The Seven Magical Jewels of Ireland by Adams Robert
The Seven Magical Jewels of Ireland by Adams Robert
Whyffler Hall, it had once been called, the stark, rectangular tower built of big blocks of gray native stone, in centuries long past—motte, stronghold, residence of the generations who had held this stretch of the blood-soaked Scottish Marches for king after king of England and Wales. But when first Bass Foster saw that tower, it had become only a rear wing of the enlarged Whyffler Hall, a rambling, gracious Renaissance residence, its wide windows glazed with diamond-shaped panes set in lead, its inner bailey transformed into a formal garden.
From the first moment he set eyes upon it, Bass Foster had felt a strange compulsion to approach, to enter that ancient tower, that brooding stone edifice, but it was not until some years later that he was made privy to the knowledge that the very instrument which had drawn him and all the other people and objects* from twentieth-century North America to England of the seventeenth century (though an England of a much-altered history from his own world of that period) was immured within the dank cellar of the tower.
*See Castaways in Time by Robert Adams (Signet Books, 1982).
It was a savage, primitive world of war and death and seemingly senseless brutalities into which Bass and the nine other moderns were plunged, but he and most of the others were able to adapt. A woman died, one man was killed, another went mad, and a third was maimed in battle, but the other six men and women managed to carve new lives and careers for themselves out of this very strange world into which they had been inextricably cast.
The arcane device spawned of far-future technology still squatted in the cellar of that ancient tower, its greenish glow providing the only light that had penetrated the chamber for the two and more generations since its single entry had been finally walled up and sealed by the authority of the then-reigning king.
Only a bare handful of living men and a single woman knew the truth of what lay beyond those mortared stones impressed with the royal seal of the House of Tudor . . . they, and uncountable generations of scuttling vermin to which the cellar had been home.
Although they welcomed the dim light cast by the chunky, rectangular, silver-gray device in what otherwise would have been utter, stygian darkness, the vermin otherwise tended to avoid it, for it often emitted sounds which hurt their sensitive ears.
But of a day, a wild stoat came from out the park and over the wall surrounding the outer bailey of Whyffler Hall. The slender, supple, gray-brown beast had no slightest trouble in moving unseen by man up through the formal gardens to the environs of the Hall itself, for he was a hunter, an ambusher, a born killer, and had ingested the arts of stealth with his mother’s milk.
Near to the Hall, his keen nose detected the scent of rat, and he doggedly followed that scent a roundabout course to a burrow entry dug hard against a mossy, cyclopean stone. In a fraction of an eyeblink, the furry, snaky body had plunged into the earth in pursuit of his chosen prey.
After exploring numerous chambers—sail, alas, empty of rodents—and equally numerous intersecting tunnels, the stoat found that the larger, older, most heavily traveled main burrow, which had descended to some depth, began to incline upward once more, and was soon filled with the strong scent of many rodents ahead and a wan, strange light.
The questing head the big hob stoat thrust out of the burrow hole in the packed-earth floor of the tower cellar chanced to come nose to quivering nose with a rat that had been on the very point of entering that hole. The rat leaped a full body length backward and shrilled a terrified scream. That scream and the sudden stench of the stoat’s musk initiated a few chaotic moments of rodent pandemonium, with rats of all sizes and ages and of both sexes streaking in all directions and shrieking a chorus of terror.
But fast as were the rats, the stoat hob was faster, and he had emerged into the midst of the panic and slain several smaller ones before most of the rest had found and fled down other holes. Now the only full-grown rats left in all the huge, open cellar were three which had taken sanctuary atop the glowing device, crouching and panting amongst the dust-coated knobs and levers and calibrated dial faces.
No stoat ever had really good eyesight, but their other keen senses more than compensated for this lack, so this particular mustelid knew just where those rats were, how many they numbered, their sizes, ages, sex, and degree of terror. He also knew, after a hurried circuit of the base of their glowing aerie, that there was no way he could get to and at them whilst they remained up there. Four feet straight up was simply beyond his somewhat limited jumping abilities, and the unrelievedly smooth, hard surfaces would prevent him from climbing up to his prey.
Frustrated and furious, the stoat chattered briefly to himself, then futilely jumped the less than a foot he could manage, vainly trying to get his stubby claws into the steel sides as he slid back down to thump onto the silvery disk on which the device reposed.
Feeble as had been the attempt, nonetheless, it and the sounds of it had further terrified the three rats, driving them into a frenzy which suddenly erupted into a three-way battle to the death amongst them. The squealing, biting, clawing, furry ball rolled hither and yon amongst the control switches and buttons and levers and knobs thickly scattered over the top of the device. Scaly tails lashed as the three big rats fought on, heedless of what they struck or moved, heedless
now, too, of the facts that the ear-hurting noises were become suddenly constant and louder, that the greenish glow was become much brighter.
Below, the hob stoat waited, hoping that in their fury the rats would roll off to fall down within reach of his teeth.
Far and far to the south of Whyffler Hall, within the long-besieged City of London, one of those three sleek rats would have brought a full onza of gold in almost any quarter in which it chanced to be hawked, for the siegelines had been drawn tightly about that city and its starvling, frantic, and embattled inhabitants. Nor did there appear to be any hope of succor now, for the last remnants of last year’s Crusading hosts were being relentlessly hunted down, while every attempt by the Papal forces to resupply the beleaguered city had been foiled, all ending in resupplying King Arthur’s army instead.
In the most recent incursion of a Papal supply fleet up the Thames, young Admiral Bigod’s English fleet had lurked out of sight until the leased merchanters and their heavily armed escorts were well up the river. Then, while his line-of-battle ships and armed merchant vessels trailed the foreign ships just out of the range of the long guns, a dozen small, speedy galleys issued from out certain creekmouths and immediately engaged two of the four-masted galleons that composed the van of the fleet.
Each of these galleys was equipped with but a single cannon, but these cannon were all of the superior sort manufactured at York by the redoubtable Master Fairley. The guns were breech-loaded and fired pointed, cylindrical projectiles—both solid and explosive-shell.
The well-drilled crews handled the galleys with aplomb, scooting around the huge, high-sided, cumbersome galleons like so many waterbugs, discharging their breechloaders again and again to fearsome effect into their unmissable targets, while the return fire howled and hummed uselessly high over their heads.
After watching his companion galleon shot almost to splinters, before either a lucky shell or one of the several blazing fires reached her magazine and she first exploded, then sank like a stone, Wai id Dahub Pasha saw his own galleon’s rudder blown away by one of the devilish shells. At that point, he ordered most of his men up from the gundecks, to be put to better use in fighting fires, manning the pumps, and tending the many wounded; there was no way of which he knew to fight with a ship you could not steer. He also had a sounding made, and, pale with the thought of less than a full fathom of water beneath his keel, with the flowing tide pushing him farther and farther up the unfamiliar river, he had the fore anchor dropped.
As the anchor chain rattled out into the river, Walid Dahub Pasha saw the dozen galleys back off from his now helpless ship, hold a brief, shouted, council of war, then set off toward the knot of merchanters and the remaining galleons. After that, he and those of his men still hale were all too busy saving their ship and stores and comrades to pay any attention to aught that befell the rest of the Papal fleet.