Working title, Neverworld.
Chapters 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22
Age Rating: 10 +
Sean was enjoying an airborne day out. He had decided that it was time to take a break from his labours, so Baldev was showing him the countryside from a different perspective.
He had at last, overcome his fear of flying, just as long as the dragon did not perform any aerobatics. Baldev was behaving, no fancy flying.
From his position on the dragons' back, he could see in the distance, a rising column of black smoke. He tapped Baldev on the shoulder. 'Where is that smoke coming from?' He queried.
'I am not sure', the dragon replied. I passed a few farmsteads over in that direction, when I flew back to the castle the other day. Mayhap they are burning stubble in the fields'.
'Let's go and investigate'. Sean had to shout, due to the wind noise of their passage. 'Maybe they will have a glass of wine to offer us'.
Baldev turned his head. 'What do you mean us, since when did I drink wine? What you really mean is you are becoming an alcoholic, and need a drink'.
'Whatever', Sean snapped. He had the feeling that the dragon was not far of the mark; he was drinking too much lately. 'Are you going or not?'
'Your wish is my command, oh lord and master', Baldev replied in mock obsequiousness.
As they headed toward the smoke, they saw a scattering of farm buildings. Baldev increased his speed then he banked so sharply that Sean slid sideways, only holding on by desperately grabbing a raised scale.
It was not burning stubble; as Baldev swooped low over the buildings they saw a raiding party of about two dozen Smorgs. Bodies lay scattered on the ground, human bodies mostly. With here and there, the reptilian-like corps of a Smorg. The farmers had obviously given a good account of themselves, but to no avail.
The Smorgs were closing in, line abreast on the last two humans. Both of whom where women. Baldev did not hesitate, increasing speed he swept toward the Smorg formation. Opening his mouth, he sent forth a mighty tongue of crimson flame. The Smorgs seemed to melt like snow in the summer sun.
Sean was off Baldev's back before he could land. He charged towards the Smorgs sword in hand, only to find charred smouldering remains.
He ran over to the women. 'Are you all right?'
'Yes my lord. We are. However, in another minute it would have been a different story'. Sean turned to look at the speaker.
He did a double take. She was stunningly beautiful. Her hair was the colour of sunlight on a field of golden corn, her eyes, which Sean thought he could willingly have drowned in, were of the bluest blue he had ever seen. Moreover, even though she was wearing a shapeless sack of a dress. He could tell that back home, she would have been a centrefold girl every day of the week.
Trying not to stare, he introduced himself.
'I am honoured to be of service ladies. Please allow me to introduce ourselves. My dragon friend here is Baldev. I am Sir Sean of lacy'.
He did feel a bit of a fraud calling himself that, but when in Rome, as he had said before.
The older woman was the girl's mother, and observing the expression in Sean's eyes, she stepped in front of her daughter. Although being thankful for the knight's timely rescue, she was not about to let him take what she had so stoutly defended against the rapacious Smorgs.
Looking Sean straight in the eye, she thanked him profusely, at the same time letting him know by her manner, as all mothers do, to keep his distance from her beautiful daughter.
'Hrrumph!' Baldev snorted. A cloud of soot filled the air, covering Sean and the two women, in a fine black ash.
'A thousand apologies', Baldev said. 'Please do forgive me. You see it is a long time since last I used my fire in such volume, obviously my flame tubes must have been in desperate need of cleaning. I will have to remember to attend to them more often in future'.
Instead of becoming annoyed, both women emitted hoots of laughter. Sean, who had at first been horrified at the sight of the soot covered females, joined in as he realised that he also was liberally coated. The mother gave Sean a mock scowl.
'Just as I suspected, you truly are, a dirty knight', she laughed.
Sean helped to bury the men who had been slain. It transpired that the women had been strangers to the dead men. They had arrived at the farm the previous evening on their way to the castle, but darkness had overtaken them, so the farmer and his sons had offered them lodgings for the night.
After holding a brief service, Sean and the women climbed onto Baldev's back.
With some difficulty, the dragon managed to get airborne and headed back to the castle.
To Sean's amazement, instead of being terrified, the women were elated by the experience of flying; it made Sean feel a little ashamed of his own previous fears.
