Adventure of the Labyrinth
The group rides east into the hills via the main road and spend the night in a castle where they get the latest news. There are armies in Ireland (led by the Antichrist) and France, evil omens, rumors that the Saxons kidnapped the Jew and have him somewhere near Canterbury. Most of the Round Table knights are traveling east to punish the Saxons and hopefully find Arthur's missing guest.
They travel on, collecting more rumors, which swiftly begin to contradict one anotherthat the Jew is being held in Anglia, not near Canterbury, that the Jew has been found; that there are armies in Ireland but none in France, or in France but Ireland is quiet, that the Antichrist in Ireland is growing stronger and that the king of Gorre has allied himself with it, that the Pope is dead.
Upon this final, startling rumor, the knights attend Mass at a nearby abbey, during which Rupert has a brief vision of the sun setting at noon and is reminded of a peculiar dream he had the previous night. In the dream a strangely dressed man and he stand at the foot of a towering tree; the man wants Rupert to climb the tree and fetch down two huge jewels from its branches, one white and one green. Elffin identifies the man's odd dress as that of a rabbi. Rupert asks the abbott to interpret the dream and is told that Satan is trying to lead him astray, especially what with the distracting vision during holy Mass.
The knights' first dream indicated that they should go east; Rupert's new dream indicates west. They continue east, hear that Lancelot has been crowned king of France, and don't believe it for a moment. Passing through a village they hear screams and rush to the scene with swords drawn, only to find a woman in the throes of a difficult labor. Embarassed, they withdraw from the house and question a local man for news which might lead them to the Jew.
It turns out that two months ago another group passed through the village. He reluctantly tells them that the woman in the house had been raped by a knight whose arms were a frothing boar's head on a black disk; he had been with a couple other knights and a few squires, and also an oddly dressed man who might have been a foreign priest of some sort. (The baby, by the way, was being born after only two months of pregnancy and was clearly a monster; the midwives kill it and the mother dies in the night from her injuries.) There is instant, unspoken accord amongst the travelers that when they find this fiend he will be brought to swift justice, and Rupert swears a personal vow to challenge him in single combat.
They continue through the hills in the direction the peasant indicated the other knights had gone; the trail is two months cold, but they have faith that if God means them to succeed, they will be given a sign. After a couple days they find two dead knights, their bodies in an advanced stage of decay. Aeron identifies one as Alfred, Knight of the Lion, a minor knight from Jagent. A shepherd claims to have witnessed an ambush by the party with the foaming boar. At this point it has become hard to tell if the Jew is a prisoner or a willing accomplice, and all are disturbed by the abbot's interpretation of Rupert's dream.
The trail is leading the knights back the way they camewestward, the direction of Rupert's dream. They ride without incident through the forests of southern Rydachen and reach the seat of Calligantus, Duke of Clarence, who is indulging in his perpetual war with the Duke of Gloucester. Having accepted his hospitality, the visiting knights feel compelled to accompany him to the battle due to take place in a few days. They ask after their quarry and find that the knight with the boar's head is Malachi of Uffinwho happens to be one of Gloucester's chief knights. The men of Clarence are horrified to hear of his dishonorable deeds, and deeply impressed by Rupert's vow, since Malachi is known to be a skilled swordsman. The visitors also hear that the Round Table knights have defeated some Saxons to the east and rescued the Jew. The Antichrist is in France. Lancelot is in the east. There is no news about Ireland. And the Earl of Rydychen has gone insane. The knights confirm the last and don't believe the rest.
The next day Clarence's army heads out, about 500 knights strong. Calligantus sends someone to relay Rupert's challenge to Malachi; it is refused, much to everyone's surprise. The battle is the next day, the first large-scale fight any of the travelers has yet seen. They take their place in their assigned battalion and charge with a will through light fog to where Gloucester's line is supposed to be charging back at them. There is a peculiar creaking sound.
A 40-foot siege tower looms out of the dawn mist, apparently moving of its own accord, spitting gouts of flame from its top, protected around the base by many knights. Clarence's men are quickly routed, many of them killed by the fire or Gloucester's knights, some captured, most fleeing this apparition. The four face bad odds. Richard is badly wounded and unconscious in the first few moments of skirmishing. Rupert and Elffin reluctantly surrender in the face of vastly superior numbers. Aeron, evidently in the grip of some fey rage, continues to fight and defeats many opponents until at last overcome by his wounds.
