Fiedel’s entire body was limp. In the spasm of fear, all of the life had flowed out of his arms and legs. He only had the strength — only had the strength to fall.
He let himself fall, crumpling onto the floor, but crumpling onto the very place where the knife had fallen. Bart heard him go, and stretched out with fluttering fingers. Fiedel watched the fingers pass over him, felt them touch him, in a wondering horror. But he still did not have the strength to act — nor any notion of what he should do.
But he had done enough.
With a flick of his left arm, Sedan brought his thick black cloak up, flapping over Lomax’s sword, enveloping it. He almost drew it completely from Lomax’s grasp, but the Spaniard, seeing what was happening in an instant, snatched the blade backwards, bringing it back into position to cut Sedan’s throat.
But Sedan was no longer there. As her brought the cloak up, he twisted away, putting the heliographoscope between them.
“Do you not wish to fight me?”, said Lomax.
Sedan glanced down at Fiedel and Bart. Fiedel lay supine, lifeless — there was no blood. Had he fainted? Had he been knocked out? He knelt for a moment to roll Bart out of the way. Fiedel’s eyes flickered. He was trying to say something.
That gave Lomax time to get past the heliographoscope. Raising his sword high above his head, he aimed a savage cut at Fiedel.
Sedan was up in an instant. Arcing his blade so it flashed in the blink of an eye through the positions of sixte, octave and prime, he swept Lomax’s blade out of the way — but not for long.
Lomax sprang forward. Bringing his sword up over Sedan’s pommel he punched straight for his heart. But Sedan was too quick for him. He wafted his weapon after Lomax’s in a move that no fencing master ever taught. Lomax’s edge was almost caught up among his fingers, but at the last split-second he lifted his hand, catching the tip on the guard. Then — straight from the parry, Sedan spun his weapon into a riposte, swinging down like a burst of lightning, simultaneously beating Lomax’s blade so hard that it almost went flying from his hand. Lomax pulled back for the parry, but he was too slow and too late. He yanked his head backwards, but not far enough! Sedan’s point, sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, caught him on the cheek bone and drew a line down to his chin. Lomax leapt back, teetering dangerously on the top of the stairs. Sedan lunged: a beautiful, powerful, intense, explosive lunge to the fullest extent of his reach — nine feet from his back heel to the tip of his blade, to pass straight through Lomax’s body and pierce his heart. It would have been the end of Lomax, but at that moment Bart grabbed hold of Sedan’s leg, bringing him rolling to the floor. Bart clutched at Sedan’s sword arm so that Lomax could administer the coup de grace.
But Lomax did nothing.
Bart lifted his head — sounds, sounds he did not like.
There were feet, on the stairs. Feet descending. There was the soft rasping whoosh of a sword being sheathed. Bart heard the feet running out through the mill door. Then Lomax’s voice:
“Help, help! You must help. Upstairs. Thieves! Murder! Sedan is murdering Fiedel. You must hurry. Go! Go! That way!”
In a moment the stairs were a clatter of running feet.
“Drop your sword, Sedan!”, bellowed the constable’s voice. “This time I’ll see to it that you hang for this.”
“No, no!”, came a feeble voice. It was Fiedel, pulling himself up to a sitting position as he finally found the strength to move and to speak. “No. Lomax is the one you want.”
There was the sound of running feet again, and then Bart was pulled roughly to his feet. It took no more than a few words from Fiedel, and his arms were pulled behind his back, and he felt the cold iron of hand-cuffs.
“No!”, yelled Fiedel.
Everybody except Bart looked round. Neither he nor Sedan had seen how it had happened, but a glancing sword blow, or something, had come down on the delicate mechanism of the heliographoscope. A huge gouge had been taken out of one of the adjustment cogs, but, worst of all, there were shards of glass scattered on the dusty, floury wooden floor. Some priceless lens had been broken, or, worse still, the huge fragile mirror, which was far beyond Fiedel’s skill to replicate, was perhaps smashed.
Bart could not see this. But he heard, evidently when Fiedel went over to the brass barrel and touched it, the sound of glass fragments, shaking.
He chuckled. Even if he was finished himself, Fiedel’s dream was broken too.
