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A Mankind Witch: Chapter Twenty Seven

       Last updated: Wednesday, June 29, 2005 22:35 EDT



CHAPTER 27 Under Telemark

    Erik's biggest single problem in those first hours was not knowing what had been done with Manfred. Their captors had dealt with their struggles by the simple expedient of carrying them and thrusting them into narrow fissures in the rock. It was impossible to fight effectively against the small attackers -- when you simply couldn't move. He'd been stripped. They'd simply cut off his garments, and then had attached heavy iron manacles to his ankles. Mother-naked, he was dragged out -- an abrasive experience. There was light now -- dim and white, held in some kind of pole-lantern. Erik had had his first good look at his captors as they slapped manacles onto his hands.

    They were not a prepossessing sight. He'd had them described to him in his childhood. The pointed heads of Kobolds were less amusing when you were their prisoner. "To the lead-pits with him. There is good work in this one," said a slightly larger Kobold -- one with a whip thrust into a chain belt. It was a small whip, as he was a small creature. But, as Erik could shortly testify, it stung on bare flesh. He was taken down spiral ramps and cross-tunnels -- and then down in a winched wicker cage -- into a black hole. They changed winches twice on the way, before he got unloaded at a cross-tunnel.

    The work they set him to - in a tunnel too low for him to walk upright - was backbreaking. He carried lumps of ore - heavy chunks hewed from a vein, by small mattock-weilding, glum-looking kobolds. The manacles were a hindrance. He was the only human slave in this section, but by the Kobold's comments, other mines had more. They spoke in an oddly archaic Norse which he'd struggled a bit to follow, but was getting used to. By what they said, the Kobolds were resentful about only getting one slave. This they took it out on Erik. There was no rest, nor food or drink, until the Kobolds called it a day. Then Erik was chained to the wall, and left there. Alone and in the dark. He was left with a bowl of what could have been soup. Perhaps.

    Erik was exhausted enough to sleep. It was warmer down here, but it was still no place to be stark naked. He awoke chilled to the bone, and still in total darkness. One thing was certain. He would die quickly down here. Nothing else -- not a way out, or how to start to look for Manfred, was clear at all.

    Erik knew that he could ill afford to wait too long before trying to escape. He'd be too weak soon. Mind you, even if he managed somehow to find Manfred, and escape to the surface -- there was still the matter of clothing. The Norwegian winter would kill them even faster than the Kobolds would. He resolved to give it one more day before trying his hand at strangling a Kobold with his manacle chains. He spent the time until the Kobold mine crew arrived, trying to loosen the wall-staple he was chained to.



    Two weeks of this, thought Cair, and he could take over this place. It had rapidly become clear to him that the Kobolds were lousy metallurgists -- in fact, lousy metal workers. They bought most of their metal artifacts, despite the fact that they mined most of the ores. Lead appeared to be one of the few things they did smelt. They made no attempt to purify it or to separate out other metals, as Cair knew was possible from visiting the Atlas mines. "The dwarves do that. Clever about that kind of thing," said one of his jailers. "Not good miners like us." As far as Cair had been able to establish that too was probably wishful thinking. The Kobold workings he'd seen up to now were far from advanced. But he did some fishing around, praising their cleverness and their mines. He trawled for information as to why he should be busy showing them how to make gold-leaf, -- as a precursor to counterfeit coins -- if they normally bought their goods with raw materials. He told them he needed to know -so that he could make the right things for them. He struck gold of a different sort.

    It was tribute. "For the cursed troll-folk. We wouldn't give the Dwarves a fake coin! Daren't! Never! They're too tricky themselves. But, curse her for forever, Bakrauf insists on being payed in Midgarder gold. We find some. Hoards buried. We can smell gold, we can." said the Kobold, proudly. "We sometimes take some from the Midgarder miners we catch. But they have very little."

    "I will need some of the coins to make molds from. The coin will be undamaged and can still be used afterwards. We just need to make dies. You understand dies? You have clay? Bees-Wax? Let me show you."

    "Wax? You will make gold out of wax and clay?" asked the Kobold incredulously.

    "Not quite. Get me the wax and the clay and I will show you." A Kobold was sent scurrying. "Now first we make an impression in this clay of the coin -- both faces. The coin comes out -- see, there is the inverse of the pattern. Now I will need to stick these together carefully. Melt the beeswax for me."

