A Sorcerer's Ransom - Part One
Several months had massed since the events of Tooth and Nail. The group had celebrated a joyful Christmas with family and friends, with the Christmas service preached by the Archbishop himself. As winter gave way to spring, Sophia, Storm and Tector again found themselves standing by the blazing fire in the Archbishop’s study.
The old pontiff addressed them. “As I expected, Philip of France wishes to ransom his creature, Damien of Orleans. After a winter of negotiations, we have agreed on a ransom of sixty pounds of silver. Given your success in apprehending the sorcerer in December, I would like you to assist my faithful servant Brother Thomas in escorting him to Gisors, on the border between Normandy and France, where the exchange will take place.”
At that, a tall, armoured man entered the warm room. Over heavy armour of blackened steel trimmed with gold he wore deep scarlet vestments, and a leather-bound bible was strapped at his side. Storm noted that his armour was marked with symbols of the Church, including a crimson cross. Strapped to his back, Tector noticed a massive greathammer.
The newcomer, fair hair shorn very close to his head in penance, fixed his sky-blue eyes upon them. “Thomas,” said the Archbishop, “this is the trio I mentioned yesterday. They will accompany you to Gisors and safeguard the prisoner.”
The warrior-priest inclined his head to the companions. “God’s blessing upon our meeting, and our journey to come. May our faith protect us.” The friends noted a slight Germanic accent evident in his otherwise perfect English.
Having made the acquaintance of their new companion, the Archbishop unfolded a map on his broad oak desk.
“You will report to Patch, the captain of a simple trading vessel, the Sea Horse, which is currently birthed on the river Ouse. Given the enormous value of both the prisoner and the ransom, we do not wish to draw attention to you. From here, you will sail to Rouen, the principal port in the King’s Duchy of Normandy.”
The companions poured over the map as the Archbishop continued. “There, you will be met by a man in my employ, Gerold of Anjou. Gerold will provide horses and will guide you to the town of Gisors, close to the border between Normandy and France. From there, it is a short ride to the rendezvous, a lone tree on a hillside, right on the French border. You will be met by representatives of the French Crown, who will exchange the silver for the prisoner. God go with you. And be alert – you will be escorting a valuable cargo in each direction.”
The three friends returned to their quarters and packed for their journey. From there, they met Brother Thomas at York Castle, where Damien of Orleans was imprisoned. Retrieving the bedraggled prisoner, in wrist and leg irons, the group walked the short distance to the city’s docks on the river Ouse. Quickly finding the Sea Horse, they clambered up the gangplank.
Seeing Brother Thomas already on board, they were introduced to Captain Patch and shown to the cramped cabin they would share with Thomas during their journey. Soon after, the Sea Horse cast off from the dock and edged into the current of the Ouse.
It took them a day to sail down the Ouse, into the Humber estuary, and out into the open sea. The following day, a terrible spring storm broke across the North Sea, and the Sea Horse was caught in terrible swells, lashing rain, thunder and lightning. The unfortunate Storm lost his footing and injured himself on one of the ship’s rails, and Damien of Orleans begged the group to unchain him, lest the ship go down and he be drowned with it. His pleas fell on deaf ears, and the skill of Captain Patch and his crew ensured that they passed through the storm unscathed.
Sailing on into clear skies and calmer seas, the friends slept much better on the second night of their journey. The following morning they woke to more fair weather.
During the afternoon the companions were on deck, taking some air rather than being cooped up in their stuffy cabin with the prisoner. Without warning, despite the calm seas, the ship lurched, nearly knocking Tector off his feet! Looking into the water, Sophia spotted something moving beneath the waves.
Suddenly, a huge tentacle burst from the sea, sending spray in all directions and grabbing at one of the crew. In seconds other tentacles reared from the waves, some wrapping around masts and rails while others grabbed at crew members, the companions, and even Captain Patch.
The group reacted, Tector charging forward and slicing deep into one of the tentacles with his axe, while Storm and Sophia hung back, loosing lightning orbs and arrows one after another.
One of the tentacles grabbed a crewman who had picked up a belaying pin, lifting him into the air for a few seconds before hurling him overboard. As Brother Thomas slammed his hammer into another tentacle, a fourth wrapped itself around Captain Patch and lifted him, struggling, into the air.
Storm responded by conjuring his javelins of ice, which shot forward, puncturing the tentacle and blasting it with icy shrapnel. Sophia struck with an arrow, and the tentacle convulsed, dropping the Captain heavily to the deck before withdrawing quickly into the churning sea.
Buoyed by this success, Tector swung again with his greataxe, cleaving apart the tentacle that had struck him moments before. The remaining part slid back over the deck and beneath the waves, trailing greenish blood.
Another sailor was pitched overboard, slammed by a tentacle through the wooden rail on the starboard side and into the water. As the battle raged, all of the companions were battered by flailing tentacles, but they managed to avoid being grabbed or, if they were, concentrated their attacks on the offending tentacle until it dropped its burden. The second mate was not so lucky, crushed to death by one of the tentacles before the companions could intervene.
Suddenly the vessel shuddered, and the companions noticed a tentacle had wrapped itself around the mainmast and was trying to rip it from the deck. Horrified, Captain Patch yelled to save the mast at all costs, and the group leaped to the attack. A rain of axe cuts, hammer blows, arrows and lightning destroyed the tentacle, forcing it to withdraw just as the main mast was beginning to splinter.
The battle turned quickly, and although the companions were all badly bruised, the remaining tentacles writhed from the deck and disappeared beneath the churning waves. Taking stock, the ship had lost four crewmembers, including the second mate, but damage to the vessel itself was only superficial. Brother Thomas led prayers for the fallen as the sails were hoisted and vessel sailed on.
The story continues in A Sorcerer’s Ransom, Part Two – Knights Errant