Atop Penn Hill

The Knight_sketch

“Naomi!”, Irwin exclaimed as he saw her.

“Irwin, bless my soul!”, she replied, surprised and thankful.

“Come,” he said, summoning his fellows to disarm the men they’d just killed and to take their horses, “follow me – you might want to reach higher ground before the battle starts!”

Irwin hopped onto one of the horses and raced forward, leading Naomi to a high hill that groped like a skull at the lush vegetation about its neck.

“Stay here!”, Irwin told her, “I’ll send Breinith to you as soon as I can! Where’s Gavine?”

“He’s, he’s-”, Naomi stuttered,

“Verily!”, Irwin exclaimed, “Climb the hill and stay atop it, no matter what, understand?”, and with that he was off, riding towards the south-west.

Naomi tried to warn him, to tell him that both Helwin and Rorik had gathered their armies there, but he was away too soon.

Naomi climbed the hill in all haste, and looked down into the dark forest. In the distance fires burned down to the coast.

Soon the drumming of hooves drew near. Naomi knew it was Breinith. She put on the glove and hid herself from him, too angry and disappointed to suffer his conversation. In a fit of rage she bit her tongue and kept her eyes on him silently, waiting to discover his treachery. He did not see her.

Breinith flung himself down on the crown of the hill and looked up into the starless night, which was being smothered by smoke and gathering clouds. Winter was at its worse. The bite of the night zephyr came swift to both observers. Naomi shivered; Breinith, feeling a chill, moved his feet.

Naomi wished Irwin had not bothered to send Breinith up to her – if the battle was lost then so were they. What could he do to stop it from happening? Breinith, evidently, would not fight to protect her – or so Gavine had said. Could it be? Had Gavine been scornful? She had never doubted her brother’s love for her. She could never find reason to blame him for anything. Would she blame him now, without certainty, for Gavine’s death? Naomi just could not help thinking that Gavine had died trying to save her and that she had not even known it was him. It was all Breinith’s fault. He was the coward, not she.

Breinith suddenly sat up, removing his helmet and breast armour and folding his arms in his lap as he heaved a great sigh. His disdain was evident. Had he learnt of Gavine’s death, Naomi wondered.

“Naomi,”, Breinith spoke to himself.

Naomi sat erect, baffled by this.

“Naomi, I meant to tell you – I mean, I -”, Breinith sighed, speaking to the night, “Naomi, I have to tell you something, something I should have told you long ago. I just, I couldn’t…because, you were in danger and you needed me. No! Wait. Naomi, I need you to know that there’s someone else. No. Darn. Naomi, where are you?”, Breinith sighed, taking his head in his hand.

Naomi stifled her breath as the truth dawned on her. Breinith rose dejectedly and stared down the slope, his fists clenched on his hips. Then he saw the horse grazing nearby, and realized  that Naomi can’t be far.

“Naomi?”, Breinith called out fearfully.

Naomi did not stir.

“Naomi, where are you?”, Breinith called, looking around for her, “Naomi?”.

Breinith let his hands drop limply to his sides as he heaved another grave sigh. Then he picked up his armour and begun re-fastening it upon him as he descended. Naomi held her breath until he was gone, feeling the tears break loose upon her cheeks as he did so.

As soon as Breinith had mounted his horse and ridden away Naomi took off her helmet and gloves and wept sorely. Her whole being shook. She could barely breathe. Breinith had barely rounded the hill before hearing the sound. Against reason he veered his horse and made his way back up the hill, but she was swift enough to hide herself before he approached.

“Naomi, Naomi are you there?”, Breinith asked frantically.

Naomi did not reply. She could not.

“Naomi, if you’re there, if you heard what I said – I, I’m sorry. Naomi, can you hear me? Naomi, are you even there?”, Breinith questioning the dark eagerly.

She could not face him. As silently as possible she edged down the other side of the hill. Gavine’s horse ambled towards her unawares. It seemed as though it had heard her and could feel her presence. Careful not to startle it Naomi mounted and set it running. Breinith gave a start. Then it dawned on him – she had heard what he had said. Now she would blame him for everything! He cursed himself, weeping at his own cowardice. Not knowing what to do he jumped off his horse and threw off his armour, cursing the day he had earned it and flinging himself down in anger, his hands shaking with wrath.

