It did not take Railon and Dunstan long to reach the place where those who had been chosen to carry the ram had congregated. Without speaking, the king and the general placed themselves at the rear of the group and stood on opposite sides of the heavy log. Resting it on their shoulders, as the other men had done, the Gairbairns stood waiting for the order to move, which was not long in coming.
“Set! Ready! March!”
At the word, eight Naiberns, and the two Gairbairns they most wanted to capture, moved forward to knock at the gates of the castle. Railon was nearly overcome by despair as he looked over the remnants of his destroyed city. “How can we rebuild this?” he thought “Would it not be far better to leave this place and make a new beginning in another land? This land is not friendly to its own people, let alone their enemies.”
The city of Gaimaron had been, and still was, so large that by the time the rammers had reached the gate, they were able only to lay the log on the ground before laying themselves down beside it to rest and regain their strength. King Railon and Sir Dunstan must be included in the number of those who felt that they required rest, but not for the same reason that the Naiberns had done so.
Having gained their rest earlier, the Gairbairns did not lay down to sleep as the others had. Instead, they seated themselves back to back on the log, looking out over the ruined city. Removing his helmet, Railon sighed heavily and said “We are close, and yet so far away. If you will believe me, man, not three weeks ago I was experiencing a festival to health and plenty in a place some hundreds of miles away. You can imagine my surprise when on my way home, I rode straight into an enemy force bent on complete destruction of my land. And so I am home, king of a land of despair and death. Is there any hope?”
“But the Naibern camp was in front of the city. How is it that you rode into it?”
“An adventurer does not always like to return home by the straightest path. My time was my own, since I did not harbor any hopes of ascending to the throne for years to come.”
“What did you learn while you were away, my lord?”
“What did I learn? I learned that there is much to enjoy in other places, but that one’s home, wherever it may be, always calls loudest in the end. I also learned that I had entirely forgotten where the capital lay.” Railon said with a laugh, replacing his helm upon his head once more. He stood up. “Come now, there is much still to be done. Rouse those layabouts.”
Dunstan immediately began shaking the sleeping Naiberns awake. “Come now, men. You would not wish to be found here after sunrise, by anyone. Let us complete our task.”
The Naiberns rose slowly, muttering under their breath at having been roused by a man no higher in rank than they were themselves. Still grumbling, they lined up alongside the log simultaneously, as if they were all together in a trance. The moment they had hoisted the log high enough, Railon and Dunstan ducked underneath, grabbed hold of it themselves, and with one voice, cried “Forward, now!”
At the word, the men began to run toward the gates of the castle, their feet pounding against the ground like hammers driving nails. Before half a minute had passed, they had run head on into the gates, which were still stoutly barred; Sir Dunstan had seen to this before the Gairbairns had departed the fortress. The shock of the first collision nearly knocked the men off their feet.
The rammers retreated and charged again. This time, having braced themselves, they did not stumble, but still they did not make a great impression on the wood.
The men retreated and braced themselves for a third charge. Though they ran harder this time than they had in the previous attempts, they still did not see any sign that their efforts were of any use. As they were retreating for the fourth time, Dunstan whispered to Railon “Fool that I am. I’d completely forgotten that I had the portcullis lowered. We could charge all day. It won’t do us any good.”
“Never fear” Railon replied “We shall get through in the end. Ten men is ample strength to lift a gate such as that.”
“Not if they run themselves to exhaustion, as we are doing. Moreover, I had the ropes cut. We can not leave it hanging.”
“So much the worse for these men. They will have to leave two behind.”
“No, my lord,” Dunstan grunted as the ram collided with the gates yet again. Winded, he began to gasp. “We-can not- manage-it- that way. We must find a more reliable source of support.”
“But how can we do that? Remember, we are Naiberns. We do not know yet where anything is to be found.” As Railon said this, a great crack appeared in the gates, wide enough to allow a man to pass through into the narrow space between the gates and the portcullis.
