Rusted Armor

By Andre Norton and Caroline Fike

Chapter Thirty-One

No answer came, but within Hart it seemed as if something suddenly burst open, sending fire coursing through his veins. He found that he could now move, first his hands and arms, next his legs and finally, as the conflagration reached his forehead—

Lifting his head to fix Lazarous in his gaze, the scrivener could feel his own Power gathering, as though a storm prepared to lash out its fury. When is seemed as if his head would burst, from his Gifted Eye suddenly arrowed a blazing shaft of Emerald light straight at the champion’s chest.

So stunned was Lazarous at the suddenness of the attack, he found time only to cast up a warding at the last instant, staggering back against the altar and its sad victim.

Emboldened a bit by the reaction of his enemy, Hart moved forward a pace or two, taking care to avoid the offal that littered the floor.

With a snarl of rage, the champion flung the bowl and its gory contents full in Hart’s face, thinking perhaps to distract him long enough to gather his own weapons. However, when the blood struck the scrivener it had quite a different effect than that intended.

The moment Arin’s life fluid touched the scrivener it lost its dull red color and in its place a glowing greenish-gold film spread rapidly, mist-like, over the scrivener forming—armor! Where he had stood a moment before in tunic and hose, now Hart presented quite a different aspect to his opponent.

In place of the shattered Cap of Knowledge, on the scrivener’s head rested a helmet, in fashion like the head of a pard with twin gems for eyes, gleaming reflections of the Emerald light that streamed from Hart’s own Eye. Covering his body was a mail coat of similar color, below which greaves of like hue shielded his legs.

Seconds passed as Lazarous stood, plainly confounded by the sight of a fully armed and armored knight before him. Then appearing to come to himself, the champion uttered a stream of profanity so foul that the very words seemed to take on substance and coil in the air between the two combatants. Backing around to keep the altar between them, Lazarous pulled his own blood stained cloak about him and drew breath.

“So, it would seem that I have underestimated you. That will not happen again!” With the shouted words, Lazarous whipped out his dagger-wand, pointed it at Hart and began to chant, low and murmuring at first but soon rising in pitch and intensity.

As the incantation reached its climax a small vortex materialized around the tip of his wand. Hart watched transfixed as this expanded revealing within a grotesque form like none he had ever seen, still one he somehow recognized—the unspeakable was about to be loosed!

Breathing a prayer, the scrivener bent to retrieve his wand. It moved at his touch, near causing him to drop it. He clenched the ancient wood tightly in his left hand, an act that cost him dearly, for pain exploded from finger tips to elbow.

Instinctively his right hand went to his side where it met and grasped—a hilt! Without thought he drew the weapon in the smooth motion his arms master had taught him so long before.

Next Hart did the only thing he could think to do. Holding the sword, forged from no metal of this world, before him, he aimed the Dhroghii stone at the center of the churning vortex, which by now had expanded greatly and was streaking straight toward him, and desperately pushed with his mind.

The answering spear of Power from the wand met the cloud of foulness just above the altar resulting in an explosive burst that would have flattened the scrivener had he not instinctively braced himself in a knight’s defensive stance. A faint scream could be heard as though from a very great distance, diminishing until silent.

All that remained of the vortex and its Dark occupant were a few dark wisps of smoke that curled in upon themselves and winked out, one by one. Seeing the failure of his working, Lazarous, too, burst into a maniacal frenzy, lunging past the altar with his blade outstretched. But as he rounded the vile stone monolith, his foot slipped in the slime at its base, throwing him off balance.

Thus, instead of impaling Hart on the bloody weapon, he twisted about, flailing to maintain his equilibrium, and fell forward. As he did, the scrivener deftly thrust his sword under the champion’s chin and held firm.

The answering cry that ripped from Lazarous ended in a gargle that near unhinged Hart, but he stood fast until the champion crumpled into a heap at his feet. When at length he disengaged his weapon he could see a gaping wound in the man’s throat, but what had finished this servant of the Dark was in his own hand. In his fall the blade-wand had turned and passed deep into Lazarous’s chest, piercing his heart.

Hart stood shaking for a few moments before remembering the tragic victim who lay before him on that vile altar. Dropping the sword he stepped over Lazarous’s body to check for any signs of life in the gaunt girl. A tiny pulsation in Arin’s throat and the faintest puff of breath told him that she yet lived, but clearly was near death.

What can I do! I have not the Gift of healing—

But, wait! The Bond! Could it work? Perhaps. He could only try.

Carefully covering the still form with his cloak, the scrivener bent lower so that he was resting partly on Arin’s breast. Taking her small cold hands in his and resting his head over her heart, he called once more.

