CHRONICLE OF THE HEAVENLY RUNE-BOOK

VOLUME IV,

PART II

Immediately, when it seemed the worst might happen, and Becca's strong, Viking heart was thumping against his ribcage, he heard a voice in his heart speaking.

"Do not fear! I am Lord over the great flood, and I will command the angry waters to turn back and flee away from you. Stand fast and see My might and My power. As for the waters, they will not overflow you, and the fire, it shall not consume you, neither shall a hair on your head be singed, but rather the beards and hairy scalps of your enemies will be burnt up, and of the rest, none of them, not one shall escape the bitter edge of the sword, for the cries of the widows and children have come up to me, and I will avenge them now speedily!"

Becca was astonished, and felt his knees almost dissolve, but he knew what he had heard the Lord speak was not something he imagined. There was nothing else like Yeshua's voice. He indeed had heard the Voice of God, but how in the world, he wondered, would the Lord do such mighty things? There seemed no hope for them.

"Be of good courage, for I am the Lord you God! To God alone belongs escapes from death!"

After the events, which were each stupifying, beyond anyone's imagining or comprehension, it was hard for Becca to put them together, they happened simultaneously, in the sense that they dovetailed, each involving the other so perfectly, that if one part was left out, or a little late, it would have proven utter disaster for them.

There was a cloud that appeared, unnoticed by most of them, but which they discussed afterwards, some recalling they had seen it and that it resembled a man's hand, others caught by surprise. It flew up from the north where the gulf lay, and dropped rain on the watershed nearest the citadel's ramparts.

The cloudy hand did not let a single raindrop fall on the fortress city itself, whose cisterns could have used the water for a siege, but only to the right side-- there the water rushed down the steep slopes to the Nive, filling a little cove that had been dry for many, many years perhaps. And there was so much water, big boulders that could tear crack open a ship's hull like an egg were covered up by the time that the next event burst upon them.

Whoever gave the order, it was never determined. But they quickly oared the ships over to the cove, rather than remain in the path of the approaching floodwaters from the broached river dam.

Becca and his men had just gotten their ships into the safe haven to the left side of the gorge when the cliffs began falling in an avalanche that blocked the gorge hard to their right. What had done it? They had felt no quaking of the earth.

They no sooner saw this happen when the floodwaters, released from high above, reached the now blocked-up opening of the gorge. For a moment the dam held, then suddenly a tremendous surge of waters exploded through and up over the blocking rocks.

In their safe haven they all watched, utterly speechless, as the floodwaters surged past them. It did them no harm whatsoever as the tumbling mass of waters swept downstream, rolling big boulders down the channel with an appalling roar that could make a heart stop.

Becca could now see that they would never have survived more than a few moments if they had remained in the main channel. If the fall of rocks had not happened, they would have stood no chance at all. They would have been swept away by the waters and the boulders like so many leaves on a mountain brook and dashed against the rocky sides of the river and all their lives lost.

How could he have known the flood would be so violent and great? They had to see it to believe it. He had been through ferocious storms at sea, but this was different and worse than any of them.

But was this going to be all? Their enemies had been extremely cunning, and had nearly destroyed them--except for the water cloud giving enough water to fill the cove that became their safe haven, then the fall of rocks partly blocking the floodwaters.

But there was no time rejoice over their deliverance, for the Lamb Fortress had sent its last defenders down the defile, and they now attacked. The Franks had been caught in an ambush and thus were not coming to join Becca, it appeared. Holding the upper ground, they were so sure they had the advantage, the imam had let all his remaining fighting men go.

Pelted with rocks and arrows, it seemed at first that the ships would be overwhelmed and it would be hand to hand fighting, with swords and axes with their more numerous foe. But Becca, under shields held up for him, got the siphon ready, and when he had his men maneuver closest to the land, he saw thirty or forty Muslims rush into the water, no doubt thinking they might board him.

It was now or never! Maybe they would all blow up together? But he had two men working the bellows, and then he released the first burst of Greek fire. It worked! Deadly, all-consuming fire jetted in a long stream from the horned dragon head, and sprayed the leading Muslim warriors charging forward, and they were immediately running and jumping, burning up and even throwing themselves into the water to no avail, for the flames burned just as fiercely under water. Becca could not help thinking, while this was going on, of Alissa, what these men had done to her. So there was no pitying them, as they had not fought with soldiers of their own strength, but with a mere shepherdess and treated her most shamefully and cruelly, without any pity at all.

