The Pirates of Ersatz-Twenty-Eight
It seemed to him that he lay awake for aeons, but he must have dozed off because he was awakened by a yell. It was not a complete yell; only the first part of one. It stopped in a particularly unpleasant fashion, and its echoes went reverberating through the stony walls of the castle. Hoddan was out of bed with a stun-pistol in his hand in a hurry, before that first yell was followed by other shouts and outcries, by the clashing of steel upon steel, and all the frenzied tumult of combat in the dark. The uproar moved. In seconds the sound of fighting came from a plainly different direction, as if a striking force of some sort went rushing through only indifferently defended corridors.
It would not pass before Hoddan’s door, but he growled to himself. On a feudal world, presumably one might expect anything. But there was a situation in being, here, in which etiquette required a rejected suitor to carry off a certain scornful maiden by force. Some young lordling named Ghek had to carry off Fani or be considered a man of no spirit.
A gun went off somewhere. It was a powder gun, exploding violently to send a metal bullet somewhere. It went off again. There was an instant almost of silence. Then an intolerable screeching of triumph, and shrieks of another sort entirely, and the excessively loud clash of arms once more.
Hoddan was clothed, now–at least clothed enough to have places to stick stun-pistols. He jerked on the door to open it, irritably demanding of himself how he would know which side was which, or for that matter which side he should fight on.The door was locked. He raged. He flung himself against it and it barely quivered. It was barred on the outside. He swore in highly indecorous terms, and tore his bedstead apart to get a battering-ram.
The fighting reached a climax. He heard a girl scream, and without question knew that it was the Lady Fani, and equally without question knew that he would fight to keep any girl from being abducted by a man she didn’t want to marry. He swung the log which was the corner post of his bed. Something cracked. He swung again.
The sound of battle changed to that of a running fight. The objective of the raiders had been reached. Having gotten what they came for–and it could only be Fani–they retreated swiftly, fighting only to cover their retreat. Hoddan swung his bed leg with furious anger. He heard a flurry of yells and sword strokes, and a fierce, desperate cry from Fani among them, and a plank in his guest-room-dungeon door gave way. He struck again. The running raiders poured past a corner some yards away. He battered and swore, swore and battered as the tumult moved, and he suddenly heard a scurrying thunder of horses’ hoofs outside the castle altogether. There were yells of derisive triumph and the pounding, rumbling sound of horses headed away in the night until it was lost.
Still raging inarticulately, Hoddan crashed his small log at the door. He was not consciously concerned about the distress Don Loris might feel over the abduction of his daughter. But there is an instinct in most men against the forcing of a girl to marriage against her will. Hoddan battered at his door. Around him the castle began to hum like a hive of bees. Women cried out or exclaimed, and men shouted furiously to one another, and off-duty fighting men came belatedly looking for somebody to fight, dragging weapons behind them and not knowing where to find enemies.Bron Hoddan probably made as much noise as any four of them. Somebody brought a light somewhere near. It shone through the cracks in the splintered planks. He could see to aim. He smote savagely and the door came apart. It fell outward and he found himself in the corridor outside, being stared at by complete strangers.
“It’s the engineer,” someone explained to someone else. “I saw him when he rode in with Thal.”
“I want Thal,” said Hoddan coldly. “I want a dozen horses. I want men to ride them with me.” He pushed his way forward. “Which way to the stables?”
But then he went back and picked up his bag of stun-pistols. His air was purposeful and his manner furious. The retainers of Don Loris were in an extremely apologetic frame of mind. The Lady Fani had been carried off into the night by a raiding party undoubtedly led by Lord Ghek. The defenders of the castle hadn’t prevented it. So there was no special reason to obey Hoddan, but there was every reason to seem to be doing something useful.
He found himself almost swept along by agitated retainers trying to look as if they were about a purposeful affair. They went down a long ramp, calling uneasily to each other. They eddied around a place where two men lay quite still on the floor. Then there were shouts of, “Thal! This way, Thal!” and Hoddan found himself in a small stone-walled courtyard doubtless inside a sally-port. It was filled with milling figures and many waving torches. And there was Thal, desperately pale and frightened. Behind him there was Don Loris, his eyes burning and his hands twitching, literally speechless from fury.”Pick a dozen men, Thal!” commanded Hoddan. “Get ’em on horses! Get a horse for me, dammit! I’ll show ’em how to use the stun-pistols as we ride!”
Thal panted, shaking:
“They … hamstrung most of the horses!”
“Get the ones that are left!” barked Hoddan. He suddenly raged at Don Loris. “Here’s another time stun-pistols get used on Darth! Object to this if you want to!”