The Memoirs of Father Shiron

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Part 7 - Sounds of Silence

"Aaaaarrghhhhh.....!" they all cried in surprise as if with one voice.  Crash! Bang! Clatter! Clang! Tinkle! and any other loud metallic noise you can think of that I've missed.  The din reverberated up and down the dark passage and echoed many times before finally fading away.  Torches flew in all directions adding to the confusion.
        "Oooooffffhhhh......!" exhaled Dick forcefully as the entire party fell on top of him in a disorganised, tangled heap.
        "Oh no!" exclaimed Falamir as he tried to pick himself off the top of the pile and disentangle his chain mail from Presto's dagger.  "Another time step."
        "Apparently so," came a slightly annoyed muffled voice further down the pile of bodies.  It was Feanar.
        "Ouch!  Hey!  Watch what you're doing with that bloody torch," came Shiron's pained voice from somewhere in the middle.
        "Sorry," apologized Erendil.
        It took them several minutes to pick themselves up, retrieve their various natural and battery operated torches and generally sort themselves out again.  "I'd like to get my hands on the idiot whose writing this story," said Feanar with real menace in his voice.  "Leaving time steps lying about all over the place with gay abandon for us to trip over.  Obviously none of us felt that one coming as we were all concentrating on following the passage and trying to see in the dark.  OK so he can't write 24 hrs a day but at least he could arrange it to happen when it didn't really matter if we fell over it or not.  Now we've made such a racket that I imagine every thing down here knows we're coming."  There were assorted grumblings in agreement from the others.
        They continued along the passage which was wide enough to easily allow three to walk abreast and had ample headroom.  The walls and ceiling were constructed of the same stone as that of the church whereas the floor was perfectly smooth and flat.
        "This floor's perfectly smooth and flat," observed Shiron plucking the very same words from the previous line.  "Don't you find that a bit odd?"
        "Maybe this will explain it," answered Dick from the front.  He held his torch to the left hand wall where it illuminated a very smart looking silver metal plaque mounted on a wooden backing, screwed neatly to the wall.  It bore an engraved inscription:

This floor concreted by Taylor Woodrow Construction plc - with compliments.

"Hmm," mused Shiron.  "I've heard of them somewhere.  Do you think that they're part of whatever's going on?  Apparently one or two of their ex employees are rather shady characters, by all accounts.
        "Maybe, maybe not," answered Erendil.  "We will have to weigh the evidence and try to come up with a true and fair view, a balanced conclusion.  I should imagine however that they were merely the building contractors who, by submitting the most competitive bid, won the tender for laying the floor, nothing else."
        Just then there was a sound of fluttering and flapping accompanied by high pitched squeaking noises.  From out of the darkness down the passage came flying at them what appeared to be a swarm of bats.  Instinctively they all ducked and put their hands up to protect their faces.  Dick took a couple of blind swipes and actually managed to catch one of the small creatures in his clenched fist.  As it wriggled and writhed in his grasp he looked in amazement at what he had caught.  It wasn't a bat.  He gasped in shock as he held it up for the others to see.  "Look at this.  It's not a bat.  It's a red dickie bow tie with white spots on it."
        "Oh my God," exclaimed Shiron.  "And there's a whole plague of them.  Quick, get rid of them any way you can and fast before they can do any damage.  I've heard about these things.  If you get bitten by one you grow a little grey beard and go around grinning in an annoying manner whilst talking to people about accounting theory and practice, financial matters and firms-I-have-worked-for in a high pitched voice.  If you are really unlucky and get bitten by several of them you fall down unconscious and when you finally come round you'll have developed a permanent red & white spotted dickie bow tie and a pair of preposterous red braces and been turned into a Certified Accountant - permanently.  There's no known cure."
        "What a truly terrifying prospect," answered Feanar, sounding truly terrified.
        The party erupted into action, drawing their daggers as swords were too cumbersome for such small targets and frantically hacked and slashed at the flapping dickie bows swarming around them like angry bees.  All except Shiron.  Being a cleric he was prohibited from using bladed weapons, for the very same reason that Feanar, a mage, was prohibited from wearing metal armour.  It said so in THE BOOK.  Instead he swiftly produced a mace from his backpack and took great pleasure in splatting the little critters with it when they came within range.  It was pandemonium as the enraged dickie bows squeaked shrilly for all their worth in their efforts to attack the party.  The floor soon became littered with the sorry little bodies of slain dickie bows.  Wounded ones flapped weakly in their death throws before expiring with a pitiful weak squeak.
        The assault lasted only a few minutes before the remaining dickie bows flew off back into the darkness in defeat, the flying wounded fluttering erratically behind them.
        "Is everyone OK?  Anyone bitten?" asked Erendil with genuine concern.  Nods and headshakes from everyone.  Luckily they had escaped unscathed.  "I think that's accounted for all of them.  They won't be back in a hurry." he said, cleaning off strands of silky red material from his dagger blade and sheathing it.
        "I think reading that plaque set them off.  It must act like some sort of trigger.  I wonder how many hapless souls have been turned into grinning Certified Accountants by that lot," said Presto with a shudder. 
        "That must be worth a few EPs," said Falamir hopefully.
        "Certainly," replied Erendil.  "But you'll have to wait till the end of the adventure to find out how many."
        "As far as EPs go, you could say debit the dickie bows, credit the party," added Shiron grinning widely.
        "Absolutely," chuckled Erendil.