On their flight back, the women introduce themselves. The mother's name was Molly, and her very delectable daughter was Angelica.
Sean was having great difficulty in not letting his thoughts show. Taking hold of the girl's hand, he kissed it.
'An appropriate name for one whom looks like an Angel', he complemented her. Molly looked daggers at him.
Night had fallen over Argon's tower, with the night had come a light mist, enveloping the tower like a shroud.
Stealthily approaching the tower, Magule's men were bent upon their mischief.
Inside his tower, Argon was studying one of his arcane books, oblivious to his surroundings.
'I think I that I will have a wander and see if I can catch a mouse or two', Willum remarked.
'H'm' replied Argon, not really listening. Willum decide to start in the bedrooms. As he was wending his way up the stairs, he heard a noise, a mouse? Peeking around the first of the bedroom doors, he heard it again. Sounds a bit strange for a mouse; he thought.
Creeping silently across the floor, he realised that it was not a mouse noise.
The sound had been made by a mettle grappling hook, which was firmly anchored onto the windowsill.
Jumping up onto the sill, Willum saw the helmeted head of one of the assassin's come into view. He crouched motionless as the assassin's face drew level with the sill.
With a snarling scream, Willum attacked. He bit into the man's nose, at the same time clawing at his eyes. The assassin howled in pain and terror, releasing his hold on the rope he had been climbing. As he fell, he swept four of his comrades off the rope; they all fell, crashing to their deaths on the rocks below.
Willum, straining with all his might managed to pull the hook loose, dropping it out through the window, where it followed the now dead climbers to the rocks, sixty feet beneath the window. Racing back to Argon, he told him what had transpired.
'Well done my friend, I told you where useful in your present form. Now let us go and prepare a welcome for the rest of these assassins, for there are bound to be more, Magule always did rely on numbers. As he spoke there came a tremendous crash from the main door of the tower.
'More visitors methinks' said Argon heaving a great sigh. 'We really do not have time for these interruptions. He proceeded to a window overlooking the door.
Below the window, the rest of the assassins were wielding a heavy log, trying to batter the door open.
'Oh the fools', Argon said. 'I suppose I will have to dispose of them'. He leaned out of the window and began a weird chant, at the same time moving his hands in a strange fashion.
Suddenly, the log burst into flames, the men wielding it were rapidly engulfed; emitting horrifying screams they ran in all directions desperately trying to beat out the flames; without success. All that remained were heaps of smouldering ashes.
'That should discourage Magule for a while', Argon declared as he closed the window.
Sean was having another day off. He and Baldev had decided to go sight seeing. They were flying over country that was new to both of them.
Sean was gazing toward the horizon when in the distance he spotted a column of black smoke. Baldev had also spotted it and banked over, heading toward it.
Not again, Sean thought. He loosened his sword, this time I'll make the swine pay.
They were approaching a cone shaped hill, and the verdant pasture was giving way to drear barren rock. It was from vents in the rock, that the smoke they had observed was issuing. The region was obviously volcanic, the smell of sulphur heavy in the still air.
'You you wish to land?' Baldev inquired.
Sean was fascinated; he had never seen anything like this before, apart from on television.
'Yes please, but not to near those holes, the smell is bad enough from here'
The rocks were warm underfoot, more evidence of the volcanic activity below ground.
There was a rumbling sound, and then the ground shook violently causing Sean to stumble and fall.
From out of a fumarole blasted a super-heated column of steam, the noise was horrendous; to Sean it sounded like a jet engine using its after burners, then the steam subsided, all was quiet again.
'Phew Baldev, that was a bit scary, I'm glad we weren't any closer'.
The dragon did not hear him; the reason was he was fifty feet in the air. His mother had not bred any fools. Looking up Sean spotted him.
'Come down you Jessie, it was only a bit of steam, nothing to be afraid of', he scoffed, trying to appear brave. Baldev cautiously landed again.
'You can stay here if you like, but I'm going exploring', he told the dragon.
As he travelled further into the region, it took on all the aspects of a Dantean inferno. He had to wrap a kerchief around his mouth to try to combat the fumes rising from the ground.
