The Squire and the Scholar: Part Six
Lisha knew she had to look for a staircase to the back tower, the one where she’d seen the guards. She held her wand in one hand and Jeran’s knife in the other as she peered into dim doorways, looking for the steps. It was damp and smelled absolutely foul, which she attributed to the Werelupes. And the princesses have been here for days on end – they’re probably terrified!
That was when, with a thunderous roar, a Werelupe came out of a doorway up ahead.
Lisha shrieked involuntarily – it was twice as big as even the biggest Werelupes she’d seen... big enough that it could probably eat her in one bite. Its tusks were as long as her legs! And the arms – it had four arms!
She blasted it with her wand – it was a good shot, but the beast’s red eyes only narrowed as it growled at her. Uh-oh... I only made it angry at me!
And then she heard the jeer behind her. “Hey, looks like Gnarfas has found a treat!”
Lisha risked a look to see that two raiders and two Werelupes had blocked the other end of the corridor.
One of the Werelupes howled something at the giant – Gnarfas – who only shook his head and growled at Lisha, red eyes narrowing.
A raider said, “Ah, well – if he has a snack, he’ll be easier to subdue once the king gets down here.”
The other one replied, “Not much more than a snack, that one. Mistborne must be worse off than we thought if they’re sending the kiddies out to do their warring for them.”
I’m going to be eaten by this monstrous Werelupe and all they’re doing is sitting there and laughing about it!
And then the idea hit her. She whispered, “Look at them, Gnarfas. They’re so much bigger than me – wouldn’t it be more filling to eat them? They’re the ones who’ve imprisoned you... it would be more fun to eat them, too. I swear, I don’t mean you any harm at all...”
And with another roar that seemed to shake the castle’s foundations, Gnarfas charged right past her and toward the four Neopians behind her – leaving the hall that he’d come out of deserted. As they fled before the monster, Lisha ducked into the doorway.
It was the stairwell! She could hear someone clattering up them from below, so she dashed up to the next story. At a window, she could still hear the sounds of fighting from out in the courtyard. Oh, I hope Ro’s alright...
“Hey, you! What’re you doing there?”
Lisha didn’t even bother to look at who was behind her – she tossed a blast backward with her wand and ran for it.
She had to find her way to the back tower – she had to go forward and to her right whenever possible. She heard the footsteps behind her, so she risked a look behind her to see even more raiders.
One of them clearly recognized her. “Hey – I’ve seen you by the castle before – you’re Sir Jeran’s little sister! The bookworm!”
She stopped, brandishing her wand. “Yes, that’s me, and he’s right behind me – so do you really want to pick a fight with me right now?”
She didn’t wait for the answer – she kept running, and could hear that they didn’t follow her. Then something struck her. What do I hate most? Being tiny and being known as Jeran’s little sister. What just saved me twice? Being tiny and being Jeran’s little sister!
She could see out the narrow window slits that she was near the corner of the palace. That door – that had to be it! She tugged on it – it was locked, but the wood was old and crumbing and it didn’t take a lot of effort to open it when she braced herself and pulled with all her strength.
She was looking up into the high stairwell of a tower, and she could hear people talking up above her. They must have set raiders to guard... they’re more intelligent than the Werelupes. Slightly. But regular Neopians were also a good deal smaller – closer to Lisha’s own size, and a great deal easier to deal with. She wished for a second that when she channeled Jeran she could also have a little of her brother’s size, but she knew that it was useless. All she had was herself, her staff, her knife, and her wand, and she would have to try and make that work.
Lisha crept up the stairway as quickly as she could, remembering what Jeran had told Ro. If you’re outnumbered, take the first one out with surprise. It evens the odds.
Jeran, I’m sorry for everything I ever said or even thought about being in your shadow. If you were to charge up these stairs behind me right now to rescue the princesses instead of me, I’d be happy as could be.
Then she heard the raiders talking again, just around the corner. “I don’t see why we have to sit here and guard a couple spoiled brats – I owe a few Mistborne soldiers some knocks.”
“I don’t know – the last scouts said something about reinforcements from the king. At least as long as we’re here we’ll get warning and some time to run.”
A coward and a braggart... they didn’t pick the cream of the crop to guard the door. The coward’s voice was deeper – he was probably bigger. Okay, I’ll zap the smaller one first and then hope the other runs for it.
She jumped out, pointed her wand, and fired. The smaller of the two guards slumped to the ground unconscious. The bigger looked around in confusion. “What, wait... huh?”
Lisha zapped him next, and he joined his companion on the floor.
That was easy... almost a little too easy. The door to the princesses’ prison was right there, but she forced herself to stop and think. What other guards do they have?
