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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 106: Hastings 77
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They were almost three weeks passing through the werewolf territory. Part of this was due to the fact that the ancient road which once led to Camelot was now barely a path, and in places gone, so they were relying on the guidance of the wolves to lead them through undergrowth to which the humans were unaccustomed. Part of it was that the spring thaw and rains left everything a muddy murky mess almost impossible for the cart, and on several occasions the fog lay so thick in the forest that Lauren could hardly find Bethany, let alone the road. But it was also the case that this had become something of a real field trip, an adventure in which teacher and student shared much that they had never considered before. Bethany learned to make her own comfort bubbles, and to clear debris from paths, because when Lauren did these things she took the time to show how it was done. Lauren also taught her how she called the wolves with her mind, how she shielded her mind against the prying thoughts of others, how she lit fires, how she shifted her senses, and many other things. She did not bring out the bag of tricks, the magical trinkets she knew Bethany would one day make and give to her, but she let the girl play with the psionic rods and weapons, and answered her questions about many things. In short, the urgency with which Lauren began this quest drifted into the experience of sharing time and ideas.
Eventually they passed out of werewolf country. They were greeted as they approached the boundary, and warned that no one knew now what lay ahead. The road was gone; trackless wilderness confronted them.
"I have an idea," Lauren said. "I did this once, in another world, what seems like centuries ago–maybe it is by now. Setting down her things and stepping in front of them, she closed her eyes, raised her arms, and said, "Seek and you will find; I seek a path to Merlin."
She remembered that when she last did this, she had an impression of a direction which she followed, and it took her to what she sought–civilization, or such civilization as there was. But she had never been certain whether it had been divine guidance or mere coincidence that had brought her there. Now she again felt a direction, perhaps stronger this time, and again she recognized that she had no better information than this feeling. "Let's go this way," she said, and grabbed the wagon.
This way was not an easy path. Probably it had not been a path at all, but was merely a direction across the forest. They moved slowly, and covered only a few miles before they camped for the night.
"We had better split the watches. Are you better at staying up late or getting up early?"
"Oh, I'm definitely a stay up late person," Bethany said. "I hate early mornings, but I can stay awake all night if I need to."
"Well, you don't need to. You need to clean up dinner and watch while I sleep, and in the middle of the night you need to wake me so that you can rest while I watch. I need to sleep about six to eight hours, and you need to do the same."
Lauren was asleep before sunset. She was having pleasant dreams of teaching school, dreams in which her children were Bethany and Derek, plus her own three, and all attended her classes and eagerly listened to her teaching. Merlin came in from time to time and helped her explain things to them. Then Bethany was trying to get her attention.
"Laurelyn," she said.
"Yes, Bethany?" Lauren answered.
"Laurelyn?" The voice was getting more urgent.
"What is it, Bethany?”
"Come on, Laurelyn." Lauren suddenly realized that she was dreaming, but that Bethany was trying to wake her up. Shaking herself, she pulled herself up.
"What's the matter?"
"There is something in the woods. I don't know what it is."
"Where is it?"
Bethany pointed. Indeed there was something there, and it was very difficult to see. Lauren shifted her mental energies into her eyes. There were two men there. It was very strange to see two men in the woods, and Lauren's first reaction was to call out to them. But she checked this, and instead shifted her focus to her nose. Was that–yes, it was, unmistakably. These men were already dead. They were being closely watched by ghouls.
"I know of only one way ghouls are made in this world," she said. "The are made by vampires, and sustained by them. The best thing I can think to do is to pretend we don't see them, or aren't worried, and wait for them to move. They will probably attack us, but at least they'll have to get closer to us and our fire, and that will give us some advantages. But think through what magic you will use against them, and be ready to use it very quickly, because when this happens it will happen fast."
"Are you sure they will attack?"
"Let us hope so. I can think of only two reasons why they would not do so. One is that they are afraid of us, and that means they already know we are not two women traveling alone in the wood. The other is that they are spying on us to report to their vampire masters, and that means we are in for far worse trouble than a pair of ghouls."
They sat in silence for several minutes. Lauren shifted her focus back to her eyes, and watched the men, while pretending to be staring off into space. She began chatting with Bethany, while at the same time she established that telepathic link which allowed them to share their thoughts directly.
"It will be interesting to see what is left of the castle at Camelot." They haven't moved yet, but are apparently making sure we're alone. "I've heard it was a wonderful grand place once, but that was so long ago." One of them is moving toward your right, the other holding his position–they intend to attack from two sides. "I don't guess there's much standing. But even if the old stones and foundations are there–" I think probably I should take the one coming at your back and you should turn toward the one on our flank, but don't move until I do. "Well, it would at least give us some idea of what once was."
She fell silent for a moment, and stood, as if stretching. She waited in that position for a moment, wondering what was delaying the attackers. Then she saw them coming.
As she drew the psionic blaster from her waist, she saw Bethany turn and cry out the familiar words of her slicing spell. Clever girl, Lauren thought, as she fired the invisible force into the body of her attacker.
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light," she shouted, "and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned." The spotlights came on, shining on their two opponents. "It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment," she called, and fired the blaster again.
Bethany meanwhile was also throwing a mix of magic at her target. Some of it was scripture; some was Merlin, some was psionic. She kept hammering away at him. But Lauren had done this before, and it was coming easily to her now.
"He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Both of the attackers burst into flames, and as Lauren found new strength she fired twice more at her opponent, and he went down.
But Bethany's attacker was almost on her. Lauren leapt forward into a flip, and brought her feet down against the creature's chest, knocking it to the ground. "And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things." As the creature flinched at her words, she fired the blaster at it, and it fell motionless.
"Wow!" Bethany exclaimed. "We killed ghouls!"
"Yes, indeed we did. I suppose I should have expected it."
"Because if werewolf country ends, vampire land probably begins?"
"No, because it's just like the old days."
"What does that mean?"
"Something someone said to me once, a long time ago in the distant future."
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #116: Character Missions. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: