Jack Shian and the King's Chalice (18 page)

BOOK: Jack Shian and the King's Chalice
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“How d’you know all this?” asked Jack, at which Rana just smiled.

“We’ve got our ways,” said Lizzie.

“Well, if you’re so clever, how are you going to get up there?” asked Petros.

“I–I don’t know,” admitted Rana.

There was a moment of silence while she and her sister looked awkwardly at each other.

“The horses!” said Jack. “We could get them from the same place as before.”

“They wouldn’t know where to go.” Petros was unconvinced. “And anyway, how would you get them out without being seen? Maybe we should leave it up to the Congress.”

“No,” said Jack firmly. “We’ve got to get to Dunvik.” He paused. Then his eyes lit up. “Ossian can get the horses. And he might be very useful if things get dangerous.”

“I don’t fancy going on a horse,” said Purdy. “Anyway, how can we tell him in time?”

“She’s right,” said Petros. “How do we get him down from Keldy?”

Jack turned to him. “The low road, of course. And you don’t have to come to Dunvik if you don’t want.” His tone was both a challenge and a rebuke.

Petros felt his sisters’ eyes boring into him.

“All right, we’ll go,” he mumbled.

“We can’t get the horses out before it’s dark, so we’ve got a couple of hours,” Jack pointed out. “Look, I can go up to Keldy and fetch Ossian. We could be back in under an hour.”

Pausing only to fetch his satchel, into which he stuffed a spare shirt and the ram’s horn, Jack headed down to the gloomy garden beside Mawkit’s house. As he neared the mound, he slowed down. What if Fenrig was around? Then, rationalising that he had little influence over where Fenrig was or what he was seeing, Jack resolved to carry on. Stepping onto the mound, he pulled his cloak around his face with his arms, and uttered, “Wind-flock Keldy!”

27
The Flight to Dunvik

Jack felt like he’d been pulled up in a tornado. He had never used the low road on his own before. Now he was getting its full force. He clamped his eyes shut, and within what seemed like seconds, found himself beside the oak tree at Keldy. Clouds hung low over the hills, and a misty rain made it difficult to see far.

There was no one about. Jack trotted off towards Ossian’s house, but within seconds his trousers were soaked from the long wet grass. He hadn’t worked out what he would do if Ossian wasn’t there, and was relieved to see his cousin sitting outside. Jack approached as quietly as he could, and crouched down some twenty yards from the house.

“Psst!”

Ossian didn’t appear to hear.

“Psssst!” he called again, louder and more urgently. Ossian’s face looked up, and he saw his young cousin.

“Jack!” he called.

“Shhh!” hissed Jack, beckoning Ossian away from the house.

“What is it? Why’re you here?”

“We have to get to Dunvik tonight. We need your help getting some horses. You know, from the place we used before.”

“Dunvik’s a long way. Why d’you need to go there?”

“Treasure,” said Jack, figuring this was a sure way to get Ossian interested. He was right. Ossian’s eyes lit up at the word, and he leaned forward earnestly.

“What kind of treasure?”

“The kind that Shian have been seeking for centuries. It’s the King’s Cup.”

Ossian let out a low whistle. “And it’s up in Dunvik? Does Cosmo know this?”

“We’ve only just found out ourselves. The Congress is heading up there now to be ready for Hallows’ Eve. They’re scared the Brashat will get there first.”

“I’ve met Brashat before. Some of them were OK.”

“Ossian, if they get hold of the Cup it means trouble. D’you know what power that will give them? Nowhere will be safe.”

Ossian considered this for a moment. “All right. But the humans down near Falabray weren’t as stupid as we thought. They’ve put iron locks on the stable doors now. We can’t get past them. How many d’we need?”

“Well, there’s you, me and Petros, and we’ll have to take Rana and Lizzie because they found out about Dunvik.”

“Three will do, then,” mused Ossian. “I can manage that. But we’ll need to get the others up here by dusk. That’s about an hour away. Can you get them back here in that time?”

Jack nodded confidently, the excitement in him rising.

“Right. You get the others and meet me back here. Have you eaten?” Jack shook his head. “All right, I’ll get some food. Mum’s gettin’ ready for tomorrow’s party – there’s loads.”

By the time Jack returned an hour later with the others, Ossian was getting restless. The rain had stopped, but the evening was getting gloomy.

“I thought you’d got lost,” he muttered, fingering the sack in which he had stashed some food.

“We couldn’t get away,” explained Petros. “Mum kept asking us questions. She knew something was up. We’d to get Purdy to call in and ask her to go next door.”

