The test of ostra, p.12

The Test of Ostra, page 12

 part  #3 of  The Brotherhood of Merlin Series


The Test of Ostra

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  Clearly, the man taking the photos had gotten very close to them, presumably with their knowledge. Herod had taken great pains to emphasize the point: he is in charge and there is nothing out of his reach.

  “Oh, my man was invited to your domicile, on false pretenses naturally. But it does reinforce the point, does it not? There is nothing out of my reach, set watch and warrant, the falcon’s eyes are pervasive and omniscient.” He pauses, allowing this point to sink in. And then through clipped and terse tongue, he adds “Close enough for a photo. Close enough for a sniper shot.”

  Milton instinctively lashes out, trying to seize Herod by the throat. Herod blocks his attempt with a quick hand block. “Don’t touch me again Milton. You’ve been warned. Touch me again and set watch that I will have one of your pubes strung out and hung in the town square for all to see. Nobody lays a hand on the falcon. You ken?”

  With downcast eyes, Milton reluctantly nods. “Ai.”

  “We understand each other then, Captain?”

  Milton nods. “Ai. That we do. How long have you been tracking me? And for what purpose? You are already an obscenely wealthy man. What need would you have to steal the King’s Gold?”

  “That is not your business Captain. Your business is protecting your family.”

  “And protecting the assets of King Menelaeus.”

  “You are a man of honor but also a family man. You know full well your family takes priority. Protect them anyway you can.”

  “You wish my cooperation then there will be conditions,” says Milton.

  “Name them,” says Herod.

  “I will not be a party to a blood bath on my own men. You ken? You will orchestrate business absent bloodshed.”

  Herod nods. “Ai. I will instruct my men accordingly. In fact, I will duly punish any that needlessly kill your men. But know, there are always circumstances no one can account for. You ken? No matter how much I instruct my men to hold fire, there may be unavoidable casualties.”

  Milton nods solemnly. “Ai.”

  “Now, tell me, Sai where will your latest shipment of gold be?” asks Herod evenly.

  “You know the Siemen junction?”

  Herod nods. “Ai. Know it well, so I do.”

  “In three days hence, our latest shipment of gold is set to pass through there, where I am set to rendezvous with my men. On the fourth day, we shall reach Turlock Falls. The roads are narrow for the most part, but when the road dumps onto the valley floor, the path widens, and the landscape is rife with dense shrubbery and vegetation. A large group of cypress trees border the road on the valley floor, making us very susceptible to a surprise attack. It is always an edgy time for us, so it is. We are camouflaged properly as cattle ranchers. Several teams of oxenule will be carrying three fort wagons. It is a well-disguised ruse. We also have the logo of a nearby and well-known cattle ranch- the Painsley Ranch.”

  Herod smiles devilishly. “Ah. I know it well. You are an ingenious man. Menelaeus has chosen you well for this post.”

  “And I have never disappointed him.” He looks at Herod with a look of pathetic resignation. “Until now.”

  “All things must defer to the Falcon.”

  Milton does not respond. He merely buries his face in his hands, sighs, and silently curses the day he picked up a deck of cards. He would never have believed it would have led to his downfall and path to the devil.

  Chapter 17: The Test of Ostra

  Germanicus is praying in a meditative state, sitting with his back supine, his legs crisscrossed on a rubber mat. The silence is interrupted by the whir and beep of the telegraph machine, which awakens him from his state.

  He sighs in agitation, gets up and retrieves the parchment paper from the machine. His eyes grow in dilation upon reading it.

  Merlin walks into Germanicus’ office even before he can finish reading it, Shadow at his side. “The news is not good, I ken?” He asks, knowing full well that it is not.

  Germanicus shakes his head. “No, it is not.”

  “I would ken that we have been robbed,” says Merlin matter of fact.

  “How did you know?” asks Germanicus.

  “I didn’t. It was only a hunch. When I interviewed Herod Antipaz, he was of course well-cloaked, but his sorceress was caught off guard somewhat and some sinister thoughts made their way to me, though they were more peripheral and jumbled. Barely coherent but palpable. It seems to be his strategy. The man is wealthy beyond reason but still short. He is attempting to buy his own army, one that will rival even the North and Southern armies of Gilleon. Such men can be bought, men of no honor or allegiance. Mercs, whose only pleasure in life comes from extinguishing the lives of others, in the most heinous way possible,” says Merlin.

  “What should we do, Merlin?” asks Germanicus.

  “This is an incident, Germanicus, albeit a very large one. Our ranks are spread thin. Menelaeus has his own men he can rally. There are four of the Brethren at his disposal as we speak, Pratt, Rodney, Palladion, and Cover. They are proficient and more than capable of ascertaining the truth.”

  “Herod Antipaz may very well be behind such a brazen act. If a gifted telepath could question them-”

  Merlin cuts him off. “To what avail? To confirm what we already know? Herod is behind this attack but proving it will be difficult if not impossible.”

  “But you said yourself we are building a case,” says Germanicus sharply.

  “We are brothers, and I want nothing more than to expose him, but we have to trust in our brethren. We have our priorities. Should Menelaeus summon us, we will heed his call. I have no doubt that should such robberies continue, Menelaeus will have no choice. Until then, we stay put, maintain vigilance, protect our home and the boy who is to play a large role in this. His life is far more important than all the gold in the Baltac Mines. You ken?”

  Germanicus sighs. “I ken that you are right, your advice well-placed. It vexes me, frustrates me beyond reason. I want nothing more than to arrest him and see him crucified.”

  “So, do I,” says Merlin. “There will be water and manna if God wills it. Herod wants nothing more than to induce us into a capricious act. It will only lead to our downfall and his victory. Stay vigilant, brother.”

  “Ai, will have to at that.”

  Germanicus pauses, hesitates. It does not escape Merlin’s notice. “You have heavy subject on mind. Speak it and see burdened lifted,” says Merlin.

  “It concerns the boy,” says Germanicus.

  “Of course, it does. And, so it concerns us.”

  “The boy is experiencing agonizing pain.”

  “A fact that did not escape my notice. I have been remedying his pains the best I can, but unfortunately my potions are short-lived. I ken they’ll continue unabated for some time.”

  “Is there nothing we can do?” pleads Germanicus.

  “My hunch is that they will continue. I believe his sight may be returning. In the most excruciating way possible.”

  “He needs our comfort now more than ever I ken,” says Germanicus.

  “He won’t get it. On the contrary, we will alienate him. Emotionally, psychologically we will abandon him. If he is as I suspect he is, he will persevere. His only refuge from here on out will be Cammilia and Christ. So set watch and warrant it.”

  “To compound his agony, which is already more than most boys could bear? You would seek to break him?” Germanicus asks incredulously.

  “I would seek to push him into the leadership role he has been destined for. I will initiate the Test of Ostra. So be it,” says Merlin emphatically.

  “I disagree but I will abide your decision. I feel that the timing is poor.”

  “On the contrary,” says Merlin sharply. “The timing is perfect. The pain he is feeling is monstrous. This will only compound that. He will discover strength reserves in himself he never would have believed possible. Do you not remember when Menelaeus initiated the Test of Ostra on me?” asks Merlin.

A faint smile crosses Germanicus’ face. He nods. “Ai. It was a difficult time for me, having to abide by such measures. I can’t imagine how painfully lonely it was for you.”

  “Agonizing at times. But I am eternally grateful for what Menelaeus did for me. It forced me into discernment and brought me closer to God. It awakened me and taught me to be the man I am today. An instrument of God. But, make no mistake. It will be agonizing for him and agonizing to inflict. But necessary.”

  Germanicus nods. “Ai. It will break him or induce the leader in him to emerge. I pray it’s the latter.” They both sit quietly and think about Merlin’s own Test of Ostra.

  The other boys drop from the parallel bars, having performed their set of 75 five strict form pull-ups. Perronius drops down, if he is to join his fellow recruits but is quickly corrected. Menelaeus takes a filament rod and smacks him in the back. “Did I call your name Perronius? Now, get back up there and give me 25 more. You ken?”

