Paulek

                                            By 

                                         Arthur 

 
CHAPTER 5


With the sounds of Tito awaking and the pull of the rising sun, the three boys put aside their bowls and trays, it was time to go to their death sleep, as they left the kitchen, Tito appeared rubbing sleep from his eyes, he smiled at his Master and then to the other two boys, with a “Good day Master” he went about readying the shop for the busy market day.

The three boys went to their hiding place and were soon asleep, the next night would be a busy one and, as they had no baking to do, they would have plenty of time to visit the Master assassin, all three knew that the Mayor had to be behind the unsuccessful attack but, as Sergei had said, for it to be taken seriously by the courts of the land, they had to have proof, if that didn’t work, then there was always their own way of fixing problems.

When the boys awoke and returned to the bakery, Tito had cleaned everything and only a few pastries were left unsold, they of course went to Tito, the boys told him that they insisted he now get proper food for himself and not too worry about the money he spent, they wanted him healthy and well fed.

Tito almost blushed when he realised that his master had been keeping an eye on him and the little he spent on himself, Tito promised to look after himself better, once they saw he was fed and ready for his bed, they left the bakery and met Sergei at the gates of the town, each boy wore his sword and had his dagger fixed to his belt.

Sergei led the boys at speed through the dark, with their accentuated sight; they had no trouble seeing where they were going in the pitch dark of the night, within an hour they were stalking quietly through Hayston’s streets, it was Sergei that knew where to go too, he was after all, a lot older than the boys and was familiar with all the people in a wide area.

The house they arrived at looked just like any other in the town of Hayston, its lower walls were made of stones with the rest being of wooden slats, the roof was of thatch, the windows, they noticed, seemed to be blacked out with heavy drapes, even though it was early in the night, they could see no sign of light in the house although their sharp hearing could detect people moving around inside.

The four of them listened carefully, they all agreed that they could hear at least five people inside, Sergei said he would go in alone and then call the boys once he was sure that it was safe, with silence, he drew his sword and stepped up to the single door, pulling his left hand back, he suddenly shot it forward, with a loud cracking, the door split and flew open, Sergei moved like lightening, he was inside the house before the broken door hit the floor.

The boys waiting outside heard the loud shouts and cries from the now light interior, within only seconds, Sergei was standing at the door beckoning them inside, when the boys entered, the first thing they saw was the blood covering the floor and four bodies lying around the small room, in one corner lay a heavy set man, he was unconscious And had no blood on him that they could see, Paulek was surprised to see one of the dead was only a youth but, the sword in the youths dead hand told of his decision to fight Sergei.

The four blood drinkers waited until the man groaned and started to stir, Sergei gestured towards him and Paulek and Pavlik were quick to grab a hold of the mans arms and pull them behind his back, as the mans head cleared he saw four strangers in his house, one was an adult, the others were only young teens, he tried to struggle out of the two young teens hands, the harder he tried to free himself, the tighter the young teens grip became.

Sergei spoke forcefully and a little louder than necessary which brought the man’s attention fully on him.

“Who ordered one of your assassins to attack my boys?”

The man, although he looked scared also showed some defiance as he answered.

“I don’t know what you mean, I don’t know any assassins, you’ve made a mistake”

“I don’t make mistakes, now who asked you too send him?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about; you’ve got the wrong person.”

Sergei turned to Hawk and smiled.

“Are you hungry Hawk?”

Hawk wasn’t, after his feeding last night he was full and didn’t need to feed for a few weeks but, he understood where Sergei was going with his question.

“Yes Sergei, do you think he would make a good meal.”

As Hawk said this he took the hint from Sergei and let his sharp fangs drop from his upper jaw so the man could plainly see them, it was all that was needed, the man screamed loudly as he saw the one thing he thought was impossible, demons, just like the priests had told him, they had long teeth and a strange blood lust in their eyes, slowly the stench of fresh urine hit the noses of the four visitors, Paulek and Pavlik felt the man sag in their hands as they tried to hold him up.