Lomax ran straight out of the mill and down towards the inn. There were horses there. He would take one and flee — southwards down Ryknield Street all the way to Winchester, and thence to Southampton and a boat to Spain. If he had had a chance to hear from Bart what he had learned while he signalled, he would probably have set off in the other direction to meet up with them, and so come by his prize when they attacked the village. But he knew nothing of this.
He never reached the inn. Half-way down the road he ran straight into Derek, who was off to find one of the girls who had caught his eye the previous day.
Seeing Derek, a plan came into Lomax’s head: an idea came into his head. It was an excellent idea, a stratagem worthy of the best. It would save his life, get him the plans, notes and surveys which he was still desperate to purchase, being still under the mis-apprehension that Alexis and Gordon had made their measurements from the top of the mountain, and it would see him safe on his way without a hue and cry behind him.
Quickly, he whispered into Derek’s ear. Derek grinned, and seized hold of him.
Half a minute later, the pursuing party made up of the constable, Geoffrey and Sedan came shouting and bellowing after him.
“I’ve got him!”, yelled Derek. “Don’t worry, I’ve got him,” and he held Lomax up by the scruff of the coat collar.
They marched Lomax back to the constable’s house, where Horace and Edward had already brought Bart. Fiedel was a little behind them, panting still. His heart was fluttering, and there was a pain along his left arm.
At the constable’s house, there was some argument about what to do. Built into the ground floor was one small jail cell with bars and a barred door, leading off the police office. Fiedel was of the opinion that Bart and Lomax should be kept separately.
“But look, Fiedel,” said Geoffrey. “There’s no other cell.”
“Well, put one of the them in the cellar then,” said Fiedel. But there were no cellars for the houses on that side of the road: they were too close to the river, and the cellars would have been constantly flooded. Then the constable suggested that, since Bart was a blind man, he probably wouldn’t cause much trouble, and so could be kept somewhere else — perhaps in one of the rooms at the inn. But Fiedel was dead against that. Bart was far more dangerous than he looked, he argued.
In the end they decided to put them both in the same cell, but tell them there was to be no talking. As you can see, neither Geoffrey nor Fiedel nor yet the constable had any particular experience dealing with cunning spies or hardened criminals. The worst that had ever been in this particular cell were sheep rustlers, awaiting transportation to the county court in Warwick.
Word spread quickly round the village: the rogues had been foiled, the bandits were beaten, the accomplice of the robbers had been captured. Little groups gathered on the streets. They knew, of course, nothing of the true plans of the Black Hand Gang, nor of the purpose for which Lomax had paid them, and, quite naturally, they held up Derek as a hero even more than they ever had before. Tales of adventures on mountainsides are all very well, but Derek had saved the whole village (the part played by Sedan was considered to be less significant) and brought the villains to justice.
One the dusk began to deepen, the tap-room at the inn began to fill, and they ate, drank, and toasted Derek long into the night.
Fiedel went straight back to the mill. The sun had now very firmly set, and he was reduced to peering around the workings of the heliographoscope with a candle. The gouged cog was bent out of shape, but could probably be salvaged. Inside the great barrel, Fiedel was relieved to discover that the great mirror was still intact. But there was another lens, not a very big one, but crucial, in the collar onto which the eye-piece he had made would have fitted. There was nothing which could be done that night. In the morning he would be able to take more measurements, and perhaps grind a new lens.
This was a particularly cruel blow for Fiedel. He had secretly coveted the instrument, and was sure that, with some very elementary adjustments, and the rotation of one bracket which could be easily unscrewed, that the heliographoscope could become a very serviceable astronomical telescope. Moreover, the very next morning, the fourth of January, there was to be a partial eclipse of the sun. It would have been an absolutely perfect time to put the noble instrument to a noble use.
When there was really no light more to see by, and the flickering candlelight could show him no more, he ruefully made his way back to his house, and slept.
Midnight came, and went. The robbers, under the direct command of Black Hand Nigel, who were dragging the heavy object under canvas which Huw had seen from a distance had long since made camp, lighting a fire, eating mutton, and sleeping under the canvas by turns, while the others took watch.