    Cair noted that it was not just humans who did what you told them to, if you told them what to do confidently enough. He also knew that it became a habit. He was determined to establish that pattern. When the first lead coin was cool he took it aside. While muttering and making 'magical' passes he took a piece of hammered gold leaf and put a section of it around the rim. Gently, he folded it over the edges, and rubbed it until it conformed with the shape. Then he laid a piece of gold leaf over the face and, using a leather mallet and a piece of cloth, gently made it conform to the face of the of the coin, working it until the join-lines disappeared. The coin now appeared gold -- except for the lead back-face.

    Later the king himself came to inspect and marvel at the lead coin produced by the lost wax method. "Ingenious! We have tried carving the things from gold, but it is very slow."

    Even a master of negotiations like Cair had trouble keeping a straight face. He bowed, respectfully. "Allow me to show you this, highness. This is my art. My magic. I make the lead appear to be gold." He produced a lead coin onto which the gold leaf had been affixed.

    When he showed it to the kobold royalty, he knew he had them. Had them by the short-hairs.

    The kinglet capered in glee. "Hee hee hee. Bakrauf. Hee hee hee, we will cheat you nicely. Excellent slave! How many of these can you make a day? Ten? Ten or you'll feel the whip. More and you can dine on rat every day!"

    Cair bowed again. "I can do many of these at once, Highness. At least twenty! Well, if I can have the tools, certain magical ingredients and some more space. And some more workmen. One big strong man, at least."

    The Kobold King nodded imperiously. "See that he gets them. With luck they won't turn the coins over."

    "Oh, I will do both sides. I was just showing you how it was done, Highness." Cair did not explain that he was making sure that the King did not think it was real transformation. It wasn't going to last or fool many people for long. Gold leaf was too fragile and too thin.

    The king beamed. "Excellent!" He turned to one of his bodyguard. "Find me Thallbru. Tell him he has given me a prince among slaves. I will reward him, after all. And see that the slave gets whatever he needs."

    Cair had assumed that -- if he was he still alive, he would get Manfred of Brittany when he asked for a large slave. Other than Vortenbras, there weren't many larger men in Norway. The thought had amused him. Besides he thought that when they escaped, Manfred of Brittany could be more than a little useful. The knights were still a force to reckoned with in the world of light and air he longed for.

    However, while he was waiting for the arrival of the new slave, conversation with one of his jailers changed his plans.

    The guard turned the lead coin over, marveling at it. "Paying tribute is bad enough, but those cursed bear-servants of Bakrauf use our tunnels to go out and into Midgard. Sooner or later trouble will follow. We hate them. We hate them worse than poison."

    After a while Cair unearthed the fact that the previous day a bunch of the troll-queen's bjornhednar had carried a prisoner through the Kobolds' halls heading for her place.

    Inside Cair's mind a sequence of possible events were worked out. The possibility of mere escape to the upper world receded. He'd never believed in trolls. But strange creatures -- like these Kobolds, had been discovered by explorers. He'd seen the skin of giraffe, which was something else he'd never have believed, if someone had just told him about it. There was nothing magical about them, any more than anything unknown or not understood was magical.

    "Do you ever get flooding problems?" he asked, changing tack, while carefully making yet another wax impression of a coin-face.

    His kobold assistants nodded gloomily. "All the time. Much heaving of buckets," said one. Cair was a high-status slave. But that still meant that working for him was not something any Kobold but the lowest of the low would do. Cair didn't mind. It was easier to extract information from them, and they were far more inclined to do exactly what they were told. They were used to it.

    "Ah. Perhaps I can fix this. Send all this water out to the place these Bjornhednar go."

    "You can magic water?" The kobold was impressed. "Haw, haw, make it run uphill to troll lands?"

    Cair shrugged confidently. "I could send it all the way to Jotunheim if I wanted to."

    That was too much. The kobold snorted disdainfully. "You lie too much, slave. Get back to work."

    Cair held up the lead coin. "Did I lie about this?"

    The idea took a while to penetrate the creature's pointy little skull. "No... so you really mean that you can send water to Jotunheim? It is," he looked at his fingers and then at his bare toes, and decided that even with the toes it was too much. He settled for "many many leagues."

    "Sure. But big hard magics that job. Much work," said Cair making a show of wiping his brow. "We can rather send it to the Bakrauf."

    "Hur. Good enough." By the looks of it the 'much work' had put the guard off. Kobolds and humans felt much the same way about some things.

    "But such magic takes much planning," said Cair. "Do you have maps?" he asked calmly.