“Now, would you like to tell us what we want to know or, do I let the boy take all your blood and drain you dry, make your mind up.”

The once powerful Master of assassins now knew he had little time to refuse; these devils would take his life at a whim if he kept his secret.

“It was the Mayor; he said he had some help from others in your town to make up the price.”

“Do you know who they are?”

“No, he never said their names.”

“Well, it looks like we will have to ask him, one of you see that he doesn’t tell anyone about this visit.”

After the cowardly attempted attack on Hawk, neither Paulek nor Pavlik felt any sympathy for the Master assassin, Pavlik drew his dagger and slit the mans throat, all four walked outside as the man lay bleeding to death, there would be no reports to the town leaders of the devil boys from the nearby town.

On their return to their home town, they first checked on Tito, the thin Roma boy was fast asleep, the remains of a good meal lay on the table, the boys smiled too see that the boy had finally started to feed himself properly, their next step was to follow Sergei to the house of the Mayor, it was now past the midnight hour.

Looking over the large house of the Mayor, the four listened carefully for any sounds, the house was dark and there were no sounds coming from it, Sergei sent Hawk and Pavlik to the rear of the building while keeping Paulek with him, it was time for the boy to learn how to get into a house without breaking down a door.

Sergei lifted a finger to his lips in the universal sign for silence, Paulek nodded his understanding, Sergei then placed his hand on the door handle and exerted pressure, the door seemed to spring open under the powerful force, within seconds they were both inside the sleeping house, with Sergei’s help, Paulek began to recognise the different odours and smells in the house, he soon saw that there were four servants downstairs and a heavy oily smell came from up stairs, that had to be the Mayor and his wife.

With the silence of shadows, Sergei and Paulek climbed the stair as though they were nothing more than a slight slope, at the top of the stairs were four doors, from two of them came, not only the oily smell but the sound of snoring, again Sergei lifted his finger to his lips as he opened the first door.

Paulek saw easily into the darkened room, his new eye sight made it simple to make out the form of a large body lying in the wide over stuffed bed, the long hair and sleeping bonnet marked the body as that of the Mayors wife, she slept alone, closing the door silently, the two moved to the door at the far end of the upstairs passage, it appeared that the Mayor and his wife were not like other married couples.

From the last door came the loud sound of snoring, this could only be the Mayors room, the door was silently pushed open and the two might people slipped inside without trouble, the large mass of the Mayor could be seen under the thick covers, Sergei made gestures as to what he wanted Paulek to do, then, in no time at all, the Mayor had been picked up, gagged with a piece of cloth and rolled into the large comforter he slept under, it was an easy matter for the two men of the night to carry the Mayors bulk outside the house.

Hawk and Pavlik came around the house and met the other two as they carried the struggling Mayor from the house and then outside the town, all four knew that the Mayor could never be returned with his information on the Blood Drinkers, it would be their end, it seemed that only the Mayor never got the idea as he continued to struggle but, against the strength and power of these people he was no match.

Sergei had checked the time of night, they had a little over three hours until the first light of dawn, it would be plenty of time for what they wanted to do, the four fast moving figures disappeared into the darkness, they were seen only by one pair of eyes, the gate guard smiled as he watched them fade into the surrounding forest, turning back to his post he continued with his sword practice.

The Mayor finally gave up the information the four needed, after an hour of threats and cajoling, he saw no point in keeping his secrets, all he hoped for now was that he would be set free, he could then have these four arrested and hanged as soon as he got back to the town, he had never liked the Marshals Commander and he definitely didn’t like the baker boy, he now had a way to get the bakery with little effort, that was to be the last thoughts of the Mayor, even though the day watch scoured the surrounding country side, they never found the Mayor or any sign of him.

Sergei returned to his own house for the day light hours, the three boys to the bakery, after telling Tito to take the day off and go for a roam around the town, the three boys returned to their safe haven under the barn, each night they had added something to make the place more acceptable for when they awoke each night.

