“Come, boy,” Higar said. “Speak. You cannot do more than the armies of Anslem. Why are you not in the Castle where you belong?”
Alois could hear the laughter and snicker of the men around him. He swallowed, and then addressed Higar.
“Sir Higar, I know these mountains and the ravines in the dark better than most men know them in the day. I have sent Habicht the Hawk to gather the prey-birds and attack the Hun at morn. I am going to get Beate the bear and her she-cubs and we will attack at morn. I will kill the Hun myself. He will not have Katrin.”
Higar reached up with one powerful arm and pulled Alois off the mule. He pulled Alois to his grizzled face by the front of Alois’ tunic. “There are secrets, boy,” Higar whispered forcefully, “that only the mountains and I, your father, and King Anslem know. You will return to the castle.”
Alois jerked away from the old Knight, and felt the small box of magic peacock eggs shift. Then the box, of its own volition, repositioned itself to its original position under the strapping. Somehow the box shifting assured Alois the gods were with him. Alois attempted to pull Bergziege’s halter free from one of the foot soldier who held the mule. But, Higar took the halter from the young foot soldier. Alois stepped back and held his hands out at his sides.
“I am running out of time, Sir Higar. Let me go. I will kill the Hun.”
Higar shook his head no, while he rubbed his slightly whiskered chin.
“The Gods are with me this night,” Alois said. ”I care of no secrets!” He walked towards Higar reaching for Bergziege’s halter. “Katrin is as good as dead if I do not go now.”
Higar’s strength surprised Alois. Higar cupped Alois' head in his hand and pulled Alois till they were forehead to forehead. “Return to the castle, my lord.”
A moment of confusion caused Alois to stumble backwards. Lord? Higar put the halter rope in Alois’s hand and relief flooded Alois’s confused brain, leaving only Katrin’s image and the awareness of the time he was losing getting to Beate and her cubs before morn.
“The Gods are with me,” Alois repeated to Higar. “I will not hide in the castle as child or a woman. I will fight and I will kill the Hun!”
“Yes,” said Tilof, Higar’s grandson. “And you command the birds of prey and the she-bears,” Johifn let out a loud belly laugh that the reverberated through the crowds of men.
Higar turned on his grandsons and just his look subdued their manner and their posture. Even the crowd behind them became quiet.
“Well,” Higar said loudly to the men. “Perhaps Alois does command the birds of heaven and the bears of the woods.” Higar rubbed his bearded chin. “The king has had to make a heart wrenching decision regarding Katrin to save our people; do you challenge the king, Alois?”
Alois was no fool. If he challenged the king he would be put under arrest and put in the dungeon to answer to the king when he returned. The old man was cunning.
“I am not challenging the King's order,” Alois said. “Katrin rides this moment in a carriage to the battle lines to be traded for peace. Have you an order, Higar, preventing me from killing the Hun? Have you an order to keep me away from Katrin? Have you, Higar?”
Alois paused to allow the reasoning to set with Higar. There was quiet anticipation in the crowd. Alois tilted his head toward the ravine and he spoke respectfully. “It grows late, Sir Higar, and time is not my friend. If I ride hard I will reach Beate the bear just before Habicht and the birds of prey attack the Hun at morn.”
“I cannot let you go, boy,” Higar almost sounded old.
“I am not a boy. Not a warrior of esteem as yourself, but not a boy, Higar. I am a man.”
Higar’s grandsons advanced on Alois slowly, their swords drawn.“Will you kill me Higar?” Alois asked the old man. “When our peoples’ blood cries out from the ground? I am going to get Beate the Bear and her cubs and I am going to kill the Hun in the morn.”
Higar held out his hand to gesturing to his grandsons to put away their swords. He sighed and put a hand on Alois shoulder.
“Perhaps the Gods have deemed the time for the unraveling of secrets. Go with the Gods, Alois. Kill Dengizek, the Hun. That is an order.”
Alois smiled and bowed, “Yes, Sir Higar.”
Alois started to remount Bergziege the mule, when he felt Higar pull him back. “Wait, Alois. This is yours now.” Higar took the band off his head and tied it around Alois’s head. The gasp of the crowd was audible as if the sky had opened up and sucked in air.
If Alois had the luxury of time for thought, he would have wondered why Higar gave him the medallion as Knight over the entire kingdom, but he did not. The knowledge that Higar was letting him go, and how much time he had to make up for this delay in order to save Katrin was all that his mind encompassed. Higar knew of the boys thoughts from his expression and the lack of acknowledgement of the medallion. Higar knew it fulfilled prophecy.
“Kill the Hun, Alois,” Higar commanded. “We will send word to your father, Kjell and King Anslem.”
Alois nodded and remounted Bergziege the mule. “Hah,” he yelled, and the mule moved mightily beneath him and burst into a full-fledged gallop throwing divots of mud behind him. Crowds of men parted in front of Alois and Bergziege sailed over the open trenches and the mouth of the ravine was open wide to him.
Alois rode Bergziege the mule across the meadow into the mouth of the ravine. Soon the low laying ridges would deepen and would turn into a narrow canyon. He was vulnerable from attack from either side so great was the distance at some points in the ravine that he could be mistaken for either side.
His father, Kjell, and King Anselm would soon know of his plan, so he so he could hope for no fire balls of resin to come barreling down the steep ravine walls aimed at him. The light of the spring moon over the canyon was bright, but it looked like clouds were moving in to shroud it. The Hun could see Alois if he happened to be at the wrong place in the ravine at the wrong time.
The ravine was shallow enough that if they did, the Huns could attack a lone rider and Alois had no doubt he would become part of the grotesque fence of impaled villagers and join Alaria in the spirit.