Michael the Sorcerer
Episode Three. The Sorcerer Theopiles
Melissa told Michael the way to Baron Achdamousreich's castle and warned him to be wary once he crossed into Achdamousreich's land since the baron and his henchmen treated travelers only one way -- and that was to rob and murder them. When he asked her how he would know when he was near Achdamousreich's retreat, she replied, "You will see his fortress from a great distance."
She did not elucidate further, so Michael stayed on his guard for the entire journey. There were dangers other than Achdamousreich and his men -- wild animals, bandits and highway men. It took him two weeks just to make his way out of the dark forest. The first night on a real road, he slept in a peasant farmer’s stable. After that he found inn keepers, village residents and peasants willing to lodge him for a few coins. Some days he received a night's lodging at a noble's castle for the payment of a tall tale of adventure. He disguised his true identity and pretended to be from a distant land.
The further south he traveled, the more hilly the terrain. After a while he entered the mountains. By the time two complete cycles of the moon's phases had passed, from full to full and back to full again, he was in an area of enormous peaks, snow covered although the season was high summer. Their summits towered over him like jagged stone steeples of churches built for the great earth giants of legend. The going was slow and arduous, what roads and trails he could find, narrow and steep.
One day, about midmorning, he reached the top of a steep ridge. On one side a sheer cliff dropped a thousand feet. Before him was a vast pine forest like a sea of dark green moss. In the valley a thin blue ribbon flowed. Along its banks was a multicolored chess board of farmland, golden grains gleaming in the sunlight, interspersed with stands of hardwood and light green pastures. Spaced at long intervals were toy villages, tiny huts in clumps. In the distance the mountains, majestic sentinels in various hues of purple and white, reached towards a china sky with wisps of puffy clouds. The beauty of such a breathtaking view brought tears to Michael's eyes.
He dismounted to take it in. He shaded his eyes with his palm and allowed his gaze to sweep across the panorama. It stopped on something in the distance. "So this is what Melissa meant," he muttered. In the east a tall spire of rock cast a long shadow across the valley. On the flat top of this natural monument sprawled a squat fortress with many towers, spires, walkways and walls. It could only be reached by a single road along a winding spine of rock that grew steadily narrower as it rose toward the castle like a great dragon's tail.
Near the castle, the rocky spine was split in two by a deep crevice spanned by a drawbridge. Mounted knights, mere ants at this distance, stood guard on the near side. If ever a castle was impenetrable, this one surely was.
"Baron Achdamousreich's castle at last," Michael said aloud, for he was weary of traveling. Nonetheless, it took him another two days to reach his destination. First he had to pick his way down a narrow pass to reach the valley floor and cross the river he had seen, which although at his former altitude had appeared but a thin ribbon, was wide and swift. Luckily a ferry docked in the toy village which close-up was a thriving community of several hundred souls. Once he crossed the stream, the ridge twisted around like a serpent. As a result he did not reach the drawbridge until late afternoon of the second day.
Six armed men rode up with their lances at the ready to intercept him. Not knowing their intentions and recalling the witch's warning, he drew his sword. Their captain, a burly fellow in full armor, called, "Halt and lay down your arms, else my men will send you to your final destination at once." Although he spoke the barbarous Bavarian tongue, his words were close enough to Saxon for Michael to understand him. He sheathed his sword. "What business have you here, knight?"
"I wish to speak to the sorcerer Theopiles. I understand that he resides with your master, Baron Achdamousreich."
The guardsmen behind the captain looked shocked and put their heads together to whisper. The captain's eyes narrowed. "You desire to speak to Theopiles, you say. Few wish such an audience. Most men fear him greatly. But that is your business." He shrugged as though he could care less if the sorcerer turned Michael into a toad. He raised a hand, and the drawbridge was lowered. His men surrounded Michael and escorted him into the castle as though he were a prisoner.
At the fortress walls, they paused while an enormous spiked iron gate was cranked open. When they rode into a courtyard where men were practicing combat, Michael and his guards dismounted. The attachment of armed men led him through the castle to a large room whose stone walls were covered with tapestries depicting scenes of battle. It was gloomy and damp, as little light came from the arched windows high on the south wall. Great oaken beams dark from age held up the ceiling. At one end an enormous log burned cheerily in a fireplace whose hearth was large enough for a man to stand in without stooping. At the end of the room opposite the entrance was a raised dais that held a carved wooden throne where a short, stocky man, with an enormous mustache and a scar that flamed red on his cheek, lounged. His dress was extravagant, a. fur-lined cape and a robe of the finest silk. Over this, he wore a silver chain mail vest. A thin gold crown rested on his thinning gray locks at a jaunty angle -- as though he were a king rather than a baron, perhaps speaking of his ambition. Michael had been ushered into the presence of the infamous Baron Achdamousreich.
The captain of the guard and the guardsmen went down on one knee and bowed to the master of the castle. Michael followed their lead.
From the kneeling position, the captain said, "We found this fool Saxon approaching the drawbridge, Your Excellency. He desires an audience with Theopiles."
Achdamousreich let out an evil laugh. "Well Saxon, Theopiles is not in residence at this time. Stand. What are you called?"
Michael stood up and bowed from the waist. "I am Michael of Eilenberg, Your Excellency."
"You are young, appear strong and wear a knight's armor. Do you have confidence in your abilities in the use of arms?"
"Yes, Your Excellency."
"Good. Perhaps we'll have some amusement here today. Gothreid, come forward."
A huge blond Norseman, who reminded Michael of the warriors he had run from during the battle, stepped out from a group of knights who had been lounging to one side of Achdamousreich’s throne. "What you wish, Baron?" It was obvious that Bavarian was not his native tongue.
