Rusted Armor

By Andre Norton and Caroline Fike

Chapter Twenty-Nine

By agreement the members of the Pact each carefully went his or her own way following the Binding. Knowing full well that the energy expended to accomplish so major a working was immense, they wisely sought to replenish themselves.

It was thus that Hart, finding himself free for a few hours, decided to pay a visit to the archival library at the Abbey of St. Stam. There could be found records of families, histories of the various rulers of the manor and some rather obscure writings that Brother Belicaus had hinted might be tucked in a little used room.

From the time of his stay with the hermit Owlglass, Hart had not lost his interest in the written word. The many hours spent reading the older man’s books during his strange apprenticeship in the rockbound fortress had fostered a curiosity that nothing could satisfy quite like a book.

Having lost his Eye patch, the scrivener was pleased for an excuse to allow his facial hair to grow once more. Now sprouting a beard and wearing his usual hooded cloak, he bowed to the sacristan of the abbey, stating his wish to spend some time in meditation and study in the library.

The librarian peered at him with a skeptical expression, but nodded at length when he discovered that Hart was known to Brother Belicaus.

“Take care that you replace the books exactly where you found them. And mind you don’t damage the pages. Some of these volumes are irreplaceable!” The aged man shook a bony finger at the scrivener and shuffled away mumbling to himself.

With a wink at Belicaus, who turned toward his duties in the herb garden, Hart entered a place, more sacred to him than any sanctuary. Row upon row of racks and shelves held every sort of volume and scroll he could imagine. With an almost childlike excitement, the scrivener began to pace the long aisles, noting the titles and mentally marking which ones he would return to draw forth.

Carefully marking each book with a bit of parchment tucked inside, the mate to one he had numbered and left in the book’s place upon the shelf, Hart carried several to a reading desk that stood beneath a clerestory window. Light from its northern exposure made his study easier than if he depended upon candles alone.

Curious as to why he had not been able to find any record of the House of Moorced in Owlglass’s book of families, Hart pored over volume after volume of namings, births and deaths. He found the long lineage of the House of Stormund, noting that branch after branch of that illustrious clan had died off as heirs were either slain in battle or died childless as was likely to happen to the present Lord.

None of this was news to the scrivener, having picked up as much during his years of fosterage at Stamglen Castle. Unsatisfied with his research, he looked about to make sure no one had come into the library to check on him. When he was sure that he remained alone, he turned to the small chamber Belicaus had mentioned. Perhaps there he might find something to still the strange unease he felt regarding the House of Stormund and its fate.

Moving among the stacks of books in the musty room, he noted that most were simply tossed or shoved in with none of the respect shown the volumes in the main part of the library. Perhaps these were not considered authentic or of much value.

Hart was about to leave when his Emerald Eye reacted with a sharp twinge as he spied a very small book standing on end in a corner at his feet.

He stooped to pick it up and experienced a further tingle in his scalp on reading title: A Record of the Lines of Stormund and Related Houses. Hurrying with the book to the desk, Hart began to read the lists. At first it seemed merely to confirm what was known concerning Dunken of Gamlin, that his had been the only male line with any claim to Stamglen, but—wait!

What was this? Hart rubbed his eyes, Gifted and non-gifted. The volume that lay open before him contained the records of birthings from a time long past and included the Manors of Stamglen, Gamlin and Cardorn. What was more, before the scrivener’s astonished eyes lay proof incontrovertible. Another direct line existed with superior claim to the lands and titles of Lord Stormund: the House of Rennay!

Furiously flipping back pages to find the source of the claim, Hart discovered that, some eight generations before the present, one Carlis of Rennay married the first son of the House of Stormund. From this union came twins, Caslet and Cailon. The elder Caslet inherited Stamglen and fathered the line from which the present Lord was descended, while Cailon received the lesser lands and holdings of Rennay, by virtue of his mother’s right.

Returning to the tiny room, Hart looked about frantically. The first book made reference to a companion volume that set forth the actual history of events in the Family Stormund. When at length he found the mate to the genealogy, sure enough it contained an account answering the question that sprang to his mind immediately: why would Cailon not continue the Stormund name, being of that House?

