The Enemy Comes
At the noise of the tumult the people shall flee.
T’ajar met Noesh at the door of the dining hall.
“Thank goodness you’ve come!” she rushed unto his arms.
She looked so stressed that he paused. Gripping her upper arms, he held her away searching her face.
“Sem told me about Sambeth’s dream and Ajalon’s gracious reception of it.”
She flipped her hand to the dining room behind her.
“It did sound overly dramatic,” she confessed, “I couldn’t help but agree with Ajalon.”
She was thrown when her husband failed to echo her sentiment. Dropping her arms, Noesh strode into the room, tension and displeasure radiating from him.
“Where is she?” he demanded, looking around at each startled face turned up to his.
Rija and Jaffith looked as though they were doing their best to ignore the tense atmosphere. Ajalon had returned. He leaned back insouciantly in his chair, a half eaten stick of bread held in one hand.
He looked startled when Noesh stood in front of him, bristling. He cleared his throat.
Noesh bent a stern eye on his middle son and let the silence draw out. Ajalon’s colour changed and he shifted uncomfortably under that piercing gaze.
“She left?” Noesh looked truly horrified.
Nobody said a word. He glanced back down at Ajalon, who had at least shown enough grace to straighten in his seat.
“You’ve certainly outdone yourself today, Ajalon,” he snapped, “go and find her. Bring her here. I want to hear – no, I need to hear everything she said.”
All the assembled faces; Jaffith, Rija, Ajalon and T’ajar, looked stunned. Nobody stirred.
“Move!” Noesh bellowed.
Ajalon rose from his chair slowly, an odd look forming on his face. “Father, I–“
His father threw up a hand, cutting off Ajalon’s words.
“You went too far today,” he said with uncharacteristic coldness.
Ajalon dropped his eyes, “I just–“
Noesh cut him off again.
“You’ve made it your business to be as obnoxious as possible to that girl ever since she arrived here.”
Now they were all staring at Noesh open mouthed.
“…and I hope you haven’t endangered us all by not listening to her this morning.”
Ajalon held his father’s gaze steadily as he spoke. When he paused, Ajalon swung out of the room.
“I’ll go find her,” he said in a clipped voice.
Noesh gritted his teeth, the muscles in the jaw clenching as he watched his son leave the room. He swung around to Rija, Jaffith and T’ajar.
“Where is Sem?” he said, a sudden dread gripping him.
T’ajar and Jaffith exchanged puzzled glances.
“I thought he went to find you,” Jaffith said quietly and his mother nodded.
“He did,” Noesh said, “I was finishing up something and he left. I thought he was coming back here.”
“Perhaps he saw Sambeth and is with her,” Rija said innocently, “she was pretty upset when she left.”
The expression of dismay on Noesh’s face was mirrored on T’ajar’s. Rija puzzled over it for a minute, then her eyes fell on Jaffith’s face. He was looking at his parents, a knowing expression on his face.
“I’ll go and find him,” he said, getting up off his chair with the easy, muscular grace of a panther. He gave them a slanting smile as he passed.
The minutes lengthened uncomfortably until a full half an hour passed.
“Maybe I should return to our chamber. Perhaps Sambeth is there,” Rija suggested tentatively.
She was seated, listening but not participating in the sporadic, stiff conversations between the pent-up husband and his puzzled wife. Noesh drummed his fingers on the table and from time to time rose to pace the room.
His brows twitched together when she spoke.
“No. Please stay,” he said, “they will return any moment and I think you should be here.”
She nodded without saying anything else.
Into the silence came the sound of many feet approaching. Noesh and T’ajar rose to their feet and Rija found herself doing likewise. To their surprise it was Jared, Noesh’s steward, and several of his men. Jared ordered the men to wait in the corridor and stepped inside. Noesh, T’ajar and Rija were held riveted by his ashen face.
“My Lord Noesh,” he began in an unsteady voice. He paused as first Jaffith and a heartbeat later, Ajalon pushed through the door back into the room.
“What is it?” Noesh demanded looking at Jared keenly.
The man simply held out a tiny scroll, no bigger than his finger, “This just arrived by pigeon. You must read it immediately.”
Noesh took it from his fingers. He exclaimed as he spent a minute reading first one side of the missive and then the other. His eyes rested momentarily on T’ajar’s face. He turned back to the others.
“It is from Amis,” he said, breathing through pinched white nostrils, “they’ve betrayed us after all.”
“What? Who?” Ajalon cried.
He leaped forward and snatched the note from Noesh’s slackened grip. Jaffith leaned over his shoulder reading.
“I can’t believe our aunt could be so wicked,” Jaffith said.
“What is going on?” T’ajar demanded.
Her husband put his arm around her shoulders.
“This note is from Amis. It seems that Rian, Norea’s henchman, has been talking to some important people in Arca.”
T’ajar quivered but he went on.
“Altor knows the location of Tetrahin. He is coming.”