Stooping, he examined a yellowish deposit lying on the rocks, it was crystallised sulphur, somewhere in the recesses of his mind, a bell rang.
The fumes where becoming unbearable, so he made his way back to where Baldev was waiting.
'Let's go, I've seen enough for the time being, and I'm getting hungry, we'll head back to the castle'.
After he had eaten, Sean went in search of Angelica; he was beginning to miss her when she wasn't around; it worried him. He kept telling himself that he was happy being a bachelor. However, it was becoming harder to convince himself every time he saw her.
Angelica was standing on the battlements gazing into the night sky as Sean walked toward her.
'A penny for your thoughts', he said. She turned to face him, and his heart skipped several beats. The moonlight was making a halo around her long corn coloured hair; it gave her an ethereal appearance.
'Sean', she said smiling. 'How lovely to see you'. Sean thought his heart would explode. He was convinced that she must hear the pounding of it as much as he, if she did, she gave no sign.
'I was just thinking how beautiful the night sky is, and if one of those stars were mine'.
Gazing up at the sky, he realised that he had never looked at it properly since his arrival on this strange world. Although the constellations were different from those he was used to back home, the absence of pollution in the atmosphere, made the stars appeared larger and brighter, like the most brilliant diamonds, casually scattered on a black velvet cloth.
Sean waxed lyrical. 'The moon and stars combined can not match the vision I see before me'. As he delivered the compliment, a small voice in his head said, yuck; that was straight from a Mills and Boon. He ignored the voice.
Angelica gave a small courtesy. 'Thank you Sir Sean. I had not realised that you were a poet, as well as a warrior. Were you being polite or did you really mean that?'
Sean realised that he truly had meant it; he was in love. 'With all my heart I meant it, and I can honestly say it's the first time that I have ever said it; and meant it'.
As they sat leaning against each other on the parapet, he told her about himself, and how he came to be here.
Angelica sat in rapt attention as the story unfolded. 'It did strike me that you were not like the rest of the knights, your manners, and speech, are quite different. You say that your world is very unlike ours, do you have magic in your world?'
'Not the sort of magic you have here', he answered. 'Neither do we have flying dragons, but I suppose someone from here seeing my world, would think quite a few things were magic'.
Slowly their hands found and clasped each other. As is usual with people in love, time became meaningless. The hours sped by unnoticed, as they talked as only lovers can.
Much to his surprise, Sean became aware of the sound of birds singing their dawn chorus. Then surfacing from the well of happiness into which he had sunk, he gazed at the morning sky; they had talked the night away.
'What an absolutely beautiful morning', he said.
Angelica looked at him adoringly. 'I have never seen such a morning as this, and have never felt so happy, my love', she added shyly.
Holding each other for the first time, they kissed. For Sean the world exploded with fireworks, while in his head a symphony orchestra played the Eighteen Twelve overture. Complete with cannons and kettledrums.
'Good morning Sir Sean; my lady'. It was Sir Eldred, the captain of the guard.
They quickly pulled apart. 'Good morning to you, and what a fine morning it is' Sean replied. Sir Eldred carried on with his patrol, a smile on his face.
He did not waste much time, cannot say that I blame him, lucky devil.
After escorting Angelica back to her room, he went in search of breakfast. Being in love had not affected his appetite.
Afterwards, as he was sitting in his bath, the bell that had rung when he was at the volcanic area went off like a five-alarm fire.
'Eureka!' He yelled, doing a more than fair impersonation of Archimedes; or one of those Greeks. I've got it, I've got it. His serving girl, who was arranging his clean clothes, screamed in fright at his outburst.
Apprehensively the girl looked at him. 'You have what? My Lord'.
Leaping naked from his bath and completely oblivious to the maid's startled, but interested stare, he ran to his writing bureau.
Grabbing a quill pen, he quickly wrote down the formula before he forgot it again. The maid slowly walked over to him with a clean towel; there was more than a hint of a sway to her well-rounded hips.
'My Lord you must dry yourself, or would you prefer me to do it', she asked, in what she imagined was a seductive voice.
'Yes, you do it', he said.
Truthfully, he was actually not aware, of what the girl had offered to do; he was so deep in thought.