The main topic of conversation in the town that day was the strange disappearance of the Mayor, for four particular men, it was almost a disaster, their continued wealth was dependant on the power of the Mayor and his position on the council, by lunch that day, the four gathered in the tavern, not in the general bar but upstairs in a small private room, there was much to be settled, namely which of them would become the new Mayor so they could maintain their control over the town.

As the day moved towards its inevitable end, the people of the town knew that there would be a new election of a Mayor, they also knew that the Banker, now selected by the four as the temporary Mayor, would be the only candidate, it was a forgone conclusion, the four men felt very satisfied with their quick actions to save their positions.

Dusk slowly settled over the town, the missing Mayor had been the talk of the town all day, now however, it was a subject put aside for the new discussion on who would take his place, as though the towns people would have any say in the matter, even the lowliest person in the town knew it was already decided by the four wealthiest men among them.

Sergei stretched his cramped limbs, it was time to settle old scores, calling Lanslo and Jorge, he set off for his office, with a thought he asked for the three boys to join him at the office, as the oldest of the blood drinkers, he was able to call and demand by thought, it was one of the advantages of age, tonight, before settling old scores, he would mark the boys as his own, it would give the young ones a certain amount of protection from others.

The three boys awoke simultaneously, the sudden order to join Sergei entered their minds with little effort, for Paulek and Hawk it was the first time they had felt it, Pavlik looked as though it was nothing unusual, with a smile at the others, he thanked Tito for watching over them and headed for the door with the other two close behind.

They had all seen that Tito had not wasted the day time, everything in the bakery kitchen was clean and ready for the nights baking, his own clothes now looked new and his supper on the table was more substantial than he had been eating over the past few days, with a wave they all left to answer the demand of Sergei.

The three boys gathered in Sergei’s office, Lanslo and Jorge were both there as well, once they were settled, Sergei told them what he wanted to do, if they all agreed then they would have his protection from others of their kind, that was, if any others tried to come to this town, his blood was distinctive and would be recognised by all others that were drinkers of blood.

Sergei, after explaining all to them, then asked if they were in agreement, when all three nodded their acceptance, he grew a long sharp nail and pierced the flesh on his arm, Sergei then held his arm out for each of the boys to take a drink from him, when that was done, he went to each of them and sniffed to make sure they had his scent in their blood, Lanslo and Jorge also did the same to make sure it had settled into the boys system, all three senior blood drinkers were happy and slapped the three boys on the back as they smiled.

“Welcome to my family boys.” Sergei said. “Now we have something that must be done tonight, you should still have plenty of time to do your baking before the sun rises if all goes to plan.”

Sergei set about explaining what the night held for them, they had four men to take care of, it would mean a lot of talk and disruption to the town tomorrow but that couldn’t be helped now, Sergei would take Paulek with him to the house of the banker, Lanslo would take Hawk to the tavern and Jorge would take Pavlik with him to the house of the blacksmith, the last remaining man would be left alone, he would be given a warning and then be allowed to continue with his life as long as he took the towns interests before his own.

Sergei explained to Paulek that everything had to be done by stealth, the banker would be taken to the forest outside of town and just disappear like the Mayor, once all three had been taken care of, they would go and visit the money lender, Sergei was sure that he would listen to their orders and follow them to the letter, he was after all, only one of the followers of the other three in their plan to rule the town.

An hour after midnight, their plan had been taken care of, the money lender had been warned and was sworn to silence, any word of who the six were and the man would also disappear into the night, his sense of self preservation was more than his sense of duty to the people who walked during the day, the fearsome visage of the six that had taken him silently from his bed in the middle of the night was enough of a warning.

As the first rays of the sun broke over the tree tops, the three boys made their way towards the day time resting place, Tito appeared refreshed from his nights sleep to see the bakery table well supplied with the nights baking, as each of the boys wished him a busy and profitable day, Tito set about opening the wooden shutters and door for the days trade.