Huw sat high on the mountain summit with Angharad. They neither feared nor felt the cold. Far below they saw the lights of the village, and nearer, but still a distance, they saw the glow from the stove of the hut in the castle.
Dawn came, light slowly reaching across the far mountains, across the continent of Europe, across the North Sea, over the fens, moving inch by inch across the forest, up the foothills.
Huw watched it as he had so often watched. He held Angharad close to him. She had not slept. Occasionally she had let out a sob, and Huw had whispered words of comfort.
The sun’s rays touched the robbers with their heavy load. They swiftly drew themselves into order, swallowed a mouthful of food, and began to pull their strange and heavy burden. They were going mostly up hill now as they approached the pass. The thawing and refreezing of the snow had left their path icy and lumpy, and they laboured almost until mid-day when they drew near to their fellows waiting at the castle.
At the inn, Gordon and Alexis had debated long into the night, and they began the debate again at breakfast.
“So you absolutely believe that you have given your word to that old mad man and will not be returning to the mountain?,” said Alexis, testily. Claudine had asked Seline if she might help serve at breakfast. Seline was inclined to say no, but she was short-handed, it being Bob’s morning off, and the tap-room had filled with early diners so quickly that she was forced to set up tables in the parlours.
“Would you like some coffee, Alexis?”, she said to Alexis, smiling and leaning forward. She did not wait for his reply, but poured the coffee anyway. Alexis ignored her.
“So is that really your position?”, he went on.
Gordon chewed a piece of toast, without butter, and then held it up as though he were holding a piece of chalk at an illustrated lecture.”
“On the exact status of the gentleman we encountered, I’m willing to suspend judgement — for now — though, since in the natural world we have examples of exceptionally long-lived beings, it does not necessarily surprise me that there should be such a human being in existence. Whether his connection with the mountain is, as he says, some kind of supernatural bond, or is merely the result of his living there and being there for a very long time, so that he has formed a sort of symbiotic affinity with it, is a point on which I would not venture an opinion. But as to his ability to prevent us from reaching the summit, I would say that there is no real doubt. He very clearly knows many of the secrets of the mountain, and we would be fools to attempt it without his permission.”
“But you know he’ll never give his permission. And we need those water wheels. We need the power.”
“Ah, well, you say he’ll never give permission, but have we really tried to persuade him? Even a man such as that, even if he is really who he believes that he is, cannot reject progress for ever. The rise of science is a notion that even a mountain man cannot fail to be inspired by.”
“Tosh,” said Alexis, “and you know it is.”
“Would you like some jam? Or some marmalade? Or butter?”, interrupted Claudine, once more leaning over him.
“I wouldn’t mind a little more toast, my dear,” said Gordon. Claudine glared at him, and went off to get more toast.
When she came back, Michael had joined them.
“So, young Michael,” said Gordon. “We haven’t really had a chance to catch up on your adventures. What did you make of that man, Huw? Did he tell you his history of the mountain, and did you believe it?”
Michael had already begun to slurp a cup of coffee, and put it down quickly to answer the question, almost upsetting it over the table cloth. Claudine tutted as she mopped up the small amount which had spilled.
“I think —”, began Michael, “— I think we were very lucky to come out of it alive.”
“Ay, but you were in pursuit of the Spirit of the Mountain right from the start. Did you get your pictures? Do you still believe in it? Are you going to search again?”
“As for my pictures, they’ve gone off to Winchester to be developed. I’m expecting them back any day. But they’ll look just fine. My days of chasing ghosts are done, though. Much, much too dangerous. You never know what you might find.”
He gave Gordon a knowing look, and then refused to talk about it any further. Alexis snorted, and called for more mushrooms.
Bart and Lomax had spent a passable night in their cell. They had imagined that they would have plenty of time for conversation once the constable went to bed, but, for once, the organisation of guards was rather strict, and done rather competently. Every two hours another man came to watch them, and he sat, beady eyes on them, pen and paper at the ready, to record anything they might say to each other, and to stop them as much as possible from conversing at all.
Eventually they slept. As dawn came, Lomax began to sing.
“Stop that singing,” said their guard, whose name does not come into this story.