  Perronius nods his head. “Ai. I cry pardon, Dotore.” Perronius continues his painstaking exercises, forcing himself up to the bar, though his muscles scream for him to stop. He ignores them and pushes himself harder. Shadow sits only a few yards away, whimpering quietly.

  When Perronius has finished his last rep, he jumps from the bar and joins his group.

  “Sparring rounds. Pair up, runts! Full force! Hold nothing back. Now go!” booms Menelaeus. The other boys have recovered sufficiently to begin their rounds, but Perronius is still out of breath.

  “It looks as if we are odd-numbered,” says Menelaeus. “Perronius, you will fight Domithicus and Syrus. Go!”

  Without giving Perronius time to regroup, they attack him, simultaneously. Domithicus runs at him full force slamming him back against Syrus, who throws out a sharp and lightning quick roundhouse kick. They orchestrate the move perfectly and Perronius is pummeled sharply with a devastating kick to his backside, stunning him momentarily.

  The temporary stun is all the time Domithicus needs to move forward and launch a series of jabs at Perronius. The first couple hit home in his stomach, causing an agonizing pain to reverberate throughout his midsection. Perronius does not allow it to knock him off balance. He blocks the next several punches and launches an uppercut at Domithicus, knocking him back.

  In the next fraction of a second, he hurls his left leg back, catching Syrus in the stomach, causing him to double over from the devastating blow. Perronius launches a powerful roundhouse on Domithicus, catching him on the chin and knocking him unconscious.

  Dotore wastes no time in sending other boys to take the place of Domithicus and Syrus. He motions to Savelle and Germanicus to replace them. They waste no time and run towards Perronius. Germanicus sweeps his leg, knocking him to the ground. Perronius lies on the floor for only a split second though he can feel the air rush out of his lungs. His first instinct is to cough and try to gasp for air.

  Instead, he pushes himself back onto his feet, with no time to spare. Germanicus launches a powerful front kick on Perronius, and he barely deflects it, turning his quadriceps outward to deflect the full force kick. Perronius cringes at the blow. Had he not moved so quickly, his kneecaps surely would have buckled and possibly fractured.

  Germanicus launches another series of blows and Perronius deflects them. Savelle sneaks upon him quietly and tries to launch a simultaneous assault with Germanicus. Germanicus goes in for a series of quick jabs and Savelle comes up on Perronius and attempts a devastating back kick.

  Perronius feels it coming and performs a preemptive move, lowering his body and sweeping his left leg. The sweep is successful and catches Savelle on the right foot, hooking it and sending him off balance. He lands with a dull thud on the mat, dazed and gasping for breath.

  The move puts Perronius in a slightly vulnerable position and Germanicus is quick to act. Instead of jabbing, he launches a downward and devastating pile driver. The punch is only partially successful. Perronius blocks part of it. The punch, being partially deflected, manages to catch him in the ribs, sending torrents of pain throughout his already agonizing midsection.

  Germanicus launches another pile driver, catching Perronius on the jaw. Germanicus hurls several more punches on Perronius until he is unconscious.

  “Round!” yells Dotore.

  He approaches Perronius, who lies on the ground, still unconscious from the devastating assault. He grabs some smelling salt from his satchel and places the vial under Perronius’ nose. Perronius wakes up with a start and coughs. He is still dizzy from the blow and nauseous. The smelling salt is more than his body can handle and he gets up on his knees and vomits.

  Though Perronius cannot see his countenance, he feels the disappointment with a grayish, purple aura behind it. He knows Dotore is disappointed. His frown mirrors it. “Germanicus, you have this round. You have immunity.”

  Dotore looks at Perronius. “Perronius, you do not. I depended on you to showcase your talents, but you let down your guard. In the heat of battle, you must be prepared for an onslaught of assaults, at times, from multiple opponents. It was you who was to show us how it was done. You do not have immunity.”

