26 Crossing Bridges
The rain had begun two days ago, falling non-stop and heavy at times. Josah thought Luka would have made his move by now, but everything was quiet. Soaked and cold, he walked on the wooden planks of Sui Saor. The bridge had been a part of Bon Abbi for as long as he remembered.
The name meant ‘sit free,’ an invitation to those who crossed over, but now they were planning to destroy it. The rain flowing down the Alder mountains swelled Gilley Run over its banks. The swift waters would force the Casselberry soldiers to cross the bridge.
“Eva can’t be on this bridge,” Josah shouted over the roar of the river.
“Aye,” said Graybard. “You’re telling me something I already know.”
Sui Saor was four and a half meters long and about three meters wide. Two posts at its center went deep into the river with a thick crossbeam attached, hewn out of a single log. And yet, two kegs the size of a drinking vessel filled with black power would bring it down.
Graybard laid flat on the bridge, hanging over the side. He inspected the container attached to one of the posts. Everything looked proper. The pitch applied in and out of the keg ensured the power would remain dry. “How’s the cask on the other side?”
Josah waved off his question. “I’m told that if Caleb ignites the first keg, it sets off the other. It’s fine.”
Graybard pushed himself up, then wiped the rain from his face. “I know you’re not happy about our plan, but it’s going to work.”
“That’s if everyone plays their part!” shouted Josah. “But we don’t know if Luka will walk on the bridge by himself or if Eva will stand at a safe distance.”
“I never thought we would make it this far,” confessed Graybard. “Now look at where we are today. Providence has played a part in all that is happening.”
Josah kicked at the rain, collecting on the bridge. “It’s still not too late, Graybard. Let’s keep the plan, but let me confront Luka.”
The warrior tried to place his hand on Josah’s shoulder, but the boy pushed it away. “Well,” said Graybard shaking his head, “it’s time we have this talk I’ve been avoiding.”
The soldier walked away from the bridge, halfway to the gates before turning around. Josah stopped abruptly as the warrior got into his face. “I won’t have you frighten Eva with your talk anymore! We almost lost her to Luka because I didn’t council her very well.”
“She did that on her own,” Josah protested.
“Be that as it may, I’m not going to make the same mistake. Every precaution but one is in place. Eva Marie will be safe!”
Graybard turned to walk to the gates, then stopped when Josah asked about the one precaution. He quickened his steps to the boy and thumped his finger on Josah’s chest. “It’s you!”
“Me? What are you talking about?”
Looking into his eyes, Graybard unleashed his anger, something Josah had never experienced. “Yes, it’s you! Eva Marie will die because of you! She’ll be so worried about your feelings and concern that she won’t focus. Luka knows how to take advantage of any mistake.”
Josah didn’t know how to respond. “I never thought about it that way before.”
“I’ve been a soldier since the time you were soiling your loincloths. I know what I am doing, so trust me!”
Taking a deep breath, Josah admitted he was wrong. “Tell me what to do, Gray. I don’t want to lose her, either.”
The soldier placed his hand on Josah shoulder, this time a welcomed gesture. “When we walk through the gates, you convince Eva that she can make this plan work. Tell her you believe she can do it so much that you will watch from the scaffold with Caleb.”
“No! I’m staying by the gates!” insisted Josah.
“Josah, so help me, if you don’t do what I ask, I’m going to get the smithies to drag you to the barn and lock you up with Ena!”
Josah took a moment to imagine what that would look like in his mind. “Alright! I’ll do what you ask,” he conceded.
At that moment, Graybard changed his focus as a rider on a horse galloped at great speed toward them. “Luka is coming!” shouted the herald.
Without slowing down, the rider slid off his saddle and pushed away from the horse. The animal continued through the gates, neighing as he trotted into Bon Abbi. “He has forty men with him and no more.”
“At least, it’s not his entire army!” shouted Graybard. “Get to the runner and tell him to find Eva Marie. Tell the smithies in the barn that Luka is here. We’ll take care of the rest.”
Casting a threatening look at Josah, the soldier demanded what he was going to do. “I will follow your lead! I’ll get Caleb and wait with him on top of the scaffolding.”