Slowly and sensuously she began towelling him dry, every part of him.
'There my lord, how was that?'
'Fine', he said absently. 'Would you please pass me my clothes, I must rush'.
With pouting lips she complied, staggered that her whiles had gone seemingly unnoticed. The other knights she had served had never reacted like this.
Later that day, she was talking to her friend, telling her all about Sean.
'I think he is definitely strange, maybe we should arrange for him to have a house boy instead'
'That is a shame', her friend replied. 'I rather fancied him myself, still if he is inclined the other way, there is nothing we can do about it'.
Sean of course, was oblivious to the girl's observations. Apart from anything else, he was in love.
News of the debacle at Argon's tower had eventually reached Magule. He was storming back and forth across his courtyard, consumed with a towering rage. Turning to one of his aide's, he demanded that the Major of the mercenaries report to him. The Major arrived looking decidedly downcast.
'Your men have failed me; and I hold you personally responsible', Magule said, in a tone that would have frozen a salt sea.
'My lord Magule, I selected my best Captain, it was he who chose the men for the mission. I hardly think that I am to blame'.
'Silence', Magule screamed. 'Do you dare to argue with me? They failed, so you also have failed. There can be only one punishment for failure, and you have earned it. Taking a dagger from his belt, he stabbed the Major through the heart.
Magule turned to his aide. 'Have this carrion removed and fed to the dogs at once'. The aide gave a slight shudder. 'I will attend to it immediately My Lord. Will there be anything else?
Magule smiled grimly. 'Yes there is, as I am sure you will be pleased to hear. From now on, you will be in charge of the mercenary scum. Do not fail me'
The aide slept very fitfully that night.
The training went on. Magule had a feeling of despair as he watched the progress. Would these cretinous fools ever be ready? This time he must win; defeat was not an option.
Sean was making good progress with his plans, although the watching Baldev was still totally puzzled.
With the help of Steven and his men, Sean had fastened a series of small barrels onto long planks that were pivoted on the bridge handrails. They were in the process of filling the barrels with water from the river.
'What on earth are they for?' Baldev inquired. Sean laughed at the dragon's puzzlement.
'Watch what happens when I pull on this rope then you'll understand'. He gave a mighty heave on the rope, both lines of barrels tipped inward sending the water they contained, flooding over the foot walk of the bridge.
'Very impressive, I take it that you are going to drown the enemy in a couple of inches of water', Baldev remarked sarcastically.
Sean smiled. 'There is no need for sarcasm, what I haven't told you, is that the barrels will not contain water when the time comes'.
'What will be in them if not water?' Baldev still did not understand.
'You remember that contraption, as you called it. The one with the naphtha in it?'
Baldev nodded. 'Yes, I remember it well, but what has it to do with this?'
Sean took a parchment out of his saddlebag. 'If you come here, I will explain it to you. When I heat the naphtha in the large tank, it gives of a gas. This gas is a lighter, and more volatile constituent of the oil and rises in the tank, it then flows through the smaller tube. This tube in turn passes through a tank of cold water, which causes the gas to condense, returning it back into a liquid. It then trickles into the final container. However, by then it is a lot more flammable than the original oil'.
Baldev looked at him in silent admiration. 'This is magic of the highest order; you have astounded me'.
Sean grinned. 'I thought you'd like it, but it's not magic, just basic chemistry on my world'.
'Call it what you will; it still looks like magic to me. Let me see if I understand. You will fill the barrels with this liquid, then when the enemy tries to cross the bridge the barrels will deposit it onto the foot walk, where you will then set fire to it. Am I right?'
'Go to the top of the class, you got it in one. I'm also going to make similar arrangements further upstream, then if they take to boats or try to swim, the same thing will happen. Because the liquid is lighter than water, it will float and burn.
Behind them, someone clapped. 'Brilliant, Sir Sean'. It was King Rupert.
'My Liege', Sean bowed. 'You overheard'
'Most certainly, and glad that I did. I was walking by the river, feeling very despondent when I saw and heard all. It gives me renewed hope that we may possibly defeat Magule and his evil; something for which I have prayed long and hard. It cannot be much longer before he is ready to strike'
'I am glad that it pleases you my Liege, and I am sure that if my other ideas works, you will be even more sure of success in the coming war'.