Other captured knights are treated as usual for ransom, but the four are placed in a covered wagon and brought to Gloucester himself. Rupert is all for trying to make a break for it, but Elffin dissuades him. Richard and Aeron are well-treated by Gloucester's chirurgeons, and they are soon brought before Duke Morvid, who reveals that he has the Jew as his captive, at the center of a deadly labyrinth the Jew himself designed, and is forcing him to design such devices as the siege towers. The Duke has already declared himself king of Britain; having crushed Clarence, he will go on to his own king, and then straight to Camelot for the imperial crown.
The four knights will serve for his amusement by trying to solve the labyrinth and find the Jewas, he implies, other knights have done before, with fatal results. If they can return with the Jew, they will be given their freedom. They are given a month's time to rest and heal somewhat, kept prisoner the while in a high tower. The duke is careful, and there is little they can do to prepare for what is to come. Rupert unravels some of the bedsheets for string to help them remember their way in the maze. The few whispers they overhear from their guards tell them that the Jew's daughter is a captive as well, and that until Gloucester harmed her the Jew refused to do his bidding. The labyrinth is supposed to be inhabited by monsters such as the rexin, a huge, wolf-like animal which lives on blood.
At last the day comes; the knights are led out of the keep, to the entrance to the labyrinth, and inside. They are given swords, but they have no armor or other weaponry, no food or water. The door closes behind them. The passages are smooth-paved and straight, meeting at right angles, and there are small lamps built into the walls, although their light is meager. They set out into the maze; following Rupert's dream, they try as well as they can to go west, somewhat hampered by the metal doors which open and close at intervals, shutting off and opening up new passages.
Hours of wandering, with much turning back and retracing their steps, take them to the Room of the Key, a large chamber with a pool in the center and a small island in the center of the pool. Above the island hangs a jeweled golden key; in the water swarm eels with some diabolical power that injures Rupert when he attempts to kill one. Unable to find a way across the water, they leave the room behind and continue on. They are tempted by a faerie being that promises gold in exchange for releasing him, but are wary enough to avoid him. They find the Room of the Owl (named Andronicus) and bring owl and perch with them as they go on. An encounter with the rexin nearly kills Richard (again), but the others kill the beast (they feed its body to the eels in the Key Room and leave the head to lie there). Andronicus flies away. They find a vast abyss cutting across the maze, and dimly see rope bridges which seem to lead from other openings across the gap. They return to the Room of the Key. Using the owl's perch to vault the deadly water, Rupert retrieves the object. Not much farther on, they find a door which appears to take the key.
Elffin unlocks the door and is very nearly lost as the floor collapses beneath him and almost pitches him into the abyss. He does lose his sword. Despite this experience, he is the first across the rope bridge when they finally discover a solid means across the abyss. On the other side the knights find the Room of the Golem. While the three who are armed chip away at the ceramic monster, Elffin locates the hidden door out of the room, which leads him to the chambers of the Jew. Said rabbi commands the golem to leave the knights alone. Along with the rabbi are his daughter and a maid Gloucester sent to serve them. It is a comfortable prison, but a prison indeed. The rabbi tends to the wounded knights and they plan their escape, having no faith in Gloucester's word that he will let them go.
There is a more direct entrace to the prison, one which leads to Morbid's chambers. The dumbwaiter which brings his food connects to the main hall. A two-pronged plan is hatched. When dinner is served, the Jew sends a vial of sleeping potion up the dumbwaiter, where it will affect all or most of those in the great hall. They affix the rexin head to the golem (Elffin's idea) and send it into the duke's chambers ahead of their charge. His guards break and run‹they don't look like the usual run of guards, but weaker sorts. Their initial suspicion is quickly confirmed; Morbid has already moved his army and diabolocal engines out to attack his king. They find Aeron's armor in a treasure chamber (it's better than anyone else's), and Rupert pockets a jeweled necklace to give to the queen when they reach Camelot. They confiscate a number of horses from the town beyond the keep and hold a hasty conference. Someone needs to go and warn King Alain of what he will face when Gloucester brings battle, and the Jew needs to go safely to Arthur's court. Aeron is best armored and Rupert in the best physical condition; they head for the battle, while the cousins escort the former prisoners on the road to Camelot, meeting no incidents until eventually they encounter Alain's army on its way back from the battle. Forewarned as he was, they were able to defeat the traitor, who will be taken to trial, although Malachi escaped.
The knights will spend the winter in Camelot....
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© 1998 David Twiddy