“I had forgotten.” Sir Dunstan sighed heavily. “And now our difficulty has opened up before our eyes.”
Putting the log aside, the eight Naiberns immediately lined up in front of the portcullis, staring through it as if they were inmates in a prison, eagerly watching the outside world go by before their eyes. Railon snorted with impatience at this behavior. “Come now, men! We have no time to lose! If you are so eager to see the castle, why are you not trying to get inside? Ready now! Lift!”
Bending one knee, Railon grasped the lowest bar he could comfortably reach. Realizing what he was attempting, the Naiberns immediately followed his lead. Sir Dunstan stood back from the gate, knowing that Railon would soon move away.
The nine men at the gate exerted all their strength against the great mass of iron which was blocking their path. As the land was covered in darkness, Dunstan could not really see how hard the men were working, but by their labored breathing, he guessed that they were struggling.
Suddenly, he heard a Naibern call out “It is raised! Now how are we to keep it so?”
And then his king’s answer. “Leave that to me… I have it! Two of us must remain here! The rest will bring up the ram! That will support this!”
A second strange voice called back impatiently. “Well, do it then! We’ll be crushed if we wait here a moment longer!”
“As you will, then!” replied Railon, releasing his hold on the metal and backing away. “Dunstan! Bring up the ram!”
It was not long before Dunstan and several of the Naiberns returned to the gate carrying the log, which was as tall as a man and astonishingly wide. “Quickly!” Dunstan called to the others “We have one chance!”
Running forward, they wedged the log underneath the gate so that it was standing straight up, taking the full weight of the metal upon itself, as the two Naiberns holding up the gate had by then ducked out of the way.
Suddenly, one of the Naiberns took charge of the operation. Pointing to one man, he said “You run back to the camp and report our success. We are entering the castle.” As the man he had designated departed from the group, the soldier added to the others “Remember. Leave no one alive.”
Railon and Dunstan immediately ran ahead of the other men so as to speak together in relative privacy. They maintained their dialogue as they moved through the courtyard up to the gate.
“Here is yet another difficulty.” said Dunstan, who was barely able to keep pace with his king, who was sprinting eagerly toward the doors. “How are we to dig a proper hole? Shields will not do for this task.”
“I am aware of that.” Railon replied “but you must believe there are spades hidden somewhere in the courtyard. Else I would not have agreed so readily to leave king Torlan buried in the grounds of his castle.”
“Is there not a rear gate? One which offers a swifter passage to the river?”
“Do you mean to say that you now wish to bring the king out after all? It was you who convinced to me to bury him here.” As he said this, Railon was engaged in lifting off the bar which locked the doors on the inside. The bar soon fell free, and Railon pushed the doors open.
“I did not know then how full of danger and uncertainty this whole venture was. We must bring him to his mound if we can. You wish to do so, far more than I do, as you are his brother.”
“Very well, man,” said Railon, pausing for a moment to watch the Naiberns spread out behind them, each making for a different point to begin their search. Laying his hand on Dunstan’s shoulder, he added “I charge you to find the path to the river, whilst I go to prepare my brother the king for the journey. Remember what that other man said at the gate, and leave none alive. Else we will surely be discovered and slain.” With a last look at Sir Dunstan, Railon turned and ran up the stairs.
Sir Dunstan stood frozen for a moment, watching Railon run up the stairs to the king’s chamber. Then, he remembered what he had been ordered to do, and hurried off to find the rear gate, only now feeling surprise at what he had said earlier.
“The rear gate… the rear gate…I have never been in this castle before! Why would I claim something was there which may not be? But he said…”
“Eh? He said what? Who said what?” demanded a bodiless voice. A moment later, the owner of the voice stepped out of the shadows. It was one of the Naiberns who had entered the castle behind Dunstan and Railon.
“I’ll tell you what I say” the man continued sounding frustrated “I say there’s nobody left in this whole place, and we’d best be after them before they get away.”