They’ve got the winged sentries around the outside of the tower... that makes the most sense, really, since the princesses can both fly. And they’ve got that crazy giant monster Werelupe on the lower levels. And all of those people out in the courtyard. They weren’t prepared for one small Aisha to sneak through – they were ready for a bigger assault. And since the princesses are young noblewomen, they’ve probably been far too scared to try and cause any trouble, if they even have the faintest idea how to fight. I’m probably safe.
She knew she didn’t have much longer before the sentries woke up – she took the key ring off the smaller one’s belt and tested them in the door until she found one that opened. Then she let herself into the prison cell.
There were two mattresses in the room, and that was all the furniture. The two princesses sat on one. Esbel, a tall royal Eyrie, stood up quickly. “Lisha! Is this – is this a rescue?” Halli, a royal Buzz barely bigger than Lisha – though a good deal younger – just looked up at her with wide eyes.
Lisha nodded. “Unfortunately, the rescue squad is me and Squire Roja, who’s outside trying to buy us time, so we need to get going now!”
Halli asked, “How?”
“Well, you two can fly – Esbel, do you think you can carry me?”
Esbel looked down at her and nodded. “I can carry Halli – I can carry you, I think.”
“These windows here have bars – we’ll need to try and find some different windows and fly for it. We’ll fly over the castle walls and find somewhere safe a good distance from here.”
She heard a groan from outside. “And we need to go before those guards wake up or we’re all dead!”
Halli asked – still with the same pleading, frightened tone of voice – “How will we defend ourselves?”
Lisha wanted to keep her wand – she handed the staff to Esbel and the knife to Halli. “There. Now run!”
She took the steps two at a time, running. But before she reached the bottom, she heard horns from outside, and a magically magnified voice shouting, “Surrender in the name of Sir Jeran of Meridell!”
Jeran! It’s Jeran! He made it somehow, he’s here! On the other side of a fortress wall and a horde of Werelupes, but still he’s here!
Halli practically skipped in excitement. “We’re saved, Ezzie! We’re saved!”
Esbel looked around the doorframe over Lisha’s head. “Not quite yet, Halli...”
Lisha pulled her back – there were raiders down the hall, but they hadn’t noticed the escape yet, and Lisha wanted it to remain like that for as long as possible. I don’t want to end up in a situation where we have to outmaneuver raiders in the air...
Then she took note of the open window on the back wall of the castle, next to the door. If we go low and loop around the castle away from the winged guards, this could actually work! She pointed, and Esbel scooped her up and set her between her purple wings. The Eyrie whispered, “Be really quiet, Halli. Really, really quiet.”
Lisha had been flying before, but with much bigger, more muscular soldiers or knights. She started to wonder how good of an idea this really was... Is Esbel really strong enough to fly with me on her back?
But she didn’t want to risk going through the fortress again... for all she knew, that monster was still rampaging through the lower levels, and she was certain that she couldn’t get away from it twice. “Okay, it’s now or never – go!”
Halli went first, climbing onto the sill and jumping off. Esbel followed – Lisha could feel the strain of her muscles as her wings pumped to keep them aloft.
A voice shouted from behind them, “Hey – escape! The prisoners are escaping!”
But it was too late – they were free!
Halli immediately went into a dizzying spiral of corkscrews and loop-the-loops, and Lisha was very glad that Esbel flew more sedately. Lisha directed, “If Jeran’s here, there’ll be a chunk of the army – we need to get behind Meridell lines!”
Esbel took the lead, with the kind of pace that Lisha knew she couldn’t sustain for long – not with a passenger. But maybe it’ll be just long enough...
They cut a wide path around the castle, and saw the Meridellians in the woods around the fortress and all of the raiders and Werelupes – many more than before, their attacking army must have retreated for a last stand – within. Lisha cried, “High as you can – we need to get out of arrow reach!”
Halli gasped, “Would they really try to hurt us?”
That was one thing Lisha was quite sure about. “Without even blinking an eye.”
She looked down – she recognized the commander’s tent, and several familiar shapes outside of it, including a spotted Gelert and a blue Lupe. Jeran!
She couldn’t ask the princesses to let her down there – they needed to get the back of the lines before any fighting broke out. She looked down once more and said, “Drop me!”
Esbel said, “You’re kidding!”
“Let me fall – Jeran will catch me! He’s good at catching things. Go to the very back of the Meridell lines before you land – we’re still in bowshot!”
Before Esbel could say another word, Lisha adjusted her weight so she slipped off the Eyrie’s back. And as she plummeted, she had a second to wonder whether this had really been as good of an idea as it had seemed.
But then a strong pair of armor-clad arms broke her fall, and the world was back to the way it had always been.
To be continued...