It wasn’t long, however, till Salazar realized he’d been hasty in thinking he could concoct a sleeping draft in a few hours. Under normal circumstances he could have done it with his wand arm tied behind his back, but Godric’s condition continued to worsen, and Salazar was reluctant to leave him. There weren’t that many wounded yet, but there was only one plump priest to tend them. Salazar’s reluctance solidified into conviction when Duke William’s own physician appeared in the doorway. Godric was the most prestigious of the injured, and Salazar felt no surprise when the physician’s eyes sought out the fair-haired warrior.
Conferring a great honor on Godric, the Duke William himself had come to Godric’s bedside the previous day. Salazar had been cleansing and re-dressing Godric’s wound at the time, but even thus preoccupied, he’d been struck by the personal force of the Duke. Salazar respected the ruthlessness that had got William this far, and although he didn’t really understand Godric’s loyalty to the man, Salazar did acknowledge the Duke’s charisma. Now, facing the Duke’s physician across Godric’s fever-wracked body, Salazar became conscious of something quite different.
The physician, a rather swab Cleric, was making concerned sounds as he studied Godric, but concern wasn’t what Salazar sensed from his mind. Salazar had once tried to warn Godric that William, an unscrupulous and self-serving man, might find it easier to dispose of someone he owed money to rather than repay him. The Duke owed Godric rather a lot of money, and Salazar was getting a very clear sense that this physician’s visit was not motivated by charity. The physician had a surprisingly disciplined mind that Salazar couldn’t easily penetrate, but enough seemed clear to Salazar that he determined not to leave Godric unattended.
Salazar waited for the physician to depart, then summoned Cadogan to his side. The physician had promised to return later with a draft to treat fever, and while Salazar believed he would return, he didn’t think the draft the physician bore would be one of healing.
“Go to this Mistress Helva,” he said quietly, “And bid her send me a sleeping draft. Any healer worth her weight in knotgrass should have enough on hand for that priest, and the guards on our way out of camp.”
“It’s Helga not Helva,” Cadogan hissed, “And believe me, she’s way better than a lot of knotgrass!”
As Cadogan rose from where they squatted together by Godric’s pallet, he nearly knocked over the candle. Salazar hissed back, “And don’t draw attention to yourself!” He sighed as he watched the young boy threading his way through the wounded, inadvertently treading on a limp hand and overturning a chamber pot before reaching the door. The boy was eager, and a wizard of as yet unknown potential, but stealth and subtlety were lessons he might never learn.
To Salazar’s surprise, Cadogan returned, accompanied by Odo. The wispy wizard explained. “I know I wasn’t meant to come till later, later tonight not some other day later, but Mistress Helga bid me come to get assurance from you that you won’t give a sleeping draft to the priest.”
“What?” Salazar asked, utterly bewildered.
“The guards don’t matter,” Odo explained, “But if you send the priest into sleep, there will be no one to tend the wounded.”
Odo said this as though it should be obvious to anyone, but Salazar stared in confusion. “No one to tend the wounded? This collection of clumsy soldiers and weak camp followers? There’s not a wizard among them! What cares your Mistress Alma for such?”
“Helga!” Cadogan said fiercely. The other two frowned at him, and Salazar said quietly, “keep your voice down.”
“Mistress Helga doesn’t care who they are,” Odo said. He looked vaguely around the stuffy room. “That man over there,” he pointed to a supine figure with a head wound, “Will have an apoplexy before morning, and that laundry woman is going to twist her ankle on the way to the latrine.”
“So what!” Salazar exclaimed in frustration.
“We’re not going to argue ethics right now,” Odo said simply. When Salazar came to know Odo better, he would understand that such an avowal wasn’t a mere figure of speech; they really would argue ethics later. “There’s enough sleeping draft here for the guards. They’re more likely to accept a friendly quaff from my flask. I’ll see to that; you take care of the priest. He’s chatty as a lark at sunrise. Just start talking to him on the other side of the room once I give you the sign, and keep him distracted till Cadogan and I have your friend safely outside.”