He ran to the gates with Graybard, knowing there was no turning back. The battle for Bon Abbi was about to begin.
“Theo, tell me you took all the Mercil documents down to the cellar,” pleaded Leana.
The young Chronicler smiled. “And you thought I was losing my mind! Yes, all the Mercil materials, bound and loose, are in the cellar.”
Leana sighed. “Good. There is a document, only a few pages, that include the Wyddor pictographs and what they mean. We need to retrieve it if we hope to understand what is here between these bindings.”
Theo thought for a moment. “Do you remember something about these symbols? Anything! I sense these pages are more important than a random collection of history.”
“Well, I recall some details but not enough to extract the full meaning,” Leana cautioned.
Theo pointed at the bindings. “Start with these stampings. What do the symbols inside the circle mean?”
Leana ran her fingers over one of the leather bindings. “If there is an order to them, then this is the first set of documents we should read. The first symbol on the right looks like an ox head with horns. The next one on the left is an open square.”
“Alright. I see it. What does it mean?”
Redrawing the symbols in the air with her finger, Leana told him. “When you put the two symbols together, it reads as ‘strength’ and ‘home.’ It refers to the ‘strength of the home’ or the ‘father.'”
“So the other binding starts with the symbol for ‘home’ on the right,” Theo pointed out. “What does the squiggly line on the left mean?”
“That suggests the meaning to ‘continue.’ These two symbols together translate to ‘the house continues,’ a reference to the ‘son.'”
Theo shook his head. “I’m not understanding. Are you suggesting the Chroniclers who scribed these documents were a father and son?”
“No, Theo. The two collections are about a father and son. The name of the Chronicler may be on one of the pages, but the written words are about the journey of these two people.”
“Open to the first page about the father and see if you can read anything.”
Leana dragged the chair near to the table, then sat down. Theo moved the candle closer, then pushed the book toward her. The young girl ran her fingers across the first line without ever touching the page.
Moving down the line of pictographs, Leana shook her head. “It’s difficult to read without having the documents to reference. I can pick out a few phrases. For instance, right here…”
Theo moved closer. “These together read ‘dark days,'” Leana whispered, not knowing why. “A few lines down, these symbols are about a ‘king.'”
“A king? There’s never been a king in any of these lands.” Theotello exhaled loudly, trying to expel his frustration.
“Look over here. These symbols have a connotation of ‘being watched’ or ‘observed.’ But it’s preceded by these pictographs, ‘a man but not.’ We’re missing many words, so the meaning is not clear. There is something about ‘dark days,’ a ‘man, but not,’ and something or someone ‘watching a king.'”
Theo took a few steps away from the table. He thought about the day Brother Sammil let him use Dotek to discover Oona Sera, a Watcher. “We have to get to Northport, Leana. Yet, we can’t go there until we know if marauders burned the city down.”
“And it may be that your warning spared Northport from such fate,” countered Leana.
But before Theo could respond, the young girl stood slowly. She heard something in the distance, somewhat muffled. “Listen. Does that sound like ringing?”
It was a faint, repeating pattern. Theo knew what it meant. “Help me secure these bindings. The ringing is announcing Luka has arrived. We’ll stay here and defend these documents.”
The rain slowed down as Graybard move people into position. He and Conall distributed swords to the Villagers he trained, asking them to stay out of sight. “Remain near the gates, but don’t let anyone see you!”
Graybard smiled when he saw Dali standing in line to receive a sword. “Wait for me by the gates,” the soldier whispered.
Standing by the statue, he heard a pounding sound coming from the barn. “Ena! That wildcat will create problems if she gets out!”
He shouted for Caleb, who hollered back from atop of the scaffold. The young boy held his bow with one hand and an arrow with the other. A torch burned next to him. “Nothing!” the soldier yelled. “Stay sharp!”
When he saw Josah standing by the gates next to Eva Marie, he proceeded with speed. “What are you doing?”
“I’m glad you’re here,” Josah said. He looked at Sola and the Ruelanders holding swords, ready to fight. “Look around, Eva. You are the Lady of Bon Abbi. Make Luka know he won’t cross Sui Saor today!”