Unsheathing his sword almost halfway, Dunstan snarled “And I tell you what I say, and that is you’re to die, now!” Drawing his blade completely out, he slew the man with one thrust before the Naibern realized what was happening. Only stopping for a moment to prop the man up against the wall, Dunstan hurried onward, toward what he knew by now to be the rear wall. .
Guessing that the rear gate would most probably be found in the scullery, Sir Dunstan quickly chose a direction and began to walk carefully, keeping one hand on the wall all the time. There were no torches to light his path, so he was unable to properly see where he was going, and was forced to trust to luck. He had been moving down the passage for several minutes when, suddenly, there was no longer anything under his feet. He barely had time to notice the emptiness before he had missed the step and consequentially began to slide head foremost down the stairway, which was, fortunately, a straight one.
As he was sliding, Dunstan found himself unable to arrange his thoughts. However, when he had finally reached the bottom and found himself skidding across the floor, he thought “Dash it all! That little experience will have all the Naiberns down on my head in moments!” Having waited a few moments, he rose from the floor slowly. Having moved in darkness for so long, he was now beginning to see dim outlines of the objects in the room, well enough that he was able to avoid a collision with any object.
Stepping over to the wall, Dunstan began to move along it carefully, hoping against hope that he would find a door here. When he had finished two walls and was searching the one opposite the door, he finally heard the sounds he had been dreading might come.
There was a cry of “There’s a live one down this way!” followed by the sound of several men moving quickly along the passage that led to the stairway which opened into the room he was in. Sir Dunstan noticed the reflection of light off the walls before he saw the men.
“Torches!” he said to himself. Where did they find those? I’m found! No matter. They shall pay for this!” Drawing his sword and putting his other arm through the straps of his shield, he prepared to make a stand.
Sir Dunstan had prepared himself not a moment too soon. The instant he had raised his shield, the Naiberns reached the bottom of the steps, their torches flooding the room with light. The leader called out to him angrily. “So there you are, you traitor! Will you come quietly, or do we have to kill you?” He paused, taking in Dunstan’s drawn blade, raised shield, and position against the wall. “You want a fight? Very well then, you shall get it, you rat. To your death. I have four men behind me.” The leader concluded, stepping into the room to allow the passage of the others. Drawing their blades, they moved in toward the Gairbairian knight.
“I am not a traitor.” Said Dunstan softly as they continued to move toward him. “I see you are missing a man. Has he been slain? It was I who did that. And now, if you are men, come and fight. Talimariooooooonnnnn!”
When he had left Sir Dunstan at the foot of the stairs in the central hall, Railon had run directly to the king’s chamber, in which he had placed his brother not two days ago. By good fortune, he found a torch which had not yet burnt down. Proceeding to the king’s room, he stopped in the doorway, taking a last long look at the serene, composed expression on the face of the late king. Moving to the side of the bed, he said “I have come. O Great One, spirits of our fathers, witness that I have come to give the last honors to my brother, Torlan the magnificent, who, as you know, fell honorably in battle. I held myself bound to place him in his mound, and I have come to honor my promise.”
Rising, he placed the torch in a bracket which was situated directly above the king’s head, several feet up the wall, where it would cast down light upon the whole of the bed.
First, he carefully removed Torlan’s helmet, which he placed so softly it hardly made a sound. Having done this, he continued to remove the late king’s armor until there was no longer anything to hinder him from removing the hauberk underneath. Rather than disturb the body, he drew a knife which he kept hidden and slit the materiel down to the belt, which he had not removed. Letting the two sides fall, he did the same to the sleeves. Having done this, he was now able to uncover the wounds which had killed the king, which had long since hardened.
Stepping across the room to a small alcove, Railon removed a fresh white hauberk. Carrying this back with him, he quickly cut off the sleeves and laid them aside for the moment. Then, he proceeded to draw the clean hauberk over the body, while endeavoring to move the body as little as possible. Having finished this task, he drew the separated sleeves over each arm in turn, and only then placed both arms across the chest in the traditional position. This done, he returned to the alcove and retrieved the long winding sheet which had been brought to him during his vigil. He had only just finally begun this last, longest, part of his task when he heard Sir Dunstan’s battle-cry echo off the walls.
