Railon, newly king of Gairbairia following his brother’s death, ran through the underground passages in which all that remained of his men were hiding, holding a blazing torch aloft, shouting regularly all the while: “I go to the utter end! Follow me who will!”
Railon had been running for nearly fifteen minutes when he finally reached the ‘utter end’ of the passage and came to the final cave. When Sir Dunstan had caught up with him, Railon spoke, saying “Now we will find a passage to the world. If there is none, we will make one. We must leave this place without going back.”
“If you will allow me, my lord.” said Sir Dunstan, extending his hand for the torch, the king held. As Railon gave it to him, Dunstan lit a second one which he had brought, and then turned and strode off to explore the rest of the chamber, torches held high over his head.
As he grew farther away from the king and closer to the dark outer recesses of the cavern, Dunstan came across several creatures which would have caused most men to step back in shock. But Dunstan was not the man to shrink from a rat in the dark, especially when his lord had entrusted him with a mission. He paid no heed to rats scampering past or bats flying overhead. The only creature which drew a reaction from him was a snake which he nearly stepped on before noticing its presence. As he thrust a torch forward to deter it from attacking him, he thought ‘Snakes like this one don’t live underground. There is an opening! But will it stand up to five thousand men?’ Quickly stepping over the snake, Dunstan continued on his way, his hopes raised.
It was not long before he discovered the entrance to a tunnel which was wide enough to admit the passage of two men side by side. The floor of the tunnel was on the same level as the floor of the cavern, so Dunstan advanced a few steps into the tunnel in an attempt to see whether it was safe. As he spread his torches out to either side, Dunstan caught sight of stout girders of wood wedged firmly into the edges of the passage to ensure that it did not collapse. Keeping his torch as far away as he was able, Dunstan reached out to the nearest one and tapped it hard. It did not move and sounded firm. Unable to restrain himself any longer, Dunstan cried out “Praise The One and the wisdom of our fathers! We are free!” Turning, Dunstan ran back to the spot at which he had left Railon as if he were running for a prize.
Railon, who had been leaning against the wall of the cavern, stood up anxiously when Dunstan came sprinting into view, worried that perhaps the enemy had found a passage into this, their last place of refuge.
But this was not the case. The moment Dunstan had come within earshot of Railon, he exclaimed “I give you joy, my king! I have found the tunnel our forefathers dug! It is well supported, but we must begin moving the men out now!”
“You speak the truth, as ever, my good knight.” Railon replied calmly. “You catch your breath, and then take the lead, as it was you who found the passage. I shall tell the rest myself.”
“As you wish, my lord.” Sir Dunstan replied, slumping against the wall of the cavern and letting his head drop to his chest.
Going back through the tunnel himself, Railon stopped in every cavern to tell the men the message. “Sir Dunstan has found our way out of this trap. Those of you who are the strongest go to end of the passage to follow him out first. I shall come up at the rear to ensure that no man is left behind.”
It was not long before the men began to move forward, slowly but steadily. They moved in silence. In fact, the evacuation of the caverns continued without incident until only five men were left underground alongside the king. The first two entered the tunnel and completed their passage safely; nothing extraordinary occurred. The next two entered the tunnel and began to make their way outside; suddenly, when it seemed they were nearly at the top, an ominous sound became apparent to Railon and the man beside him. It was the sound of sand sliding down the tunnel, gaining momentum and volume every moment. The tunnel and the beams that supported it were finally releasing the stress put upon them by the crossing of five thousand men in no less than two hours.
Railon turned to his companion anxiously, to find that the man was looking even more anxiously back at him. Wasting no breath on words of encouragement, Railon said grimly “I order you to run for your life. Follow me.” There was nothing more to be said. Railon dashed headlong into the tunnel, not knowing or caring whether the man had followed or not. He was barely able to squint through the rain of sand which was now falling so hard that he could hear it more easily than he could his own footsteps.