It was well into the morning business before rumours began to circulate, the black smith had not appeared at his shop and only his apprentice was working, a most unusual event, the next rumour was that the banker had not been to open his small bank and that his three staff were still standing outside waiting for him, it was not long before the whole town knew that there were three missing men, all of them the most important men in the town.

The theories and chatter went on into the first hour of the afternoon, it was then, that a farmer on his way to town with four pigs to sell, found the bodies in the forest, it appeared as though they had been attacked by hungry beasts, even for a tough farmer the sight he described made many faces pale, body parts strewn about the forest floor, stomach contents dragged about the grass and the heavy smell of blood hung heavy in the air, the rumours increased.

There were those that were only too happy that the three most powerful of the town had met their just end but, the one question everyone asked was, “What were the three men doing in the depths of the forest in the dark hours of night?” this question was bandied about for endless hours until, in the second hour of the afternoon, a well dressed man followed by a troop of twelve guards and a four wheeled cart rode into the centre of the town, one glance by the towns people and they knew who this was and why they were here, everyone began to hurry away from the small troop as they stopped in the square.

Spying the open bakery, the well dressed man signalled for two soldiers to follow him there, it took little time for the man to come to the open door of the bakery, inside he saw a very young boy standing patiently by the two tables of bake goods, some of which had obviously been sold to early customers.

The man stopped the two guards at the door and stepped into the coolness of the small room, Tito looked up at the tall man, his Roma instincts told him not to trust the man on sight, Tito casually reached one hand behind his back to check that his two small knives were properly in place, like all Roma, Tito carried the small concealed daggers as a right of passage, it was the Roma way, forcing a wide smile on his lips, Tito addressed the man as he stood towering over him.

“Good day my Lord, how may I serve you?”

The stranger looked down on the young boy before him, one glance told him the boy was not of this area, it also told him the boy was not the owner of this bakery and therefore was only a servant, not anyone he would do business with.

“Where’s your Master, boy?”

“He was called away on business, my Lord, he should return by nightfall, he said.”

“Do you know who I am boy?”

“No my Lord, but it is my duty to see too all your demands, my Lord.”

“Hurmph, well at least you have been taught your place, I am Mangus, tax collector of his Lordship, this bakery was closed these past two years, it is behind in its taxes, now I see it is open once again, tell your Master when he returns that I will be here just after nightfall for his back taxes as well as for this next year, now let me select the bread for my troops.”

Tito stepped back and let the Tax collector near the bread laden table, off to one side was the second table with the sweet pastries, Tito watched as the man lifted and replaced different loaves and then went to taste a pastry or two, when he had eaten three pastries, the man turned back to Tito.

“What are these breads boy, I have not seen their like before?”

Tito neared the bread table and began to explain the new style breads; it had been an invention of Hawk and his desire to improve on the years of work by his now dead parents.

“The flat bread is of course familiar to your Lordship, next to that is what my Master calls a Tankard Loaf, its round shape makes it easier for a man to clean his bowl of soup or stew by slicing it evenly, it is very popular in the taverns, next is what my Master calls a Barn Loaf, it can be sliced lengthwise and, with meats and cheeses added then placed in an oven, it can be sliced for a meal, lastly is what my Master calls a Ploughman’s Loaf, it is filled with strong cheese and onions then baked, it is the favourite of the farmers, it gives them a meal without having to stop work as all they need is inside the bread, it can be held in one hand while they work on.”

“Hmm, most ingenious, well my boy, we will take everything, I have twelve soldiers to feed and I do like those pastries.”

Tito smiled broadly, his whole stock would be sold in one, Master Hawk would be pleased and it would allow him to visit the small midweek market for some things of his own, quickly, Tito added up the prices of the breads and pastries.

“My Lord; that will be two gold, seven silver and nine coppers, and my Master thanks you for your business.”

“What, what are you blabbing about boy? These, are the Lords troops, it is your duty to supply them with food, you don’t think we pay for your stupid bread do you, it is the duty of all citizens to assist in maintaining his Lordships troops, tell you Master it is part payment on his taxes.”