Salazar frowned. He didn’t like talking to people, at least not people he didn’t know. He was wary of the priest, partly because of the man’s loquacity, but also for another reason. Since leaving his home village, where Salazar and his mother had been revered for their magical abilities, he had discovered that of all muggles predisposed to view his kind with suspicion and mistrust, this sort was the most difficult to ignore.
Giving him no time to argue, Odo left, bringing Cadogan with him. Salazar was left alone to do what he could for Godric, and to watch the priest chat his way from patient to patient. Salazar had had as little to do with clerics as he could manage, and didn’t understand them. He’d had an interesting conversation with the man about renowned monastery gardens, but the man’s ways were still mysterious.
With each patient, after a chat in which the priest did most of the talking, he would remove an object from somewhere in his sleeve, and kneel by the patient’s pallet, talking, but not to the patient. The object caught Salazar’s eye immediately. It appeared to be a series of jewels threaded together and closed into a circle. His encounter with the goblin in the wood fresh in his mind, Salazar inwardly calculated the value of the jewels, and wondered whether the priest had any more. The jewels passed through the priest’s fingers, and watching the priest’s lips move, Salazar wondered what sort of incantation the man was attempting.
When Godric had dropped into a fitful sleep, Salazar rose, and went to where the priest was mixing a concoction at a nearby table. Salazar sniffed disdainfully to himself at the amateur effort, but forced himself to make a flattering remark about the priest’s acuity as a healer. Since venturing out into the wider world, he’d discovered how vulnerable muggles were to this tactic. The priest, being a simple and trusting man, took Salazar’s praise at face value, and was soon chatting away to him about decoctions and infusions.
Salazar was less direct as he veered the conversation toward the power of words in healing. Clerics could be jumpy as fish in a basket if you started asking too many questions about their special rituals, but Salazar wanted to know about those jewels. He need not have worried. Guileless as a muggle in a dice game, the priest was happy to show Salazar what he carried.
“This was a gift from my Abbot,” he explained. “It’s quite valuable. Of course at troubled times such as this, valuable things are usually hidden away, but I make an exception for this.” He tucked it safely away and returned to stirring his concoction.
“Hidden away?” Salazar said, giving the illusion of simplicity in order to draw the priest out.
“Oh yes, of course we have nothing to fear, because William has been guided on this journey, and will of course prevail. You may be sure the local people have hidden their items of value however.”
“Surely that isn’t possible with William’s soldiers helping themselves to whatever they fancy.”
The priest frowned a little and said, “well, many Christians find that small churches and religious houses can be safe places to entrust valuable things. Folk will leave precious objects with clerics in out of the way places at times like these, and return for them when the danger has passed. An invading army cannot search everywhere, and a humble monastery or a broken-down church will often go unregarded.”
Salazar thought about this. He spared a fleeting second to wonder at poor clerics who would keep wealth without exploiting it, then moved quickly on to the problem of how to find such places as the priest described.
“The virtue of such clerics intrigues me,” Salazar said with an attempt at humility. “Do you know this country well enough to tell me where I might find such a place?”
The priest looked more closely at Salazar, and some of the childlike trust faded from his pleasant face. Salazar tried to look innocent, but too much insincere humility in the past days had taken their toll. Warned by something in Salazar’s expression, the priest took a figurative step back, and said blandly, “I cannot. I am a stranger here just as you are.”
But, reaching out with his mind, Salazar knew the man wasn’t telling the truth. Once the question had been raised, the priest’s mind answered it, giving a surprisingly thorough survey of the countryside, particularly with reference to small, out-of-the-way religious houses. It seemed the man had actually spent a couple of years here during his Novitiate, and knew the country rather well. Salazar focused hard, committing what he could to memory, then saying indifferently, “Of course, it is a barbarous place is it not?” He leaned forward and sniffed at the goblet on the table. “Is this ready think you?” He then diverted discussion back to the wounded. Disarmed by Salazar’s seeming sincerity, and nudged to forgetfulness by a little pressure on his mind, the priest entered into a spirited conversation about scrafungulous, and forgot about Salazar’s curiosity.
