- Third Chapter -
The chart is bumping along the Guardians' Road with difficulty. Lord Godwin and his entourage had been trying to get through the endless wilderness of Brickenwood for more than ten days. They had long since passed the narrow path that led to the Wardens' camp, so it was clear they were nearing the end of the forest. The difficult terrain and the damp air weakened the small army. What army? A group of just four who had barely seen the sun for weeks. The soldiers seemed lost in the endless wilderness of nature. Those, who have ever walked through the Wardens' Road, call this wilderness: The Green Hell. Hell indeed for those who wants to get out from here. The feeling that it will never end is unbearable. The pungent smell of rotting bark and damp moss merge into a never-ending symphony with the animal sounds , tickling the ear and the nose at the same time. You can literally smell the sounds of the forest.
Thomlin and Sam, the two little ones, are barely on their feet. Their boots are scuffed by the damp and harsh terrain, they have little drinking water, but no food left.
- Hey, Sam! If I don't survive this, you need to know that it has been an honour to serve with you" - Thomlin squeezed out the last words.
- Thomlin! Don't talk nonsense! Though what's true is true... huhh - Sam gasped for breath. Every minute spent talking drained energy from the march.
- I'm really tired too, but it's almost over.
It wasn't the first time Sir Godwin had made this exhausting journey, but as the years passed, it felt harder and harder. He knew they would be near Legford soon, but it was clear that his men were exhausted. So they could not begin the most important part of his plan, he needs rested soldiers. He decided to make camp, a one last long rest before the action.
The fire was being extinguished when a nearby bush broke. The swords flashed immediately, a cold blade piercing heard as the steel exited its sheath.They have to be vigilant! It could be just an animal passing by, but it also can be a warden, or worse: a Legford patrol, after all, they were well within their territory.
Nerves were stretched to the breaking point when the crest of a black hawk was illuminated by the flame of the campfire. The knight who has been sent ahead is return. He got the information form the mercenaries. It's now clear that they were only a day's walk from the castle. Failure is not an option, they have to be cautious!
Lord Godwin greeted his knight with relief:
- Hey, Ernold, you scared us to death!
- Forgive me, sir, I have been moving like a weasel for days, from bush to bush, from ditch to ditch. I wasn't even sure you were sitting around the fire.
- Welcome back, Sir Ernold! Let's hear what news you bring. - Sir Cassian come to the point.
- I have got invaluable informations. The two sneaky thieves have managed to discover a secret entrance to the castle, perhaps unknown even to the Lions themselves. Hidden behind a fallen boulder is an old Forestmen cave, which may have been used for smuggling hundreds of years ago. From there, a passage leads to the main square of the castle.
Sir Godwin and the others, almost oblivious to their aching limbs, listened intently to Sir Ernold's report. Godwin could almost see the perfect plan to sneak into the castle and kidnap the queen. If the queen's life fell into their hands, Legford would be paralysed, and they could force the castle's defenders to surrender without a fight, for they would be answering to their sovereign with their lives.
The dark plan seemed to be coming to fruition, and the people of Legford had no idea what Lord Godwin was up to, already rubbing his hands together. He didn't want to make his father's mistake.
But someone is watching the knights with the falcon crest. Someone who just heard now the key details of the plan. Someone who could save Legford and destroy Sir Godwin's plan: Peregrin.
- Damn you all, what are you doing?- Peregrin almost turned down from the branch of a huge pine tree.
He had been following Godwin's group for days. Having grown up among forestmen, he knew the art of stealth and tracking. Among other reasons, he was one of the queen's most important men, for he knew more about wealth than anyone else at court. He could sneak through the canopy and bushes unnoticed, and know many other paths besides the Wardens' Road.
But now he felt as if a mountain had fallen on his shoulders. This information could save the whole of Legford. Until this moment, he could pretend himself a warden - just in case he was caught - but now, wherever he came from, Godwin would take his head to keep his plan from being discovered. One wrong move and it's over for him.
He can't wait longer, Peregrin start to climb down from the tree, but he do it more quietly and carefully than he had ever climbed before. No dry branch shall break, no animal shall betray him! Finally, he come down to a lower branch and climbed up the pine next to him, avoiding the rustling of leaves or the alarm of a small animal. As soon as he was out of the Black Hawks' immediate vicinity, he ran, ran as fast as he could, and then climbed a tree again. No longer in danger of death, he could calmly contemplate his next move. In his excitement, he muttered to himself:
- No matter how fast I run, I'd never get to Legford in time. I should send a letter with a raven, but where would I get a raven? Got it, from the Guardians! Ah, but since I left them, they don't like me very much... What the hell am I supposed to do?
But this was no time to hesitate! Peregrin finally decided to ask for help. He took out a small whistle with a deer tag engraved on it. It was a gift from his father when he was a child. Every forestmen has one. When blown, to the uninitiated ear it sounds like the hooting of an owl, but to another guardian it is a clear message, "Help please!". Peregrin blew it hard a few times. Soon, almost out of nowhere, a guardian appeared in a nearby tree.
- Here I am, brother, what's the prob... - His words trailed off. - Peregrin?
- Yes, Matthias. It's me.
Meanwhile, Legford was calm. Queen Madelyn was drinking her morning tea, planning to spend the rest of the day with her son, Prince Leo. The sunny, slightly cool autumn weather was just perfect for touring the castle's neighborhood.
Suddenly, voices sounded from the doorway of the great hall. Boromir's guttural voice filtered through, as he was arguing with the guards and threatening to turn them both into a furry snake. He panting burst through the door, the guards excusing themselves:
- Forgive me, your majesty, this old man was intransigent, unable to wait his turn!
- An old man, eh? In ten years, you'll be as wrinkled as a rotten apple!
- Boromir! - shouted the queen. - 'You'd better be important for interrupting me without asking!
- It must be vitally important, your majesty! A raven came with it not long ago, sent by Peregrin from the Brickenwood! - and the wizard handed the scroll.
The queen's face grew grim. If Peregrin had to manage a message from the middle of the wilderness, it must mean an emergency, she thought. Madelyn began to read the parchment, her eyes widening as she did so. Boromir waited breathlessly. The Queen was suddenly speechless, but silently handed the scroll to the wizard.
- 'Well, that's a problem,' - the magician summed up the matter, fiddling nervously with his finger in his long beard.
- Is that all you can say? Godwin is planning an attack on me, on my family, and all you can say is that's wrong?
- Fear not, your majesty, we are in a very good position. Without Peregrin's letter, you would be in danger indeed, but an attack of such small numbers can only work by the power of surprise. They've lost their advantage, we're in control now, we can set a trap.
The wizard's face had lost it's initial concern, replaced by a sly smile, the century-old wrinkles etched into his face, his eyes gleaming with the light of cunning intrigue.
- The letter said Godwin's group was a day's walk, a day and a half at the most. I want the commanders of all our armed forces in the council chamber within two hours. - the queen decreed.
A few hours earlier, in the wilderness:
- Thank you for your help Matthias, I hope the raven will arrives safely in Legford. When this is over, the Queen will not forget your service. -Peregrin put his hand on his old friend's shoulder.
- I helped you, not the Queen. You know we do not serve monarchs. I would be grateful if we could keep that between us.
- Very well, then I am in your debt! It was a pleasure to meet you. - Peregrin smiled.
- Nice to meet you too. I'm sorry you're no longer one of us!
- You see, I'm still here. I don't forget where I came from!
With that the two old friends shook hands, and Peregrin continued on his way to Legford. The hard part is yet to come.