With Friends Like These
The column of refugees picked up speed as the spire of Durham Cathedral was spotted in the distance, lifting Storm from his reverie. His attunement with the two items he carried was broken, but the impressions left on his senses by their sorcerous signatures remained. Geimhreadh’s wand would enhance any lightning powers evoked by its wielder, while the celtic ring recovered from Kazimir’s finger enhanced the wearer’s reflexes, explaining perhaps why the kurgen had such a quick sidestep for such a large brute.
Approaching the city, they passed through an empty village before reaching a point where, either side of the road, a defensive ditch and earth rampart were being raised by hundreds of men. A dozen soldiers guarded the road, and the companions recognised their leader as none other than their friend Maldred FitzDolfin. Calling to them heartily, the noble leapt from his horse and clasped Tector’s hand before giving Lady Sophia a courtly greeting. They spoke for a few moments about the fool’s errand they had been sent on by the Bishop of Durham, their capture and escape, and the events of Newcastle and Vindolanda. FitzDolfin was already aware of their heroics at Newcastle and praised them warmly, before congratulating Tector on his Knighthood.
Pressing on with the cold and hungry refugees, they soon arrived in the city. As the refugees were being organised by an officious sergeant, several Church servants helped the companions take the Archbishop and Uther to the Cathedral. Tarraby and the other young Templar, William, were taken to the infirmary for their wounds to be tended, while the others were taken to the Bishop by his Chancellor, Nicholas de Lacy.
The Bishop seemed surprised to see them, and thanked God for their deliverance. He listened intently to their tale, and was particularly interested in Uther’s sacrifice and the circumstances of the Archbishop’s fall. The companions described Uther’s heroic death, including his final battle-cry, which piqued the Bishop’s interest even further. Promising to attend to the Archbishop himself, the Bishop mused thoughtfully on Uther’s martyrdom and the possibility that he might become a Saint. Finally, he asked the group to stay in Durham, to help him defend against the inevitable attack from the north and also to keep the Archbishop safe. The companions agreed to think on it and took their leave.
After their audience with du Puiset, the companions stopped in to see the Archbishop, who was laid on a comfortable bed, wrapped warmly, with a blazing fire in the hearth. Bidding goodnight to Mary, who was staying in the Cathedral complex, they were walking across Cathedral Green, back towards their lodgings in the Castle, when they came across a little girl playing in the snow. She looked up at them with a bright smile, greeting Sophia as ‘the pretty lady!’ and they recognised the girl they had last seen in Newcastle, little Isabelle de Neville.
“Will you help me build a snowman?” she asked sweetly. Enchanted by her as always, the three friends fell to, and quickly found themselves rolling balls of snow to make a body and head. As she worked, Isabelle chatted happily.
To Sophia she said, “You still have the Elf Queen’s bow. When you help them, it will come into its power.”
As Sophia mulled on these words, the little girl turned to Storm. “Far to the frozen north, the Staff of Winter waits for you. Great danger also lies in wait, but you will venture there soon enough.”
Storm muttered under his breath; perhaps this was the artefact the Witches were using to control the weather? He pondered this distractedly as Isabelle turned to Tector. “The terrible Bloodaxe is destined for your hand. It lies beneath the streets of York, and yearns for a strong arm to wield it.”
“I know what that means,” exclaimed the big warrior. “It’s in the Catacombs! Oh, I wonder where? It sounds like a powerful weapon!”
As they finished the snowman, Isabelle looked at it happily. Then her face fell and she looked round. “I am sorry about your friend who died. He was a brave man. Your other friend is safe though, and very warm,” she said with a smile, “at least for now!”
After surveying her handiwork and smiling in satisfaction, she looked at the three companions once more. “Thank you for helping me. It’s an excellent snowman!” They smiled and bade her farewell. She waved, and called after them “Take care. Not all friends are as they seem.”
Later in the evening, after they had eaten dinner, Mary of Stamford visited their chambers. She had heard from a novice in the Cathedral that Uther was to be buried in Durham! The four friends had a long conversation, in which it emerged that none of them trusted Hugh du Puiset, and they came to the conclusion that he was forcing the agenda with the expectation that Uther would be beatified in due course, making Durham a centre for pilgrimages in the future. They took a dim view of this, and their distrust of the Bishop also made them wary of his ‘care’ for the Archbishop, although they were also concerned about the toll taken on the old man by moving him whilst still in a catatonic state.
Ultimately they narrowed their options to the following:
• Stay in Durham, allowing Uther to be buried there and the Archbishop to be cared for by the Bishop’s priests
• Take Uther’s body back to York but leave the Archbishop to be cared for in Durham
• Take both Uther and the Archbishop to York
They agreed to sleep (and pray) on the best course of action and meet in the morning to break their fast and make a decision.
Mary returned early in the morning, and over a breakfast of eggs and thick-cut bacon the group decided that they would remove both Uther and the Archbishop from Durham. Mary emphasised that they would be in direct confrontation with the Bishop, but the friends were determined, and reminded her that they were Inquisitors, appointed by the Archbishop and answerable only to him and to the Pope.