    His answer came with a knotted brow. "What is maps?"

    "Drawing of where all the tunnels go. And how deep they are."

    The Kobold shook his head. "No. What would a Kobold do with something like that? We can smell our way!"

    "Well," said Cair, keeping his tone bored. "I will have to see the places. The water. The way to Bakrauf's kingdom."

    The guard nodded. "If the King says so."

    He'd just have to make his own map. He'd already made his own key to the crude locks on his manacles. He'd realized that all of them were identical, fairly rapidly. Simply a bar with a rectangle on the end. He was no expert on locks -- the subject had never interested him, but with access to tools he'd modified a piece of thin iron sheet with a bit of patient cutting while his bored guards looked on. He'd hidden it in his hair. That evening, when locked in his cell, Cair had tried it on the manacles. He'd known a moment's real panic when it had stuck. But brute force had triumphed and with a bit of filing he now had 'ornamental' bangles that he could lose at will.

    Later, the guards brought in another prisoner. He was naked. Cair had glimpsed one other human prisoner in this state in the distance. This man was generously covered in filth. He was big, but he wasn't Manfred of Brittany. His dirty hair had once been Scandinavian blond. Cair recognized the face -- the man had once been part of Vortenbras's guard.

    He also recognized Cair. "So you were in league with these creatures of the underworld, thrall."

    Cair stared at him, coolly. "No. I traffic in more powerful sprites. Get him some water to wash in. He smells."

    By the time food came, Cair was convinced that Orm -- his new assistant, was the stupidest thing on two legs. His reaction to being given a hammer had been to try and attack the kobolds. Cair had been obliged to hit his arm with his manacle chain and knock him down. The hammer went flying and broke several clay molds. Sitting on top of him, Cair hissed. "Idiot. Behave and I'll get you out of here. Do anything more stupid and you can go back to where you came from. Now get up and behave before we get speared." Indeed, dozens of sharp spears surrounded them already. Cair had no delusions. He was being well guarded. A sullen Orm was set to work cleaning up the mess he'd generated. "Thrall's work," he muttered.

    "You are a thrall," said Cair crossly. "Now can you behave with a hammer, or I do send you back to where you were?"

    Orm nodded sullenly. Cair set him to hammering gold. Looking at those greedy eyes Cair was glad that the man was still naked, with no place to hide the gold. Here Orm was, half-starved and a prisoner -- and he saw gold as something to be stolen for sheer greed sake.

    Cair saw a lot more than mere gold that needed to be stolen. But greed didn't even come into the equation.

    It was difficult to tell the time down in the Kobold warrens. One judged it by meals -- which, if one was a slave, came once a day. Orm goggled at their bread and snatched it. Cair let him eat. The Kobolds fed him more than he needed anyway.

    While Orm was cramming his mouth with bread, guards came to take Cair back to Kobold King. "You claim to do water magic?" the kobold asked.

    "I do, yes, Highness," said Cair. "That is what I do. Metals and waters. Mine magic. I was on my way to work on a flooded mine in Germania when I was captured and made a thrall. It is possible to move and part waters. But it is a power-demanding working, requiring some time and a great deal of ritual. The working must be planned and balanced. Protective sigils need to be placed strategically throughout the mine."

    The King thought about it. Well, either he thought about it or he just sat there pulling faces. "And how goes the coin production?" He asked the guard.

    "Good, King. He has made over two hundred coins. We'll have the tribute by the end of the week."

    The Kobold king rubbed his bony hands together. "Then we'll have our hostages back, and Hel take Bakrauf. She fooled us with a seeming in that attack, but never again. We have her smell now. Good, take him to see the flooded shafts."

    "I have not named my price," said Cair, calmly.

    The King goggled at him. So did the other kobolds. "You thrall. You have no 'price'. We beat you if you don't fix it. Throw you into the pit," threatened the King.

    Cair never flinched. "And then I die. Only I can make the gold coins you need. Only I can do the draining spells. If you kill me -- all my magic is lost to you. But if you pay me I work hard, and well. Because you pay me only when I have done what I promised to do."

    The King snorted. But it was a measure of Cair's value that he asked. "What price do you want?"

    "My freedom, when I have finished. When the mines are dry."

    The kobold King probably thought he was succeeding in looking innocent. "Very well."

    Cair bowed low. "Lead me to it. I am eager to begin."

    The King did his best not to snigger.

    Cair was far better at keeping a straight face.



