shelter, that made Kazimierz Mindaug say: “Well, we’d better pole up the horses then and move.”
The moon had risen now, and although there were scudding clouds, it was possible to see the track. A little further on they came to a fork, and chose the more travelled route, which took them slightly downhill and was definitely in better condition than the rutted steep track that was the alternative.
They walked on, Tamas leading the horses, into the increasing dark.
The downhill and the quality of the track had both been temporary situations. Indeed the count might have been inclined to think them illusions. They were, by the occasional glimpses in the moonlight, out on the mountain, with no sign of habitation, and no easy place to turn the wagon. Indeed, they’d had difficulty negotiating some of the turns. The only comfort was that it was plainly a well-travelled track, with deep wheel-ruts into which the wagon’s steel banded wheels fitted. That was just as well too, because a flake of snow settled on the count’s nose, as he sat on the box.
They stopped. “What is it?” called the count to his man.
“Pole across the track, master.”
Mindaug and Emma got down to have a look. It was plainly a deliberate barrier, and on kindling a lamp, there was a stone-built cross between a hut and a fortress there–unoccupied. “It must be a toll-post. Protection from bandits around here, I shouldn’t wonder.”
The hut was a two-story affair, with a stable beneath. It had a stack of wood at the back. And it was snowing steadily by then. So Mindaug made the decision to stop. The horses were stabled, rubbed down with hay and an old sack, and given oats and hay. Mindaug himself took a hand because, by the looks of Tamas, he might just fall over before the horses were cared for, and they were too valuable to risk, here.
In the meantime, Emma had a fire kindled and had shaved dried meat into a pot, along with crushed wheat to make a broth of sorts. It was warming, and they were out of the snow, and were probably three hours travel on their way. It did not look as if the single room hut was normally lived in, but rather used as some kind of billet. There was a rough table, a couple of straw pallets and a fireplace, and not much else. Still, it was warm, out of the wind, and out of the snow. They slept peacefully enough.