Chapter 22: In the Shadow of Gyru
Copyright© 2011 by Celtic Bard
The next morning Prince Sharn shook them all awake with a whispered, "There is something moving around out there." Everybody rolled out of their bedrolls and began packing up, Princess Alyssa somewhat gingerly, hand pressed protectively over the slight bulge in her lower abdomen.
By the time everybody had packed, Prince Sharn had a pot of porridge and toasted bread for them to eat quickly before they left. They gathered around the small fire to warm themselves against the bitter chill of the Netherland morning and began to eat.
Maseryk cleared his throat and looked around the fire. "I need to warn you all of the dangers we will be seeing today," he said grimly, putting his empty bowl down. "Legend places Vindicor-Kimber on the northwestern slope of Mount Gyru about three-fourths of the way to the top. Jonus Justinian supposedly retreated up the mountain to escape the pursuit of a squad of Dei-Xhan sent after him when he and the other fleeing survivors of the Kingdom of Ice tried to evade the slaughter of them all. Since he was never seen nor heard from again, legends say he slew the Dei-Xhan and was in turn killed by the injuries he sustained. I personally think he probably killed his pursuers and died trying to get Vindicor-Kimber as high up the mountain as he could. Mount Gyru is not climbable past the three-quarter way mark because the air gets too thin. So ... we are going to have to find a way through the ten thousand or so warriors and sorcerers between us and the mountain and then find a way up the slope and down again without being killed and then somehow escape. Any questions or good suggestions?"
Jonar's eyes lost focus for a long moment and then he said vaguely, "Just get be close enough and I will do the rest."
"And we shouldn't be alone against whatever Lord Dzar has planned," Prince Sharn added uncertainly. "I was told that we would have aid when we got here."
"Told? By whom?" Donnar demanded, irritably suspicious.
Sharn snorted derisively. "Dwarves! I was given this assignment by higher powers than you! Suffice it to say that they assured me we would not be alone," he replied with scorn. Then added a bit more politely, "I did suggest that every Illuminant in the Netherlands was probably what would be needed. I was told they would send help, but not how much help would be sent."
"I suggest we get moving, today is going to be short enough as it is," Maseryk said, picking up his bowl and taking it over to the spring to wash.
Their party set out cautiously, Prince Sharn riding several hundred yards out front and scouting around the bends in the trail they took around the western side of Mount Gyru's feet and the army camped thereon. Alyssa and Illyana had switched places, Alyssa riding with Jonar on Gnusyl and Illyana riding Alyssa's horse between Gnusyl and Prince Kyftassa, Myka riding behind him to free up Jonar for any trouble they might encounter. Alyssa and her bow would be able to cover their rear and any retreat they would have to make. Donnar and Lord Bzas followed them and Maseryk was bringing up the rear. They were about to enter a wide gorge which would bring them around to the northern face of Mount Gyru when Sharn came galloping up the far side, his sword bared and bloody.
"Turn back!" he roared, not bothering to hide his voice. He was a quarter of the way across the gorge when they saw why. A dozen elph-tor-mounted Dei-Xhan pursued him and behind them charged a hundred roaring Gnathar afoot. "That last side ravine! Turn back! These are just the vanguard! There is a regiment on its way!"
Jonar waved the rest of them back to the ravine they had passed nearly twenty minutes ago and fell back more slowly to cover them and still be able to go to Prince Sharn's aid should he need it. Sharn was two-thirds of the way across the gorge when the first rank of the regiment of Gnathar infantry entered the gorge. Jonar's face paled and Alyssa's arms squeezed his waist fearfully.
"Go!" Sharn yelled breathlessly as he passed Jonar, galloping in pursuit of the others. Jonar turned Gnusyl and they lumbered after the fleeing prince.
They found the others at the mouth of a very tight ravine that branched off the trail they had been following. It looked like it might be a dry riverbed or a wash that only held water during the spring runoff. It was only a dozen or so feet wide but there were not nearly enough of them to hold off an entire regiment. Jonar and Gnusyl lumbered into the ravine and saw that Maseryk had banished his mount and was fussing with his armor in preparation to try anyway.
"Is there anything resembling cover down there?" he asked, looking at the bend in the ravine about a hundred yards in.
Maseryk shook his head but Donnar nodded. "There is a cave nearby, I can feel it. I'll go see if I can find the entrance."
"Kyftassa, go with him and make sure it is big enough to get us all inside," Jonar ordered absently as he handed Alyssa down to Myka and Sharn before pulling out his own armor. "If it is only big enough for him, it is useless to us."
As the two trotted down the ravine, Jonar struggled into his chain mail and then pulled out his axe. Maseryk had already donned a gabressi hide vest that had steel discs fastened to it and an oddly formed helmet whose facial protection came in the form of a full mask formed into a devils grotesque visage, its horns and eye holes painted blood red. Seeing the other two warriors prepare themselves, Sharn pulled off the leathers he wore and slipped into a chain mail shirt not unlike Jonar's and clapped on a helm crested with Elph-tor fangs and trailing an aventail of gabressi scales to protect his neck. Alyssa was about to string her bow when Myka took it from her with a shake of her head and a pointed look at her abdomen. The Princess sighed and handed her quiver to the Ce'al girl as well.
The Dei-Xhan were almost to the mouth of the ravine when Donnar and Kyftassa shouted for them to come. They scrambled up the gully and saw Kyftassa in front of a high, narrow opening into the wall of the wash well hidden by a boulder leaning against the rock of the wall. It was just barely wide enough to fit the horses but Gnusyl would never squeeze through. They heard the Dei-Xhan cautiously regroup and begin up the ravine, their elf-tor shrieking angrily as they caught Gnusyl's scent.
They were all looking up at Jonar as he sat atop the huge Gnath with a faraway look in his eyes. "Donnar, get them into the cave. If it leads south, try to get them back to the Illuminants," he told his adopted father. He looked down at the Gnome just as the older man took a breath to argue. "Do it, please. Maseryk, is there a spell you can use on this opening that could safely collapse it after you all are in?"
The sorcerer looked up at the Gnathar with a grimace. "Yes."
The young man smiled with relief none of the rest of them felt. "Good. I leave them in your and Lord Bzas' care. See them to safety. And the Gods help you if I live and find out they came to harm," he said as he slid off of Gnusyl's broad back. He hugged Myka, kissed Illyana and Alyssa thoroughly, and shook Prince Sharn's and Prince Kyftassa's hand. "Thank you for coming this far with me."
He turned to Lord Bzas and Maseryk and both nodded to him. "We will see them out of this accursed land, Lord Telanar," the Illuminant swore, its inner light dim and its face solemn.