“Did you see Cosmo on the road?” Ossian asked expectantly. All four shook their heads. “I sent a grig; I hope she didn’t get lost.”

“We should get going,” said Jack, who had noted with satisfaction that the low road trip had dried out his clothes and shoes. He could enjoy these journeys now, unlike Lizzie, who remained pale and quiet.

“You’ll be all right once we get up in the air. You like the horses.” He patted Lizzie’s arm.

Ossian led them from the oak tree and away from his house. “You and Jack take one horse,” he said to Petros. “And the girls can go together. D’you feel up to that? There’s reins.”

“We’ll be fine.” Rana handed Lizzie a small satchel, which she swung over her back, tying the straps firmly in front of her.

Ossian stopped. “Are you sure it’s safe to bring them?” he asked Petros.

“We can’t
not
take them, they’d follow us anyway. This way I can keep an eye on them.”

They mounted the horses, and with Ossian giving the signal, “Horse and hattock!” they were all soon airborne. Jack shivered as they climbed higher into the cold night air, the wind rushing past him.

“How long will it take?” he shouted, his horse pulling alongside Ossian’s.

“To the north-west coast?” Ossian bellowed back. “We should make it in ten minutes.”

Rana and Lizzie spurred their own horse on to join the others. Lizzie had got over her low road travel sickness, and she and Rana were both clearly enjoying the ride.

“This is great!” shouted Rana. “Look, there’s a town down there.”

“Never mind down there,” said Petros, “you keep a tight hold of those reins.” He turned and shouted across at Ossian, “Are you sure you know where we’re going?”

“I went fishin’ in the dark loch once,” said Ossian. “Huge fish, straight in from the sea. At high tide the water sometimes reaches the cave.”

“But d’you know where we’re going to land?” shouted Jack.

“There’s a forest behind the cave, then some fields. We’ll head there.”

Within minutes, Ossian was directing the horses towards the ground. Jack could see dark blurs that must have been trees, but unlike at Claville there were no landing lights tonight to direct the incoming fliers.

“Are you sure you know where the fields are?”

Ossian scanned the ground for the fields that he knew were down there somewhere. Looking up, Jack caught sight of five more horses above them, just visible in the dark sky.

“Ossian!” He pointed upwards.

“Quick! Down here!”

The horses descended quickly, skimming some treetops before coming down awkwardly in a small clearing. As they landed, each youngster rose to human height. Ossian’s horse stumbled on landing, whinnying angrily, and catapulted Ossian to the side. His right leg struck a tree. Stifling an oath, he sat and rubbed his leg. Rana knelt down by the horse.

“I think she’s broken her leg,” she sniffed.

Ossian swore under his breath, but managed to limp over to the stunned horse. From the little light available, Jack could see fear in its eyes. Ossian knelt down stiffly and inspected the horse’s leg.

“You’re right. We can’t do anythin’ for her here. I might be able to fix this back in Keldy, but I don’t have the right stones wi’ me.”

“But we can’t just leave her here,” said Lizzie, starting to cry. “She’s in pain and afraid.”

“I’m no’ goin’ to leave her in pain,” said Ossian.

Still kneeling down beside the horse, he caressed her trembling neck, moving both hands soothingly up and down the beast’s collar. The horse’s eyes slowly closed, and its breathing settled. Ossian reached into his pocket and withdrew a small phial, and poured a little oil into the horse’s ear. The horse went suddenly rigid, then lay limp.

“You’ve killed her!” exclaimed Rana.

“I’ve stopped her pain.” Ossian looked hard at Rana. “I couldn’t fix her leg here. And she may no’ be the last one to die. Who saw where those other horses went? Do we know who was on them?”

“I’ll bet it was the Brashat,” stated Jack. “Somehow they’ll have found out where we’ve gone.”

Ossian led the two horses away into the woods and tied them up where they couldn’t see their dead stablemate.

“We missed the fields, didn’t we?” sniffed Lizzie. “D’you know where we are?”

“We can’t be far from Dunvik, but it was too dark to see properly. The moon didn’t help much.”

As if to mock the youngsters, the clouds now parted, allowing the moonlight to shine through.

“That’s typical,” muttered Ossian. “Well, whoever they were we can only hope they didn’t see us. Now, we need to find some runnin’ water. This way, and stick together. I don’t want anyone wanderin’ off.”

Bowing to Ossian’s superior knowledge of woodlands, Jack and the others fell into step behind him. It was a long time, however, before he found a small stream.