The man turned away and strode out of the small shop, within seconds the soldiers came in and cleaned every bight of bread from the two tables along with every pastry that had been baked; Tito called out urgently and followed the tall man outside, placing one hand on the mans cloak as he talked to him.

“My Lord, we will be unable to buy flour for tomorrow if you take everything.”

Much to Tito’s surprise, the tall man spun around quickly and lashed out with his right hand, Tito felt the stinging slash on his cheek bone as he fell backwards into the dust of the street, with cat like reflexes, Tito rolled smoothly to his knees, both hands at the back of his smock, his fingers touching the twin knives hidden in his belt, from his cheek ran a thick streak of blood from the heavy signet ring on the mans finger, where it had split open Tito’s cheek from his nose to very close to his ear, Tito’s fury showed in his eyes and was instantly seen by the other troops, the sudden clanging of metal as the troops came to alert made Tito swallow his pride for now, it was not the time to die just yet, Tito took his hands off his knives and pretended to massage his sore back as he rose to his feet.

The tall man sneered at the rising boy, he quickly grabbed Tito by the front of his smock and dragged him close as he almost spat out his words into the boys face.

“Next time boy, I’ll have your head, you learn your place before your betters or you will never grow old.”

The tax man turned away and made for the tavern followed by his guards, Tito watched until they were all out of sight then looked down at his closed fist, opening his hand he counted the four gold coins in his small hand, it had been so easy, like all powerful men, the tax collector thought he was invincible and carried his purse openly on his belt, it had been little effort for Tito to remove the four coins, it was something they were taught from a very young age in the Roma society.

Tito set about tidying the shop, cleaning the tables off and making sure the four gold coins were well hidden from prying eyes, he was not worried that the tax man would discover the coins any time soon, his purse had been large and full, four coins would not be noticed for a while, if ever, Tito had also taken note of the heavily laden cart, the quick glimpse he had of the inside showed only large wooden chests and very little in the way of travelling or camping goods.

Once all was clean and tidy once again, Tito took one silver coin from its hiding place and, closing and locking the door, made his way to the market place to buy fresh vegetables and a little meat for his supper, he also had been told by Paulek to purchase himself a good sturdy pair of boots and some new clothes.

As the darkness of evening closed in, Tito watched from the doorway for his Master and friends to arrive, it had been a full day and he had much to tell them, as he looked up and the first stars of night time appeared, so did his three friends, all four boys hugged briefly and then Tito began to relate the days events, the fury he could see on the faces of the three boys told its own story, just as he finished, all four of them heard the tramping of feet approaching the bakery, with quick whispered words they set their plan for the upcoming meeting with the tax man and his troops.

With a loud clash of metal and heavy leather boots, the soldiers formed a half circle around the doorway of the bakery, the tall tax man stood in the centre looking at the three boys in the doorway.

“Where is the Master Baker, I am here on behalf of his Lordship to collect the taxes for this building and business.”

Holding his head high, Hawk took one step forward.

“I am the baker and owner, this bakery is exempt from taxes by order of the King as it has always been for generations and under the Kings charter.”

The tax collector looked down at the young boy before him with some disgust on his face.

“I’m not here to bandy words with you boy, now, where is the master Baker and hurry up, I don’t have all night to stand here listening to your cheek, go and get the Baker right now.”

“Sir, I am the baker, this has been my families holding for generations under the order of the King, my parents were killed and I am the only one left, it is my right by birth to hold this place and land.”

The tall tax man drew himself up to look more authoritive, with a quick gesture to his troops he stepped forward.

“Out of the way boy, you are too young to own this property, I am declaring it to be taken for back taxes and will become part of his Lordships lands and holdings, now step aside or I will let my soldiers do it for you.”

From the darkness behind the circle of troops came a flat hard voice.