“At least, not alive!” Conall shouted, joined by those at the wall.
Graybard waved to quite the group. “We don’t have much time. We’ll leave the gates open. Everyone with a sword, stand on either side, then wait for my directions. Dali and I will let Luka see our swords.”
Pointing to the two guards, he shouted. “Set your weapons aside and grab your wooden staff. We need to make Luka think we are defenseless!”
As everyone shifted into position, Josah reached and hugged Eva. The leather armor she wore was hard, ready to defend her. He whispered into her ear, “Evie, don’t take any chances. Caleb will blow up that bridge, so don’t be on Sui Saor when that arrow flies.”
Eva’s calm demeanor confused him. As she pushed Josah away, Eva nodded with confidence. “I’m doing this to keep you alive and Bon Abbi free.”
He wanted to ask Eva what she meant, but there was no time. With one last look, he made his way to Graybard. “If Luka starts to cross that bridge…”
“I know!” the soldier huffed. “You will leap over the wall. I laid rope by the scaffolding. Tie it to something before you take that plunge!”
Ruelanders built the two-level scaffold consisting of a wood frame with beams. Nails held planks in place to form a landing below the top of the wall. Wheels fastened to low horizontal crossbeams along the bottom made the structure moveable.
Josah grabbed the rope from the base of the platform, already wound. He watched as Eva drew her sword, then started to the bridge. When he heard the thumping sound coming from the barn, he knew Ena sensed danger. But he climbed the scaffold to the top, which swayed with every movement. Ena would have to wait.
Eva gripped her sword tightly, standing a meter away from the bridge. She could see riders coming, and the sound of hoofbeats getting closer. The rain started again.
Luka held his hand, instructing everyone to stop, about six meters from the bridge. He saw Eva Marie standing alone, a sword in hand but without armor. Behind her stood Graybard and someone else with a sword, gates wide open.
“Ludda, come here!” shouted Luka.
The riders wore their armor, bearing shields with the Casselberry wolf crest. Even Ludda, as thin as he was, appeared to be bulkier. “Yes, my Lord?”
Luka stared at Eva for an uncomfortable amount of time. “My Lord?” Ludda asked again.
Padding his horse, and pleased at what he saw, Luka turned to Ludda Wiek. “Take twenty men with you and torch Northport. Burn it down! I have a score to settle with that meddling Chronicler.”
Without delay, Ludda pointed to a group of men, shouting instructions. In minutes, the riders he selected followed, as he led them to Northport. Luka watched until he couldn’t see his men anymore, before turning his horse back toward Bon Abbi.
“Everyone else, dismount!” he commanded.
Luka couldn’t contain his laughter as he walked toward Sui Saor. The Casselberry soldiers mocked the young girl as they followed their ruler. “Well, well, Eva Marie, ” he shouted as he stopped about a meter away. “I thought you were dead!”
When the young girl didn’t respond, he looked around at his men, chuckling. “Stay here,” he ordered.
Taking a few steps closer to the bridge, Luka surveyed his surroundings. “I like what you’ve done with the city, new gates, repaired walls. And what’s that carving on the wall?”
Eva took a few steps closer. “That’s our Dragoon. Come on over, and I’ll let you meet her!”
Luka pulled his helmet off, dropping it to the ground. “I heard something about a Dragoon. Your man, Josah, freed my prisoner!”
Josah strained to hear what was happening, but the roar of the river made it impossible. He didn’t dare lift his head for fear Luka would see him. “Don’t light the arrow until the very last moment,” he whispered to Caleb, who nodded.
“Did Graybard train you to handle a sword?” shouted Luka.
Eva swung her weapon back and forth, then presented her sword. “Come over and find out,” she taunted him, taking a defensive stance.
“Eva,” Luka responded. “There is no need for you to die today. Let’s settle our difference. I promise I won’t harm you or your people.”
She spat on the ground. “Tell that to Gira, who lies in a grave!”
Luka took a few more steps forward, now standing on the bridge. With great caution, Caleb slowly lifted his head high enough to glance at Sui Saor. Then he slid back down. “Luka is on the bridge, but not far enough.”