    Manfred was in a hole. Literally. He'd fought the Kobolds just a trifle too well. Or maybe they were just furious because his koboldwerk jerkin had wrecked a few knives. So they'd put him to work where his strength would be no danger to them. Where his weight would keep him a prisoner. The rope he had to attach his buckets to -- both of water and ore -- would not carry his 23 stone. And he'd tried climbing the walls to no avail. The blue clayey ore was a broken and shattered mass at the bottom of the volcanic pipe. Water that seeped down and oozed into it also had to be bucketed out. Manfred's current project was to build a tower of the rubbish and climb out... Before he died like the previous prisoners. He had their skeletal remains for company.

    It was extremely odd to look up and see the thrall he'd left unconscious after the avalanche trapped them, staring down at him, as he trudged with a bucket of seep-water.

    The thrall had clothes and seemed to be talking cheerfully to his kobold escort.

    It would appear that Erik had been right. Well, he usually was.



    Cair found the Prince of Brittany's bodyguard-companion shortly after seeing the prince. Erik was fast asleep, and did not appear to wake as they walked past. Cair knew that men like that one were quite capable of feigning sleep. It was something he might have done himself. He did contrive to drop something into the prisoner's empty bowl in passing.

    In the long term aspect of his escape plan, there was a space for Manfred of Brittany. When he got Princess Signy out of this place, Manfred could be either a grateful escort, or a valuable hostage. Cair had plans for either role. If rumor were true, the Hohenstauffens were exceptionally loyal to their bodyguards. Perhaps they understood that loyalty begat loyalty, something that seemed to pass so many people by. Or maybe they just were like that. Cair made a space in his plans for Erik too. Besides, the man was an exceptional fighter. He could be useful.

    So: he noted Erik's position and -- besides leaving him some encouragement, simply went on with the map of the passages. It was proving more complex than he'd thought. Still, the Kobolds were quite happy to let him measure, pace and make marks on the parchment in the belief that magical processes always involved a great deal they didn't understand. They sniggered behind their hands at his eager comments about being free when he was done. You don't bother to watch a prisoner who believes that his good behavior will see him free in a few days. Not too closely anyway.

    Magic had one other plus: He could demand exotic materials. In fact, to be plausible he had to. Human weapons for instance, to affix to the roof, painted with sigils and surrounded with symbolic items, along with suitable Latin mumbo-jumbo. Such a powerful working required a great deal of material and preparation. A great many magical diagrams had to be drawn -- in the symbolically vari-colored inks that the 'water magician' demanded. Cair was finding coming up with difficult and rare items to imperiously demand quite a challenge to his imagination. But, well, that was what magic workers were believed to do, so he did it, and talked inventively about the symbolism and sympathy of each ingredient. At the same time he'd simply had to up Orm's level of knowledge of what he did with the coins. He just didn't have the time to do it all himself, and although the kobolds and Orm could handle the lost wax casting by themselves by now, getting the gold-leaf in place had been something Cair had been reluctant to show them how it was done. But he could only do so much... The idiot was stealing and hiding 'gold' coins on his person -- in the only orifices available. Did he think that Cair couldn't count? Or cared? At least his looking like a constipated squirrel stopped him talking too much. Cair had promised him escape to get his co-operation.

    Cair slept like the dead that night. It wasn't surprising -- he felt as if he had walked several hundred miles, most of it stooping. And he couldn't physically fit down a lot of their tunnels. The ones near the surface tended to be narrow, bar a few. Still he'd been close -- close enough to get the scent of pine on the air, and close enough to the place this Bakrauf's bear-people went to, to see gray sky. It played hob with his maps. He'd thought that they were heading deeper underground, and then he saw sky outside. The guards that side of the kobold's warren kingdom had been rare -- to the point of being invisible, unlike the area where he'd caught the scent of pine-trees. His escort, too close to what they termed 'Midgard' had watched him carefully. The ones who had taken him to 'Trollheim gate' had been watchful too. But it hadn't been him they'd watched. It had been a look-out for trouble.

    "Where are the guards?" he'd asked casually.

    One of the escort had pointed. "In the scampers, watching."

    "But how do you defend you lands?"

    "Fight? Against trolls?" The escort shook his head. "We runs. We hides. Trolls -- even when they shrink, are too big for our holes."