“Hold your men Tax man, this property and these boys are under the protection of the King, the boy spoke the truth, this property is exempt from taxes as long as one member of the blood is alive, now back away and leave them in peace.”

Mangus could not place the location of the hard voice, it was somewhere in the dark shadows behind his men, was he alone, did he have men with him, Mangus shrugged his shoulders, it made no difference, he had the authority of his Lordship to collect all taxes owing as well as a dozen well armed troops, no one in this small village would dare stand against him.

“Show yourself if you have a genuine claim here, I know nothing of the claims you make, all his Lordships vassals pay taxes and none are exempt, it is the law.”

As he finished his words, Mangus was suddenly taken aback, from out of nowhere a large man in the uniform of the town marshals stood before him; he had not even seen the man move into the circle but now he was standing taller than himself, the man was large in every way and his piercing eyes were boring deep into those of Mangus.

“I am Sergei, commander of the night watch Marshals, this town is under my protection as are all its inhabitants, you have no rights here, your Lord is under the command of the King and this boys claim is valid under the Kings law.”

“There you are wrong, my Lord has domain over all these lands under the same Kings law, this boy has no claim, his taxes to my Lord are in arrears and he must make full payment or suffer the consequences, it is the law of the land.”

“The Kings law supercedes all others, you are aware of this so you know your claim is not valid.”

“I’m not going to bandy the law with you Marshal, now go on your way or I will have my soldiers take care of you and your two men, now move aside while I deal with this young tax evader.”

“In this town, I am the law, now go on your way and leave these boys to their work, and, never, I repeat, never, threaten me or my men again, it is not a wise act.”

Mangus felt he had the law on his side and was not about to take any more from this lowly Marshal of a small town of no import, with his stubborn and arrogant streak coming to the fore, Mangus looked at his troops, with a simple nod of his head he gave the order to take the three Marshals into custody, his Lordship would soon sort them out.

The following fight was short and devastating, within a few moments Mangus stood alone, his soldiers dead and blood covered as the three Marshals stood and looked at the remains, all three men were hardly breathing heavily, the fight was so fast and final that Mangus did not even see how he had lost all his troops, now he was afraid, the Marshal commander stood in front of him with a slight grin on his face.

“Now, tax collector, where are your soldiers, do you still feel you should harrass these boys or do you feel it is a good time to return to your Lordship and explain the loss of his soldiers and his taxes.”

“What do you mean, “and his taxes”?

“Why, you don’t seriously think we are going to let you take all those stollen taxes back to that despot, do you?”

“But, but, but.”

“No buts, just get moving or you will be on the ground with your soldiers, and tell that despot you steal for, not too come to this town again, as I said, it is under my protection.”

“We’ll see about that, his Lordship is the only law in this county.”

With one last glance at his fallen troops, Mangus left the small bakery and within minutes was riding hard for the county seat where his Lordship resided, not only would he have to explain the loss of the soldiers, he would also have to convince his Lordship of the lost tax money, Mangus always took a little of the taxes for himself but this was another problem he could well do without, to get on the wrong side of his Lordship did not make for much of a furture.

Sergie watched the tax collector race his horse into the darkness, he now had other things to do, twleve bodies had to be disposed of and the boys had bread to bake, with a sigh he signalled both of the others to take a body each and they all left for the deepest woods, by the end of the night they would have all the carcasses well hidden and disposed of, the wild animals would take care of the rest over the next few days.

For the next four days the town returned to its slow pace of life, the bakery was now the only one in town and the boys were kept busy baking more than ever before, the small hiding place for their coins was filling rapidly and they had to think of another hiding place as Sergie had called them to his office the previous evening and given them all a share of the tax money taken from the collector, it had been a huge amount, they now had little to worry about as far as money went.

It was on the fifth afternoon, while the boys slept in their hiding place, that trouble came agin to the town in the form of nearly a hundred troops of his Lordship along with Mangus at the head, this town it had been decided, would be razed to the ground and the inhabitants, those that survived, would be put into slavery for their blatant murder of the lawful men of his Lordship.