Becca then heard shouts, Frankish ones, coming from the heights above, and saw Frankish troops pouring down to attack the Muslims from their rear. Somehow they had eluded the ambush!

Caught between Becca and the Franks, the Muslims still fought ferociously even with all hope gone, but the battle was soon over, and the sloping ground was littered with their bodies, burnt up by Becca's Greek fire or pierced by Frankish swords and arrows, while a fair number had skulls split by Danish and Northmen's axes.

But they could not rest on this victory. They still had to deal with the outlying bands that the imam had sent to ambush Becca.

Rushing back up the slopes, the Franks stormed up to the Lamb Fortress, and took it, for no men could hold it now against them, being so little defended it was hopeless to resist. But the Franks did not disturb anything and shut the gate tight, and they waited, while other forces hid in the rocks round about, rocks that easily swallowed up any number of men they chose to put among them.

It soon happened, what they were awaiting. The Muslim bands that had been sent out to ambush Becca now returned, though warily, their weapons all held ready for any enemies they might meet. The Frankish commander had meanwhile made a running search of the city and captured the imam alive, and forced him to signal to his men to come into the city, and the gate, at the commander's word, was slowly opened.

Just as the Muslims rushed to enter, they were met by the Franks from inside the fortress who charged out at them. From all sides, the other Franks attacked, and the Muslim warriors were annihilated. The imam would have no one left now to fight for him. Only the women and children, and the old people, were left, along with whatever Christians still lived in the vicinity.

Freed at last of their oppressors' cruel yoke, the Basques crept out into the open, from wherever they were hiding. Soon, tentatively at first, then more animated, finally exuberantly, they danced a Basque victory dance. The Frankish commander, Count Chevalier de Rouncevalles, turned the city completely open to them, and told them they could take whatever houses they wished (other than the spoils he himself confiscated for the Emperor, of course!), for the city and citadel had all been theirs after all. Yet the Basques hung back, as if unsure and uncertain that he really meant it. The city was theirs? They seemed as if they couldn't quite accept their own freedom and good fortune, having been treated as slaves for so long.

Becca watched all this taking place, after the fighting was finished and the imam was shackled and set under guard for a journey to the dungeon in Aachen. His whole family had fled, slipped away into the surrounding mountains, during the confusion of battle, so he was going alone to whatever fate Charles decided was his due. That was just as well, Becca thought, for the militant jehadist imam's end would probably not be so pleasant (he would probably be quartered and drawn by horses pulling his limbs in different directions), having taken the role of a military commander instead of sticking to his religious duties at the mosque.

Becca brought his locker and had a sad duty to perform. He took Alissa's family aside among those who had gathered. He could see at a glance that something more was needed to be done to built up the people's confidence in themselves, so that they could take possession of the city as they should, in order to keep it fast.

He went first to the Frankish commander, explained what he was doing, and the Frank turned over some of the imam's and the mosque's treasure (which also contained many items taken from the Basques), which was given to the family, to afford them some solace in their great loss. Wrapped in fine cloth, with the treasure beside it--it was the best Becca could think to do for Alissa's family. Then when the Frankish commander heard that Ranorr was the Basque youth who had led them another way to the citadel, thereby eluding an ambush laid for them by the imam, he was all the more anxious to be generous with the family.

Becca thanked them all, saying that Alissa had warned him just in time, and had given her life to do it. Because of her, his life, and the lives of his men, were spared.

Ranorr, his father and mother, and his younger brothers and sisters seemed to take pride and strength from what he as well as the Frankish commander told them and did for them. As their own parting gift to Becca, they handed him their most precious possession they had, an ornate wooden cross that had some gilt on it which they had saved from the city's overthrow by the Muslims a generation before their time. But Becca's duty was not completed. He took Charles's imperial standard which he had carried up from the ship and climbed up into the tallest tower, the minaret of the mosque, and hung it there from the topmost window. Then he took the cross he had been given and climbed out on the roof and tied it to the topmost spire with leather cords, after pulling off the crescent. Workmen, he knew, would follow and make it more permanent, but that would do for now--he had obeyed the emperor's orders.