The decision made, Mary arranged for a carriage to be readied for the journey to York, and they quickly packed their things before walking to the Cathedral. Seeking Uther’s body first, they approached a novice who told them that the Templar was being prepared for burial. Tector asked where, but the novice became suspicious and refused to tell them. Storm had been raised in York Minster though, and this gave him a good idea both of the layout of Durham Cathedral and the location of the chamber where the dead would be prepared for burial. His instincts proved to be correct as, having strode through the Cathedral complex, they opened a door to find Uther’s body atop a stone slab, being washed with holy water by a bearded senior priest.
He looked up at them, clearly irritated by the interruption. “You will have the opportunity to pay your respects, and pray for him, at the burial tomorrow,” he snapped.
“We’re taking him to York,” replied Storm. The priest stood and refused to allow the friends to approach Uther, so Tector grabbed him and moved him aside, physically restraining him as Storm and Sophia made a makeshift stretcher and moved Uther and his weapons and armour onto it. The priest hurled curses and damnation at them, with particular scorn for Storm, but they ignored him and left the room, Tector forcefully shoving him to the floor as he tried to hold them back.
Rushing through the Cathedral, they decided that Sophia and Mary would take Uther to the Castle, and the carriage waiting there, while Storm and Tector would get the Archbishop. The two ladies duly ran back through the Cathedral, attracting stares and some shouts of alarm. However, the combination of Mary’s reputation and their speed enabled them to reach the Castle without interference, and they began to load Uther and his equipment into the carriage.
Meanwhile, Storm and Tector sprinted to the Archbishop’s chamber, where they found a Templar guarding the door. “We are here to see the Archbishop,” said Storm.
“I’m afraid I have orders that no-one is to be allowed in,” replied the Templar, his hand going to his sword. Having no time to waste, Tector lunged forward and grabbed the knight, shoving him to the side of the corridor. As he stumbled, Storm conjured a wall of ice which trapped him against the stone wall of the corridor, and the two friends threw open the door to the Archbishop’s chamber. Wrapping him quickly in his bedsheets, Tector lifted him and they ran back through the Cathedral, a clamour growing in their wake.
Arriving in the Castle courtyard, Storm and Tector found a number of soldiers in the yard, wearing various liveries, and a few Templars. Unperturbed, they placed the Archbishop in the back of the carriage, and were about to climb aboard when a voice cut through the courtyard. “Stop!!”
They turned to see the Bishop of Durham, flanked by priests and Templars, his crozius held aloft and blazing with light. “Stop this spawn of the Devil,” he cried, gesturing at Storm. “They are trying to kidnap the Archbishop of York!”
Mary stepped forward. “You know me. I am Mary of Stamford, of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. I am a servant of the Archbishop, and we are merely fulfilling our duties by returning him to his diocese in York.”
The Bishop stepped forward, pointing. “You will find that I am the supreme authority in Durham, both in the spiritual and secular worlds, and I command that the Archbishop remain here. Arrest these criminals!”
At this, Storm jumped aboard the carriage and picked up the reins. Five crossbowmen rushed into the gateway, blocking his path. He hesitated for a second before flicking the reins, urging the horses forward. The crossbowmen loosed and three quarrels slammed into the dragonborn, knocking him backwards off the wooden seat.
Behind the carriage, Mary answered the Bishop. "You may have some authority over me, but my companions are Inquisitors and are answerable only to the Archbishop and the Pope himself. Harm them and you will be excommunicated!
“Arrest them all,” cried the Bishop. The Templars hesitated, clearly unwilling to arrest Mary or any who had the authority of Inquisitors. However, a few soldiers surged forward, grabbing Mary and moving towards the companions. Tector slammed his mailed fist into the face of the first man to reach him, but Sophia was grabbed from behind, her arms pinned by a soldier from each side.
Suddenly the face of her first captor exploded in a shower of blood as a platemail fist slammed into it. A second fist hammered into the other solider, sending him sprawling to the floor, and the huge figure of Maldred Fitzdolfin loomed protectively over Sophia. “Who DARES to lay hands on the daughter of Baron William de Percy?!” he bellowed.
“By MY order,” shouted the Bishop.
Fitzdolfin spat. “You fool. We have enemies enough, without fighting each other!” He noticed a solider nearby sliding his sword from its sheath. His gaze swept across the armed men around the courtyard, and he raised his voice. “Hear my oath: any man who draws steel dies by my hand!”
As the soldier backed away, Fitzdolfin addressed the throng once more. “If Lady Sophia de Percy and her companions wish to leave Durham, none here have the authority to bar their passage.” He glared at the Bishop and his soldiers before turning to Sophia. “Go, my Lady, and God speed.”
With that, Storm gritted his teeth against the pain in his chest and cracked the reins, the horses speeding to a canter as Sophia and Tector jumped aboard the carriage. In seconds it passed through the gatehouse of Durham Castle, and across the bridge, heading south on the road to York.