“I am Spanish,” said Lomax. “All Spaniards sing in the morning. It is a well known fact.”
He sang several songs in Spanish, and then began in French, before moving onto German.
“If you’re going to sing, I want bleeding’ well singing in English,” shouted the guard. His nerves were rather frayed, as he had been one of the revellers the night before, and had been called much earlier in the morning than he would have liked.
“By all means,” said Lomax. “Would you like to sing with me?”
The guard shook his head.
“Then I will ask my colleague to sing, instead.”
“Do what you bleeding’ well like.”
Lomax began to sing, and, presently, Bart began to sing with him. Lomax had a sweet tenor with a beautiful tremolo, whereas Bart had a rather more grating tone which was not particularly tenor, nor bass, nor baritone, but could be most charitably described as ‘nether tone’.
And they sang, to the guard’s great annoyance, for the best part of two hours. To begin with they sang well known songs, with well known words to well known tunes. But, after a while, they began to improvise. Lomax sang a song about a little bird that everyone loved which came out of its cage, took a fine diamond ring in its beak, and flew out of the window, never to be seen again. It was rather touching, and, despite himself, the guard became quite involved with the song, and almost shed a tear when the bird ‘with the feathers as blue as blue’ finally winged its way south, over the fields, and over the sea to France.
Bart’s improvisations were more prosaic. To the tune of ‘the bear climbed up the mountain’, he sang ‘the robbers came down the mountain, the robbers came down the mountain, the robbers came down the mountain, and what did they do there?’
The guard was less impressed by this, and wanted to hear more about the little bird, but, instead, Bart began a song about Drummer Hoff who — and you may know this song — ‘fired it off’.
You have of course gathered exactly what they were doing, though the guard never did. By means of singing, Bart explained in great detail how the robbers planned to attack the village, and Lomax in turn explained his own plan — or as much of it as he thought good for Bart to hear, since Lomax’s plan did not involve Bart quite as much as he wanted Bart to believe.
Professor Fiedel, naturally, was up at first light, with his ruler and his papers at the old mill. His chagrin at not being able to watch the sun’s eclipse by means of the telescope was somewhat softened when he saw low clouding sweeping in, muffling the sunlight: he would not have seen a thing anyway.
As soon as he believed he was ready, he scuttled home, and set to work once more at his grinding. And there he stayed right the way through lunch, and on into the afternoon.
Seline had a full house again for lunch. She happily accepted a further offer of help from Claudine, but, to her dismay, sent her into the kitchen to peel sprouts. A minute later, Brian arrived to help her.
“Oh, it’s you is it?”, she said, and tossed her hair. But secretly she was pleased. She was running out of ways to pretend that there was something between her and Alexis, and needed to stir Brian to some certain action before the opportunity faded. Alexis and Gordon were due to leave the next day anyway — she had overheard them talking about it — and it was absolutely essential to the plan that Brian believed he was winning her from Alexis before Alexis left of his own accord, leaving her high and dry and a sort of leftover for Brian to pick up if he felt like it, but otherwise not.
Brian was in more than two minds about the whole thing. He had not found a suitable moment to give Claudine the comb and mirror which Sedan had provided for him, and he seemed further away than ever from winning her affections. In his imagination he saw himself handing over the gift, only to discover that Alexis had given her a something much more precious — he could not quite picture what that would be, but knew that it would be expensive. He knew there was a speech you were supposed to say, but Monsieur Sedan had not written it down for him, and he now felt ashamed to ask for it to be repeated.
The peeled in silence for a bit, and then Claudine began, as if to herself, as a stage monologue:
“He needs to be brave. He needs to be handsome. And he needs to love me.”
Then she said it again, and again, in a kind of rhythm.
“What at you talking about?”, said Brian.
“Oh, it’s just a rhyme for peeling sprouts,” she said. “Lot’s of girls say it. You didn’t think I was talking about you, did you? That’s very sweet.”
Brian looked down, red-faced.
“Will he marry me, will he marry me, will he marry me, on my wedding day?” she chanted, a few minutes later.
This time Brian said nothing.