The next few days were very busy, of course, as the Franks and Becca too saw to all the details of making the Lamb Fortress defensible again, garrisoning it with selected men, who had indicated they wanted to remain and perhaps marry among the Basques and raise families, though few Franks cared to do that, as the place seemed far too primitive for their tastes and and the mountains too savage and remote.

Fearing to let the fortress go back to the Muslims for want of Frankish residents to defend it, Count Chevalier de Rouncevalles commanded the Basque people, that they should call for more young and vigorous Basque men from outlying areas to come and live there, to properly defend Laith and keep it a stronghold for Charles the Great.

"Yes, sir," Ranorr's father assured the commander, "we will send for them, as there is room enough for good, young men to make a living now that our enemies are so reduced in number."

In exchange for this duty, the commander appointed him Count of the city, responsible to Charles the emperor.

As for the captive women, children, and the old people, what would they do with them?

Some pled with the commander, to allow them to remain, even if they should have to become servants and slaves to the Christians. These were assigned to various Basque families who were willing to take them.

Some old people were too sick and infirm to travel, so hearing of them, Becca gave them money, so they would not starve if they remained in their homes. But the others would have to leave as there were no men to support them. About these Becca had a word to the commander.

"Let the women and children go free, sire!" he said to the Count de Rouncevalles. "Let them take the old Roman road and go back to their own people up over the mountains to the south, for they would be a nuisance for you to escort all the way back to Aachen, and this way, they will be no further trouble to you. They cannot fight us. Let them go free. If they wish to accept Christos (as they have had no Savior from their sins, only a prophet until now), then maybe let them remain too if that becomes their desire, and a peacable living will be found here for them--but only if the Basque people accept them peaceably, of course."

The more "civilized" Franks, despite Becca's wise and merciful words that they all thought were exceptional for a barbarian, agreed but made some exception too. They took their pick the female captives for slaves and concubines, since a number were very attractive young women, and the rest were released to find their way out, so only half of what he had asked was done.

Seeing the Franks do this with the young women, Becca shook his head. Would such a woman ever be trusted? What if she took her ravisher's own dagger to his throat when he lay sleeping after he ravished her? Would that be his fault, or his for being so foolish and lustful? Now he was glad he hadn't worn the Cross the Franks emblazoned on their mail shirts. They dishonored the Cross by their behavior, and he wanted to do nothing to follow their poor example and bring discredit to Christos his Lord.

Becca, evenso, after offering the Muslim people Christos, saw most all were determined to leave, so he gave them grain and wine from the fortress. They could take all they could carry to sustain them on their journey, he said. At last, he though, the "Lamb Fortress" had ceased to be a den of wolves and could now become again what its ancient name had described, a haven for peaceful sheep.

Both the Franks and their commander were amazed by this largeness of Becca's heart, but they did not interfere as they knew Becca had Charles' imperial standard and after the hunting expedition a special standing with the emperor even they could not claim. But after the Muslim women and children had gone, he turned to Becca. "You have shown them much mercy today. Why? Do you love these infidels? Why is it that you have a heart to help them? Wherever they end up, they will only breed more infidels for us to have to fight and kill!"

"Sire, years ago I determined I would fight only fighting men like myself, not helpless women and children and the aged. God has blessed me richly for that decision made in my youth, and spared me destruction many times at the hands of my enemies. You yourself have seen and heard what the Lord did for me and my men, have you not? How then can I shamefully defile the Lord's Cross I raised on the tower, staining it with the blood of these ignorant people who happen to follow a false shepherd? I would be a poor disciple of Christos indeed if I behaved like that!"

The commander shook his head doubtfully. "I will do it, but we Franks know these Muslims and their devious ways well, ever since the Hammer gave them a terrible pounding and drove them back into these mountains. The mothers will never let their children forget that this mount was once taken by the House of Islam, as they call it, and once taken, they will never give up claim to it. They feed hatred of us in their mother's milk to their babes!"