By nightfall, only one person remained alive in the town, of all the buildings, only the remains of the stone bakery still stood and it was from here, under the stone floor, that a solitary figure emerged, he was young and of dark complection, his face was smudge with dirt but his eyes were bright as he looked around what remained of the bakery, with a sigh he lifted himself from the hiding place and went to what remained of the door after first checking the hiding place of their coin, all was safe.

As Tito turned towards the door, he heard the soft tread of the three boys, soon followed by the heavier tread of the three men, of the town, nothing remained but a few still burning embers, the heavy smell of smoke filled the air as the seven looked around them, Sergei was the first to speak.

“Gentlemen, today war was declared, these people were under my protection and that son of a bitch came and destroyed all they had built, its time for them to see what we can do, you boys go and bury your wealth in a safe place, then meet us back here, take only enough coin for your needs for a month. Jorge, you and Lanslo get all our weapons, we are going to need them, how have the boys gone with their training?”

Jorge looked at Sergei.

“Better than any warm blood, they can hold their own well, you have no fear of that.”

“Good, let’s get moving, we have a lot to do before this nights work is over.”

For the next hour, the group gathered everything they would need, only Tito had no idea how he would keep up with the faster and stronger blood drinkers, he had no need to worry, Sergei had already taken his normal blood into consideration as long as Tito had no objection to being slung over Sergei’s shoulder and carried as the group made a fast journey to the caves that the others would need to protect them from the coming dawn, Tito had no objections and was soon hanging on for dear life as the others ran at their fullest speed for the far off caves, they would be well within sight of his Lordships castle by the next night.

The three boys found they had little trouble keeping up with the three adults, as the first light of dawn broke over the horizon, the group ran into a deep cave half way up a small mountain chain, the cave went well back into the mountain and gave them ample darkness and protection from the strengthening sunlight, as the six felt the pull of sleep, Tito set about making a small meal of bread and cheese for himself as he had had the easiest of the travel, he would remain awake until they all awoke at the onset of night.

At the onset of the new night, all six of the blood drinkers readied themselves for another fast run, Tito was out on his feet but still took his place over Sergei’s shoulder, the large Marshal had little trouble carrying the small Roma boy and his smooth stride soon let the boy drift into sleep from sheer tiredness as the miles flew by with their long fast strides, by middnight, they were in sight of the large stone castle, once again, Sergei led them to a deep cave in the side of a ridge they would spend the rest of the night there and make plans for the revenge on the following night.

When Tito woke at sunrise the next morning, he was not surprised to find himself and the others in another cave, with his normal morning needs he stepped towards the far off light until he was outside the cave, as he relieved himself he looked down below and saw the large castle set in the valley, they had made it too the Lordships keep, feeling a little hungry, Tito decided to make his way to the castle and see if he could find some food and, while there, look around in the hope of finding out any informsation that could help his Master and his friends.

Tito went back inside and took a few coins from the bag that they had all decided to pool their money in, making sure he took only coppers, he then set out for the castle in the valley, as he walked he checked that his two knives were well hidden behind his back, no respectable Roma would ever travel without them.

It took Tito an hour to arrive at the gates of the castle where he was stopped by one of the guards standing on the draw bridge, it was his first experience of having to pay a bribe to enter a place, after giving over two coppers, he was allowed to enter the lane that led to the centre of the castle where the market was held each day, no one took any notice of another young boy roaming around, he looked no different than any other boy.

While he looked around, Tito kept his ears open for gossip, much he heard was of little or no use to him or his friends but some, just a little, came in very handy, the gossip of the raid on the far off town gave him an insight to the workings of the men of the castle, it also gave him information on the whereabouts of the survivors.

When Tito guessed it was an hour to dusk, he set his steps towards the cave again, of course he had to pay another gate guard two coppers to leave the citadel but that was small payment for all the gossip he had gathered and his belly was full and comfortable, he had little to complain about as he quickened his steps, he wanted to be back before they all woke up from their sleep.