The second book recorded a controversy that had arisen between the twin brothers in which they both had fallen in love with the same woman. The faded writing made reading more difficult, but the scrivener was just able to make out that Caslet and Cailon had agreed to meet in friendly combat for the right to court the lady in question. When Caslet won, Cailon accused him of cheating and swore that he would no longer carry the name of one who had forfeited honor so.

Hmm, Hart thought, he took his loss passing hard.

Reading on he followed the subsequent line of Rennay to a point just before the birth of his grandsire, when the records suddenly seemed just to stop. Now this was strange. The House of Rennay was indeed minor in the general scheme of things, but it warranted not to be lost to memory because of the failure of a scribe!

Looking more closely at the book before him, Hart realized that perhaps the loss was not from the carelessness of a scrivener, but the deliberate intervention of—suddenly the import of what lay on the desk in his view struck with all the force of a blow.

If Huon, as heir to the House of Rennay was also rightful heir of Lord Stormund, it stood to reason that one who sought to displace him, would also seek, not only to have him dishonored and banished, but to take care to eliminate all evidence of his position in the lineage of the Manor of Stamglen! The page which probably held the final record of the right of Rennay had been neatly cut from the book. Looking closely with the full Power of his Gifted Eye, Hart was now certain it had been tampered with.

Beads of sweat broke out on his brow. How many and how long grew the tentacles of his enemy? And how, in the name of all that was holy, could he hope to expose the man’s plottings?

Hart almost laughed out loud.

Foolish I am. The danger before me is far more than a manipulation of records! The Power of the Dark lies at the root of Stamglen’s peril—my peril—I shall do well to survive, let alone hope to expose some plot.

Being careful to leave a tiny marker in the books at the point of his discoveries, Hart replaced most of the volumes on the shelves, save for the two smallest and most crucial, which he tucked into his pouch, and slipped silently out of the quiet library. He knew that none would miss them, judging from their condition and the room in which he found them.

Stepping into the herb garden, he gave a wordless signal to Belicaus to meet him later. Then with a nod to the gatekeeper the scrivener went out, his mind reeling.

*Trouble, Manfriend?* The pard came alongside as Hart walked slowly toward the boundary road leading to the high moor.

“No more than we have faced all along.” His friend responded quietly.

*Was with mate. No hear. What be trouble?* It was a lengthy speech for Free-Claw.

“It seems that I am the true heir of Stamglen.” Hart’s voice sounded flat.

*So!* Surprise rendered the pard once more a cat of few words.

“At least it begins to make some sense of the breaking of Huon the Knight.” The scrivener lapsed into silent reflection as they drew near to the place where gnarled tree branches reached over the roadside wall.

The two had not long to wait, for in moments both Belicaus and Ibed strode from opposite directions to join them, questioning expressions upon their faces.

Nodding, Hart beckoned them to squat with him in the shade of the branches. “I have made a discovery that bears heavily upon matters here in Stamglen.”

“Before you tell us of it, there is something I must report!” Ibed broke in.

“Speak.” Hart looked up at the merchant, who was fidgeting with suppressed excitement.

“I have just come from the castle, where I delivered spices to Cook and I learned from one of my friends among the servants that there has been much clamor in the past few days among the ‘gentles’ of the household. It seems that a number of them have become alarmed at the decline in Lord Stormund.” The chapman paused to catch his breath.

“And they are fearful that he will die before naming his heir.” Belicaus put in.

“Exactly! The cries at table just yester night became almost rowdy in their intensity, I am told.” Concern etched the dark features.

“After what we found in the burial chamber, can there be any doubt as to the one being put forward as Lord Stormund’s successor?” Hart joined in.

“Norvill of Gamlin, by virtue of his coming marriage to the Lady Arin.” Ibed repeated, as if parroting the voice of one of the hangers-on to be found ever in the company of Sir Lazarous.

“There is one with a much stronger claim.” Hart’s quiet words might have been thundered, for they had the stunning effect of a lightening bolt in the midst of his listeners.

“How say you?” Belicaus near shouted. “Oh—the archives!”

“Aye. There I believe I was led to find—this.” Hart drew out the two small age-worn books, opening each to the place he had marked.

For a few moments the other men examined them in silence, then almost as one, they drew breath sharply and looked at the scrivener.

“The House of Rennay!” was all that Belicaus could say.