They resumed their march along the passage which now took a slightly downward turn.  They appeared to be heading away from the church at roughly right angles to the fall of the hill, in an north easterly direction as far as they could tell.
        Despite all their equipment, weapons & armour the party made surprisingly little noise as they made their way through the passage.  This was partly due to their training.  Stealth is a very useful tactic to employ in certain situations.  Especially so in dark noiseless tunnels, very much like this one, where the slightest sound can be picked up by the sharp of hearing very easily.  Also the more quiet you are, the greater chance you have of hearing something or someone else coming.  Being as quiet as possible enables you to sneak along and gain surprise on anything or anyone that might be around.  To this end the party did their best to wrap their travel cloaks around themselves, so deadening as much noise as possible from clinking armour etc.
        This party also had another advantage to aid them in their stealth; white trainers.  Each wore their preferred brand; Adidas, Hi-Tec, Dunlop etc.  Shiron & Falamir had been advised to pack a pair as they were told they would very likely come in useful.  All the others had been adventuring before and had learned from experience how invaluable soft soled footwear could be.  As well as being quiet, trainers were much more comfortable than big clumpy boots and, most importantly, promoted a swift escape if fight turned to flight.  Why were they all white?  Does white afford some sort of special magical protection?  Is it written in THE BOOK somewhere that soft soled adventuring footwear must be white?  No, but it's the fashion isn't it.