His eyes fell on Rija sitting frozen, dark hair spilling across the front of her chest and fear leaping from her white face. Pity stirred in his breast.
“He’s coming to get Rija.”
Rija remained still, staring blindly but T’ajar trembled all over. Only the strong arm of her husband kept her from falling.
“How did she know?” she burst out, “How did Sambeth know?”
Her voice dropped dramatically.
“Noesh, she came to the table speaking of warning dreams and other dangers. She said we all must leave Tetrahin.”
T’ajar’s eyes filled with tears, “We didn’t listen to her! And Ajalon was so unkind.”
She rounded on Ajalon and Jaffith.
“Did you find her? Did you find Sem?”
Jaffith shook his head.
“That’s why I took so long,” he said seriously, “I looked everywhere I could think of but found no sign of him.”
Ajalon remained quiet. Every eye focused on him. He shifted uncomfortably unwilling to meet anyone’s gaze.
“Well?” Noesh said quietly.
“Sambeth is not here,” he said.
“What do you mean, Ajalon?”
His mother stepped forward putting a hand on his arm.
He looked down at her and answered a little roughly.
“She went Outside, mother. She went into the forest. Bethe saw her leaving and then Sem went after her.”
Noesh turned grey and T’ajar’s face was filled with fear.
“You mean you drove her out there,” it was Rija. She faced Ajalon, in a tumult of fury, “You hard-hearted monster!”
She stopped abruptly and turned away, a sudden thought stopping the hot words bubbling in her throat. She glanced at Sambeth’s chair seeing in her mind’s eye Sambeth casually placing her forest pack under it. Rija’s throat hurt as she swallowed. Sambeth had planned to leave.
“I didn’t mean for her to go off out there alone,” Ajalon spoke, a touch of defiance colouring his voice.
“I guess that’s exactly what you did,” she began untruthfully but pulled herself up.
T’ajar gasped, “They’re out there in the forest with our enemy approaching Tetrahin!”
She turned to Noesh and hid her face against his shoulder.
“How can we warn them?” her voice was muffled and full of tears.
Noesh stared into the distance. A second warning. First from the Other then by Sambeth’s dream. A remarkable and curious girl, he thought. He castigated himself for not spending time with her.
He had allowed his prejudice and fear to cloud his reason and block out the whispers of the Other. He had known Sambeth’s coming was significant and a sign but she was a fugitive, hunted from Arca and almost certainly one of those cursed earthborn hybrids. His face was tight. Earthborns…they were dangerous, unpredictable creatures at best. His eyes fell on the faces of his sons, manly and attractive. He hadn’t wanted an abomination anywhere near them.
He became aware of T’ajar tugging at his sleeve and returned his gaze to her desperate face.
“What shall we do, my love?” she asked.
“There is no question about it,” he said crisply, “our window of opportunity is here. We must leave at once.”
T’ajar gasped, “Do you mean we must leave Tetrahin? Can we not defend it? What about your building materials…the boat–“
“No my dear,” he replied gently, “you see, I too, had troubled dreams last night and an urgent warning from the Other. Proximus is coming.”
She looked at him forlornly but only for a moment. Her shoulders squared and she took a deep breath.
“Is it the Aresisia plan then?”
He looked at her steadily.
Jared spoke from beside Noesh’s elbow.
“We can be ready to leave in one hour, my lord.”
“Begin sealing the inner doors,” Noesh ordered and Jared strode away instructing men as he went.
Noesh spoke again, “Any sign of Sem?”
The response was negative. Noesh clenched his jaw, a muscle twitched in his cheek. There was no time to send out a party to look for him and the girl. He could only hope that they wouldn’t be surprised by Altor or Proximus and that Sem would remember the plan to flee to Aresisia.
Jaffith and Ajalon approached their father. Noesh noted that Ajalon was having trouble meeting his gaze. Jaffith reached him first and they embraced.
“Sem will be okay, Father,” he said as he stepped back.
Ajalon also embraced him with a murmured, “Father.”
“Sons, we have no time to lose,” Noesh said.
In the back of his mind he pondered how to relieve Ajalon. That boy had always required special handling. He would be loaded up to the eyeballs with guilt over his rough treatment of Sambeth, yet he would be as bristly as a porcupine at any suggestion he did wrong. He would be out of sorts until the matter was thoroughly thrashed out.
This time Noesh would indulge him.
“What are you going to do about Sem?” he demanded, staring searchingly at Ajalon.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Rija was watching them. Her normally calm face was angry and set giving her face a stern beauty.
Jaffith shot a quick glance sideways at Ajalon, “We will go out and do a quick search for them.”
Jaffith always said the best things that he could about his two younger brothers, Noesh thought warmly. Unlike Ajalon.
The lines in Noesh’s brow deepened. Seeing it, Ajalon took a deep breath.