"What do you think of Saxon knights, Gothreid?"
"They are puny she-men, good for nothing but food for dogs." He spat.
"Well Gothreid, we have one here with us as a guest. What do you think we should do with him?"
The enormous Viking glared at Michael with hate. "Let me cut him up. You feed him to your hunting birds."
The guards who surrounded Michael stepped away, grunting their approval of what was going to happen next. Michael also knew what he was in for. This time there would be no escaping into woods. He must either fight or die, and maybe do both.
He and the Norseman drew
their swords simultaneously. Michael had no time to worry about his fate;
Gothreid was upon him like a whirlwind. He handled his huge broadsword as
though it weighed no more than a feather, switching it from hand to hand and
expertly twirling it around so that it became a swirling, dancing death
machine. Nonetheless, although Michael had not been tested in combat, he had
spent his entire life with a wooden practice sword in his hand and had one of
the best swordsmen in
He heard Achdamousreich remark as the fight continued in ever widening circles, causing the spectators to back against the walls, "Ah, the Saxon fights well. Good, this will be amusing."
At first Michael fought defensively, allowing the Norseman to drive him back a step at a time, until they neared a wall, at which time he would sidestep and dance away. But the cold fear that he felt was like ice water thrown on a smoking fire in that it cleared his mind of everything except the concentration and skill that he needed to win this battle against a formidable foe. He realized that he would surely lose if allowed the Norseman to keep the offense. He would tire long before his antagonist, who had enormous strength and stamina and his hate of Saxons to give him that extra energy that would keep him going until Michael was dead. That was the troubling thing. This was no mock combat. This was to the death, like gladiators of old. Hence, he began to press Gothreid. His advantages over the big man were quickness and agility and possibly intelligence. He used his extra speed to advantage, coming in swiftly with probing thrusts and dancing away. Although the point of his sword merely scratched Gothreid, he noted with satisfaction that blood flowed, and the Norseman grimaced with pain. If he inflicted enough of these pricks, the loss of blood alone would exhaust his opponent. Also, each time his sword struck Gothreid, he laughed and insulted him or his relations, causing Gothreid's anger to rise. Angry men make mistakes in judgment.
It happened as he had hoped. He slashed Gothreid's cheek. At the same time he said, "What's the matter Norse devil, did that pinprick hurt the ugly whore's little boy?" as he danced away. Gothreid bellowed like a mad bull and charged swinging his sword like a battle ax. Michael ducked under one of these wild swings and thrust his sword straight for the Norseman's heart. At the last moment, Gothreid saw his error and threw himself to the side. Nonetheless, Michael's blade sliced through his left shoulder.
Gothreid yelped with pain and went down. Michael quickly withdrew his sword, put one foot on Gothreid's sword arm and his sword point to his throat. "Yield!"
Gothreid had only two choices, yield or die. He loosed his grip on his sword and nodded. "I yield, Saxon."
"Very well done, Michael of Eilenberg," Achdamousreich said.
Michael sheathed his sword and bowed to the baron. The wounded man was led away.
"Come here," said Achdamousreich. He rose from his throne, walked up to Michael and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Yes, muscular too. I want you for my vassal. What say you? I could use a man with your fighting ability. You will find being my vassal rewarding -- very rewarding indeed."
Michael thought about
it. Why not? Achdamousreich's reputation was known even in
"I would be pleased and honored to become your vassal and do your bidding, Your Excellency."
"Then kneel before me."
When Michael knelt, Achdamousreich unsheathed his own sword, placed the flat of it on Michael's left shoulder and had Michael swear an oath of fealty.
* * *
As a vassal of Achdamousreich, Michael joined the baron's other knights on raiding parties. As Achdamousreich promised, he became prosperous. The rule was that whatever they stole or extorted, a tithe would go to the knights to divide among themselves. Hence they were a ruthless crew, willing to do murder and torture to wring out every ounce of wealth possible from their victims. After such raids, when successful and profitable, there would be great drunken celebrations in the castle with feasts, wine by the bucketful, gambling, music and dancing girls, which turned into orgies before they ended.
Because Michael was young, an adept warrior and charming, he was popular with the other knights and the single ladies (and some married ones as well). Even those who envied him admired his swashbuckling ways. As time went by, the Norseman, Gothreid, became his special companion, who made a special exception of Michael from his general hatred of Saxons. Gothreid practically worshipped Michael. It had to do with the fact that Michael was the only man who ever defeated him in a fair fight and yet had spared his life.
Michael encouraged Gothreid's friendship and treated him well. His motives were not the purest, since he felt that it was good to have this huge warrior as a close companion, especially on a raiding party. It was like having a living shield between himself and the enemy. More than once Gothreid saved his life.
One evening after a particularly bloody, but successful raid, the party was at the point where everyone was boisterously drunk and bragging about who had killed the most men and raped the most women. Suddenly the sorcerer Theopiles was among them, drinking and feasting as though he had been there all the while. It was most mysterious. Some swore later that he had simply appeared out of thin air. But, who could say for sure? Those who had claimed this had been drunk as lords.
Another strange thing happened. After the party started to wind down, Theopiles approached Michael. Although no one had told him about Michael's request or even introduced him to the conjurer, he said, "I will see you at morningtide, after matins. My quarters are in the east wing. The servants will guide you. Good eventide, Michael."
So saying he turned away and vanished within the crowd so quickly that Michael had no time to reply. Michael, who was tipsy and distracted by the two serving wenches on his arms, was not sure whether he had just lost sight of the wizard or whether Theopiles had disappeared like a flame blown from a candle.
that impeded progress. Titans poured gasoline on the heaps of bodies and lit them. The stench of burning human flesh m
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