"Oh, I believe you!" said Becca. "But we still cannot be as they are, if we follow Christos and his Way, can we? We are called by His holy Name. If we choose to act as they do, nurturing the same kind of hearts of hate, then they will never see cause to change and depart from their false god and his prophet which have done the world so much hurt!"

Franks standing around hearing Becca's words were not happy to hear them, but the count smiled, despite his reservations and misgivings about treating the Muslims with such Christian clemency.

"Indeed, the Lord has been most gracious to you! The eyes and ears of the court are turned in this direction, you may be well assured! The emperor will soon be hearing about the things done here by the hand of God on your behalf! This is a great victory for him, and he will be very pleased with you. No doubt he will grant you lands and a fine castle!"

Becca had to smile in return at that. "But sire, I have my own ship I built with my hands, that is all I wish, not lands and a stone castle on a mount! And no enemies on board either, which might not be the case if I were to accept a rich fief from the emperor, and thus gain the envy and malice of men."

"You are right about that, you great-hearted Dane! We Franks are a people wise in council, noble in physique, radiant in health, excelling in beauty, daring, quick, and tough, but I must say, though you are a barbarian, you are nearly the match of my best Franks! I have seen many great men fall, by the hands of their own trusted underlings. For the world produces those aplenty who will always try to pull down greater men. There are always base men who wish to take away what you won with your own courage and arms. Even the emperor is not immune from such low vermin and must keep a large bodyguard posted at all times of the day and night. Best keep your one ship then, and so sleep easily at night with your good wife than lie awake in a fine castle and assassins are hiding in the window curtains!"

"But I am not married, I have no wife," Becca replied.

"Well, then, be thankful for that too, Dane, as someone else might be warming your side of the bed while you are off fighting the infidel!"

They both laughed, and what had been an uncomfortable scene now relaxed and the Franks were friends with Becca once again.

Becca turned away and then saw Ranorr standing not far off, looking his direction. There was something in his glance, and Becca went over to him. But the youth did not want to say anything, he started off walking, and Becca understood and followed him.

Ranorr led Becca, who was increasingly curious, away from Laith and along the river up the gorge until they finally came to the Great Stone Face. Yet there was more to it than a face of some bygone emperor or ruler carved in the living rock, as Becca soon discovered.

Ranorr scrambled down the steep slopes, as only a native could, and Becca followed slowly with difficulty, holding onto rock while trying to put his feet wherever Ranorr had put his.

Beneath them was the dark, rushing water, and so a fall would give them a most nasty shock in the ice-cold and rocky-bottomed stream.

Then Becca saw Ranorr vanish in thin air.

He climbed down to where he last saw Ranorr, and found a cleft in the rock.

Though the hole he saw a large room, caught a glimpse of the youth, and pillars of some underground temple!

It astonished him, that such a hidden place had been here a long time evidently, many hundreds or thousands of years perhaps, and Ranorr knew of it! What could it be? Perhaps Ranorr knew the secret of the place?

He followed Ranorr in, and the pillared room proved to be only an entrance, for the main chambers lay beyond, deep down in the bedrock of the mountain. Ranorr went quickly, as the steps were lighted from something like living fire in them, and Becca had to move quickly too lest he lost sight of him. Finally, Ranorr came to the ground floor of the huge, cavern like chamber, and he stood gazing at a blue-glowing crystal he had selected from the other glowing objects.

He then turned to Becca, and presented it to him. Becca understood. This was Ranorr's reason for bringing him here, he wanted to give Becca his benefactor something precious, and this was the best thing he had. Becca took the crystal, and did not know what to say or what to do with it, but he thanked Ranorr. But there were far more things to look at than one crystal, and Becca set the crystal down as Ranorr went to show him other things as well.

Becca found especially intriguing a certain mirror-like item that glowed with life and showed scenes of some land he had never imagined. Where could it be? It held all sorts of objects the earth did not have, but some of which he saw here in the cavern, both broken and unbroken mixed together.

But Ranorr did not pause long in this chamber, and led his benefactor further on to a yet larger chamber. Here were huge serpent-twined columns, an obelisk and other crystals of various shapes, all glowing color, light, and power.