Finally, when Railon was sure he could finally see the end of the tunnel, a large chunk of sand at the top of a narrow point, where many men had had their helmets covered with the stuff due to brushing against it, fell hard to the floor of the tunnel and broke apart. This was the moment that Dunstan and Railon had feared would come. The loosening of that piece which had just fallen, which was nearly a foot square, caused an almost instantaneous rupture of the entire tunnel roof. The tunnel had caved in.
Only feet from the outside world, Railon lost his footing as the sand came rushing down upon him. With all his strength, he shouted “Dunstaaaan!” Turning to grasp the hand of the man who had come behind him, Railon began to slide inexorably back down the tunnel.
On the surface, Sir Dunstan, who had been waiting anxiously for Railon to appear for the past hour or more, leapt to his feet when he heard the last, desperate, cry of his king. Wasting no time, he shouted at the men. “Swiftly! Do not tarry! The tunnel has claimed our king, but we may still save him! Use shields! Use anything you have! Save your king!” Setting an example to the men, Dunstan himself abruptly seized his shield, buried it in the sand, and launched a cascade of earth over his shoulder, forcing the men behind him to duck. In moments, a vast number of men had joined Dunstan around the site of the collapsed tunnel, digging furiously.
Seeing unintended danger in the situation of so many men in the most dangerous area, Dunstan called out “No more than ten should dig at a time! The rest of you keep watch! You’ll kill the king if so many of you stand around here!” Accordingly, all but the required number of men abruptly left the area.
Several feet beneath their frantic efforts to reach him, king Railon lay buried. He and the other man were now motionless, knowing that this would keep them alive for some time longer. It was a stroke of luck that one of the beams near the entrance to the tunnel had come sliding down after the men, laid out across the width of the passage. Railon had managed to get a hand on it as he slid down, and now, firmly wedged into the walls of the passage, it was the two men's‘ only hope for survival.
It seemed to Railon that he had spent an eternity beneath the sand. He had not been thinking this for long before he ceased thinking entirely, as he had fainted due to the lack of air under the surface.
Sir Dunstan and the men had been digging furiously since the time that the tunnel had collapsed, and it was exhausting work. Just as it seemed as if all was futile and lost, however, they finally succeeded in uncovering the king, who, as we have said, was unaware of their actions. Grasping Railon under his arms, Sir Dunstan dragged him out of the tunnel, while others leapt forward to rescue his companion.
Wasting no time, Sir Dunstan immediately began removing Railon’s armor as quickly as his could. Working feverishly, he and another man had soon removed the king’s helmet and his breastplate. Nervous with worry, Sir Dunstan called loudly for water. In a short time, he had gained possession of someone’s water-skin, opened it, and upended it over the king’s face. Having done this, he could now do no more than to wait, and hope.
Several anxious moments passed before the fresh air and the water on his face began to have an effect on Railon. No one moved; all of them were anxiously awaiting the results of their rescue. Then finally, when all the men were on the edge of despair at the king’s apparent fate, he began to breathe more deeply. A moment later, he opened his eyes to see Sir Dunstan standing over him, the tension he had felt still evident on his face.
“Thanks be to The One... I am king.... and... I am alive.” pronounced Railon in a low voice only those in the front ranks were able to hear. Seeing that Sir Dunstan had extended a hand to help him up, Railon took it and pulled himself slowly up onto his feet. His completion of this action was met with sudden and loud cries of joy.
“Hail king Railon! May he reign long and well! Hail king Railon!”
By this time, Railon had regained his strength. No longer accepting Sir Dunstan’s support, he signaled for quiet. When the men had fallen silent once more, he spoke. “Hail to you, my brave men. We have come through many trials, and yet we have many more trials, perhaps more than before, to endure before we may rest. All those who live and all those who have died have endured the loss of everything they held dear. But despite that, we will rise again, shall we not?”
