Home of Sword and Soul
Zeke eased the guitar to the floor then slowly reached into his jacket and gripped his revolver. He looked up at Famara and the horro nodded back at him, his hand inside his robe. Zeke assumed he held a revolver as well, but his short time with his reluctant companion taught him to expect the unexpected.
"Wait," Annette said.
Zeke peeked around Famara. Five burly men left their meals then gathered before Dolph and his companions. Zeke looked at Helmut. The tavern owner's jovial expression was gone, replaced by a scowl.
"Excuse me, I have business to attend to."
He went into the kitchen then returned with a shotgun.
"Herr Baum!" Dolph called out. "'It this how you treat you guests?"
Baum sauntered to the door. The men stepped aside.
"What are you doing here, Prussian?" Helmut growled.
"I prefer Oberst Errickson."
"Take you men and leave," Helmut said. "You know the agreement. You get the castle and nothing more."
Dolph flashed a predatory grin. "We had no intentions of gracing your hovel until we heard that lovely voice. Such a beautiful sound coming from such a lowly Negress."
Zeke started pulling his revolver from his shirt.
"Don't," Annette whispered. "I've been called worse. Let Helmut handle this."
Helmut raised his shotgun. "I will not allow you to insult my guest. Now back to your castle, Prussian."
Dolph's face hardened. "When we are a formal nation, the Prussians will stand above all others. You will regret your behavior."
"Maybe then, but not now. Get out of my tavern."
Dolph and his men backed out of the tavern. Helmut slapped the men on the back.
"Thank you, boys. The beer is on me."
He strolled back to the trio, the shotgun tucked under his arm.
"Apologize, Madmoiselle Bijoux. The Prussians can be inconvenient."
"No need to apologize. You handled the situation well."
"I had to. If not your friends were prepared to do worse."
Helmut smiled at Zeke and Famara.
"Now tell me, what have the Prussians done to you?"
"They have something very valuable to me," Famara said. "I've come to take it back."
"If they have it, it's in the castle," Helmut said.
"Why are the Prussians in Barvaria," Annette asked.
"I don't know," Helmut replied. "A gentleman came to me two years again inquiring about the castle. He wished to use it as a toy factory. I sold it to him. I've been trying to get rid of the thing for years. He told me he would require complete privacy. In return he would and his workers would never come into town. We signed an agreement on it. Three days later the airships began to arrive, delivering men and supplies. They never use wagons, only airships. And they kept their agreement until Oberst Errikson arrived a few months ago."
"How do we get into the castle?" Famara asked.
"That will be difficult. The roads leading to the castle are guarded by towers and men in some type of metal suits. They look like Teutonic Knights but they move like dancers. And of course the towers are manned as well."
"There must be a way in," Zeke said. "Nobody is gonna wrap themselves tight like that without a way out."
"They have the airships," Annette said.
"I'm not talking about now," Zeke said. "That castle is old. Whoever holed up in it a long time ago had to have a way out once things got heated."
Helmut smiled. "You're right...Zeke."
"A tunnel?" Famara asked.
"Take us there."
"Not tonight. I wouldn't be able to find it in the dark. You can eat, rest, and maybe Mademoiselle Bijoux will grace us with another song. Then in the morning I'll take you to the tunnel."
Both Zeke and Famara were up and ready at first light. Annette met them in the dining hall just as eager. Helmut strolled in from the kitchen with plates of breakfast.
"It's a long journey. You must eat first."
After a delicious meal they set out. They rode the winding trails for half the day before stopping near a dense growth of trees surrounding an inlet from the river.
"The old master used to keep a boat here for a hasty retreat," Helmut said. He led them into the thicket until they came to a wall of rock. Helmut pushed vines and shrubs aside to reveal the tunnel entrance.
"I've never been inside, but I heard it leads to the castle courtyard.
"Thank you Helmut," Famara said. They shook hands.
"I hope I will see you again," he said.
"I hope so, too," Zeke answered.
Annette took her rifle from her horse. Zeke and Famara loaded their packs on their backs. Zeke checked his shotgun and Famara looked at his compass. Together they entered the darkness of the tunnel.