“Oh Brian,” said Claudine as if to herself as they were finishing, “I wish you were brave. I wish you only loved me enough to give me something beautiful.”
And then she washed her hands, without looking at him, and almost pirouetted as she moved away, at something between a step and a slow waltz.
Brian shook his head.
High on the mountain, Huw held Angharad close to him, and watched the robbers. He partly held her close so that she would not see them again. Little by little he had coaxed the story out of her. He had not perhaps got it entirely right, but he was filled both with a great deal of sorrow, and a great deal of anger. Part of him wanted to storm down the mountain and deal with them. But the other part of him, which had cared for so long both for the mountain and for all those who found their way onto it, knew that that would be entirely wrong.
So he sat and watched. He did not understand what they were doing. The men had paused, briefly, to eat some kind of lunch. He saw them sauntering this way and that, standing in clumps. More he could not see at that great distance. After that he saw all of them together pull the great big thing under canvas, still on its sleds, to the place where the pass road goes down hill, and the path onto the promontory goes right. He wondered how they would fare with the sleds once they came off the snow and onto grass and gravel further down the road. All of the low-lying countryside was now clear, dull-green grey grass and leafless trees, after the shining brilliance of vast fields of white.
But they did not go downwards, towards the village. Instead, they took the path, turning right towards the west, skirting the mountain side for a while, and then running along the top in parallel with the Bidforst road, but at a much greater height. That path was not used much: you could not possibly get down to the village from the promontory, because it ended in cliffs. The grass was good there, though, in the spring, and shepherds often took their sheep there once the last snows were gone.
It took all of the men to get it up onto the path, but, after that, it slid easily, and they moved more swiftly until, as the light again began to fade and dusk began to fall, they reached the cliffs with their drop down to the plain below. There they stopped. By that time, they had been caught up by a single man and a donkey, pulling a smaller sled. Whatever the donkey was pulling was heavy, but not so heavy as the big thing. It, too, stopped with the group at the cliff. There was a moving around — the men were now so far away again that they were the tiniest specks, and it was only because he had seen them pass below that he knew what they were.
He knew what they were, but not what they did, and that troubled him greatly. Long, long before that, he had already made up his mind that they were not only up to no good, but the no good to which they were up was a far worse kind of no good than that to which they were usually up. Huw liked long and complicated sentences, and he rolled this one around in his mind for some time as he thought about it. But the note he wrote on a tiny sheet of paper, and poked into the tiny tube on the foot of the pigeon that he had been cradling in his coat — that note was short, and too the point. He wrote: “Robbers. Mountain. Village. Danger. Something strange”, and he let it go, with its blessing, to make its way back to its home at the inn.
Rising into the sky, the pigeon flew once around their heads, spiralling, until it made out by that strange sense that pigeons have the direction it should fly, and set off.
It flew straight along the path the robbers had taken, and right over their heads as it made for the lower land beyond the cliff edge. If the pigeon could only have recorded what it saw, or brought them a report of it, much harm would have been averted. But it was only a bird, and it was doing its best.
It passed the two robber-scouts slinking back along the road towards the pass. They had walked as bold as brass through the village, bought a drink in the Inn, and chatted amiably with some of the locals. But they had not seen Derek, who was busy with something else. Again, if they had, and had managed to share their plans, or perhaps together make a new one, then what followed might never have happened at all. But they did not.
It flew over the constable’s house. If it could have looked in through the windows, it would have seen something worth seeing. But it did not.
Finally, it flapped into the dove-cot, in the little courtyard where Michael had at exactly that moment taken Gordon aside.
“I know I’m speaking out of place,” he said, “but I think you should be careful of Derek.”
“Derek?”, said Gordon, “but, man, he’s the hero of the hour.”
“Is he now?”, said Michael, “I wonder.” And then he explained Derek’s strange absence the night he arrived at the Mechcart, and one or two other suspicions he had been entertaining. Had Derek really fought off all those robbers? And the arrest of Lomax, was that not very convenient?