Gavine, who had followed Naomi to Penn Hill and had heard every word of what Breinith had said, picked up his armour, now discarded, and dressed himself in quiet, hoping to surprise his friend. Breinith was listening for Naomi, for a hope of her return, and happened to hear one fiddling with his belongings.

“Thief!”, he shouted, “Back away from there!”.

Gavine gave a bow and introduced himself formally:

“Forgive me, Breinith, but I happened to have seen you disarm yourself, and, seeing as I’m off to battle with the enemy, I thought I might take back what is mine”

“Gavine, promise me one thing!”, Breinith replied, relieved that the stranger was no threat, “Promise me you’ll look after Naomi, if you find her?”

Gavine shook his head at Breinith

“She’s your sister, for Heaven’s sake! Save her yourself!”

Breinith’s face contorted as he realized that Gavine was right. Who could save her but he? No one knew of the prophecy but he. There was no other way. He got up, mindless of his vulnerability, and ran for his horse. There was no time to waste.

– extract from “The Silent Knight – the battle”

Extract from ‘The Silent Knight-the battle’, sequel to ‘The Silent Knight-the search’ (http://sbpra.com/Heike)

“In the deep of night a great ruckus could be heard echoing around within Roathne’s fallen keep. The guards, keeping watch at their posts, torches in-hand, were frightened out of their wits, for theirs was a tradition of superstition and it had been long since the night had rendered up any noise. An unholy clattering could be heard, oppressing them into silence. Not one would leave their station to check up on the source-less tumult. It sounded akin to the approach of a great, heavy beast whose temper, causing the very walls to tremble, was a force to be reckoned with. This beast, ominous and hungry for appeasal, seemed to be waiting, impatiently, for someone who dared to approach it. Keeping guard in the halls it seemed to loom there – going nowhere, uneasily excited.

The servant girls were the first to guess at the origin of the unusual noise, but they dared not voice their thoughts but in secret murmurings and taunts. One of the new ones, a jovial young girl, was the only one who dared to speak a word about it, and it was her contribution that was invaluable to the general atmosphere of threatened awe that filled all those who were awake at the time. Dara whispered, in a jumpy, excited whimper, that she had heard of the coming of the great, spirit protector of the island who had been asleep for hundreds of years. This guardian had been one of the ancient ancestors of their people, and he was the one whose head was buried in some forgotten station far to the east facing in the direction from whence the enemy had come. He had awoken – his time had come to obliterate the forces of evil that had slipped past his gate.

Word of a warrior spirit from Lethoran had reached her via other maids, and this hint, cloaked in a subtle memory of a story her grandparents told her long ago, is what she fed her tale on. The Viking guards, overhearing this rumor whispered in the dimly lit chambers of the slave girls, were flooded with an old fear of the ancient, one which had been planted by Rorik himself when he had threatened Leorik and Kkeroyd with the story of the ghostly knight of the island.

Naomi, from high up in her chamber, could not hear the terrible tumult that was shaking all of the castle’s inhabitants with fear. She found herself, at the time, staring out of one of her eastern windows at the innumerable stars above. The clouds had cleared for a time and the light of the sickle moon was dusting the majority of them with faint light from the opposite sphere of the sky. Her heart hung mid-air in her chest, careful of falling into the pit of depthless sadness from whence it had recently been resurrected. Neither was she happy. There was war within her – the rumblings of an ancient unsettled business that was threatening to be reborn into the world. A frown crowning her forehead, Naomi glared out into the dark in apprehension. Her royal blood told her that a feud was imminent: a personal and elemental battle that would destroy what was left of the island and its people. …hail the end of life, death, fatherhood and sisterhood!

In the moment of her deepest reverie the banging of laden footsteps shook her back to her senses. Before she could withdraw from her spot, her chamber door was bashed open and just as forcefully shut by the enraged figure of a man. His face was obscured by the darkness within the chamber. His heated billowing for breath steamed up the air in a matter of moments and Naomi soon found herself in a state of cold-sweat, trembling from agitation and fright.

The monstrous figure marched towards Naomi with determination, his massive figure tearing through the atmosphere. Naomi swallowed, inhaled, and stood her ground without moving, her heart racing and her head spinning.

“I’ve sent him away!” the familiar voice shouted furiously,

“He’s with his mother! Damned am I for doing such things! Damned!”

Naomi withdrew slightly, her recognition of the angry voice relieving the pressure of her headache.