I call upon the Bond! Gift me with thy Powers that I might minister to this poor girl.

Gently kissing the clammy brow, the knight-that-was waited. Slowly, in much the way the Power had formed within him to battle the Evil one, now a quieter force surged through him.

A kernel of warmth seemed to break and spread through his arms and chest and pass, not unlike the glow he had observed during Belicaus’s ministrations, into the body on the altar. Small hands began to warm in his large ones and the breath on his cheek came more evenly. As the restorative Gift passed from Hart to Arin, the scrivener felt the overwhelming weakness that he knew would follow.

Sinking down beside the stone, he was content to wait, for help would come. This Hart knew, as surely as he knew that his call had been heard.

Indeed the scrivener’s first call had been heard, but Ibed had been helpless to respond, for the loud noise Hart had heard upon entering the portal was the dropping of an impenetrable barrier, leaving the chapman to batter his fists against it frantically.

In the moments that passed while the battle was joined below, Ibed had to content himself with sitting cross-legged before the impassable portal, there to focus all his personal Power upon his companion. The instant he did this it was as if his sight had been transported to blend with the scrivener’s, for what Hart saw, Ibed saw.

Calling the Bond fully into play, the chapman acted as a funnel for the Power of the other members of the Pact he knew Hart would desperately need if he were to prevail. Thus it was, that the moment Lazarous lay vanquished, Ibed was not only aware of the victory, but was now able to rise and pass into the portal. All wards, glamours and Dark magics that had been maintained by the workings of the evil champion died with him.

Not only was Ibed conscious of the transformation, but in the same instant Belicaus and Hesta felt as though a great burden had been lifted and both hastened to make their way to the scene of battle.

As the herb woman passed into the castle and down the corridor leading to the deep vaults, she was astonished to meet Lord Stormund striding briskly at the fore of a small group of knights and armsmen.

“M—my Lord! Wha—?” Hesta snapped her mouth shut, realizing that hers was not the place to question the lord of the manor as to why he was walking through his own halls.

“Where am I bound?” The elderly man looked more kindly on the peasant woman than she knew she deserved. She blushed under his gaze.

“Forgive me, my Lord! It was just such a shock to meet you here, seein’ as how you have been—” Again Hesta stopped before finishing her thought.

“Yes, woman, I know. I have not been myself of late. But, some moments ago it was as if a great veil had been lifted off me.” Lord Stormund passed a hand across his eyes.

“Aye, sir, and you have been drawn, like others to seek the reason—below.” The herb woman smiled and stepped back a bit to allow the men to pass before her. “If it pleases, m’Lord, I’ll just follow,” she said softly.

“As you wish.” Beckoning to his men, the Lord of Stamglen continued down the passage.

As they came to the first barrier, Belicaus stood waiting, the wall now open before him. He said nothing as the group paused in surprise, but simply turned and led the way through the narrow passage.

The growing party met with some delay when they reached the precipitous descent, but the torches carried by the armsmen, to say nothing of their aid, made the way far easier than it had been for Hart and Ibed. Even Free-Claw was assisted below by one who had thought to bring a rope.

Ibed, who had gone a little way through the portal, returned on hearing the murmur of voices, to meet Lord Stormund.

“You, too, Chapman? It seems that quite a troop has allied to ferret out the doings in my Castle. Quiet a troop, indeed!” The older man lifted an eyebrow as he fixed Ibed with a penetrating stare.

“The contest required it,” was Ibed’s quiet reply.

“Contest? Yes, there seems to have been some strange game afoot here. Well, lead on!” The old lord was clearly growing impatient.

But as he entered the chamber and took in the grisly scene, Lord Stormund staggered back and would have fallen, had not Belicaus grasped and supported him.

“B—by all that is holy! What has happened here?” Stamglen’s ruler finally managed to stammer.

Ibed stepped to where Hart lay in a heap beside the altar. “This man has battled the Dark, my Lord, and it seems that he has prevailed.”

“I—is that—my marshal?” was all that the elder man could say, seeing the crumpled remains of Sir Lazarous.

“It was.” Hart struggled to his feet with the chapman’s aid. “He was that and much more, my Lord.”

Placing his hand upon Hart’s shoulder, which slumped with exhaustion, the chapman recounted the evidences that had led to the exposure and defeat of Lazarous.

“Lord Stormund, Sir Lazarous has long and long plotted to usurp your position as Lord of the Manor. In so doing he has resorted to practices most foul.

“We stand on the site of an ancient temple, if such a word can be used to describe this place. I recognized certain carvings at the entry, which belong to a cult of demon worship, long thought to be the stuff of legend.