At this point, Salazar saw a figure in the dimness of the doorway. It was Odo, and he was gesturing to tell Salazar that the time had come.
Loquacious once more, the priest was amenable to Salazar’s suggestion that they visit each patient in turn, and confer on the state of injury, and the best course of treatment. Salazar moved away from the table and headed toward the pallet farthest from where Godric lay. The next several minutes were an elaborately choreographed dance in which three people tried hard to maneuver the other two. At Godric’s pallet, Odo brandished his wand, invoking a powerful but silent levitation charm on Godric’s supine form. Darting around him eager as a puppy, Cadogan sought to remove some of the clutter of the sick room, before it could be sent skidding across the floor by an unconscious limb. In truth he caused more chaos than he prevented, but he did catch a full chamber pot from Godric’s foot just in time to save it from discharging its contents all over Odo’s robe. Like an engineer attempting to wrestle an aqueduct, Salazar jostled, nudged, directed, and misdirected, repeatedly interposing himself between the priest, and a line of sight to Odo and Godric.
Odo had levered Godric into a vertical position, and was using his wand to float him gradually toward the open door. As the priest declaimed happily on the many ways to treat cholera morbus, Salazar leaned back a little in case the priest should choose that moment to look up from his patient. For good measure, he also shortened the wick of the lamp a little with his mind in order to add some dimness to the room.
It was then that things started to go wrong. Cadogan, darting from one side of Godric’s weirdly hovering form to the other, set his foot accidentally to an empty water jar, and there was a resounding clatter as it tipped, and rolled on the floor. With no time to think, Salazar did the first thing that came to his mind in order to keep the priest from looking toward the door, and the incredible tableau visible there. Salazar quickly raised the edge of his flowing sleeve, and hissed a directive.
Much later, in trying to reconstruct how things had begun to go so horribly wrong, Rowena told Salazar that he couldn’t have chosen a worse course of action, although she conceded that it was certainly one to catch the attention of a priest. Salazar was so accustomed to snakes, and so bound together with his own, that he seldom truly realized how disquieting most people, even wizards, found them. As a relative new-comer to the larger world, he had no idea of the place snakes occupied in the symbolic thinking of many, and especially of priests. So, although his intention had certainly been to distract the priest, he was wholly unprepared for the priest’s reaction as he saw Madella slide out from around Salazar’s arm, and slither purposefully onto the floor. The snake was longer than a man’s arm.
With an agility shocking in so plump a fellow, the priest bounded onto his feet, and reached for the lamp. He raised it above his head, all the while shouting rhythmical words Salazar made no attempt to understand, and held the lamp high. In a moment of clarity, Salazar realized the priest, far from trying to see the snake better, was intent on hurling the lit lamp directly on her, drenching her in burning oil.
Salazar whipped out his wand and wielded it with a will. The priest stumbled back and nearly dropped the lamp, but, his conversational excesses not withstanding, he was a man of determination, and no small force. When Salazar reached out with his mind and extinguished the lamp, plunging the room into darkness, the priest began chanting words in Latin, and in a tone of command that Salazar had never imagined issuing from atop his many chins.
The several injured and ill patients didn’t seem disposed to take the chaos lying down if they had a choice about it. Many began crying out in fear and alarm, and those who could were pulling themselves together to avoid the writhing snake, the roused priest, a floating Saxon, a wispy wizard holding him aloft, the darting form of Cadogan, and the spreading pool of hot oil from the lamp the priest had dropped on the floor.
Salazar’s attention was torn between Godric and Madella, but Godric had two others to mind him, so Salazar called out in a series of hisses and clicks for the snake to return to him. This wasn’t easy, as he was now being hotly pursued by the impassioned priest.