Shuffling to the edge, Josah got the attention of a Villager. “Tell Graybard we can’t see when to send the arrow. Pass it along.”
He watched as the message went from one person to the next until a guard holding the wooden staff told Dali. She nodded her head, then pointed to herself.
Josah scooted back to Caleb. “Dali will signal when it’s time.”
Eva stared at Luka with disdain. The Casselberry ruler lifted his sword, then dropped it on the bridge a few times. It was his way of showing Eva that he held a sharp weapon. “What’s your answer?”
The young girl did everything she could to draw Luka onto the bridge. It may be that he sensed something was amiss. Theo foretold that Josah would die if he stood on Sui Saor, but he never said anything about her.
For a second, she thought of Josah before deciding what had to happen. Maintaining her form, Eva walked onto the bridge with measured steps. She paused near the center posts.
Josah watched Dali for a signal, but none came. Instead, she ran from the gates and over to the scaffold. “Josah, Eva is on the bridge!”
The young man looked at Caleb. “I’m going over the wall. Don’t shoot that arrow until I reach Eva!”
He glanced over to the barn as the thumping sound continued, Ena growling her discontent. With the rope tied to the scaffolding, Josah threw the line over the wall, then slid back down.
Taking a few deep breaths, he grabbed the rope, jumped over the wall, plunging downward. Josah could feel the cord in his hand, as he did nothing to slow down. About three meters above the ground, he gripped the line to slow his speed.
The rope burned his palms as it passed through his hands. When the pain became unbearable, he released his hold and jumped the rest of the way to the ground.
His hands stung as he squatted near the wall, trying to decide what to do next. Eva Marie was standing in the middle of the bridge, right over the black powder. There weren’t as many Casselberry soldiers behind Luka, which was good. But when a few men started to point in his direction, Josah ran.
Luka focused on Eva Marie. He continued to advance with caution, his sword extended in front of him. In one fluid motion, Luka lunged ahead, expecting the girl to retreat. Instead, Eva swatted his sword to the side, then took a few paces forward.
She gripped her sword with both hands and repeated her defensive stance. Luka stepped back to reposition himself. This time, he would show Eva no mercy. He would bullrush the girl and overcome her with speed and strength.
But before he could start his attack, Luka heard his men shouting behind him. He straightened, then saw what caused the commotion behind Eva Marie. Josah.
When the Casselberry soldiers started running to Luka, Eva decided to back off the bridge. She maintained her defensive stance with each step. As Luka took a step forward, a fiery arrow struck Sui Saor with a twain, followed by another.
It was all the delay Josah needed. When he reached Eva, he pulled her away. Taking her sword, he swung it through the air, then walked to Sui Saor. Luka defiantly stood on the bridge, ready to cross swords.
But to his surprise, Luka’s men stepped away from the bridge. Then he heard that yowling sound that only a Dragoon could make. Ena eased her way in front of Josah. Stomping the ground and feinting an attack caused Luka to drop his sword.
Josah whistled, shouting Ena to return. The cat pondered for a moment before retreating to his side. “You think I’m worried about a Dragoon? There are enough swords behind me to take this animal down!”
Brandishing his sword high into the air, Josah paused before swinging it down. He knew it was enough of a signal for Caleb to fire his arrows. Throwing the sword aside, he ran to Eva Marie.
Kneeling on the ground, Josah turned his back to the bridge to shield Eva. He glanced at the bridge, guarded by the big cat. “Ena, come here!” he shouted.
The Dragoon sent out one last warning before running to Josah. He could hear a whistling sound followed by another twain. The fiery arrow missed the mark, hitting post below the keg. The noise it made startled Luka, causing him to turn back. But he wasn’t fast enough. The second arrow hit the target, igniting the black powered.
A bright flash gave way to a booming sound, followed by the splintering and twisting of flying debris. Josah cringed as the impact made his ears ring. He lifted his head and watched Luka thrown into the air, landing on the shore, halfway into the river.
A few of the soldiers ran to help Luka, while the others retreated to their horses. “Caleb! Shoot him! Shoot him!” Josah shouted, pointing toward the shore. But no arrows came.