“But sadly, legends often bear the seeds of true happenings. So it was here. What is worse, the vile rites did not die with those who practiced them long ago, but have passed down through many generations, even into our times.

“I came afoul of them at the hands of slavers in my youth. The rites may have changed somewhat, but at the core has remained one vile practice, the use of blood magic, not just for its evil power, but to call into our world a being so foul that to name it is forbidden to all decent folk.” Ibed paused to draw breath.

“That’s all well and good, but how does this connect with my champion?” Lord Stormund was beginning to lose patience.

“Wherever the practice of that ancient Dark worship took place for any length of time, there linger vestiges of the Power. Methinks that Sir Lazarous, already a man greedy for supremacy, stumbled upon this chamber in his explorations of the castle. Perhaps he had a modicum of magical ability that triggered the entrance, which had been hidden for so long.

“He must have somehow learned how to use what lay here, but in truth was being used by the Dark entity instead. Whichever it was, he soon set in motion a plot to elevate himself at the expense of many innocent folk.

“His plan had a most serious flaw, however. He recognized a certain knight as a threat to himself and set about to remove him. Having already targeted a pure maiden for the purpose of his foul blood magic, it was a simple thing for him to force her to denounce that knight, falsely, I might add.”

Lord Stormund’s face blanched. “Huon!”

“Exactly. Lazarous put about that a lady’s honor had been besmirched and the one guilty was Huon of Rennay. He beguiled that maiden until he could gain control over her through the evil workings awakened here. It was then a simple matter to force her denounce him.

“Once that knight was broken, dishonored and banished, Lazarous had no difficulty gaining Lady Arin’s consent to marriage with his nephew, thereby forging the next link in the champion’s chain of ascent.”

“But why Huon?” The old lord looked confused.

“I can answer that, my Lord.” Hart reached into his belt pouch and drew out the two small books he had ‘borrowed’ from the archives.”

As an armsman held a torch near, the lord peered at the marked pages.

“B—but this means that—!” He jerked up his head to stare more closely at Hart.

“You! You are—Huon of Rennay, my—my rightful heir!” The old man sagged to the stone floor in a faint.

When Brother Belicaus had gently revived him and assisted the lord to sit on a stone bench nearby, Stormund spoke: “I cannot believe Sir Lazarous could have done this! Surely you are mistaken!”

Before Hart could respond, a weak voice came from behind him, “Uncle, i—it is true. I—I was helpless in his power.”

Astonished, those in the chamber surged toward the altar. There the Lady Arin had raised herself upon one elbow and reached a trembling hand toward Hart. “If—if you had not come—! C—can you ever find it in your heart to forgive me?”

“My Lady, my Lady, but I did come and your suffering is at an end. I now know that there is nothing to forgive.” Hart bent to kiss her hand.

“Nay, noble knight, I must live with this for as long as I draw breath. There cannot be an end.” She sagged back and, at a signal from Belicaus, two of the armsmen present lifted her gently from the gory stone.

“Take her to the herb woman’s hut. There is no one better suited to minister to her now.” The tall monk directed.

“But—she is noble—” One of the knights with Lord Stormund protested.

“And she will be nobly dead if this woman does soon care for her!” As Belicaus spoke, a nod from Lord Stormund reinforced his words.

Turning toward Hart, the old nobleman spoke, “Now it seems that I am deeply in your debt, Knight/Scrivener. But, first things first.” With that the Lord of Castle Stamglen struggled to his knees before Hart.

“Sir Huon, if you can find it in your heart, forgive an old man’s folly.” Simply spoken, the words rang about the chamber.

“My Lord, you have Huon’s forgiveness, but know this: the knight that was—is no more. I am now simply Hart, a man much the wiser for all that has occurred.”

Indeed, to all who looked on, there was nothing of the knight about him. Standing now in blood stained garments, for the strange armor had vanished with the defeat of his enemy, Hart appeared anything but chivalrous.


Epilogue

 

For days following the vanquishing of Lazarous rumors flew about castle and vill. When at length they grew to such a proportion that they could no longer be ignored, Lord Stormund decreed that a Hallmote be called to deal with the talk, once and for all.

Since the meeting would include commons and nobles alike, it was set to be held on the great tournament ground, no other site being large enough to contain the crowd. An almost festive atmosphere prevailed, for all were aware that somehow a dark cloud had been removed from the manor.

When the castle’s herald had shouted for quiet and the gathered throng turned all eyes toward the platform, Lord Stormund rose, at his left side the Lady Arin, pale and thin but erect as befitted her rank. To the right of the Lord of the Manor, looking decidedly uncomfortable in new doublet, hose and boots stood Hart.