    Gradually he'd figured it out. The Kobolds didn't use the tunnels humans could stand in here, close to Trollheim. They didn't even try and resist, let alone fight back when the trolls came. All the guards did was scamper for safety and give warning. "They sneaked up on us last time," grumbled the escort. "That Bakrauf is a twisty one. She changes. You never know what she'll look like next. We thought they were Midgarders like you."

    Cair had said nothing. Just made a note of the name, and continued mapping. It might take him several more days. There were the deep channels to visit still. Apparently the ore-barges sailed down these and out onto the River Gjoll, wherever that was. So far what he'd seen said that the kobolds were not great planners -- they'd simply followed ore bodies. The rock was at least in part volcanic, if he was any judge. He'd seen the same structures on Stromboli and Etna when they'd been scouting for raids. The ores tended to accumulate in water-fissures. Some of the ones here steamed ominously.



    By sheer bloody-minded discipline Erik woke earlier than his captors arrived for work. The staple in the wall was definitely moving a little. It was now a question of whether the soft iron broke, it came out of the wall, or he starved to death first. Or died of thirst. The kobolds seemed convinced that the liquid he got out of that bowl of what was either thin gruel or soup, would do to keep him alive. He felt for the bowl. He determinedly left himself a mouthful each feeding-time. He found it. Tipped the bowl into his mouth. There was no liquid forthcoming. He tipped desperately.

    Something soggy hit his nose.

    He tasted it, cautiously. It was -- or had been, a lump of sour rye bread. It was now full of the remains of his soup. And it had a scrap of something thin and hard in it. Flexible but leathery. Erik had chewed on it when it occurred to him that it might just be a scrap of parchment.

    That was what it felt like.

    Of course he had no light to see.

    Bread... and a message.

    Erik didn't want it lying around, so he tucked it behind his ear. He didn't have many other hiding places. The only thing that this imprisonment and slavery had going for it, was that he hadn't -- so far -- encountered any women while all that he was wearing were a few rusty iron chains. But knowing that somehow someone had sent him a piece of bread and a message, gave him something more precious than food. It gave hope. He set to work on the staple with a will.

    He was able to examine the scrap behind his ear later, while carrying lumps of ore. It was parchment -- or had been.

    But the soaking and chewing had made the writing illegible.



    "There is a human who is interfering with my magical working," said Cair, with irritation, to the guards. "Here, on this node." He pointed at the map.

    "We kill him." One of the Kobolds said, cheerfully. "Show us."

    Cair was intensely glad that the Kobolds hadn't really got a handle on the maps yet, or he might have been the man responsible for Manfred of Brittany's death. He had nothing against killing him. It just wasn't what he had planned right now. "I don't need him killed," he said hastily. "It's the prisoner in the hole."

    "Can't move him," said a senior guard. "Dangerous prisoner. Had Koboldwerk vest."

    Cair had heard of the fine chain-mail that went by that name. It was just a name. These Kobolds would have trouble in making a single link, let alone an entire vest. But he'd gathered that there were several tribes and varieties of Kobold. These ones -- the mine-Kobold, seemed to be at the bottom of Kobold civilization-scale. "Oh, I don't want him moved! Just mocked. His spirit is too strong. I need him pelted with these symbolic items." He pointed to several knotted scraps of cloth.

    "Won't hurt," said a Kobold dismissively.

    Cair shook his head. "He must not be hurt, but shamed. Inside each vestumentum is a piece of clay." Cair unknotted the bundles, showing them."It is the symbolism, see. The clothed man of baser clay. And then I put the magic curse words on these little scrolls." Cair couldn't yet read more than the basic futhorks -- but normal script was something the Kobolds didn't use at all.

    "So you want us to go and throw these at him?" asked the guard commander.

    Cair nodded. "Every day. The shaming takes time. I will prepare more magic missiles."

    "Can't we just throw rocks?" asked one of the stupider guards, looking at the missiles. The idea of having to carry the bundles obviously didn't appeal. Cair shook his head vehemently. "No. That would strengthen his resolve." The guard commander shrugged. "You're the magician. You, you and you. Go."

    "You've got to insult him too," said Cair. "At least make rude noises."

    "Better wait until the miners go off shift then," said the guard-commander. "We don't want to start any fights."



    One of the little delights of the wet hole that they'd put Manfred into was the seepage. By the time the kobolds arrived to start work it was usually at least knee deep. The depth varied -- his last sleep had been better. But -- sometime during the "night", Manfred had had a choice of waking up or drowning. Then he had to stand and wait. He'd done his best to make a higher platform -- but "no-ore, no-food" applied too. So he had not managed that much of a platform -- like an idiot he'd given them much of the platform his unfortunate predecessor had managed to build up.