Beyond that chamber was a third, just as impressive, for held a vast pool or lake. In it Becca observed huge floating globes, that seemed alive as they moved this way and that, but always in line, serenely cruising along the shores.

What were they? What could they be for? Who created them? All these things Becca wondered as he gaved at these marvels of what seemed to be crystal.

The serene scene was soon disturbed dramatically, however, when Ranorr picked up a stone, as youth characteristically do, and flung it at the first and biggest of the floating globes.

The crystal globe erupted, changing colors, and the water churned around it. Becca saw that they might have to leave the area, if the crystal got even angrier, as it seemed it might.

He was right, as the crystal did not subside, but began shooting out bolts, forcing Becca and Ranorr to run for their lives.

They made it safely into the adjoining chamber they had recently left, and Becca, still wanting to leave the entire underground chambers because he felt danger in the air, turned to see if he might take the crystal with him that Ranoor had given him.

He found it, but it too was agitated, shooting forth a cloud of electricity in a highly charged field around it.

Becca could see others too in the chamber were doing the same thing. He knew now that their presence was abhorred by the objects in the place, and he wanted only to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Ranorr had the same instincts he had, apparently, for he was running already. Becca let him go ahead, since he could help him if he fell or got into some difficulty. Both of them made it up the stairs just as huge volumes of blocking rubble cascaded down behind them, sealing off the two large chambers from the entrance. As for the entrance, Ranorr dashed through it, and then came a tremendous rumble and grinding commotion overhead that stopped Becca in his tracks.

The next thing he knew is that the stone under him was rocking and heaving as blocking stones, weighing tons each, fell down, completely crushing the entrance pillars and filling the space immediately ahead of him.

Thrown down, Becca lay in the darkness and flying dust, his arms over his head, in an instinctive attempt to shield his head and face.

Gradually, stones stopped falling, and the thundering noise died away. He realized he had escaped, and felt sure he hadn't been crushed in any of his limbs, as he could move them all. Somehow, not a single behemoth had touched him, as he hadn't yet stepped through the portal into the entrance, which now was completely blocked up.

Was Ranorr dead under the rocks? He could not believe he had escaped. Yet he began calling out.

After a few calls, he heard a sound, someone was answering!

"Ranorr?" he shouted with his might.

Yes, he heard the youth's voice, it was Ranorr, but where was he?

Becca had to find out, he just couldn't lie there in the dark, without trying to reach Ranorr if he could.

He climbed up the boulders facing him, and discovered that they didn't quite reach the ceiling of the entrance chamber.

He crawled up and into the space above the blocking stones, not expecting the crack would go any further. But he found it did. In fact, there was a larger cavity or crawl space over the rocks, winding but long enough for him to climb further, and reach toward the entrance far enough so that he at least saw light. Light! He saw a wedge of light in which there was a face--Ranorr's!

Climbing up toward the wedge of light, he found not only that he was still blocked in, for he couldn't get through the space, but Ranorr had vanished. Ranorr! he called out long and hard, but the youth never answered, and the echoes returned, mocking the trapped caller. What was Ranorr thinking? he wondered. Leaving him like that, without a word?

It seemed hours in that confined space, but Becca heard a scratching sound, and crawled back up to the crack to see if he might look out. Perhaps it was Ranorr? He fully expected Ranorr, but instead he saw a strange face, that of a dark-bearded little old man, who had a bag of some kind of tools suspended from a rope over his head. Amazed, Becca could not think to say or do anything, but simply watched to see what the visitor would do.

The stranger did not seem to be put off by Becca's plight, but inched forward until he was within reach of the area he had chosen to work on.

Pulling out his hammer and chisel, he set to work. Clip by chip he began to reduce the stone in front of Becca. It was softer limestone, somewhat eroded already, and much easier to remove than the blocking stones, which were solid granite.

He continued at this for some time, and Becca thought he might as well try some words, and after a while the mason, for such he seemed to be, paused, looking directly at him. "My name is Johanan," he said simply, using Frankish language. "And you, sir?"