Not a sound could be heard among the audience as all seemed to hold their breath while the old man spoke: “People of Stamglen, noble and common, surf and free, hear me this day. For long and long there was in our midst a great Evil. One whom I trusted betrayed me, broke his oath and near destroyed all that is good and upright in our Manor.

“I doubt that any by this time fail to know just who that one was and I will not now, nor ever in future speak his name. Suffice it to say that he has met his end at the hand of one of our own, one who deserves the honor due a Knight of Stamglen—Sir Huon of Rennay!”

With that the Lord of Stamglen reached down and grasped Hart’s hand and drew him forward to the tumultuous cheers of all gathered. But no small amount of confused babble followed as the villeins recognized, not Sir Huon, but simply Hart the Scrivener.

Lord Stormund continued, “I bear you record this day that, having been falsely accused and broken in rank therefore, this man is hereby restored to his rank with full compensation—”

But before the old nobleman could continue, Hart raised his hand. “My Lord, good people of Stamglen, hear me. I take it as a thing to be treasured that you wish to honor me and return me to the revered rank of knight. However, with no disrespect intended, I must decline to take up that title.”

Gasps rippled through the crowd and one or two of the knights present placed hands upon their hilts.

“Please, let me explain before you take offense. These many months while I lived as a common man among a common but worthy people, I learned much and, yes, suffered much. It has changed me deeply.

“In my heart I know that there lies before me a very different life than the one chosen for me by my family when I was sent here as a lad to be fostered by your Lord. Just what or where it may be, I know not, only that I must pursue it.” With that Hart turned toward Lord Stormund, knelt on one knee and taking the old man’s hand in his, kissed it, keeping his head bowed for a moment.

“I—if this is what you truly wish, my son, so be it. Know that my heart will go with you. Never have I had so loyal a knight. Go, with my blessing.” The elderly lord gave off speaking, knowing that to say more would open the gate to his tears.

*****

When the crowd had dispersed and none remained to return to the castle but Lord Stormund, Arin and Hart, followed by a few of the household at a discrete distance, the old man spoke again: “My son, what of Stamglen—the inheritance. I now know from the records you showed me that by rights it is yours!”

“Aye, my Lord, but I am not cut from the cloth of rule. Better it should pass to the Lady Arin. She is next in line to inherit.”

“But she is a woman! She will become a prey to any unscrupulous man who covets the manor.” Perplexity was written large on the lord’s face.

“My Lord, may I speak?” Arin put in. When he nodded, she continued. “I am not altogether helpless, but since it is the custom that a woman who inherits a title must hold it by making a marriage, I may have an answer.”

“Say on,” urged Lord Stormund.

“Sir Norvill is not one whit like his evil uncle. Perhaps he is a bit more biddable than he ought to be, but I find that no impediment, rather a recommendation. I believe he will not be loath to listen to his wife in matters of running the manor, when the time comes.” Lady Arin smiled and looked from one to the other.

“It would seem that it is settled, then,” said Hart, biting his tongue to keep from grinning too broadly.

“I bow to your wisdom. I will have my Steward draw up the document this day.” Shaking his head, the old nobleman took his leave.

“Huon—” Arin began.

“Nay, my Lady, simply Hart.” He objected.

“Yes—what can I say?” she asked.

“Say ‘farewell’ and I will be content.” Hart bowed and kissed her hand before turning to his quarters, now once more in the castle.

The day had dawned gloriously warm and sunny when Hart, accompanied by Ibed the Chapman and Brother Belicaus, walked out of the gates of Stamglen for the last time. They had passed under the portcullis and were crossing the barbican when a call stopped them.

“Just where were you thinking to go without me!” Flaming hair struggling to free itself from a kerchief announced the speaker. Bard Brydwen, with instruments slung over her back and lugging a pack, marched up to them.

“B—but you have a place here!” Hart stammered while the monk looked on, an unreadable expression on his long face.

“My place is—is—with my uncle here!” she said, the words tumbling out as though they were not exactly what she intended at first.

Hart looked at Brother Belicaus who shrugged. “She is of age. I could not say her ‘nay’ if I wished.” Then looking at the determined young woman, he smiled. “Come and be welcome, cherished child.”

So it was that the knight-turned-scrivener, a chapman from distant lands, a monk with warlike skills and a gift for healing and a somewhat headstrong young bard followed the track taken by that broken knight so many months before. Indeed as they paused near a certain stream at dusk to make camp, Brydwen exclaimed when she stumbled over something lying in the weedy tangle.

“Why, it’s an old hauberk! Look, how rusty—.”

Overhead as darkness descended a cluster of stars shown dimly, The Sword of Victory.

 

THE END

 

 

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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.