“How d’you know it was here?” asked Lizzie.

“Sometimes you feel it runnin’ beneath you,” said Ossian. “But there’s no knowin’ where it’ll surface.”

Kneeling down again with difficulty, Ossian took a small pouch from his waist and extracted three pebbles.

“I thought you said you didn’t have any stones with you,” said Rana.

“These aren’t the healin’ kind. They’re my compass,” replied Ossian irritably.

He quickly cleared a small area in the undergrowth and leant over to the stream to moisten one of the pebbles. Then, holding all three together in his right hand, he threw them as if they were dice.

“The wet pebble’s a sea stone, that one’s a wood stone, and this is granite. They show where the cave and the forest are, and where the sea is. We must have over-shot the fields. The cave’s over there,” he indicated the way they had come. “We’d better get goin’.”

“Those other horses went further than we did,” pointed out Jack. “They must have overshot the fields too.”

“You’re right,” said Ossian. “We may still get there first.”

“What’s in Dunvik apart from the cave?” asked Petros.

“No’ much. There were some human villages, but they got cleared ages ago.”

“‘Cleared’?” asked Rana.

“The people got shipped away, to Canada or America. All they left were graveyards, and a lot of sheep. But this isn’t really Shian territory. That’s why we’re human height here.”

“So humans got banished as well?” asked Jack. “It’s not just the Shian who got pushed around?”

“Some o’ them,” grunted Ossian. “Some o’ the ones doin’ the pushin’ were pretty bad, though. It’s hard to like them when you see what they did to their own kind, never mind us.”

“So, some humans are all right then?”

“Of course,” snapped Ossian. “But some deserve everythin’ they get.”

They walked on in silence, Ossian still limping. The air was clear and fresh. Lizzie, shivering as quietly as she could, pulled her cloak tightly around her.

After a while, Ossian held up his hand, and they all halted.

“Shhh!”

There was no doubt about it: there were voices ahead. The five crouched down, trying hard to hold their breath.

“I can’t make out who it is,” hissed Ossian. “Someone’ll have to go closer and find out. With this leg I’d make too much noise.”

“We’ll do it,” chorused Rana and Lizzie.

“I meant Jack or Petros,” replied Ossian coldly.

“We’ve something that’ll help us,” explained Rana. “Show him, Lizzie.”

Lizzie unhooked her satchel and took out two small green bonnets.

“Are they what I think they are?” whispered Jack. “How’d you get them?”

“Freya made them,” said Rana. “You thought Fenrig was the only one stealing cloths? Freya’s been making charmed clothes for ages.”

“You wore them when we went to see Tamlina, didn’t you?” exclaimed Petros, half in awe, half in anger.

“Never mind that now,” hissed Ossian. “Can you get close enough to find out who they are?”

“’Course we can.” Rana placed the bonnet on her head. “Look. Or you could try looking, but you can’t see.” She couldn’t resist laughing at the expression on Petros’s face.

“Would you keep quiet?!” hissed Ossian. “This isn’t a joke. If others are after the King’s Cup, they’ll no’ take kindly to us bein’ here.”

Rana and Lizzie fell silent, and, invisible to the eye, moved off carefully towards the sound of voices. Jack sat down, his heart thumping. It nearly leapt up his throat a few minutes later when a voice beside him said, “Boo!”

A peal of laughter echoed through the woods as Rana and Lizzie took off their bonnets.

“That’s not funny!” yelled Jack.

“Oh yes it was,” said Rana. “It’s OK, it’s Grandpa and some of the Congress. They’ve made a fire.”

“Did they see you?” asked Ossian.

“’Course not, we’re not stupid,” replied Lizzie. “Grandpa’ll be pleased to see us. They’ve got a fire going. You don’t see it until you’re up close.”

“Well, you’re making enough noise,” hissed Petros. “They’re bound to have heard you by now.”

He was right. Without warning a beam of light illuminated the whole area, blinding them.

“Stand up, and put your hands on top of your heads,” commanded a voice. The five obeyed.

“Grandpa, it’s us,” shouted Rana, her eyes tightly closed.

Jack felt his hands being seized and quickly tied behind his back, while a hood was placed over his head. To his left he heard Lizzie complaining that ‘that was sore’. The five, hooded and stumbling, were made to walk by rough prods in the back. Their captors, whoever they were, did not speak. Jack thought he recognised the Darrig’s distinctive smell.

BOOK: Jack Shian and the King's Chalice
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