The King looked questioningly at Sean.
'I would prefer to say no more about my plans, until I have had the opportunity to see if they work the way that I hope they will'.
King Rupert nodded his agreement. 'We will gladly leave it in your more than capable hands Sir Sean, but do keep us informed of your progress'.
The King continued his stroll along the riverbank, but now he was singing softly to himself.
'What a rare man', Sean remarked, to no one in particular. 'Yes for a human', Baldev agreed. 'He shows considerable wisdom. He must have inherited it from his father, then again, you are a lot brighter than I first thought. Mayhap it just takes longer for the human race to reach maturity'.
'Go on, be a smart ass, just stick to what you are good at, like flying and breathing fire'.
Baldev smiled pityingly. 'Humans', he snorted.
'But mother, I love him, and he loves me'. Angelica was in tears. Her mother had found out that she and Sean had been meeting. She was not a happy woman.
'Oh my child, you are so innocent in the ways of the world, especially the male sex.
They speak of love, and fill your head full of promises. When all they really want is to bed you. Then they leave, and as like as not, they leave you in child'.
'Sean is different. He is from another world. He is not like the other knights, he is honourable and kind, and he has never made any advances, apart from kissing me'.
Her mother snorted. 'He probably just takes more time in the chase. Some men are like that. I forbid you to see him again, unless you are chaperoned, and that is an end to it'.
Silverwing had decided that it was time to meet with King Rupert. They needed to formulate a plan of battle. He was worried; dragons being a peaceful race had no history of proper warfare on which to draw. Whatever fighting they had done in the past, had been purely defensive, and then usually in single combat.
Argon was going with him; the mage wished to meet with this strange knight Baldev had befriended. Willum elected to stay behind and guard the tower.
Silverwing had posted guards to watch for any sign of more of Magule's assassins, so Argon was satisfied that Willum would come to no harm.
Sean was sitting on a bench in the castle courtyard deep in thought. Slowly he became aware of the sound of wings. Looking up he saw a huge iridescent silver dragon circling above the castle.
The dragon did a spectacular sideslip manoeuvre and landed gently in the courtyard. From the dragon's back descended a tall white bearded man. He was dressed in flowing robes and a conical hat. In his hand, he held a staff of black wood with a large ruby coloured crystal surmounting it. Silver and gold inlays adorned the shaft, forming strange arcane patterns.
Sean stared in astonishment. He looks like all the wizards in all the fairy stories I ever read.
He stood and walked over to greet the visitors.
'Welcome, I am Sir Sean of Lacy. May I inquire whom you both might be'.
Listening to himself, Sean realised that he was sounding more like a local than ever. Not to worry, he thought. When I eventually get back home, I'll be able to teach "Olde English".
The wizard gave a slight bow. 'I am known as Argon, the Great Mage, and this is my dear friend Silverwing. May I say that your name is familiar to us both, Baldev has spoken long and well about you. In fact, you are the reason for my visit. He has told us of many magical things that you have done. Though I must confess, you do not look like a mage from this world, or your own. Mind you it is many years since I visited your world'.
Sean offered his hand. 'I have also heard about both of you, as for being a mage, I am not. I have tried to explain to Baldev what my skills are, but he does not grasp the concept. Maybe you will have more understanding. But forgive me, I am being remiss, you must be tired and in need of refreshment after your journey. Shall we go inside?'
Silverwing spoke in a deep rumbling voice. 'I shall go and find my brother Baldev, we have much to discuss about the coming conflict, and the part we will play in it'. So saying, he spread his shimmering wings and flew from the courtyard.
After Argon had eaten, Sean asked him if he was too tired to take a stroll.
'Not at all, in fact I am eager to see all the things that Baldev has told me about'.
Sean was showing Argon the preparations he had made on the bridge and upstream on the river.
'I am very impressed', declared Argon. 'You say that this is not regarded as magic on your world, but to me it appears to be magic. Even my old friend Merlin, who was a mage on your world long ago, had no knowledge of this type. If he had, he could have saved the noble Arthur and his round table'.