Gordon did not think much of the last two points, but he minded the absence from the Mechcart very much. If he had located the tunnels, and spent the night there, then surely he would have said something? And why stay in a cold tunnel when the stove on the cart was keeping things so warm? Likewise, if he had gone back to the castle, why not say so? They might have chided him for leaving the Mechcart unattended on the mountain side, but, as no ill came of it, they would not have held it against him. Gordon could think of a number of plausible places that Derek might have gone to, but — and here was the rub — he could think of no reason as to why Derek would not have told them where he had been, and why.
“Leave this with me, lad,” he said. “I’ll talk to Alexis, but at the right moment. You may have noticed, but he’s a man of moods, and has has to be handled right.”
He went back into the inn to find Alexis, and Michael, noticing that a pigeon had arrived, went to find Seline.
Alexis was not in the tap-room, but Gordon did not have to look far to find him. Just down the ground-floor corridor, which is where the two best bedrooms were, he heard a sound of furniture being moved and a yelling voice. It was Alexis.
“Have you got my portfolio?”, he said accusingly.
“It’s under your mattress,” said Gordon, closing the bedroom door behind him. “That’s where you hide it.”
“It is NOT!”, said Alexis hotly. “Now, if this is a practical joke—”
Gordon took him by the shoulder.
“How long have you known me, Alexis?”
“Well, about ten years — no, more.”
“And, in all those years, have you ever known me to do anything as unscientific or irreverent as play a practical joke — leaving aside those you played yourself into which you attempted unsuccessfully to inveigle me?”
“Well then. Let’s search again. When and where did you have it last?”
But they were to search in vain, because at that moment events had taken another turn.
It was Derek, of course, who had purloined it. This was Lomax’s plan, and a far simpler and more effective plan it proved to be than all of the ambushes on mountain passes which had been so carefully planned, and had so demonstrably failed.
At that very moment, Derek was lying, moaning, blood pouring from a nasty gash in his head, alongside Horace, who had, until twenty minutes before, been guarding Lomax and Bart. The cell door was swinging open, and neither Bart nor Lomax were anywhere to be seen.
The constable found them. He was bringing a bottle of something strong and warming for Derek, who had volunteered to take the late afternoon shift guarding the prisoners. The constable thought it a fine thing that someone as well loved, and as courageous, as Derek should volunteer to take his turn.
Horace was just coming to as the constable found them. Horace would be alright — had had taken a nasty knock to the back of the head, but young men have thick skulls, and Horace was not known for using his head more than he absolutely had to. He would take no lasting harm. But Derek — the constable’s eyes filled with concern as he felt Derek’s pulse, checked his breathing, and then wrapped a bandage from the first aid box three times right around the wound.
This was, as you recall, not very different from the trick Derek had played before. The wound looked nasty, but was in reality very shallow. What had happened was this. Derek’s room and Michael’s room were on the top floor, and he had to pass both Gordon’s and Alexis’s rooms to reach the stairs. He waited until Gordon was out in the courtyard, talking to Michael, while Alexis was in the tap-room, buying drinks and holding court. He had been a successful thief for some time, and it did not take him more than a moment to look for the portfolio under the mattress, though Alexis believed that this was an altogether secret and safe place to hide it. A portfolio is a big enough thing to carry, but it disappeared easily until the folds of Derek’s enormous coat which, as well as keeping him warm on many a night, had in its time concealed a very large number of stolen items, some for many days.
He stumbled slightly as he walked past Alexis in the tap-room, but Alexis had his back to him, and did not see. Then, going swiftly but not hurriedly along the street, he came to the constable’s house a little before four, which was the time at which he was due to relieve Horace.
Horace was very glad to see him. Bart and Lomax had ceased singing before he took up his turn, but Lomax glared at him the whole time, while Bart moved his head in a strange fashion, as if he were hearing things that no other ear could hear.
Horace was entirely unprepared for the blow when Derek brought a huge tea-tray (minus the tea things) on the back of his head, and fell instantly. Derek, Lomax and Bart then swiftly exchanged their news. Derek, with the benefit of his previous conversation, understood Lomax’s plan better than Bart did. Unlike Lomax, who thought that the robbers’ raid was now a useless distraction, Derek saw how they could turn it to their advantage, ensuring that no search party would be sent out after them. Lomax and Bart needed only to hide out that night, and they would be quite, quite safe. He handed the portfolio over, checked the street to see that they were unobserved, and, unlocking the cell with the keys which were foolishly but conveniently kept on a hook underneath the window, he let them out into the fading light.
