Saturday, 2 April 2011

In the siege lines, Randstadt

‘Sister? Sister!’

Mary Amadeus paused in her work and looked around. Nobody in the siege lines had ever called her by her old title. A man stood hesitating at the entrance to the gun park, a smile on his face as he looked at her. He held his hat in both hands and made a presentable figure in well-made traveling clothes.

‘Do I know you?’ she asked, walking over and then stopped in surprise. ‘Bruno!’

The former misérable broke into a grin as she recognized him. ‘I look rather different these days, sister!’

‘I should say you do!’ Mary said, walking over to shake hands. ‘But then, so do I. How are you?’

‘Well settled-in, thanks,’ he replied. ‘The archbishop gave me a place as a general handyman on one of his estates and my wife works in the scullery. It pays a decent wage and we’re treated well.’

‘I’m very glad to hear it.’

Bruno bobbed his head. ‘It’s all thanks to you and Grafin Ursula.’

‘It’s the least we could do. I trust your family is well?’

‘All well.’ Bruno ducked quickly as the main siege battery let fly a deafening salvo. Mary hid a smile. She had long grown accustomed to the noise, albeit a trifle deaf. Bruno looked keenly at the distant shape of Randstadt’s ramparts. Dust from pulverized stone hung in the air as the salvo struck home. ‘I never thought I’d get so close to my old home again,’ he said. ‘Our hut used to be just over there.’

‘Any regrets?’ Mary asked.

He scowled and shook his head. ‘No. It was a horrible life.’ Glaring at the town he went on, ‘you can burn it all to the ground as far as I’m concerned!’

‘I don’t think we’ll go that far,’ she said, taking his arm. ‘Come to my quarters and take a sup of wine.’

She led him to her tent. Her servant had turned back the fly to allow the interior to air in the warm April day, and bedding hung over a line nearby. The woman hurried to fetch a bottle of wine and goblets as Mary invited Bruno to sit with her at the camp table set up outside. ‘Not that I’m displeased to see you, old friend,’ she said as the servant poured the wine, ‘but I’m curious as to why you’re here.’

Bruno waited until the servant went about other business before leaning close. ‘We’ve all been reading about the siege and battles and so on,’ he said. ‘Last week I remembered something which might be useful. My wife and I talked it over and decided you should be told. ‘

‘You came instead of sending a letter?’ Mary asked. ‘It’s a long way from the archbishop’s estates.’
Bruno looked around. The camp bustled with activity but none paid them any attention. ‘We thought it too sensitive,’ he said, leaning close.

‘Now I’m really curious!’ Mary exclaimed. ‘What have you to share?’

Bruno gestured toward the distant gun line. ‘There’s a way into the town from outside. A way few know of.’ He leaned closer. ‘A secret way.’

‘A secret way.’ Mary gazed at him thoughtfully. ‘Do you mean a secret passage?’

‘Not a man-made one, sister.’ Bruno sat back. ‘They’re more in the nature of caves under the town. They run back from the river bluffs.’

‘Interesting,’ she murmured. ‘How do you know of them?’

Bruno sipped his wine. ‘Two years ago I worked on the docks. A pal of mine fell into the river and got swept away. He couldn’t swim. I can only dog paddle a bit but I grabbed a keg and jumped in after him. I soon caught him but we were carried downstream about a quarter mile beyond the walls. Somehow I managed to push against the flow and guide us to the bank. It’s rocky there, with plenty of hand and footholds. I got us ashore and made sure my pal was safe, then looked around.’
     ‘There’s an overhang. I couldn’t see any way up from the river, but I could see a small cave opening screened by bushes a few feet above where we perched. I doubt it can be seen at all from the river unless a boat gets up close to the bank. My pal seemed half-dead and wasn’t able to move with the fright he’d gotten, so I climbed up and took a closer look at the cave.’ He shrugged and looked grim for a moment. ‘There seemed no hurry to send a boat after us from the docks. After all, we were just a couple of laborers.’
     ‘The opening was big enough for me to wriggle through and so I did. After a few yards I found a place big enough to stand in.’ He struck the ground with his boot heel. ‘There’s a whole series of tunnels and caves under this soil.’

Mary felt her pulse quicken as possibilities flowed through her mind. ‘You explored them?’

‘I explored a few later. Not at that time. My pal needed help and I wanted to be with him when the rescue boat arrived and took us back to town. I told no one but my wife of my find. It took a few days but I went back in secret with rope and a lantern. Those caves run for quite a way. One heads toward the town and under the walls.’

‘You know this for sure?’

‘Yes.’ Bruno grinned, his teeth brown and jagged. ‘I found a disused well shaft sunk into a small water-filled cave. It took some doing but I climbed up to the top. It’s covered with planks and rubble, but I saw enough through the gaps to make out a familiar neighborhood.’

Mary thought for a moment then stood. ‘Bruno, you need to come with me. The general should hear this!’


Bluebear Jeff said...

Ah, AJ, the game is afoot, I think.

-- Jeff

David said...

Yes, very good to see Mary Amadeus up to mischief again! :-)

Looking forward to more...



Jiminho said...


Tag, you're it! I've tapped you for the Stylish Blogger Award. No problem if you would rather not...