A raggedy-looking young man lay sprawled against the rubble, fast asleep. Tibi eased the knife from the man’s clenched hand and shook his shoulder gently.
He sprang like a Hyst Demon, swinging his hand forward and then staring dumbly at his empty palm. He backed fearfully from Tibi, eyeing his menacing dark armor and imposing stature.
“I’m not going to hurt you. I am a Knight of the Gamut.” Tibi assured the man, passing him his knife hilt-first. The man accepted it carefully.
“Gave me a right scare is what you did,” the man laughed, the relief clear in his voice, “usually what wakes you up in these parts aren’t friendly. “ He slid the knife into his belt.
“My name is Tibi.”
“Majorun Baldinswa is mine.”
Tibi gestured to the massive castle behind him.
“Yeow, wouldn’t bother if I’re you. The whole place is right impassable the whole way ‘round. I trekked the… what’s the word, circumference? I trekked the circumference just the other day. It’s a real bruise on me, I fancied I could be the first treasure-seeker to get at the place.”
“Hmmm.” Tibi reflected, “There are several ways in.”
Baldinswa perked up. “No jest? Where?”
“I don’t know yet, but they are there. With the finely tuned instrument of human reasoning and an apt attention to detail it will be possible to discover them.” The philosopher said after some time. Baldinswa snorted in dismay, scouring the wide canyons and the intimidating castle before them, out of reach.
“Hmph. You’re a strange one. Good luck, Knight.”
Tibi walked to the edge of the canyon, lifted his visor, and stood there for several hours. He studied every cranny of the cliffs below him, every crack in the walls of the castle, every rusting or crumbling structural innovation of the ingenious olden craftsmen. Large, dark blots moved fluidly between the ancient buttresses. He identified them as giant crows by their raucous cawing. He trekked around the entire castle but found that the canyon dropped off ever more sharply. Finally he returned to his initial spot and found a fire crackling there. When it became too dark to observe the cliff, Tibi gratefully accepted a seat near Baldinswa’s fire. Wordlessly the treasure-hunter passed the knight some tough strips of salted meat, which he accepted gratefully.
“Think of anything?” Baldinswa finally asked, studying the flat expression on the warrior’s face.
“We can descend the canyon and scale up to the castle, but very likely we would perish in the process, and my armor would be too heavy to bring.” Tibi said, “Or if we could get a hold of the drawbridge’s lowering chains we could repel up the front of the castle. Know you any magics?”
Baldinswa shook his head emphatically.
“Then obtaining the chain will be impossible.” Tibi conceded resignedly. “There are also several underground networks of tunnels in the area that once connected to the castle from beneath the moat, but those have worn with time alongside the canyon.”
“Yeow. I’m not going to scale these cliffs.”
“Another possibility is to fell a great tree in the surrounding forest, perhaps twenty five yards in length, and transport it back here to make a temporary bridge to the gatehouse.”
“There are only two of us, for Petus’ sake!”
“There is one more option.” Tibi said darkly, “It is doubtful that you will welcome it. Have you noticed the gigantic crows nesting upon the castle crags?”
“Certainly, they are very loud.”
“These birds descended from the obedient pets of the gods, but have since adopted a wild and predatory nature. They have a general tendency ingrained in their mentalities to pick out objects of luminescence and sparkle. It is very likely that they will attack us tonight with the lure of this fire. I am quite surprised they have not already.”
Baldinswa was aghast, his head darting left and right, searching the blackness of the sky above. The rough calls of the birds from afar, dismissed into the background moments before, now sent shivers down his spine.
“One of two things will occur.” The knight slid his visor down over his face, in his head conjuring forth lines from the revolutionary bestiary On the Behaviors of Beasts. “If the crow attacking us is rearing young then she will leave us intact and carry us to her offspring, to be devoured and them taught the hunt. If the crow is not then we will be dashed upon the rocks and devoured on the spot, perhaps while still conscious.”
Baldinswa leapt to his feet as the cawing became seemingly louder, a perception that Tibi knew was the result of nerves.
“Summer is indeed the breeding time for these beasts, but I know not for certain which outcome we will face. The choice to stay is yours.”
Baldinswa turned and fled into the night.
“Thank you for the meal!” Tibi called after him.