  Perronius shakes his head. “I cry pardon, Dotore. I will not let my guard down again, set watch and warrant it.”

  “See that you don’t, runt. You’re wasting your talents and my time. Perhaps you will contemplate if you really wish to be here when you are on eldercare duty for the next month.”

  Perronius nods solemnly. “Ai, Dotore.”

  “And that is not all your sanctions will consist of. You are a team. Because of your shortcomings, you will lead all recruits in wind sprint drills for the next twenty minutes. Recruits, do not hesitate to show your displeasure to the boy who has forced punishment on you all.”

  Perronius, his eyes downcast, feels the icy stares from all in the room. Throughout the drills, all the boys yell out to him “Gratitude, Perronius!” angrily. He shrugs it off. Germanicus and Savelle spit in his face. He merely wipes it off. Syrus, Domithicus and Jess punch him in the back and chest. Perronius makes no motion to stop it. He merely absorbs it.

  When the boys meet in the mess hall for meals and Perronius attempts to sit with them, they ignore him, immediately get up and sit at another table. Any attempt that Perronius makes to converse with the other boys is rebuffed as well. His only refuge is his prayer time and his constant companion, Shadow.

  Perronius will not voluntarily leave. He will be forcefully removed, or he will stay. He vows to persevere no matter what.

  For two long, excruciating years, Perronius perseveres. He is now sixteen years old and has survived the expulsion of over thirteen hundred recruits. They are down to 24. It’s crunch time when more boys will be expelled in elimination rounds. Failure to pass even one test will result in expulsion from the school.

  The competition between the recruits is quite fierce, with everyone vying for the remaining positions. The position of lead has yet to be established. For Perronius, he only wishes to have a place in the brotherhood.

  In one test, the recruits are required to assemble a water generator that runs on kerosene and methane, using all their knowledge in mechanics. They will now use their knowledge in practical use.

  The generators, once assembled, are quite large and heavy and cannot possibly be carried by the recruits. Using their knowledge in physics, they will also assemble a pulley system to transport the generators to the training barn, using an assortment of tools and supplies, like ropes, wheels, screws, nuts, bolts, wires, and other supplies.

  The rules also state that the boys cannot use beasts of burden like horses, oxenules, or water buffalo. The test is an elimination round and the boys must perform the tasks as efficiently as possible or face elimination from the school.

  Each generator has fifty parts in which to assemble and the boys must first find the parts, which are in their designated areas. The parts are placed in booby trapped areas and the boys must take care to retrieve them. This is the first pa
rt of test. If any of the boys fall prey to a booby-trap, they are eliminated from the round.

  Perronius begins his test in a small wheat field approximately a couple hundred yards from the barn. He avoids the booby-trapped wires easily enough, which, should Perronius step on one of them, would shoot a tranquilizer dart at him. He would be knocked unconscious and eliminated from the school.

  Unfortunately, Perronius soon discovers that his test has been sabotaged. Instead of fifty parts to assemble, there are hundreds of smaller parts in which to assemble. It takes Perronius approximately eight hours just to find about 1,500 parts.

  His mind quickly surmises the parts and their function. He knows the task should have taken a few hours at most. But for him, it is now a task that will require much longer. Perronius groans at the thought of it. Will he be eliminated? Who or why would someone do this? Should he relay this to Dotore?

  He abandons any course of action except the one he came to complete. Regardless of how long the task will take him, he decides to complete it, whether he is eliminated from the round.

  His sharp mind recalls the machine from his studies and envisions it and all its moving parts. He quickly focuses on each of the fifty parts and the smaller components each require. He focuses on the first one and gathers the pieces for them. He gathers about 90 pieces for the chassis and begins the painstaking task of assembling it, using the tools he has been given.

  If it were an act of sabotage, it was not a complete act of sabotage. Every tool that he needs to assemble the generator is here. Perronius finds another seventy parts for the wheel base, another 75 for the motor and another 120 for the wheel.

  He continues for several more hours until he has grouped together all the pieces needed for the 50 parts.

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