“Come on!” the beastly man yelled, fur tunic flapping, “COME ON!”

The man gave his head a toss then with sudden fury strode towards Naomi, his hand raised for the strike. Naomi cowered to one side with her hands covering her head in reflex. The enraged warlord grabbed hold of one of them and shouted into her ear:

“BE HAPPY! DAMN YOU!” he heaved a couple of breaths, “You have no reason to be so darned miserable anymore! None whatsoever! Not a single reason!”

Naomi was speechless. Rorik stepped back from her.

Heart pounding, she straightened herself up fearfully and surveyed the angered warrior with caution. She felt so utterly vulnerable. She had nowhere to turn. No Thomas or Mariena; not even an elusive lady somewhere in the keep named Shannon. She was on her own now. And this was a different kind of fight.

“You!” Rorik growled, pointing a finger at Naomi threateningly,

She swallowed;

You” he added, his voice dropping low.

Naomi could sense that something was troubling him – something deeper than the shock of what she’d threatened to do earlier in the evening. Her action must have brought back some kind of repressed, unresolved feelings. She hoped beyond reason that, whatever those feeling were, she would not be made to pay for them.

Frightened though she was Naomi took a small, careful step towards Rorik with desperate compassion, offering a sincere smile of gratitude for what he’d done. Her inner voice was screeching with fear, her heart expanding, ripping at her lungs.

“You…” he grumbled, half-asleep,

Naomi took the warlord by the arm, leading him to the bed as though to invite him to sleep off his pains. Rorik sighed, his breaths tearful. His disgruntled look, permeated with the smell of uneasy sleep, betrayed his waking up from a bad dream.

“You were… s-so very s-sad today. I thought I would die of it. Seeing your face there by the window – so white and tiny, so pale, I could have thrown myself down the stairs! I could have killed myself.”

Rorik’s confession was more horrifying than his anger. Naomi stooped, unable to let go of his arm for fear of drawing his attention to her touch. Unable to breath any less loudly she began to cry a little.

“Such pain…” he whispered mesmerically, “such…torture! How horrible…”

“I’m sorry” she barely breathed.

“NO!” he exclaimed, sitting up and grabbing her face, “I cannot! I cannot stand the memory! It haunts me! It is like a curse keeping me from my rest! Don’t you see – you have come to drive me insane. Your … your … your little, soft face with those dark eyes … my ruin.”

Naomi stared up at him fearfully. She could not be certain that he was awake.

“You are” he breathed, bringing his face close to Naomi’s “m-most beautiful to me.”

Naomi swallowed, trying not to pull her face in any way that might upset him, with obvious effort. Her heart pounded against her chest into which strokes of heat flushed uncontrollably. In her silence she spun hastily a myriad prayers.

“Tell me..” Rorik mooned, almost falling off the edge of the bed, “w-what do you feel? W-what d-do you f-feel for me now? Ey?”

Two streams of tears glittered on her cheeks in the starlight. Rorik shook his head, his eyes red.

“No no! No no no!” he exclaimed, leaning backward before swaying forward again to grasp Naomi’s face; “You have no reason to fear me! None…no fear!”

Naomi grasped for air as Rorik swayed once more back and forth. Again he drew close to her.

“I..” he began, his dream-beaten face strangled with emotion, “I will never hurt you

He stared at her as if he would swallow her. She maintained his gaze as well as she could through the gloss of terror.

“Because!” Rorik continued, shaking his head with a frown of incredulousness and a hidden smile he slapped a hand over his chest, motioning with a searching glance towards his heart. Keeping her strange smile as still as she could she trembled inside until the exhausted figure lay down, his hands moving dreamily in search of her as she slipped away.

In moments he had dozed off.

Naomi stumbled onto her feet and stood back from the bed. She cried quietly, completely baffled. Hands trembling, she made her way to the window and stared out, wishing she could see the great tower of Ashen Tor or at least its gate. Her heart longed for a familiar face – for Gavine: for the feeling of him beside her, or just the sound of his voice. She wished Irwin were nearer. She wished she could know her sister’s soul was safe. She wished there was an easier way to fix what had come about on the island. And yet, Rorik had neither threatened her nor attempted to overpower her. How could she ever understand what had just happened? She found she was covering her mouth and removed her hands. She had just found a window she had missed before. And she was staring into it, confounded.” (Heike. 2013: 118-120)