Tito arrived at the cave just as he could hear the first movements of the men inside, within minutes he was reporting all he had heard during the day, not waiting for another minute, Sergie sent Lanslo and Jorge off to get more men from two other towns that were within a nights run from the castle, next he turned to the three boys.

“Come, Pavlik, Hawk and Paulek, it’s time for you to join our ranks under the banner of the king.”

The three boys rose and stood in line in front of Sergei, next Sregei pulled from his small pack, four lengths of blue and gold cloth, after shaking them out, the boys could see that they were sashes that went over the shoulder and hung to their waists, the background was blue and it was trimmed in gold, after placing one on each boy and then on his own body, Sergie looked seriously at the three in front of him.

“Boys, we are always faithful to the King, these are his colours, when we don these colours, we are working under the Kings law, now raise your right hand and swear after me. I, say your name.”

The boys each spoke their name out loud and Sergei continued.

“Do swear to uphold the laws of the King and do swear to lay my life down for said laws and in the service of the King.”

The boys replied with the words and then Sergei finished the oath for them.

“I Sergei, as a Commander of the Night Marshals and under the name of the King, do hereby name you, Pavlik, Hawk and Paulek, as auxillaries of the Night Watch and that you are fit and proper persons to serve the King, So Mote It Be.”

The boys repeated the last phrase and were then each hugged tightly by Sergei.

“Welcome to the Night Watch, you are now legally allowed to fight for the King, anything done in his name by you is now legal and binding but, don’t take advantage of your new positions, if you do you will have to answer to me, your position now is one of service, you will be trusted to do what is right by the laws of the King.”

The three boys gave their solemn look of acceptance to Sergei, they now had a real duty and future, all that remained now was to get lawful revenge for the destruction of the town and the slaying and enslavement of its people, Sergei set about telling them the plan for the next night.

“We have reinforcements coming just in case they are needed, Tito how many soldiers in the castle and what banners fly over it?”

“I heard that there are some number of soldiers between 90 and 100, there are two banners that fly over the castle, the top banner is of red and black, the lower banner is of green and black, there is talk in the market of a Baron being at the castle, he has a number of young boys seen with him but few know or see him much.”

“Good, we have another ten men arriving so that should even up the odds and, for you Paulek, the green and black banner of the Baron is the one that took your brother, it looks as though we are in luck, ,tomorrow night we will attack, we will be in pairs, that way we can cover all sides of the castle, the Baron and Lord Rancovich will be captured alive, the Baron, being one of us will be a little more difficult but we well out number him so he will soon give up, he may be able to fight of one or two of us but not all of us and especially not me. Now boys, its time to see how far you have progressed with Jorges lessons, get your weapons and we will have a practice so I can see how well you have done”.

For the next few hours, all four sparred and practiced, Sergei telling them where they were a little weak and how to fix it, with only two hours until dawn, the boys heard the softly running feet of a number of men, it was only minutes later that the cave was suddenly filled with ten new young men, all were between 18 years and 22 years but they all wore the blue and gold sash along with Lanslo and Jorge who came in with them.

“Welcome gentlemen.” Sergie greeted them.

“Thank you for the invitation Commander, it has been many years since you last called on us.” One of the young men replied.

“Ah, night Captain, you are always impetuous, we have the castle over there to take tomorrow night, it is under the Kings name, lets all rest for the day and I’ll tell you the plan of attack come darkness.”

“Are we safe here Commander?” the other newcomer asked.

“Yes, Paulek has his Roma boy with him, he will keep watch while we sleep, my Roma boys are gathering what little is left at the village, they will make their way here over the next two days, now we are all tired, lets get some sleep we will have a big night tomorrow.”

Everyone dispersed into the depths of the cave as Tito rose and began to arrange for his breakfast of bread and cheese, he felt very important being asked to watch over so many of the men of the night, he would not fail them.

TBC.
Artcart65@vodafone.co.nz

 

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