“It is all my fault, Father,” he said, “Sambeth came to the breakfast table talking about warning dreams and that we all must leave Tetrahin at once. Well, it all sounded like such a lot of nonsense to me that I…well..I grilled her about it pretty fiercely. Sem was really mad at me for doing it. I guess he saw her going Out and went after her.”
A stricken look came into Ajalon’s dark eyes and he continued, “They haven’t returned. What if…what will we do if they don’t come back soon and we have to leave without them? It will be my fault.”
Ahhh, Ajalon, Noesh thought, just when he seemed beyond reprieve he would display an unexpected caring. His thought was interrupted by Rija.
“I will wait for them.” Her voice was quiet but it contained a touch of whiplash in it. They all jumped at its intensity.
“We will wait as long as we can,” Noesh assured her, “but they may not be able to get past the invaders.”
“Sambeth saved my life. She tried to warn you all, to save your lives. The least you can do is give her a chance,” Rija replied.
Noesh’s man came running into the room.
“My lord, you must leave now!” he cried.
He turned and ushered through two men half lifting, half dragging another man between them. Noesh recognised his fastest runner panting and heaving in between them.
They lifted the spent runner closer to Noesh. He tried to speak.
“Give him some water,” Noesh ordered.
Ajalon was there before he finished speaking, holding a glass to the man’s lips. The man drank deep and, struggling free from his helpers, drew his hair back from his face with a trembling hand. At last he spoke in a hoarse whisper.
“My lord, a war band approaches not more than two leagues hence. They seem to know exactly where we are. We must hurry.”
“Right, let’s go,” Noesh barked.
He swept his wife out of the room and toward the secret exit. A hand caught heavily on his arm. Half turning he saw that it was Ajalon.
“What is it?” he said impatiently.
“It’s Rija, Father. She refuses to leave.”
“Then compel her,” Noesh answered shortly.
Ajalon nodded and swung around, not before Noesh observed the look in his eye. He will enjoy the compelling part, he thought ruefully. Ajalon was always the practical joker, the tease who enjoyed the uproar when he stirred things a little too far.
“What of the traitor – what of Amis?” T’ajar asked, raw pain tinging her voice, as they walked briskly.
Noesh was quiet for a moment.
“He warned us, T’ajar. I sent some of my men after him as soon as Queen Norea sent him off to Arca. It was obvious that Norea had changed her heart toward us but I thought maybe, just maybe Amis might be caught up in something and not be able to extricate himself.”
“You think of everything,” she said admiration in her voice, “did he betray us too?”
He gave her a rueful look and shook his head.
“I don’t know.”
“But Amis knows our emergency plan,” he added, “let’s hope he didn’t pass that on to Norea or Altor.”
T’ajar flinched but her face remained inscrutable.
“Does he know how to get to Tabun’s Cave and to Aresisia?”
“He does,” Noesh replied briefly, “and he has Reuben, our best forester, with him.”
Noesh didn’t say anymore than that. If Reuben had survived the disastrous trip to Arca, then Amis would be alright. Reuben was one of Noesh’s most capable, trusted men and between he and Amis, there wasn’t much to know about getting out of tight corners and surviving in the forest.
As the people of Tetrahin fled down the long, dark tunnel, Noesh’s thoughts turned again to Sem. He was somewhere out there, in danger from an Earthborn psychopath and from its unearthly father – far from any help from the family. He felt something nudge him in the back of his leg.
Looking down, he met a pair of big, brown eyes gazing at him speakingly. It was Agnor, the brindle hound of Sem’s. He was looking at Noesh as if he were trying to tell him something.
“Come on, boy,” he said.
He slapped the side of his thigh, encouraging Agnor to move along with them. He followed and a few steps later he thrust his nose into the back of Noesh’s knee again.
It was quite a clunk from that long, broad snout and it brought Noesh to a sudden stop.
“Ouch, Agnor! he exclaimed, “What is it?”
Again the hound fixed a penetrating stare upon him, gazing deeply into his eyes. A quick picture of a fluttering pigeon crossed Noesh’s mind and one of himself extracting a note from its strapped on vial. An idea began to form in his brain. He let out a brief, “hah!” and gave Agnor’s head a pleased pat.
“Good idea, boy.”
Minutes later he spotted Jaffith and called him to his side.
“Run ahead with Agnor to the nearest exit. Set him loose and give him the command, ‘Seek! Find Sem.'”
He showed Jaffith the vial strapped on Agnor’s broad leather collar. The vial sat snugly at his throat concealed amongst the thick fur. Understanding dawned in Jaffith’s eyes but Noesh drew a finger across his lips.
“Shhh. I don’t want to give your mother any false hope.”
Jaffith nodded and disappeared ahead, Agnor running at his heels.
Noesh watched them go.
“Ehyeh be with you, Agnor,” he muttered in his beard.
He hoped he would see him again with Sem, at Tabun’s Cave or ahead in Aresisia.
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