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A Mankind Witch: Chapter Nineteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 10:34 EDT



Copenhagen, Telemark and elsewhere

    "It's an historical relic but a fast one," said Erik, looking at the ship provided for them by the King of Telemark.

    "It's got no castle worth speaking of," Manfred looking at the vessel.

    "I've always suspected those of making a ship top-heavy -- especially if you're also going to put cannon up there."

    Manfred looked thoughtfully at the typical Baltic vessel docked further down the quay-side. "I suppose that's why they make the beam so broad. Like a plump tart."

    Erik decided to ignore the last part of that statement "Well, they can carry a lot more cargo like that."

    "Just like a plump tart. And can go down just as easily," said Manfred.

    "You're impossible!" said Erik. "Let's go and see if arranging space for the horses will sort your mind out."

    Manfred grinned. "Unlikely. I don't feel that way about horses, although I worry about you at times. I've been wondering if a girl with horsey face might appeal..." He ducked hastily.

    "Being with Francesca again has made you far too light-hearted," grumbled Erik.

    "Well, you can be satisfied that I'll be grumpy like you, shortly," said Manfred. "And it is coming on to rain again. Just the thing for a sea trip to Norway. Hello. There is Szpak. He's been drilling those poor bastards day and night since we left Lödöse. I wonder what has caused him to leave off?"

    The Polish Proctor had indeed come riding down the quay. "Half the town is looking for you, Prince Manfred."

    "I deny it utterly," said Manfred cheerfully. "I have an alibi for last night. And for this morning."

    The Ritter looked at him with an innocent round face. "Oh. Well, it must have been someone else then. A pity. Those sixteen beautiful young women will be terribly upset, after thinking they'd found their dream man."

    Erik shook his head. "You're as bad as he is, Juzef. Next thing you'll be plying him with liquor." The Proctor was quick thinking, anyway.

    "Well, as it happens I have some Schnapps from home," said the Proctor.

    Manfred beamed. "Lead on! It's just what I need for a nice rainy winter sea voyage with some elderly nuns for female companionship. What's it made of?"

    Szpak lifted his chin and said cheerfully: "Cabbages."

    "Cabbages?" said Manfred incredulously. "You can't brew anything from cabbages."

    Juzef Szpak said in a dead-pan voice "You're not insulting my family brew are you?" Erik caught the wink as Manfred looked down slightly abashed. Szpak's sense of humor had been apparent before, but never quite so obviously.

    "Uh. No. I have just never had cabbage Schnapps before," said Manfred.

    Szpak shook his head sympathetically."The first time is the always the best." After a pause he admitted, "Very few people try it a second time. I'll give you some when you get through with meeting the holy monks and nuns. They wish to gather us all to pray."

    "I'll probably be grateful even for cabbage liquor after that."

    "I'll show you the way. They're at the Chapel of St Charles." The Polish Proctor alighted from his horse and walked with them.

    "How goes it with the plans for the horses?" asked Erik.

    Szpak grimaced. "Since I managed to get through to that Danish idiot that sending the Horses to Danish-held Oslo would be a poor idea, things have gone better. But Francesca promised that it would all be organized in the next hour. She's a remarkable woman that. She knows everybody."

    Erik raised an eyebrow. "You too, eh."

    Szpak blushed.



    In Telemark, the royal compound at Kingshall was in a ferment. The Court of Telemark pretended - as courts do everywhere, that they were above any comparisons. But it had leaked out that they were expecting an Imperial delegation. Not merely Count Tripzir but some high Imperial Lordling sent directly by the Emperor Charles Fredrik. And a group -- rumor had it -- of Christian clerics! Telemark stood on its dignity. But it also stood on its mettle. Both the royal house and the temples were prickly about this. The halls were scrubbed and dusted from the rooftree to the floor. New rushes for the floors could not be had in winter, of course. But hangings were washed, and house Karls and thralls rushed about, scouring and polishing, harried by Queen Albruna herself at times, at her most waspish. Early on, Vortenbras had stamped out in disgust. He'd ridden off with some of his men in search of some sport, rather than deal with the chaos. Signy wished dearly that she could have done the same. Some measure of calm had returned to Kingshall when the queen retired with a headache. But it was near midday by then, and Signy felt as if she -- and not just the wall-hangings, had been wrung out.



    The terrible beast pointed with a razor-sharp talon. He pointed to the crude map he'd scored onto the rock. "Look, mother. If we take this adit, we can ambush them about dusk. They'll be tired. The bonder's huts will just be in sight below them in the valley -- the column will be strung out. I'll cut him loose from the crowd, and between us we can chivvy him down into the Kobold lands. Let the the little snivelers take the blame."

    The plan was typical of him. Direct and without subtlety. But it might just serve. And it would serve her ideas too. She didn't want the Prince dead, for her own reasons and to please Chernobog. She just wanted him 'disappeared'. She nodded. "He's a big man. The Kobolds are always short of labor."

    He scratched his coarse white fur. "Kill their slaves quick enough, though. He won't last long."

    "Long enough for our purposes," she said with a grim humor. "If there's trouble: let the those maggots take the blame and the pain. When the fuss dies down we can go and fetch him." Troll-wife and Troll-son had no doubts of their ability to do this. Conquest of Kobold lands would be an easy thing. The only reason that she had not done so before was that the little squits hid in every narrow little crevice and crack when the trolls went rampaging. You could conquer easily enough. But holding the galleries might be another matter entirely. The rat-warren was not worth it. "I will send Hati and Járnhauss with you. The snow spells require a great deal of power and even after stealing from the alfar-girl, it tires me. Here. Take this." She handed him a rune-carved bone. The workmanship was stunning, Dwarfish by the looks of it, but neither the Troll-wife or her son cared much for the beauty of the thing. "Break it, crush it into pieces, cast the fragments at them and call on my true name. Snow will follow."

    He nodded his heavy-muscled head. "Good. That will keep his escort there. Heavy snow, mother. Snow to keep them sitting in a huddle of flea-full bonder's huts until after Joulu. Sitting waiting for slaughter, a long way from that accursed arm-ring of Odin. Let them see if they can find it there!"

    She swung one of her heavy grey fists at him, catching him on the ear. He was twice her size, but she never let him forget that she was the ruler. "Fool. Never speak the name. Never. He sees far, does one-eye. And mentioning his name draws his attention."

    He growled but said nothing. Just looked sullen.

    She got to her feet. "Come. Needs must that we must go, if we wish to get there before dusk.

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