The blast impaled a shattered board into Luka’s thigh. “He’s dead,” Josah thought. But Luka reacted to the pain as his men pulled the board out and dragged him to the road. He wondered what it would take to kill Luka Dey.
Josah watched as one of the soldiers wadded linen over the wound, then bound it with some type of strapping. Eva grabbed his hand and tried to pull him toward the gates. But Josah resisted until he saw Luka mount his horse and ride away.
“Come,” Eva pleaded. “No one can cross the river now, until spring.”
There wasn’t time for Josah to sort through his emotions. Together, they ran to the gates with Ena following. Those inside the city shouted Eva’s name. Josah knew he should feel relieved, but fear and anger swelled within, out of his control.
Eva didn’t stay off the bridge as he told her. Graybard didn’t run to the bridge, and Caleb didn’t listen and shoot Luka. When the young Evermore made his way to Josah, he knew something was wrong.
“Why didn’t you shoot him, Caleb? Didn’t you hear me?” he shouted. Caleb looked around as the celebration ceased for a moment. “We could have ended this today if you only hit Luka with your arrows!”
With eyes cast down, Caleb shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve never killed a man.”
Taking a cleansing breath, Josah closed his eyes. ” You’re right. I’m sorry. I’ve never killed a man either, but I’m afraid that time is coming soon.”
Josah looked as Conall and Graybard made their way to Caleb. He reached out his hand and waited for the young boy to clasp it. When he did, Josah grinned. “I was right to trust you with that bow! Sending those warning arrows before blowing up the bridge is what saved Eva. Well done!”
Not knowing what else to do, Josah punched Caleb in the chest. Conall locked his arm around his young brother’s head and squeezed. These acts were the subtle ways the Evermores brothers expressed their affection.
Luka stood by the steps leading down to one of Midland’s covered carriages. The day was overcast, but at least it wasn’t raining. Lord Tao leaned over and wished him a safe journey back to Casselberry.
Thanking him for their hospitality, Luka clasped arms. Before releasing his grip, Lord Tao gave him advice. “It’s been two days. Go back home and stay off your feet for some time. Then do what you can to restore peace with Bon Abbi.”
Smiling as he retreated his arm, Luka promised to do as he said. “One day, I must find the opportunity to repay you for your kindness.”
With Ludda and Hodi on either side, the Casselberry ruler hobbled down the steps. Luka threw out threats as the men struggled to get him into the carriage. “I’m going to hang you myself, you imbeciles!”
As he settled down, Luka winced at his throbbing pain. “Get out and tell Commander Eris to ride with me.” He waited until the soldier entered the carriage before he shouted. “Let’s get to Casselberry!”
Luka felt every bump as the carriage crossed the cobblestone road. Once they passed the gates, the ride was smoother, allowing Luka to stretch out his leg. “How would you say our campaign against Bon Abbi is going?”
Eris was younger than Graybard, but not as experienced. Whatever thoughts he had, Eris kept them to himself. His brown eyes wouldn’t betray him today.
“Why didn’t you know that Bon Abbi possessed black powder?” Luka asked, ready to confront any reply. Running his hand over his cropped brown hair, the Commander shrugged.
The ruler stared him down before talking again. “I’ll give you all the time you need to come up with a plan. Be ready to tell me what that is by the time we arrive in Casselberry!”
Pausing before replying, Eris ventured an idea. “Perhaps, my Lord, you should listen to the advice and seek peace with Bon Abbi.”
Wincing with pain as he looked around for something to throw. “I don’t want peace with Eva Marie. I want her dead!”
“Then, my Lord,” Eris responded in a calm tone, “I won’t have to wait until we get to Casselberry.” He stood and sat next to the ruler. As he unfolded his new campaign, Luka nodded his pleasure with every detail.
Pounding the side of the carriage, he shouted for the driver to stop. “I’ll provide a list of everyone I want dead by planting season. But keep the Dragoon alive for me. Now, get out!”
Luka repositioned his leg, cringing at his pain, as Commander Eris left the carriage. “Josah’s going to wish he never knew me! If I can kill a noble’s son, what can’t I do to a common man?”