“Yes, it would seem that you are looking at the one with the greatest right to inherit the Lordship of Stamglen.” The words clearly did not come easily to Hart’s tongue.

“Now it all makes sense,” Ibed breathed,” Lazarous knew!”

“What better way to ensure the removal of the one person standing in the way of his plans, than to dishonor that one—having him banished from the Manor for all time?” The bitterness of Hart’s words was so sharp it could almost be tasted by his listeners.

“But did Lord Stormund know of the succession?” Belicaus wanted to know.

“Does it matter? The moment Huon was driven from Stamglen, all rights of inheritance dissolved.” Hart knew the laws that governed rights of the nobly born, having had them dinned into his head by Father Corman.

“But the Breaking was done under false accusation. Huon would have every right to appeal that judgment and receive restoration.” Ibed, too, knew the law.

“Huon is dead!” Hart snapped.

“Is he indeed?” Belicaus poured all the compassion of a healer into his question.

“The man that he was is far wiser now to the ways of chivalry.” Bitterness and disillusionment played across Hart’s face.

“Not all defile their oaths. To damn all is no better than to condone all.” The chapman had an annoying way of penetrating beyond an argument to expose its weakness. Hart merely grinned wolfishly at him and held his peace.

“It makes small matter who knew what that day. What does matter is that we now know the truth and it has for once and all exposed the Dark plotting of our very dangerous enemy.” The monk ever served as peace maker.

“You have the right of it, Brother.” Ibed replied. “Now it falls to us to fashion our response. Regardless of who becomes the next Lord Stormund, we cannot allow the wealth, power and welfare of countless people to fall into the hands of one so evil!”

“We can no longer put off the day of battle. The longer we tarry, the more Lazarous grows in power and position.” Belicaus stated.

“Aye, he has situated himself to claim the loyalty of every armsman in Stamglen, by virtue of his rank as Marshall. Should it come to a matter of challenge, we are sorely outnumbered.” Hart felt the weight of the immense odds stacked against the Pact.

“I think that it will never reach the mere passage of arms. Our fight lies in the realm of Power and Gifts,” said the chapman. “Great care must be taken to pick the time of confrontation—our time.”

“I have heard that a large party of nobles with their retinue is at this moment preparing for a journey to the Royal Court. Lord Stormund gave permission for it for some weeks ago, though I doubt he fully understands what all the fuss is about.” Belicaus looked thoughtful. “It is also known that because the old lord is so fearful of unexpected attack, he has instructed Sir Lazarous to remain behind to protect the castle.”

“I daresay that the Lady Arin is not expected to attend.” Hart put in.

“Nay, it is also a matter of gossip that she is ailing and keeps to her bed. Some say she pines for Sir Norvill, who has not returned these many weeks from Court.” Belicaus was a font of information.

“Oh, she is ailing, all right, but it is not for missing her handfasted knight. When last I saw her, it put me in mind of a shade walking, so near dead she looked.” Hart shuddered at the memory.

“If what I fear is true, the lady has not long to live in this world and may well be destined for a living death in the next!” Ibed spoke in a tone of dread. “Things are speeding toward a confrontation indeed.”

“It seems to me that you and I are best suited to be the vanguard in this fight, Chapman.” Hart said slowly, even reluctantly.

“Aye, Scrivener. Would that we could avoid it altogether, but such is not to be. When the travelers have departed for the Royal Court, we must be ready.” The chapman laid his hand on Hart’s shoulder, griping it for a moment. “We must trust to the rightness of our cause. Evil cannot be permitted to thrive here, nor even to exist in the manner it has for far too long.”

“B-but how can we best make use of the Binding?” Now that it had come to the actual planning, Hart felt a cold knot forming in the pit of his stomach.

*Make chain!* Free-Claw cut to the heart of the matter with a potent simplicity.

“Yes! A chain built from the members of the Pact.” Belicaus expanded upon the pard’s suggestion enthusiastically.

“Hart and I will descend to the portal, while you, Monk, wait at the place of descent. Free-Claw, you had best be at the entrance of the storage vault, there to relay any message from Brother Belicaus.” Ibed knelt to scratch a rough outline in the soil at his feet.

“Hesta can wait in the small cave I showed Free-Claw.” Hart was beginning to feel a bit more hopeful, when he visualized the chain of Power represented by the chapman’s diagram.