Later, in reconstructing the scene, Rowena decided that the priest had probably been attempting to exorcise demons from within Salazar, but in the moment, Salazar couldn’t fathom the other man’s intentions. Reluctant to send spells flying around while Madella was loose, Salazar reached out his foot, and contented himself with tripping the cleric, so that he fell heavily to the floor.
When Madella curled once more around his outstretched arm, Salazar got his bearings and made, none too cautiously, toward the door, where Odo was just levering Godric through. Indeed, it was only Salazar’s up thrust hand that kept Godric’s head from colliding brutally with the lintel. At last they were outside. The fresh air hit Salazar like a plunge into cool water. As the four making up their odd party slipped into the darkness behind the tavern, Salazar made a quick movement with his wand. The sounds of loud chanting, and the desperate cries of the wounded, were muffled as quickly as though a heavy oaken door had shut.
They all, save Godric, breathed sighs of relief. Godric, on the other hand, was showing ominous signs of perking up. His head was moving back and forth, and his eyelids were fluttering.
“Not now,” Salazar groaned. “Have you any more of that sleeping draft? The last thing we need is for him to wake up now.”
“No,” Cadogan said too loudly, “We used it all on the guards. We may even have missed a few; we ran out.”
“Your venerable Mistress Helen not up to the task?” Salazar hissed tensely, “And keep your voice down!”
“Not Helen, Helga! And she’s up to any task. It’s not her fault, I spilled some,” Cadogan hissed back aggressively.
Salazar whispered a fierce oath of frustration in his own language, then took stock. Godric was continuing to shift and mutter, his feet dangling inches above the ground, his hands fluttering with increasing energy by his sides. Salazar was reluctant to use any quelling magic on him given his physical weakness, but he could hear movement some way away in the darkness. Clearly several of the guards were awake and alert, and…, yes, there was some person of importance making their way toward the tavern. Salazar could see the light of a good quality lamp approaching, and hear the shuffle of many feet as someone was escorted. William’s physician he knew, come to give a draft that would free William of the necessity to repay his debt to Godric.
“We need something to draw everyone away,” Salazar whispered to his companions. It seemed that Godric had an idea; at any rate he became markedly more agitated, and raised his voice in a loud mutter no one could understand. Cadogan concentrated ferociously on the problem, jumping nervously from foot to foot like someone who needed the latrine. Finally, he burst out, “The Horses!”
Salazar resisted his immediate impulse, which was to seize Cadogan and throttle him on the spot, and took a half second to consider whether the boy’s words actually had any value. Not for the last time, he was impressed by Cadogan’s ability to work with whatever resources were to hand, and get the result he needed, or at least something close.
“Of course!” Odo exclaimed. “Horses, that’s the key to it all!” Only later would Salazar understand that, as usual, Odo wasn’t speaking merely of the situation of the moment. “But I can’t do it,” he said, “And neither can the boy.”
In a moment of perfect understanding, all three knew what might allow them to slip out of William’s camp unregarded. “I can,” Salazar said confidently. “Give me a moment.”
“Which one?” Odo asked, but Salazar didn’t hear him.
Salazar closed his eyes and reached his awareness outward. He pictured all the horses that William had brought across the Channel, the horses he would use against the English foot soldiers. He let his awareness sink into the placid equine minds, then raised up a hornet’s nest.
From all around them came a sudden chorus of neighs, whinnies, horsy squeals, and varied sounds of breakage as, all at once, the camp’s horses reacted as though being stung by multiple vicious insects. All around them the camp irrupted into frantic life. Without the horses, William’s army would be trapped with its back to the sea, with no choice other than to fight on foot, or skulk back onto their ships and return home. The horses were their great advantage, and their Achilles heel.
There were shouts of alarm, shouted orders, shouts of pain as men were kicked and stepped on by frantic equines, and lots of other shouting that the 3 behind the tavern didn’t try to interpret. They waited till the chaos was at its height, and all men who could walk had been drawn away in pursuit of their fleeing mounts. When Salazar judged the time was right, they moved as quickly as they could, encumbered by the still hovering Godric, toward the shelter of the dark woods.