Frankish words, and some well-recognized words from other languages, all came to use as the conversation continued, proceeding with many starts and lapses, of course, as Becca and the rabbi got to know one another better and how each thought. But this was no problem they hadn't known before. The peoples of that day, mingling together for business or trade or even government and war, if they wanted to do business in any part of Charles' vast, diverse empire, needed to make do with a word-stock that contained words from many languages. Since stone masonry of this type cannot be hurried, they had plenty of time to find the proper words if they could to communicate.

Becca learned a little more as each searched each other out. This man was Jewish, he was a rabbi, and lived in the Lamb fortress with his wife and two girls. They resided in the crypt under the imam's palace, which had been a church. It was there they hid after the Franks took charge, and were safe enough there until they came out to greet the new commander.

"Weren't you afraid of the Franks?" Becca wanted to know.

"Oh, I know they call themselves Christians, and we have suffered often from some Christians in the past who hated us, those saying we killed their Christos, but I didn't fear them moreso than our captors, who were cruel enough as infidels go. They only kept us alive so I could serve as the mason, doing repairs. No one wanted my work. But they fed us worse than their donkeys of course! As you can see, sir, we barely kept our skin on our bones!"

Becca could see the man was telling the plain truth. He was very thin, and his color was pale too, so it was clear that he seldom saw the sun.

The hours flew rather swiftly, as their conversation picked up. It was amazing to Becca how brilliant the little man was, as he squeezed out meaning from every Frankish word they knew in common to get across many different things.

The topics ranged more and more afield.

Becca mentioned the cave and its contents at one point.

The mason-rabbi seemed interested.

"There are marvels in it, far beyond what ordinary men could create," he told Johanan.

He tried describing them, then asked who could be the beings that created such wonders.

The rabbi had an answer! He was sure about it too!

"They are the Nephillim, and the rabbis and teachers of old have written much other about them and their acts. They are the Fallen Ones, a race of what you call giants today. But they were really the Titans, as the Greeks of old named them, and though they were indeed fallen from God's kingdom of heaven, they were not necessarily giant in stature. Yet they were superhuman in powers, and they lived upon the earth at one time, and came and intermarried with humans, with the lovely ones of the womenfolk that they picked out for their pleasure. And they bred children from them, half-human and half-Titan. These children grew and waxed great and became the Giborim, the mighty hunters with bow and sword and slingshot, such as Nimrod who built the Tower of Babel and defied God. But the Flood came, by the command of God Almighty, and destroyed them all.

How could that be, rabbi? Becca asked. You mean they are all dead? Is this place they built down in the mountain then so great in age, that it was fashioned before the Great Flood of Noah?

Johanan didn't know the answer, but he replied it might be that old, or even older.

But what if it isn't, what if it is something done after the Flood. Wouldn't that mean the Titans, or at least some survivors of the Flood, are still alive?

The rabbi thought that was possible, and he hurried to clear away the last portion of stone blocking Becca's way out.

Becca was amazed that he was free when he finally tried the hole and was able to squeeze out. He hung there for a few moments, breathing the air of a free man--how delicious the fresh air and light was, not like the prison inside the blocked chamber!

He turned to thank the rabbi, but the rabbi didn't wait for any such thing and after a yank or two on the rope, he was drawn up by the Franks who kept hold on the rope on the crags above.

Becca waited for his turn, but suddenly a bundle of old clothes fell past his shoulder and tumbled into the river. Looking back over his shoulder, he caught a glimpse of the rabbi, in the water, being taken by the swift currents downstream.

As if to answer his question, the rope came falling next, the bag of tools still attached to it! And he heard Franks' laughter echoing from above him! He didn't have time to think. He had to do something now!

He knew he might strike rocks under the water, but he gave a Danish war whoop and jumped.

The water was just as much a shock as he anticipated. He ignored it, however, and swam as fast as he could to catch up with the rabbi, who was drowning, face down but being carried with the swift current.

Rocks stood out of the current in many places, dangerous to any boat, but one of these snagged the rabbi, and Becca reached him just before he slipped off and back into the main current. He seized the rabbi under his arm. Lunging toward the river's shore, Becca reached the rocks nearest him and with the rabbi still tucked under his arm got ahold of a rock and pulled himself up.

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Thereon a flattish rock he set to work trying to revive the rabbi if he could.