“What of Soorta and Owlglass?” Belicaus wanted to know.

“Soorta is as near as our left ear, using that scrying pool of hers.” Hart pronounced. “I doubt not that, with the addition of the Binding, she and the hermit will be able to lend aid with the same ease that they might, being here with us.”

“Then let us hasten to tell Hesta of our plan. She may have other suggestions to aid in our preparation.” The monk called back over his shoulder as he strode off, first to leave the council of battle.

“We will meet at her cottage after vespers.” Hart sung out as the tall form dropped from view in a dip of the road. Nodding to the other two, the scrivener, accompanied by the demi-pard, set out in a few moments, taking a more direct path across the greening meadow.

Dusk found them crowded into the herb woman’s hut being careful not to tread upon the pard kittens, who had discovered the use of their legs, with a large measure of bold curiosity into the bargain.

Laughing, Belicaus scooped up all three of Free-Claw’s wriggling offspring and carefully deposited them into the basket with their mother. “Lipeta, best you should restrain your little ones, lest my great lump of a foot make cat pie of them!”

For a brief space the gathered Pact members joined in the merriment as the pardlings tumbled about, using their mother for a climbing post. But, all too soon the assembly must turn to the somber business at hand.

When Ibed had explained to Hesta the plan of attack, she nodded thoughtfully. “I may have something to add to the venture. There be an ancient potion taught me by my grandmam just before I reached the full stature of an herbalist. She said it would be my only inheritance, one I could use only once in all my lifetime.”

“Once only? Must be powerful.” Belicaus opined.

“Aye, I asked her how I would know when to use it. Youngun’s bein’ never so patient, and I was young.” The herb woman smiled, as if at some recollection she chose not to share with her listeners.

“So—what does this potion?” Ibed had begun to grow impatient, a sure sign of the pressure all were feeling.

“I know not the full of its powers, but Grandmam let me know that it would bring the user’s faculties to a height far beyond the ordinary. Normal senses become so sharp—like—like the nose of the finest scent hound or the vision of the highest flying gyrfalcon.”

“Does it extend the Gifted Powers also?” Hart wanted to know.

“Mayhap. She did not tell me all, saying when the time came to use my inheritance all would become clear.” Hesta shrugged.

“Sounds a bit risky to me.” Belicaus grumbled. “We face an Enemy whose Power is rooted in the Dark—vast Power, most like. Do we dare employ a tool or weapon untried?”

“Wait! It is not untried.” Hart broke in. “Just such a philter did Soorta give me when I entered the realm beneath her barrow, there to undergo the ordeals required to release my Gifts.”

“Why did not you tell us?” Ibed snapped.

“It—it did not occur to me until this very moment. Truly, when I partook of the philter the blackness of the underground became as the brightest day. What’s more, I could hear, feel and scent my surroundings to a degree I never thought possible to a mortal.” The scrivener’s excitement grew with the telling.

“Perhaps we should have Hesta consult with Lady Soorta regarding the ingredients of her potion. It could not hurt.” Belicaus added wisely.

“Aye, Free-Claw can far speak for her when he lays out the plan for our assault upon the Dark lair.” Hart turned to the pard who sat proudly beside his family, fondly watching his offspring at play. “Meets this with you approval, Friend in Fur?”

*Free-Claw speak.* With that the cat paced sedately to sit facing the human members of the Pact. *Give message!*

Thus it was that the plan of attack came together, save for the actual hour it would begin. This could only be determined by a foray into the castle itself. As the group sat discussing the possibilities, Belicaus snapped his fingers.

“I near forgot! There is to be a farewell garland ale tomorrow in the quadrangle just before the nobles depart for Court. Brydwen told me this just this morning and in all the excitement it fair slipped my mind. There is to be a pole dance and other entertainments.”

“Perfect!” Ibed exclaimed. “We will all have reason to be within Stamglen and once the travelers have quit the castle, we can ‘melt’ from notice until after dark. Free-Claw, inform our friends that the time is set!”

 

 

 

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"Rusted Armor"
Copyright ~ Caroline Fike and the Estate of Andre Norton 2001
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by – Caroline Fike

 

 Formatted for online viewing by Jay Watts aka: “Lotsawatts” ~ May 2015

 

Duplication (in whole or parts) of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.