After they had been padding along almost without a sound, 'running silent' as Erendil liked to call it, for ten minutes or so, Dick at the head of the party put his hand up in the air and quietly commanded, "Halt!"
        They all pulled up where they were except for Feanar who bumped into the back of Shiron.  "Sorry," he said, rather loudly.
        "That's my line," said Erendil who was right behind Dick.
        "What?" answered Dick turning to him.
        "I said 'that's my line'," repeated Erendil.  
        "Who's in front Erendil?"
        "Why, you are Dick,"
        "Well then.  I say 'stop' or 'halt' or 'let's go' or whatever OK 'cos I'm the leader at the moment.  Unless of course you want to take point and go first?" he said questioningly, gesturing for Erendil to step forward.
        Erendil lowered his gaze to study his particularly nice pair of Adidas trainers.  "Clever Dick," he said under his breath.
        "What was that?" asked Dick, leaning into Erendil with fisted hands on his hips.
        "I said 'OK Dick'.  You're the boss."
        "Fine.  Glad we cleared that up," said Dick relaxing his stance but giving Erendil a good hard Paddington stare.
        Dick thought Erendil was far too big for his boots, or trainers, and needed taking down a peg or two.  Dick knew he was the only one in the party who had any chance of doing it.  He never missed an opportunity to get one over on him and hoped for the chance to really land one on him good and hard.  That would shut him up.  He wondered how smart Erendil would feel with his nose spread across his face and a toothless gap in that perfect smile.  An imperceptible little grin crept onto Dick's face at the thought of it.
        "I thought I heard something just then.  A funny scratchy noise.  There.  I can still hear it now."
        The party listened, their ears now attuned to the dark silence surrounding them.  "Yes, I hear it as well," said Shiron.  "It sounds quite close."
        The rest of them also acknowledged it, all except that is for Feanar who wasn't paying attention at all and was nodding his head back & forth in a strange way.
        "What's he doing for Pete's sake?" questioned Dick pointing at Feanar.  Feanar looked up to see everyone's eyes on him.
        "What's up guys?" he asked rather loudly.
        "Keep your voice down Feanar, there's no need to shout." Said Erendil.
        "Oh sorry."  Feanar reached down to his side under his cloak and then looked up again.  When he spoke again his voice was quieter.  "That's better.  You were saying?"
        "We could all hear a strange noise," answered Dick.  He cocked his head to one side and listened again.  "It's still there but much fainter now.  Can you all still hear it?"  They all cocked their heads in similar fashion and gave affirming nods, except Feanar who shrugged and shook his head in the negative.
        "Hang on," he said.  He reached inside his cloak again and there was a faint but audible 'click'.  This time when he spoke he was using the same hushed tones as the others.  "What strange noise?" he asked.
        "A funny scratchy noise," said Dick, quoting himself from twenty lines before.  "But it's stopped now, I can't hear it any more."
        "How strange," added Erendil.
        Dick listened intently for a moment.  "No, it's definitely gone now whatever it was.  Let's carry on."  He turned and continued on, the others following on behind as before.  They had only gone a handful of yards when Dick called a halt again.
        "There it is again," he said looking both puzzled and annoyed.  "What IS that?  Do you lot hear it again?"  They all nodded, except for Feanar who was again bobbing his head up and down not really paying attention.
        "This is really bugging me man," said Dick, his quick temper again on the rise.
        "It's as loud as it was before and it sounds really close," said Shiron beginning to look a bit concerned.  The others too were starting to feel on edge.  Feanar noticed there was another conference going on so he stopped bobbing his head and, reaching inside his cloak again, produced another audible 'click'.
        Silence.  Utter, total, complete silence.  Feanar looked at the others questioningly who looked at him back.  "The funny noise again?" he asked helpfully.
        "This is really weird," answered Shiron.  "It keeps coming and going."  Then they all noticed Dick was looking directly at Feanar with a frown on his face so deep you could plant potatoes in it.
        A little light bulb had just come on in Dick's head and realisation was dawning.  Dick made his way through to stand before Feanar.  "What have you got under your cloak Feanar?"
        "The same as everyone else Dick.  Equipment, provisions, weapons," he answered a bit cagily, wondering why Dick had singled him out.
        "What else have you got there that you keep reaching for when we stop?" he asked with a definite hint of quiet menace in his voice.
        "Oh, my Walkman," replied Feanar. "Look."  He pulled back his cloak to reveal his Sony Walkman hanging at his left hip from a shoulder strap.  A lead led up under the neck of the cloak towards his head which was covered by his hood.  Dick pulled back the hood to reveal a set of headphones nestling snuggly over Feanar's ears.
        "Switch your Walkman on for me would you Feanar?"
        He duly complied, beginning to feel a bit worried.  Dick didn't look like he was joking around.  The click of the play button was followed immediately by the very same funny scratchy noise that everyone had heard, except for Feanar.  Dick noted in satisfaction that the noise was louder with his proximity to Feanar.  He bent down so their noses nearly touched.  "You can turn it off now." he said.