Being a water-born Dane, acquainted much with drowning men, he knew ways land-dwelling folk did not know. He pushed and pushed, then breathed in his own breath into the rabbi's lungs, and did this until the rabbi suddenly got rid of all the water he had swallowed and began gasping for air.

His eyes opened, and he lay weakly on the rock, but he was alive.

Becca was overjoyed the rabbi would be able to rejoin his wife and family and not leave his wife a widow and his childrfen orphans--especially with Franks in charge who might not want to help them since they were Jews.

That thought reminded him. He had some business to complete with the Franks!

You couldn't cross a Dane so badly and not expect a fury that was beyond description to seize upon his whole being. A very stern, icy-cold look took over his expression, replacing the joy. Danes looked like that whenever their whole being was affronted by some deed of base treachery, and there was hell for somebody to pay who had injured them with.

Becca glanced up at the crags above that lined the narrow gorge, but he could see no one.

Perhaps, the rabbi's persecutors thought they had taken care of two birds with one stone--getting rid of both the Jew and his protector, with their bodies floating somewhere downriver for the birds and fishes to devour.

Well, Becca was very much alive, and the rabbi too, and they would soon see how wrong they were!

It took Becca's great stamina to get the rabbi back up to the top of the gorge, as they couldn't get to the Laith Fortress by going downriver, not with the sides of the gorge so steep and full of fallen boulders.

When they reached the top, at first they saw no one, but soon a Frank came forward from the rocks and greeted Becca, a surprised look on his face. He also glanced at the rabbi, and was even more surprised.

The Frank's face went ashen. "You mean you saved the Jew?" he cried. "You saved him?"

Becca seized the Frank before he could even draw his weapon, and was throttling him as he demanded, "Yes, what of it? I am a Christian! I didn't come here to kill innocent Jews! Were you the one holding his rope and you let it go?"

"No, no!" the Frank gasped. "Let me go! Several held the rope that let the Jews down and then cast him into the river. I will lead you to them. You can do with them as you wish then."

Becca released his deadly, iron-like grip, and the Frank, the moment he was free, took off running.

Becca followed, despite his recent ordeal in the river, he summoned his reserve of strength and ran even faster, and jumped and brought the Frank down. He soon had him subdued.

"I'd kill you right now, you bastard of a dog and a pig," Becca growled into the Frank's ear, "except I want to know what happened. Who did this to the Jew--you, or were there others?"

He tightened his grip round the man's throat.

"I can't tell you!" the man rasped. "They'd kill me if I--"

Seizing his hair and scalp, Becca smacked the man's head on the hard ground, put a fist to his back and stomach a few times, and the man lolled in his grasp, softened up a bit and more likely to tell him what he knew.

"All right, if you won't tell the truth to me, then I will do with you as we Danes do with our betrayers and liars--I will cut off your flesh, strip by strip, show it to you, then proceed to your liver, and thrusting my hand in, I'll rip it out and feed it to you, piece by piece! Is that what you want to happen to you now? Speak, and save your rotten hide!"

The Frank's eyes rolled with horror in his head, he was so terrified he gasped, "I will lead you to the others who did played this trick on the Jew. I was just watching them do it. I am not the one you seek!" Dragging the Frank along so he couldn't get away a second time, the rabbi following at a distance, Becca found the Franks' camp, and there the commander was present, and he came forward the moment he sighted Becca's red hair.

"I have only now come to find out how you are doing," he said, greeting Becca with his arms out. He glanced down at the Frank that Becca had pinned to the ground with his foot on his neck. And he also saw the Jew standing in Becca's shadow.

"But what is going on? Why are you punishing that man?"

Becca could hardly hold his temper, but he did, respecting the commander. "You sent some base men to help us. That is the truth. After this Jew freed me from a rock chamber, they let him and his rope fall into the river, thinking he would perish. And they thought I would concede to the death of a Jew--even if that Jew were my rescuer! I mean to show them how wrong they are. Where are the men? This man tells me he knows who they are, and will point them out to me. I told him I will not kill him as he deserves if he tells the truth. Will you stand in my way, or see that justice is done?"