Momentarily startled, he dropped the shroud and cried “Sir Dunstan is in danger! I shall return!” Running across to the door of the room, he snatched up his sword, clapped his helm upon his head, grabbed his shield, and ran down the stairs.
Sir Dunstan, backed against the wall as he was, was fighting brilliantly. He was, in fact, the greatest swordsman in all the countries. He was forced to bring all his carefully honed skill to bear against his attackers, none of whom were mean fighters themselves. Sir Dunstan had not yet had an opportunity to eliminate any of his attackers. However, with an unending series of lightning-quick moves of both his sword and shield, he was able to keep anyone from harming him.
After several minutes of hard combat, Sir Dunstan suddenly caught sight of a shadow proceeding down the stairway into the room. Even before he saw Railon coming to his aid, he cried “No, my lord! Do not come down here! You, of all men, must escape to lead the others! Trust me, my lord! You will help me far more by leaving me here!”
Railon, who had by now stepped within the range of the torchlight despite Dunstan’s warnings, said “Surely you would be glad of my help? I came instantly when I heard your cry!”
“I had forgotten then, that I was trapping you down here, my lord! Go! Return to your brother and honor him as you wish! These men are not too much for me!” As he spoke, Dunstan had been moving slowly along the wall. At his last words, he felt the wood of the door behind his back rather than the firm coldness of the wall.
Suddenly, the leader of the Naiberns, seeing what he was about, said “Two of you get that other. This one boasts and is fleeing. See? He was searching for the door.”
Railon, who had stood silently on the last step, heard the words of his enemy, and turned away, to run back up the castle to the chamber he had left. He could easily hear the sounds of the two men pounding up the steps behind him. “Just two?” he thought to himself “Ha. I may not be Sir Dunstan, but any king worth the respect the respect he receives can defeat three men. And now, to the chamber.”
Suddenly thrusting himself forward, Dunstan laughed at his enemies. “I boast and flee? You could not defeat me with four companions. Let us see how you do with only two!” Dodging a hasty blow, he spun away, so that his opponents now had their backs to the wall as they turned to face him.
Without speaking, the three Naiberns split up in an attempt to surround the defiant Gairbairian knight, who was now standing in the darkest part of the room. As his enemies closed in upon him, Dunstan charged, disarmed one of the men, and slew him in a moment. Now that his blood was up, Dunstan was reveling in the excitement, and he ran laughing past his enemies, to mount a table in the center of the room and wait there for the Naiberns.
The Naiberns advanced slowly, creeping along the walls. Suddenly, they grabbed the still-flaming torches they had brought from the brackets they had placed them in earlier, hurling them at the knight on the table.
Sir Dunstan reacted instinctively, putting his shield up to deflect the threat. Thus, he saved himself from the pain of the contact. However, he had been momentarily dazed by the bright light, and for several seconds could not see to protect himself. His foes, knowing this, charged at him and knocked him to the floor.
Though he did not lose hold of either his sword or shield, Dunstan, who now lay on his back on the cold stone floor, could no longer defend himself, for the shock of the contact had stunned him, and he was unable to move.
While the combat he had left was proceeding in the manner described, king Railon was locked in combat himself, in the upper chambers. Wasting no time, Railon had returned to Torlan’s chamber as quickly as possible, followed by the two Naiberns set to that task. Close by the king’s room, Railon had turned and set upon his pursuers. But they had forced him back, and now the three men were maneuvering around the room in which lay the body of king Torlan.