Sean was taken aback. 'You mean that there really was a King Arthur with his knights? To us on our world it is only a legend, something to tell the children; and for television and films'.
Argon looked puzzled. 'These are strange words to me. Mayhap you will explain their meaning at some future date. For the present, I must confess that sleep is rapidly overtaking me, I am not as young as I was, and travelling is very tiresome, so I will take my leave of you now'.
'Good night Argon, it has been a pleasure meeting you, I’m sure that between us we can beat this Magule, whatever he tries.
'Argon, I have a problem'. The wizard was sitting at Sean's writing desk; he was studying some drawings that Sean had done.
'Looking at these I think that it is Magule who will have the problem. I have never seen machines such as these for inflicting death and destruction'.
Sean grimaced. 'That is the problem'. 'If I fail to find the chemical I need, they will be very limited in their use. You are my only hope'.
Argon smiled. 'If I can be of help in any way, please do not hesitate to ask. As an alchemist of some repute, I am well versed in what chemicals we have on this world, precisely what is it you require?'
'We call it saltpetre on my world. What it is called here, I haven't the foggiest idea'.
Argon laughed. 'We also call it saltpetre, but why you think that being able to preserve meat will help in Magule's downfall, is beyond me'.
He looked in amazement at Argon. 'Of course, how stupid of me, it has been used for the same thing my world for centuries, I had completely forgotten. Now we will defeat Magule, he won't stand a chance'.
Argon looked perplexed.
'Well', Sean explained. 'With just three ingredients, I can manufacture something we call gunpowder, we can use it to blow him, and his hordes to kingdom come'.
'That is another strange word to me, what on earth is gunpowder? And to what use is it put?'
Sean tried to explain what it was, he could see that Argon was not grasping idea.
'If you will get some saltpetre, tomorrow I will make a batch and demonstrate it, I guarantee that you will be very impressed'.
'True to his word, Argon delivered a batch of saltpetre to Sean's workshop. He watched fascinated, as Sean mixed it with the sulphur and charcoal.
'I am guessing at the quantities of each constituent', Sean admitted. 'Hopefully I have got it about right, we will soon know', he said, placing a small mound of the dirty grey powder onto a metal plate.
'I think it will be safer if you stand at the other side of the room'. He advised Argon.
Laying a trail of more of the powder along the length of the workbench, he then struck a flint and steel over it. Nothing happened. He tried again. This time he was successful, the powder caught fire. It spluttered into life, travelling rapidly to the heap on the metal plate. With a whoosh, the heap flared into a column of fire, also producing a stinking cloud of black smoke.
Argon was dumfounded. 'Well done, I can do something similar by magic, but it takes a deal longer'.
Sean explained how when the powder was confined inside a receptacle, like a sealed drum or something similar. The gases produced made the whole thing explode, instead of just burning.
Argon nodded his head in understanding. 'It is different to my magic, all that I can produce is thick smoke, useful on occasions, but not as effective as yours so obviously is'.
Sean picked up a metal cylinder off his workbench. 'This is the sort of thing that I'm going to use, I'll fill these with the powder then fit something called a fuse, it's a wick that burns slowly, it will ignite the powder, and the thing explodes. I've had the blacksmiths busy making lots of canisters, also the potters have made hollow globes of pot, these will also be filled with gunpowder and assorted small stones. When they explode, they, like the canisters, will hurl the contents in all directions, killing or maiming anything within range. We call them bombs on my world'.
Argon looked disturbed. 'They sound to be a horrendous thing Sean. Unfortunately, I can also see the need for them.
However, I beg you, do not show anyone else the secret of your powder. If it were to be common knowledge, who knows what evils it could bring to this world'.
Sean nodded his agreement. 'Let's hope that this coming war will be the only time that it has to be used. On my world, we have developed even more lethal weapons, and tragically, millions of people have been slaughtered by them; I would not want that to happen here'.
'I couldn't agree more', Argon replied. 'Oh, by the way, I hope that you do not mind, but I took it upon myself to explain to the King exactly where it is you came from. Not that I think he really understood all that I told him. However, it at least will save you the embarrassment of telling lies'.
'Thank you for doing that my friend, I was finding it harder by the day to continue the pretence of coming from some strange part of this world'.