The commander's face changed expression, and he grew just as stern as Becca looked, and he shook his head. "No, I will not stand in your way, Dane! Go root the guilty ones out. I don't care how many there are. Do with them as you deem best, as they are no longer soldiers I would claim to bear my ensignia. I befriended the Jew, and I was right about him, for he has done you good service and me as well in your rescue, so how could I accept such base treatment in return of the Jew--so do with those men, according to your own people's law, just as you please, Dane, for I wash my hands of them!"

To put power in Becca's hands, he granted him his own bodyguard, and Becca then proceeded. As for his own men, he thought to send for them, but in the meantime he had the bodyguard, in case there was a mutiny in the Franks against their own commander's order.

His pigeon in tow, Becca strode into the midst of the Franks, and they parted to let him pass.

"There, he is one!" said the pigeon.

Immediately, he was seized by the commander's bodyguards and held. According to Danelaw, he selected the first of them taken, and questioned him, putting him to the test.

"Speak truth to me, and you will fare better. Speak lies, or do not speak at all, and you will suffer the consequences.

"Did you cast the Jew into the river, when you knew he was my benefactor and sent by your own commander to my aid? Speak!" The Frank remained silent, his eyes showing how much he hated Becca and Johanan standing nearby.

Becca left him alone for the moment, then went to the rest, and each in turn followed the first in refusing to speak.

Becca then turned to face the other Franks, other than the bodyguards. "Will you put them to death for their base treachery to a friend of mine and for their dishonoring a command of your commander, or must I do it according to my Danelaw?"

The whole atmosphere suddenly grew tense, strained. The Franks, shoulder to shoulder, declined, they were opposed to a man to punish one of their own, and looks as if they wanted to fight anyone who tried such a thing.

Becca glanced over to the commander, and he saw the look of disgust on the commander's face. He was taking no chances either, and had his sword drawn.

Becca then turned to do his duty, to avenge the Jew on his attackers and also to vindicate the commander's honor, which had been betrayed by these six men and even by his own force in not taking the men and doing what was just to do to wipe away the crime.

He drew his knife, and went to the first man, who was then, at his order, pinned on a big flat rock, his shirt mail stripped off, and his chest bared to his knife.

But it was well for Becca that his crew showed up, word having gone down to them that their captain needed them. Who had sent it? Nobody could say after these events--but they were informed to make haste, with all their arms, including what was left of the Greek fire.

Rushing, they came to the encampment just in time to interpose themselves between the Franks and Becca. As for the bodyguard of Franks assigned to them, Becca had already sent them back to their commander, saying, "I will not ask you to defend me against your own comrades! My God, Christ, stands with me, and He is enough!"

Standing in rows with their bows drawn, the Northmen and Danes stood facing the equally armed force of Franks. This sobered the Franks, who saw that many of them would now die if they rushed at Becca to rescue the six men in his hands.

As they fell back somewhat confused, Becca thought to try one more word with them, to take away some the fire in their hearts if possible. Though he had Greek fire, and his archers' could dip their arrows in it before sending them into the Franks, he was loath to use it against his own confederates with whom he had shared a battle and victory over the Muslims. "Hear me, Franks! Becca the Red, son of Rasmus, wishes only peace with you. Your commander only wishes peace amongst us. So why are we arrayed against each other. These men given into my hands have betrayed the both of us, have they not? Think on it. They did not count the Cross of the Christ anything worthy, as they dirtied it with their own base treachery against an innocent man who had befriended and rescued me from the rock tomb..."

He paused, and saw his words were creating some second thoughts, if the expressions changing from fury and anger to something approaching shame began to spread among the hundreds of faces.

Would you want that stain on your own Crosses which you bear on your mail shirts--a stain that heaven itself would see and abhor? No! You wouldn't! But if you defend these base fellows now, and fight us innocent men for them and approve their crimes, then you are one with them and their crimes in the eyes of Christ whose banner you hold and serve under. What say you? Will you resist a just punishment due them?

There was a rumble that passed through the ranks of the Franks--and it gathered volume, until finally it was a thunderous "NO!" "Will you then stand with me for the sake of the Cross?"

An equally thunderous "YES" greeted his ears, and the entire atmosphere changed, from outrage and anger to peace and agreement. Just as amazed as anyone that this happened, Becca turned back to the traitors.

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