Before long, the two invaders, attacking relentlessly, had pinned Railon to the far wall of the room. A moment passed while everyone caught their breath, the Naiberns still menacing Railon with their blades. Suddenly, with a loud cry, Railon attacked. In two swift movements, he slew one man and pushed the other aside, so that the man almost lost his balance. Snatching up his brother’s sword from where he had placed it earlier, Railon turned and hurled it like a spear at the remaining man. Without waiting to see the result of this last action, he turned and ran back down the stairs as fast as he could go, determined this time to aid Sir Dunstan, whether the knight wanted aid or not.
When he reached the passage which led to the last room, Railon realized that he could no longer hear any sounds of battle. Fearing the worst, he redoubled his speed. Knowing that his enemies were likely waiting at the door for his approach, he made his way down the steps carefully, holding himself ready to fight at any time. On the last step, he stopped. Suddenly, with a cry, he brought his sword around in a great sweeping swing, hoping to hit the man who was presumably standing there.
But before his blade had yet met any resistance, Railon heard a cry. “My lord, if it is you, stay your hand, I beg you! If you are an enemy, come in and slay me face to face like a man!”
Quickly pulling his arm back once more, Railon leapt inside and turned to face Sir Dunstan. “My good knight! What has happened to you? Where are those men, your foes?”
“They deprived me of my senses, and placed me here in the hope that you would do just as you did. I am fortunate that I returned to the world not a moment too soon. They have taken my arms, so you will need to hold them off yourself. Turn. they are coming.”
At Dunstan’s last words, Railon turned to see the remaining two Naiberns running toward him, their swords and shields held high.
Railon, taking note of the speed at which his enemies were approaching, watched them come on, waiting for just the right moment, all his muscles tightened like springs to the point that, in the light, it would have seemed that his skin would break from the strain of holding them in.
At the last possible moment, when death was no more than a hand’s width from his face, Railon leapt aside, crying “Look to your hands!”, rolled over, and sprang up three feet away from the others.
Sir Dunstan, having heard Railon’s words, quickly lashed out with both his hands, giving the nearer Naibern a box on the ear while at the same time wrenching his own sword, which the man was wearing in his belt, away from its captor. As the two Naiberns skidded to a halt, narrowly escaping a collision with the wall which might have killed them, and turned again to face him, Dunstan ran to Railon’s side.
There followed a fierce combat which rang throughout the ground level of the castle, and would have brought men running had there been any alive to come. In the midst of the battle, when the opportunity presented itself, any one of the men would snatch a torch from the floor where they had been dropped, and place them in the nearby brackets, and so the room was gradually made visible and combat easier.
It was some time before the balance tipped in favor of either party. Sir Dunstan, who had spent the most effort in fighting of all the combatants, was beginning to tire, and had found that he was matched against one who could nearly rival his skill. At the moment, Sir Dunstan was being backed slowly toward the wall, and knew that he would not last another ten minutes if Railon could not soon come to his aid. Moments later, he heard Railon’s cry of victory and thought “I am saved.”
Over his foe’s shoulder, Dunstan saw Railon come dashing in, sword raised to finish the task. But at the last moment, the Naibern swung his blade back over his shoulder to parry Railon’s blow, locking the blades. Making use of Railon’s resistance, the Naibern then sprang away, sprinting to the body of his last companion. Snatching the man’s sword, he advanced against the Gairbairns, pointing both blades at them menacingly.
The Gairbairns advanced warily, as Dunstan advised Railon “Watch him closely. He is a match for either of us.”
Railon replied softly “Yes, but for both of us?”
Their foe cut in suddenly, mocking them. “Come now, are we playing the game, or are we still arranging the pieces? Are you men, or are you dogs the likes of which must be whipped back to your kennels? Yes, I know it was you” He said, pointing a blade at Railon. “Why didn’t you tell that old fool on the armored horse to stand out of my way? Of course, it is too late now. My men taught him his place.”
Unable to restrain themselves in the face of such open insults, the two Gairbairns charged upon their foe recklessly, shouting with one voice: “Talimarion!”
That fight, from the time of Railon’s return to the scene through to the end, had no equal in all the history of the country, before or after it.