Derek had no particular desire to be lying in his own blood for long, so he sat just beside the window where he could see the street without being easily seen, and waited. When he saw the constable appear, he swiftly cut himself, wiped the knife on Horace’s hair, swirled the blood around a little to make it look worse than it was, and lay down.
And that is how the constable found him.
Seline smoothed the pigeon’s feathers and cooed to it as she extracted the tiny message from its leg. She loved birds, and all kinds of animals, and was as delighted as the pigeon whenever one of her own returned to her.
Her face fell when she got the message. She did not know what to do. It was clear that something terrible was happening — clear to her, but not clear in a way she could explain very well to the constable, or even to Geoffrey. Biting her lip, she walked back into the tap-room.
Just at that moment, Fiedel came rushing in.
“Everybody stop what you are doing!”, he shouted. His entrance was so abrupt that everybody did.
“You must all come with me — come with me right now. We are in the gravest possible danger.” This was so far removed from Fiedel’s more usual announcements to the assembly that people really did get up, leaving their drinks behind, and follow him down the street. Sedan was there right at the front of them. Seline came at the rear. She was loathe to leave the inn, especially after what happened the last time she left it, but Fiedel’s words, coupled with the note she had received, persuaded her.
They traipsed down on mass to the old mill, passing the constable’s house where, at that very moment, he was busy bandaging Derek’s wound.
The loft of the mill house was not remotely big enough to hold all those people, so Fiedel took Geoffrey as magistrate, Sedan as his friend and recent saviour, and Seline as a representative of the village up to see. Others crowded in behind. Sedan noted the dents in the heliographoscope, but was pleased when Fiedel told him that he had managed to create another lens — not a perfect lens, not like the treasured Zeiss lenses, but enough.
One by one they peered through the eye-piece.
The image was a little blurry, even when Fiedel showed them how to adjust the focus. There were fringes of yellow on one side, and blue on the other. He made them stand with their hands off the instrument, because otherwise, as he explained, they would set the whole thing shaking and never see a thing.
While the others looked, Fiedel showed each of them the exact spot on the mountain to which he had pointed the device. He could no longer find the exact spot it had been originally aimed at, the damaged cog had seen to that, so, after spending most of the day making the new lens, he had decided to make a slow and careful scan of the mountainside. Even in its damaged state, it was the most marvellous instrument. You could see, he swore, a blade of grass on a hillside ten miles away.
When it was Seline’s turn she could not make out anything like a blade of grass, though it was now twilight and getting steadily darker. What she did see was the most extraordinary collection of tubes. Big tubes, bound together facing in the same direction, upwards and pointed very much in their direction. They were mounted on some kind of two-wheeled carriage. She could not see it, but the wheels were themselves standing on sleds, the same sleds that Huw had seen. Men were moving around it. The bundle of tubes was enormous.
“I think we can all see what it is,” said Fiedel.
“Is it another one of these — ‘heliographoscopes'”, said Seline, pronouncing the word carefully, still peering at it.
“That’s what I first thought,” said Fiedel. “But it’s absolutely apparent what it really is.”
“Yes, very very clear,” said Sedan, dryly.
“Well, what is it then, Fiedel? Come on old chap, do let us in.” Said Geoffrey.
“Ooh!”, said Seline, involuntarily. “It just moved.”
“Which way is it now pointing?”, said Sedan, urgently.
“At us, I think. Ow!!” She jumped back from the eye-piece, blinking and shaking her head.
They did not need to ask what she had seen. They all saw it: a flash, as bright as the flash of fireworks, but nastier and more spiteful.
Sedan began to count, under his breath.
“It is a cannon,” said Fiedel, “and it is pointed at us.”
Something came whistling over their heads, landing on the far side of the river with the sound of the splintering and crashing of many trees. A moment later, a dull boom echoed from the mountain.
“My God,” said Geoffrey. “We’re under attack.”
The twelfth and final chapter appears on Wednesday 5th of January — twelfth night.