        Feanar reached shakily round to his side and pushed the stop button.  The audible click preceded total silence once again.  The others looked on as Dick reached out and pulled the headphones back from Feanar's ears and rested them gently round his neck.  He then grasped Feanar's chain mail lapels in his big white knuckled fists and hoisted the mage clean off his feet.  Normally Dick stood almost a foot taller than Feanar but he hoisted him up so they were again nose to nose.
        Feanar's feet dangled in mid air.  He was beginning to feel slightly scared now.  He had known Dick for quite some time, accompanying him on several adventures, and considered him a valued friend and ally.   During that time he had seen many occasions when Dick's quick temper had been aroused.  He'd seen him in full flow in pitch battle, that was a sight to behold and he almost pitied those foes on the receiving end of it.  But this was different.  This was another side of Dick's temper, the cold, quiet, menacing side.  It seemed a lot worse than the full on blood lust version, especially at this particular moment, from where he was dangling. When Dick was in this sort of mood he became surprisingly eloquent, a total change from his usual bawdy, rough & ready language and he could really be very intimidating.  Feanar knew he was in trouble with the big guy and he had to play it carefully so he tried tactic number one - joke his way out of it.
        "When did you last brush your teeth Dick?  You really ought to do something about that bad breath.  No wonder you don't have much luck with the ladies."  He added a sheepish little smile for effect.
        Dick wasn't impressed, quite the opposite in fact.   He tightened his grip on Feanar's lapels and squashed his nose closer still.  His voice became even more menacing, if that was possible.  
        "It is you, my dear Feanar," breathed Dick into his face with mock pleasantness.  "You are making the funny scratchy noises with your little tape player are you not.  You have got it on so loud that it is coming through your headphones and we can all hear it."  Feanar was now definitely scared.
        "I....... I....... I suppose I am," he spluttered.  You..... you...... you're very strong Dick.  I..... I certainly wouldn't want to be on the wrong s..... s...... side of you," he continued, still dangling a foot off the ground.
        "Oh but you are on the wrong side of me dear Feanar," Dick growled at him.
        Feanar thought discretion was definitely the better part of valour now in this particular situation.  He was pretty good at talking himself out of trouble, most of the time.  He had to be.  Magic Users aren't built for physical confrontation, instead relying on wit and magical skills to get them out of trouble.  But he knew Dick well enough to know that a bit of old flannel wouldn't work with him now.  He wasn't in the mood to entertain it.  Better to let the storm blow itself out and he would calm down again before long if left to himself.  Feanar kept quiet as did everyone else watching with rapt attention.
        Dick continued through gritted teeth.  "How can we hope to hear any danger coming with your little tape player making all that noise?  We also need everyone alert and paying attention to what is going on, it is supposed to be a team effort after all."
        It was difficult to shrug your shoulders when you were suspended in mid air by your lapels so Feanar made what he thought were appropriate head movements, facial expressions and short responses to convey that he fully understood.
        "Put your Walkman away in your pack Feanar and keep it there .  If I catch you listening to it again when you should be concentrating on the task at hand then I'll....."  He moved his head to whisper in the dangling mage's ear.
        Feanar's face drained of blood and his eye's went wide.  He let out a muffled whimper.
        "Get the point?" asked Dick.
        "Y... y.... y.... yes.  Qu.... qu.... quite c...  clearly thank you."
        "Good," said Dick quietly, setting Feanar gently back down on his feet again.  His legs felt rather wobbly.
        Dick walked back to the front of the party and retrieved his torch from Erendil.  "Unless there is any other business gentlemen I suggest we press on."
        Not a murmur came from the others as they fell into line behind him as he marched off.

Feanar placed his Walkman and headphones in his back pack and followed the others, his face pale, his steps trembly and his cassette only half way through side one.  He had been enjoying himself up till then.  He had been happily listening to his Meatloaf album and quite aptly 'Bat Out of Hell' was playing when they were attacked by the dickie bows.  It had inspired him to claim just as many 'kills' to his credit as anyone else, Dick included.  Dick did have a point though, he conceded, but he didn't have to put it across quite so forcefully.  Dick ought to be careful who he upsets, he thought to himself.  Not everyone would let Dick get away Scot free with that sort of treatment.  
        Mages are not the sort of people you want to make enemies of.  The magic at their command is powerful, unpredictable and almost impossible to counteract, especially for those that rely purely on muscle and steel for their defence.  Luckily for Dick, Feanar wasn't the sort to hold a grudge and, once the initial fright wore off, he would bounce right back again.

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Here endeth Part 7.
Don't miss the next episode 'Bone of Contention'
It's here now.  Click on Next.

 

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Copyright John Angus Walker 1986, 2003.  All right reserved.