There was much ringing of weapons as the men replied with one voice. “We shall!”
“Then I say to you, follow me, and I promise you that we shall one day regain what we have lost, and we shall make it greater than it was before! I go to Trepalenmar!”
Suddenly, Railon stopped short, and a look of despair became evident on his face. Turning to Sir Dunstan, he said “I failed. We failed to bring the king Torlan out with us, and now there is no passage into the castle which is not guarded by scores of enemies. Torlan will never rest in his mound. I have failed.”
“Yes, it is true. The king Torlan is beyond our help... Unless you consent that he shall not have a mound.”
“The greatest of the kings, and not have a mound raised over him? What can you be thinking of?”
“Would you prefer that he lie moldering in his chamber, so that when you return you will be compelled to seal it, and have it remain as a mark of what you consider shame? It would be better to send two men to go into the foes’ camp, enter the castle, bury the king quietly in the courtyard, and return. If men were to attempt to leave the castle carrying something they did not previously have before all have searched, they are bound to be detained.”
“I see the wisdom in your words.”
“Very well. Shall you choose the men yourself, or shall I?”
“We shall go ourselves. There is no one here more fit for the task.”
“There is also no one here the men would miss more.”
“The Great One will see us through. Come.”
By this time, Sir Dunstan could clearly see the obstinate determination in the king’s face; that he would attempt this thing alone if necessary, regardless of the danger, which was greater to him than to any other. Borrowing the shields of two men, Dunstan passed one to his king, saying “We should do our utmost to help ourselves. It would be best if you were to take this plain shield. The emblems visible on our own would betray us in moments.”
Railon, who had not yet regained his previous good humor, did not deign to reply. Snatching the shield from Dunstan, he clapped his helmet back upon his head and strode off angrily. He could see the wisdom in everything Dunstan said, but believed he had admitted the fact once too often. If he continued to defer to Dunstan, he thought, the man might begin to believe that he was not as wise as he needed to appear.
The two men walked in silence, approaching the Naibern camp from the direction of the river in order to appear that they had only been resupplying and so draw less attention to themselves.
The Gairbairn king and his general strode through the camp swiftly, not deigning to look to one side or the other. In a few minutes, they had reached a space close by the great gates. Removing their helmets, they lay down on the ground, gathering their cloaks about themselves to shield their faces from any who might recognize them from the battle. Leaning toward each other on their arms, they confirmed their plans.
“How shall we make our way inside?” asked Sir Dunstan, glancing around to ensure that they had not been noticed.
“This army thinks we are still within the castle. No doubt they will soon begin attempting to batter down the gate. They shall, for there is of course, no one inside to stop them.”
“But when they have done that, they will surely attempt to search the castle for us, and then plunder the place. We will be unable to do anything for the king then.”
“Do you remember how that whole army slept within range of an enemy because they are not accustomed to the heat as we are? They will do so again, and at that time, we will enter the castle, find the king, bury him in the courtyard, and return to our own people before they have risen. Watch and wait.”
“I am with you, my lord.”
“You shall be rewarded.” Railon replied. Turning on his other side, he attempted to gain what rest he could.
It was several hours later when the Gairbairn king and his general were roused abruptly by movement nearby, which could only be a party of Naiberns preparing to ram the castle gates.
The first voice Railon and Dunstan heard was that of a nearby division commander rousing his forces. “Everyone up! We’ll get them today! Eight men for the ram!”
Without warning, Railon felt a heavy boot collide with his back as the same voice remarked “Are we awake yet? The two of you look ready to carry a ram. Get up! Move!”
Unable to resist, Railon found himself being prodded to do that which he had most hoped he would not: giving aid to his enemies in destroying his own front gate. Picking up his cloak and shield, he glanced at Dunstan, who had done the same. Replacing his helmet upon his head, he snapped “Very well. Come on, then.” Without another word, the two men strode off to join the Naiberns who had been detailed to carry the ram.