    So getting to sleep as soon as possible was an essential. He was tired enough to pass out.

    Dreamland was disturbed by something hitting him.

    "Yah. Surface crawler!" whizz. Another missile hit him.

    He caught the next one. And just as he was about to fling it back -- a good fifty feet straight up -- at the jeering Kobolds, he realized that it was soft cloth. Cloth? Knotted cloth? A parcel of some sort?

    Instead he dodged the next one, and shook his fist at the Kobold who had just called him scum. He unknotted the cloth. There was a lump of clay and a piece of parchment in it. On it was written one word in Frankish.

    "Rescue." in a neat, precise hand.

    Manfred was not stupid. People, he knew, assumed that because he was large, he was dim-witted. He'd cultivated this. It was quite useful at times, and had saved him work at others. Erik had sent the messages and was doing so under cover. He could play along. He collected the parcels shaking his fist and yelling back at his tormentors.

    After a few more missiles they went away.

    Manfred realized, as their light receded, that there was one flaw in his co-operation. In the dark he could not read the messages. And he wanted to, very badly. Carefully he untied the knotted cloth. They appeared - by the feel of it, to contain clay. And a slip of parchment. Well -- the hole he was in seemed less deep if Erik was at least trying to get him out of it. And these bits of cloth were an unexpected bonus -- untied they proved to be enough make a sort of loin-cloth.

    It was only when he lay down to try and sleep again, that he thought of the clay. He felt around for where he'd dropped it. It was hard -- in the dark to tell one piece of damp clay from another... but one of the pieces was only a thin coating of clay covering a wrapping of some sort. Manfred unwrapped it cautiously. By the smell of it, and by the taste of it was - bread! He bit into it ravenously. And nearly broke his teeth. There was something very hard inside it.

    By the feels of it... a key.

    Manfred felt it again, unbelievingly. And then the humor of it struck him. It might undo the manacles -- but it couldn't get him out of this hole. Well, it was a start. And he'd bet that it was the first time that any prisoner in this hole had done any laughing.

    He finished the piece of bread -- eating it slowly, savoring each crumb before he even tried out the key.

    It fitted and worked. Liberty was sweet even if you couldn't go anywhere with it.

    Eventually he decided that he might as well rest while he could, although his stomach desperately wished that Erik had sent more bread. And a bigger piece of cloth for a blanket. And a bottle of brandy, and a cuddlesome lass. Francesca wouldn't like this spot much, but surely his Icelander could have found a pretty troll or something?

    Sleep was a while in coming, but when it did Manfred, slept peacefully, and deeply. Water licking at his heels woke him. And a hint of light. The seep had obviously been slower that night. It had only just woken him in time to re-lock his manacles. As a second thought he pulled off his new loin-cloth and stashed that and the key behind a lump of clay against the wall. Somehow he'd find a chance to read the messages on the scraps of parchment and see just what Erik was up to.

    But the parchments all said the same thing... and advised him to do just what he had done anyway. Play along. The work seemed less hard but more tedious that day.

    And this time he wasn't asleep when the taunting and missile throwing began.

    The single light the missile flingers brought with them was pretty dim, but Manfred was encouraged by the words "escape, 2. Behave until then." And his time there were two pieces of bread -- even if there was no rope and grapple. Only Erik would tell a man stuck in a pit to behave! Still, he had been considering yanking their bucket-ropes down -- which he'd been sure would stop the gruel if not bring rocks or arrows down on his head.

    It was better than just giving up. But a chance of getting out was better still.



    Out on the Telemark mountainside it had been snowing intermittently for the last two days, and, looking at the depth of the snow accumulating Juzef Szpak knew that they simply could not stay here. The knight-proctor had to admit that as little as he liked Vortenbras, the Norse Kinglet had been more than co-operative. Dogs had been brought up, the snow dug over. A cart and then a litter had even brought the nuns up. Sister Mary had tried her wand-divining --with odd results. "It is only effective in a limited range, Ritter," she apologized. "But it does suggest that he isn't in this valley."

    The best that the magic workers had been able to establish was that both Manfred and Erik were alive. Alive, and chained, somewhere dark.

    They could, by moving Sister Mary around, establish where he was. But the locals predicted that days of blizzard conditions were coming.

    Szpak knew he had little choice but to retreat back to Kingshall.

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